Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the current security situation in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, recent events mean that this debate to consider the security situation in the UK is especially timely. This year, on four dates over the course of three months, our country was attacked by terrorists, in Westminster, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Borough Market, and Finsbury Park, with 36 dead and over 150 injured in these atrocious attacks. Terrorists mean to sow fear and division, but ours is a community of many faiths and many nationalities, and all have come together in the face of these senseless acts. If these attacks have shown us anything, it is that an attack on one part of our community is an attack on us all.
Our law enforcement agencies continue to tackle serious and organised crime and sexual exploitation of children. We have also seen over the last few months a number of high-profile cyber incidents, not least that which affected parliamentary systems.
During the course of this debate, I will focus on some of the most pressing domestic national security issues that impact on the security situation in the UK. I will reflect on recent events, but noble Lords will be aware that there is a wide range of issues with security that we could consider, from civil emergencies to public health.
Although this debate focuses on the security situation in the UK, we are clear that in an ever more interconnected world, our security depends on addressing issues overseas and online. We have seen this with the rise of terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, in the way that cyber criminals have targeted systems across the globe, and in the way that criminals are exploiting vulnerable people to perpetrate organised immigration crime and modern slavery.
The threats we face are global. That means that strong alliances and partnerships across the globe are ever more important. A global Britain will continue to meet our NATO obligation to spend 2% of our GDP on defence; we will maintain the most significant security and military capability in Europe; and we will continue our investment in all the capabilities set out in the 2015 strategic defence and security review, remaining a world leader in cybersecurity and renewing our nuclear deterrent.
Our strong bilateral relationships with EU member states and countries across the globe help tackle threats of terrorism and serious organised crime. We will, in due course, be leaving the EU. It is in all our interests that we continue our deep co-operation with the EU and its member states to tackle these threats together. We seek a strong and close future relationship with the EU. Security and law enforcement co-operation with our EU and global allies remains of the utmost importance, and we will continue to invest in our close and effective relationships with international partners.
We must also continue to develop strong relationships with the private sector, including tech companies and the banking sector. The threat is not a challenge which government alone can address.
Keeping our people and interests safe is the first duty of government. The people who make up our security community work tirelessly on a daily basis—often, for obvious reasons, largely unseen by the public. The events of recent months serve to remind us all of the bravery and professionalism and, above all, of the incredible sacrifice made by those who work to keep us safe. However, the response by our communities to the terrorist attacks has illustrated that we all have a part to play, often by just going about our daily business. All have come together in the face of these senseless acts.
I begin by explaining the threat we see from terrorism. The current threat level from international terrorism is severe—an attack is highly likely. Daesh is currently the most significant terrorist threat globally and to the UK and our interests overseas. Its propaganda, including that of its affiliated branches, has inspired radical groups and individuals to plan and conduct attacks worldwide, and encouraged hundreds of people from European countries to travel to Syria and Iraq. This includes around 850 people of national security concern from the UK.
However, Daesh is not the only threat. Al-Qaeda’s ideology and organisation is a long-term threat to the UK and our interests overseas. This is a significant challenge. There have been over 1,500 terrorist-related arrests since 2010; in 2015 alone, 150 attempted journeys to the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts were disrupted; and the Security Service currently has 3,000 subjects of interest and 500 live investigations.
The events of the past year—the murder of the Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, and the appalling attack in Finsbury Park—remind us all of the threat from the far right. We will use every means available to disrupt individuals or groups associated with the far and extreme right wing who threaten or pursue acts of violence. That is why in the last year we proscribed National Action, the first such move against an extreme right-wing group.
Terrorist tactics constantly change. Although many groups still aspire to mount large-scale and complex attacks, as we have seen with the recent ones, there is a move toward so-called lone actors. These terrorists plan attacks without specific direction from terrorist groups, acting alone or in small numbers. Their weapons are often knives, small firearms, homemade explosives or vehicles. We must have a comprehensive response to this threat and our approach to countering terrorism is set out in our counterterrorism strategy, Contest. We must attack the problem at source and combat it wherever it occurs.
Since June 2013, our police and security services have disrupted 18 terrorist plots in the UK that were either linked to or inspired by Daesh and its propaganda, including five since the attack in Westminster on 22 March. In the last Parliament, we announced an increase of 30% over five years in government spending on counterterrorism. We have protected overall police funding in real terms since 2015 and funded an uplift in the number of armed police officers. 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, so does the nature of the skills needed to tackle the threat.
Due to the unique and sensitive nature of the work, counterterrorism policing requires highly skilled staff, including specialist armed officers and detectives, digital and cyber experts, all who have the highest levels of vetting. Funding for the security and intelligence agencies has increased in cash terms by 5% since 2010, from £2 billion to £2.1 billion, and we are in the process of recruiting over 1,900 additional security and intelligence staff.
In addition to ongoing investigations and intelligence gathering, significant protective security measures have been implemented to protect potential targets. We will continue to see enhanced levels of police resources—both armed and unarmed—on our streets, and this will continue for as long as it is needed. We have increased physical security measures in some places, for example to protect pedestrians on our bridges. All forces have reviewed their security and police plans for forthcoming events and, where necessary, additional security measures have been put in place.
The Government continue long-standing work to provide the owners and operators of crowded places with advice and guidance to understand the threat and to take appropriate measures to reduce their vulnerability to an attack. We have long had detailed plans for responding to such incidents. In recent years we have developed a strong, police-led, multiagency capability to deal with a range of terrorist attacks in the UK, and we test and exercise those regularly. Recent attacks have shown our response to be effective. The attack in Westminster was over in 82 seconds and the attacker shot dead. In Borough Market, the attackers were shot and killed in less than eight minutes, and in Finsbury Park, police officers were in the immediate vicinity of the attack and responded within one minute.
The Home Office has established a cross-government Victims of Terrorism Unit to enable us to support UK citizens directly affected by government events. We have developed a comprehensive approach to countering terrorism in prison and probation. The separation centres announced recently to manage the most dangerous and subversive offenders are just one aspect of our work. We have introduced a wide range of measures to clamp down on extremist behaviour in prison and probation, including new specialist training for front-line staff to identify and challenge extremist views. We have also created a new counterextremism task force which will advise staff on how to deal with specific terrorist threats, and have banned extremist literature from prisons.
There is no single pathway to radicalisation, whether for Islamist-inspired, far-right or any other form of terrorism. The Channel programme, which offers support to those assessed as being at risk of radicalisation, has supported over 1,000 individuals since 2012. Around a quarter of Channel cases relate to concerns over far-right extremism. We are taking the robust action that is needed to tackle radicalisation online and to counter the poisonous ideology promoted by extremists. The Government are committed to ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to operate online.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary continues to lead efforts with technology companies to remove terrorist material. We continue to work closely with social media companies to progress an industry-led forum that will look to take a new global approach to tackling terrorist use of the internet. We have also just announced a joint programme of work with President Macron which will focus on ensuring that there are no safe spaces for terrorists on the internet. Since February 2010, social media providers have removed 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material, following referrals from the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit.
But we must do better. The gracious Speech we heard last month included a commitment to review our strategy to ensure that our approach continues to adapt to the evolving threat. We will also ensure that the police and security services have the powers they need and make sure that custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences are of sufficient length to keep the public safe. A separate review, led by a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, will consider the handling of recent terror attacks and ask whether there are lessons to be learned about our approach.
We live in a country which is as secure as it is open, diverse and inclusive, but there are those in Britain who do not share our values and who wish to do us harm. Extremism cannot be ignored. As the Prime Minister has said, “Enough is enough”. We need to do more to confront extremists and to contest their narratives. Since 2015, we have had a government-wide counterextremism strategy—the first of its kind. At the heart of the strategy is a partnership with every single person and organisation in this country that wants to stand up for our fundamental British values and is committed to defeating extremism. Through the strategy the Government have taken steps to protect our public institutions from the threat of extremism. Good progress has been made. We are supporting civil society groups to confront extremism in their communities and we have established community co-ordinators to work locally in support of groups challenging extremism.
However, there is more that we can and must do. That is why we are establishing a powerful new commission for countering extremism. The commission will help us to take on extremist ideology in all its forms. It will work in communities, with the public sector and across society to promote and defend our values of democracy and the rule of law, of the freedoms of belief and expression, and of mutual respect, tolerance, opportunity for all and integration. Work is under way on the design of the commission and we will set out our plans in due course.
In the last Parliament we introduced the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that law enforcement has the crucial powers needed to investigate and disrupt terrorists, paedophiles and organised criminals, and the Criminal Finances Act improves our capability to tackle terrorist finance, fraud and corruption, making the UK a more hostile place to launder the proceeds of crime. There are more than 6,000 organised crime groups active in and causing harm to the United Kingdom. Serious and organised crime costs the UK at least £24 billion each year. Around £5 billion of the annual “tax gap” is due to organised crime, so the threat is very real. In October 2016, a month-long operation led by the National Crime Agency and national counterterrorism policing led to the seizure of 833 firearms, nearly half of which are viable, and with hundreds still being assessed.
UK residents are more likely to be the victims of fraud than any other type of crime. Last week, the National Crime Agency produced its annual strategic assessment which shows that the scale of threats such as modern slavery and human trafficking is growing. Organised criminals are abusing online technology to defraud and extort, to facilitate the abuse of children, and to advertise the victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. The rise of the dark web has created illicit international marketplaces for firearms, drugs and indecent images of children. The Government are alive to the significant threat of serious and organised crime.
We have established new partnerships with industry, harnessing the skills and knowledge they can bring to bear. The Joint Fraud Taskforce is bringing government, banks and law enforcement together to lead the fight against fraud, and the National Crime Agency continues to build on its impressive track record of disrupting serious and organised crime and safeguarding children. Between April 2015 and March 2016, its work resulted in more than 3,000 arrests and 915 convictions, with 236 tonnes of illegal drugs seized, and £26 million in assets recovered. In that same period, the work of the NCA led to 1,802 children being safeguarded or protected. We are leading the global effort to end online child sexual exploitation and abuse. The WePROTECT initiative began with a UK-hosted summit in 2014. It has galvanised the global effort to tackle this despicable crime.
Our economic and international status make us a target for criminal cyberactivity and for hostile foreign intelligence services. The threat from serious cybercriminals is growing and we know that there are several established, capable states seeking to exploit computers and communications networks to gather intelligence and intellectual property from UK government, military, industrial and economic targets. Recent ransomware activity that impacted our NHS networks and the attack on parliamentary systems brings these threats into stark focus. Our national cybersecurity strategy, supported by a £1.9 billion investment, will improve our country’s ability to deal with cyber threats. The National Cyber Security Centre, which began work in October last year, will work with law enforcement, the intelligence community and industry to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online.
Our border is a critical line of defence against threats to our national security. Our capabilities to identify and disrupt threats are amongst the most advanced in the world. We continually review those measures and ensure that they are proportionate to the threat. The border provides us with a unique line of defence and an intervention point. There is a high level of collaboration between all common travel area members to strengthen the external CTA border, including use of passenger data and joint operational activity. This work is fully embedded into the work of our border security.
It is clear that there are real and persistent threats to our security, but we are committed to ensuring that our response to these threats adapts and evolves to meet them. We have unique assets in this country: the bravery of our emergency responders; the skill and dedication of our law enforcement and security and intelligence services; and, above all, our shared values. These will remain the cornerstone of security efforts in the United Kingdom. I beg to move.
My Lords, I begin by referring to my interests in the register—in particular that I chair the independent reference group of the National Crime Agency and co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing and security. I and the whole House are grateful to the Government for giving time to this important debate and to the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, for outlining the terrorist attacks that have taken place against this country in the last few months.
It was against the background of the series of murderous terrorist incidents across western Europe from the beginning of 2015 that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, shortly after his election in May 2016, asked me to conduct an independent review of London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident. While I am tempted by the full range of issues that the noble Baroness outlined in her introductory statement, I will confine myself specifically to how the nation should respond to the fact of terrorist attacks.
My immediate focus in conducting that review was on London’s ability to respond speedily and effectively to a marauding terrorist firearms attack. However, the review looked at a range of possible attack scenarios, including vehicles used as a weapon, as in the Nice and Berlin attacks and subsequently seen on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. I have previously been heavily involved in this field when, on behalf of successive Home Secretaries, I had oversight of policing work on counterterrorism and security from 2004 until early 2012.
The headline conclusion of my review was that preparedness had improved substantially compared with four or five years earlier. In particular, the emergency service response would now be much faster than it would or could have been in 2011. This was demonstrated during the course of my review by a stabbing incident in Russell Square on 3 August last year. This turned out not to be a terrorist incident, although the response was triggered as though it might have been. An individual, whom the court was subsequently told was suffering from,
“an acute episode of paranoid schizophrenia”,
attacked passers-by, tragically killing an American tourist.
The time that elapsed from when the first emergency calls were received to the control room being informed that an individual had been subdued and arrested—and not shot dead, which might have been the outcome elsewhere—was less than six minutes. This was a fast response by any standard. As the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, outlined, the Westminster Bridge incident—of which, regrettably, we were all observers—lasted precisely 82 seconds from the point at which the terrorist drove his vehicle on to the pavement until he was shot dead: just 82 seconds from start to finish. Again as the Minister outlined, in the London Bridge/Borough Market attack on 3 June, the police were on the scene within two minutes and paramedics from the London Ambulance Service within six. The three terrorists were shot dead less than eight minutes after the first emergency call. In all those incidents, the emergency response was rapid. However, it is an important and salutary lesson that even those fast response times would have appeared far too slow to those caught up in the incidents concerned.
Moreover, the London incidents involved individuals carrying knives rather than guns or bombs. Had they involved multiple assailants armed with automatic weapons or explosive devices, the death tolls in such crowded places would have been far higher.
It is of course theoretically possible further to increase the armed police presence so that those response times could have been shorter. However, we should be clear: that would not eliminate the risk or necessarily prevent fatalities. People armed with powerful guns could kill a lot of people even if the emergency response time was much faster. As we saw in the Manchester Arena, it is the work of a moment for a suicide bomber to blow himself up.
So the issue is what level of risk is acceptable. Doubling or quadrupling the armed police presence would obviously have a financial cost—even if it were practically possible to recruit, train and equip the officers required—but it would also have a profound impact on our way of life. How far are we prepared to go to change the look and feel of our cities to reduce, perhaps only slightly, the number who might be killed in such an attack? That is the dilemma: whatever we do, we, government, can never guarantee safety.
During my review, I was impressed at the huge amount of thought and analysis that has gone into planning and exercising for a wide variety of attack scenarios. There is necessarily a constant need to consider developing threats and evolving attack methodologies, and I watched this in action by sitting in on the fortnightly security review committee when, among other things, the implications of the Nice attack and an incident at RAF Marham were being considered.
This sort of preparation is essential. It has to be remembered that new attack methodologies can be spread via the internet within seconds. However, while it is imperative to have as good an intelligence picture as you can, planning should also be on the basis of expecting the unexpected. That something has never happened before does not mean that it will not happen tomorrow.
I remain disturbed that, even now, not enough is being done to limit the availability of guns. We benefit from the fact that firearms are more difficult to acquire in this country than elsewhere in the world. However, there is almost a complacency about this, with an assumption that attacks such as those that occurred in Paris in 2015 would not happen to us. But London and other cities are by no means firearms free. During the July and August of my review, the Metropolitan Police recorded 202 firearms discharges compared to 87 in the same months of the previous year. These were criminal rather than terrorist incidents and, of course, there is clear evidence that some convicted terrorists have tried to obtain arms from organised crime groups or from other sources.
Our borders are not as secure as they should be—I have questioned the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on this on many occasions. We have far from adequate coverage of our coastline by air and sea patrols: just three working vessels patrolling 7,700 miles of coastline, compared to the 16 that patrol the Netherlands coastline of 280 miles. Only a tiny proportion of vehicles crossing into the country through the Channel Tunnel or on ferries are ever searched, and the same is true for crates of goods arriving through our ports. The resources available to address this have declined in the last six or seven years. If there is complacency, it is misplaced and I fear that it is only a matter of time before we see a significant gun-related terrorist incident in the UK.
More generally, it is important to build a culture of resilience into the fabric of society so that risks can be mitigated. Some of that is about physical measures: bollards and barriers to limit the scope for vehicle-based attacks, and the capacity to close off roads to prevent cars and trucks entering areas where large numbers are gathered. Much more should be done to map crowded places and proactively install barriers to reduce such attacks. It is tragic that the barriers on the London bridges are being fitted only now and were not put up before the Westminster and London Bridge attacks.
We should use design to make new buildings harder for terrorists to attack and require that certain physical standards be incorporated to make attacks more difficult. When premises require licensing for public use or for specific events, there should be an expectation set as to their emergency plans and the extent to which their staff must be trained to manage certain types of incident. I hope that the noble Baroness, when winding up, will agree to look at these matters, particularly around the licensing of events.
The aim should be to develop a culture of security in all spaces where the public have access. During the review process, I was struck by how variable this was. I was particularly concerned about schools. Most schools have plans for evacuation in the event of fire. Very few had even thought about the need for an “invacuation” plan in the event of the school being under attack: what teachers should do, how pupils ought to be drilled and so on. Most have some rudimentary perimeter control system, designed to keep out predatory paedophiles, but are less well equipped to deal with a heavily armed marauder. I specifically recommended that each school should have a governor responsible for thinking about these issues and devising arrangements appropriate and proportionate for that school. The DfE was lukewarm about issuing any guidance, saying that it was a matter for individual schools. Of course I accept that each school is different—but surely they should all be encouraged to think about these things. Perhaps the Minister, when she replies, can reassure us that this attitude in the Department for Education has now changed.
Businesses have a duty of care not only to those who work for them but also to their customers and perhaps also to those simply passing by. Many employ security personnel. In London alone there are estimated to be some 100,000 such operatives registered with the Security Industry Authority; that is roughly three times the total number of police officers. Incidentally, I understand that the Home Office commissioned a review of the Security Industry Authority and has been sitting on the results of this for some 18 months. Perhaps the noble Baroness, when she responds, can tell us when we might learn the future of these regulatory arrangements. In the event of an attack, depending on the location, it is those security guards who may be first on the scene, and the public may look to them, as uniformed members of staff, for advice and protection. At the very least, they need to be adequately trained on how to respond in the event of a terrorist incident. At best, they are a massive resource to help protect the public.
Communication is key to all this. In the recent attacks, the Metropolitan Police used its Twitter feed to provide frequent, authoritative updates to counter what might otherwise have been misleading material on social media. However, there is much more that should be done, as has happened in a number of other cities, with the development of alerts directly to the mobile phones of everyone in the areas affected. The capacity to provide cogent, real-time advice targeted at different cell sites or different types of recipient is already available. I understand that the Cabinet Office has been looking at this for some time—three years—but has not yet reached a conclusion. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when it will do so.
Preparedness has to be proactive, and flexible enough to be relevant whatever the form of attack. We all must react seamlessly and effectively, whatever the nature of the incident. We all need a mindset of community security and resilience. Our cities and towns should have security and resilience designed in. They should be part of society’s fabric. Ultimately, it means that everyone should see security and resilience as their responsibility just as much as they are the responsibility of the emergency services and the civic authorities.
My Lords, I start by endorsing the Minister’s concern for the victims, thinking about those who have suffered, those who have been bereaved and those who will live with life-changing injuries. I intend to raise five questions and wonder whether we can draw conclusions on any of them. I attach a caveat: I retired from MI5 10 years ago. I am out of date. Therefore, I am not going to stray into the other threats, such as cyber, on which I will rapidly fail to be convincing, but will focus on terrorism.
What conclusions can we safely draw from considering the following questions: the tempo of attacks, of which we have seen quite a few in recent months; the scale of the problem; the type of attack—the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned several; the knowledge of the perpetrators; and the performance of my former service, MI5, and the police?
On the tempo, it is clear that the pace has accelerated markedly. During the five years I was privileged to lead M15—2002 to 2007—we had 15 significant plots, three of which were not detected in advance. These were: 7/7, evidently; 21/7 two weeks later, when the detonators failed to work; and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, who was stopped by an alert air hostess. Now we know from the Home Secretary that after Westminster and before Manchester my former colleagues and the police detected and prevented from materialising five other plots in as many weeks. That shows there is a very high level of plots indeed. As the Minister mentioned, the current level of severe—meaning that an attack is highly likely—is strongly justified and the tempo is intense. Therefore, the pressure on the police, who I think have performed magnificently in recent weeks, M15 and the other agencies is relentless.
The second factor is the scale of the problem—we have already heard the figures—which I think is genuinely unprecedented. I am not one to exaggerate but when we are told that MI5 has 500 active investigations involving 3,000 subjects of interest—as well as a vast pool of some 20,000 others whom it cannot focus on at the moment but about whom there have been past concerns, and whom it would like to go back to look at if time and resources allowed—it is pretty serious. Even I find this scarcely imaginable. In 2006, I gave a speech at Queen Mary College—not invited by my noble friend Lord Hennessy but by somebody else—and I mentioned 30 plots, not nearly 500. That figure was thought at the time to be astonishingly high. At that stage, MI5 was looking at about 1,600 people. The scale of change is dramatic.
On methods, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has quite rightly encouraged us not to think narrowly in this area. We have recently seen attacks that involved few people and were unsophisticated and low-tech, using knives and vans, as well as the shrapnel-packed bomb vest of the Manchester bomber. But none of us in this House can judge whether this is a pattern: whether it will continue to be low-tech, which in some ways is more difficult to detect in advance; or whether the large-scale conspiracies with which I am familiar from my time in MI5 might return—or, a whole lot of other, different techniques. We do not know—and will not, unless we have been paying attention—whether there are cases going through the courts at the moment in a run of terrorist trials that show other sorts of methods and attacks. Among the thwarted attacks ending in prosecution or, less satisfactorily, disruption there may be ones with quite different characteristics from those that we have seen so visibly and recently. There is a suite of tools and methods that the terrorists can use, and I am confident that the authorities will not narrow their scrutiny to the most recent but be ready for a spectrum.
My next point is our knowledge of the perpetrators. Some of the perpetrators were known to the authorities in advance. I know that I would say this—but I think that that should be a cause for praise, not criticism. Intelligence had worked and identified some of those people, who were likely to have tried hard to keep their activities secret. As my colleague and noble friend Lord Evans of Weardale—who is not meant to be here, and on his behalf, I apologise to the House that he cannot be here at the end of the debate to speak—said when he was head of MI5:
“You can know of someone without knowing what they will do”.
Given the scale of the problem, there are always going to be acute choices about where to focus, where to prioritise and how to rate the threat from individuals and groups.
That brings me on to performance. I very much welcome that there was not a rush to label the recent attacks as “intelligence failure” without knowing more. Failure in intelligence clearly can occur, but you have to look back to see whether what happened was really preventable. Context and scale are important. This House should have confidence that the reviews conducted by MI5 and the police, overseen by the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, will be rigorous. I have little doubt that the Intelligence and Security Committee will also have a role. It was certainly the culture of MI5 when I was there—and I am confident that this will absolutely not have changed—to subject itself to a good deal of self-criticism and self-scrutiny in a search for constant improvement. We were never satisfied that we could not do better. We were always searching for fresh ways of maximising our chances against, sometimes, a clever opponent. We were never misled by a recent success to assume we would stop the next attack. My colleagues will have been devastated by the recent attacks, but that will not affect their determination to do their utmost to stop further ones. As the Minister said, we should not forget that 18 plots have been stopped in the past four years, saving lives and leading to the conviction and imprisonment of terrorists.
I have a few further observations on matters that I am sure will come up in this debate, the timing of which is very welcome. Terrorist groups here are directing, encouraging and inspiring people here and overseas to mount deadly attacks, and not just in London. For too long people assumed that this was a London problem, but Manchester graphically showed that it is not. Planned attacks have involved guns, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, and we must not rule them out as a possibility. We are not alone in this. Many other countries are suffering high rates of terrorism, and substantial intelligence will continue to be shared with our friends and allies. One of the things that is nearly always said after a terrorist attack is that we need to share more information. Vast amounts are shared already, but even sharing everything will not prevent some attacks.
Those are five observations, under five headings, and I have some conclusions to pick up on. In Downing Street on 4 June, the Prime Minister made four pledges: to defeat the ideology; to address the “safe spaces” of the internet; to address the safe geographic spaces; and, finally, to review the UK’s counterterrorist strategy. I will pick up only the first and the last of those.
The belief that Islam is under attack from the West, which is corrupt and decadent, holds appeal for too many in our society and around the globe—and generates, to some degree, the outrageous right-wing response to those sorts of attacks. But we need to look at the whole pattern, not just rely on the security and intelligence organisations, the police and many other people. Here I pay tribute to the vital work of MI6 and GCHQ, as well as of MI5 and the police. But we should not rely just on them to deal with the worst manifestations of this belief at the end, as it were, of the chain. All the weight should not fall on them. To use a medical analogy, we have to look at the whole epidemiology of the disease—its causes, its transmission—not just its terminal, in every sense, result. The Home Office Prevent programme, on which I fully admit I am out of date, has been much criticised but I recognise that prevention, if achievable, is the best option.
Finally, on the counterterrorism strategy, we must never tolerate language which misleads people into thinking that this can magically be cured in the short term, however hard everybody works and whatever bright ideas people have, or that all attacks can be prevented. This is a long-term problem and requires our continued resolve. But to try to cheer myself and your Lordships up at the end of my speech, I will say that as we face the challenge, we draw on great strengths, such as world-leading police, intelligence and emergency services—some of the things the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said were very reassuring to me—equipped with the powers they need to do their job. Many of your Lordships will have been in the Chamber during the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act and know that they have the powers to do the job, alongside deep and enduring international partnerships, and the resilience and courage of our people, including the members of the public who behave so bravely in many of these attacks.
My Lords, building on that, I will try to be a little hopeful. I too thank the Government for the opportunity to discuss these matters. First, we need to acknowledge that in the light of these horrors we are right to identify security as a primary aim of government. In a debate such as this, we also need to make sure that we pay proper tribute to our Armed Forces, police, prison staff and many others who daily face danger and harm—and of course, as we know, who even lay down their lives, such as PC Keith Palmer.
It is also incumbent on us to remember those who have laid down their lives in the past. This gives me a chance just to mention PC Ian Dibell, who died restraining a gunman in Clacton five years ago in the diocese where I serve—yesterday was the fifth anniversary of his death. We need to remember and to salute these individuals. But of course this debate is also about how we support and resource them so that they can do their job of maintaining our security. I certainly welcome what I have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, about the comprehensive and international approach that the Government want to take but, along with others, want to question whether the resources we are looking at will be sufficient. As we have just heard, we also need to be resolute in identifying and opposing anyone who harbours, supports or funds terrorism—anyone at all, from any direction or ideology.
Furthermore, it is rightly said that when strengthening defences against terror and murder, we must not sacrifice the freedoms which are among the values that stand so firmly at the heart of our national life. We welcome and recognise that this Government, like their predecessors, will attend closely to the right balances between privacy, safety, freedom and security that we have already heard about.
I want briefly to emphasise one further angle, which I hope is hopeful, and perhaps takes a slightly longer view. The word “secure” originally means “without care”. It is a condition where one is free enough from apprehension and fear to flourish and develop as a person and as a society. The Hebrew word “Shalom” and the Arabic word “Salaam”— basically, the same word—are very close in meaning to “secure”. They point to a totality of harmonious relationships where one is safe and secure, where there can be human flourishing and where human well-being for everyone prospers.
Of course, when such security is threatened, our instinct is to build more walls and post more sentries. As I hope that I have already made clear, proper provision and support for those who keep us safe and making that a national priority is of course vital, but we must also acknowledge that, beyond that, bigger walls and more heavily armed sentries cannot be the only answer.
In Australia, cattle graze on vast farmlands without the boundary markings of a fence. “How do you gather your cattle together?”, a rancher was asked. “How do you keep them safe?”. “When you have dug a well,” he replied, “you do not need a wall”. This is another interesting approach to security. The long-term security of our nation and our world will only be achieved in the same way. As well as investing in walls, we must equally—perhaps, more so—invest in wells.
One thing that pains us most about recent incidents is that these terrorists are homegrown. It gives me no pleasure to say that in the diocese where I serve, which covers five east London boroughs and the whole of the county of Essex, in the work I do visiting communities, many young people feel disfranchised and overlooked and do not have the opportunities that we would wish them to have. I am not trying to make any particular point here, other than that I see that. These conditions are breeding grounds for disenchantment which can, under a certain toxic mix of circumstances, turn to radicalisation of various sorts.
We need to provide the wells: the opportunities, the hope, the unifying values that can refresh and envision. It is good to hear about the initiatives that the Government and previous Governments have made. I thank them for them—indeed, I have been involved in some of them locally—but we must continue to address them. For instance, there is Near Neighbours in east London and the work of local schools, parish churches and other faith and community groups. On the ground, these are places that are investing in our neighbourhoods and providing hope. In the end, it is these things that will be our very best defence against the entrapment and radicalisation that leads to terror and dis-ease.
I hope that government policy will continue to keep its eye on the well as well as the wall and that your Lordships will forgive me, as one who is a follower of someone who broke down barriers and burst out of tombs, and consider this a reasonable contribution to this debate.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Vere. I think it is the first time she has opened a debate in this House, and I congratulate her on the way in which she has done it on a subject on which I must say your Lordships have already heard enough to realise that there will be some very significant contributions. Indeed, we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, with his huge experience in policing in particular, and, of course, from the noble Baroness, with her unrivalled knowledge in this field. As I am following the right reverend Prelate, I shall say one or two words about the relationship that the Church of England and the other churches can play because at the heart of this is the terrifying abuse of religion, if one looks at it in that way, in which we have a sect that now seems to believe that 98% of the world’s population are legitimate targets in pursuit of its particular objectives, which is an amazing situation.
I bring to this debate my own experiences in Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to terrorism, but I am struck enormously by the totally different situation that we face here. Thank goodness we never had suicide bombers, who introduce a totally different range of possibilities of assault. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to trucks and vehicles in which the drivers themselves accept at the start that they will probably not come out of it. They are lethal and damaging attacks and can be very much worse. I think that one single driver in the lorry in Nice killed 80 people, so terrifying new possibilities exist.
I am also very much struck by something else. Sinn Fein/IRA, as it was then, was sensitive to public opinion to an extent. It did not want to lose morale and tried to enlist more and more support from the nationalist community. I remember particularly the huge damage that was done to it by the attack at Enniskillen—noble Lords will remember the number of people killed at a Remembrance Day service. That was a huge public relations setback for the IRA and Sinn Fein at that time. The terrorists that we face now seem not to mind at all the outrage committed in the cause that they seek to serve.
I went on from Northern Ireland and then defence to be the first chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee—a few noble Lords behind me will remember that with either pleasure or grief. I stopped doing that when I left the House of Commons in 2001. I stopped being an MP then and came to your Lordships’ House. I am struck by the fact that, at that time, as an MP I had not had an email. Members of Parliament now have to cope with 300 or 400 emails a day and the burst of new challenges that now exist in that whole world. It is only 16 years, but we have had since this extraordinary explosion of social media communications, the world of the internet and—which I find very difficult to keep up with—the worlds of WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. They are all virtually brand new in the history of our time, yet they pose enormous challenges.
I strongly support what the noble Baroness just said about the situation that we face going forward. This is not a short-term problem. The situation in the world at the moment is the most disturbed it has ever been. There are 60 million displaced people in the world at present, some internally displaced within their own country and others desperately trying to get to another place that may be rather happier than where they were brought up.
The problems now are linked together: the population explosion; climate change; the number of countries that are failed states, where the best thing that anyone can do for themselves and their families is to get out as quickly as they can and try to move to other countries; and the problems of water supply. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, gave me an article about the prospects for Iran, saying that the water prospects there could mean that up to 20 million people will have to emigrate within 30 years’ time. That could be a gross exaggeration, as somebody said, but even if it is, it still means that the potential for disturbance and the problems that could arise from that are massive.
Against that background, we have Islamic extremism. At the moment, although there seem to be military victories—and the latest news from Mosul and what may be happening in Raqqa may be encouraging news in that respect—encouragement has probably been given to the leadership by lone wolf attacks, which offers no great encouragement of any early change.
On the subject of lone wolves and all that, I have been hugely impressed by the skill and ability of ISIS in the whole social media field. Look at the production of videos—I do not know where ISIS does it, and I do not know whether we will be told that the success against Mosul and Raqqa means that suddenly ISIS will find that harder to organise. But it has been extremely impressive in its ability to produce videos. It has done it for operational communications—and I understand that the whole of the explosion of success that ISIS had in its early stages in capturing all those territories was entirely done by communications on WhatsApp. It is far more efficient communication than we ever had in the British Army, in terms of instant communication with thousands of people. That can be illustrated by the way, as noble Lords may have noticed, a substantial force can suddenly turn up somewhere it was not expected—in Palmyra, for example, which ISIS captured when we thought it was on the run.
The use of the social media outlets in that way has been hugely effective. Some of it has been for operational purposes, and some of it has been for poisonous propaganda, which it has used extremely successfully, with incredibly large audiences. It is not just a problem of what is being said in the mosque; if those hate preachers get on to Facebook, Twitter or whatever communication vehicle—and the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, knows much better than I do how they might do this—they can potentially communicate with millions of people. Also, given the opportunity, they can recruit a lot of new people as well.
I was very struck by the article in the Times today, which some may have seen, which says that Germany is taking a substantial initiative to try to get the social media companies to be much more active and prompt in removing unacceptable illegal content, including hate speech, terrorist material and other forms. The article says:
“Videos on social media are known to have influenced Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, and Khuram Butt, one of the London Bridge attackers”.
We also know that the Manchester bomber found instructions on YouTube on how to make his bomb. Against that background, Germany has now acted and is setting fines of up to €50 million under a network enforcement law, if companies fail promptly to remove illegal content, including hate speech and terrorist material.
The Prime Minister has already gone on record, in May, I think—as has President Macron of France—to say that we are thinking of doing something along these lines. I hope we can get on with it, because the Germans are already doing it. We certainly know that there is no question of these companies having no money and being unable to afford to take the necessary steps in these directions. They could be much prompter in dealing with some of these abuses and the quite unacceptable and dangerous material which is being allowed on their various channels.
Against the background of all the threats that we face, I strongly endorse what the noble Baroness said. I am hugely impressed by the successes which our intelligence services have had. The fact that they do not catch every single one should not be seen as an abject failure. The volume which the noble Baroness spelt out so well—the number of incidents they are dealing with—is obviously a huge and critical challenge for them, and they deserve our fullest support.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, things are going to go wrong. There is a real risk of further incidents and nasty challenges of one sort or another. Against the threat that we face, it may not be possible to hold them all. When she opened the debate, the noble Baroness drew attention to the seriousness of that threat. In such situations, during my time in Northern Ireland I always felt the resilience of the local population: the world was not coming to an end and they were going to stand together and overcome the challenges they faced. Maintaining public morale in these dangerous situations is hugely important.
And we do that, not as an isolated country, but with the fullest international co-operation. Countries throughout the world are now facing challenges of this kind. It would be no surprise to anyone in this Chamber whichever country it turned up in. It might be in South America, the Far East, in Africa or somewhere in Europe, but we all face it and need to work together with every other Government of good will. We particularly need to maintain our European relationships, including Europol, as actively as possible so that we can do the best possible job of protecting our country against the very serious threats which we face and which we will have to be prepared to resist.
My Lords, I declare an interest as police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland. I too welcome the fact that the Government have found time for this debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, about the huge level of expertise among those who have already spoken—including, of course, the noble Lord himself—and all those who will speak afterwards. I fear I am not really in the same category. I did have experience as a Defence Minister, but I left that even longer ago than the noble Baroness left MI5, so my knowledge of security from the military point of view, if there ever was very much, is much reduced. My present position does compel me to talk about the policing side of security, and counterterrorism is not the only part of policing which touches on, and is essential to, security. In preparing for this debate, I was lucky to receive a written briefing from my force and, more importantly, I spoke to my chief constable, the deputy and assistant chief constables and the head of counterterrorism in Leicester. However, it should be clear that all the remarks I make are mine and no one else’s.
I had the privilege of attending the gold group that was set up immediately following the Manchester outrage and to have been present at a number of meetings at which the emphasis was on security and safety of all those who live and work in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. That perhaps gives me a little insight into how and in what manner an excellent police force deals with the security crisis resulting from this series of attacks in Westminster, Manchester, Borough Market and Finsbury Park. Therefore, I hope the House will forgive me for sharing some thoughts from someone who does not have a career background in policing but hopefully has picked up one or two things in the last 14 months.
A fundamental truth is that security has to be a total system, starting in neighbourhoods and reaching to the security services, and so the importance of neighbourhood policing in the security field cannot be exaggerated. Information that can save people’s lives can and does come from a proper—by that, I mean a properly funded—system of neighbourhood policing. That is why the funding debate, which I hope the Government now recognise is a real debate, cannot in the security field be about simply giving more money to counterterrorism, important and timely though that is, given the cuts that have already taken place in counterterrorism over a number of years.
Everyone knows that neighbourhood policing has suffered most over the last few years from the cutbacks in police funding which seemed to be policy for the coalition and for the present Government. No one is saying that efficiencies and some savings were not sensible and necessary, but I submit that all reasonable people know that it has gone too far. Talking in a local context, the figures are frightening. In Leicestershire, for example, we have had a cut in grant of approximately 38% and have lost 547 police officers between 2009 and 2016—that is around 23%. We now have one police officer per 599 members of the public. In 2006, there was one police officer per 430 members of the public.
This loss of funding cannot be sustained for ever. The Government must stop pretending that flat cash funding does not represent a cut in real terms, because it quite clearly does. The effect of these cuts can be seen even more clearly and sharply at a time of crisis in national security, when they are highlighted in a startling way. It shows how good security fundamentally depends on policing being properly funded. Of course, the lack of police numbers makes it even more difficult for forces to take the action needed following an incident.
Of course, the police are used to being under pressure. That goes with the job: it is what police officers sign up to. However, there has been just too much pressure in the last few months. This is because limited resource has had to be moved to cover extra work occasioned by the change in the threat level to critical, and the continued heightened atmosphere, followed by the move back, a few days later, to severe. In policing parlance, there were a lot of abstractions, which required much back-filling. This involved many 12-hour shifts, which resulted, frankly, in many worn-out and exhausted police officers and police staff. This will have happened around the country. In my own view, Leicestershire Police responded very well, with a calmness and sense of public responsibility that we have become used to. However, the underlying truth, which cannot be escaped, is that there are now just too few cops. In the words of a senior officer, “The security crisis is amplified by the lack of resource”.
In fact, the way in which the force has publicly responded is to be applauded—and I know that that is true of other forces around the country as well. I will tell the House some of the measures which have been taken by my local force in response to the security issues the country faces. First, it has put more visibly armed officers on the street and in key locations, but with a strict brief to talk and be friendly with the public they meet; secondly, it has increased community engagement, including, of course, involvement in interfaith activities and taking part in the vigils that occurred outside mosques as well as in other public areas; thirdly, it has set up a gold group, which I mentioned, which has drafted a strategy to cover the whole force area, drawing up, for example, a list of public events that would need special attention; fourthly, and importantly, it has briefed and had input from the local resilience forum, which has worked well; fifthly, there has been a strong, powerful response to any increase in hate crime; sixthly, a sophisticated communications plan has kept the public both advised and informed by way of joint circulars to partners, including local authorities and other agencies, with up-to-date information, signed off by a chief officer and myself; and, finally, there has been public reassurance on the media, and of course—here I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord King, said—on social media, from the chief constable himself.
Because of my role as the bridge or link between the public and the police, I needed to be satisfied that at this highly sensitive time the police were getting it right and that the messages being put out were appropriate. I am proud to say that the diverse public that make up the Leicestershire area have remained very supportive of all the actions that so far their police force has taken. In fact, I have heard no criticism, and people are not normally short of coming up with criticism of the police.
We are all still very conscious that the security situation is still very serious, and I hope that we are alive to the dangers the country still faces. In Leicestershire, we are proud of our diversity: the fact that people with different backgrounds and faiths live and work next to each other peacefully is a matter of great pride. Everyone, from wherever they come, agrees that there can be no other response, of course, than total condemnation of those who practice terror. Tomorrow evening, I will be opening a police-inspired meeting around the Prevent programme, at which all communities will be represented. The intention is to discuss the events of the last few months and the way forward. It is only through the community and the police working together that we can possibly defeat those whose evil actions are determined to divide us. We will not be divided.
My Lords, I take part in this debate with some diffidence, in particular following the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. Their experience is practical, whereas mine, albeit as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, has always been theoretical.
I will pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord King, about the significance of the retaking of Mosul. We have already seen evidence of displacement of effort from Daesh, and it is likely—indeed, inevitable—that that will continue, and at a much greater level. That, if anything, will once again increase the burden on those whom we charge with the responsibility of providing our safety and security.
I doubt very much that it is possible to defeat the doctrine of so-called ISIS. I suspect that containment and deterrence may be as much as we can do, at least in the short term, but, as has been referred to in the debate, that does not in any way absolve us from doing the things which Parliament and society can do in support of the security services, rather than just relying on them, and I will come to one or two of those things towards the end of my remarks.
In the aftermath of some of these terrible events, it is often said that they have been an illustration of mindless violence. It is not mindless; it is clearly decided upon because of its effectiveness in causing fear in the first instance, in provoking extreme responses, which may yet radicalise more of those who are sympathetic to the cause of the terrorists, and in undermining the values of the societies which they detest to the point of destruction. We should never forget that those who direct terrorism do not lack ambition. They will never be satisfied, I suppose you could argue, until the last round is fired and the last man or woman is standing. Therefore, the problem will have many facets, even after what might be thought to be considerable success.
When anxiety is expressed about these matters, it is sometimes said that the statistics tell us that you are less likely to be killed by an act of terrorism than you are in a road traffic accident. Of course, that is not the point, because a terrorist attack is the most intrusive violation of our space. It is a violation of our values and a violation of our rights, and that is why it can never be compared with fatalities from traffic accidents, as some rather loosely seek to do.
The physical and emotional impact on victims of terrorism is self-evident, but the emotional impact on society at large is in many ways equally severe. There is the fear and alarm to which I have already referred but there is also the undermining of our confidence to go about our daily business, and of course the undermining of the confidence of those who have the difficult responsibility of ensuring our protection. That last point is even more significant when the recent mechanisms of terrorism have been everyday objects such as vehicles and knives.
In such circumstances as we find ourselves after the events of the last few months, it is easy for the debate to become polarised, in that people—often in newspapers’ editorial columns—simply call for more powers for the authorities. However, such calls are met by fears that that would be irreparably damaging to the very freedoms that are the foundation of our society. We saw some of that in the progress of the Investigatory Powers Bill through this House, but I want to say now, as I said then, that in my judgment that Act contains necessary powers governed by necessary safeguards.
It is not clear to me that any of the atrocities of the last few months would have been prevented by increased powers or longer sentences. There is some suggestion that we should create what has rather fancifully been described as an Alcatraz. But I offer the slightly fanciful parallel of Colditz. The Germans put all those people who were clever at escaping into Colditz, and what did they do? They became much cleverer. They were not perhaps as successful as they might have hoped, but they passed on the tradecraft they had learned and therefore became all the more skilled at what they sought to do.
These terrible events might have been prevented by greater resources in order to ensure full use of the powers already available. The noble Baroness who introduced the debate referred to the additional 1,900 positions and the effort to ensure that the total sums expended in these matters kept pace with inflation. But I remind her that that undertaking was given by Prime Minister David Cameron, in the autumn of 2014 to the best of my knowledge and most certainly before the general election in 2015. Noble Lords who have contributed to the debate so far have pointed out the extreme nature of the challenge as compared with historical circumstances. In that spirit, I respectfully suggest that the whole issue of resources needs revisiting.
I also hope that it is possible—and I am talking about society—to create an environment in which individuals will be more willing to provide information to the authorities. There are two kinds of intelligence, SIGINT and HUMINT, and I sometimes think with our justifiable concern about the internet that we do not place sufficient emphasis on achieving the kind of information that can be provided by witnesses. I also believe—I am happy to see that the Government have this issue in mind—that we need a different relationship with the internet service providers. In support of that, I offer the fact that Fusilier Lee Rigby was murdered by two men who were known to the authorities, one of whom, it later emerged, had been engaged in an exchange on the internet on the basis of having said, “I want to kill a soldier”. That information emerged only after his conviction and that of his co-accused. That puts into sharp relief the extent to which the internet service providers are willing to ensure that such information is not allowed to lie on the internet.
The interesting thing about that case is that the individual concerned had had several accounts closed because of the unacceptable nature of the material on them. I appreciate that this involves a considerable burden that gives rise to all kinds of social and some might even argue cultural issues, but the internet cannot be freely used without any check or effort to prevent the dissemination of material that arms those who seek to do us harm.
None of the things I have suggested would necessarily have guaranteed that Trooper Lee Rigby would have been saved, but one or other of them might have done so. On that basis, when we are seeking to eliminate risk, we must consider every possible avenue by which to do so.
I have already referred to what I call, perhaps rather neutrally, a more productive relationship with the internet service providers. The noble Baroness mentioned that the Prevent strategy has been the subject of some criticism. In principle the strategy is clearly significant, but we should examine carefully the extent to which some communities have come to regard it as not only unacceptable but highly intrusive.
Finally, it is necessary to pay tribute, as others have done, to the quite extraordinary quality of those who have the responsibility for protecting us—not only the security services but the police as well. As we have seen recently, they put their lives at risk in an effort to fulfil their responsibilities; sometimes a legal obligation but I suspect for many of them, a far greater moral responsibility. We should never discuss the issues we are considering today without recognising the importance of these obligations.