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Terrorist Incident at Liverpool Women’s Hospital

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 16 November.

“The explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital just before 11 o’clock on Sunday was a shocking incident, and my thoughts are with all those affected and the people of Liverpool, the city of my birth. I would like to thank the emergency services for their typically quick response and professionalism, and the police for their work on the investigation, which continues at pace.

The House will understand that I cannot comment on the details of this case as there is an ongoing live investigation. We are, of course, monitoring it closely. The police have stated that the motivation for this incident is yet to be understood. However, this is a further stark reminder about the threat we all face from terrorism. Our world-class security and intelligence agencies and counterterror police work night and day to keep us safe.

Yesterday, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre took the decision independently of Ministers to raise the UK national threat level from substantial, meaning an attack is likely, to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. JTAC, which operates independently of Ministers, considers all relevant intelligence and information to produce an agreed assessment of the threat from terrorism.

The public should remain alert but not alarmed. I know that honourable Members will want to avoid speculation about the case. I would urge the public and the media similarly to avoid speculation at this stage. Public safety is one of our chief priorities. We will continue to work with the police, alongside our world-class intelligence and security agencies, to confront and combat the threat from terrorism.”

I express our gratitude to the emergency services, which had to deal and are still dealing with this awful incident and its aftermath, whether that incident be terrorism-related or not. I also pay tribute to the bravery and actions of David Perry, the driver of the taxi, and express the hope that his recovery proves to be full and complete. We have to be ever vigilant and proactive in combating and thwarting abhorrent acts of this kind.

I have just two questions. First, the Government have had a report on dealing with so-called lone actors. What are the Government doing with that report? We have called for a judge-led review. Secondly, in the Commons yesterday, Conor McGinn MP referred to a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee

“that included recommendations on the use of and construction of such devices—namely, regulation around the ingredients or chemicals used to make them.”

He asked:

“Why have none of those recommendations been implemented after four years?”—[Official Report, Commons, 16/11/21; col. 459.]

There was no answer from the Government yesterday. Twenty-four hours later, can the Government now give an answer to that question?

I thank the noble Lord for his questions, and I join him in paying tribute to our emergency services, who acted so quickly to try to preserve life at the scene of the attack, and to the taxi driver, who really was a hero in what must have been an extremely frightening situation. We wish him and his family well. With regard to the first question about lone actors, clearly we get information from all sorts of sources. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that the nature of terrorism is changing, and we have seen a number of lone-actor attacks in the past few years. I cannot comment on this attack further because clearly it is a live and very new investigation. The facts of the case will come out as the investigation continues, but I know that the police made a statement today. I will get back to him on the report he referred to if I can. I am not sure what more I can say about it today.

My Lords, I understand the caution that the noble Baroness has expressed about the incident itself; it did not seem to stop the Home Secretary reportedly saying that

“The case in Liverpool was a complete reflection of how dysfunctional, how broken, the system has been in the past”.

Despite that, I also express my thanks to the police, the security services and the taxi driver. Does the Minister agree that so-called lone-wolf or lone-actor attacks are some of the most difficult to prevent, whatever motivates them; and that, while the police and the security services do an outstanding job, they cannot be successful without the help and support of people from every community? What are the Government doing to build trust and confidence with communities where this is lacking?

I totally agree with the noble Lord that these things are hard to predict and hard to deal with when they happen. I have seen a couple of comments, particularly from BAME communities in Liverpool, saying that they have faced hate incidences in the last couple of days, and we have seen before that, when an attack happens, quite often it is women who bear the brunt of the hatred and the name-calling. When I was Minister for Counterextremism, I remember going to many different communities, such as Muslim communities and Polish communities after Brexit, trying to provide reassurance. The police have been fantastic on the back of some of the attacks in reassuring local communities.

My Lords, I too commend the work of the first responders and others who did so much at the scene. It now transpires that the perpetrator was finally refused asylum in 2017, and that was the last time his case appeared before a court. Why did the Home Office not remove him from the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2021? Is it not outrageous that the Home Secretary is trying to blame anyone but the Home Office for him being still in this country?

I do not disagree with the noble Lord that the chap should not be in the country, but in many instances people will frustrate removal processes by putting forward new claims. When we consider the borders Bill, one thing that we have to ensure is that, when people are refused asylum, they are sent back to the country from which they came.

My Lords, further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, does the Minister think that perhaps the public deserve to know how many other failed asylum seekers are still in this country and waiting to be removed? This is very worrying for the public and for all of us here, I hope.

I agree with the noble Baroness that this is a concern. That is the reason why the Home Secretary is trying to construct a new legislative framework to make sure that asylum claims are granted or, if they are not, that people are sent back as quickly as possible.

My Lords, we all support the enormous bravery of the taxi driver and salute him. There is apparently some crowd funding going on of dubious authenticity. I do not ask my noble friend to comment on that, but should it not be automatic that anybody who foils a terrorist outrage of this sort is rewarded by the Government and that any material loss suffered, such as the loss of the man’s taxicab, is dealt with on an official basis?

I do not know. I agree with the principle of what my noble friend says—it is pure humanity—but I do not know the details of what is going on in order to help the taxi driver to rebuild his life. I have seen things in the press this morning, but I could not comment on them because I do not know if they are correct. But that man is a hero.

My noble friend Lord Rosser asked about this report about the constituent parts of a homemade bomb. From my experience in the construction industry long ago, some of those bits and pieces are easily obtainable in the construction and agricultural industries. Could the Minister make sure that a copy of this report is put in the Library and sent to noble Lords who have spoken? It seems very important that there should be some control over these materials.

The noble Lord is right. Certain parts of what could be used to make a bomb are now controlled under Home Office licence, as he will know. If I can, I will of course put a copy of the report in the Library.

My noble friend has said that asylum seekers look for additional reasons as to why they should not be removed from this country. Do those reasons include conversion to Christianity?

I am afraid to say to my noble friend that they do. Noble Lords will remember the Reading attack, which was one such case. In fact, the Reverend Mohammad Eghtedarian raised concerns about asylum seekers cynically posing as Christians way back in 2016, as did the Right Reverend Peter Wilcox, admitting that people had mixed motives for conversion to Christianity. People wanting to frustrate the system will use a range of different reasons to do so. What is sad about this is that it stops some of the more genuine asylum claimants coming to this country.

My Lords, a number of noble Lords have mentioned trust and confidence and reassuring the community. On reassuring the whole community of the United Kingdom, can there be a little less concern about specific communities and more open debate and discussion about the threat of Islamist extremism? People are nervous that they will be accused of being unfair to Muslim communities when actually many Muslims are worried about Islamist extremism. We need more open debate, because there is a feeling that we are not able to have that discussion. After the terrible murder of David Amess and all the things that we have faced, we need that to be openly discussed in this country, among all of us.

The noble Baroness is right. I have said so many times at this Dispatch Box that the vast majority of people who are Muslim and who live in this country are law-abiding, share our values and contribute to society. We have just celebrated their role in helping us in the First World War. We talked about free speech yesterday or the day before; I totally agree that, in these discussions, there should be respect for free speech.

My Lords, the time allowed for the Urgent Question has now elapsed. We will take a moment to let people who do not want to be here for the next piece of business escape from the Chamber—[Interruption.]—accompanied by music. If only all the times I stood up I was accompanied by a jaunty tune, but unfortunately that cannot be so.