Parliament met this week in the shadow of terror attacks – London Bridge, Manchester, Borough Market, and the north London mosque. They are a sobering reminder that there are those living here who hate our values of open, tolerant, democracy and the rule of law. And it is only down to the extraordinary skill and dedication of those working in our intelligence agencies, including a great many in Cheltenham, that so many other extremist plots have been thwarted. We owe them an enormous debt.
I believe our response can’t simply be the language of outrage, followed by statements defiance and resolve. Those are important, but they're not enough. That’s why this week I called on the Home Secretary to toughen up terror sentencing, particularly for those who are showing signs of radicalisation but have yet to plan an atrocity. At present, a person who pleads guilty to possessing an extremist terror manual produced by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which includes instructions for making home-made bombs and how to maximise carnage using a vehicle, will typically be sentenced to just 14 months. They will be out in seven months, still radicalised and still presenting a significant danger to society.
And we don’t need new legislation. The courts already have all the tools they need to protect the public. It just needs to be deployed more robustly. Nor does this need to be about junking individual freedoms and human rights, which remain essential to who we are as a nation. It is about a fair and proportionate response to keep people safe.
I’m pleased that Home Secretary Amber Rudd agreed. She accepted the need for a review of sentences, and will explore how the courts can apply tougher responses.
The following day I questioned the Prime Minister about the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy. Cheltenham has no high-rise buildings with similar cladding to Grenfell Tower. There are three medium-rise buildings that have been confirmed to use a different type of cladding, known as 'Rockwool'. Work is already under way to test it. I am grateful to the Chief Fire Officer and Cheltenham Borough Homes for their prompt and professional response to my concerns.
I made clear to the Prime Minister that although it's absolutely right that there should be a public inquiry, it's equally important that there should be an interim report. Speed is of the essence.
For the families of victims - of terror and of Grenfell - justice delayed is justice denied.