Before I call the Home Secretary to make a statement on the very sad events in Reading in Saturday, I have a short statement to make. As matters stand, no criminal charges have been made, and the case is not yet subject to sub judice resolution. However, it is reasonable to expect charges soon, and I urge all hon. Members to exercise care not to prejudice any future trial by what they say. Hon. Members will also wish to know we will observe a minute’s silence tomorrow at 11 am, to remember the victims of this event. I now call the Secretary of State to make a statement.
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.
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 by a sudden and savage knife attacker 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 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 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 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 frontline of the battle against violent extremists and terrorists.
The UK’s counter-terrorism 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, who 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 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 counter-terrorism policing funding to more than £900 million—the highest ever. That is because we live in a complex world and is against a backdrop of evolving threats and dynamic threats—threats that when they do materialise are worse than shocking when they result, as we have seen again this weekend, in the tragic loss of life.
Bolstering our security and policing network and frontline 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 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.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement and for her briefing call over the weekend.
Like the whole House, I was shocked and appalled by the scenes we saw in Reading on Saturday evening. While doing no more than visiting a beautiful park, three innocent people were stabbed to death and another three were seriously injured. Today we remember those who have died, and our thoughts and condolences are with their families and friends at this moment of terrible loss. We send best wishes to those who were injured and wish them a swift recovery, and thank our magnificent NHS staff for the care that they are providing.
The incident was one of senseless violence, and, as always, we are indebted to our outstanding police officers and other emergency services personnel for their swift response and work at the scene, helping others by putting themselves in danger. They represent the very best of us. We thank them and the public at the scene who assisted, and recognise their courage and bravery in this most awful of situations.
We now know that this has been declared a terrorist incident, and I know that the whole House will support the police as they carry out the highly detailed and careful investigation that is necessary with an incident such as this. I hope that the Home Secretary can confirm that all necessary resources will be made available to Thames Valley police and to counter-terrorism policing. I am sure she will also agree that although there are, quite understandably, many questions about this specific case, the best thing to do is to give the police the space they need to conduct the investigation and to establish the facts, not to indulge in unhelpful speculation. I also thank my hon. Friend Matt Rodda for his calm and measured leadership in such a difficult moment.
It is heartbreaking that we are having this conversation again so soon after the terrible attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in November, which tragically took the lives of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, and the attack in Streatham in February. As you have said, Mr Speaker, this is a live investigation so we have to ensure that there is due process and that the police can do their job, but the country will want answers about these incidents, which have occurred in such quick succession. Although the priority today must be to ensure that there are no further related threats, and that the victims and families are cared for, it is vital that questions are addressed. I hope that the Home Secretary will confirm that she will further update the House on this awful incident and the lessons that need to be learned, but there are some matters that I would like her to deal with today.
The Home Secretary mentioned the piece of emergency legislation in February, and there is another Bill on counter-terrorism going through the House at present with cross-party co-operation. I hope that any further legislation will also be on a cross-party basis. But does she agree that legislation alone is not enough? We need a comprehensive look at deradicalisation in our prisons, at how people who pose a threat are risk assessed and how different agencies can work together to safeguard against tragedies.
Community police are the eyes and ears of our society. The intelligence gathering that they do is vital. Can the Home Secretary assure me that the Government will never again cut the numbers of community police and will instead build the capacity that is required for law enforcement? Can she also assure me that the serious violence taskforce, which has not met since
The Home Secretary rightly praised the intelligence and security services, but the Intelligence and Security Committee has not met for over six months. Will she confirm when the Committee will have all its members in place and exactly when it will meet next?
Finally, I know there will be many issues in the weeks ahead, but let the message go out from this House today that we stand alongside the wider community in Reading at this dark moment and say that those who have lost their lives will never be forgotten.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his thoughtful remarks about Reading as a community. I met Matt Rodda and made exactly the same point. We must be united and work at a community and multi-faith level with all organisations. That is really important, both now and going forward, to ensure that people are remembered in the right and appropriate way, and that we support the community at this difficult time, which we all do.
The hon. Gentleman asked some important questions. He is absolutely right that legislation is never the only solution, not just on issues of this nature but on wider safeguarding, community measures and the responses that are put in place. That brings me on to community responders, police officers, backing our police and resourcing those who keep our communities and the people in our country safe. I met the chief constable of Thames Valley police, John Campbell, this morning. Again, that is a conversation I had. I was in touch with him over the weekend and had the assurance that they are well supported in terms of the resources they need. They are dealing with a live investigation. Obviously, the investigation is now a counter-terrorism investigation, but even so they have given me that assurance.
There are a number of other points to make when it comes to violence of every nature, including serious violence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the serious violence taskforce. We now have the National Policing Board, which has effectively taken over that remit. The National Policing Board has already met several times, including in recent weeks, to discuss not just policing but crime and the Government’s overall crime strategy from a holistic perspective. That also covers the Ministry of Justice side, the end-to-end aspect of the criminal justice system and how offenders are treated.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the work that is required on deradicalisation in prisons. The work that needs to take place builds on Prevent and on safeguards that exist already, but these are evolving issues in terms of the type of skills and resources that are needed, as well as the types of deradicalisation techniques and Prevent work that have to be invested in. That is continuous. There is never one solution for how to deradicalise individuals. A range of tools, techniques and programmes are in place. It is right that we continue to review and work with that. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a great deal of work has taken place around the review of Prevent.
The hon. Gentleman’s final point related to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Appointments to the Committee are taking place and an announcement will be made in due course on when that will be coming forward.
I invite the House to join me in sending our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of James Furlong, and to the staff and pupils at The Holt School, Wokingham, where he taught. He was by all accounts an inspirational teacher who always went the extra distance for his pupils. He was a very kind man and he will be sorely missed. The community is very shaken today by the news. Will the Home Secretary intensify the efforts of the intelligence services, the police, the border forces and the others? We have had too many mass murders in recent years. We want some reassurance that we can get on top of this and save the lives of others for the future.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I, too, pay tribute to Mr Furlong. What happened was absolutely appalling. All our sympathies and thoughts are with his family and friends.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the intensification of the work that is taking place, cross-party and across Government, covering a range of measures, police, intelligence and security. He also mentioned our borders, and the work we are doing to review those and deal with criminality checks. That is all ongoing work and it will, of course, be intensified.
On behalf of my party, I wish to start by expressing our sorrow at the lives that have tragically been lost and extending our deepest sympathies to the families and friends, and to those who are currently ill and recovering in hospital. It is never easy to lose a loved one, but especially not in these circumstances or in these times. I echo the Secretary of State’s comments regarding our gratitude to those who served and showed great courage, and we will continue to prosecute and investigate.
First, let me call for a calm response—to be fair, the Secretary of State has been clear on this. Sadly, we have had previous terrorist atrocities; it is a product of our time. We do not expect and should not have to live with it, but we have to recognise that they do occur and that we have to show calm judgment, not rush to an analysis or make a decision without knowing the full facts. Obviously, that has been commented on by you, Mr Speaker, as regards this being sub judice. There may very well be mental health or other aspects that we do not know about, and we await the outcome of an investigation. However, what we can be clear about—I seek the Secretary of State’s reassurance that we will make this clear—is that terrorist acts are not perpetrated by communities, but are carried out by individuals. They do not represent any faith, constituency or cause other than their own misguided, malevolent and wicked views, and we need to take that into account. We also need to remember that although we have suffered not just this recent tragedy but all too recent ones, including those involving Members very close to this House, what some people view as the epicentre of the areas that perpetrate terrorism suffer far more from it than we have done in our entire history—we need to take that account.
On that issue, I seek reassurance from the Secretary of State that steps will be taken to ensure that reassurance and protection are given to minority communities, because I know from my experience in Scotland that there can be those who rush to judgment and seek to apportion blame, and will, through misguided views, or indeed their prejudice and dogma, seek to carry out attacks against minority groups. Therefore, I ask that steps on that, which are no doubt probably ongoing, are carried out. Equally, I seek reassurance that as well as contest, we will seek to prevent: we need not only to protect our minority communities, but to deal with issues that are bubbling under the surface there, so as well as contesting terrorism and rightly confronting it, we need to protect communities and address injustice, wherever it is.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about ensuring that communities and, in particular, minority groups within them, are not vilified at this time. This is a moment when we should all be coming together to be supportive across all communities and, in particular, as I discussed with the hon. Member for Reading East this morning, across communities locally and multi-faith groups. Obviously, so much more work needs to take place, but great work is taking place and we should not lose sight of that right now.
May I take a moment, Mr Speaker, because it has been a very difficult few days? I wish to thank the Home Secretary for meeting me today. I very much thought that the tone of our discussion was helpful and positive. I look forward to working with her and I appreciate her offer of support for Reading.
Like many other people, I was shocked and deeply upset by the dreadful attack in Forbury Gardens. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the three people who died—my thoughts are with them. It is impossible to imagine what they are going through at this time, and I am sure all our hearts go out to them. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am also thinking about the injured and their loved ones, and all those who have been affected by this dreadful attack, which, I should emphasise to people, took place in a park when people were trying to enjoy a peaceful weekend. Most of all, I would like to thank the emergency services and the police for their swift and immediate response, and indeed for the incredible bravery shown by the officers who, as was said earlier, rugby-tackled an armed offender and took that person to the ground.
Reading is a friendly and peaceful town with a diverse and tolerant community. This kind of incident is completely unknown to us. It is something that has never occurred before in our community and as such is deeply upsetting. That community solidarity was demonstrated again today, when a wide range of different faith and community groups came together to lay flowers at the scene of the dreadful incident. Local people also observed a minute’s silence. I am very proud of the way in which our community is pulling together at this difficult time and the way in which local people have been supporting one another. We can and we will come through this difficult time.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. As we discussed this morning, the way in which the community has come together—the multi-faith groups, as we discussed earlier, the emergency services and the police officers, who both of us have met—is absolutely outstanding. Like him, I pay tribute to the friends and family members of those hurt or killed and, as ever, the police officers and emergency services, who responded with such swiftness and bravery. We will continue our discussions about the support that he needs for his constituents at this very difficult time.
My constituency borders Reading, and I speak on behalf of everyone in Newbury in sending my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims. I also thank Thames Valley police for an exceptional response on Saturday night. No charging decision has been made, but in the last three years there have been five lone wolf attacks, in Streatham, in Fishmongers’ Hall, on the tube at Parsons Green, on Westminster Bridge and at the Manchester Arena. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give that the counter-terrorism services have sufficiently robust surveillance powers to monitor this most unpredictable of threats?
My hon. Friend raises important questions. Surveillance and monitoring of individual subjects of interest is crucial to how they are managed and watched within our community. She asked specifically about resources. I speak to those services every week, and we have these discussions. However, while resourcing is one thing, this is about access to information and intelligence and how it blends together and is combined. To be specific in answer to her question, the services have the resources that they need. There is always more work to do, and I am sure there is more that can be done in the future. I have already said in my statement that we need to listen and to learn from what has happened—that will evolve over time, as the investigation proceeds—and if we need to do more, that is exactly what we will do.
I join those from all parts of the House who have paid tribute to those who lost their lives in this awful attack and also to the emergency services, which responded so fast. Our thoughts will be with those who have lost loved ones, but also with everyone in the community in Reading, who will be dealing with the shock and trauma of this attack, as my hon. Friend for Reading East (Matt Rodda) so powerfully expressed.
The Home Secretary will know that this is the most recent in a series of attacks by lone individuals, which are harder for the police and security services to anticipate. That emphasises the importance of tackling some of the vile extremism and radicalisation that can lead to attacks, including online, in the community and in prison. Can she confirm that each of those will be included in the Government’s new counter-extremism strategy and tell us when she expects to publish that?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. In fact, she raised a similar point last week, and I am writing to her outlining the details of what we will be doing with the counter-extremism strategy. She is right, however, to point to online activities and the vile hatred that is spread online, but also on other forms of the web, the dark web in particular. There is a great deal of work being done, and I pay tribute to the many organisations and individuals, some of whom we have not even referenced today, who work to close down sites and track these individuals and some of the organisations they are networked with. That work will always continue, but I will share the details with the right hon. Lady shortly.
In the face of great adversity, we often witness the very best of public spirit, selflessness and bravery from our fellow citizens—those who sacrifice concern of their own safety in the interest of others—and none more so than the first responders during the terrorist attack in Reading, to whom I pay tribute. A member of our parliamentary family was, by chance, at Forbury Gardens on Saturday and, in the same way that my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood did in March 2017, ran courageously towards danger; his only focus was to help the injured. I would like to pay particular tribute to James Antell, a member of my own staff who not only used his own shirt to stem the bleeding of one victim but continued resuscitation on a second victim until the paramedics arrived. This was indeed a remarkable and extraordinary effort from a young man who has been with us in Parliament for a little over four months and whom I am extremely proud—I hope the whole House is—to have as part of the West Dorset parliamentary team.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to his assistant and to all other first responders, who showed great humility and that sense of duty in coming together on Saturday in Forbury Gardens to respond and prevent further loss of life. As I said, they are the very best of all of us, and I pay tribute to everyone who was part of the emergency response, because, frankly, the resilience, courage and bravery they have shown is to be commended.
Coming from the Province, as I do, we have been subject to many terrorist attacks over the years, as the Home Secretary and others in the House will be aware. On behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party, may I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims? We understand your loss and will be praying for you in the days ahead.
Will the Home Secretary outline what steps the Government will take to ensure that the families will see justice for their loved ones and, more than that, see lessons learned within the MI5 system, with improvements made? While no one can accurately predict the future, we must ask whether we can do better with these persons of interest to prevent any future tragedies and violence.
I thank the hon. Member for his comments and understanding. He asked about support for the families. The Home Office, along with Thames Valley police, is providing all the necessary support, particularly through family liaison officers but also through the victims of terrorism unit at the Home Office. He referred to one particular agency, but of course many other agencies work across the intelligence and security spectrum. We work with all of them, because they are part of that integrated network along with policing, frontline policing and counter-terrorism policing. That work will continue and, as I have already said to the House, if there are any issues, lessons or lines of inquiry to be followed up which we can proactively address and deal with, either in this House or through my actions as Home Secretary, I will absolutely follow them up.
As a Berkshire MP, I place on record my personal sympathies to all those affected so gravely in neighbouring Reading. In the past 24 hours we have seen media speculation about the immigration status of the alleged perpetrator. Will the Home Secretary please reassure me that it remains her priority to return people who come to the UK and are proven to commit crime?
First, I will not get into any speculation or commentary, but I could not be any clearer about the Government’s position on foreign national offenders. Our policy is as stated: we will do everything in our power to remove those who abuse our hospitality and commit crimes in the UK. That has been the Government’s focus. I am also clear that tougher action is needed to speed up removals, to deter foreign criminals from entering the UK. It is not always easy, because there are barriers to overcome. That is something we will look at through other legislative means.
May I add my voice and that of my party to the expressions of sympathy for all those whose lives were touched by this dreadful incident and condolences to all those who mourn the loss of a loved one? Three months after I was first elected to this House in 2001, we saw the horrific events in New York and Washington on 9/11. That was followed by emergency anti-terror legislation. I struggle to think of a year since in which we have not had anti-terror legislation of some sort, but still the problem continues. I think we can be fairly certain that, if the answer to this problem were to be found in a formulation of the law, we would have found it by now. As the Home Secretary considers the formulation of a new counter-terror and counter-extremism strategy, we need the involvement of people who do not have any skin in the game—who, in the nicest way possible, have not been part of the failure that has taken us to this place. In particular, can that strategy be informed by an honest assessment of what it will do to end the radicalisation of those in prison?
The right hon. Gentleman is right about the need for objectivity and understanding in how we formulate these strategies, which are often evolving and dynamic, looking at individuals’ behaviours, many of which we simply do not understand. Deradicalisation is a complicated issue. In terms of not only what happened in Reading over the weekend but more broadly, it is right that we look at the whole approach, understand the failures of the past and what has worked in the past, and ensure that we have a comprehensive approach which builds on constructive insights and learnings. He is right in his assessment.
Yet another terrorist attack. I join the Home Secretary in praising the first responders and the individuals who had no concern for their own lives in closing this incident down. I am pleased to hear about the initiatives in our probation service, our communities and our prisons, but we need to understand the wider picture: terrorism is increasing. At the time of the Bali bombing, there were 26 organisations proscribed by the Home Office. That number has risen to 86. I concede that this is not just a problem for the UK, but we need to look more widely. These things are happening because there are fanatics working in ungoverned spaces, preying on vulnerable individuals and promoting a false interpretation of Islam. We pat ourselves on the back and say that we defeated Daesh, but that is only territorially—the ideology lives on and continues to grow. The threat is there, and until we address the wider picture, the threat of terrorism in the UK will continue.
My right hon. Friend is right about the real threat and the present danger of extremist ideologies. Of course, extremist ideologies manifest themselves in many forms—we all recognise that—and we see that internationally. As I said, we see that online and through individuals who are networked. We cannot tackle these issues on our own. That is why our work with the Five Eyes community and many other international partners is so valid. We have to continue to grow the work that we do, learn from each other, grow our own intelligence networks and, importantly, understand the tactics and techniques that can make a difference in this space.
With 30,000 people of interest to the security services at any one time, it is obvious that they cannot all be under constant surveillance, but this is the fourth terrorist attack in seven months where the potential suspect was known to the authorities. What lessons can be learned about surveillance and the management of these people known to the authorities?
The hon. Gentleman asks important questions about surveillance techniques. There are always lessons learned about surveillance techniques and how people are monitored. As I mentioned in my statement, the intelligence and security services have to make calculated judgments based on the threat and the information that they have. They will continue to do that, and they are constantly reviewing many of their own techniques.
May I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those who lost someone, and commend Thames Valley police and the other emergency services? My constituency is in the Thames valley and I know how good they are. Does my right hon. Friend think that when the police do have the person they think committed this crime, the media attention should focus on the victims and not on the beliefs and backstory of the people who perpetrate such attacks, thereby denying them the attention they crave?
There is merit in my hon. Friend’s point. The spotlight should not be on the individual, the organisation or those who promote terror, hate and fear. We must always be respectful to and mindful of the victims. Of course, at times like this, we have to give the police the time and space they need to get on with their investigations.
Will my right hon. Friend give an update on the progress of the Prevent review? In particular, will she take steps to make Prevent more effective and a bit more attractive to the people it is supposed to reach?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Work is taking place on the Prevent review and more details will be forthcoming shortly. The fact of the matter is that we need to work harder at a community level to avoid any stigmatisation and to encourage people to engage and participate. We must also understand the types of techniques and tactics that make a difference. That is something I will be very happy to discuss further with him.
The person who has been arrested on suspicion of committing these offences is reported to have been of interest to the security services as a potential terrorist sympathiser and was released from prison well before the end of his sentence, a mere 16 days before this murderous rampage took place. There have been newspaper reports about his engaging in alarming behaviour ahead of the incident. Given those serious concerns, will the Home Secretary confirm that he was being supervised when he left prison under multi-agency arrangements for public protection, as would seem appropriate? If so, at what level was that?
As I have said, there is an investigation under way in relation to this incident and it would be thoroughly inappropriate for me to comment any further.
On behalf of the people of Meriden, I join the whole House in conveying my condolences to the loved ones of the victims of this heinous attack. I commend the police force and other emergency services, who once again acted heroically and put the safety of others before their own. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must never weaken in our resolve to win the battle against terrorism, and that those who seek to divide us will never be allowed to succeed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our objective is to ensure that those people are never successful and that our values of tolerance and respect prevail. At a time like this, of course we support our police, we respect and support our emergency workers, we think about the families of the victims and those who have been hurt, but ultimately our collective role has to be to unite as a country and stand against the type of hate and terrorism that are being perpetrated.
Of course, we join all the tributes that have been paid to everybody affected by this terrible attack. It is the third terrorist attack since the UK terror threat level was reduced in November. Is the Home Secretary considering the use of the terror threat scale and whether the criteria and circumstances around the raising and lowering of the threat level should be reviewed?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the terror threat level is independent of the Home Secretary and the Home Office. It is set by a joint terrorism analysis centre assessment. The threat level is substantial. On that basis, we all continue to be vigilant, to monitor the situation and to engage with our intelligence and security services and take the relevant advice.
On behalf of the Derbyshire Dales constituency, I offer my deep condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives at the weekend. The terrorist attack over the weekend was a callous and senseless act of terrorism, apparently fuelled by hatred of and disdain for our society. Will my right hon. Friend commit to look further at not only the management of these types of individuals, but the laws that underpin their sentences, their possible early release and their possible removal from these shores?
My hon. Friend has raised a number of issues in relation to our laws—laws that are being discussed in the House of Commons this week in particular; I refer to the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill. She is right, of course, that we review and update our laws. At times such as this, first and foremost, we have to come together to look at any lessons, any issues and any challenges. It is too early to do that— there is a live investigation under way. As ever, it is important that we continue to review our legislation, but also the type of tactics and resources that are required at times like this.
Of course, we must always look at what more we can do to prevent such an absolutely horrendous crime, but will the Home Secretary agree with her predecessor as Home Secretary, Lord Howard, that what we need is a “measured” response and not a “knee-jerk reaction”? Will she make sure to engage with the Scottish Government and the other devolved Governments before bringing back any measures that she thinks may be necessary?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is not about knee-jerk reactions at all. Importantly, there is a live police investigation under way, and it is wrong for anybody to comment or speculate around the individual and what next steps need to be taken. As ever in this House, when it comes to legislation, reforms or changes, they are all discussed in the right way—not just on the Floor of the House, but across parties.
My constituents in Ashfield stand together, united in grief over this cowardly attack on innocent individuals. We are a peaceful and tolerant nation with a proud record of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom have come to the UK and contributed positively to society, such as the men I used to work with down the pits in the ‘80s. These were displaced people. At the end of world war two, they had no country and no home to go to. We gave them a home and, in return, they grafted down the pits to raise good, decent families and made our country a better place. However, there is something wrong if an individual has entered this country illegally, been granted asylum and then goes on to be a security risk. Could my right hon. Friend please tell me what steps her Department will take to ensure that we do not have another instance of a potential terrorist slipping through the net of the security services?
My hon. Friend makes some important points about the contribution of those refugees who come to our country because they are being persecuted elsewhere. We rightly give them a home and they establish their lives in our country. We are a free, open and tolerant country and as I have said before on the Floor of the House, we are one of the greatest countries in the world when it comes to giving people the freedom to succeed and to get on and live their lives. We offer that opportunity. I will not comment on anything to do with the individual. There is a live investigation under way, but I do want to reiterate that, when it comes to offenders, and foreign national offenders in particular, this Government are absolutely clear about our approach, which is to speed up the removal of individuals within the law. Naturally, there are complexities in some cases—in fact in many cases—which is why we are pursuing measures that we outlined in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, and we will continue with our policies and legislation going forward.
Words cannot express the horror of an attack such as this, and I certainly add my condolences to the families and friends of all the victims. It has been reported that the intelligence services believe that mental health was an issue in this incident, but can the Home Secretary comment further on what further support could be offered to individuals who may be known to mental health services, especially where there is an interest from intelligence services?
Again, I will not comment on the investigation, the individuals and the reports in the newspapers. The Solicitor General has also issued warnings to the media this afternoon on that, so that there is nobody prejudiced in the case, which is absolutely vital. But the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about individuals who are known. Of course, as has already been said this afternoon, if those individuals are in prison and if they are known to probation services, work takes place through the probation services, the multi-agency public protection arrangements and various risk assessments around the individuals. Of course, that will continue and the Ministry of Justice is constantly reviewing not just its own policies but practices. That is very much standard for all the individuals who need bespoke support not just now, but throughout their development, whether they are in prison or have been released from prison.
My thoughts, along with those of my constituents, are with the victims and their families. We pay tribute to the brave police who ran towards danger. On the Home Affairs Committee, we tackled radicalisation and the tipping point. Does my right hon. Friend agree that two rules apply, regardless of whether someone is a far-right extremist or an Islamic extremist: the conscious role of social media companies that spread propaganda and groom, and the importance of community projects such as Prevent?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in terms of the role of network providers, but also programmes such as Prevent. There is much more that we can do, and of course work is constantly under way.
My heart breaks, as I know is the case for my constituents across Airdrie and Shotts, for those who lost their lives and their families and loved ones. I echo the sentiments that have already been expressed. Following on from the previous question, it would be wrong to speculate on motive, but can the Home Secretary update the House in more detail on what she is doing to break up online grooming campaigns to prevent young individuals from being radicalised?
A great deal of work is taking place on the particular issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am very happy, in the interests of time, to write to him and outline more on that.
While the police and security services continue in their vital work to track down and prevent lone actors tempted to carry out an attack, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no community in the UK that even tacitly condones an outrage such this—that the perpetrators are typically loners and misfits who are mentally unstable and socially inadequate, and in no way representative of any community view?
In January this year, the Government said that they would follow through in conducting a review of their Prevent strategy. However, six months on, there is still no chair for the review committee. Although I understand that the deadline for applications was extended due to covid—the applications close today—the progress of this review must be a priority. Will the Secretary of State update the House on when the Government expect to appoint a reviewer and when they plan to conclude the review, given that the expectation was that the committee would report in August?
I will do so in due course. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the deadline has been extended—today is the closing date—so the information will be shared in due course.
Given that most of these awful tragedies tend to be in cities and this one was in a town, has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of terrorist activities in towns across the United Kingdom? Will she do everything possible to support Essex police in the work they do to keep Harlow town safe from crime and from terrorism?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Assessments of this nature take place constantly through our security and intelligence services, and also with our police forces. He will naturally know that I will do everything that I can to ensure that our brilliant police officers in Essex, and our great chief constable BJ Harrington, are supported in terms of resources for Harlow town but also, obviously, across the whole county of Essex.
I join hon. Members across the House in sending my condolences to the families of those who were killed in this horrendous attack. The Home Secretary has recognised that terrorists are increasingly acting alone, and we need to do everything we can to protect communities from this growing threat. What assurances can she give that the Home Office is adapting its counter-terrorism response to the use of low-tech weapons by terrorists acting in isolation?
The hon. Lady is right to point out the low sophistication of many of these lone actors. There is constant work and it is not just in the Home Office—it is based on intelligence, working with our partners and working with agencies. That informs our collective approach to the strategies that we develop with our partner organisations.
I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has introduced since she took office, but time and again my constituents contact me and say, “We read of these individuals who pose a threat to our values, our democracy and the safety of our citizens, yet we still allow them into the country and we do not remove them.” May I add my support and that of my constituents to the appeals made earlier to remove more of these people, and will she redouble her efforts to achieve that?
The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is absolutely yes. I have already pointed to some of the legislation that will be forthcoming, and that work will obviously be accelerated.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her statement today and wish to extend my condolences and sympathy to everyone affected by this appalling attack. The Prevent strategy is a key element of the counter-terrorism strategy, but the intended review has been impacted by the reviewer stepping down over concerns about impartiality. Can the Secretary of State inform us what lessons regarding the appointment have been learned, and when will the next reviewer be in place?
As I have already said to the House this afternoon, the recruitment process is under way. The deadline is today. More information will be forthcoming once the reviewer has been appointed. Of course, it is important that there is an objective process around the appointment, and that is something that I completely support.
The right to life is the greatest right of all, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing everything she can to protect British citizens under current legal frameworks. Can she confirm how Brexit will enable our Government to better protect our citizens from potential terrorists whom we might not be allowed to deport or detain under current transnational legal obligations?
My hon. Friend points to some important changes that will be forthcoming, including further and greater criminality checks at our borders through our future borders and immigration work, through our points-based system and many of the changes that we will be bringing forward. That also touches on the Foreign National Offenders Bill, as highlighted in the Humble Address earlier this year. These are important pieces of legislation which will signal major changes for Britain post Brexit—how we will keep our country and our citizens safe and also have greater control of our borders.
Today is clearly a day for us to think of the families affected and to thank those officers who ran there on Saturday night, but the Home Secretary has said repeatedly that lessons will have to be learned from the incident. An element of that is scrutiny, so can the Home Secretary put on record when the Intelligence and Security Committee will reconvene? I understand it has not been convened since the election last year.
What I can say is that I understand that the appointments to the Committee are under way and, when that selection has been completed, all Members of the House will be notified through the usual channels.
That money was the increase for this year alone, which has taken funding for counter-terrorism policing to £900 million. We have other reforms and initiatives under way when it comes to counter-terrorism policing, but it is important to reflect that of course counter-terrorism police do not work on their own: they are part of the wider UK policing network. They are plugged into our intelligence services and our community, and that integrated approach is vital when it comes to keeping our people, the citizens of our country, our communities and our country safe.
This is a day when we come together to show our abhorrence of those terrible deeds. May I give my sympathies to all concerned who have been so badly affected?
In 2015, the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, asked Ian Acheson, a former prison governor, to review how extremism was being handled. Mr Acheson concluded that the system was full of flaws. What steps has the Home Secretary taken to address the concerns outlined in that report?
The Acheson report made various recommendations, and that is something that the Lord Chancellor and I, and across Government, are constantly reviewing and working on. I have already mentioned the Prevent strategy and the work that is taking place on counter-extremism. We must look at all of this collectively and together, rather than creating strategies in isolation.
My hon. Friend is right, and of course we do it collectively, not in isolation, working with our police, our counter-terrorism policing—the whole policing family across the country—and with our security and intelligence networks. We base everything on their work, on the threats and on the judgments they make. The £900 million for counter-terrorism policing is vital, on top of the funding and resources for our intelligence and security networks. It is what keeps our nation safe, as we have seen from the number of threats they have foiled.
I echo the condolences expressed across the House.
The UK only recently began operating so-called separation units for the highest-risk detainees in prison, but concerns have been expressed across the Prison Service about whether they are being properly used. Can the Home Secretary update the House on how many of these units are in use across the prison estate in the UK and if they are being used effectively?
On the specifics, I will consult the Ministry of Justice, which will know the details, and happily ask its officials to write to the hon. Lady.
Out of the blue, with no intelligence or prior information, three terrorists once came to my house to kill me. They were stopped by my 11-year-old son, Alexander, in the front garden. They asked him if his daddy was home. I was home, but he felt something was wrong. By good luck and chance, they got into their car and disappeared and killed someone else—lucky for me, not them. My point is it is almost impossible for the police and the security services to identify people who decide on their own with a knife to go out and do great harm. That said, will my right hon. Friend commend the bystanders and policemen who, with huge courage, tackle these people, bring them down and prevent far more innocents from being killed?
My hon. Friend is right. We saw at the weekend the unarmed police officer who apprehended the suspect, and we have seen it in many other cases. At such times, these individuals are the very best of us and will have done a great deal to keep other people protected and out of danger.
Yet again, we have a terrorist attack aimed at the wholly innocent. This was an act of pure hatred. Does the Home Secretary agree that it highlights the difficulties that security forces have to contend with when trying to monitor 30,000 to 40,000 individuals who at any stage could decide to attack people? The challenges they face are huge, so we should be swift to support them, rather than swift to judge them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The work they do is vast and complicated and based on intelligence at home and sometimes abroad. We must all reflect on the way they work. They make difficult decisions and judgments based on the information they have. I commend and pay tribute to them in every way for the work they do and the way they do it.
My thoughts and condolences are with the victims, their friends and their families. I take my right hon. Friend’s point about media reports and will be careful about what I say, but I will ask one quite direct question. Does she agree that our legal system has become a roadblock preventing the elected Government of the day from being able to take decisions on the basis of what is in the best interests of the law-abiding majority, by inhibiting our ability both to deal with illegal immigration and to deport those we know pose a risk to our country?
I have spoken previously on the Floor of the House about the complexities of immigration, the immigration system and immigration law, and I have touched on the difficulty of deporting foreign national offenders. There are many challenges in the system, and we intend to overcome them and to reform the system in any way we can.
First, I would like to send my condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible attack. It is a duty of this Government to do everything in their power to prevent families from having to go through what those families are going through now. Does my right hon. Friend agree that action must now be taken to strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system, and that terrorist offenders should spend more time in prison, to match the severity of their crimes?
On this, my hon. Friend speaks for the silent majority across our country. She is right and we are right in our assessment that the highest-harm offenders should be in prison, and in prison for longer. We are clear that that is the purpose of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which is being debated this week in Committee.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order,
To allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for three minutes.