HL Deb 19 November 2003 vol 654 cc1934-6

2.56 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

What additional steps they will take to protect Jewish and other communities in view of the attacks on the synagogues in Istanbul and other recent terrorist attacks.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police report that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Istanbul, a senior Metropolitan Police officer met members of the Jewish community. Generally, advice is issued, when appropriate, to regional police chief officers in response to security assessment and in consideration of current events. All forces are encouraged to work closely with community contacts on security issues. Community involvement is a key strand to the police counter-terrorism effort.

The Community Security Trust meets with the police to address concerns and promote a co-ordinated response to anti-semitic incidents.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Does he recognise the very great and sad recent change in the nature of racist attacks? They tend no longer to be simply racist or anti-semitic shouts or attacks on individuals. Indeed, in the past week they have included the attacks on the synagogues in Istanbul, to which my noble friend referred, resulting in murders and injuries, as well as the attack on the Jewish school in Paris. There is very great concern among the smaller communities in this country at the growth of this sort of terrorism.

Has my noble friend seen the lead article on the front page of The Times today that a terrorist suspect in custody told detectives of a 15 to 20-strong cell of Algerian supporters of Al'Qaeda, ready to launch a terrorist attack? Their intended targets are understood to be synagogues in London and Manchester. What steps are Her Majesty's Government proposing to take to meet what is regarded as a very serious and growing concern?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we recognise that this is a very serious and growing concern. Anti-semitic attacks have, sadly, increased over the last few years. We are aware of the article in The Times. Only yesterday, a special meeting took place involving police officers from the specialist departments, ACPO and Jewish communities to discuss security issues, particularly in the light of recent events. Obviously we will be ever vigilant because of the very real and profound concerns which understandably exist within the Jewish community.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

Does the Minister agree that the current anti-American "stop the war" demonstrations could be better directed at those who are actually perpetrating warlike acts? In Iraq, for instance, there are attacks on the soldiers and the citizens, there have been attacks on synagogues, as the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, especially in Turkey, and there is also the threat that something will be done in this country.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we all abhor anti-Americanism and recognise the strength of the special relationship. Of course, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that we should direct as much attention as possible to dealing with, tackling and preventing the various very serious threats to the Jewish community and other ethnic minority communities in our country.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Janner, for raising the matter. There is a serious concern among minorities to the extent that religious premises fail to receive adequate police protection. Is the Minister aware that only 10 days ago, in a temple in Ealing Road, two people entered while worship was going on, broke the statue of worship and shouted anti-Indian slogans? If we fail to protect those communities, they will take the law into their own hands, which would damage community relations. Is it not about time that the police provided adequate protection, not only to the temples, gurdwaras and mosques but to any of the places of worship that are so precious to minorities in this country?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we are obviously aware of that attack. The police are vigilant in these matters—they have been exceptionally vigilant. Special meetings take place regularly, and all police services in the United Kingdom are particularly aware of the issues that the noble Lord raises. I dispute the suggestion that the police lack vigilance; clearly, they care greatly and deeply, as we all do, about these matters. I add my congratulations to the general congratulations to the police service on tackling them.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, given the fight against terrorism, to which we are all committed, and after the penetration of Buckingham Palace by a Daily Mirror reporter, does that not underline the necessity for a biometric national identity card? Members opposite complain about the police not doing their job, but it might help if they supported the police request for such a measure.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that is a little wide of the original Question. However, this is part of an ongoing debate. Yes, being able properly to identify people will make a very positive contribution to law enforcement.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the knock-on effect on other communities from what has happened in the synagogues is a danger? Will he ensure that the same welcome liaison that the police are making with the Jewish community will be extended to all other communities and their places of worship?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am entirely at one with the noble Viscount. There are regular meetings between the various ethnic communities, who experience and feel threats most regularly. There is a general encouragement in the police service to ensure that racist attacks are dealt with and dealt with promptly. It is perhaps worth saying that, over the past couple of years, there has been a big increase in the number of cases brought forward by the police for prosecution with regard to racially motivated crime, and a very welcome increase in the number of defendants prosecuted and brought to justice.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, in the discussions that the Government have had with the security authorities, will they draw attention to the fact that each day, when children are at school, cars are pulling up and dropping off in a very short space of time? Could extra vigilance be given to those groups who have used the method of suicide bombing in the weekend atrocities in Turkey and other places? It is the most natural thing to see cars pulling up outside schools. Could schools, especially schools with Jewish children, have some special attention in that regard?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that is one of the issues that was discussed recently when the Jewish community met the Metropolitan Police Service. I know that the issue is being dealt with with the greatest seriousness.