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Places of Worship: Protective Security Funding

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place about security in our places of worship:

“Yesterday marked the start of Ramadan, a peaceful time of prayer and reflection. Throughout the holy month, Muslims will come together in mosques to celebrate. The tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand, will never be far from their minds, and the 51 innocent souls who were slaughtered in March will be remembered in many prayers. A terrorist gunned down these Muslim men, women and children as they paid respects to their God. A few weeks later, Christians were massacred by terrorists in Sri Lankan churches as they observed their faith on Easter Sunday. More victims were targeted in hotels, with over 250 lives lost. Just days ago, a gunman stormed a synagogue near San Diego, killing an innocent woman on the last day of Passover. Each one of those atrocities was heartbreaking and tragic, and my thoughts are with every single person affected. I know the House will join me in condemning these hate-fuelled attacks on our freedoms and values.

This slaughter has sent shockwaves through our religious communities. People are understandably worried. Many members of my own family contacted me after Christchurch to seek reassurance and to ask, ‘Just what are you doing to stop this happening here?’ With your permission, I would like to answer this today to provide some much-needed reassurance.

There can be no doubt that people are being targeted because of their religion—in terrorist attacks around the world, yes, but also in vile hate crimes on the streets of this country: sledgehammer attacks on mosques, a Christian preacher spat at in the street and a brick thrown through a glass synagogue door. I condemn all these attacks with every fibre of my being. No one should be targeted because of what they believe. Everyone, of every faith, deserves the right to observe their religion without fear, and we are doing all we can to ensure that this remains the case in the UK and that our fundamental values are preserved.

Allow me to update the House on some of the work under way to protect our religious freedom. First, I have increased the places of worship protective security fund to £1.6 million for 2019-20—double the amount awarded last year. Expressions of interest are now open for the next round of the fund, which will open in July. Since the scheme launched in 2016, over £1.5 million has already been awarded, with 63 grants to churches, 49 to mosques, five to Hindu temples and 17 to gurdwaras. They have paid for security equipment such as CCTV, security lighting, new locks or fences. Many more places of worship will now benefit after we made it even easier to apply this year, by removing the need to find multiple quotes and contractors. A separate £14 million grant also provides security for Jewish schools and synagogues against terror attacks.

Secondly, a new £5 million fund will provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales. This funding will support the physical security measures provided by the places of worship fund. It will share best practice and help faith organisations understand how best to protect their worshippers.

Thirdly, we are consulting religious communities on what more can and should be done to help them. We will shortly announce a programme of engagement to help us understand what they need and how to make it work in a faith setting. This listening exercise will inform how the £5 million security training fund is spent to ensure that it is effective, and it will help ascertain how we can best protect worshippers.

Fourthly, we are providing immediate help with a Ramadan package of support for mosques. We know that Muslims are anxious for their safety after the atrocity in Christchurch and that tensions are heightened during religious festivals, so we are supporting faith associates to provide security training and advice for the Islamic holy month. Support is being given in 12 workshops around England and Wales and guidance is being distributed to over 2,000 mosques, community centres and madrassas.

Finally, our world-class police provide vital protection to all places of worship. Patrols near mosques were stepped up following the Christchurch attack to provide much-needed reassurance, and the police increase activity around religious festivals and holy days, including the Ramadan period. Our security services work tirelessly to disrupt all terror threats to this country. This includes tackling the growing threat from the far right, with four such terrorist plots disrupted since the beginning of 2017. We are also using a range of other powers to tackle the threat of terrorism and extremism in this country.

Our robust hate crime legislation has seen far-right influencers jailed for a range of offences, including religiously aggravated harassment. As Home Secretary I can exclude a foreign national from entering the UK if I believe their presence would not be conducive to the public good—a power I can, and do, use to stop hate preachers stirring up tension here; I have excluded eight since I became Home Secretary. Our Prevent and Building a Stronger Britain Together programmes work with and through local communities to challenge terrorist or extremist ideologies—from Islamist to the far right.

Together, this comprehensive package of support provides protection for all our places of worship. We know that there are deep and genuine concerns in religious communities; we know that people are feeling vulnerable and scared. But have no doubt: I am listening to these concerns and responding. The diversity of this country—our shared values of tolerance and respect—is what makes us truly great. We will never allow those who seek to divide us to win. The freedom to practise any religion or none is a cornerstone of our democratic society. People must have the peace of mind to worship without fear, and I am doing everything in my power to make this possible. I commend this Statement to the House”.

That concludes the Statement.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the Commons. Is the money announced in the Statement new funding or funding reallocated from another budget heading? The Statement deals with a serious issue, in the light not only of the tragic and sickening events elsewhere in the world but of events on our own doorstep, with the increasing number of attacks causing damage to synagogues, temples, mosques, churches and other places of worship, with the fear that, before long, those attacks could be directed more at worshippers than at just the buildings themselves.

It is a sorry state of affairs when people of different faiths do not always feel safe simply practising their religion. The language of hate that seems increasingly to be used only ramps up the likelihood of such attacks. What is even more appalling is that that language is used by some who hold or seek to hold office in our democratic structures and institutions, and by so doing give that language an air of respectability.

Places of worship should be open to the public as havens for quiet reflection, contemplation, prayer and worship, and as places where an understanding hearing and help may be found. But it is increasingly difficult to keep places of worship open for most of the day because of the threat of attacks in one form or another—increasingly difficult because people, often volunteers, are needed inside to ensure that nothing untoward occurs, and, even then, a single person on their own may feel too vulnerable to want to carry out that role even when they have the time.

We support making more money available for protective security measures as a means of seeking to reduce fear and apprehension for those practising their faith in places of worship. But this cannot be regarded as a solution to the problem. We need, beyond the increased security measures set out in the Statement, resources directed at those who preach or practise hatred or encourage others to do so, and in particular also at those who might find such messages seductive or compelling. That requires further resources not simply for our seriously overstretched police but for community organisations and local government and our schools, for example, which have also been denuded to the bone to the detriment of the extent and level of what they can achieve in this field.

The Government also need to press ahead with a review of the Prevent strategy, identifying and concentrating on best practice and making clear to all that it is directed at reducing and stopping hatred and extremism across the board and not by any particular group within our diverse community.

I hope that when she responds the Minister can provide reassurance—which was not spelled out in the Statement, which contained fewer than 30 words on the involvement of local communities and the Prevent strategy—that what the Government have announced today is but one aspect, albeit important, of a much wider, properly resourced programme to address the increasing trend of hatred and hostility in what appears to be becoming our more fractured society instead of a diverse society that draws its strength, unity and values from that diversity.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. She repeated the Home Secretary’s four specific items. I thought that the third, which was,

“consulting religious communities on what more can and should be done to help them”,

might have been the first one in the list. The amounts of money which are mentioned are welcome, but they are very small when one compares them to the cost to the community of an attack—any sort of attack, but particularly a major attack. The aim must be to eliminate religious hatred.

The focus of this Statement—I do not think it pretends to be otherwise—seems to be on relatively low-level physical security. I believe that the maximum grant, if that is the right term, that has been made is £56,000. Will the Minister tell the House the average, more or less, level of grant that has been given recently—it will be 80% of the total cost of the work proposed—and what can be achieved by that sort of money? I do not know how much CCTV costs; that may be the best of the physical arrangements.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister about the application form on the Home Office website. There are questions about the building, asking whether:

“The exterior and interior … is in a good state of repair and look well maintained”,

whether there is “natural surveillance”—I am not sure what that means—and whether it is in a conservation area. What is the relevance of some of these questions? There are questions about security measures, such as whether personal injury or assault has been experienced in the past 12 months and whether the building is,

“visible and identifiable as a place of worship? e.g. Symbolism/description on exterior of building, building dominate town or hidden away etc”.

My reaction on reading that is that we should be loud and proud about faiths which are practised. Again, will the Minister tell the House the purpose of such questions?

Five million pounds is proposed over three years for training. I appreciate that the Community Security Trust is outside this scheme, but I mention it because I was struck by an email circulated to members of my synagogue asking for volunteers to come forward for specific levels of training, and I realised how much these groups depend on volunteers. Is the Home Office satisfied that all communities that need training will be able to access this funding?

Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I want to ask about the Prevent programme, which is mentioned. What progress is there with the review that is to be undertaken? Will the Minister assure the House that it will be independent and that community organisations and civil society, including of course faith organisations and faith communities, will be given every opportunity to contribute evidence?

I thank both noble Lords for their comments. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what elements of the funding are new or not new. The £1.6 million in the Statement is not new money. It will be released in July. The £5 million funding is also not a new announcement and will be released in this financial year. As the noble Lord may have heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary say, the Ramadan package is new. A £50,000 pre-Ramadan training package has already started and an additional £7,000 will be available during Ramadan. As he heard me say, Faith Associates was chosen to do that. There will be a training package in place for communities that need it, which will be aligned with the places of worship scheme.

The noble Lord commented that this is not just about buildings. He is absolutely right—. Just securing a building will not create confidence or put the minds of communities at rest. I do not know whether he recalls it, but the reassurance that was provided by the police following the “punish a Muslim” letter was exemplary. Communities up and down the country were very grateful for that, and the police will be doing the same over Ramadan. I mentioned £5 million over three years for security training. We are most grateful for the work of Tell MAMA and the CST. Touching slightly on what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the two work together because a problem for one community often reflects itself in a problem for another community.

The noble Lord also touched upon the online world and how it is so invidious in hooking people into areas of extremism or terrorism. Of course, he will know that the online harms White Paper has now been published, and I look forward to the introduction of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rightly pointed out that communities are at the heart of all that we do. The Building a Stronger Britain Together projects that we do with civil society groups have proved very beneficial in moving them to promote integration and cohesion within communities.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about the Prevent review. We committed to do it in 2019 and I am sure that further details of it will come forward. I do not have them at my fingertips now, so I will not pretend to know every single aspect. However, one thing that should not be forgotten in the context of Prevent is that the rise of the far right has seen almost 50% of referrals to the Channel programme being related to far-right concerns. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that the consultation should have come first. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary did not list the four things in order of importance, but of course consultation with community groups is at the heart of what we do.

The noble Baroness asked about the size of the grants and talked about it being a relatively small fund. However, when you put together the £5 million training package and double the funding for this year, plus the Ramadan funding, it is not an insubstantial amount. I cannot give her the average size of the grant because I do not know it, but I shall try to find out for her in due course.

She also talked about some of the funny things on the application form. As she listed them, I reflected on why you would need to know whether the institution in question was in a conservation area. I surmise that it is because you would need to know what you can stick on the outside of or put around buildings. Certainly, whether a building is secluded or in full sight will influence the risk assessment. Similarly, a building in a poor state of repair is clearly more of a security risk. Basically, it allows an assessment of risk.

The noble Baroness talked about the £5 million-worth of training and asked whether all communities that need training will get it. I really hope that communities that need it will come forward. The consultation will be online very shortly. I know that organisations such as the CST and Tell MAMA are fully engaged when it comes to working with each other, so there will be community involvement and participation. I look forward to the details of the consultation coming online in due course.

My Lords, I too am very grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement from the other place. From these Benches, I welcome it and echo some of the things that have already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, not least about the wider context, although I recognise that this Statement has a limited focus.

The Minister has already observed the tragic events in Christchurch, Sri Lanka and San Diego. It seems to me that one of the learnings from those events is the impossibility of predicting where, or even when, a dreadful event might occur. With that in mind, I am particularly grateful for the broadening of the eligibility criteria in relation to potential grants from the fund, whereby it is now not necessary for places of worship to have experienced an incident of hate crime in order to make an application. That is an important loosening around the unpredictability of where things might occur.

Speaking specifically for the Church of England, we have hitherto been pleased to assist, through our Cathedral and Church Buildings division, with some of the practicalities of administering the scheme by sitting on the advisory panel that assesses the applications. Clearly, we would be willing to continue doing that and, as one of the better resourced faith communities, to make a contribution. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that participation, not only from the Church of England but from other religious communities, will still be welcomed in helping the process to work.

There are a couple of things on which I would welcome further comment from the Minister. One has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser —that is, the balance between ensuring security and maintaining welcome and openness. Clearly, that is a daily concern for our cathedrals and other nationally significant places of worship of different faith traditions, but it is also relevant for what one might call the humbler, local ones. Reference has already been made to the role of volunteers in making sure that buildings remain open. It seems that continued engagement is needed on how to get the balance right between, on the one hand, openness and accessibility and, on the other, the security of both buildings and persons.

I have a final observation and question on the security of persons. I am conscious that some religious leaders in the public eye—I am not thinking particularly of people like me—might be at greater risk precisely when they are not within their place of worship. I am thinking particularly of those who have perhaps had a high public profile over some issue or over something that they have said. It is when they are at home, with their family or in other settings that the risks might be greater. Is consideration being given to support in terms of security in the homes of the public religious leaders of faith communities?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for those questions. Starting with his last question first, the real benefit of the consultation is that people—including, I am sure, the right reverend Prelate himself—can point out some of the wider risks that we have not perhaps considered in deliberating on the security of not just places of worship but the people who worship there and those who lead people in worship.

He mentioned the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which I neglected to deal with—that is, the balance between security and being welcome and open. People go to places of worship for such a wide range of reasons. We all know the role that the Church has played throughout history through the various operations it facilitates for people who are hungry, homeless, need refuge for the night or just an ear to listen, which is one of the most important things the clergy does. It is always so sad when a church or other place of worship is closed for security reasons. The right reverend Prelate has made a very good point. I know that he is not making a pitch but an offer from the Church of England, and I thank him for the help that it has given with the administration of funding so far.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating this Statement. Three years ago, I reviewed London’s preparedness for a major terrorist incident and had some consultation meetings with faith communities. Complacency may be the wrong word, but I was concerned about the sense that came across from so many of the faith communities that “This would not happen to us because we are good people”, and therefore their unwillingness even to contemplate it. As the right reverend Prelate just said, anyone can be a target. Every faith has been a target somewhere in the world—many in this country.

I was slightly concerned that this is a Statement made by the Home Office as much for show as for reality. This is not new money—the Minister has told us that. Spending £1.6 million between the country’s 60,000 places of worship equals £26 each, which does not buy much in the way of CCTV or physical preventions. If it was just applied to one community, maybe it would be a little bit more. The Minister could not tell us what the average sum spent in the previous round was. According to the Statement, £1.5 million was spent on 134 places of worship, so that was £11,000 per place of worship. Spreading this amount of money and saying that it will target all communities and all places of worship is ambitious, and I therefore wonder what the purpose of this Statement has been, other than to demonstrate that the Home Secretary is doing something.

One of my report’s specific recommendations was that advice and encouragement should be given to every place of worship. If a parochial church, a mosque or a temple has a committee, one member of that committee should be designated to take responsibility for security, to look at the arrangements, to do some general planning and to liaise with the police about what could be done in the event of an attack on that place of worship. Will the Minister pick that up?

I thank the noble Lord for his points and pay tribute to the work that he did, some of which has been subject to questions from myself. He talks about complacency. I think it is fair to say that we are all complacent until something happens to us—we never quite think that it will. He asks whether this is all for show. No, it is not. As we go into the holy month of Ramadan, there are people who are concerned, and I think it absolutely right to reiterate what is and what will be available to them and to give them reassurance.

The noble Lord states the average and says that it is not much, but there will be different amounts within that. Some will have got more, some might even have got less, depending upon the needs. I do not think, so far as I know, that needs have not been met; that is the most important thing. Of course, if demand changes, that will be considered. He makes a very valid point about advice being given to every place of worship. I do not know what advice is given to places of worship, but it is certainly a good suggestion, as is the idea that a specific person might be responsible for it. Of course, the right reverend Prelate might pipe up and say that in fact this already happens, but I thank the noble Lord for his suggestion.

My Lords, may I put two points to the Minister? First, the timely and speedy use of intelligence, which has not always been the case in some other countries, is something that we must maintain and ensure. Secondly, with the many thousands of places of worship, the role of volunteers—which has been emphasised by several noble Lords—is absolutely crucial. It is perhaps worth reflecting that in the context of safeguarding against the abuse of children and vulnerable people, those of us who hold office in churches are nowadays required to attend training, particularly to alert us to what might be the signs of a threat or a danger to children or other vulnerable people. There is something of a model there for training volunteers in places of worship in how to spot what might be a dangerous situation, and what would be a sensible and prudent course of action for them to take.

The noble Lord precisely lays out some of the training being done and that will be offered over the next three years. It is not just putting CCTV on buildings. He is absolutely right that intelligence is vital and that in the Church of England, the Muslim community and the Jewish community, which all rely on volunteers—some of their institutions would close without them—those volunteers should be trained and safeguarding measures should be put in place.

My Lords, can I come back to the point that my noble friend Lady Hamwee made regarding the bureaucratic nature of the application process? If you are local, whether somewhere is hidden or not you will know about it. Whether it is in a conservation area is irrelevant; it is that particular conservation area, for example, which will determine what will need to be put up and whether it will be granted by the planning authorities. It is not national. I therefore ask the Minister in a spirit of friendliness to go away and look at this, because it is bureaucratic. Can she look at making it a little more light touch, and work out which questions are needed centrally and which are local?

I was trying to be helpful to the noble Baroness but the noble Lord makes a perfectly reasonable point. The funding has taken slightly longer to come on-stream than we anticipated for precisely that reason. We wanted to cut down on some of the bureaucracy that holds people back from making these applications, so that point is well made.

House adjourned at 7.31 pm.