Brussels Terrorist Attacks — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 2:34 pm on 23 March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department 2:34, 23 March 2016

My Lords, with permission, I will repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the House of Commons. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the terrorist attacks in Brussels, our response, and the threat we face from terrorism in the United Kingdom.

The cold-blooded attacks in Brussels yesterday morning have shocked and sickened people around the world; 14 people were murdered and 106 wounded when two bombs exploded at Brussels Airport. A further attack at Maalbeek metro station an hour later killed 20 people and wounded more than 100 others. Four British nationals are among the injured and we are concerned about one missing British national. Their families have been informed and they are receiving regular consular assistance. We are working urgently to confirm if any other British nationals have been caught up in these attacks. The investigation into the attacks is still ongoing. These figures may change and it will take some time for a fuller picture to emerge. But we know that Daesh has claimed responsibility.

These were ordinary people simply going about their daily lives: families going on holiday, tourists visiting the city and workers making their way to their offices. They have been attacked in the most brutal and cowardly way. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families and those who have been affected by these events.

In Belgium the authorities have increased the country’s terrorist threat level to four, the highest level available, meaning that the threat is serious and imminent. Yesterday I spoke to my Belgian counterpart, Jan Jambon, to offer my condolences and to make it clear that the UK stands ready to provide any support that is needed. Belgium is a friend and an ally, and we work closely together on security matters. Following the attacks in Paris last November, we deployed police and intelligence services resources to Belgium to support the ensuing investigation, which last week resulted in the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.

This is the 14th attack in Europe since the start of 2015. In January last year, gunmen killed 17 people at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris. In February, two people were shot dead at a synagogue and café in Copenhagen. In August, an attack was prevented on a Thalys train en route to Paris. In November, 130 people were killed and many more injured in a series of co-ordinated attacks in Paris. There have been further attacks in other parts of the world, including Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt and Tunisia—where 30 British holidaymakers were murdered. More recently, a suicide bomber killed at least five people and injured more than 30 in an attack in the heart of Istanbul.

There continues to be a threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism. The murder of prison officer Adrian Ismay on 15 March was a stark reminder of the many forms of terrorism we face.

In the UK the threat from international terrorism, which is determined by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. In the past 18 months, the police and the security services have disrupted seven terrorist plots to attack the UK. All were either linked to or inspired by Daesh and its propaganda. We know also that Daesh has a dedicated external operations structure in Syria which is planning mass-casualty attacks around the world.

Following yesterday’s attacks in Belgium, the Government took precautionary steps to maintain the security of people in this country. This morning the Prime Minister chaired a second meeting of COBRA, where we reviewed those measures and the support we are offering to our partners in Europe.

Border Force has intensified checks at our border controls in Belgium and France, increased the number of officers present at ports and introduced enhanced searching of inbound tourist vehicles. Further measures include security checks on some flights and specialist search dogs at certain ports. The police also took the decision to increase their presence at specific locations, including transport hubs, to protect the public and provide reassurance. In London, the Metropolitan Police has deployed additional officers on the transport network. I can, however, tell the House that neither deployment is in response to specific intelligence.

As I have informed the House on previous occasions, since 2010 the Government have undertaken significant work to bolster our response to the threats we face from terrorism. Last year the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act provided new powers to deal specifically with the problem of foreign fighters and prevent radicalisation. We extended our ability to refuse airlines the authority to carry people to the UK who pose a risk. We also introduced a new power temporarily to seize the passports of those suspected of travelling to engage in terrorism. This power has now been used more than 20 times, and in some cases has led to longer-term disruptive action, such as use of the royal prerogative to permanently cancel a British passport. A week ago this House debated the Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will ensure that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to keep people safe in a digital age.

Through our Prevent and intervention programmes we are working to safeguard people at risk and challenge the twisted narratives that support terrorism. This includes working with community groups to provide support to vulnerable groups and deliver counternarrative campaigns. Our Channel programme works with vulnerable people and provides them with support, to lead them away from radicalisation. Furthermore, as we announced as part of the strategic defence and security review in November last year, this year we will be updating our counterterrorism strategy, Contest.

In addition, we have protected the counterterrorism policing budget. Over the next five years we will invest £2.5 billion in a bigger, more capable global security and intelligence network. This will include employing over 1,900 additional staff at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, and strengthening our network of counterterrorism experts in the Middle East, north Africa, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Together, these measures amount to a significant strengthening of our domestic response. But as the threat continues to adapt and morph, we must build on our joint work with our international partners.

As this House is aware, the UK enjoys the longest-lasting security relationship in the world, through the “Five Eyes” partnership with our allies the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. That relationship allows us to share information, best practice and vital intelligence to disrupt terrorist activity, prevent the movement of foreign fighters and stop messages of hate spreading.

Following the attacks in Paris last November, our security and intelligence agencies have strengthened co-operation with their counterparts across Europe, including through the Counter-Terrorism Group, which brings together the heads of all domestic intelligence agencies of EU member states, Norway and Switzerland. Through this forum, the UK has been working to improve co-operation and co-ordination in response to the terrorist threat, and to exchange operational intelligence.

We are also working bilaterally to increase aviation security in third countries, because, as I told the five-country ministerial meeting in February, defeating terrorism requires a global response and we will not succeed by acting in isolation. The United Kingdom has intelligence and security services that are the envy of the world, and some of the most enduring international security relationships. Together with our allies around the world, we must act with greater urgency and resolve than ever before. We must continue, as we already do, to share intelligence with our partners, to be proactive in offering our expertise to help others, and to encourage them to do likewise. We must organise our own efforts more effectively to support vulnerable states and improve their ability to respond to the threat from terrorism. We must also do more to counter the poisonous and repugnant narrative peddled by Daesh and expose it for what it is—a perversion of Islam built on fear and lies.

This is the third Statement to the House that I have given following a terrorist attack in just over a year. Each horrendous attack brings pain and suffering to the victims and their loved ones. Each time the terrorists attack, they mean to divide us. But each time they fail”.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 2:43, 23 March 2016

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the House of Commons earlier today. We share fully the abhorrence and condemnation expressed in the Statement about the attacks in Brussels yesterday, which were in reality yet another attack on all Europe. We support the Government in confronting this threat. Our thoughts are very much with the families of those killed and of the missing British person, with those injured and their families, and with the people of Brussels and Belgium—and indeed the people of Ankara and Istanbul, who have also been the subject of attacks in recent days.

I have a few questions and points to raise. Can the Minister say what guidance is being offered to our citizens who were intending to travel to or through Brussels over the holiday period in particular? Can he say more about the collaboration that is taking place with Belgium and other European partners, including the support or expertise that had already been given or offered to Belgium prior to this attack? If ever the case still needed to be made for closer working and collaboration and sharing of intelligence to combat these acts of terrorism, this is it.

On the issue of border security, we welcome the steps that have been taken to step up checks at our air, sea and rail borders with Belgium and France, and security on our own transport network. Are all passports now being checked on exit from the UK, as the Government said they would be by the end of last year, and were 100% passport checks in place between the UK and Belgium in advance of yesterday’s attacks?

Border Force operates juxtaposed controls at, I believe, six locations in France, covering ferry services, the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar. As I understand it, however, in respect of Belgium juxtaposed controls cover only Eurostar foot passengers and not ferry terminals. Is that the case and if so, will there be a review of our borders with Belgium with a view to strengthening them?

Further cuts are coming following the spending review. The Border Force has faced years of cuts and is already stretched. Are further cuts to the force going to be made in 2016-17? Surely now is the time to strengthen our borders, not to go in the reverse direction.

We know that a number of terror plots have been foiled in the past year and we take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those in the police and security services who work so determinedly to keep us safe. The public, however, will want reassurance about our ability to thwart a Paris or Brussels-style attack. We know about plans to improve firearms capability in London but there is concern about the ability of cities outside London to cope. Last year a Home Office report on police firearms capability found that the number of armed officers had fallen by 15% since 2008, including a fall of 27% in Greater Manchester and 25% in Merseyside. Have the Government reviewed the ability of all major cities to respond, and can they provide reassurance that, if there were a Paris or Brussels-style attack outside London, our police and fire services would have the necessary capability to respond?

In his statement on the strategic defence and security review, the Prime Minister promised a new contingency plan to deal with major terrorist attacks, with up to 10,000 military personnel available to support the police. Can the Minister update the House on those plans and say when the full 10,000 military personnel will be trained and in place?

We know that at moments like this, great anxiety will be felt in the British Muslim community over fears of reprisal attacks and hate crime as a result of the acts of terrorism in Brussels—which are simply that, and a perversion of Islam. Do the Government recognise that concern, and will they send an unequivocal message that anyone who seeks to promote division or hate on the back of these attacks will be dealt with severely?

Will the Government also condemn the ill-informed comments from Donald Trump on UK television today and take this opportunity to distance the Government from them? Mr Trump appears to have suggested that Muslims do not come forward to report concerns in order to assist our security authorities in combating potential acts of terrorism. Generalised slurs, from whatever source, on all Muslim people, who have the same revulsion over what happened yesterday as everyone else, serve only to drive a wedge between the Muslim community and the rest of our diverse country. This is a time for maximum unity among people of all faiths—and none—in rejecting those who preach extremism. We stand together as a united country, and we stand with our neighbour Belgium in its time of need, determined that whatever it takes, and however long it takes, we will face and defeat this threat to our way of life together.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, if I may start on a personal note, while watching the television report on the Istanbul attack I noticed that it took place only a few days after I had walked down that street between meetings in Istanbul. To see the pictures of Brussels, where my wife was walking through the site the day before this happened, is to make one feel that we are not cut off from all this. This is part of our world. I find it despicable that the Brexit campaign should have tried to suggest that we could cut ourselves off from the world and that what happens 100 miles away from London, in Brussels, is no concern of ours. This was, after all, an attack by Belgian citizens in Belgium. We should recall from the IRA campaign in Britain that what was in many ways a domestic terrorist campaign also included cells and co-operation in Spain, Gibraltar, France, Belgium and Libya and that, in dealing with a series of global terrorist threats, we are forced to co-operate with others as closely as we can.

Perhaps the Minister would care to confirm this: if we were to try to secure our borders completely, we would have to return to the sort of controls that we had in the 1960s. I first began to travel between Britain and France then; all bags were opened and it often took 10 to 15 minutes for each person to go through passport control. Given the enormous increase in cross-border travel between Britain and the continent, it would be a severe disincentive to all our citizens—and, incidentally, an intense inconvenience to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, in travelling each week between his home in France and the House of Lords. It would also be very difficult given the large Middle Eastern presence we now have, particularly in London. There are not just people from the Middle East working here and living as refugees but rich Arabs from countries from which money flows, unfortunately, to mosques and madrassahs in Britain to support a radical version of Islam. We all have to be deeply concerned about that.

I second everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said about visible co-operation and contact with our Muslim community. I was extremely proud to take part in a service in Westminster Abbey some months ago in which an Imam read from the Koran, as a representative of one of Britain’s faiths in one of our national Christian institutions. I suggest to the Government that they need to do more in demonstrating how far we accept British Muslims as part of the British community, and the moderate version of Islam as the appropriate representation of their faith.

Can the Minister say a little about the importance of the Prüm convention and British participation in it, in terms of the rapid exchange of information among different services across Europe on suspected terrorists and others? I noted the reference to the counterterrorism group in the Statement which, as the Statement recognises, brings Britain together with other EU members and with Norway and Switzerland, as all are concerned with this. Can he say a little about further moves that we think may be necessary towards the closer exchange of intelligence, information and co-operation among national police and security agencies with our neighbours, all of whom are also members of the European Union?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank both noble Lords for their remarks and I agree very much with their points and observations. Let me start with that point about the Muslim community. Following the experience of previous attacks, we have sadly seen an increase in Islamophobic-style attacks around our country. One of the things which we put in place to retain confidence, as part of the counterextremism strategy, was to ensure that the police are visible in those areas and offering some protection and reassurance, particularly at sensitive spots within those communities.

I also make it clear to those overseas in the United States who wish to intervene in our affairs that in this area, as in many others, a little knowledge would be helpful because the police have gone straight on the record to point out that in so many of the cases which we have had success in disrupting, the intelligence and information has very much come from within that community. It is an absolute partnership—an essential partnership—that we have with that community and anything which drives a wedge between it and the wider community in the UK will serve only to weaken our security. We do not want that to happen. I know that my noble friend and ministerial colleague Lord Ahmad, who leads on the counterextremism area and sits in the Home Office and in the Department for Transport, is working on a daily basis in that respect.

Let me go through some of the points which were raised, in order if I can. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the travel advice. It has already been updated for Belgium and while it does not advise against travel, it is stressing the importance of maintaining vigilance in that area. We will continue to keep that under review and change it if necessary.

On broadening the number of locations, these special juxtaposed controls which we have are of course a tremendous part of our defence. The Channel is an important part of our defence but the juxtaposed controls are a crucial part of our security at our borders. The Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, has had meetings with his Belgian and Dutch counterparts about the possibility of strengthening relationships, particularly at some of the ferry terminals, in the light of intelligence. We hope to have more to say on that in future.

In relation to the Border Force, I know that the story is in a sense running because we have not yet announced the final budget for that. We will need to come forward with that very quickly indeed. But I hope that all noble Lords will be reassured that when we have talked about putting an extra £2.5 billion into the intelligence and security apparatus and recruiting another 1,900 people to the security services, and when we have protected in real terms the police and security budgets and announced uplifts for firearms, we are not going to do anything which would do other than strengthen these crucial front-line capabilities in the face of the threats that we receive.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about Prüm. We did opt in to Prüm, which again is an important part of our co-operation with our European colleagues in this area. We have so many areas in which we co-operate with them, such as on criminal information networks and in Schengen information sharing. Prüm was very important because it has those elements of sharing data on DNA, on vehicle licensing and on fingerprints. We have signed up to those elements and they will be ready in 2017-18. Without tempting members of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the European Union Select Committee, if it is represented here, to leap to their feet the committee wrote a strong report saying that we need to go further and faster on that. In fact we organised a meeting with the very people who are introducing this at the Home Office, from a technological point of view. They have promised to come back with regular updates for the House on how we are doing.

I was asked what more could be done through counterterrorism. There are some items on the agenda. The Home Secretary has said that it is very important that we have passenger name records, not just for flights from outside the EU area but within it. It is vital that that happens; it was supposed to be on the agenda of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which was to meet this week. Understandably, it has either been pushed back or, potentially, postponed. I thank noble Lords for the concerns in their questions.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative 2:59, 23 March 2016

My Lords, I welcome the Statement, particularly its emphasis on the fact that this is a global threat that we are all facing, which requires a global response—not least in the form of intelligence sharing. In that context, I was glad that the Statement explicitly referred to the vitally important and long-standing Five Eyes agreement with the United States and three other non-European countries, and to the European counterterrorism group, which again includes countries which are members of the European Union and countries which are not. Bearing all this in mind, does my noble friend not agree that for anybody to suggest that our security and co-operation would be at risk were the British people to choose to leave the European Union is baseless scaremongering and to be deplored?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend is absolutely right to point out that the United Kingdom has a unique set of international relationships, whether through its position on the Security Council, in the Commonwealth or in the “Five Eyes” that I have talked about. A crucial part of these relationships is of course with Europe. The sharing of information within Europe must go on. It is absolutely integral to our ongoing security.

We are not, for example, part of the Schengen area, but that does not stop our signing up for the Schengen information system and these are crucial data for us. It is important that we maintain the strongest possible links because this is a global problem and it requires us all to work together internationally and within this country.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

My Lords, first, I express my condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives and to those who have been injured. Would the Minister reconfirm that the threat to this country remains at the severe level and it is highly likely that there will be a terrorist attack at some stage? In that context, is it not the case that our support and assistance to Belgium—or others who find themselves the victims of these tragedies—is not just a moral and political obligation, but self-interest, since we may wish to see it reciprocated at some stage?

Secondly, on information sharing, can the Minister comment on Europol? Only two months ago, the head of Europol suggested that, although there were 5,000 returnees from Syria to Europe, they had received details on only 2,000 from individual EU members. This leaves a very large percentage. What are we doing to encourage people to supply information there?

Finally, can the Minister give an estimate on the number of Syrian would-be jihadists who have returned to this country? How many of them are under surveillance and how many are on deradicalisation programmes? I understand that he may be constrained on the last point, but it would be helpful if he could give some indication.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

I think the noble Lord was Home Secretary at the time of the 7/7 attacks and therefore knows absolutely what must be going on and the vital part played by our international networks in tracking people down and keeping others safe. He is right to ask about what specific help has been given. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about that. The type of help we given the Belgians includes CCTV analysis, forensic device investigation, bomb scene management, exploiting social media and body recovery.

On the Europol counterterrorism point, I do not know specific numbers. I know there are some 800 foreign fighters who have returned to the UK. We have made it clear that anyone returning can expect to be the subject of interest to the authorities and to be contacted by them. Where it can be shown that they have been engaging in criminal acts abroad, they will be—and have been—prosecuted and that will continue to be the case.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that those who blame the EU and Schengen for terrorism are completely and outrageously wrong? Indeed, since the apparent perpetrators lived in Brussels, where the attacks were committed, Schengen is irrelevant. Does he also agree—as I think he does—that it was evidently right to opt back into the 30-odd EU police co-operation measures, including the Schengen information system and now the Prüm regulations? That would not have happened without contributions from a lot of people, including the Liberal Democrats.

If the Eurosceptics—including those in the Conservative Party—had had their way, we would not now be taking part in these essential European co-operation measures. Although Norway is in Prüm, it has no right to contribute to its further evolution. It is essentially an observer.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

First and foremost, and particularly at times such as this, the prime responsibility of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens and their borders. This has to be our top priority. It transcends and takes over from any other factor of domestic debate. It just does not counter it. As I have outlined, there are some major international relationships that are very important to us in sharing information. Among these are those we enjoy with our European partners. We believe these ought to be strengthened and deepened at every opportunity.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. As it says, there is a twisted narrative here. We have to remember that this twisted narrative is a many-headed monster. If it does not spring from Daesh, it will spring up wherever law and order have broken down. That must be combated.

I was particularly encouraged, therefore, to hear what the Minister said about keeping increasingly close relationships with the Muslim community in this country from where so many sources of our information come. In response to the recent report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, chaired by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the Government have called a meeting of major officials across all departments to discuss its implications. There is a whole range of issues—in particular the sensitivity of language. The Government have become increasingly sensitive to the proper use of language on these security issues and I commend them for it. The Minister sets a wonderful example. I encourage the Government to continue to have these meetings with leading organisations from the Muslim community, to receive advice on a whole range of security issues.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Of course, these meetings will be ongoing. I know, from having an office next door to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, that he has a constant flow of visitors and meetings and a very full diary of engagements. This needs to continue and be developed. It is not something that just comes down from government; it also needs to come up from within the faith communities themselves. Some of the most effective means of countering these ideologies are ones that do not have a government fingerprint anywhere on them but come from within communities. We must all encourage more of this going forward.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend said that the Prime Minister attended a meeting of COBRA this morning. Bearing in mind the tremendous importance of sharing information, is there not a case for a European equivalent? Nobody should attempt to bring these desperately serious issues into the European referendum debate. However, should we not recognise that, if there is a change on 23 June, although it is crucial that co-operation should continue, its context would be altered?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

That may be so. What I said in repeating the Statement was that we have the counterterrorism group which is a very important part of sharing intelligence across EU member states. The headquarters of NATO are also in Belgium. NATO plays an important part in our security because it includes Turkey, which is crucial in the fight against Daesh.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Non-affiliated

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Wallace, for their comments. My heart goes out to all those who lost their lives in Brussels and Ankara; the list given by the Minister is endless. I welcome his comments particularly on building and developing a greater relationship with the Muslim community in particular, but also on having wider interfaith networks. I declare my interest as an adviser for the Tell Mama organisation, which will concur with the Minister about the increasing rise of attacks against women in particular. I am interested to ensure that the Minister takes on board the discussion with a wider network of men and women within the Muslim community, not just those to whom government approvals are available. Please can the Minister respond and tell us what plans the Government have to ensure that the numbers of organisations and individuals to which they are talking are widened to accept even the most marginalised voices in the community?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

We have the Prevent and the Channel programmes, but we also have them in the context, which is very helpful, of the counterextremism strategy, which was published at the end of last year. That will probably lead fairly shortly to some legislation coming through this House, which will flesh out some of the points that the noble Baroness raised. But I return to the point that some of the most effective means of combating this distortion and perversion of a great faith in this country comes from within the communities themselves.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat

Does the Minister agree that it is a disappointment that the same group which killed over 100 people in Paris on 13 November was able to kill more than 30 people in Brussels yesterday? If that is right, does he agree that the welcome co-operation that has taken place between the intelligence agencies of the Five Eyes and the European countries other than the United Kingdom should be re-examined, so that we ensure that we have the technical abilities, including surveillance capacity, required to ensure that this is not repeated in yet another European capital, which might be our own?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

That is absolutely correct. Of course, that is one of the prime drivers behind the investigatory powers legislation—but the noble Lord will notice that, when we talk about the global fight against terror, the sophistication of the Daesh communications, with the use of social media as a way of communicating, is a completely new challenge for the security services. That is why we are putting the resources into GCHQ. Because Daesh is based in Syria, we need to make sure that we take the fight to it and destroy its capabilities there before it has the opportunity to destroy our way of life here.

Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench

My Lords, we have to admit that our island—land, sea and air—is rather sieve-like, and those who really want to get into this country do so. In the front line that the Minister so ably talks about, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, put his finger on an empty space at the moment. I refer to the Border Force, which I support very strongly. It is a matter of better tasking; better direction, command and control; better selection and recruiting of its members; training; and a rapid reaction force available day and night. We have 200-plus airfields unattended at night. We have coves north, south and east where it is quite easy to arrive at night undetected. People are a bit forgetful of the west coast; people are entering more from Ireland at the moment. I would class our Border Force as just average at the moment. I do not believe that the Government are giving it proper support, and the sooner it is got up to a high operational level to take part in the front line the better. The Government are missing a trick here.

There is one little suggestion that I might make. The Government have kicked out 25,000 military—good recruiting ground. They know how to work at night in the darkness, and that sort of thing. With immigration, so many people say that we are not taking enough and that we ought to be swamped a bit. The sleeper, the activist and the bomb-maker can all come in that way, and are coming, and we have to be very careful. We need a Border Force worthy of the front line, and the Government must do something about it.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Viscount is right to refer to the Border Force. I can speak only for the people whom I meet, who have the highest professionalism and resolve. It has changed over the past few years. The National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 referred to that, saying that there was a case for better intelligence-led security. That is where we need to strengthen up—on the connections between the National Crime Agency and between the police and Special Branch and the security agencies. Receiving that signal and human intelligence is also very important. We cannot hope to have border posts in every cove and field across the country, as the noble Viscount suggested. Therefore, we have to rely on intelligence and on partnership with the communities as well.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I am glad that the Government are tightening up passport control and are seizing and cancelling British passports under royal prerogative when appropriate. But does the Minister remember that last week in a Written Answer he said to me:

“Records are not held centrally of persons holding both a UK passport and foreign passport”.?

Surely it is now urgent that Border Force officials should be able to scan a British passport and know what other passports that person may hold. Otherwise, they may be able to skip out of the country. Recently, somebody actually on bail for a terrorist offence did exactly that.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

Of course, that is also one of the reasons why we have in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act the ability to seize passports, which are the property not of the individual but of the state that issues them. So we can seize those passports. We need more information on identity. On the point that the noble Lord makes about having two passports, we have changed the passport form to make sure that people can declare when that is the case. We have in place exit checks. All that is working in the general direction in which the noble Lord wants us to go.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, for how much longer are the British Government going to resist the introduction of national identity cards with full biometric data, on the same basis that other—indeed, nearly all—European countries have introduced such a system? I understand that in recent weeks even the Japanese are doing the same. They all justify it on the basis that it improves their national security arrangements. Why do we not just do it and stop dithering over it?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Home Department

Brussels has a compulsory ID system, and that is not something that guarantees security. From our point of view, we say that intelligence and working with communities is what has disrupted the seven attacks planned in this country in the past 18 months. Of course, we need to tighten security at every level, but we do not believe that compulsory ID cards are the way forward.