Security in the UK – <i>Motion to Take Note</i> | Lords debates

My Lords, I take part in this debate with some diffidence, in particular following the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. Their experience is practical, whereas mine, albeit as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, has always been theoretical.

I will pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord King, about the significance of the retaking of Mosul. We have already seen evidence of displacement of effort from Daesh, and it is likely—indeed, inevitable—that that will continue, and at a much greater level. That, if anything, will once again increase the burden on those whom we charge with the responsibility of providing our safety and security.

I doubt very much that it is possible to defeat the doctrine of so-called ISIS. I suspect that containment and deterrence may be as much as we can do, at least in the short term, but, as has been referred to in the debate, that does not in any way absolve us from doing the things which Parliament and society can do in support of the security services, rather than just relying on them, and I will come to one or two of those things towards the end of my remarks.

In the aftermath of some of these terrible events, it is often said that they have been an illustration of mindless violence. It is not mindless; it is clearly decided upon because of its effectiveness in causing fear in the first instance, in provoking extreme responses, which may yet radicalise more of those who are sympathetic to the cause of the terrorists, and in undermining the values of the societies which they detest to the point of destruction. We should never forget that those who direct terrorism do not lack ambition. They will never be satisfied, I suppose you could argue, until the last round is fired and the last man or woman is standing. Therefore, the problem will have many facets, even after what might be thought to be considerable success.

When anxiety is expressed about these matters, it is sometimes said that the statistics tell us that you are less likely to be killed by an act of terrorism than you are in a road traffic accident. Of course, that is not the point, because a terrorist attack is the most intrusive violation of our space. It is a violation of our values and a violation of our rights, and that is why it can never be compared with fatalities from traffic accidents, as some rather loosely seek to do.

The physical and emotional impact on victims of terrorism is self-evident, but the emotional impact on society at large is in many ways equally severe. There is the fear and alarm to which I have already referred but there is also the undermining of our confidence to go about our daily business, and of course the undermining of the confidence of those who have the difficult responsibility of ensuring our protection. That last point is even more significant when the recent mechanisms of terrorism have been everyday objects such as vehicles and knives.

In such circumstances as we find ourselves after the events of the last few months, it is easy for the debate to become polarised, in that people—often in newspapers’ editorial columns—simply call for more powers for the authorities. However, such calls are met by fears that that would be irreparably damaging to the very freedoms that are the foundation of our society. We saw some of that in the progress of the Investigatory Powers Bill through this House, but I want to say now, as I said then, that in my judgment that Act contains necessary powers governed by necessary safeguards.

It is not clear to me that any of the atrocities of the last few months would have been prevented by increased powers or longer sentences. There is some suggestion that we should create what has rather fancifully been described as an Alcatraz. But I offer the slightly fanciful parallel of Colditz. The Germans put all those people who were clever at escaping into Colditz, and what did they do? They became much cleverer. They were not perhaps as successful as they might have hoped, but they passed on the tradecraft they had learned and therefore became all the more skilled at what they sought to do.

These terrible events might have been prevented by greater resources in order to ensure full use of the powers already available. The noble Baroness who introduced the debate referred to the additional 1,900 positions and the effort to ensure that the total sums expended in these matters kept pace with inflation. But I remind her that that undertaking was given by Prime Minister David Cameron, in the autumn of 2014 to the best of my knowledge and most certainly before the general election in 2015. Noble Lords who have contributed to the debate so far have pointed out the extreme nature of the challenge as compared with historical circumstances. In that spirit, I respectfully suggest that the whole issue of resources needs revisiting.

I also hope that it is possible—and I am talking about society—to create an environment in which individuals will be more willing to provide information to the authorities. There are two kinds of intelligence, SIGINT and HUMINT, and I sometimes think with our justifiable concern about the internet that we do not place sufficient emphasis on achieving the kind of information that can be provided by witnesses. I also believe—I am happy to see that the Government have this issue in mind—that we need a different relationship with the internet service providers. In support of that, I offer the fact that Fusilier Lee Rigby was murdered by two men who were known to the authorities, one of whom, it later emerged, had been engaged in an exchange on the internet on the basis of having said, “I want to kill a soldier”. That information emerged only after his conviction and that of his co-accused. That puts into sharp relief the extent to which the internet service providers are willing to ensure that such information is not allowed to lie on the internet.

The interesting thing about that case is that the individual concerned had had several accounts closed because of the unacceptable nature of the material on them. I appreciate that this involves a considerable burden that gives rise to all kinds of social and some might even argue cultural issues, but the internet cannot be freely used without any check or effort to prevent the dissemination of material that arms those who seek to do us harm.

None of the things I have suggested would necessarily have guaranteed that Trooper Lee Rigby would have been saved, but one or other of them might have done so. On that basis, when we are seeking to eliminate risk, we must consider every possible avenue by which to do so.

I have already referred to what I call, perhaps rather neutrally, a more productive relationship with the internet service providers. The noble Baroness mentioned that the Prevent strategy has been the subject of some criticism. In principle the strategy is clearly significant, but we should examine carefully the extent to which some communities have come to regard it as not only unacceptable but highly intrusive.

Finally, it is necessary to pay tribute, as others have done, to the quite extraordinary quality of those who have the responsibility for protecting us—not only the security services but the police as well. As we have seen recently, they put their lives at risk in an effort to fulfil their responsibilities; sometimes a legal obligation but I suspect for many of them, a far greater moral responsibility. We should never discuss the issues we are considering today without recognising the importance of these obligations.

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Inshore Fisheries – <i>Private Notice Question</i> | Lords debates

My Lords, I appreciate that I may be inviting the Minister to depart a little from his responsibilities, but perhaps he would join me in welcoming the fact that there are reports in Scotland this weekend that the Government are about to place an order for a further three frigates to be built on the River Clyde—yet another illustration of the advantages to Scotland of being part of the United Kingdom and not being independent.

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Inshore Fisheries – <i>Private Notice Question</i> | Lords debates

My Lords, I appreciate that I may be inviting the Minister to depart a little from his responsibilities, but perhaps he would join me in welcoming the fact that there are reports in Scotland this weekend that the Government are about to place an order for a further three frigates to be built on the River Clyde—yet another illustration of the advantages to Scotland of being part of the United Kingdom and not being independent.

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Queen’s Speech – <i>Debate (5th Day)</i> | Lords debates

I think that when the Minister consults Hansard, he will find that that is not what I said. I said that I remain convinced of the idea that the best interests of the United Kingdom are served by membership of the European Union. I did not characterise my position in the terms that he has suggested.

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Queen’s Speech – <i>Debate (5th Day)</i> | Lords debates

My Lords, I regret that I am a very poor candidate for the consensus advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am so because in the immediate aftermath of the referendum my emotion was resignation, but as the debate has developed, I have become more convinced that the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom would be found in remaining within the European Union. The noble Lord may not find much scope for consensus if he talks to the Democratic Unionist Party because fresh from having extracted Danegeld from the Conservatives and having begun to exercise influence far beyond its numbers, it is important to remember that it favours a hard Brexit. It wants a hard Brexit with a soft border, if that does not seem to be internally contradictory. I find it difficult to see how those two ambitions may ever be reconciled.

However, I welcome the fact that proposals have now been made by the Government in relation to the rights of European Union citizens. Much more detail is clearly necessary, but I go back to the point made earlier by others: that our Prime Minister really missed a golden opportunity. By not publishing those details earlier, she inflamed the anxiety of people who are understandably concerned about their future. She might have occupied the high ground; she could have given comfort to those who seek it; and, more to the point, she could have set the tone for the whole of the negotiations which are now to be embarked upon.

As chancellor of the University of St Andrews, which interest is recorded in the register, I can tell the House that the Government have done little to convince the staff of that university—and, I suspect, of every other university in the country—that the research funding provided by the European Union will in the long term be replaced by any Government of the United Kingdom. People may ask where that money would come from if they did so. I do not think that it would come from the “money tree”—that expression now so beloved of Conservative Ministers—nor indeed from the £350 million painted on the side of the bus then directed by the blond bus conductor now elevated to one of the highest offices of state. It is not just continuance of residence which affects so many sectors of the academic community in this country but access to European funds and the collaboration with peer groups which goes along with it.

Mr Hammond, recently released from the bondage imposed on him by the two sacked chiefs of staff of the Prime Minister, said wisely that the British people did not vote to leave the European Union to become poor, yet many of them are poor already. The depreciation of the pound has raised the cost of living. Inflation is on the increase, at 2.3%, and there is now the possibility, even probability, of an increase in interest rates. Is it not ironic that the economy of the European Union is showing sustained growth, a comparison which I think few would have been willing to draw in the past when seeking to undermine the economic effectiveness of the Union?

The Prime Minister caused the unnecessary election, claiming that the country was united and that political parties were undermining the Government’s objective of negotiating good terms for our departure from the European Union. I wonder what she thinks of that analysis now because if the country was not divided before, it is most certainly divided now, and that may come to be her epitaph.

I am sure that many Members of the House, like me, are rather tired of being accused of being obstructive when we seek to exercise our best judgment, the very role for which we have come here. That is why I agree with the noble Baroness who most recently addressed the House. I am so convinced that the interests of this country rest with being in the European Union that I have no interest in or enthusiasm for the idea of facilitating the implementation of a decision which I profoundly believe to be against the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

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