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House of Lords Hansard
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23 March 2017
Volume 782

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy. But today we meet as normal, as generations have done before us and as future generations will continue to do, to deliver a simple message: we are not afraid. Our resolve will never waiver in the face of terrorism and we meet here, in the oldest of all Parliaments, because we know that democracy and the values it entails will always prevail. Those values—free speech, liberty, human rights and the rule of law—are embodied here in this place but are shared by free people around the world.

A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather together to celebrate what it means to be free, and he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children. This was an attack on free people everywhere, and on behalf of the British people I would like to thank our friends and allies around the world who have made it clear that they stand with us at this time.

What happened on the streets of Westminster yesterday afternoon sickened us all. While there is an ongoing police investigation, the House will understand that there are limits to what I can say. But having been updated by police and security officials, let me set out what at this stage I can tell the House.

At approximately 2.40 pm yesterday, a single attacker drove his vehicle at speed into innocent pedestrians who were crossing Westminster Bridge, killing two people and injuring around 40 more. In addition to 12 Britons admitted to hospital, we know that the victims include three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks, and we are in close contact with the Governments of the countries of all those affected. The injured also included three police officers who were returning from an event to recognise their bravery. Two of those three remain in a serious condition.

The attacker then left the vehicle and approached a police officer at Carriage Gates, attacking that officer with a large knife before he was shot dead by an armed police officer. Tragically, as the House will know, 48 year-old PC Keith Palmer was killed. PC Palmer had devoted his life to the service of his country. He had been a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command for 15 years, and a soldier in the Royal Artillery before that. He was a husband and a father, killed doing a job he loved. He was every inch a hero and his actions will never be forgotten. I know the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his family, and to the families and friends of all those who have been killed or injured in yesterday’s awful attacks. I know also that the House will wish to thank all those who acted with such speed and professionalism yesterday to secure this place and ensure we are able to meet, as we are doing, today.

At 7.30 pm last night, I chaired a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, COBRA, and will have further meetings and briefings with security officials later today. The threat level to the UK has been set at “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely, for some time. This is the second-highest threat level. The highest level, “critical”, means there is specific intelligence that an attack is imminent. As there is no such intelligence, the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has decided that the threat level will not change in light of yesterday’s attack.

The whole country will want to know who was responsible for this atrocity and the measures we are taking to strengthen our security, including here at Westminster. A full counterterrorism investigation is already under way. Hundreds of our police and security officers have been working through the night to establish everything possible about this attack, including its preparation, motivation and whether there were any associates involved in its planning. While there remain limits on what I can say at this stage, I can confirm that overnight the police searched six addresses and made eight arrests in Birmingham and London.

It is still believed that this attacker acted alone, and the police have no reason to believe there are imminent further attacks on the public. His identity is known to the police and MI5, and when operational considerations allow he will be publicly identified. What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that some years ago he was once investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure. The case is historic, and he was not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot. Intensive investigations continue.

As acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley confirmed last night, our working assumption is that the attacker was inspired by Islamist ideology. We know the threat from Islamist terrorism is very real, but while the public should remain utterly vigilant, they should not, and will not, be cowed by this threat. As acting Deputy Commissioner Rowley has made clear, we are stepping up policing to protect communities across the country and to reassure the public. As a precautionary measure, this will mean increasing the number of patrols in cities across the country with more police and more armed police on the streets.

Since June 2013 our police, security and intelligence agencies have successfully disrupted 13 separate terrorist plots in Britain. Following the 2015 strategic defence and security review, we protected the police budgets for counterterrorism and committed to increase cross-government spending on counterterrorism by 30% in real terms over the course of this Parliament. Over the next five years, we will invest an extra £2.5 billion in building our global security and intelligence network, employing over 1,900 additional staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and more than doubling our global network of counterterrorism experts working with priority countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

In terms of security here in Westminster, we should be clear first of all that an attacker attempted to break into Parliament and was shot dead within 20 yards of the gates. If his intention was to gain access to this building, we should be clear that he did not succeed. The police heroically did their job. As is routine, the police, together with the House authorities, are reviewing the security of the parliamentary estate, co-ordinating with the Cabinet Office, which has responsibility for the security measures in place around the government secure zone. All of us in this House have a responsibility for the safety and security of our staff, and advice is available to Members who need it.

Yesterday we saw the worst of humanity, but we will remember the best. We will remember the extraordinary efforts to save the life of PC Keith Palmer, including those by my honourable friend the Member for Bournemouth East.

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Hear, hear.

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And we will remember the exceptional bravery of our police, security and emergency services who once again ran towards the danger even as they encouraged others to move the other way. On behalf of the whole country, I want to pay tribute to them for the work they have been doing to reassure the public, treat the injured and bring security back to the streets of our capital city. That they have lost one of their own in yesterday’s attack only makes their calmness and professionalism all the more remarkable.

A lot has been said since terror struck London yesterday. Much more will be said in the coming days, but the greatest response lies not in the words of politicians but in the everyday actions of ordinary people, for beyond these walls today, in scenes repeated in towns and cities across the country, millions of people are going about their days and getting on with their lives. The streets are as busy as ever. The offices are full. The coffee shops and cafes are bustling. As I speak, millions will be boarding trains and aeroplanes to travel to London and see for themselves the greatest city on earth. It is in these actions, millions of acts of normality, that we find the best response to terrorism, a response that denies our enemies their victory, that refuses to let them win, that shows we will never give in, a response driven by that same spirit that drove a husband and father to put himself between us and our attacker, and to pay the ultimate price, a response that says to the men and women who propagate this hate and evil: you will not defeat us. Let this be the message from this House and this nation today: our values will prevail. I commend this Statement to the House”.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating today’s Statement. I understand that some of the words at the beginning of my previous comments were lost, so I will just repeat them. The noble Baroness and I had a number of meetings yesterday until quite late in the evening, and I add my personal thanks to her and pay tribute to the leadership she has shown.

The Prime Minister, in her words last night and as we have heard today, has I believe spoken for the nation. Yesterday showed us the best and the worst of society, the worst being those who seek to maim and murder. Yesterday’s atrocities can never be justified by any belief or cause. But we also saw the best, as the noble Baroness has said. We have paid tribute to Police Officer Keith Palmer, who was killed as he protected others. I hope we will be able to have a permanent memorial in the Palace of Westminster to him. Many others from inside this great building and across Westminster ran towards trouble to care for and give comfort to others. That is the London I know.

The full facts may not be clear for some time, but it is clear that this was a vile attack both on innocent individuals and on the institution and symbol of parliamentary democracy. As we receive more information, I have no doubt that security will be reviewed and assessed. That is right. Those who work here in the Palace of Westminster and in London and beyond, and those who seek to protect Parliament, public institutions and the public, should expect nothing less. We must do all we can to ensure the security and safety of our Members of Parliament and their staff. It is less than a year ago that I stood here after Jo Cox, our Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, was murdered as she worked for her constituents. In seeking to protect lives, we must also seek to protect our way of life, our values and our democracy. At this stage I ask only that the noble Baroness keeps Parliament informed and engaged in this process.

Yesterday’s attack, as truly shocking as it was, ultimately failed—but at a very high price. Our determination to continue our work and our way of life is not false heroism, but based on sound values and responsibility. It is only possible because of the courage, commitment and professionalism of those such as Police Officer Keith Palmer who stand day in, day out in front of danger and evil to protect us all.

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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The horrific events of yesterday were an attack not just on Parliament but on democracy. It was an attack on the values that are represented by this building and recognised across the world: freedom, openness, tolerance, human rights, mutual respect for our neighbours and the rule of law.

No doubt there will be lessons that we can learn from the events of yesterday, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the person who carried out this horrific attack was, as the noble Baroness said, prevented from entering the building and was stopped a matter of yards within its precincts. The security arrangements in place for such an attack swung into action, for which we thank our security staff and of course PC Keith Palmer in particular.

I hope that, as we move forward from yesterday’s events, we maintain the sense that Parliament is an open place which the public can visit to lobby parliamentarians and to see our democratic processes in action. But we must listen to the individual experiences of Members and staff to determine where improvements can be made.

I welcome the statement by the Lord Speaker that the House of Lords Commission will be considering these matters next week. No doubt individual Members will have views of their own. I, for example, would like us to look again at the long-standing proposals to pedestrianise some of the streets around this place. However, there are many other sensible suggestions that we need to look at tomorrow.

I have only one question for the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. We do not know at this stage the extent to which this particular incident was entirely home-grown, but we do know that terrorism is an international business. I hope she can give the House an assurance that as we move forward in the months and years ahead, the Government will do everything they can to ensure that our strong and growing security links with our closest neighbours across Europe are maintained and strengthened.

I hope that today, as we condemn this senseless violence, that condemnation will be expressed by both faith and secular communities across the country, for the greatest tribute we can give to those who have lost their lives is to come together as a country and uphold our way of life and democracy.

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My Lords, it is not the usual custom for the Convener of the Cross Benches to respond to a Statement of this kind, but this is a very special occasion. I pay my own thanks to the Leader for repeating the Statement in the other place by the Prime Minister.

There are lessons to be learned from yesterday, and they certainly will be. One of the things that struck me as the evening wore on was the challenge faced by the security forces, police and staff—indeed, the doorkeepers in this Chamber—in moving so many people about without risk to themselves. It was an enormous undertaking. I do not have the exact figures but something like 800 people were in Westminster Hall, while it was said that 2,500 people were present in Westminster Abbey. You have to imagine the process of moving people from place to place. They included children who were kept in Westminster Hall, who kept themselves and many other people happy by singing songs, which was a remarkable achievement by their teachers. That is just one of the examples of the good-natured way in which people responded to the demands of the evening.

I pay my own tribute to the doorkeepers, because we depend upon them. It was stressed in a recent rehearsal for something similar to this incident that we would be subject to the direction of the doorkeepers and, with their usual tact and firmness, they made sure that we were in the right place at the right time and guided to the places where we ought to be taken.

As I said at the end of my short statement, there are things to be thankful for, and there are certainly things we can learn from. Thank goodness the incident was not worse than it was. Just imagine the real horror if the person had broken into the Chambers with his knife. It is for that, the fact that the incident was stopped so early, that we owe so much to PC Palmer and his colleagues.

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My Lords, I add a welcome from these Benches to the Statement by the Prime Minister, which, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said, rightly set the tone and spoke for this country. I also convey to the House the messages of sympathy and support that I have received through the night from faith leaders around the world and across this country who want this House and Parliament, particularly its staff and those who have suffered, to know how much those people are in their hearts and minds.

With regard to values, I want to refer to something that seems to me to go deeper, to something that is at the foundation of our own understanding of what our society is about, and I want to do so in three simple, brief pictures. The first is of a vehicle being driven across Westminster Bridge by someone who had a perverted, nihilistic and despairing view of objectives, and of what society and indeed life are about, that could be fulfilled only by death and destruction. The second is of that same person a few minutes later, on a stretcher or on the ground being treated by the very people whom he had sought to kill. The third is of these two Houses, where profound, bitter, angry disagreement is dealt with not with violence, despair or cruelty but with discussion, reason and calmness.

Those three pictures point us to deep values within our society—deeper even than those that have rightly been mentioned in the Prime Minister’s Statement and other statements. You would expect to hear this from these Benches, but it is the sense that comes from a narrative that has been within our society for almost 2,000 years. It speaks at this time of year, as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter, of a God who stands with the suffering and brings justice, and whose resurrection has given to believer and unbeliever the sense that where we do what is right—where we behave properly, where that generosity and extraordinary sense of duty that leads people to treat a terrorist is shown, where the bravery of someone such as PC Keith Palmer is demonstrated—there is a victory for what is right and good over what is evil, despairing and bad. That was shown yesterday; that is shown not just in our expression of values but in our practices, which define those values; and that is the mood that we must show in future.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, the noble and learned Lord and the most reverend Primate for their comments. I also thank the noble Baroness and the Opposition Chief Whip for their help and support yesterday. It showed that we can all work as a team in times of great distress and difficulty.

I am sure that the noble Baroness’s suggestion of a permanent memorial to PC Palmer will be something that the Houses reflect on in due course as we come together to think about our reaction to these tragic events. I also confirm that we will of course keep Parliament updated of developments as and when we are able to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, rightly raised the experiences of Members of this House, the public and the other place yesterday. I reiterate the words of the Lord Speaker: we will be assessing with the police and other partners what happens and how we can improve things, but I echo all of our thanks to the police, the doorkeepers and all members of staff, who had as traumatic a day as we did yesterday but helped us throughout and put us first, as ever.

I also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that we will continue to work closely with our international partners to combat terrorism. The warm and strong words we have already heard from our partners around the globe show the strength of the relationships we have and will continue to have.

Finally, I thank the most reverend Primate for his powerful words. There is nothing I can add to them, so I will leave the last word to him.