Terrorist Attacks - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 5th December 2017.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:18 pm, 5th December 2017

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the very appropriate sentiments that they have expressed in relation to these terrible attacks. They asked about police numbers and the police budget. Overall police numbers is a big subject and it is probably appropriate that I write to them as comprehensively as I can with the details of the approach that the Home Office is taking.

As regards counterterrorism policing in particular, however—that is surely our focus for these purposes—we will, as the Statement made clear, shortly announce the budgets for policing for 2018-19. Ministers are absolutely clear that we must ensure that counterterrorism policing has the resources needed to deal with the threats that we face. We agreed £24 million of additional funding for CT policing this year, following the recent attacks and the move to “critical”. We will continue our regular dialogue with the National Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters and wider policing to understand demand in relation to the increasing complex threat that we face from terrorism.

It is, however, worth reflecting that, when it comes to policing in the community, it should be incumbent on all of us—communities as a whole—to play our part in being vigilant. We have, through various means, encouraged communities to report on suspicious activity. To defeat terrorism, CT policing launched the national awareness campaign, Make Nothing Happen. The campaign urges the public to act on their instincts and report suspicious activity, including all types of extremist behaviour, to the police.

I was asked by both noble Lords about the words used by David Anderson in relation to the Manchester attack, when he said that MI5 and counter-terrorism policing got a good deal right and,

“could have succeeded had the cards fallen differently”.

MI5 and the police conclude in their reviews that a successful pre-emption of the plot would have been unlikely had an investigation been open on the basis of the available intelligence. Ministers have probed this issue carefully both with David Anderson and with MI5 and the police, and having done that, we believe that the decisions made by MI5 and the police were entirely reasonable. However, while the scope of the inquests relating to the Manchester attack has not been set, I expect that the coroner will want to consider whether the state could have prevented the deaths. In any event, it is vital that we learn the lessons from these attacks. There are, as I have mentioned, 126 recommendations arising from the reviews, and we will be working with MI5 and the police to ensure that they are implemented.

I was asked about border controls. Of course, that is a very relevant topic when we consider the number of individuals who have travelled to Syria and parts of Iraq during the recent conflicts there. The flow has reduced considerably in recent months. Approximately 850 UK-linked people of national security concern have travelled to engage with the Syrian conflict. We estimate that just under half of these will return to the UK and more than 15% have been subsequently killed while fighting in the region. Everyone who returns from taking part in the conflict in Syria or Iraq must expect to be investigated by the police to determine whether they have committed criminal offences and to ensure that they do not pose a threat to our national security. Where there is evidence that criminal offences have been committed, those responsible should expect to be prosecuted under the full weight of the law.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked whether the intensification of the threat was a reflection of the volume of cases that the security services and the police are dealing with. Broadly, the answer to that is yes. Much of the radicalisation that we are concerned about is, of course, radicalisation online. The internet must not be used as a safe space for terrorists or for those who mean us harm. The noble Lord will know that the Government were at the forefront of encouraging Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter to jointly launch the global internet forum to counter terrorism this year. Collectively, the launch of the forum and the development of the hash-sharing database is welcome progress, with 40,000 hashes so far. On an individual basis, since the Prime Minister led an event at the UNGA on preventing terrorist use of the internet, we have seen the companies be more public with their efforts, which is welcome. Recently, YouTube stated that 83% of its extremist videos had been taken down after being identified automatically, and Facebook stated that 99% of removed terrorist content is automatically detected, and 83% of original and uploaded copies are removed within one hour of upload.

On end-to-end encryption, which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me about, encryption of that kind undoubtedly makes the job of MI5 and policing harder—there is no getting away from that. As I am sure he will understand, there is a limit to what I can say about these particular cases and the part that end-to-end encryption played in them. For example, there is a potential prosecution relating to the Manchester attack, which none of us would want to compromise. However, the noble Lord is right that end-to-end encryption cannot be banned. His part in the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act, which I am sure we both remember with a good deal of pleasure, will remind him that we had long debates on this subject during which it was made clear that end-to-end encryption was something that the security services and the police had to live with.