Places of Worship: Protective Security Funding - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 7th May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 6:55 pm, 7th May 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place about security in our places of worship:

“Yesterday marked the start of Ramadan, a peaceful time of prayer and reflection. Throughout the holy month, Muslims will come together in mosques to celebrate. The tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand, will never be far from their minds, and the 51 innocent souls who were slaughtered in March will be remembered in many prayers. A terrorist gunned down these Muslim men, women and children as they paid respects to their God. A few weeks later, Christians were massacred by terrorists in Sri Lankan churches as they observed their faith on Easter Sunday. More victims were targeted in hotels, with over 250 lives lost. Just days ago, a gunman stormed a synagogue near San Diego, killing an innocent woman on the last day of Passover. Each one of those atrocities was heartbreaking and tragic, and my thoughts are with every single person affected. I know the House will join me in condemning these hate-fuelled attacks on our freedoms and values.

This slaughter has sent shockwaves through our religious communities. People are understandably worried. Many members of my own family contacted me after Christchurch to seek reassurance and to ask, “Just what are you doing to stop this happening here?” With your permission, I would like to answer this today to provide some much-needed reassurance.

There can be no doubt that people are being targeted because of their religion—in terrorist attacks around the world, yes, but also in vile hate crimes on the streets of this country: sledgehammer attacks on mosques, a Christian preacher spat at in the street and a brick thrown through a glass synagogue door. I condemn all these attacks with every fibre of my being. No one should be targeted because of what they believe. Everyone, of every faith, deserves the right to observe their religion without fear, and we are doing all we can to ensure that this remains the case in the UK and that our fundamental values are preserved.

Allow me to update the House on some of the work under way to protect our religious freedom. First, I have increased the places of worship protective security fund to £1.6 million for 2019-20—double the amount awarded last year. Expressions of interest are now open for the next round of the fund, which will open in July. Since the scheme launched in 2016, over £1.5 million has already been awarded, with 63 grants to churches, 49 to mosques, five to Hindu temples and 17 to gurdwaras. They have paid for security equipment such as CCTV, security lighting, new locks or fences. Many more places of worship will now benefit after we made it even easier to apply this year, by removing the need to find multiple quotes and contractors. A separate £14 million grant also provides security for Jewish schools and synagogues against terror attacks.

Secondly, a new £5 million fund will provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales. This funding will support the physical security measures provided by the places of worship fund. It will share best practice and help faith organisations understand how best to protect their worshippers.

Thirdly, we are consulting religious communities on what more can and should be done to help them. We will shortly announce a programme of engagement to help us understand what they need and how to make it work in a faith setting. This listening exercise will inform how the £5 million security training fund is spent to ensure that it is effective, and it will help ascertain how we can best protect worshippers.

Fourthly, we are providing immediate help with a Ramadan package of support for mosques. We know that Muslims are anxious for their safety after the atrocity in Christchurch and that tensions are heightened during religious festivals, so we are supporting faith associates to provide security training and advice for the Islamic holy month. Support is being given in 12 workshops around England and Wales and guidance is being distributed to over 2,000 mosques, community centres and madrassas.

Finally, our world-class police provide vital protection to all places of worship. Patrols near mosques were stepped up following the Christchurch attack to provide much-needed reassurance, and the police increase activity around religious festivals and holy days, including the Ramadan period. Our security services work tirelessly to disrupt all terror threats to this country. This includes tackling the growing threat from the far right, with four such terrorist plots disrupted since the beginning of 2017. We are also using a range of other powers to tackle the threat of terrorism and extremism in this country.

Our robust hate crime legislation has seen far-right influencers jailed for a range of offences, including religiously aggravated harassment. As Home Secretary I can exclude a foreign national from entering the UK if I believe their presence would not be conducive to the public good—a power I can, and do, use to stop hate preachers stirring up tension here; I have excluded eight since I became Home Secretary. Our Prevent and Building a Stronger Britain Together programmes work with and through local communities to challenge terrorist or extremist ideologies—from Islamist to the far right.

Together, this comprehensive package of support provides protection for all our places of worship. We know that there are deep and genuine concerns in religious communities; we know that people are feeling vulnerable and scared. But have no doubt: I am listening to these concerns and responding. The diversity of this country—our shared values of tolerance and respect—is what makes us truly great. We will never allow those who seek to divide us to win. The freedom to practise any religion or none is a cornerstone of our democratic society. People must have the peace of mind to worship without fear, and I am doing everything in my power to make this possible. I commend this Statement to the House”.

That concludes the Statement.