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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 618: debated on Wednesday 14 December 2016

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2016, which was laid before this House on 12 December, be approved.

The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent joint terrorism analysis centre, remains at severe. That means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning. We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do all we can to minimise it and keep the public safe. The nature of terrorism is constantly evolving. There are organisations that recruit, radicalise and promote and encourage terrorism, as well as those that commit terrible acts of violence against innocent people.

Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt the full range of terrorist activities. The group we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, is National Action. This is the 21st order to be made under section 3(3)(a) of the 2000 Act. Hon. Members will be aware that this is the first time we have laid a proscription order for a far-right group. The Government are committed to tackling terrorism, regardless of what motivates it. National Action is a group whose views and ideology stand in direct contrast to the core values of Britain and the United Kingdom.

I welcome the decision to ban this group. Have there been any deproscriptions since the last time the House passed an order proscribing an organisation in July?

It has not happened since July. Two groups have been deproscribed. The People’s Mujaheddin of Iran or the MEK was deproscribed at the High Court and a Sikh group linked to allegations of extremism made representations and was deproscribed as a result.

Despite its name, National Action seeks to divide communities and stir up hatred—actions that are entirely contrary to the interests of our nation. Proscribing this neo-Nazi group will prevent its membership from growing and prevent it from spreading propaganda, which allows a culture of hatred and division to thrive. It will also help to prevent National Action from radicalising people who may be vulnerable to extreme ideologies and at risk of emulating the terrorist acts it glorifies.

Does the Minister share my view that we should all revile this group because its members stood on the steps of St George’s Hall in Liverpool during one of its demonstrations and did Nazi salutes, which filled the whole of Liverpool with hatred and disgust for them? People will welcome this move today.

Anyone who seeks to glorify the Nazis is a threat to this country and our values. Members of this House died fighting Nazis to keep this country and Europe free. I would describe people who think that this country would somehow like to follow a Nazi course of action as twisted to say the least.

Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she

“believes that it is concerned in terrorism.”

If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise that discretion, including the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

The effect of proscription is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the United Kingdom. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or to wear clothing or carry articles in public that arouse reasonable suspicion that they are a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. Proscription acts to halt fundraising and recruitment, and makes it possible to seize cash associated with the organisation.

Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation, including open source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-Government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in the decision-making process. The decision to proscribe is taken only with great care and after careful consideration of the particular case. It is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that National Action is currently concerned in terrorism, and that discretionary factors weigh in favour of proscription.

The Home Secretary told us just the other week that she was particularly concerned about the increasingly sophisticated methods that this group was using on the internet both to recruit new members and to promote its warped ideology. Will the Minister share a little more about how, if the order is passed, he and the Home Office will ensure that this organisation is held to account and any material it puts online is removed?

I have to be careful that we do not undermine the operational capability and effectiveness of the law agencies, which may take action. But it is certainly the case that, when an organisation is proscribed, it allows us to bring the full force of those agencies to bear on the threat posed by the proscribed organisation and the individuals within it. Within that, I would expect measures to make sure that any use of the internet for what is a kind of grooming is restricted or, I would hope, stopped completely, along with other measures. But I will leave that up to the security services and the police, as that will get the best effect, and it would be wrong of me to speculate further about what they may or may not do.

Although I cannot comment on the specific intelligence behind the decision to proscribe, I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities. National Action is a racist neo-Nazi group that was established in 2013. It has a number of branches across the United Kingdom, and conducts threatening street demonstrations and activities aimed at intimidating local communities. Its activities and propaganda materials are particularly aimed at recruiting young people. National Action’s ideology promotes the idea that Britain will inevitably see a violent race war, which the group claims to be an active part of.

The group rejects democracy, is hostile to the British state and seeks to divide society by implicitly endorsing violence against ethnic minorities and perceived race traitors. National Action has links to other extreme right-wing groups abroad, including in Europe. In May 2016, National Action members attended the Buchenwald concentration camp, where they made Nazi salutes and posted images online.

The Government’s counter-extremism strategy challenges extremism in all its form. Alongside the strategy, our Prevent work will continue to monitor whether extremist groups have crossed into terrorism. The group is relatively small and has been in operation in the UK for only a few years, but the impact of its activities has been felt in a number of United Kingdom communities.

In the evidence presented to the Home Secretary by the agencies before the decision was made to proscribe the group, was there any evidence of any links with other organisations in different parts of Europe? We have seen that far-right groups tend not to operate in only one country.

I cannot expand on the intelligence behind this particular decision, but I agree that we see far-right groups with a European network, and being active both here and abroad. Far right groups from abroad are active in the United Kingdom as well.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether any other groups similar to this particularly unpleasant group are near to having the same sort of decision made about them by the Government?

There are obviously other groups out there promoting hate. We keep them under review where they wander close to terrorism, and I would come straight back to this House should we gather the evidence or intelligence that meant we must do so. As I have said, other European far-right groups are active in the United Kingdom, either at other people’s rallies or through having a presence among their ethnic grouping here—the Polish far right, for example, would be active in the United Kingdom or have a branch.

Since early 2016, National Action has become more active, and its activities and propaganda material have crossed the threshold from extremism into terrorism. Its online propaganda material, disseminated via social media, frequently features extremely violent imagery and language, and condones and glorifies those who have used extreme violence for political or ideological ends. This includes two tweets posted in 2016 in connection with the murder of our friend Jo Cox, which the prosecutor described as a terrorist act. One stated:

“Only 649 MPs to go”.

Another, containing a photo of Thomas Mair, reads:

“don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain. #Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!”

The group also disseminated an image doctored to condone and celebrate the terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and another depicting a police officer’s throat being slit. People might have become aware of these messages who could reasonably have been expected to infer that these acts should be emulated, and therefore such propaganda amounts to the unlawful glorification of terrorism. The Orlando massacre was an atrocity in which 49 people lost their lives. Jo Cox’s murder was a tragedy, familiar to us all, and closer to home. Both are examples of attacks committed for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause, and both were terrorist attacks. If we allow such events to be celebrated and encouraged, we live with the risk that they will be repeated.

Our strategy to combat terrorism looks at the full spectrum of activity, and that includes ensuring that groups that unlawfully glorify horrific terrorist acts are prevented from continuing to stir up hatred and encourage violence. It is right that we add National Action to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Subject to the agreement of the House and the other place, the order will come into force on Friday 16 December.

The Opposition welcome this order proscribing the new Nazi group National Action and give it our full support. We have heard from the Minister and others on both sides of the House about some of its appalling actions and propaganda, whether Nazi salutes in Liverpool or online communications glorifying the killing of our late colleague Jo Cox.

Terrorism has become the scourge of society, but we cannot give an inch to this plague of our time. Our swift action in proscribing this far-right group will provide some reassurance to all parts of the community in these increasingly difficult and unstable times. This week, I visited the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism unit and saw at first hand the difficult work it does to detect terror threats. It was clear that in an increasingly digital age, ideology has become more extreme and more pervasive, and that digital technology is the key recruitment tool for terrorism. We can only imagine the effect it can have on some impressionable young people sitting in their bedrooms and seeing the online propaganda put out by such groups. That is why proscription is so important.

Because of the advances in technology and the changes in our media, specifically social media, terrorist ideology has become a cancer. We need to remain vigilant, faster, smarter and swifter in dealing with the threat. It is completely right, therefore, that we take this action. As we look forward to 2017, the major threats we face are asymmetric—a couple of young men in their bedroom can wreak terror in their community—international and deadly, and they are so rapidly changing that we could not in the House have foreseen them a decade ago. This far-right group is a genuine threat to our domestic security, and Parliament’s legislation must reflect the urgency and complexity of the situation.

We in the SNP support this organisation’s being added to the proscribed list. I struggle to say its name in the House, for risk of glorifying it, so I will refer to it as NA. Issues of national security are of course reserved to this place, but there has been close co-operation between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and that will continue. It is our desire in Scotland, as much as in the rest of the UK, to do everything possible to meet the threat of terrorism.

On the basis of the tweets alone about our departed and much loved colleague Jo Cox, which will have disgusted anybody with a sense of reasonable objectivity, as well as the appalling words it put out about the terrible attack in Orlando, we have no hesitation in backing the Government’s call to add this organisation to the proscribed list. Of courses, all additions to the proscribed list must be necessary and proportionate. We must always have those two criteria and qualifications in mind, and we believe it is abundantly clear that they are met in this case.

We came to the House a couple of months ago to add another four or five organisations to the proscribed list, which was successfully done with our support. When we debated that statutory instrument, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who is not in his place today, and I called on the then Minister, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), to contact the British Broadcasting Corporation to see whether it would desist from using the phrases “so-called Islamic State” and “Islamic State” when referring to the organisation that the Government now rightly call Daesh. The Minister gave clear commitments to contact the BBC and make those representations, but I must admit that in my very occasional watching of BBC News, I have noticed that the phrase continues to be used, perhaps more than ever. I therefore respectfully ask the Minister today, for whom I have great respect, whether he will take that suggestion away, perhaps talk to the previous incumbent, and contact the BBC so that it stops using this awful phrase, which frankly gives legitimacy to an organisation that is neither Islamic nor a state.

I along with others in the House completely support the Minister’s decision to proscribe this organisation. Ministers obviously have important and sensitive information that they are unwilling to share with the House on such occasions, but the Minister has gone a long way to reassure the House that the information he has is more than sufficient to take the action he is proposing today.

National Action will be the first extreme right-wing organisation to be banned, which is a very welcome step. We certainly need to be very strong in dealing with right-wing extremism and we need to be very concerned about it. I raised the issue of what was happening in Europe. The world can never forget the 77 victims of Anders Breivik in 2011. The Minister mentioned the words of the organisation in question when it praised the killer of our colleague Jo Cox. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) was right to remind us of what the Home Secretary said only this week: that this group has no place in our country.

The shadow Home Secretary—for whom I have enormous respect and who has campaigned all her political life against right-wing extremism and extremism of any kind—has visited the counter-terrorism unit, as she said. I am sure she will join me and the rest of the House in praising those who are part of that unit, who day after day, day and night, work so hard to keep us safe. Under the incredible leadership of Mark Rowley, they ensure that many of the plots that we do not know about are dealt with and prevented before they come to fruition. Mark Rowley has recognised that increasing numbers in the United Kingdom are “gravitating towards extremism” and has talked about 60 to 70 cases each month. This is a very large figure indeed.

It is important to recognise what has happened since the referendum this year. The number of hate crimes, especially against Polish and other eastern European citizens, has increased by 41% since 2015.

I note what my right hon. Friend has said about the number of people of concern. Does he share my concern that the latest figures from Prevent show that around 300 young people under the age of 18 have been identified as posing a threat of extremism from the far right? That figure should concern us all and should embolden the Home Office to do even more to ensure that the next generation embraces equality, not division.

I am astonished at those figures, but I think they are witness to what the shadow Home Secretary has said about access to the internet and social media. Individuals who may be very young could be operating from their homes, involving themselves in this kind of hatred. It is very easy to disseminate hatred, as my hon. Friend will know—she has been one of the victims in this House of hatred coming from social media and the internet. She has behaved with absolute dignity in the face of it. She is right to raise these figures. These are issues of enormous concern. The younger the people who get involved in these activities, the more difficult it becomes to turn them around once they become ingrained with them. There has also been a spike in anti-Semitic incidents across the country—11% higher than last year. We should thank the police and the counter-terrorism unit for the work they do in trying to combat this.

Oddly, just before this particular debate, the House unanimously endorsed without any debate the Government’s decision to opt into Europol—one of the very few organisations in Europe that we are joining at the same time as we are leaving the rest of the EU. Europol has an extremely important role to play in ensuring that we combat far-right extremism and extremism in general all over Europe. It has an amazing head in Rob Wainwright, who is a Brit, and it is able, through the capacity that we have helped to build as part of Europol, to ensure that we deal with these organisations.

I end by asking the Minister the question I asked a little earlier, as I think he may have misunderstood it. I asked how many organisations had been deproscribed since July. I think the People’s Mujaheddin were deproscribed several years ago—not since July. The Minister is right to prescribe that we should keep on monitoring the deproscription process. On numerous occasions when these orders have been discussed, I have raised the situation of the LTTE—Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—and my Tamil constituents, who still feel stigmatised by the fact that the LTTE is banned, even though it no longer exists. We need to be very aware of the need to look at the issue of de-proscription and keep it under review, while of course welcoming what the Minister has done.

The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, had made it very clear that he thinks there should be a time limit. In the case of this particular organisation, I think we are all agreed that the Minister has come to this House and made a powerful case. The House will speak with one voice in supporting what he has done absolutely. We look forward to this organisation being monitored very carefully indeed, so that none of its evil tentacles are passed on to other organisations, perhaps bearing a different name, but with the same personnel involved, who will seek to poison and destroy the minds of the people of this country.

I am very pleased that we are having this debate today, but I am surprised and a little disappointed that we did not have it earlier. In the wake of Jo’s murder, the entire media coverage was dominated by issues about Thomas Mair’s mental health and the idea that he was a lone wolf. It was exactly the same after the atrocities committed by Anders Breivik. We should compare and contrast that with when Muslims commit terrorist atrocities, and the entire public discourse is about the ideology that motivated them to commit those horrendous crimes. There are demands for Muslim leaders to condemn and apologise on their behalf. Yet here we are, six months after Jo’s murder, and only now are we debating the extremist perverted ideology that inspired Thomas Mair to commit his horrific crime.

It was felt that bringing this proscription forward earlier could have jeopardised a fair trial. To avoid undermining the trial of Jo Cox’s murderer, it was best to delay to ensure that the trial was completed, given the murderer’s link to far-right groups and far-right ideology.

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. I was by no means criticising the Government when I mentioned the delay in bringing the proscription forward; my comment was more about the media’s treatment of this atrocity and the general public discourse. I wholeheartedly support the Government’s intention today and welcome the proscription of National Action. It is clearly a terrorist organisation, and I note that it changed its slogan in the wake of Jo’s murder to “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain!”, in the light of Thomas Mair’s plea hearing.

I also want to take this opportunity to call on the Government to give time to debate the proscription of Britain First. I called for such a debate last month. I did not call for Britain First’s proscription; I just called for the House to be given evidence and to look at the details of the group’s paramilitary activity and anti-democratic behaviour. As a result of that and of how the media covered my call, I have received very explicit death threats. I have been called a traitor and a Muslim-lover. On Friday, an individual went through every one of my YouTube videos and said he would not rest until I was murdered. If that is not evidence that Britain First should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation, I am not sure what is. I hope that the Minister will consider seeking time in the House to debate just that.

It is important that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) knows that everyone in the House stands with her. The Minister will say that at the end, but it is important that hon. Lady knows that we stand shoulder to shoulder with her.

I come from Northern Ireland, where we have great knowledge and understanding of the Terrorism Act 2000. I thank the Minister for his work in proscribing membership of National Action, which has been labelled by the media as a neo-Nazi group. Members of what is commonly known as a racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic group will now understand that it is illegal to be a part of it and will have to question why it has been made illegal.

I agree with the Minister’s decision to ensure that the group is proscribed and see it as a cog in the wheels of ensuring that while people are entitled to their own politics such opinions are viewed as warped and can never and should never be expressed in the way this group has expressed them thus far. The vile way in which the murder of our colleague Jo Cox was touted by the group says a lot about its warped, demented ideology.

Without disclosing anything that he should not disclose, will the Minister tell us what is being done to monitor other far-right groups that skirt the limits of the law but are close to stepping over the line and working towards evil ends?

I caution Members that proscribing an organisation unfortunately does not signify the end of the group. I only wish that it did, because it would be a great day for everyone in this House and further afield. Dissident Republican groups have been proscribed for many years, yet there were 52 bomb attacks in Northern Ireland in 2015-16—the highest in years—so the fears are real. Only this week, I raised that matter at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and asked representatives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland about the relationship that dissident Republicans have with international terrorism in the middle east and north Africa, which are awash with explosives and guns. Dissident Republicans have access to Semtex and the threat to mainland GB is serious, so that needs urgent attention. It is wonderful that the Minister has stated that this behaviour will not be tolerated, but the Home Office must make available the resources that put the teeth into this legislation—counter-terrorism-trained officers who can gather intelligence and do the business to keep us safe in this House and our constituents safe across the whole of this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not simply from this group, but the other 70 groups that have been proscribed under this Act and the further 14 groups that were proscribed before the enactment of legislation in Northern Ireland. This is a watch list of the lowest of the low and those who threaten the very democratic process that we are privileged to be part of. The Police Service of Northern Ireland and the police service in Great Britain must have the resources to contain the threat that exists, making it necessary to proscribe these organisations.

I very much welcome the Minister’s statement here tonight, but I also encourage a greater allocation of resources to deal with the threat, and to keep people safe and able to carry on with their lives—we have a responsibility in this House to ensure that.

As I said at the outset, the Home Secretary and I strongly believe that National Action should be added to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the 2000 Act. I am grateful for the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members to this short debate. I am grateful to the Labour party and the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for their support, and I can assure her that we will continue to do all we can to monitor people who pose a risk, and want to link violence to their cause and to inspire hatred on whatever part of the spectrum it may be.

I am grateful for the support of the Scottish National party, and I can confirm that my predecessor did indeed get in touch with the BBC. I also say to the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) something that may frustrate us from time to time: the BBC is editorially independent. We both need to continue to press the case on the point he makes; the media have to be very careful with language in all these areas.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) rightly made the point that the media have a strong role to play. We did not take our eye off the far right. We have been making sure we watch where these people go, and when they cross from hate speech into extolling terrorism. We have all been involved. The Prevent programme has involved a considerable number of referrals of people on the far right, but the media have for a long time chosen to focus on one section of society, sometimes too much so and at the expense of others.

The lesson from this, as I see when I go out and about around the country, is: if you do not think this applies to your area, think again. People are being radicalised and groomed, perhaps in their bedrooms, on the internet, and this knows no boundaries, be it class, background, race or religion. The ability for the internet to radicalise people and for those behind this to manipulate the internet to do that is incredible. Tragically, in today’s society we are going to have to deal with more of that, not less. I go to local authorities that clearly do not think this applies to them, but I am afraid I know that it does.

What we have seen with the far right is that there are parts of this country where it is successfully recruiting people and they are part of that Prevent programme. The good news is what can happen when they get into that programme. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) mentioned the Channel referrals. I spoke to someone in the north of England recently who had referred a 15-year-old to that programme for the far right, and that child is now back in mainstream education, has gone on to further education and has built a future for himself. Prevent is there to help; it is there not only to prevent people from being radicalised into extremism and terrorism, but to make sure that people are given help and support.

The points the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) made about the internet are absolutely right. We use the counter-terrorism internet referral unit to work with internet providers to remove material as it comes online, and since 2010 they have removed 220,000 pieces of terrorist-related material online. That work is ongoing and constant, and we must make sure we do it.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) does not need lessons from me on Northern Ireland-related terrorism, as the people involved have not gone away and it is still an active problem that we are trying to deal with. I am afraid that they have moved with the times and used many of the smooth, slick recruitment materials that we see across the board.

I am grateful to the House for its support. We should also take this opportunity to remember that some people will not be celebrating Christmas this year. Some of our security services and police will be on duty keeping us safe while we are having our breaks at home. They will be making sure that hon. Members in this House who are under threat and the wider public are protected. I want to place it on the record that we greatly appreciate the work that they do. They are not allowed to shout about it. They get almost no recognition in public. I know from the job that I do how important they are to keeping us safe. Proscription is one of the measures that we can give them to tackle the threat.

Proscription is not targeted at any particular faith, social group or ideological motivation. It is based on clear evidence that an organisation is involved in terrorism. It is my firm opinion and that of the Home Secretary that, on the basis of available evidence, National Action has promoted and encouraged acts of terrorism. This includes the unlawful glorification of the murder of Jo Cox, committed by Thomas Mair, and the unlawful glorification of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It is therefore appropriate for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion to proscribe this group. The proscription of this group demonstrates our condemnation of its activities. Proscribing it will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action and ensure that it cannot operate here. It will prevent National Action’s membership growing, or help to stop those who might be vulnerable to radicalisation and possibly at risk of emulating terrorist attacks. Being drawn into the group’s extreme and distorted ideology is what we are trying to stop. Therefore, I commend this order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.