G20 and the Paris Attacks — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:34 pm on 17th November 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 3:34 pm, 17th November 2015

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. I am sure other noble Lords shared similar emotions to mine as we watched the horror of the attacks in Paris unfold on Friday evening. Such deliberate, calculated evil is almost impossible to comprehend, especially in such a beautiful city, where so many of us will have happy memories and remember good times.

I totally endorse the comments already made about our thoughts and prayers being with those who were murdered and maimed, their friends and their families, but also with the citizens of Paris and the whole of France, whose lives and confidence have changed dramatically as a result of what happened on Friday evening. There can never be any justification for such acts of terror, so we share their hurt, their anger and their resolve. We also share the determination to protect our citizens, and those of other countries, from such attacks. Such violent attacks are totally indiscriminate. Those of all faiths and none can be killed, maimed or lose loved ones, and those of all faiths and none have come together to condemn universally those responsible, without reservation.

I reiterate and reinforce the commitments made by my colleagues in the other place: this is an issue above and beyond any party politics. A Government’s first duty is to the safety, security and well-being of their citizens, and we will work with the Government to fulfil that duty.

The Prime Minister outlined the action that has already been taken with our international allies to tackle those who create death, mayhem and fear. I welcome that he acknowledged, and said that he understands, the concerns raised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and others about the way forward, and how and whether further military action, such as airstrikes on Syria, should be part of that response. We welcome his commitment to respond personally, as the noble Baroness said.

I know the noble Baroness understands the huge human cost of the conflict in Syria and the necessity for a full, strategic plan to seek a politically sustainable resolution that will bring peace to Syria, and for a longer-term strategic plan to seek to deal with the aftermath. The thousands who have fled their homes include so many of those who will be needed to return to build the peace. The Prime Minister’s comments at the G20 yesterday, when he said:

“I think people want to know that there is a whole plan for the future of Syria”,

and for,

“the future of the region”,

were widely welcomed. To be successful, any plan will need national and international support.

I shall raise specific questions about security here at home. We welcome the additional support and money being made available for security and intelligence. We welcome the announcement of greater resources for tackling cybercrime and terrorism. But when asked, when he made the Statement today in the other place, about the role of community and front-line policing—given the cuts that have been made and are being planned to the “eyes and ears” on the ground—the Prime Minister did not respond.

There are many in your Lordships’ House who, through professional experience, can provide real examples of how community policing is essential and successful in tackling crime and terrorism. On 28 October, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bates, about this very issue. My Question was prompted by those in the most senior roles in counterterrorism in the UK being very clear that community police, through the normal course of their work, pick up intelligence and information that is essential to fighting serious crime and identifying terrorism threats. Of the proposed further cuts in policing, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met commissioner, said:

“I genuinely worry about the safety of London”.

I understand that the noble Baroness is unlikely to answer a question that the Prime Minister failed to, but can she assure your Lordships’ House that she recognises the seriousness of this issue? Will she commit to raise it directly with the Prime Minister and report back to your Lordships’ House?

Those seeking to leave and enter this country, including British citizens, will face increased levels of checks and security at borders. It is right that visitors and refugees fleeing the brutality of ISIL and chaos in the region should be subject to such security, but the noble Baroness will also know of the reductions made in border security staff at ports and airports. What plans are there to ensure that staffing levels will be appropriate to deal with the increased level of security required?

In recent years, the Government have introduced a number of new measures designed to tackle terrorism. One referred to in the Statement, which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and I discussed at length in the course of a recent Bill, is about closing down any educational institutions teaching intolerance. Is this commitment and others to be met from existing resources, or will new resources be made available? To what extent is the Treasury involved in such decisions on new powers?

Lastly on security, the Prime Minister said in his responses that all members of the Privy Council can receive security briefings on these issues. The noble Baroness may be aware that I have previously requested such briefings when speaking for the Opposition on security and counterterrorism, but I was not successful in receiving any. The Official Opposition in the other place has welcomed the briefings to date, so will she confirm the Prime Minister’s commitment to briefings for privy counsellors?

I welcome the understandably brief comments at the end of the Statement on the other issues that were raised at the G20. Specifically on global warming, we welcome the fact that the USA and China will join the Paris talks and we look forward to hearing more on that after the conference. However, the noble Baroness also referred to the UK taking the lead on action to tackle corruption in a number of areas. This is essential. I appreciate that there is not enough time today to cover the whole range of issues that this raises, but can she provide further information on the areas and the success of any measures that have been taken? If the noble Baroness is unable to respond today, perhaps she will write with more details.

Finally, in the Statement, the noble Baroness, repeating the Prime Minister, asked the public to be vigilant. We must, of course, do that, but let us also pay tribute to those in the emergency services and the first responders, who never know from day to day what they may have to attend to. It is right that this House should recognise their service.