Lymington Times – 28 December 2002
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis has criticised the decision to withdraw a serious Home Office warning of the type of terrorist threat which the country may have to face from al-Quaeda extremists.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, December 18, Dr Lewis said:
"Have not the attacks in Bali and Mombasa shown that al-Quaeda specialises in multiple simultaneous attacks? Given that al-Quaeda cells are believed to be in place in Britain, was it not unwise for the Home Office to withdraw last month the serious warning that it rightly gave of the sort of attacks that we could expect here in the UK? Was it not a mistake to think that it was wrong to spell out the threats in detail because the British people might panic? The British people need to be warned of what they might expect, and I do not think that they will panic if they are told the truth."
The Prime Minister replied:
"Of course it is important that people are told, but it is also important that we make a balanced assessment of how much information we give. It is not just a question of the information; it is the judgment we make as to the weight that can be attached to it. The hon. gentleman win recall that, a few weeks ago, there were stories in the newspapers about a possible poison attack on the tube. There was no specific evidence of such an attack, yet the information ended up causing, I think, unnecessary concern among people. It is important to realise that intelligence and information comes to us the whole time. If we publish all of it, we would cause unnecessary alarm, so we must sift it and make a judgment. I believe that the judgments that we have made so far have been right and the circumstances in which that information was withdrawn were explained at the time."
The exchange followed Dr Lewis's recent appointment as an Opposition Defence spokesman – in which position he has repeatedly raised concern about the danger of terrorist attack. Commenting afterwards he said:
"The Prime Minister's answer largely avoided the point which was that the country is not being mentally prepared for the threat we face. It is not so much a question of warning of specific attacks but of explaining the type of attacks and the effects they might have. People need to be vigilant and they need to be prepared. Not enough is being done to achieve this."