Places of Worship: Security Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 7th May 2019.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 4:52 pm, 7th May 2019

I thank the Home Secretary for prior sight of his statement. The Opposition welcome his statement in principle, particularly the Ramadan package. We are aware that there is particular fear in some of our communities as we enter the period of Ramadan. However, we reserve the right to return to the subject as the detail of implementation becomes clear.

Across the world we are seeing a rise in terror attacks especially on people in their place of worship. The House should contemplate what it means to be gathered together to pray to your God and find yourself a victim of murder and terrorism. In Sri Lanka we saw more than 200 people die, including hundreds of people at Easter services in Christian churches. We all saw the images of the terrorist entering the church with the rucksack on his back, patting a small child on the head and then proceeding to blow up the innocent worshippers.

This followed the terror attacks in Christchurch on Muslim worshippers, which claimed the lives of 50 people and injured 40 more. The attack was livestreamed on Facebook. Most recently, a gunman stormed a synagogue, killing an innocent woman on the last day of Passover. The concern must be that, in this era of online, when someone can literally livestream their terror, there is a danger of copycat incidents. That is one of the things that has inspired fear in different communities.

On this side of the House, we want to make it clear that these terror attacks are murderous and vile, whether they come from admirers of al-Qaeda or ISIS or from admirers of tinpot Adolf Hitlers. As we move towards the European elections, sadly, we may well see a rise in far right activity, which may seek to mirror some of the terrorist attacks that we have seen. That is why we believe that this statement is timely and to be welcomed.

These terror attacks spread ripples of violence throughout communities and countries. The Metropolitan police report that racist and religious hate crimes in London hit their highest levels in a year immediately following the Christchurch mosque shootings. Tell MAMA, the Muslim community organisation, said that there was an almost sixfold increase in reports to its monitoring service immediately after the Christchurch attack. Separately, the Community Security Trust also reports rising incidents. My own Haredi Jewish community in Stamford Hill have seen a steep rise in attacks; sadly, they do not always report them to the police, although I am working with them to encourage them to go to the authorities after all such incidents. There have been similar reports from police forces and monitoring community organisations across the country.

The proposals that the Home Secretary has announced are both timely and appropriate, but we will follow up some of the measures. For instance, the Opposition will wish to know where the worship protection security fund is being allocated, and which organisations have applied for and been awarded the funding. My experience is that sometimes those who obtain Government funding are better at putting in applications, rather than necessarily being the organisations in most need.

We will want to know about where the £5 million fund to provide security training for places of worship is allocated—that the money is going to the appropriate communities in appropriate parts of the country. We will be interested to hear from Ministers about their consultations with religious communities and will want to know who is able to access and benefit from the Ramadan package of support for mosques. We are not accusing Ministers of bad faith, but we are saying that all too often, when it comes to allocating such funding, the people who know about it and are skilled at making applications benefit, although they may not necessarily be the most vulnerable and needy communities.

We welcome the fact that the police are providing vital protection to all places of worship, although I say gently to the Home Secretary that the situation is not helped by the cuts in police numbers since 2010. Our main point is that nobody should have to go to their place of worship and feel fear. Nobody should feel that horrible incidents such as we have seen internationally may be reflected in their mosque, church or gurdwara. We also say that some Muslim community centres are next to mosques; we hope that they can get some help, support and protection also.

The terrorist incidents that we have been seeing are both frightening and tragic. We as a House must assure vulnerable communities of our intent to support them, whether financially or in other ways. I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but he can be assured that we will be following up how it actually unfolds in practice.