My Lords, I want to start by paying tribute to Lords Sacks—Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He may no longer be able to speak to us directly, but what he said lives on. In 2013, he wrote an article for the Spectator entitled “Atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians”—by whom he meant those who threaten western freedom by religious fundamentalism, combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. He was in effect saying that moderate religion is the answer to religious fundamentalism, not anti-religious campaigning.
There is no justification for violence. The horrific terrorist attacks we have seen on mainland Europe and here in the UK in recent years I condemn unequivocally. My thoughts are with all those affected.
Can the Minister set out the UK Government’s position on free speech? Is free speech to be at any cost, no matter what the impacts on others? Because we condemn violence, no matter that it is unjustified, that does not mean we should not try to understand why people are drawn into it. Terrorism cannot be condoned under any circumstances, but if we are to counter it effectively we need to understand what motivates it. To that end, can the Minster say what research has been conducted into the impact of lockdown on the spread of extremism, particularly using the internet? What is the likely impact on vulnerable individuals—with no moderating interaction from others—and on their mental health? What are the Government doing to encourage, promote and ensure access to a moderate religious counternarrative to violent extremism allegedly based on religion?
The Home Secretary’s Statement talks about the increased threat level being used by the police to determine the level of their overall protective security activity. This includes additional police officers deployed to “certain places”. Can the Minister explain which places or what type of places these additional police officers are being deployed to?
The police are already stretched because of the Covid pandemic. It is at times like these that the importance of resilience in the police service is brought into sharp focus. Not only are the police having to enforce lockdown restrictions, police demonstrations against Covid regulations and deal with an enhanced UK threat level; they also have to do the day job of fighting crime and responding to calls for assistance. Many of these calls have nothing to do with crime, and include having to help increasing numbers in mental health crisis. This Government continued to reduce police numbers long after police leaders told them the cuts had gone far enough. Can the Minister explain where the additional police officers the Home Secretary refers to in her Statement will come from?
No doubt the Minister will be keen to tell the House about the additional police officers currently being recruited and the progress towards the government target of recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers, but can the Minister say what is the net increase, if any, in the number of police officers has been since the initiative was announced? What is the total number of police officers now compared with the 143,800 full-time equivalent officers in England and Wales police forces in 2010?
An essential part of combating terrorism, particularly the forms of terrorism we have seen in recent years, is community intelligence, intelligence built on trust and confidence created by police community support officers and local community police officers. What is the current number of police community support officers compared with 2010, and what proportion of police officers are currently employed as local community officers?
I have the utmost respect for our police and security services, and I am confident they do all that they possibly can to counter terrorism within the resource restraints they have been forced to operate under. I pay tribute to their skill and dedication. It is not, as the Home Secretary maintains, just about passing legislation. It is about properly resourcing the police and security services to give them the resilience they need to be able to respond to crises such as these.