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Orlando Terrorist Attack

Volume 773: debated on Monday 13 June 2016


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a reply to an Urgent Question delivered in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“The attacks in Orlando on Saturday night were utterly evil, and the Government condemn them completely. At least 49 people were murdered, and a further 53 people were injured, many of them seriously. These people were enjoying a night out when the attacks took place. Our hearts go out to them, their families and their friends.

This is the deadliest mass shooting in US history. It was an outrage committed to spread fear and was born out of hatred. As President Obama has said, the US authorities are treating it as a terrorist attack, and Daesh has claimed responsibility. It is clear that such an attack has its roots in a twisted ideology which counts homophobia as a cornerstone of its warped world view. This was not just an act of terror, but an act of homophobic hatred, and I want to make clear to all LGBT people in Britain, and around the world, that we will not tolerate such bigotry and violence. We will work closely with the United States, and we will continue to offer it our assistance and support. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and friends in the global fight against terrorism, fear and hatred.

As the investigation into this attack continues, more information will emerge. However, we are not aware of any British nationals being caught up in the events on Saturday night. As should be expected, in the light of this attack, UK police forces will be further reviewing plans for large-scale and other public events over the coming days and weeks. The police are not advising any organisers to cancel or postpone any LGBT-related events.

Honourable Members of this House will be aware that since the start of 2015 we have seen 16 terrorist attacks in Europe, including in Brussels and Paris, and Tunisia, which all saw British people killed or injured. There have been attacks further afield, including in Bangladesh over the weekend. In the past 18 months, the police and security services have disrupted seven terrorist plots to attack the United Kingdom. All were either linked to or inspired by Daesh and its propaganda. The threat from international terrorism, set independently of Ministers by JTAC, remains at severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. In March, the murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay reminded us that the threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism also remains.

Mr Speaker, each time I come before the House following a terrorist attack, I do so in the knowledge that people have died and others are suffering. I know this House and people around the world, of all faiths and none, will want to join me in condemning this attack. This Government are determined to defeat the insidious ideologies that drive extremists. Let us be clear: there can be no justification for the mindless slaughter of innocent people. There can be no hiding place for those who perpetrate these acts, and there is no doubt that we will fight and we will prevail against the doctrines of hate and fear which lie behind such attacks”.

My Lords, we endorse the words of condemnation that have just been expressed about the homophobic terrorist atrocity in Orlando, and we express our condolences to the families of those who have been murdered. Our thoughts are with those who have been injured and their loved ones, and with the people of Orlando, in particular, and of America as a whole.

We are not, as we know only too well, immune from such atrocities and hate crimes from those who want to divide, not unite our communities. We seek to create an environment where no sections of our community are demonised or feel threatened or discriminated against, since we recognise that if we can achieve that goal it will encourage and deliver the tolerance and understanding of each other which is the hallmark of a stable, safe and decent society. Bearing in mind his own responsibilities for community cohesion and addressing hatred and prejudice, will the Minister say what further steps the Government will now consider in this vital area in the light of the Orlando atrocity?

We in this country believe in the importance of severely restricting access to and the possession and ownership of guns as an essential prerequisite to our reducing the likelihood of such terrible events here. Do the Government now consider, in the light of the Orlando atrocity and other terrorist atrocities being committed elsewhere in the world, that further measures are needed to help to ensure the safety of those attending imminent forthcoming Pride celebrations, or are they satisfied with the present security arrangements in place?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I am sure his sentiments and his unequivocal condemnation of this heinous crime resonate across the House. On the issue of community cohesion, we celebrate Britain for its diversity and the strength of its people of all backgrounds, races and faiths and of different sexual orientations, who come together and who celebrate and define what Britain is today. The Government are totally committed to ensuring that we continue to protect that so we can continue to celebrate what Britain stands for in the modern world today.

On the question of firearms, as noble Lords will be aware, the UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world and we are determined to keep it that way. The Policing and Crime Bill will introduce changes to firearms legislation, including a new offence of unlawfully converting imitation firearms into firearms, and tightening definitions on, for example, antique firearms. The UK is also co-operating with Europe to prevent the movement of people and weapons linked to terrorism.

On the noble Lord’s final point about the LGBT community and issues relating to Gay Pride, as I said in the Statement, UK police forces will be further reviewing plans for large-scale and other public events over the coming days and weeks. While that remains an operational matter for the police, they are not advising any organisers to cancel or even postpone any LGBT-related events.

My Lords, earlier today on Twitter, David Morgan said this:

“If you’re not gay you might not know how rare it can be to feel welcome and safe in a space. To be gunned down in one of them is horrific”.

That is why today members of my community are shocked and we mourn, just as we did 17 years ago when the Admiral Duncan pub was bombed. What have the security services and the Government learned in the intervening period about how to prevent hate crimes being perpetrated on minority communities?

Will the Government consider convening a meeting with leaders of faith groups and the LGBT community so that we might begin a dialogue about how the many millions of moderate members of religious groups can be assisted to detect and prevent the radicalisation and hatred to which some members of their communities are sometimes vulnerable, so that as a result of that work we might have communities that are diverse, inclusive and safe for all?

The noble Baroness makes a very valid point. On the issue of recognising current threats, I fully respect and appreciate that many people within the LGBT community are feeling vulnerable. I know that in the UK we have seen certain attacks against people of particular sexual orientations or from communities defined by particular faiths, with a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. It is perhaps only those communities that truly recognise what they live under. That said, I recognise also that Britain remains a place where people feel safe and secure. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure the security of every citizen, and we will continue to do so. Let me be clear: irrespective of who you are and your cultural background, faith background, sexual orientation or gender, Britain celebrates its diversity. That is a strength of our nation and we will protect it.

My Lords, on behalf of those who speak from these Benches, I express our utter abhorrence at what has happened. Indeed, I endorse the Home Secretary’s unambiguous use of the word “evil” about those acts.

I wonder if the Minister could take a little further what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, has just said about the importance of engaging with the leaders of faith communities to address how we can live in a way that fundamentally recognises the universal human rights in our society from which we all benefit. This is an attack on our civilisation. At root it is a hatred of our civilisation, and anyone who can get to the bottom of that with a united front against it, alongside all the security measures that need to be taken, will really make some progress.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate. The noble Baroness raised this issue, and I will take it back and put it into play. One of my areas of responsibility at the Home Office is as Minister for Countering Extremism. That means meeting the challenges of extremism in all its ugly guises and bringing together voices to unite against extremism. The noble Baroness’s suggestion, endorsed by the right reverend Prelate, is something that I will take back. We will look to make progress with faith leaders, and those of no faith. This goes way beyond any faith; it is about how we as a country come together. People of faith and no faith should stand united against all kinds of evil.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that I and several hundred gay rugby players were partying in gay nightclubs in Florida only last week and the week before. We are therefore very conscious of the events of the last two days. However, it is a hate crime. The target happened on this occasion to be the LGBT community, but it could have been any other community on another occasion. Will the Minister please encourage a British response to this? That means not just saying, “We will ensure that Pride is safe”, but encouraging the nation at large to come out and show its support for Pride events, wherever they may be, because British people are not cowed by such events.

First, I say to my noble friend that our reports say no British citizens were impacted, and I am pleased to hear that all are safe. That said, he is right. I agree with his sentiment that we as Britain deal with these issues head on, and that means bringing people and communities together. The best response to any extremist or terrorist threat is to unite against such threats. By doing so, as we have done previously and are doing again today, we will show extremists of any guise that we will defeat their voices of evil.

My Lords, as a member of the lesbian and gay community, I recognise that this attack on our community is an attack on us all, but does the Minister agree that we must not match hatred with hatred? We must inform and educate, and, above all, we must ensure that this extremism is not represented as coming from any one religion, theology or community. We must show that we have the quiet determination to resist it and ensure that such actions never happen again.

I totally agree with the noble Lord’s sentiments, and of course agree that no religion endorses such acts of evil and hate. Recently we have seen sectarian issues arise here in the UK and indeed my own Muslim community was impacted in that way recently by the incident in Glasgow. Actually, my Ahmadiyya Muslim community puts forward a great slogan: “Love for all, hatred for none”.

My Lords, I was a Home Office Minister when the Admiral Duncan pub was attacked, and I remember those times very well. The only answer can be target-hardening, making sure that the police have the resources to do so in conjunction with the community and, above all, making it very clear that whether black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Christian or Jew, whatever we are, we are one people and we will not give in to this sort of hatred and terror.