My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord King for initiating this timely debate. The main threats to our national security in the 21st century come from an array of challenges such as nuclear proliferation and energy security. However, terrorism stands out as a tangible threat, as we sadly experienced in July 2005.
On our military involvement in Afghanistan, Members in the other place paid tribute yesterday to the latest servicemen to lose their lives in the region. We have a duty to our citizens and Armed Forces to shoulder the collective task of formulating a robust security strategy for an increasingly dangerous world. We need a comprehensive approach to national security that will call on the expertise of many rather than on the opinions of a select few. Heads of government departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Home Office, the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Chancellor should form an integral part of any decision to embark on military action overseas. This was seen to be lacking in the Iraq invasion. The last defence review took place some years ago, and since then we have experienced September 11 in America and 7 July on our own territory. An annual status report should be introduced that will enable decision-makers to determine the progress of existing security policies.
Border security is crucial to enhancing our national security. It is in our best interests to work with our European partners to achieve this aim. We must also strengthen our historic alliance with the United States. We must innovate and update our defence capacity if we are to maintain our military prowess on the world stage. Failure to do so may jeopardise our standing in the UN Security Council. Foreign policy and national security are linked and should be treated as such. The success of our foreign policy will work to promote our national security and interests at home and abroad. We can take the lead, along with our international partners and supranational organisations, to prevent conflicts from occurring. It is especially important that we adopt this method for Commonwealth countries, particularly as we are bound by history. When I spoke on this subject recently in your Lordships’ House, I made that point.
The shared border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has become a hotbed of terrorist strategy and activity. The region is set to account for approximately 75 per cent of investigated terrorism plots in Britain. Closer co-operation with Pakistan and assistance to that country is crucial to our success in Afghanistan and to safeguard our own security. Failure in Afghanistan could have a devastating effect in terms of our national security and stability in the region. History tells us that the war in Afghanistan will be challenging for our servicemen and allies.
Our troops do not have adequate equipment and support in order to fulfil their important tasks. What action is being taken to remedy that unacceptable situation? Furthermore, it is imperative that we build the infrastructure of the country, combat corruption and win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan to stop radicalisation in that area.
The internet has undoubtedly enriched many areas of everyday life. However, it has also heightened the possibility of cyber attacks. Terrorists and extremist groups are using the internet to convey their messages to a worldwide audience at minimal cost and with minimal effort. A successful national security strategy should pay particular attention to this growing threat.
This country has a proud history of promoting democratic values around the world and in our local communities. Although we are in a heightened state of external threats, legislation must not be allowed to compromise our civil liberties. It is important to strike a balance to ensure that no ethnic or socio groups feel as though they have been targeted. We must foster greater integration and tolerance in our communities.
The 7 July terrorist attack in London was an immense tragedy. Most disturbing was the fact that two of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks were born in Britain. As a Muslim, I totally condemn any form of terrorist or extremist activity. Nearly all Muslims are peace-loving and law-abiding citizens, but I accept that there is a problem with a tiny minority. In regard to suicide bombings, I should like to state categorically that Islam forbids the committal of suicide.
In addition to taking security measures to combat terrorism and extremism, we need to examine fully why some young people undertake these unacceptable activities. At the present time, I feel that we are concentrating more on what I call firefighting. We need to look equally at the root causes of the problems and to undertake remedial actions. To enable us to do this we need the input and participation of the Government, police, security services, local authorities, voluntary bodies and members of the Muslim communities. I add that the media and politicians need to refrain from the use of inflammatory language. We also need to recognise the considerable achievements of the Muslim youth who act as role models. I would like the Minister to comment on what I have said.
I conclude by saying that the question of national security covers a multitude of areas, which is why a narrow approach to the issue will never succeed. Our national and domestic security should be the shared responsibility of many government departments and agencies. Co-operation with our partners in the European Union and other supranational organisations is vital to ensuring that we further our national interests while protecting our national security.