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Countering Terrorism

Volume 579: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2014

Protecting the safety of the UK and our interests overseas is the primary duty of Government. Terrorism remains the greatest threat to the security of this country.

I have today published the annual report for the Government’s strategy for countering terrorism, Contest (Cm 8848). It covers the progress made during 2013 towards implementing the strategy we published in July 2011. Copies of the report will be made available in the Vote Office.

The principal threat to the UK continues to be from militant Islamist terrorists and many of the threats we face continue to have significant overseas connections, highlighting the importance of our work with international partners. The most significant development in connection with terrorism during 2013 has been the growing threat from terrorist groups in Syria. Several factions of al-Qaeda are active in Syria, supported by rapidly increasing numbers of foreign fighters, including numbers in the low hundreds from this country and thousands from elsewhere.

2013 saw two terrorist murders, the first in Great Britain since 2005. There were also attempted terrorist attacks against mosques in the west midlands and 13 British nationals were killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda linked groups overseas, the highest number since 2005.

Significant resources and capabilities have been put in place to deal with the threat. The number of successful prosecutions and plots foiled over the past year demonstrates the skill and professionalism of the police and security and intelligence agencies, as well as the strength of the systems and structures developed for our counter-terrorist work over many years. In the 12 months to September 2013, there were 257 terrorism-related arrests in Great Britain; 48 people were charged with terrorism offences and 73 with other offences. These figures are comparable to any other 12-month period since 2001.

The wide range of activity under Contest is appropriate for the threats we face and the strategy has been proven over many years. But aspects of our strategy have to evolve to respond to changing threats. During 2013 the Government have continued to provide the police and security and intelligence agencies with the powers and capabilities they need to do their job. These powers are necessary, proportionate and subject to close oversight and scrutiny. We have a sustained cross-Government effort to deal with the new and wider range of terrorist threats we now face overseas. We have increased the pace and range of our prevent work. We are making our border and our aviation sector even more secure. And we are reshaping our emergency response to deal with new terrorist methods and techniques.

The UK’s counter-terrorism response is widely regarded as among the most effective in the world. We will continue to do everything we can to stay ahead of the threat and to protect the public.