Bishop of Southwark asks questions about aim and intent of new counterterrorism laws

On 3rd February 2020 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Harris of Haringey, “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to improve the safety and security of public venues, and whether they intend to introduce a Protect duty under the CONTEST strategy for countering terrorism.” The Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for securing this debate and for making the points he made.

I live but a few minutes’ walk from the location of yesterday’s incident in Streatham, and my prayers go to those affected by yet another attack born of hate and callous disregard of God’s image reflected in the other. I too pay tribute to the rapid response of our emergency services, not least the police, who were tracking the individual, and to the ambulance service.

I had the privilege of playing a part in the funeral of PC Keith Palmer, who died in defence of this place, in April 2017. However, a few weeks later, a terrorist outrage erupted on London Bridge, and in the immediate ​vicinity of the same cathedral where that funeral had taken place. A nurse, Kirsty Boden, who tried to help the injured, paid for her compassion with her life, dying by the doors of our cathedral offices that dreadful night. Later that month, in the wake of this and the Manchester attack, which has already been mentioned, a national service of hope was held at Southwark Cathedral. An attack once more on London Bridge, last November, beginning at Fishmongers’ Hall, brought it all back. For some, of course, it is a daily remembrance.

A well-developed counterterrorist strategy, Contest, operates in this country, and we have some of the toughest anti-terrorist legislation in the world. Most of the effort in both focuses on the perpetrator. The noble Lord, in securing this debate, has put a proper onus on potential victims, for which we should be grateful. However, I wish to make a few brief cautionary points.

First, with our laws and strategy as comprehensive as they are, we need to pay heed to how they exhibit the values we seek to express. The duty on specified authorities under the 2015 Act to have due regard to the need to prevent terrorism was, for example, the basis for an eight year-old being interviewed by police without their parents present, as reported in the media in January last year. It does not follow, even after a dreadful incident, that something additional must be done. A great deal is already done under the four strands of Contest every day, including Prevent and Protect. Not every action can be anticipated or every thought countered. We can offer and work towards a more hopeful society and be as vigilant as it is reasonable to expect.

Secondly, on whom would the duty to have due regard to Protect fall, and how would this manifest itself? That would depend, in part, on definitions of both public space and what is a venue for this purpose. Do churches and cathedrals count for these purposes, and fall within the ambit of a duty to protect, and what additional measures and costs should they undertake? If the answer is yes, they may not be able to afford this broadly defined duty, and it may inhibit the nature of what they do in public worship and public service. I am grateful to the Government for maintaining the fund to protect religious buildings, but a significant number of churches are simply left open and unattended. My cathedral was shut down by the Metropolitan Police for one week following the London Bridge attacks in June 2017, as were the surrounding businesses in Borough Market. There is no insurance for loss of income unless you are the direct target of terrorism. The laws relating to counterterrorism seem broad already.


Lord Stunell (LD):… I echo what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said. Across ethnic and religious divides, people are determined not to be held to ransom by the terrorists…

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)… Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the brave officers of the Metropolitan Police who had to deal with the terrorist incident yesterday evening in Streatham. They have our thanks, our praise and our gratitude for their work protecting London and the people of our capital city. I also send my thoughts, best wishes and support to the victims and their families. Luckily all the victims have survived. We are grateful to the other emergency services who attended the scene as well. I also thank the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Southwark and his colleagues in the diocese of Southwark, especially the rector of St Leonard’s Church, Anna Norman-Walker, for the support she gave to the emergency services and the community at the scene, and for opening the parish church for prayer…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark reminded us that we need to recognise that we cannot always detect everything. Sometimes we do a review and come to the conclusion that everything that can be done has already been done. I fully accept that point. ..

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)…The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, asked about places of worship. The Government, of course, funded security training for mosques during Ramadan in 2019. We have committed to a fifth year of the Places of Worship Protective Security Funding Scheme and we are developing security training for places of worship of all faiths. We will also open a funding consultation on what more can, and should, be done to protect faith communities.

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