The Home Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons yesterday on international terrorism. She explained:
"As we set out in our Contest strategy today, the greatest security threat that we face comes from al-Qaeda and related groups and individuals. Our aim is to reduce the risk to the UK and our interests overseas from international terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. We know that the threat is severe and that an attack is highly likely and could happen without warning at any time. We know that this new form of terrorism is different in scale and nature from the terrorist threats that we have had to deal with in recent decades. This new form of terrorism is rooted in conflicts overseas and the fragility of some states and grounded in an extremist ideology that uses violence to further its ends. It exploits the opportunities created by modern technologies and seeks to radicalise young people into violent extremism.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of thousands of people, to whom I pay tribute, we have had considerable success in stopping terrorists in their tracks and bringing those responsible to justice. We have disrupted more than a dozen attempted terrorist plots in the UK and, since 2001, almost 200 people have been convicted of terrorist-related offences."
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling replied for the Conservatives:
"May I thank the Home Secretary for providing an advance copy of her statement? Once again, however, may I express my annoyance on behalf of the House at the fact that the documents, which are published today, were released and distributed through the media long before they were released to MPs? That is completely unacceptable and goes against numerous rulings by you, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary should be ashamed of herself.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the police and all the security services, both overseas and at home, for their work in protecting us against the terrorist threat, but we should do more than recognise that hard work—we should also recognise their personal courage in looking after us. We all share the same goal in respect of the issues we are discussing today. We want to do everything we can to combat terror, and we will be constructive critics of what the Government do as a result.
Furthermore, we face new kinds of threat. The events in Mumbai in November were truly shocking. Innocent people were gunned down in their hotel rooms or shot at random on a busy railway station. Armed men roaming the streets of cities looking for people to shoot indiscriminately is a new experience in the battle against terror. That is why we back the Government’s aim of broadening knowledge of the terrorist threat to thousands of people who work in public places.
However, the Government have to do the job properly. It is depressing to discover that the programme described in last weekend’s newspapers by the Prime Minister does not appear to be what we were promised. He described the programme as follows:
“Tens of thousands of men and women…from security guards to store managers…have now been trained and equipped to deal with an incident and know what to watch for as people go about their daily business”.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the training programme described by the Prime Minister amounts to no more than a voluntary three-hour seminar, and that includes the coffee break? I do not see how we can train people properly to deal with terrorism in less than half the time allocated to a cycling proficiency course.
Will the Home Secretary tell us how widely the training has been spread? When we contacted the management of two major shopping centres this morning, we were told that all that they knew about the plans was from newspaper reports this week. Why?
When it comes to new kinds of threat, the Home Secretary is right to highlight the need to be aware of the danger of an attack with chemical, biological or radiological weapons, but will she tell the House why police in London will not all have access to protective equipment ahead of the G20 summit?
The other big caveat is how we deal with the groups that foster both hatred and violence in our society and the extremism that underpins many aspects of the threat that we face. The meeting held in a school in London last week at which one of the most controversial of all the so-called preachers of hate, Omar Bakri, was able to preach over a phone line to a group of followers and call for attacks on British soldiers and civilians was a disgrace. Why was that allowed to happen?
We have to deal with extremism in all its guises. People have the right to campaign for radical change in our society. We should not seek to ban them from doing so, but the state has the right to protect its people and its institutions, and the principles of a democratic society. We should not be providing support to those who wish to undermine that society, so will the Home Secretary now stop funding groups that propagate extremism, and instead concentrate on funding projects that break down the community divide?
We will support the Government when they do the right thing to combat terrorism. There is much in the document that we welcome, but the Government’s strategy is not perfect and we will continue to push for change where we believe that it is flawed. We will do so out of a desire that I believe is shared right across this House: to do everything we can to keep the terrorist threat at bay."
As much of Mr Grayling's speech was (rightly) given over to questions, it is worth recording the Home Secretary's response:
"In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the Contest strategy has been available to hon. Members in the Vote Office since 10 o’clock this morning.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to those involved in helping to keep this country safe. I welcome that tribute. I accept his point that we need to learn from terrible events such as those in Mumbai and Lahore—and we will—and to feed that into our ongoing work to protect from and to prepare for terrorist attacks.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the work we are taking forward through Project Argus. I am sorry that he was so dismissive of a wide-ranging programme that is placed on top of the work of police officers, police community support officers, the security and intelligence agencies and others who work to keep us safe, and that aims to provide training and preparation and to protect us where we shop, where we work and where we live. About 700 programmes have been implemented under Project Argus and more than 30,000 people have received training—and plans are in place for even more people to receive it. On top of that, separate training programmes for security guards are being conducted throughout the country to help ensure that they are vigilant. I hope that hon. Members will welcome and support that work in their local communities.
The hon. Gentleman welcomes our focus on the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat. We are ensuring, once again, that all police officers receive basic information training in CBRN threats, with 8,000 police officers receiving specific training, and they all have access to protective equipment.
The hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises, as do we, the challenge to counteract violent extremism and those who want to support terrorism. In providing funding for groups and other elements of the work, we have ensured that we can measure the outcomes of what those groups do. We commissioned a review from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission, which has already been published. I agree that our work to counter violent extremism and to support shared values needs to go even further, which is why we are clear in this document about the values that we share—the same values, incidentally, that are under attack by terrorists— and we will as a Government and more widely across the community challenge those who do not share those values. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that our emphasis on working—not just in communities, but more widely in prisons, schools, universities and internationally—to prevent people from turning to violent extremism is an important part of, and the correct long-term approach to, what I hope is our joint work to help keep this country safer."