“It is with great sadness that I have to tell the House that we now know that at least 18 British nationals have been killed, with more injured and the death toll likely to rise still further. These were innocent British holidaymakers—people who had saved up for a special time away with their friends and family—who suddenly became the victims of the most brutal terrorist attack against British people for many years. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those who have lost loved ones. I know the whole country will want to share in a moment of remembrance. So, following the act of remembrance we have just held in this House, we will have a national minute’s silence on Friday at noon, one week on from the moment of the attack. In due course, in consultation with the families, we will also announce plans for a fitting memorial to the victims of this horrific attack.
This morning, I chaired the fourth daily meeting of the Government’s emergency COBRA committee. So let me take the House through three things: first, the latest on what we believe happened in Tunisia, and in the separate attacks in Kuwait and France; secondly, the immediate steps we have been taking to help the British victims and their families; and, thirdly, how we will work with our allies to defeat this evil in our world.
The events of last Friday are horribly familiar to anyone following them in the media. A radicalised university student armed with a Kalashnikov began massacring innocent tourists on the beach at Port El Kantaoui. He continued his attack into the Imperial Marhaba hotel and on to the streets, where he was shot dead by Tunisian police. While we believe he was the sole gunman, it is thought that he may have been part of an ISIL-inspired network, and the Tunisian security forces are investigating possible accomplices who may have supported this sickening attack.
On the same day in Kuwait, a suicide bomber killed 27 and injured more than 200 in an attack on the Imam Sadiq Mosque near Kuwait City. An ISIL-affiliated group based in Saudi Arabia has claimed it was behind the attack. In Syria, ISIL executed 120 people in their homes in Kobane and, in south-eastern France, a man was murdered and two were injured in an explosion. While all these attacks were clearly driven by the same underlying perverted ideology, there is no evidence to date that they were directly co-ordinated.
Our first priority has been to help the British victims and their families. This has meant helping on site, assisting the wounded, bringing home those who lost their lives, ensuring that holidaymakers still in Tunisia who want to come home are helped to do so and gathering further evidence of what happened.
A team of consular staff was on site in Sousse within hours, and by Saturday they were complemented by additional teams of consular staff, police and Red Cross experts. We now have over 50 people on the ground helping British victims and their families. To help the wounded, we have already sent a team of military medical liaison officers to assist with medical evacuations. A C-17 has just landed in Sousse to bring home some of the seriously injured.
It is right that we do everything we can to bring home those who lost their lives as quickly as possible. We have been helping the Tunisians with what is, in some cases, a very difficult identification process. The Royal Air Force will arrange directly the repatriation of all deceased British nationals whose families wish us to do so, as soon as the identification processes are complete.
Sixty family liaison officers back here in Britain are continuing to support the relatives of those killed and injured. We are working with the tour operators to ensure that those who want to come home can do so, and more than 20 special flights have already brought hundreds home. Since Friday evening, more than 380 counterterrorism and local officers have been at British airports to meet and support travellers returning home from Tunisia and to help gather evidence of what happened.
As Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said yesterday, the national policing response is likely to be one of the largest counterterrorism deployments in a decade. Yesterday afternoon I visited the Foreign Office crisis centre to see first-hand the work that our teams are doing to co-ordinate our efforts at home and abroad. As I speak, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the Foreign Office Minister, the Member for Bournemouth East, are in Sousse in person doing everything that they can to help the British victims and their families, and talking to the Tunisian authorities about ways in which we can help strengthen their security. I have been speaking to President Essebsi over the weekend and want to put on record my thanks for the assistance of the Tunisian authorities throughout this horrific ordeal.
The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice, which continues to make clear the high threat from terrorism in the country, just as it did before Friday’s events. However, it is not moving to the position of advising against all but essential travel to this part of Tunisia, so it is not advising against visiting the popular coastal resorts. This was agreed by the COBRA emergency committee and will be kept under close review. These are difficult judgments. Nowhere is without risk from extremist Islamist terrorists, and of course we take into account the capability of the country in question and its ability to counter the threat. Here in the UK, the threat level remains at severe, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely, but until we have defeated this threat, we must resolve as a country to carry on living our lives alongside it. Of course, making those judgments means taking sensible precautions, and where there is a specific threat we will always take action immediately. But we will not give up our way of life or cower in the face of terrorism.
These terrorists tried to strike at places of hope—in a country with a flourishing tourist industry that is on the road to democracy and at a mosque in Kuwait that dared to bring Sunnis and Shias together. But the Tunisians and Kuwaitis will not have that hope taken away from them. They will not be cowed by terror, and we will stand with them.
Defeating this terrorist threat requires us to do three things. First, we must give our police and security services the tools that they need to root out this poison. We have already increased funding for our police and intelligence services for this year and legislated to give them stronger powers to seize passports and prevent travel. Over the next two days, our security forces and emergency services will conduct a major training exercise in London to test and refine the UK’s preparedness to deal with a serious terrorist attack. But we must also do more to make sure that the powers that we give to our security services keep pace with changes in technology. ISIL’s methods of murder may be barbaric, but its methods of recruitment, propaganda and communication use the latest technology. So we must step up our own efforts to support our agencies in tracking vital online communications, and we will be bringing forward a draft Bill to achieve this.
We must also work with our international partners to improve our counterterrorism co-operation. I spoke to President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Michel of Belgium over the weekend and we agreed to work together to help Tunisia strengthen its security. Our ambassadors met the Tunisian authorities yesterday to put that into action, including by strengthening the protective security arrangements at coastal resorts.
Secondly, we must deal with this security threat at source—whether that is ISIL in Iraq and Syria or other extremist groups around the world. British aircraft are already delivering the second-largest number of air strikes over Iraq and our airborne intelligence and surveillance assets are assisting other countries with their operations over Syria. We are working with our UN, EU and American partners to support the formation of a Government of national accord in Libya and will continue to do all we can to support national Governments in strengthening weak political institutions and dealing with the ungoverned spaces where terrorists thrive. And as I have said in this House many times before, if we need to act to neutralise an imminent threat to the UK, we will always do so.
Thirdly, we must take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds. The people who do these things do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology which hijacks the Islamic faith and holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary. We must confront this evil with everything we have. We must be stronger at standing up for our values. And we must be more intolerant of intolerance—taking on anyone whose views condone the extremist narrative or create the conditions for it to flourish.
On Wednesday, a new statutory duty will come into force requiring all public bodies—from schools to prisons to local councils—to take steps to identify and tackle radicalisation. In the weeks ahead we will go further. We will stand in solidarity with all those outraged by these events—not least the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country and around the world. For this is not the war between Islam and the West which ISIL want people to believe. It is a generational struggle between a minority of extremists who want hatred to flourish, and the rest of us who want freedom to prosper. And together we will prevail.
Let me turn to the European Council. This discussed three issues which strongly affect our national interest. On the situation in Greece, I chaired a contingency meeting in Downing Street earlier today and the Chancellor will be making a statement straight after this. So let me deal with the other two—the need for a comprehensive approach to the migration crisis and the beginning of the UK renegotiation process.
On migration, the right course of action is to combine saving lives with tackling the root causes of this problem. That means breaking the business model of the smugglers by breaking the link between getting in a boat and getting a chance to arrive and settle in Europe. It means gathering intelligence to disrupt the smuggling gangs and using our aid budget to help alleviate the poverty and failure of governance that so often drives these people from their homes in the first place.
Britain has already played a leading role in all of this, keeping its promises on aid and saving over 4,000 lives in the Mediterranean. By contrast, focusing primarily on setting up a relocation scheme for migrants who have already arrived in Europe could be counterproductive, because instead of breaking the smugglers’ business model it makes their offer more attractive. Others in the EU have decided to go ahead with these relocation schemes, but because of our opt-out from justice and home affairs matters, we will not be joining them. We will, however, enhance our plans to resettle the most vulnerable refugees from outside the EU, most notably from Syrian refugee camps, in line with the announcement I made in Bratislava earlier this month.
Finally, on the UK’s relationship with the European Union, we have a clear plan of reform, renegotiation and referendum. And at this Council I set out the case for substantive reform in four areas: sovereignty, fairness, immigration and competitiveness.
First on sovereignty, Britain will not support being part of an ever-closer union or being dragged into a state called Europe. That may be for others, but it will never be for Britain, and it is time to recognise that specifically. We want national parliaments to be able to work together to have more power, not less.
Secondly, on fairness, as the eurozone integrates further, the EU has got to be flexible enough to make sure the interests of both those inside and outside the eurozone are fairly balanced. Put simply, the single currency is not for all, but the single market and the European Union as a whole must work for all. Thirdly, on immigration, we need to tackle the welfare incentives that attract so many people from across the EU to seek work in Britain. And finally, alongside all these, we need to make the EU a source of growth, jobs, innovation and success rather than stagnation. That means signing trade deals and completing the single market, such as in digital, where the Council made progress towards a roaming agreement that could cut the cost of mobile phone bills for businesses and tourists alike.
At this meeting, my priority was to kick off the technical work on all of these issues and the specific reforms that we want in each area. The Council agreed that such a process will get under way and we will return to the issue at our meeting in December. These talks will take tenacity and patience. Not all the issues will be easily resolved. But, just as in the last Parliament we showed that change could happen when we cut the EU budget for the first time in its history, so in this Parliament we will fix the problems which have frustrated the British people for so long. We will put the common market back at the heart of our membership, get off the treadmill to ever-closer union, address the issue of migration to Britain from the rest of the EU and protect Britain’s place in the single market for the long term. It will not be the status quo. It will be a membership rooted in our national interest, and a European Union that is better for Britain and better for Europe, too. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. As the news came through on Friday lunchtime, it became almost too difficult to comprehend both the magnitude and the nature of the events as they unfolded in Sousse. Families and friends on holiday, relaxing and enjoying glorious weather and local hospitality, were thrown into murder and mayhem. I do not think any of us will ever forget the heartbreaking sight of sun loungers being used to stretcher the dead and the injured. With 18 British citizens confirmed dead and the death toll of British and other nationalities likely to rise, and with others seriously injured, the horror and fear of that day will never be erased from the memories of those who have survived. As we think of the pain and distress of families trying to find and identify loved ones we can only try to understand what they must be going through.
I concur with and support the comments of thanks to all those—the FCO staff, our police and other agencies and the locals in Sousse—who are trying their best to give both the practical and the emotional support that is needed and will be needed for many for months and years to come. The Home Secretary and the Minister with responsibility for the Middle East are in Tunisia today and they will understand the scale of the problem.
I am sure that, like me, the noble Baroness was deeply affected by the interviews with holidaymakers who, while clearly traumatised and visibly upset, said that they wanted to stay on, in recognition of the support that they had from the locals, who had helped them despite their own fears and distress. I understand that the Government are not issuing advice against travelling to Tunisia, but is any advice being provided to those who are booked to go on holiday there over the coming weeks?
Obviously many Tunisians are already worried about their futures, both in terms of security and economically. I know it is early days and I welcome the fact that discussions have been held with Prime Minister Hollande and Chancellor Merkel but have there been any further discussions with the Tunisian Government? I am thinking not just about security issues but also about economic issues, which can have a huge impact on the local economy and the national economy and will raise other issues around security.
At the European Council, security and defence were rightly high on the agenda. It is a stark reminder, as we reflect on the 10th anniversary of 7/7, that this week alone there have been deadly terrorist attacks not only in Tunisia, but also in Kuwait and France. Meanwhile, the death toll in Syria and Iraq continues to rise. The Prime Minister has rightly recognised that this violence stems from an extremist ideology which hijacks and perverts the religion of Islam, and that this must be tackled at home as well as internationally. We must challenge such extremism, whatever its origins, and champion the values of peace, freedom of speech, tolerance and equality.
The noble Baroness may be aware from debates in your Lordships’ House on the then Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill that not only must our security forces and police have the resources, the numbers and the appropriate tools to be effective but action must be community-based, and all communities have to engage with government and other public bodies in a climate of trust. She will be aware that so many within the Muslim community are challenging ideological extremism and championing the values that lead to a more tolerant and peaceful society. In their considerations of the way forward, are the Government also giving further thought to how these individuals and communities can be supported in their work?
The noble Baroness will know that your Lordships’ House has been very concerned about migration, as discussed at the European Council, both in tackling the organised criminality that fuels it and the instability in north Africa and the Middle East that leads frightened and vulnerable people to risk their lives and those of their families. One of the conclusions of the European Council meeting is:
“Further to the Commission’s European Agenda on Migration, work should be taken forward on all dimensions of a comprehensive and systemic approach”.
Is she in a position today to explain what that means in practice and what action will be taken? The same document refers to,
“the reinforcement of the management of the Union’s external borders”.
What contribution did the UK make to that discussion, given the cuts that we have seen in our UK Border Force?
Finally, on Britain’s negotiations with Europe, can the noble Baroness inform your Lordships’ House whether there will be any treaty changes before the referendum takes place? I understand the Prime Minister’s political difficulties and the sensitivities around this but it is a really important issue. How long was he given to make his case at the summit? Perhaps she can help me: we are not clear at this stage what he is negotiating for. There is even confusion among those he is negotiating with about what he is negotiating for. British citizens, who are going to be asked to vote in a referendum, are also unclear what he is negotiating for. The Prime Minister said in his Statement that this was the first stage, “to kick off the technical work” between now and December. What exactly does that mean and what steps will be taken to keep the public informed?
It is a fact of geography that we are an island nation but all these issues impact on the lives of British citizens. Whether it is terrorism in Tunisia, refugees in the Mediterranean or the economy in Greece, these problems connect us all, and if we are to genuinely address them, we must do it together.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister. I certainly join her and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing on behalf of these Benches our condolences to those families who have lost loved ones through the senseless and brutal terrorist attack in Tunisia. Our heartfelt thoughts are with those who were injured in the attack and are seeking as best they can to recover from those injuries.
Like the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, I think it is important to pay tribute to the heroic members of staff who went to the assistance of those who had been injured, and the holidaymakers who helped. As was acknowledged by the Prime Minister, there has been a considerable immediate response by Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, consular officials, the police and the Red Cross. These are all very welcome.
The Leader of the Opposition also reflected on those who have expressed the view that they wish to stay on holiday in Tunisia. I certainly heard one of them on the “Today” programme this morning. I cannot help but reflect that it is the resilience of ordinary people to terrorism that will ultimately undermine the hate of terrorist organisations.
The Government have talked about a “full spectrum” of measures to support Tunisia and to address the consequences of the appalling events of last Friday. In his Statement, the Prime Minister referred to working with President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Michel of Belgium to help Tunisia strengthen security. That is a particularly welcome example of proper co-operation within Europe to help Tunisia. As well as shedding some light on what kind of help is in mind, perhaps the Leader of the House could also acknowledge that in addition to security measures, wider economic support will clearly have to be given to nurture what is a fledgling democracy. There are historic ties between our two countries. If democracy is to take root and flourish, it is very important that we not only give economic help—given the inevitable damage there will be to the tourist trade—but help where we can to support the institutional arrangements in Tunisia. Will the Leader of the House also update the House on what influence the Government are bringing to bear on those countries in the Middle East with which we have good working relations in order to undermine sources of funding to ISIL?
I heard the Prime Minister reported in the press today talking about the values of democracy, justice, freedom and tolerance. It will be these values that will prevail. I certainly wish to endorse that but there is an age-old balance to be struck between security and these values and freedoms that we cherish. Can I therefore have a reassurance from the Leader of the House that, in addressing the necessary measures, it will also be important not to undermine those values which we think are so important in winning the battle against the intolerance of extremism?
To return to the EU Council meeting, we have heard about the dynamics of the meeting. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked just how long the Prime Minister had to make his case. At the end of an eight-page communiqué issued after the meeting, there are two—or, rather, one and a half lines—that say:
It has been reported that this was done during what in other circumstances might be described as a pit stop. Some colour on how the Prime Minister presented his case would be very welcome.
The Prime Minister’s Statement talks about both reform and renegotiation. If there is to be renegotiation of the treaty and there is treaty change, it will almost inevitably require referendums in France, Ireland and Denmark. Can the Leader of the House perhaps clarify whether the Prime Minister is expecting treaty change? Will the referendum which we are having here be contingent on those treaty changes having been approved in the referendums of those EU countries which require them under their own constitutions? Or is it just the case that the Prime Minister is not very clear at this stage whether he wants reform or renegotiation and is hedging his bets?
With regard to migrants, do the Government accept that many of those crossing the Mediterranean are fleeing war and persecution in places such as Syria and
Eritrea and are forced to undertake dangerous journeys due to a lack of safe and legal routes to find protection? A key part of the response to the crisis must be to offer refugees safe routes into the EU so that they no longer have to make such dangerous journeys or have to use the appalling means of people smugglers. Given that there are now 20 million refugees worldwide, I am sure that the noble Baroness will accept that to resettle just 20,000 must only be a starting point. She talked about the Prime Minister making further commitments in Bratislava recently. By one estimate, we have so far resettled 187 Syrians. There are estimates of nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, most living in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Can she indicate, in the light of what the Prime Minister committed to in Bratislava, what numbers we expect to see as an increase?
Finally, I acknowledge that that the United Kingdom did have and has exercised a legal right not to take part in this resettlement—the opt-out. Perhaps the Leader of the House will explain to your Lordships the moral case for that course of action.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for their comments about the despicable act of cruelty that occurred in Tunisia last Friday. I certainly support the tributes that they have paid not just to the officials and all those involved in supporting the people and families affected but also to the Tunisians themselves. Anyone listening to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary doing her press conference in Sousse earlier today would have heard how she paid a very big tribute to everybody there and to the local people of Sousse.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned those who wish to stay in Tunisia and those who wish to continue to go on holiday there. She asked about the travel advice offered by the Foreign Office. That was updated to reflect the heightened risk of terrorist attacks post the events on Friday but, as I said in the Statement that I repeated, we are not advising against travel to that area. She also asked what further support we are providing to Tunisia for it to continue to be an attractive place for people to go on holiday to. We are doing a range of things: in an immediate sense, we are sending over relevant experts to make sure that the resorts have the security that they need; we are also looking at what is possible to support the Tunisian police to take an intelligence-led approach to policing in this area. As far as financial assistance to Tunisia is concerned, since 2011 we have already made quite a considerable contribution. We have done that through the Arab Partnership initiative, and we certainly want to look at that again in the light of events. We continue to work with all partners to ensure that we tackle terrorism at source.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned the effect of the events on the Muslim community here in the United Kingdom. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, also asked about values of democracy and what we are doing to promote our own values. I first pay real tribute to the Muslim community and its work to tackle extremism. We are working, and want to continue working, with the Muslim community to support it, and together to ensure that we are even more effective than we have been so far in addressing extremism.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, then asked some questions about the European Council and pointed specifically to the debate on the European Union’s external borders. As she knows, and as the House knows, we are not part of the Schengen agreement but we play a proper part in protecting the European Union’s borders. We contribute in quite a significant way to ensuring that the security around our borders is tight. One of the areas where we provide a lot of specific expertise is on asylum. She also asked about treaty change and the Prime Minister’s contribution during the European Council on his move to renegotiate and reform Britain’s membership of the European Union. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about that too. I will say a couple of points in response.
First, it was an historic moment at the European Council on Thursday night. We have started the process to which the Prime Minister committed of Britain having a renegotiation with Europe, for reform in Europe and for us to seek a better deal for the United Kingdom. Prior to the European Council, he met and spoke to all the other European leaders. As was made clear, Thursday marked the start of this process, which will continue. He will ensure that throughout the next few months Parliament is kept informed of progress. The initial talks will be what we call technical talks at an official level. It is worth noting, for example, that my right honourable friend the Europe Minister, David Lidington, is giving evidence tomorrow to the House of Lords European Union Committee. I am sure that he will be asked about this at that time. Therefore, we will continue to keep people informed as we make progress on the start of something that the British people really want, and we will ensure that, finally, they do get their say in membership of the European Union.
As far as the questions put about Mediterranean migration and the steps on that are concerned, I say first that our contribution is very comprehensive. HMS “Bulwark” has contributed to saving 4,000 lives, as I mentioned in the Statement; 900 of those were just over the weekend. The Government have a very different view from the Labour Opposition. We are committed to a programme of resettlement of people from outside Europe—so people who are at risk in countries such as Syria and Libya. We play a big part in resettling people from those countries to the United Kingdom. However, we do not believe that it is right to follow a programme of resettlement of people who have already made the crossing over the Mediterranean to Europe. As the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement, we believe that would make the prospect all the more attractive to the gangs who create misery by promoting this as a prospect, which is not one that we believe is the right way forward. We want to support these countries with aid, and political support where that is appropriate, to make sure that they themselves—the countries that these people are seeking to leave—offer the kind of future and prosperity that all the people who live there rightly deserve. That is what we are doing and where we will continue to focus our efforts.
My Lords, the Prime Minister made it clear that he believes that ISIL and Daesh are actually a threat to the existence of our nation at the moment. I have to say I do not see it in that way, but he has said that. Clearly that means—rather like the last time we had such a threat, which was the Second World War and the Cold War—one has to look at spending priorities in a totally different way, and things such as foreign aid, education, the National Health Service and welfare have to take a hit because we need to spend money on defence and security. However, my question is more specific. When we started our air campaign in Iraq, we said that we would not do attacks into Syria unless something specific—an atrocity or something—happened. Those of us in the military pointed out it made no military sense not to do attacks into Syria. Is this now being looked at again so that we have some more cohesive aspect to what should be a much bigger overall strategic plan, which a number of us have talked about?
I think what the Prime Minister said was that ISIL presents an existential threat to the United Kingdom. In response to the point that the noble Lord makes about military action and intervention and expanding on what we are already doing in the area, as he knows, the House of Commons was given an opportunity to consider whether we should get involved militarily in Syria and decided against that action. We believe that what we are doing right now is an appropriate and a very valid and important contribution to the fight against ISIL. Ultimately, we believe—and the international community feels—that to properly combat the threat of terrorism that emanates from ISIL there needs to be better governance in these countries. That is going to take a long time, and we need to support the people in the relevant countries to form the kind of representation of all the people that will lead to stability in those areas.
My Lords, we, too, on these Benches send our sympathies to those who have been bereaved and those who are injured. It is deeply concerning that Tunisia, a relatively peaceful haven in a part of the world in which there are many tensions, has now had this attack. Does the Minister agree that it calls for a renewed emphasis on working to strengthen community relations here in this country? The danger is that the events from Tunisia, Kuwait, Kobani and France could inflame ethnic and other violence and inspire copycat attacks here in this country.
It has been interesting over the weekend to hear of some of the fairly rapid responses that were made by community leaders. In my own diocese in Luton, we had a Britain First demonstration on Saturday. We had already planned to deploy a number of people on the streets, and that gave huge impetus to redouble our efforts. Fortunately, it went off relatively peacefully, but it had all the potential simply to bring those tensions that are overseas on to our own streets. There is really quite a pressing need to see what we can do. In some areas, community leaders including church leaders were immediately making contact with their counterparts in the Muslim community; certainly, that was going on in some of the interfaith areas in my own diocese. I know of at least one area—for example, the diocese of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—where a vigil was organised.
The right reverend Prelate touches on an important point. Certainly, with regard to the Muslim community, there has been a lot of effort over the past few years to step up and increase integration. I have a couple of recent examples of things that we have done to support them and build relations in communities. One is the Big Iftar—and I had the great pleasure of going to one of those last year when I was a DCLG Minister. There is also the Sadaqa Day, a social action day of community, which is a bit like the ones that we support with the Jewish faith. Those are to try to make sure that those communities can play their part in the wider community as they want to do so.
As for extremism more generally, one reason why we are developing the extremism strategy that we are developing and intend to bring forward the legislation that we will is because we want to tackle all forms of extremism, not just the specific extremism that we have focused on in the Statement today. That is what we will ensure that we do.
My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven for focusing my question just on the European Union negotiations in this massive Statement that has covered so many issues, not least because so much has been said and words are almost inadequate in the face of the Tunisian horror—and, anyway, I agree totally with the Prime Minister that this is not just a western issue but a global issue requiring a global response.
I turn to the EU negotiations, which came at the end of the Statement. I admire very much the tenacity and energy of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for getting the negotiations on the table. He has constantly said that the key issue is not so much British demands as EU reform; he has said that the EU is an “organisation in peril”, and that we need,
“'the flexibility of networks, not the rigidity of blocs”.
In the light of that essential insight, which is quite right, when are our negotiators going to begin to work with their allies across Europe on the fundamental redesign of the very troubled European Union today? Are not we leaving it a bit late?
I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks about the Prime Minister’s approach and his tenacity on this issue. He asks when the talks are going to start. They have already started. Thursday signalled the start of the technical talks, and the efforts of the very senior government representatives who will lead on this are now under way. Prior to that the Prime Minister made a round of visits and had discussions with all other European leaders. Over the past couple of years, since he made it clear that this was something that he, as Prime Minister of this country, wanted to do, he has, in my view, been able to stimulate some enthusiasm and an agreement from other European leaders that reform of the European Union is in their interests as much as it is in the interests of all people in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, in order to satisfy the interest in this subject I propose that we extend the time for questions on the Statement for another 10 minutes.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the Statement and I agree with every word that the Leader of the House said on Tunisia. As I know only too well, terrorist attacks of this sort are immensely difficult and traumatic for those who are caught up in them and for their families and friends. I congratulate the Government on the quick response of the Foreign Office and others to the attacks in Tunisia. I very much support what the Prime Minister and the Leader have said about greater funding for the police and the security services because I fear that we are inevitably going to see further attacks of this sort around the world. Will the noble Baroness confirm that there will also be sufficient funding for the Foreign Office, and particularly its consular services, because they, too, are going to be required to provide the services that people who are attacked and affected both deserve and need?
I know that the noble Lord knows only too well, as a former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, just what is involved in the reaction of the Foreign Office to such incidents, so I welcome his congratulation on the way the Government have handled this. As for funding, as he acknowledges, we do and we have ensured that not only has funding for the security services been maintained, it has increased in recent times. As for funding for consular services in the Foreign Office, our approach is always to make sure that there is adequate funding for any of our operational services to meet their needs.
My Lords, will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that we will hear more consistent messaging from the Prime Minister about the purposes of engagement with our EU partners? We have had mixed messages up to now. I was glad to hear the Statement refer to reform as well as renegotiation, but of course those require rather different styles. If we are taking about the reform of the whole EU, which will, of course, get a good degree of support across the EU, as opposed to renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU, which was the language in the Conservative manifesto, is the Prime Minister going to say consistently that his aim is multilateral reform of the EU? If so, he may get more than a few minutes, during what my noble friend called a pit stop, at a future European Council, to be heard on this issue.
I am glad to know that the noble Baroness has studied our manifesto. As far as her question is concerned, the Prime Minister will take an approach that covers both those things. As I said, this is about reform, renegotiation and a referendum, when the British people will have the opportunity to decide. The Prime Minister has been very careful to talk to all his counterparts in the European Union and he will continue to do so. As I said, I think that there is now real enthusiasm from others that this should be an opportunity that benefits the European Union as a whole.
Is it not constitutionally improper and pretentious for the Prime Minister to use the word “never” in the context of this country subscribing to the concept of ever closer union of peoples in Europe? The Prime Minister has a mandate for one Parliament, not for ever. No Parliament can bind its successor and the Prime Minister ought to know that.
On the matter of refugees coming from Africa, if the Government wish, understandably and rightly, to break the link between being rescued at sea and gaining residency rights in the European Union, why is the Royal Navy not instructed to rescue these poor people but then to take them back to wherever they came from—Libya, in most cases? Have we undertaken negotiations with those de facto in control of the various ports in Libya so that we might be able to adopt such a policy?
I wish the noble Lord all the very best with his approach to ever closer integration in Europe if the Labour Party gets the chance to govern on that agenda. As for his question about Mediterranean migration, at the moment we are ensuring that when people are rescued they are taken to the first available place in order to establish whether they are economic migrants or asylum seekers. At the moment it is not possible to return people to Libya in the way that the noble Lord described, but I will reflect further on what he said.
My Lords, did my noble friend see the article in yesterday’s Sunday Times about Foreign Office expenditure on some weird and wonderful overseas aid projects? Will she now urge the Foreign Office to divert that rather wasteful expenditure to Tunisia, which is in the front line fighting extremism? The Islamic extremists know that they have to destroy Tunisia because Tunisia has opted for democracy and for keeping Islamic fundamentalism firmly in its box and out of government. Tunisia needs all the help it can get because, if it is destroyed, no other country is safe.
My noble friend is right that Tunisia is a great example of a country which is trying to provide the kind of future, prosperity and hope to its citizens that we want others in the area to see as a possible way forward. For that reason, it is important that we support it in its endeavours, and that is most definitely what we intend to do.
My Lords, I believe that the Prime Minister is right, as he said this morning on Radio 4, to compare the threat from Islamist terrorism with that from communism during the Cold War. Then, one of the most useful defence mechanisms that we had was enhanced positive vetting of all those in sensitive posts. First, will my noble friend assure us that the Government will make full use of positive vetting for all those who are responsible for the protection of our borders? Secondly, will the Government review the practice of using non-British local people to process visa applications in countries such as Nigeria?
I am not familiar with the detail of the processes that are in place these days for vetting staff. However, I am confident that there is appropriate vetting of any individual who is employed by this Government, wherever they are based, to ensure that they have the appropriate clearance for the task they are given. As to my noble friend’s point about non-British nationals being locally engaged in embassies to carry out entry clearance for visas and that sort of thing, again, I would imagine that there is no reason to doubt the processes involved in recruiting local personnel.
My Lords, in answering an earlier question on the Statement, which she repeated, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that the issues would take time. One of the really difficult things is the feeling that we may not have an awful lot of time to deal with some of them. There are now 4 million displaced people in Syria, which is causing huge disruption and real difficulty in Jordan and Lebanon. We know that this is not just happening in Tunisia; we are seeing it split apart countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya. What progress is being made in the work undertaken by Sir John Jenkins to look at the sources of funding and weaponry for ISIL? That very important report was announced some time ago, and it would be enormously helpful to have an idea of when we might expect publication.
The noble Baroness has a lot of expert knowledge of this area. I will write to her in response to her question about the report by Sir John Jenkins.
Clearly immediate action needs to be taken, and it is being taken. There is military intervention in Syria, albeit that America is taking the lead there with our Arab partners. We are providing some security and intelligence effort. We are contributing very directly in Iraq and are the second largest contributor to air strikes. Ultimately, the answer to stability in that part of the world lies in good governance. We must support these countries to get to a point where they have Governments in place who can properly represent all the peoples of their individual nations so that together they can combat this terrible, perverted ideology. That will take some time.
My Lords, on defeating Islamism, the statement rightly says that,
“we must take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds”.
Is not one way to do that for us all to be allowed to talk openly about Islam, among ourselves and with our Muslim friends? If we try to do this nowadays, we are immediately told that it is we who are stirring up religious hatred. Surely the hatred is all in the breasts of the Islamists? It is all very well intoning that Islam is a religion of peace, but the jihadists, for instance the murderers of Drummer Rigby, believe that they are justified by the Koran and the life of Muhammad, which they quote freely. Will the Government encourage a national conversation about the nature of true Islam?
It is important for me to say that this is not about defeating Islamism; it is about defeating extremism and an ideology that is perverting a religion called Islam. All, I am sure, that any of us in your Lordships’ House wants is for the shared values in Britain, which are all about freedom and democracy, to be the loudest message that everyone hears. We want to ensure that we say to any person who shows sympathy with extremism that that will not be tolerated. Wherever it comes from, extremism should never be part of anybody’s conversation in this country. The Prime Minister is making clear in his contribution to the debate at this time that he wants all those in the Muslim community to have the confidence to know that they are right in condemning acts of extremism, that when they condemn acts of extremism they are standing alongside the rest of this country and that together we are going to defeat this extremism. Only together will we succeed.
My Lords, the Minister speaks about the Muslim countries in the Middle East trying to achieve good governance and stability. Would she accept that the war in Syria, which by next year will be entering its sixth year, must be resolved? The European Council Statement talks about a strategic reflection to conclude by June 2016. By then, ISIL will have been in power for two years in a given territory and the Syrian war will have been going on for six years. We do not have the time or the leisure to watch all this unfold over an extremely long period. What progress are they making towards trying to bring about Geneva III, a peace process, even if that results in a partial peace in Syria? We will turn the tide back through incremental gains in peace and stability on the ground and not through a good-governance revolution in places such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which are going in the opposite direction.
What I am trying to say is that, as the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement, this is not a situation in which just one approach will see a successful result. There has to be a combination of approaches, which includes some military intervention. We are not involved in the military intervention in Syria—the noble Baroness knows of course that the decision was taken not to pursue that course of action—but we are supporting it with intelligence. I do not have the kinds of answers that she wants from me today, but I can assure her that the Government completely agree with her desire for urgent action. We want to see progress. That is what we are working towards, and we are trying to do so at every level and with every partner that we can to bring about progress in the Middle East.
We should listen to the question from the Cross Benches.
Can I take the Minister back to her answer to the last point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, about cross-Mediterranean migration and death. She referred to the pull factor that discourages us from agreeing to receive any of these poor people if they make it. I cannot see the logic of that. I can see that there could be a pull factor when the news gets back home that somebody has made it across the water, but we do not think that is a deterrent to rescuing them, and quite right too. I do not see why it should be an additional pull factor if the postmark on the news is French, British or Danish. If they have made it across, surely if there is any pull factor it is there, so I do not see why we absolve ourselves from any moral responsibility to help. Could the Minister look at page 4 of the conclusions and help me with the footnote, which appears to say, as far as I can see, that our partners in Protocols 21 and 22 to the treaties—the Irish and the Danes, who like us have no obligation to take anybody—have decided that they will not rule out taking people, whereas we specifically chose to rule out doing so? Is she quite sure that that was wise, given that we are engaging in a negotiation that in the end will require unanimity, and that Prime Minister Renzi has a very real problem?
I object to the noble Lord’s description of us not making a moral contribution to this crisis, because we are. As I said, we are playing our part in the rescue of those who are at risk at sea and are making a very large contribution by way of aid to the countries where people are affected by war or by other things that cause them to seek to move to Europe. We are playing a strong part. As I said, we have a point-of-principle disagreement on the resettlement of people who have made that crossing, but we are doing quite a lot in the resettlement of people from countries such as Syria before they actually make the crossing.
My Lords, has there been a precedent for raising a domestic issue of the European Council in common with a Statement on an international terrorist tragedy, such as in Tunisia? Is that not strange? I can understand why government would want to cloak the impact of what has happened in Tunisia, but as somebody who has lived cheek by jowl with international terrorism for almost three decades,
I suggest that we would not have mixed up a domestic issue with the Omagh bomb, the Ballygawley bus bomb or the Enniskillen Armistice Day bomb. Why on earth have we chosen now to take this tragedy—and I feel the injustice of that tragedy—in the way we have rather than talk about the positive, concrete steps that we might take to bolster a Government in Tunisia who are not in favour of the sort of terrorism that we see elsewhere in the Middle East?
The Prime Minister was due to give a Statement to the House of Commons today about the European Council, as he customarily does following his attendance at a European Council meeting—that being something that he is obliged to do. He decided, quite rightly in my view, that he should also make a Statement about the terrible events in Tunisia. This will not be the final occasion when the Government make a Statement to Parliament about our response to the most recent terrorist attacks. One reason why it was felt appropriate to combine the two is that clearly we are at the initial phase of responding to the events of last Friday. The most important and urgent thing that we are trying to do is to support the families affected by this despicable act. That is what the Prime Minister has sought to do in describing how the Government have responded. As I say, as things unfold, I am quite sure that others from the Government—my other ministerial colleagues—will make statements as they see appropriate.