The following Statement was made on Monday 22 June in the House of Commons.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement on the senseless terror attack that took place in Reading on Saturday evening. That appalling attack is now subject to an ongoing police investigation and, as such, there are limits to what I can say. However, I want to share as much detail as I can with the House this afternoon, on behalf of the police, following my conversations with them over the weekend and my visit to Reading this morning.
At around 7 pm on Saturday evening, a 25 year-old male entered Forbury Gardens, in the centre of Reading, and began to viciously attack several groups of people. The outstanding police officers from Thames Valley Police responded with great courage and great speed. The armed suspect was tackled to the ground by an unarmed officer and was immediately arrested at the scene. The suspect remains in custody.
After initial investigations, Counter Terrorism Policing declared the attack a terrorist incident, and is now leading the investigation. The police have confirmed that the threat is contained, but that, sadly, three innocent members of the public were killed, murdered in a sudden and savage knife attack as they enjoyed a summer evening with friends. Another three victims were injured and received hospital treatment.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of everyone who was hurt or killed as a result of this sickening attack. The victims of terrorism unit at the Home Office, and family liaison officers, are supporting them, and I know that Members from across the House will join me in sending our heartfelt condolences.
It was truly humbling to visit Thames Valley Police this morning. I had the privilege of meeting the officers who first responded to the incident and who were responsible for apprehending the suspect, as well as for trying to prevent the loss of further life. Those officers—a few of whom were student officers—ran towards danger, to help those in need, without a second thought. A young unarmed police officer took down the suspect without hesitation, while another performed emergency first aid on those who were injured. These officers are heroes. They showed courage, bravery and selflessness way beyond their years. They are the very best of us. I would also like to pay tribute to the response of every emergency service that attended the scene, as well as to members of the public who stepped in to prevent further loss of life.
The United Kingdom has the best security services and police in the world. Since 2017, they have foiled 25 terrorist plots, including eight driven by right-wing ideologies. They serve the country with professionalism and courage, embodying what the British public rightly expect from those on the front line of the battle against violent extremists and terrorists.
The UK’s counterterrorism strategy remains one of the most comprehensive approaches to countering terrorism in the world but, over recent decades, we have all too often seen the results of poisonous extremist ideology. The terrorist threat that we face is complex, diverse and rapidly changing. It is clear that the threat posed by lone actors is growing. These terrorists are united by the same vile hate that rejects the values our country holds dear: decency, tolerance and respect.
We are united in our mission to tackle terrorism in all its forms. Since day one, the Government have backed our police and security services, which work around the clock to take down terrorists and violent extremists. On any given day, they make a series of calculated judgments and decisions on how best to protect our citizens and country based upon the intelligence that they gather.
In the light of the many complexities across the security, intelligence and policing communities, in January this year I announced increased resources for counter- terrorism policing, resulting in a £90 million increase this year alone. That has taken counterterrorism policing funding to more than £900 million—the highest ever. That is because we live in a complex world, against a backdrop of evolving and dynamic threats—threats that, when they do materialise, are worse than shocking when, as we have seen again this weekend, they result in the tragic loss of life.
Bolstering our security and policing network and front-line capability is part of our ambitious programme to strengthen the joint working between the police and security services to leave terrorists with no place to hide. It is also why we are committed to developing a new ‘protect duty’, so that businesses and owners of public places must take into account the threat of terrorism. It is also why, following the shocking attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham, we took strong and decisive action.
That action included the introduction of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, the emergency legislation that retrospectively ended the automatic early release of terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences, forcing them to spend a minimum of two-thirds of their time behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board. Through our Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which goes into Committee in this House this week, we are introducing much tougher penalties for terrorists, to keep the public safe. This is the biggest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades, strengthening every stage of the process, from introducing a 14-year minimum jail term for the most dangerous offenders to stricter monitoring measures. Jonathan Hall QC is also looking at how different agencies—including the police, probation services and security services—investigate, monitor and manage terrorist offenders.
I totally understand the desire for details and information to enter the public domain, particularly at this time, as people ask what happened and why. However, as you pointed out, Mr Speaker, I would ask everyone, including the media, to be cautious at this stage about reporting on individuals who have not been charged. We must not do anything that could put at risk the victims or their loved ones achieving justice.
The first duty of any Government is to protect the people they serve, so we continue to pursue every option available to tackle the terrorist threat and to take dangerous people off our streets. As the Prime Minister reiterated yesterday, the police and security services will continue in their investigations to better understand the circumstances of this tragic incident, and, if further action is needed, we will not hesitate. Our world-class CT police and security services have my unequivocal backing as they hunt down hate-filled terrorists and extremists. My message today is clear, simple and strong: swift justice will be done; victims will be supported; and, if further action is needed to stop terrorists in their tracks, this Government will not hesitate to act. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I express our sincere condolences to the families of the three victims of the atrocity in Reading on Saturday. Our thoughts are very much with them, at what must be a heartbreaking and mind-numbing time. We send our very best wishes for a speedy recovery to our fellow citizens who were injured in the senseless attack, knowing that they are in the safe and caring hands of our magnificent NHS staff. It is clear that all the emergency services reacted to the sickening events on Saturday evening with speed, professionalism and a lack of regard for their own safety—in that final regard, particularly the unarmed police officer who apprehended the individual now under arrest. I express our appreciation of the courage and concern for others of members of the public at the scene who assisted those who were attacked.
The police have arrested an individual under terrorism powers. There are media reports that those who were murdered were members of the LGBT community and that the individual under arrest had mental health problems and was known to the security agencies. This is, however, an ongoing police investigation, and I appreciate that the Minister is constrained in what she can say, about either the specifics of this awful incident or the individual who is under arrest. But any further factual information she is able to provide would be helpful.
This is not the first violent attack by a lone individual, but rather an addition to what is a succession of recent such horrific incidents of this nature. In November, we had the attack at Fishmongers’ Hall, and in February at Streatham; now, in June, it is Reading. The public want answers about these appalling incidents.
We understand that the security services have some 30,000-plus people known to them, and a very much smaller, but nevertheless significant, number of people in whom they have to take a much closer interest on our behalf and in the interests of our safety. We are indebted to our intelligence and security services for the work they do to protect us all, and recognise that many acts of potential or threatened terrorism are thwarted thanks to their diligence and expertise. The murderous attacks that do occur will inevitably, and not surprisingly, always receive much more publicity than the very much larger number of potential or threatened acts of terrorism that are stopped and prevented.
If the investigation into the Reading atrocity, particularly in the light of the other, very recent incidents, reveals that more resources are needed by our counter- terrorism, intelligence and security agencies, I hope the Government will ensure that those additional resources are provided.
The atrocity at Fishmongers’ Hall raised issues surrounding the release of people from prison. The individual under arrest under terrorism powers following the Reading attacks had, it has been reported, served a short prison sentence. At some stage, questions will have to be asked about the nature and extent of risk assessments carried out in respect of people leaving prison who are known to the security services; levels of supervision, or otherwise, following release; and the workloads of probation officers, inside and outside prison.
Lessons will need to be learned from Saturday’s deeply distressing atrocity. That can only be done following a full investigation, but can the Government say in general terms whether any lessons have been learned and put into practice from either the Fishmongers’ Hall or Streatham attacks, and indeed from one recently in a prison, apart from the legislation enacted or being enacted regarding prison sentences, early release and controlled procedures? If any lessons have been learned from those earlier attacks it seems that they will not yet have been shared with the Intelligence and Security Committee, since the Government have not taken the necessary steps since the election at the end of last year to enable it to be reconvened. I hope that does not indicate a lack of the Government’s prioritising ensuring parliamentary oversight of security issues and our security agencies, particularly at the present time. When do the Government expect the committee to meet again?
There is also the continuing delay over establishing the review of the Government’s Prevent strategy. I believe that the closing date for applications for the post to lead the review was yesterday. We need real progress here too because legislation alone will not be enough. We have to take a thorough look at deradicalisation in our prisons, how people who pose a threat are risk assessed and how different agencies can work together to safeguard against tragedies and horrors of the kind witnessed in Reading on Saturday.
Community policing has been cut, yet the intelligence gathering it does as the eyes and ears of our society is vital. Will the Government commit to now build again the capacity required for law enforcement?
What is the position with the Serious Violence Taskforce, which apparently has not met for a year? Does it still exist? If not, can the Minister at least refresh my memory as to when its demise was announced, and why?
More information will come to light as the police investigation continues and I hope that the Minister can commit to keeping the House updated, including on the lessons that need to be learned. Many issues will need to be considered and addressed in the weeks ahead, but we stand with the wider community in Reading at this desperately difficult time and remember particularly those who tragically lost their lives.
My Lords, this was a dreadful attack on innocent people, and we condemn it. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives, the injured, and the police officers, ambulance crews and members of the public affected by this terrible incident.
There has been much discussion in recent weeks about policing, in both this country and the United States. This incident, where unarmed officers ran towards, tackled and detained a dangerous and armed suspect, reminds us how police officers put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. It is right to ask probing questions, but it is also right to remember that we rely on the police for our safety. Our thanks should also go to the members of the public who supported the emergency services by administering first aid while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
The matter is under investigation, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, and I know the Minister will not respond to questions about the suspect. So, despite any reservations I may have, I will continue on the basis that this was a terrorist attack, rather than it being the result of mental illness or motivated by prejudice.
We have the best police and security services in the world. I was part of the Metropolitan Police Service for over 30 years and I was awestruck by the capabilities of the security services when I was briefed on the Investigatory Powers Bill by representatives of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. We have also seen numerous pieces of legislation over the years to extend the powers of the police and security services, and the powers of the courts to sentence those convicted of terrorism offences and to prevent their early release. Indeed, there is legislation before the other place as we speak. Yet lone wolf terrorist attacks appear to be increasing. As my right honourable friend Alistair Carmichael said in the debate on the Statement in the other place,
“if the answer to this problem were to be found in a formulation of the law, we would have found it by now.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/20; col. 1089.]
The problem is this. Too many people—some traumatised by their experiences in war-torn parts of the world, but many British-born young men—are being radicalised, either in prison or online, and there is not enough collaborative work with communities to address the problem. It is neither possible nor proportionate to keep all of the thousands of people who may be of concern to MI5 under surveillance, and the overwhelming majority will do no harm. The tiny minority who decide to carry out so-called “lone wolf” attacks can change from “harmless” to “dangerous” overnight, and almost always only close friends, relatives or community members who are around them will notice that change.
In the same way that policing by consent relies on the public being the eyes and ears of the police so that we do not need a police officer on every street corner watching for criminal activity, so communities, friends and relatives need to be the eyes and ears of counter- terrorism. In the same way that policing by consent relies on the public having trust and confidence in the police, communities, friends and relatives must have confidence in the Government’s counterterrorism strategy generally and the Prevent programme in particular.
I have referred to him before and I do so again: my friend and the former head of the anti-terrorist branch, John Grieve, said that the police and security services cannot effectively tackle terrorism alone; they need the help of the public. As the current head of counterterrorism policing said today:
“If you see any suspicious activity, don’t hesitate to ACT—report it.”
Trust and confidence in the police and security services comes from genuine and comprehensive community policing, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, whereby concerned communities, friends and relatives feel safe in passing on their concerns to officers they trust. Trust and confidence in the police and security services comes from communities, friends and relatives feeling it is safe to pass on their concerns to the Prevent programme.
My two questions to the Minister are these. When will the Government reintroduce the genuine community policing that they have decimated over the past decade not just with drastic cuts in the number of police officers, which they are going some way to addressing, but with the devastation of police community support officers, so that there can be a dialogue of equals between the police and the communities they are supposed to serve, rather than the police simply explaining the policing they are imposing on those communities? When will the Government appoint an independent lead for the review of the Prevent programme, in whom communities have trust and confidence, to produce a programme that communities can feel safe passing their concerns to? Unless the police, community services and communities work together, these lone-wolf attacks will continue to be very difficult to stop.
I join both noble Lords in expressing condolences to the families of those killed and in wishing a speedy recovery to those injured. I also join them in praising our emergency services, who ran towards danger to help those people whose lives were in danger, in particular the unarmed policeman who went to help. The noble Lords are both right to point out that I am very constrained in what I can say, and I thank them for understanding that constraint. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made the point that we have the best police and security services in the world. I wholeheartedly agree, as I do on policing by consent.
Both noble Lords pointed out that this was yet another lone attack. There have been 25 terrorist attacks thwarted since 2017, which is a tribute to the police involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about more resources. He will have heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary say yesterday that an additional £90 million will be in place this year for CT policing, because we need the resources in place for police to be able to respond to these dreadful events. As for other types of policing, 20,000 additional police officers are due to be recruited over the next few years. On community policing, it is the PCC who decides on the type of policing required for a particular area; it is a decision at local level, and that is absolutely right.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about lessons learned from Fishmongers’ Hall and cited the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill; that is one thing. In February this year the Security Minister announced plans to introduce the legislative Protect duty. The proposals would require certain operators of public venues and organisations to consider their preparedness for and protection from a terrorist attack.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned on a couple of occasions the need for community engagement, and I could not agree more. This problem cannot be solved by any one agency or by government. As the noble Lord said, it is not just about legislation; we need interventions at all levels of society, including public vigilance and confidence in reporting to the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the Serious Violence Taskforce. In the last few months it was replaced by the National Policing Board, which is an excellent forum for these sorts of things—the interventions we can make for our communities—to be not just discussed but actioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked when the Government will appoint an independent reviewer of Prevent. The process is under way and we aim for that review to be complete in September next year.
My Lords, in the aftermath of every terrorist incident there is inevitably speculation about whether more could have been done to prevent it. Does my noble friend agree that, by its very nature, intelligence is not an exact science, but rather requires many—often very difficult—assessments? Will she reiterate this Government’s fullest possible support for the police and the intelligence agencies? Overall, they do such a fantastic job in seeking to keep us safe from the ongoing terrorist threat.
I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend. He is right: intelligence is not an easy science at all. If we think about the 25 terrorist attacks thwarted, we can imagine what things would be like if the intelligence services had got it wrong. That is a staggering figure—25 terrorist attacks thwarted in just three years. As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, say, our police and intelligence services are the best in the world.
My Lords, this is the first time the Government have so publicly revealed the sheer scale of the terrorist threat. The perpetrator seems to have been one of 40,000 on a Security Service B-list; another 3,000 are on an A-list. This is a massive threat to our society, mainly but not solely from Islamic extremists. Surely it is now time for a further step change in the resources devoted to this matter. It takes years to recruit, train and engage new members. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to take in hand this work?
I am sure that the noble Lord will realise that I cannot talk about any details of this case. On the terrorist threat, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about additional money for counterterrorism policing, and I pointed out that there is an additional £90 million this year and that we intend to recruit 20,000 more police officers over the next few years. Of course, it is about how that resource is deployed. As my noble friend Lord Caine said, intelligence is a very difficult science. I pay tribute to our intelligence services which, despite some of these attacks, have kept us safe from 25 terrorist attacks over the last three years.
The Minister has referred to the extra £90 million for counterterrorism. Is this ring-fenced and will it be continued in future years? Secondly, what reassurances and protections are being given to minority communities, which will be feeling very vulnerable at this point?
The answer to the first question is yes; the CT budget is always ring-fenced. I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate saw last night on the television the solidarity with which different faith communities in Reading came together immediately. It seems to be really crucial that different faiths come together in the immediate aftermath of things like that, to stand together against terror.
My Lords, this is another tragic loss of life apparently by the hand of a person recently in prison. Is the Minister confident that the Prison Service has the resources to recognise potential danger in those who pass through its hands? When I was on the ISC, that was the kind of issue we discussed with the heads of the intelligence and security services. My noble friend Lord Rosser raised the question of why the ISC has not been formed again since the last election. Can the Minister please give some reason as to why it has not been formed? When will it be? Is it not a disgrace that in these dangerous times we have no parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, amid reports in the media that one of the reasons for the delay is that the Government Whips are playing political games with who they are going to nominate from their own party?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, I cannot make any comment on the individual from Sunday’s tragic events. She is absolutely right that enough resource must be given to prisons to put in place programmes—often multiagency programmes—to rehabilitate individuals and provide theological teachings to correct some of the more warped teachings they may have learned. On the ISC, I do not know the answer to that, so I will not pretend to know. I do not know when it is next due to meet, but I can certainly take that back.
My Lords, the Home Secretary said yesterday in the other place:
“There is always more work to do, and I am sure there is more that can be done in the future.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/20; col. 1087.]
I think we all take the point made by my noble friend Lord Paddick that it is neither possible nor proportionate to keep everyone of concern to MI5 under surveillance. When the Intelligence and Security Committee is up and running, which I too hope is very soon, can the noble Baroness and her ministerial colleagues encourage it to assess whether there need to be changes in the resourcing, operations or focus of the security and intelligence services and counterterrorist police to enable them better to keep track of people already on their radar?
My Lords, I have already gone through the figures for CT policing and for policing in general. I am sure the noble Baroness will have heard them. I am confident that our security and intelligence services have the resources they need. I concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said about keeping people under surveillance. Not everything can be solved by legislation, but intelligence-led information is incredibly important. It will be at the heart of how we go forward so that people who are a danger to themselves and to others do not slip through the net.
My Lords, I endorse the comments of all the Front-Benchers and particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The challenge of the lone wolf attack was addressed recently by Met Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu. It is a real and growing threat. How can the Government seek the support of a community that it needs to deal with these challenges when it simply refuses to work with that community? My noble friend is aware from her own connections with the community that this is an issue, especially when this refusal of the Government to engage is ideological and political and neither factual nor practical. To tackle terrorism we need to work together. When and how is the Government’s policy of disengagement going to change?
The Government have been very clear that we will engage with people and communities that share our common values and wish to see a society that is safe for everybody. The Government keep decisions about disengagement under regular review, but it is very difficult to engage with those who wish to do us harm or do not share the common values of the wider society in which we live.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that religious leaders have a responsibility to explain that claims of God-sanctioned religious superiority and the denigration of others embedded in religious texts fuel terrorist activity and are not relevant in today’s times?
The noble Lord is right. It is very easy to take a piece of religious text and twist it so that it has a different meaning or to wind people up by saying that God wants something from them which is not the case. He has talked a lot about religious literacy and ensuring that those who preach whatever religion do so not in a biased or twisted fashion that takes away from the original text.
My Lords, I share the concerns of my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lady Ramsay that the ISC has not met recently. It is too important to be messed up by internal party-political shenanigans. Having been deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee for some three years, I have no doubt about the competence and dedication of the men and women in the agencies. They are in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of potential threat suspects, whether additions from abroad or whatever. Is there not a need to further enable technology to assist us? This could include the greater use of CCTV and other electronic items, enabled by 5G; the use of artificial intelligence; utilising big data, and so on. Clearly, there are risks and we must not become a surveillance society. The Investigative Powers Act may need amending. Are these avenues being reviewed with some urgency, bearing in mind the numbers involved?
The noble Lord makes a valid point. Technology has its place in keeping us safe. We need to advance that technology in a way that strikes a balance between privacy and protection. Sometimes by breaching people’s privacy, you give them their freedom. There is so much advanced technology available to help keep us safe and it is important that we use it.
I will not ask the Minister to comment on the ongoing investigation because I know that she will not. There have been reports that the detained person had been accessing mental health services. Will she assure the House that, if lessons are to be learned from this tragic incident, the availability of mental health services in the community beyond those in the criminal justice system will also be considered? Even before this crisis, the Government’s record on providing mental health services for those seeking them has been very poor. Can we be assured that mental health services, specifically for young people and for those coming out of a criminal justice or prison situation, will be included as part of her stocktaking exercise?
The noble Lord is right to point out that I will not comment on this individual case. There has been a lot of emphasis on mental health services in the last year or two. It is absolutely right that, if someone comes out from a prison—or indeed a hospital—with mental health needs, the wraparound service is there to protect them as they recover from it.
My Lords, as the mother of three grown-up sons, my heart goes out to the families of James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails, to the Holt School and to all those who were injured. Searching questions arise about the integrity of the Prevent strategy, which has been seen to demonise and alienate large swathes of Muslim communities. The same is true of the leadership of the counterterrorism strategies, which has thus far allowed only the voices of the disconnected and discredited within the majority of the communities to be heard. Will the Minister consider setting up a cross-party task force to reach out to the community? This should include women, as well as the Arab community—which must now include Libyan people—with a view to addressing socioeconomic as well as health, housing, employment, education and mental health service inequalities. It could perhaps be led by the Minister, with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi.
I join the noble Baroness in offering condolences to the families and those who have lost loved ones. She talked about an issue which crosses society, religion and all sorts of boundaries. It is a multi-government effort to ensure that our communities feel included, safe and protected from violence.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I welcome the Minister’s reaffirmation of the intention to legislate on a protect duty. Reference has already been made to the bravery of the unarmed police officer who rugby tackled the alleged perpetrator. Can the Minister tell us whether any armed response units were scrambled to the scene and how long it took them to arrive? I am aware from my work on London’s preparedness that, in recent incidents in the capital, armed police have been on the scene within a small handful of minutes. London is resourced well in recognition of the higher level of risk. My purpose is not to criticise Thames Valley Police but to establish whether there are sufficient armed police outside London. What are the Government doing about this?
The noble Lord is right to ask that question. He will have heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary talking about the events of Sunday. I cannot tell him in exact minutes, but the response was extremely quick. Some of the officers were student officers and ran towards the danger to help those in need.
I think the noble Lord is trying to come back. I cannot hear him; I think he has been muted. This is the beauty of Virtual Proceedings. I cannot speak about the armed response but it does appear that, on Sunday, the response was very quick, very brave and mitigated what could have been a far worse event.
My Lords, on 3 May in the other place, Theresa May, an ex-Prime Minister and ex-Home Secretary, expressed concern about the quantity and quality of data that will be available to our security and counterterrorism services from 1 January 2021, when we will have left Europe. She raised specific concerns about the Prüm arrangements covering fingerprints, DNA and car registration, the European criminal record system, the Schengen Information System and data accuracy, yet the response from the Prime Minister was, “It’ll be all right on the night”, or some such words. Are our security services advising on what will happen on 1 January, and how much assurance can the Minister give that these matters are being treated seriously?
My Lords, the noble Lord points to a crucial issue: those datasets for law enforcement purposes and national security need to be in place after our departure from the European Union. We have EU and other structures to use, depending on whether a negotiated outcome is agreed or not.
My Lords, I agree that we saw the police at their very best in Reading a few days ago. I welcome the extra £90 million a year that will be allocated to counterterrorism policing. If I were a member of the intelligence and security services, I would want to find out from MI5 how many of the 30,000 people on a theoretical list it would like to keep under closer scrutiny. In other words, no matter what its resources are, is it in difficulty and does it not have enough resources to watch all those people? Will the Minister also comment on an added difficulty facing the security services? We have seen a resurgence of the threat from far-right terrorists as well, so the resources of the security services must be divided across a very wide spectrum indeed.
The noble Lord is right to point out that we need the resources to tackle people who are either a danger to others or assessed as possibly being a danger to others. I pointed out earlier, in answer to the question on police officers and CT policing, that both have had a big uplift in their resources, but it is about the deployment of those resources and the intelligence that adds to the mix in ensuring that we can tackle some of the people who pose a real danger to our communities.