Incident in Salisbury - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:36 pm on 8th March 2018.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:36 pm, 8th March 2018

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and pay tribute to the emergency services, an issue I shall want to return to shortly. We are also concerned for the police officer and the other victims, their families and friends.

I appreciate that the investigation is ongoing but can the Minister confirm that one of the victims was a Russian citizen who was a British spy or double agent, and that President Putin has in effect made death threats against such individuals? The Government should be telling Parliament as much as they can about such incidents, not as little as they can get away with while hiding behind the fact that there is an ongoing investigation.

The Statement talks about well-rehearsed CBRN procedures, but these are deployed when it is a known CBRN threat. What reassurance can the Minister give that such procedures will be reviewed so that first responders are not put in danger, as the police officer who first attended this incident has clearly been put in danger? The Statement talks about protecting British citizens, but what risk assessments are carried out on Russian citizens living in the UK, particularly those who may have risked their lives to assist the UK in the past?

We on these Benches have repeatedly expressed concern about reductions in Border Force, with reliance placed on electronic gates and remote ports and small airfields not having sufficient protection—a situation that is likely to be made worse if we continue to Brexit.

I understand that hostile foreign powers might produce very convincing fraudulent documents to get their assassins into the UK, but can the Minister speculate how on earth a highly toxic nerve agent was smuggled into the country, assuming it was not stolen from a government facility in this country. Is the Minister satisfied that Border Force is properly funded and that our borders are secure?

I pay tribute to the emergency services but I also pay tribute to the security and intelligence services. In the interactions that I have had with those services, I am confident that we have among the best security and intelligence services in the world. Clearly, however, in an arms race with hostile foreign powers, we need to ensure that those services are properly funded.

I pay particular tribute to the police service—as in this case, they are often the first to arrive at the scene of incidents, never knowing what dangers they face. I wish the officer in this case a speedy recovery. The Government have continued to say that we need fewer police officers because crime is falling, but this incident is just one example of the police being the service of last resort. They have to deal with people in distress and, as we saw last week, respond to people trapped in the appalling weather—nothing to do with crime. These brave police officers never know the sorts of dangers that they are facing and can end up, as this officer has, seriously ill in hospital. Sometimes they give up their lives in order to protect us, as Keith Palmer did nearly a year ago in this place. Yet the Government appear in the eyes of operational police officers to be treating the police service with contempt—freezing their salaries, cutting their pensions and reducing police budgets in real terms. Will the Minister tell the House when the Government are going to reverse their anti-police agenda?