My Lords, I express our sincere condolences to the families of the three victims of the atrocity in Reading on Saturday. Our thoughts are very much with them, at what must be a heartbreaking and mind-numbing time. We send our very best wishes for a speedy recovery to our fellow citizens who were injured in the senseless attack, knowing that they are in the safe and caring hands of our magnificent NHS staff. It is clear that all the emergency services reacted to the sickening events on Saturday evening with speed, professionalism and a lack of regard for their own safety—in that final regard, particularly the unarmed police officer who apprehended the individual now under arrest. I express our appreciation of the courage and concern for others of members of the public at the scene who assisted those who were attacked.
The police have arrested an individual under terrorism powers. There are media reports that those who were murdered were members of the LGBT community and that the individual under arrest had mental health problems and was known to the security agencies. This is, however, an ongoing police investigation, and I appreciate that the Minister is constrained in what she can say, about either the specifics of this awful incident or the individual who is under arrest. But any further factual information she is able to provide would be helpful.
This is not the first violent attack by a lone individual, but rather an addition to what is a succession of recent such horrific incidents of this nature. In November, we had the attack at Fishmongers’ Hall, and in February at Streatham; now, in June, it is Reading. The public want answers about these appalling incidents.
We understand that the security services have some 30,000-plus people known to them, and a very much smaller, but nevertheless significant, number of people in whom they have to take a much closer interest on our behalf and in the interests of our safety. We are indebted to our intelligence and security services for the work they do to protect us all, and recognise that many acts of potential or threatened terrorism are thwarted thanks to their diligence and expertise. The murderous attacks that do occur will inevitably, and not surprisingly, always receive much more publicity than the very much larger number of potential or threatened acts of terrorism that are stopped and prevented.
If the investigation into the Reading atrocity, particularly in the light of the other, very recent incidents, reveals that more resources are needed by our counter- terrorism, intelligence and security agencies, I hope the Government will ensure that those additional resources are provided.
The atrocity at Fishmongers’ Hall raised issues surrounding the release of people from prison. The individual under arrest under terrorism powers following the Reading attacks had, it has been reported, served a short prison sentence. At some stage, questions will have to be asked about the nature and extent of risk assessments carried out in respect of people leaving prison who are known to the security services; levels of supervision, or otherwise, following release; and the workloads of probation officers, inside and outside prison.
Lessons will need to be learned from Saturday’s deeply distressing atrocity. That can only be done following a full investigation, but can the Government say in general terms whether any lessons have been learned and put into practice from either the Fishmongers’ Hall or Streatham attacks, and indeed from one recently in a prison, apart from the legislation enacted or being enacted regarding prison sentences, early release and controlled procedures? If any lessons have been learned from those earlier attacks it seems that they will not yet have been shared with the Intelligence and Security Committee, since the Government have not taking the necessary steps since the election at the end of last year to enable it to be reconvened. I hope that does not indicate a lack of the Government’s prioritising ensuring parliamentary oversight of security issues and our security agencies, particularly at the present time. When do the Government expect the committee to meet again?
There is also the continuing delay over establishing the review of the Government’s Prevent strategy. I believe that the closing date for applications for the post to lead the review was yesterday. We need real progress here too because legislation alone will not be enough. We have to take a thorough look at deradicalisation in our prisons, how people who pose a threat are risk assessed and how different agencies can work together to safeguard against tragedies and horrors of the kind witnessed in Reading on Saturday.
Community policing has been cut, yet the intelligence gathering it does as the eyes and ears of our society is vital. Will the Government commit to now build again the capacity required for law enforcement?
What is the position with the serious violence task force, which apparently has not met for a year? Does it still exist? If not, can the Minister at least refresh my memory as to when its demise was announced, and why?
More information will come to light as the police investigation continues and I hope that the Minister can commit to keeping the House updated, including on the lessons that need to be learned. Many issues will need to be considered and addressed in the weeks ahead, but we stand with the wider community in Reading at this desperately difficult time and remember particularly those who tragically lost their lives.