Archbishop responds to terror attack on Westminster

On Thursday 23rd March 2017 the House of Lords paid tribute to those who had been killed and injured, and to first responders, during the previous day’s terror attack in Westminster. The House also heard a repeat of the statement given in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby spoke of the “deep values” in British society that give us the strength to persevere:

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I associate myself with the thanks and tributes paid today, and especially our prayers and thoughts for PC Keith Palmer and for his family. I also acknowledge the work of so many members of the public who pitched in and did what they needed to do when faced with things for which they had never been trained or prepared. Yesterday afternoon one of our own security staff at Lambeth Palace, a Muslim, arrived at the gate having been very narrowly missed by the vehicle and having spent time helping those who had been injured. It was typical of this community and this country that he refused to go home until the end of his shift and simply spent the time doing his job as he expected.

This was typical of so many in this city, including the emergency services who contained the incident within six minutes and the staff at this extraordinary place who give so much of themselves on both normal occasions and extraordinary occasions. Especially in our hearts today are those who wait at bedsides, who are suddenly caught up in things for which they could never have been prepared and which they never expected. Our prayers continue for them on this day. Much shock has been expressed, but we know from the reactions we saw yesterday that we have the strength to persevere through it. We will talk more generally about that later.

In response to the statement by the Prime Minister:

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I add a welcome from these Benches to the Statement by the Prime Minister, which, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said, rightly set the tone and spoke for this country. I also convey to the House the messages of sympathy and support that I have received through the night from faith leaders around the world ​and across this country who want this House and Parliament, particularly its staff and those who have suffered, to know how much those people are in their hearts and minds.

With regard to values, I want to refer to something that seems to me to go deeper, to something that is at the foundation of our own understanding of what our society is about, and I want to do so in three simple, brief pictures. The first is of a vehicle being driven across Westminster Bridge by someone who had a perverted, nihilistic and despairing view of objectives, and of what society and indeed life are about, that could be fulfilled only by death and destruction. The second is of that same person a few minutes later, on a stretcher or on the ground being treated by the very people whom he had sought to kill. The third is of these two Houses, where profound, bitter, angry disagreement is dealt with not with violence, despair or cruelty but with discussion, reason and calmness.

Those three pictures point us to deep values within our society—deeper even than those that have rightly been mentioned in the Prime Minister’s Statement and other statements. You would expect to hear this from these Benches, but it is the sense that comes from a narrative that has been within our society for almost 2,000 years. It speaks at this time of year, as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter, of a God who stands with the suffering and brings justice, and whose resurrection has given to believer and unbeliever the sense that where we do what is right—where we behave properly, where that generosity and extraordinary sense of duty that leads people to treat a terrorist is shown, where the bravery of someone such as PC Keith Palmer is demonstrated—there is a victory for what is right and good over what is evil, despairing and bad. That was shown yesterday; that is shown not just in our expression of values but in our practices, which define those values; and that is the mood that we must show in future.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Leader of the House): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, the noble and learned Lord and the most reverend Primate for their comments. I also thank the noble Baroness and the Opposition Chief Whip for their help and support yesterday. It showed that we can all work as a team in times of great distress and difficulty.

I am sure that the noble Baroness’s suggestion of a permanent memorial to PC Palmer will be something that the Houses reflect on in due course as we come together to think about our reaction to these tragic events. I also confirm that we will of course keep Parliament updated of developments as and when we are able to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, rightly raised the experiences of Members of this House, the public and the other place yesterday. I reiterate the words of the Lord Speaker: we will be assessing with the police and other partners what happens and how we can improve things, but I echo all of our thanks to the police, the doorkeepers and all members of staff, who had as traumatic a day as we did yesterday but helped us throughout and put us first, as ever.​

I also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that we will continue to work closely with our international partners to combat terrorism. The warm and strong words we have already heard from our partners around the globe show the strength of the relationships we have and will continue to have.

Finally, I thank the most reverend Primate for his powerful words. There is nothing I can add to them, so I will leave the last word to him.


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