JOHN HUMPHRYS: John Reid, clearly a lot
of people are very worried indeed, should they be?
JOHN REID: Well I think it's worth
repeating the health warning you gave at the beginning of that film John
is that there is no specific threat according to the intelligence and evidence
we have against this country, but obviously any responsible government
takes the situation very seriously and I believe that we are vigilant and
we are well prepared in terms of our civil contingency planning.
HUMPHRYS: The question is whether
we're well enough prepared isn't it, and there is the concern that we have
put ourselves in the front line for perfectly good reasons, and that's
been explained that the long-term aim is to defeat terrorism and who could
argue with that, but the short-term risks are great. And we heard Mr. Butler
there saying it is inevitable that we will face some sort of terrible attack.
REID: Yes, well I think
he also said it's inevitable that terrorists would get nuclear weapons.
I don't believe in inevitabilities, I think that those who say that certain
course of actions will inevitably occur make a miscalculation. But is there
a general threat, of course there is. We saw what happened on the eleventh
of September, we know that we are Allies in the coalition, we know that
we are involved in fighting terrorism, and all of this illustrates the
necessity to defeat terrorism incidentally. But if you asked me what the
general approach has to be, it is surely to balance the reassurance that
we need to give to the public that we are vigilant and well prepared whilst
at the same time avoiding the panic that would come unnecessarily if we
flooded everyone with immense minutia of detail on every conceivable threat
that could possibly arise, and I think on these matters the media obviously
has a role to play as well. So we have always had civil contingency planning
against potential chemical and biological terrorist attacks, even the last
major tome was done on that in March of last year, obviously we've updated
that after the eleventh of September. On the eleventh of October, I think
it was, we wrote out to all the relevant authorities, we're talking here
about Directors of Public Health, we're talking about Local Authorities
and so on, with our latest plans in certain areas. We are in touch obviously
with plans for people like the London Underground, the Channel Tunnel and
we also do publish for the public details, for instance, in the case of
Anthrax, because of what's going on at present with the hoax calls that
are going on, and the actual calls in the United States, so there is a
range of measures that we do, but we also have to, as I said, to get this
balance between being prepared, having the planning and informing the appropriate
authorities and on the other hand, avoiding unnecessary panic, because
as you said in the programme as well, in the film earlier, panic is as
large an element, the fear of all this is as large an element of the weapon
of terrorism as the actuality.
HUMPHRYS: And the trouble is that
fear grows in a vacuum, doesn't it, and many people, as our poll showed,
many people feel they're simply, in spite of what you've just said, there
simply is not enough information out there. We weren't for instance able
to talk to the Metropolitan Police. Okay, they might say, well, operational
details. Don't want to ask about that. What we want though, is we want
more information, and people feel we're not getting enough of it.
REID: Well, if that is
a true feeling, then I can reassure them that the degrees of information
that's being supplied is actually quite fulsome. As I said, we have, from
the top, I sit on the Civil Contingencies Committee, sometimes called part
of the Cobra Unit which sits on the leadership, brings together all the
emergency services, the Police, the Security Forces, leading Ministers,
we compile and analyse and correspond with Americans and others and with
their own authorities on what sort of measures we would have to take. We
give that information out to local authorities, to public authorities,
to civil contingency planners local, to directors of health. If people
want specific information on say, anthrax, that has already been published
by the Home Office, it's also available incidentally on the Home Office
web-site. Last week we sent information to GP's, if people feel that in
any way they have been in a position, for instance, with the recent spate
of warnings, in contact with anthrax, the message is actually very simple,
immediately get in touch with emergency services and your GP because the
information has been passed out to them.
HUMPHRYS: But tell me why you couldn't
do this. You might say this is a panic measure. Many people would say it
would be very sensible to send out a leaflet, stick a leaflet through everybody's
door, saying look, we don't want to panic you, but these are the threats.
This is our assessment of those threats and given that x, y or z might
happen, here is what you ought to do in those circumstances. Wouldn't that
REID: Let's ask whether
it would be sensible John. Let's say, we take your programme. In eight
minutes you've managed to describe a range of threats from nuclear attack,
through pneumonic plague, through bubonic plague, anthrax, bombing, we
know those threats which could be levelled against the Channel Tunnel,
the London Underground, we could have planes flying into buildings - I
mean the idea that we should inundate people with sufficient information
to enable them to cope with every conceivable threat I think is one that
in the balance is more likely to cause panic and fear than it is to elicit
HUMPHRYS: Ah but you're not, that's
not a fair comparison, is it, because, as you said to me earlier in the
programme, you don't think it's at all likely that they will get hold of
nuclear weapons. So you dismiss that...
REID: ...well let's take
anthrax then John...
HUMPHRYS: ...fine, okay, but if
we were to take...
REID: ...should we make
information available in what people should do in the case of an anthrax
attack? Yes we should. Is it available? Yes it is.
HUMPHRYS: Well when you say available,
I mean, yes you can go to your doctor, but we don't want to trouble our
doctors with things like that...
REID: ...no, no, it's also
available, it's available in a range of ways through the Home Office, including,
for those who have it, their web-site.
HUMPHRYS: ...for those who have
REID: ...not everyone has
it. Then they can get the web-site in leaflet form.
HUMPHRYS: Well, can they?
REID: ...but what you're
suggesting is, I think, going a bit too far in the balance, which is to
put through everyone's door immediately, every time there is a threat or
a hoax threat, or a suspicion of a threat...
HUMPHRYS: ...no I wasn't saying
REID: Well, I mean you
would have to do it to meet the question that you ask me. What I am saying
is, that we are vigilant, that we are well prepared, that we are informing
local contingency planners, that we are informing doctors, that we are
giving the information out to the emergency services and that we are making
it available in specific cases, where there have been the actuality of
threat, but we think the threat is higher for instance on anthrax. The
second thing we're doing I think which is worth mentioning...
HUMPHRYS: ...you do, sorry can
I just stop you there for one second. You think the threat is higher for
anthrax. Now that, I may be mistaken, but that's the first time I've heard
a minister say that, that you think there is a higher threat from anthrax.
REID: Well I'm basing that
on the fact that there already been anthrax attacks in the United States.
REID: So it makes sense,
I mean, if you ask me, should we put through people's door what they should
do in the event of a nuclear attack by terrorists, or an anthrax attack
by terrorists, presumably you'd think there would be a higher requirement
to publish information on anthrax, which is why, which is why John if you'll
let me finish, we have it published. We have it published through the Home
Office. However, what it also means, that, that those people when it relates
to a slightly different but important issue, that those people who are
causing unnecessary threats and unnecessary panics, for instance the hoax...
HUMPHRYS: ..seven years thing,
REID: ...they have to be
stopped as well because they are causing panic, misery, fear, wasting thousands
of hours of policemen's time, and also taking up the emergency services.
HUMPHRYS: Yeah, I'm sure everybody
would agree with that, but you mentioned preparation there. Forty per
cent of the people we polled were not at all sure that we are sufficiently
prepared. Are we?
REID: Well I believe
that we are both vigilant and well prepared. You know these are a matter
of judgement, but I can assure you that an enormous amount of effort has
gone in - before incidentally - the Eleventh of September, because as I
said, the basic analysis and defensive mechanisms against biological and
chemical warfare through terrorism were issued in March Two Thousand, which
is some time ago. But obviously after what we saw on the Eleventh of September
we have updated that, and indeed we issued further guidance a month later
on the Eleventh of October to the relevant authorities, and only last week
we issued on specific threats, for instance anthrax, we issued further
information to the medical profession, to GPs, but of course, of course
we will continue to update it, of course there's a lot going on continually,
and of course we're in contact with experts outside of the United Kingdom.
For instance, we're in almost constant contact with the appropriate authorities
in the United States and with other allies, so yes, people are right to
expect us to be vigilant and to be well prepared and we will do that to
the best of our ability, and as regards one of your contributors who said,
well, look we may need more money for this - if more money is necessary
for that then we'll find the resources.
HUMPHRYS: You will, Okay, I was
going to ask you about that, fine, so you will find that money. Right,
let me ask you....
REID: This is the protection
of our citizens and the first and primary duty of government is to protect
its citizens, this is why we're engaged in the war against terrorism, that's
the root cause of that threat.
HUMPHRYS: So therefore we ought
to be able to assume didn't we, that there will be enough stocks to deal
with any potential biological attack. So let's take for instance smallpox.
Now, the government's position on this when asked by the media are there
enough doses, is to say: we're not going to say because that would help
terrorism. Well, that's a bit odd isn't it because it would help them
only if we knew there were not enough doses and we have to assume if the
minister won't answer the question that maybe there aren't enough doses.
REID: Well John we are
on over a range of potential threats that we discussed in the programme,
and we can run through them all in detail again, but many of them are biological,
we believe that we are well prepared and we believe that we've been vigilant.
However, what we're not going to do is to go down the line of giving out
details of batches and volumes of specific antidotes or specific remedies
or specific inoculations, we're not going to say where they are, we're
not going to .... Because that information is actually valuable to terrorists.
If we were to give a list of on one particular thing, anthrax, or smallpox,
or pneumonic plague or anything else, if we were to tell you exactly what
was in stock as regards that, that is a prime indicator to the terrorists
of where we are well prepared, and perhaps where we are less well prepared
than in other instances.
HUMPHRYS: Right so you're saying
that we may not be well prepared in some cases?
REID: No, what I'm saying
John is that I'm sure that your viewers will understand exactly why we're
not going to say how many we have, where they are situated, how we're developing
them, how we've been acquiring them, how long they will last, how often
we're updating them, because to give that sort of information out is obviously
of assistance to potential terrorists, and that is I think what Alan Milburn
has been saying, but he's qualified it by saying that we believe that
we are well prepared for the range and the eventuality of potential threats
against us, and we also believe that we're putting out sufficient information
to allow people in this country to be reassured without causing panic or
HUMPHRYS: Right, to be absolutely
clear. I was certainly not asking you where they are, that would be a
daft thing to do as you say. Northern Ireland - because of course you're
Northern Ireland's secretary. Has September the Eleventh and everything
that's happened since then changed the IRA's attitude towards decommissioning,
to the extent that we might expect decommissioning to happen soon, and
I mean perhaps within the next few weeks?
REID: I certainly hope
it has changed people's attitudes. I think there are people within the
Republican movement who have always believed that they should go down an
exclusively democratic path. When I say always I mean in the past few
years. There may have been others who were convinced that this wasn't
necessarily true that somehow they could go back to the bomb and the bullet
and Semtex and blowing up Canary Wharf. If they believe that after September
the Eleventh, then I think they're living in a totally unreal world. Now,
as far as the general question is concerned, everyone knows what we've
go to do. It is now time critical in Northern Ireland. There is very
little time left, and we have to see the question of arms resolved, and
we also want to see the long-term stability of the institutions. If we
could get the question of arms resolved, the putting of arms beyond use
in the critical time that we have left, then I believe we can see a virtuous
circle created, David Trimble has already said that his ministers would
go back into government. We have already said as a government that we
want to see our adoption in the military presence in Northern Ireland,
we want to carry forward reform of policing, we want to do the same in
criminal justice, but we need that indispensable part of the Belfast Agreement,
the Good Friday Agreement,. and that is arms put beyond use.
HUMPHRYS: John Reid, thank you
very much indeed for joining us today.
REID: Thank you John.