Skip to main content

Terrorist Attacks

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 22 June 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement delivered in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the terrorist attacks we have seen since Parliament last sat. There has been no summer like it. When we rose seven weeks ago, we left this House in the wake of the worst terrorist attack our country had seen in over a decade, with Khalid Masood trying to strike at the heart of our democracy. He was foiled that day by one of our brave police officers. But tragically, that has proved to be the first of many attempts to bring terror and hate to our streets.

Two months later, a cowardly and devastating attack in Manchester left 22 people dead and 59 injured, after a suicide bomber targeted children at a concert in the Manchester Arena. On 3 June, a van was deliberately driven into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men got out of the vehicle and began stabbing people in nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed and 48 injured. Then on Monday, almost exactly one year after Jo Cox was brutally murdered in Birstall, we woke up to the news of the return of far-right terror, when a man viciously drove into a group of Muslim worshippers in north London. One man, who had fallen ill before the attack, died and nine others were treated in hospital.

Westminster, the Manchester Arena, London Bridge and now Finsbury Park have left 36 innocent people dead and over 150 hospitalised—a tragic loss of innocent life. Last week, I met a mother and father who had lost their daughter in the vicious attacks on London Bridge. She had been stabbed while out celebrating her new job with a friend in Borough Market. Just under two weeks before, she planned to be at the arena in Manchester where Salman Abedi committed his heinous crimes but she decided not to use her ticket. She had come to London to enjoy a wonderful trip away—a once-in-a-lifetime experience—but instead it was the last trip she ever made. I know that everyone in this House will want to join me in expressing our sorrow for the pain her family will be feeling, and for all those families who have lost loved ones.

As well as passing on our thoughts and prayers for those victims who are still trying to recover from the trauma and tragedy of these events, I know that the House will want to join me in acknowledging the incredible efforts of our emergency services during this difficult period. The events of recent months serve to remind us of the bravery, professionalism and, above all, the incredible sacrifice made by those who work to keep us safe. As Home Secretary, there is nothing more saddening than standing before Parliament to deliver a Statement like this.

These acts of terrorism represent the very worst of humanity. They seek to spread fear, intolerance and hate. Countering this threat has always been a crucial part of the work of government. That is why we have introduced measures to disrupt the travel of foreign fighters and passed the Investigatory Powers Act, which gives the police and intelligence service more powers and the tools that they need to keep the public safe. That is why, just seven weeks ago, we legislated to strengthen our response to terrorist financing within the Criminal Finances Act. We have also protected overall police funding in real terms since 2015, increased counterterrorism budgets and funded an uplift in armed police officers. We are now in the process of recruiting more than 1,900 additional security and intelligence staff. The Channel programme, which offers voluntary tailored programmes of support to people assessed as at risk of radicalisation, has supported over 1,000 at-risk individuals since 2012. Following referrals from the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, social media providers have removed 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material since February 2010.

But we are entering a new phase of global terrorism and many of the challenges we face are unprecedented. We now believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat that we face. Between June 2013 and the Westminster Bridge attack in March this year, the security services foiled 13 plots linked to or inspired by Islamist extremists. But just since then, we have seen five plots prevented as well as three such Islamist extremist plots succeed—and, of course, the appalling attack at Finsbury Park earlier this week. We must do more. We must do more to defeat ideologies of hatred by turning people’s minds from violence and towards pluralistic British values. We must make sure that these ideologies are not able to flourish in the first place. We must do more to force tech companies to take down terror-related content from their platforms, and do more to identify, challenge and stamp out the extremism that lurks in our communities.

That is why we will be setting up a commission for countering extremism. Just as the Labour Government in the 1970s set us on a course to tackle racial inequality in this country by setting up the Commission for Racial Equality, we need to—and must—do more to tackle those extremists who seek to radicalise and weaponise young people in Britain today. Doing more also means asking difficult questions about what has gone wrong. In the light of the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, Britain’s counterterrorism strategy will be reviewed to make sure that the police and the security services have what they need to keep us safe. In addition, there will be a review of the handling of the recent terror attacks to look at whether lessons can be learned about our approach. I am pleased to announce that David Anderson, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, will oversee it.

What we have witnessed in Manchester and in London are the depraved actions of murderers intended to tear our country apart, but each act of hate has been met with overwhelming defiance. In Borough Market recently, I saw stall holders dishing out olives into plastic pots, shoppers searching for delicious treats and tourists flicking through guide-books in the shadow of the Shard. Rather than being divided by recent violence, people seemed ever closer together. We should follow the example of the traders and the shoppers of Borough Market. What terrorists want is for us to fear and to turn on one another, but we will never give terrorists what they want. We will stand together, and we will make the point that terrorists will never win and that our values, our country and our unity will prevail. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Home Secretary in the other place earlier today. I first pay tribute to the emergency services, the police, the fire brigade, the ambulance service, the doctors, nurses and other staff in our NHS and the other security services which responded with courage, bravery and dedication to duty to preserve life and protect the public. We owe these heroes a great debt of gratitude, and we must never forget that.

I also send my thoughts and prayers and those of the whole House to the victims of these disgusting terrorist atrocities and to their families and friends. Since the Dissolution of the previous Parliament there have been atrocities in the Manchester Arena, at London Bridge and Borough Market and at Finsbury Park mosque. I support the police and the security services in investigating these matters fully and bringing the perpetrators to justice. I was pleased to see the bravery of PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life protecting us in this palace, recognised with a posthumous George Medal and that pensioner Bernard Kenny, who was stabbed trying to help Jo Cox MP when she was murdered in her constituency last June, also received the George Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List announced on Saturday. There were countless other acts of bravery from the police, the other emergency services and members of the public dealing with the recent atrocities. Civilians stood up and stepped in to help those in need, and we are very grateful to them all. They are true examples of the British spirit and show why no terrorist will ever win.

I am not going to trade figures on the number of police officers and other specialists as they are all in the public view. There were more in 2010, and there are fewer in 2017. We welcome the increase in the number of police officers and other specialists to give the law enforcement agencies the staffing, powers and resourcing to do their job effectively, but we need to look carefully at what is being proposed as we must have sufficient resources in place to have people in post to be able to use the full range of powers to full effect. More powers without staffing and other resourcing is not going to be effective and will not provide the reassurance and protection our citizens need.

I very much welcome moves to get the internet companies to block and take down content promoting terrorism. Every effort must be made for further action in this area. It is just not acceptable. Swift action must be taken by these companies to take this content down. In her response, will the Minister refer to the following matters? What will be the role of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation before any new measures come before Parliament? Are the Government planning any review of the Prevent strategy? What reassurance is being given to the Muslim community and other faith communities? It has been reported that individuals involved in the Manchester and London Bridge terror attacks were reported to the authorities but were no longer thought to be an immediate threat. Can the Minister confirm that an urgent reassessment of any other individuals in this category is being done and that all intelligence that suggests any sort of activity, no matter who the perpetrators are, is constantly reviewed and assessed? We need to stand up to the terrorists wherever they come from—from Islamist terrorists to far-right extremists with their messages of death, destruction and hate. They are all murderers and vile preachers of hate.

Finally, I suggest to Members that if they have a spare moment they pop down to Borough Market. It is a wonderful part of the London Borough of Southwark and somewhere I have known for most of my life. I am a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity, and I declare an interest. It owns a number of the affected properties around Borough Market and has been helping businesses get back on their feet over the past few weeks. Borough Market is a wonderful place and well worth a visit.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and express the condolences, thoughts and best wishes of those on these Benches to all those affected by these tragedies. I also express our thanks and admiration to the emergency services involved in each of these incidents, particularly the armed officers who had to take the difficult, split-second decision to shoot the suspected perpetrators of the London Bridge/Borough Market attack. Our thoughts should also be with those officers and their families.

I have four questions. Can the Minister confirm that central government funding for the police service is increasing in real terms? What account has been taken of the additional financial pressures on the police service, such as the apprenticeship levy, and the additional operational pressures, such as the public inquiry into covert policing and the post-event investigations into these terrorist incidents? Is it not time to restore community policing, an invaluable source of community intelligence, after a cut of 20,000 police officers and 24,000 police support staff since 2010? Does the Minister agree with the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis that the Met is struggling because of a lack of resources? We welcome David Anderson’s role in reviewing the handling of recent terror attacks. We welcome the idea of a commission for countering extremism, but we need to understand what that means. We also welcome an independent, evidence-based review of Britain’s counterterrorism strategy, including an independent, evidence-based review of Prevent. Can the Minister give any more detail about the commission and can she confirm that the review will be independent and evidence-based?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for the points they have made. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, made some very constructive points about police numbers and having the resources to meet the needs of the police in the work they do. Since 2010, police forces have increased the proportion of officers working at the front line and proved that you can continue to cut crime with a smaller, more agile workforce. This is going to be important as we consider capabilities going forward. Since 2015—I hope this goes to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—we have protected overall police spending in real terms. We have increased the counterterrorism budget, and we have funded an uplift in the number of armed police officers. We have also increased the budget of our security services. There are more officers and staff involved in counterterrorism policing than ever before. However, the challenge is not simply about maintaining police numbers. As the nature and complexity of the threat changes, as noble Lords have said, so does the nature of the skills needed to tackle that threat. We have all seen that in recent weeks. We are in an ongoing and constructive dialogue with the police, including the Metropolitan Police. I do not recognise the cuts that the noble Lord talked about, but we will be talking to the police about ensuring that the right powers, capabilities and resources are in place.

The noble Lord talked about the David Anderson review, which will look into why the attacks took place and whether further work needs to be done. It will look into the historical aspect; not just things that have happened over the last few weeks but those in the past as well. Going forward, the review will also look at how we protect our citizens and whether any changes, including legislative changes, are needed as we proceed. But of course it is very early days. We want a thorough review, not a quick one, to make sure that we get things right in the future and respond to changing threats and those which might emerge.

The noble Lord also talked about the Manchester attacker and whether he was known. I hope noble Lords will understand that these matters are subject to police inquiry and that it would be wrong of me to start discussing any of these details, but of course the review will look into what the answers are. I think I have answered both noble Lords’ questions, but I might have missed one from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. If he wants to repeat anything, I would be very happy to answer.

My Lords, I welcome most wholeheartedly what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said about the duty that falls on all of us to condemn all terrorists. I think today of course of my friends—Airey Neave, Ian Gow, Robert Bradford, Tony Berry—all Members of the other place and all murdered by the IRA. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will have a quiet word in the ears of the leaders of his party who have such soft and comforting words for the IRA.

My Lords, as we deal with extremism in all its forms, we look not just at Islamist extremism but at far-right extremism. My noble friend is absolutely right to point out that we cannot forget the events in our recent history that caused such damage in our communities, both here and in Ireland.

My Lords, there is a tendency for party political polarisation to dominate this debate about handling terrorism. I wondered whether Ministers saw the interview with my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti during the middle of the election campaign in which she suggested that it might be possible to put together a team of privy counsellors, operating within the rules that apply to them and comprising members of all political parties, to sit down and evaluate these things and then make recommendations, bypassing the Government, directly to Parliament. There is a precedent for this from the late 1940s, when Mr Attlee did precisely that when dealing with national emergencies. Might Ministers consider what my noble friend said and perhaps come forward with some recommendations?

My Lords, it is fair to say, certainly in this House and in the other place, that when events such as this happen, there is broadly a consensus on how we should deal with things. We conflate matters sometimes when we talk about extremism, radicalisation or indeed terrorism and get mixed up in various activities, but the point is that we all seek the same ends. When the extremism commission starts its work, it will seek to get the views of Parliament on its recommendations. I think we all seek the same ends.

My Lords, will my noble friend take back to all parliamentarians and to all those in positions of power that the rhetoric they use has a great impact on all our communities? In the past, we have seen divisive language from all sides, which needs to be looked at carefully if we are going to tackle this in a sensible, decent way. I suggest to my noble friend that she also takes back to her department that if we are to tackle extremist violence or extremist thought we need to start looking at it at a much earlier age and at how we can get into primary schools to create greater understanding between all communities.

My noble friend is absolutely right. We do not realise sometimes what far-reaching consequences the language that we use has. I am talking about all forms of prejudice or extremism et cetera. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, who is not in his place today, quite often talks in this House about religious literacy. We could all learn lessons when it comes to the consequences of the points that we make and how they might affect broader society. I also agree with my noble friend about schools being involved in some of the early education of our children. Some of the events of recent weeks have frightened children, and they are being misinformed, which may lead to them being hostile towards each other at a young age. I certainly know that after the Manchester attack, Muslim children of friends of mine felt more reticent on their way to school. Of course, local communities and local schools have worked very hard to educate in this sphere, but education starts in those early years.

My Lords, language is indeed important, and I wanted to ask about the use of the phrase “stamping out” extremism. It reflects understandable emotion, and indeed determination, but can stamping out achieve everything? Can the noble Baroness confirm that the extra staff referred to in the Statement will include psychologists, psychosocial experts and others who will work with no less rigour to approach the problem and address the issue? Secondly, I do not think that she replied, at any rate with any detail, to my noble friend’s question about the commission for countering extremism. Can she tell the House about the terms of reference and confirm, as I hope she will, that there will be wide consultation on those terms?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I did not give much detail about the commission for countering extremism because I simply do not have much detail at this point. Recommendations will certainly come back to Parliament. There was a question in the other place earlier about Parliament feeling outside what the commission does, but Parliament will be consulted and have its say on the commission’s recommendations. As for stamping out extremism, will we always stamp out all types of extremism? No, we will not, but what we can do as a society is collectively be intolerant of extremism in our society, and the cohesion of our communities will, to a great extent, achieve this.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that when countering terrorism, to preserve our national security, there will be occasions when there is a real and irreconcilable conflict with human rights? Will she assure the House that the Government will always carry out a careful and proportional assessment in order to decide in such cases whether counterterrorism or human rights should take precedence?

My noble friend brings up a very good point about the balance that we have in place to preserve our human rights—we will not be leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, as the manifesto makes clear—while also bringing perpetrators of terrorist atrocities to book. When we look forward, we will certainly consider whether we have got that balance right.

My Lords, I express my heartfelt condolences to those who perished in the terrorist attacks and all those who remain in a critical condition. I add my own tribute to the emergency services; they showed tremendous courage in all its forms, and we are very grateful to them. I also take this opportunity to say that I knew PC Keith Palmer and I am delighted that he has received the honour that he has.

I want to make two points to the Minister. She mentioned looking at Channel, and my noble friend made a point about reviewing the Prevent programme. First, with regard to Channel, will the Minister write to me with details, or perhaps make them available in the Library, about the categories of Channel referrals? What are those categories and what are the criteria for referral?

Secondly, on the Prevent review, the Minister may not know that I was involved in Tony Blair’s preventing terrorism task force. That group worked for maybe 18 months, as I have no doubt the commission for countering extremism will, but it resulted in the Prevent programme, which was very far from all the discussions that emanated from it. The Prevent programme in its entirety has been a failure because it missed out working in partnership with communities. What will the Minister do to ensure that the new commission will be broadly representative and contain men and women who do not just speak with the Government’s tongue and make the Government feel comfortable?

My final point relates to division. It is time that this House and the other place rooted out from their language the term “Islamic terrorism”. It is unforgivable. We are blessed with language to describe murder and mayhem, and we should stick to that. There has been an enormous amount of coming together of the community, but such language consistently divides and makes young people scared. I have four grandchildren, and my grandsons, who are four, five and nine, are scared to go to school because of such language, which alienates them from their friends. I urge the Government to reconsider the way in which they describe the utter brutality of terrorism, mayhem and murder.

I say to the noble Baroness that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary’s Statement on Monday was met with great praise, certainly from the Muslim community in Greater Manchester, because it expressed the same horror with regard to what went on on Monday as to what had gone on in previous terrorist events. I think that might be what the noble Baroness was pointing to.

I cannot go through the criteria for Channel, but broadly speaking it is a voluntary mechanism that is in place for people who are at risk of radicalisation. It does not target people who are at risk of radicalisation; it tries to protect them. That is the most important aspect of the Prevent programme. There have been 1,000 Channel referrals over the last few years, 25% of which, by the way, related to the far right. I am confident that Prevent is working. We have disrupted people from going abroad to fight foreign fighters.

On the noble Baroness’s point about language, I have already said this to my noble friend but I will reiterate it: we have to be careful about the language that we use. I can speak most of all for Manchester because I was there in the aftermath of the attack. The coming together of communities is our strength. There are things that government can do, but communities are very powerful bodies. I stood in Albert Square while we had the vigil and I saw people from all races, creeds and colours. The Sikh community were giving out water to people, and there was a great sense of coming together. Afterwards I stood with Afzal Khan at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Whalley Range. For me, that immediate response from communities and that coming together are among the most powerful things that have come out of the attacks in Manchester.

My Lords, should we not bear in mind that we are pandering to the terrorists the longer we delay the resumption of normal activities after a terrorist outrage? I condemn utterly what was done, but I believe that the suspension of ordinary activities was a little prolonged and gave them a victory.

As my noble friend knows, terrorists do not like democracy. We certainly had to perform a balancing act in the wake of the terrorist attacks. We wanted to give respect to the dead, which was extremely important. The feeling in Manchester was visceral; these were little children who had been murdered. I thought that after the Manchester attack it was right to give a longer period of respect during the election period. However, we did not want democracy thwarted either, so after the third attack, which was so close to the general election, activity was resumed at a much quicker pace. I think we got the balance right, and I think the cross-party view was that we got the balance right.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I share her horror at recent events and extend my condolences to the victims and their families. I wonder whether the House will join me in commending the imam of the Finsbury Park mosque, who held back a lot of very angry people who wished to attack the perpetrator of that event, and in doing so demonstrated the rule of law, which is surely one of the most noble of our British characteristics.

From the noise that the noble Baroness is hearing she will be able to tell that the whole House agrees with her. I sometimes wonder whether the bravery of ordinary people is something that I would be capable of, and that imam was absolutely wonderful.

My Lords, will the commission for countering extremism, which she has referred to a number of times, exercise any statutory powers or functions?

I think the commission itself needs to explore the work that it is doing, and those deliberations are certainly in train. Whether legislation is needed as a result will become clear in due course.

My Lords, at the Al Quds march in London on Sunday, Hezbollah flags were displayed in direct contravention of Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Separating Hezbollah into military and political wings is an untenable and artificial exercise. In fact, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council designate Hezbollah in its entirety. In the wake of the awful deadly terror attacks against civilians in our country, is it not time that the UK demonstrated its commitment to combating extremism by joining our important allies in proscribing this terror group in its entirety?

My noble friend makes a very similar point to that made earlier by Robert Jenrick MP in the other place. Displaying those flags is certainly distasteful. It was probably designed to aggravate, and I certainly understand the concern that people might have when such things are thrust into the community. There is a big difference between a different political opinion or view, and putting that into action, and how far that has gone to this end. I certainly share my noble friend’s view that that was certainly an attempt to goad people and make them feel very uncomfortable, particularly the family of Robert Jenrick, whose wife is Jewish.