(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the Government’s counter-terrorism policy and implications for individuals travelling to the Iraq/Syria conflict zones.
As the Government have made clear repeatedly, the threat we face from terrorism is grave and is growing. The House will appreciate that I cannot comment on operational matters and individual cases, but the threat level in the United Kingdom, which is set by the independent joint terrorism analysis centre, is at severe. This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely and could occur without warning.
The Government have consistently and emphatically advised against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq. Anyone who travels to these areas is putting themselves in considerable danger, and the impact that such a decision can have on families and communities can be devastating.
The serious nature of the threat we face is exactly why the Government have been determined to act. We have protected the counter-terrorism policing budget up to and including 2015-16, and increased the budget for the security and intelligence agencies. In addition, we have provided an additional £130 million to strengthen counter-terrorism capabilities and help address the threat from ISIL, and we have taken significant steps to ensure that the police and the security services have the powers and capabilities they need.
Last year, we acted swiftly to protect vital capabilities that allow the police and the security services to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to clarify the law in respect of interception for communications-service providers. This year we have introduced the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. This has provided the police with a power to seize a passport at the border temporarily, during which time they will be able to investigate the individual concerned—and I can confirm that this power has already been used. It has created a temporary exclusion order that allows for the managed return to the UK of a British citizen suspected of involvement in terrorist activity abroad. It has strengthened the existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures regime so that, among other measures, subjects can be made to relocate to another part of the country, and it has enhanced our border security for aviation, maritime and rail travel, with provisions relating to passenger data, no-fly lists, and security and screening measures.
Since its national roll-out in April 2012, more than 2,000 people have been referred to Channel, the Government’s programme for people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism, many of whom might have gone on to be radicalised or to fight in Syria. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has now placed Channel on a statutory basis. It has also placed our Prevent work on a statutory basis, which will mean that schools, colleges, universities, prisons, local government and the police will have to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Already since 2012, local Prevent projects have reached more than 55,000 people and have helped young people and community groups to understand and challenge extremist narratives, including those of ISIL.
In addition to this work, alongside the checks we already conduct on a significant number of passengers who leave the UK, we have committed to reintroducing exit checks, and arrangements to do so will be in place by April 2015. These will extend our ability to identify persons of interest from a security, criminal, immigration or customs perspective. And as the Prime Minister stated last week, the Transport Secretary and I will be working with airlines to put proportionate arrangements in place to ensure that children who are at risk are properly identified and questioned.
The Government are taking robust action, but we have been clear that tackling the extremist threat that we face is not just a job for the Government, the police and the security services; it needs everyone to play their part. It requires educational institutions, social media companies, communities, religious leaders and families to help to protect people vulnerable to radicalisation and to confront this poisonous ideology. If we are to defeat this appalling threat and ideology, we must all work together.
An estimated 600 British citizens have now travelled to join the conflict in Syria, from extremists with a terrorist history to 15-year-old schoolgirls. The whole House will share a revulsion at the barbarism of ISIL, a determination to tackle extremism and strong support for the vital and unsung work of the security services and the police to tackle the threat here and abroad. Members on both sides of the House have also recently supported further legislation to tackle the terrorist threat. However, there are specific areas in which we need answers about Government policies and decisions.
First, we need answers on the handling of a west London network of terror suspects. In 2011, court papers described a network including three individuals relocated on control orders, 10 other named individuals and further unnamed individuals based in west London who were
“involved in the provision of funds and equipment”
to terrorism and the
“facilitation of individuals’ travel from the UK”
to join terrorist-related activity.
The Home Secretary’s decision, against advice, to abolish control orders and cancel relocations was implemented in 2012, meaning that no one could then be relocated, despite the continued police view that relocation was one of the best ways to disrupt terrorist networks. One of those who had been relocated absconded in a London black cab; another associate absconded wearing a burqa. Other men from that west London network have been reported in the media as subsequently leaving for Syria and becoming involved in brutal violence. The Home Secretary has finally restored the relocation powers within the past few weeks. Does she believe that her decision to remove those relocation powers made it easier for that west London network to operate, recruit and send people to Syria? Will she now ask the independent terrorism reviewer or the Intelligence and Security Committee to consider the details of that west London network and to assess whether Government policy made it easier for it to operate and harder for the police and the Security Service to disrupt it?
Secondly, we need to know about the Government’s policy to prevent young people and children from travelling to Syria, in the light of the distressing story of three schoolgirls from east London travelling there. I have not had a reply to my letter to the Home Secretary of last Wednesday, so will she tell us now whether the Government had an agreement in place with the airlines to raise alerts over unaccompanied minors travelling on known Syrian routes? If not, why not? And will she put such an agreement in place now? The girls flew out on Tuesday, but they did not leave Istanbul bus station until late Wednesday. It is reported that the police contacted the London embassy on Wednesday, but when were the Istanbul authorities alerted, and when were checks made at the main airports and train and bus stations in that city?
One pupil from Bethnal Green academy is reported to have left for Syria before Christmas, and it is widely known that recruitment is taking place through friendship groups and social media. What training and support was given to the teachers and parents of other children at Bethnal Green academy to prevent further recruitment, grooming and radicalisation? What community-led Prevent programmes is the Home Office currently supporting in Bethnal Green?
When the Home Secretary came to office and changed policy to end relocation orders and to remove community work from Prevent, she claimed that previous policies had failed to tackle extremism and she promised:
“We will not make the same mistakes”.—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 52.]
We need answers from her now about the mistakes that have been made under this Government, so that we can all work together to strengthen counter-terrorism policy in the face of these serious threats.
The shadow Home Secretary has raised a number of serious issues. She asked about Prevent and on that I have to say to her that she needs to stop using the numbers she likes to quote. She tries to compare Prevent before the election with Prevent after the election, but in 2011 we took the very important decision to split work on integration, which is now the sole responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and Prevent. That was done for very good reasons, and if the right hon. Lady wants to securitise integration work again, I suggest to her that she has not learned from the mistakes made by her Government. I would like her to say, at some stage: whether she supports the changes we have made to Prevent; whether she supports the fact that Prevent now looks at non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism; and whether she supports the changes we have made to make sure that no public money finds its way to extremists, as it did under her Government.
The right hon. Lady made various comments about TPIMs, and has done so outside this Chamber, asking why I did not put certain individuals on TPIMs. I cannot comment on individual cases, but I think she should understand how TPIMs work and how control orders worked. I do not decide to put somebody on a TPIM; the Security Service makes an application to me for permission to put somebody on a TPIM and if it has made a strong enough case, I approve the application. If she thinks that the Home Secretary should be taking operational decisions, I suggest that she should study the history of our constitution.
The right hon. Lady raised the issue of control orders, but, as I have said at this Dispatch Box many times, control orders were being whittled away by the courts—they were not a sustainable system. TPIMs have, in contrast, consistently been upheld by the courts. She mentioned relocation, and, of course, the House has just passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which adds relocation to the TPIM regime. I understand that she told the BBC on Sunday:
“I think effectively—
that TPIMs and control orders are—
“the same thing if you bring the relocation powers back”.
That is precisely what we have done.
The right hon. Lady says the power to relocate has not always been there, but what she fails to say is that the cases that have been raised in the media date from the time when control orders and the power of relocation were in place. At no point has anybody from the police or Security Service said to me that if we had the power of relocation we would be able to prevent people from travelling to Syria. Indeed, at the weekend, Helen Ball, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said—and they have said consistently—
“short of locking someone up for 24 hours a day, you can’t eliminate the risk they pose.”
The shadow Home Secretary herself said yesterday about control orders:
“We can’t pretend it’s going to solve all of the problems.”
I agree with her, which is why we consistently look at the powers available to the police and the security services in dealing with this issue. But, as I made absolutely clear in the answer to her question, this is not just a question of government and the powers we give to the police and to the security services; this is about families and communities as well, and we all need to work together to ensure that we can defeat this poisonous ideology.
The Home Secretary should be wary of taking advice from Labour Members on control orders, because under the last four years of their regime seven of the so-called “control order” subjects absconded, in some cases, as we know, to commit jihad abroad. However, will she revisit the issue of using intercept evidence in court, as the best protection of the British public is provided by being able to prosecute, convict and lock up the people who are a threat to the British public?
I agree that the best way of dealing with these people who pose a threat is to prosecute them and lock them up. That view has been shared with the assistant commissioner with responsibility for counter-terrorism. Indeed the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, also made that point. On the question about intercept as evidence, that issue has been looked at on a number of occasions over the years. Most recently, it was considered by a cross-party Privy Council group, which reported some months ago and made it absolutely clear that, in the current situation, it was not appropriate to change the arrangements such that intercept should be used as evidence.
No one is suggesting that there is any range of measures that would completely eliminate the risk of people travelling to Syria and Iraq. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has certainly not done so. But since the Home Secretary has now reintroduced the power of relocation, does she not accept that removing that power in 2011 was a mistake?
We took the decision that we did in 2011 based on the situation at the time. We have now reviewed the measures that are available and put other measures in place. I repeat what I said earlier, which is that some of the cases that have been quoted in the press go back to a date when control orders with relocation were in place.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is quite right that when the identity of some brainwashed, narcissistic psychopathic killer is exposed there should be wide media coverage of it? But does she also agree that a degree of self-restraint at some point should be necessary if we are not to build up these bogey men in precisely the way that they intend us to do?
I accept my hon. Friend’s point. Indeed, as others have said, including Helen Ball in her interview yesterday, there are other reasons why restraint should be applied, and they include when there are ongoing investigations and when there may be a risk to life involved.
I am sure that the Home Secretary has heard the anguished pleas of the parents of Shamina, Kadiza and Amira, the three London schoolgirls who have left this country. They left on the Tuesday, but the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey says that the Turkish authorities in Istanbul were not informed until three days later. I accept that the embassy in London may have been alerted, but this is something that should have gone straight to Istanbul. Will she look again at the circumstances so that we know exactly what the facts are, and will she look at a recommendation made by the Home Affairs Committee, which is that police spotters need to be placed in Istanbul, a destination of concern, so that immediate action can be taken if young girls disappear in this way?
I always look with great care at the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. The Metropolitan police have been absolutely clear about the date and time at which they alerted the Turkish authorities to the girls going missing. There is concern over this matter. Sadly, we have seen, over time, an increasing number of women and girls going to Syria, alongside the men and the younger boys. This is an ongoing matter, which is why Home Office officials have been talking to Turkish airlines about these issues. I will meet the Transport Secretary to see whether further arrangements can be put in place to ensure that we do not see other families facing the same trauma and stress.
We are of course all concerned about radicalisation in the UK and people going to join ISIS, but I urge the Home Secretary not to give way to the authoritarian views of the Labour party as it was wrong on identity cards, wrong on 90-day detention without charge and is wrong now. Will she update the House on what progress she has made on implementing the Anderson recommendations, which are a far more sensible way to resolve this matter?
My hon. Friend will know that we did in fact take on board a number of Anderson’s recommendations in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. David Anderson is carrying out a fuller review for the Government on the question of the threat, the capabilities that are needed and the regulatory framework that needs to be in place to ensure that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the necessary powers, and I look forward to his report.
May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)? I find it abhorrent that the media continue to use a photograph of a man who is a murderer, to name him and to give him an identity by giving him a nickname. That will probably reinforce the ideas of those who think that what he is doing is good and that he is some sort of modern Jesse James. I just find it abhorrent that our media continue to use this man’s name.
I will not comment on any individual case when ongoing investigations are taking place, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to do so. What I will say is that we are all appalled and shocked at the horrific barbarism that is being shown by ISIL, and we expect that to be reflected in any reporting.
The Home Secretary spends a great deal of time trying to persuade us that there needs to be more surveillance of everyone and that more data need to be collected. Does she not agree that recent cases suggest that the biggest problem is the incapacity of the security services—although it is not their fault—to deal adequately with the data and information that they already possess?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that I am saying that the agencies should have different capabilities. It is right that as people communicate less by telephone and more across the internet, we should update the legislation on access to communications data. This capability is not about looking at the content of any messages that people are exchanging. It is an important capability that has been there for some time and that has proved valuable not just in counter-terrorism cases, but in serious crime cases. I believe that it should be updated and a Conservative Government would certainly do that.
It has been reported in the newspapers that one of the three poor girls was travelling on a false passport. Does that not indicate that there are severe shortcomings in the entry and exit checks by our immigration and nationality department and in the airline checks? Will my right hon. Friend commit a future Conservative Government to a root and branch re-examination of those systems?
Of course, we are reintroducing exit checks. A certain amount of advance passenger information is available from airlines. We are looking at other ports of departure and the information that can be available. As I said in response to the shadow Home Secretary, exit checks will be in place in April of this year.
I am not aware that the media have made a hero of the individual who has been mentioned today, but is it not important to make it absolutely clear from this Parliament, not just from the Government, that the person who is responsible for the beheading of kidnapped British citizens should be brought to justice in whatever form is necessary and however long it takes?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we wish to bring to justice the individual who is responsible for the beheading of British hostages. There is an ongoing police investigation into that case and that is why I am not commenting any further on it. However, he is absolutely right that that individual should be brought to justice.
Will my right hon. Friend ignore any opportunistic criticism and continue to meet the difficult challenge of balancing the defence of our values and our security? Will she continue to ensure that our intelligence services and her Department learn from our experiences in this area, so that we continue to be among the best in the world at getting that balance right?
My hon. Friend is right, and of course that is what this Government have done. We have looked at the balance between people’s privacy and liberty and the need for our services to have the appropriate powers and capabilities to keep people safe. I believe that we have struck the right balance, but of course we must continue to consider the issue as matters develop and as the terrorists find new ways of communicating and of carrying out their terrible and horrific attacks. We must be ever vigilant on this matter and that is exactly what the Government have been.
The Home Secretary failed to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) about airlines and airline checks. A number of Members from all parties have been raising this concern for some months; I raised it in relation to constituents of mine who had travelled to Syria, tragically, to fight. Will the Home Secretary explain whether specific arrangements are in place with commercial airlines flying to Turkey and Cyprus, specifically with Turkish airlines?
Has my right hon. Friend seen the comments made by activists from Cage, an organisation that receives charitable funds? What does she make of those comments, and will she take the opportunity to thank and congratulate in this House the security and intelligence services in this country for their excellent and brave work?
To take the latter point first, the shadow Home Secretary made that point and I am happy to do that again, as I have on many occasions in the past and as I did at the weekend. The men and women working for our security services do an excellent job for us. It is challenging work that they are doing unseen and unknown and without general praise precisely because they have to be unseen and unknown. They do an excellent job for us. As for the comments made by Cage, I must say to my hon. Friend in this House that there can be no excuse for the barbarism shown by those operating in the name of ISIL. I condemn anybody who attempts to excuse that barbarism away in the way that has been done by Cage.
May I ask the Home Secretary not to set her face completely against the potential the control orders might still offer? Will she give further thought to helping families to be more resilient, particularly when young members are susceptible to violent extremism? Will she give more support and encouragement to projects such as the JAN Trust, which are very helpful to people in that situation and certainly need to be encouraged?
The comment that has consistently been made about control orders concerns the power of relocation, but as the shadow Home Secretary said yesterday, TPIMs are effectively the same as control orders if we bring the relocation powers back, which we have done. The right hon. Gentleman is right that many good groups up and down the country are providing support for families. I launched a project by Families Against Stress and Trauma—FAST—last summer, which works with those families whose sons and daughters might have tried or might want to travel to Syria. I also commend the work of Inspire and Sara Khan, standing up with Muslim women throughout the UK against the radicalisation of young people.
“World at One” this lunchtime carried a discussion about the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and its effect on radicalisation. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to send a clear message to universities about how they can play their part in addressing that?
I am happy to do so. It is absolutely right that we have included universities in the Prevent duty in the Act. Universities should have a duty of care for the welfare of their students. If radicalisation is taking place on their campus, they should be aware of that and willing to deal with it.
I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) about what training and support has been provided to teachers and parents from the Bethnal Green academy since the teenager absconded at Christmastime. When does the Home Secretary expect to release the funds to schools and universities to take part in the Prevent programme?
I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the diligence she has shown in introducing various Prevent programmes to Crawley. Gatwick airport is also in my constituency, so can she say a little more about passenger name record checks for intra-EU flights, not just for those coming from outside the EU?
The whole question of exchanging passenger name records for intra-EU flights is one that I and others have been putting forward in the debate in the European Union arena for some time now. I am pleased to say that other member states have recognised the need for an EU PNR directive. It was one of the issues referred to at the recent European Council meeting. I am clear that any such directive should include the exchange of PNR for intra-EU flights. Failing that, it is open to member states to undertake bilateral agreements to that effect.
Given that many of these terrorists represent a clear and present danger to our country, our national security and the security of individuals, is it not important that we offer our intelligence services more powers, particularly through human rights reform and a communications data Bill, to ensure that we can secure our nation properly?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the impact that human rights legislation has sometimes had, for example on our ability to deport certain individuals who pose a threat to us here in the UK. I am clear that we need to reform our human rights legislation and introduce a communications data Bill, and a Conservative Government after 7 May will do just that.
Why should members of the public trust for one second Ministers whose judgment was so utterly flawed that they thought terrorist suspects should be able to live wherever they want, mix with whoever they like and have access to computers and mobile phones? Is it not a fact that when we introduced relocation powers not a single terrorist suspect absconded, but when the Home Secretary got rid of them, lots of them did? [Interruption.] She can laugh all she likes, but the people out there do not think it is a laughing matter. Last week Lord Carlile said that if one of those people had been subject to a control order, they would not have been able to leave the country.
I am afraid that some of the facts that the hon. Gentleman suggests in his question are inaccurate. Control orders were being whittled away by the courts, as he knows, so we decided to introduce TPIMs. We have now enhanced TPIMs through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, and the ability to introduce a TPIM has remained available to the security services upon request to the Secretary of State.
Yesterday I attended an event in Pendle at which counter-terrorism and security were discussed. It involved the former Pakistani high commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the MEP for North West England, Sajjad Karim, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and many more, all of whom reject the idea that the so-called Islamic State has any connection with the true faith of Islam. Does my right hon. Friend agree that dialogue with the vast majority of the law-abiding Muslim community in this country is the best way to avoid radicalisation, rather than stigmatising communities, as Labour’s failed Prevent strategy did?
I absolutely agree. We should make it very clear that the so-called Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state. One of the best ways to prevent radicalisation is for communities themselves to stand up and say that what is being done by terrorists is not being done in their name. I commend those imams and others from Muslim communities across the country who have responded to events such as the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the beheading of hostages and recent terrorist incidents in Europe and elsewhere precisely by saying that it is not in their name and that it is not about Islam; it is about a poisonous ideology.
It should not have to be said that the people who were subject to control orders and those who are now subject to TPIMs are very dangerous people indeed. Does the Home Secretary not recognise that the changes that she instigated in 2011 to counter-terrorism laws, particularly the decision to remove the powers of relocation, did not help? I think she does recognise that, from the fact that she had to reintroduce them three years later. Will she say sorry?
I can only repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I have said in answer to a number of questions on this matter from his right hon. and hon. Friends. Of course the background against which we are operating has changed over the past few years. We have taken the decisions that we believe were necessary and appropriate at the time.
It is right that we show compassion and sympathy for the families. It is every parent’s worst nightmare that their children should do as those young girls have done, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the approach of some in the media leaves something to be desired? I am thinking also of the Government’s YouTube videos, which could make more apparent the full horrors of what those young ladies have got themselves into, to try to deter young people like them from going to Iraq and Syria in the future.
My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we make very clear the dangers and the horrors of what can happen when people go to such countries. Even if people are going to Syria with the best of humanitarian intentions, they can find themselves caught up in horrific situations, including with terrorist groups. That message is important. We have consistently been saying to people that they should not be travelling to Syria and Iraq. If they wish to help and support the people of Syria who have been displaced by the actions of the regime in Syria, there are better ways of doing it. That is a message that we will continue to put out.
Returning to the point first made by the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) that some of these sick individuals revel in and feel rewarded by high-profile media, does the Home Secretary agree that when young girls like those choose to travel, apart from instances where their identity is needed, perhaps for the public to apprehend them on their route, it would be far better if the media were to report the facts in a more anonymised form, rather than naming those individuals and showing pictures of them time and again?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. A free press is obviously part of what underpins our democracy, but I would expect the media to be responsible in the way in which they deal with such issues in a number of ways. She mentioned the young girls travelling and whether their names should have been revealed. I say to the media that these are important issues. The families in that case are under considerable stress and trauma, suffering as a result of their daughters having gone to Syria, and I expect the media to respect that.
With Heathrow airport in my own patch, exit checks are very important to me. The whole House, including the shadow Home Secretary, has welcomed the improvements made to TPIMs and to other Prevent measures. On relocation, exit checks and the data and communications changes that we need, the Conservative elements of the Government have been pushing hard to put these in place sooner rather than later. To what extent has the Home Secretary been held back by the Liberal Democrats in coalition?
The reintroduction of exit checks was a coalition Government agreement; it was in the coalition Government agreement that we published at the beginning of this Government as one of the measures that we were going to introduce. The draft Communications Data Bill is a different matter. It is a matter of public record that our Liberal Democrat colleagues did not want the introduction of that Bill. That is why we have not been able to do it.
Speaking on the BBC yesterday, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said that the Metropolitan police have always thought that relocation powers were a valuable tool in disrupting terrorist networks. Is the Home Secretary saying that when she relaxed the control order regime, the Metropolitan police never made this clear to her?
With regard to the London schoolgirls going to Syria, is there not a mechanism in place whereby parents can apply for a parental watch on a young person’s passport so that if they undertake an airline ticket purchase or present themselves at the airport, an alarm goes off that the parents need to be contacted because the passport is being used without parental consent?
I know that parents up and down the country who are concerned about the possibility of their children travelling have removed their passports from them so that they are unable to access them in order to travel. In some cases, that has been effective in ensuring that young people do not travel.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; nobody has made the point that I am about to make. Many legitimate people are travelling from these troubled parts of the world, including students from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, many of whom study at Huddersfield university. Will the Secretary of State assure me that these security measures will ensure that they are still able to travel to our country and enjoy a world-class education at our universities?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The assumption that has appeared to lie behind some of the points that have been made is that there should be security because any young person travelling is a matter of concern, but of course that is not right—there will be people travelling for perfectly legitimate reasons. In relation to travel to Turkey, I think that about 2 million British tourists go to Turkey each summer, so there is significant movement between the United Kingdom and Turkey, and that is an important part of the Turkish economy.