The Daily Telegraph
New laws may be needed to compel internet providers to remove extremist websites quickly
Amid the disagreements of party politics, parliamentarians are fiercely loyal to each other in sorrow and crises. Keith Palmer was our friend as well as our guardian. Toby Ellwood rightly is praised for his presence of mind and his courage. Both Houses have sat in grief and memorial. Now we move on to the harder questions posed by Wednesday’s terrorist outrage.
Important facts are emerging. The perpetrator was known to MI5 some time ago, but was judged to fall below surveillance priority. Isil is claiming responsibility: attrition in the war in Syria has shifted its targeting to terrorism in the West. Should factors change our tactics and thinking?
The adequacy of counter-terrorism law will be examined after this event as carefully as the security of Parliament. Obtaining new and proportionate law has been a struggle since 2005, impeded by some media and civil liberties groups. Already there has been a change of media mood. Some opponents of the unfairly dubbed “snooper’s charter” (enacted in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016) yesterday changed their tune. I await some clarity as to the current views of Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow attorney general on these issues.
The temptation to say “something more needs to be done” should be treated with caution in terms of changes in the law. The 2016 Act has been crafted to enable the authorities to act against suspects, with careful protections for the innocent. The range of terrorism-related offences is already wide. The important questions are not about the law itself, but rather its enforcement and effect.
At the root of the problem lies online radicalisation. To my generation it long seemed almost incredible that an intelligent person could be turned from diligent student to terrorist by what they saw on a screen in the privacy of their bedroom. However, the evidence is overwhelming: it is happening all the time. So, how do we meet this ever more urgent challenge?
First, we need to reinforce the attack on internet radicalisation. Government activity is strong in this area: in the past half-year they have contributed to the removal of tens of thousands of extremist sites on the internet. This is an effort that should be resourced as much as needed – the long-term benefit is plain. If a new law is necessary to compel internet service providers to cooperate with these efforts, it must be made – though signs of cooperation are increasing.
Second, we need to develop the Prevent programme which, though maligned by its enemies and a gullible political minority, is achieving a high level of success. I am confident that the Home Secretary, who plainly has a solid understanding of the subject, will press for increased funding. The programme is admired in other comparable countries.
Third, we must develop conciliation programmes. The private sector, including internet service providers, is participating across Europe in community engagement against radicalisation. Yesterday in Belgium thousands of people attended a ‘‘flash mob’’ event opposed to radicalisation. It was a huge success, organised and sponsored by the private sector. UK charitable and interfaith organisations have achieved much. We need the commitment of the Government to partner fund more of these programmes over an extended period.
Fourth, and crucially, I turn to the funding of the security services and counter-terrorism policing. They have grown exponentially, but so has the threat. We must ensure that they have the resources and staffing to do their job in the public interest. The cost to the public purse of Wednesday’s crimes will be huge and long-lasting. The ability to interdict a future, similar event would represent obvious value for money. The public servants involved are unsung heroes whose analytical and active skills have prevented over a dozen dangerous plots in the last three years, and protected us from ambitious terrorist planning prior to and during the 2012 Olympic Games.
In addition, we should examine whether more police officers should be armed. Whether this would have saved the unarmed Pc Palmer is speculation. Nevertheless, the knowledge that every officer was armed would have some deterrent effect at iconic places like the Houses of Parliament.
We should examine too the planning aspects of the security of vulnerable institutions like Parliament. This is for mature reflection and review. Yesterday I saw engineers strengthening the stability of the barriers outside the House of Lords. Much more strategic examination may be needed. What we must include at least is a commitment to ensure that, for example, ongoing road changes near such buildings do not dilute security. The perpetrator’s vehicle took advantage of a wide, new cycle lane as he cut down innocent pedestrians, and came nearer to the vehicle gates into Parliament. We learn from events, and this may well be one of the lessons.