I beg to move,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2017, which was laid before this House on 18 December, be approved.
The threat level in the United Kingdom, which is set by the joint terrorism analysis centre, remains at severe. This means that a terrorist attack on 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 the threat to the United Kingdom and our interests abroad, as well as to disrupt those who would engage in it. Recognising that terrorism is a global threat that is best tackled in partnership, it is also important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs.
Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt the activities of terrorist groups and those who provide support to them. The order would add four groups to the list of proscribed organisations by amending schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000: al-Ashtar Brigades, including its aliases Saraya al-Ashtar, Wa’ad Allah Brigades, Islamic Allah Brigades, Imam al-Mahdi Brigades and al-Haydariyah Brigades; al-Mukhtar Brigades, including Saraya al-Mukhtar; Hasam, including Harakat Sawa’d Misr and Harakat Hasm; and Liwa al-Thawra. This is the 22nd proscription order under the 2000 Act.
The proscriptions send a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens. Under section 3 of the Act, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise that discretion. These include: the nature and scale of an 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 unable to operate in the United Kingdom. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, invite or provide support for, or arrange a meeting in support of, a proscribed organisation. It is also an offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public, such as flags that arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or a supporter of a proscribed organisation.
Proscription sends a strong message to deter fundraising and recruitment for proscribed organisations. The assets of a proscribed organisation can become subject to seizure as terrorist assets. Proscription can also support other disruptions of terrorist activity, including for example the use of immigration powers such as exclusion from the UK where the individual is linked to a proscribed organisation and their presence in the United Kingdom would not be in the public interest. Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary only exercises her powers to proscribe after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence of an organisation. This includes information from both open sources and sensitive intelligence, as well as advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-Government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in this decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of each case, but given the impact the power can have, it is appropriate that proscription must be approved by both Houses. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that al-Ashtar Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Hasam and Liwa al-Thawra are currently concerned in terrorism.
Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I can provide a summary of each group’s activities in turn. The first group the order proscribes is al-Ashtar Brigades and its aliases. It is a Bahrain-based Shi’a militant organisation established in 2013. Its aim is to overthrow the Bahraini al-Khalifa ruling family through violent militant operations. It lists the ruling al-Khalifa family, Bahraini security forces and Saudi Arabia as targets for attacks. The group has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in Bahrain, including a jail break of 10 convicted terrorists that led to the death of a police officer in January 2017; an improvised explosive device attack in a bus station in Sitrah, which was claimed by the group under the name Wa’ad Allah Brigades in February; and an attack on a police vehicle near the village of al-Qadeem in July. More generally, the group has incited violent activity against the Bahraini Government, as well as the British, American and Saudi Arabian Governments on social media.
The second group the order proscribes is al-Mukhtar Brigades, also known as Saraya al-Mukhtar, a Bahrain-based Shi’a militant organisation established in 2013. It lists the al-Khalifa ruling family, Bahraini security forces and Saudi Arabia as targets for attacks. The group’s activities include the continued promotion and glorification of terrorism via social media throughout 2017.
The third group to be proscribed is Hasam and its aliases. Hasam is an extremist group targeting Egyptian security forces and the overthrow of the Egyptian Government. It announced its creation on 16 July 2016, following an attack conducted in Fayoum Governorate in Egypt. In September 2016, the group claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Assistant Prosecutor General Zakaria Abdel-Aziz and the attempted assassination of former Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa a month earlier. The group has claimed responsibility for over 15 attacks between March and September this year in Cairo. It carried out small arms fire attacks in March, May and July, and bomb attacks in March, June and September, the latter exploding close to the Myanmar embassy in Cairo.
The final group to be proscribed is Liwa al-Thawra, another extremist opposition group using violent tactics against Egyptian security forces and aiming at the end of the Egyptian Government. It announced its creation on 21 August 2016, following an attack in Monofeya. The group has claimed responsibility for attacks, including bombings and assassinations, including the attack in Monofeya in Egypt, the assassination of Egyptian Brigadier General Adel Regali in October 2016, and in April 2017 the bombing of the Egyptian police training centre in Tanta, Egypt.
In addition to adding these groups, we propose to remove Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin from the list of proscribed organisations. The HIG—for short—is an offshoot of the political Hezb-e Islami party and was formed in 1977 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. You must forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, for my mix of Arabic and Lancashire—it does not make for the best dialect of Arabic or Pashtun, but we will get there. The HIG—I will go easy on people’s ears—is anti-western and seeks the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Afghanistan. Since 2001, its main objective has been the removal of western forces and influence in Afghanistan as well as restoring Islamic law.
The HIG has been proscribed in the UK since October 2005. However, on 22 September 2016, the group agreed to a peace deal with Afghanistan’s Government. After careful consideration, the Home Secretary has concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that the HIG continues to be concerned in terrorism as defined by section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000. Under that section, the Home Secretary has the power to remove an organisation from the list of proscribed organisations if she believes that it no longer meets the statutory test for proscription. Accordingly the Home Secretary has brought forward this order. If the order is approved, HIG will be removed from the list of proscribed organisations, which means that being a member of HIG, or inviting or providing support for it, will cease to be a criminal offence on the day that the order comes into force.
I broadly support the Minister’s proposals, but how can we be sure that adding organisations to the list in any way makes our authorities effective in combating them, given that in the last few months terrorist organisations have been parading openly with their flags—in Arabic—in the centre of London, and prosecutions have not occurred?
Proscription opens up a whole new level of offences for which people can be prosecuted. Proscribing an organisation allows asset-freezing and prosecution, but other offences can be linked to such activity. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that it is often hard to prove membership—very few of these organisations have membership cards and joining ceremonies—but the order gives our law enforcement agencies more powers with which to prosecute a campaign against them.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned flags, no doubt referring to Hezbollah and Hamas. Those organisations are not proscribed in their entirety. Their military wings are proscribed, but as Hezbollah forms part of the Government in Lebanon and Hamas plays an active role in its part of the region as a member of a Government, the proscription applies only to the military wing. In some cases the flags are identical, but that does not mean that if people participate in Hezbollah-supporting actions here that constitute terrorism or anything linked to it, our police and law enforcement agencies will not act. We have acted in respect of Hezbollah and Hamas in the past, either to disrupt activity or to bring prosecutions.
We do not condone any terrorist activity, and we always take a cautious approach to de-proscription. De-proscription of a particular group should not be interpreted as the UK Government’s condoning any previous activities of that group. We have always been clear about the fact that HIG was a terrorist organisation. Groups that do not meet the threshold for proscription must remain within the law, and are not free to spread hatred, fund terrorist activity or incite violence as they please. The police have comprehensive powers to take action against individuals who engage in such activity, under the criminal law. We are determined to detect and disrupt all terrorist threat, whether home-grown or international. Proscription is just one weapon in the considerable armoury that is at the disposal of the Government, the police and the security services to disrupt terrorist activity.
The Government continue to exercise the proscription power in a proportionate manner, in accordance with the law. We recognise that proscription potentially interferes with individuals’ rights, particularly those protected by article 10—freedom of expression—and article 11 —freedom of association—of the European convention on human rights, and should be exercised only when absolutely necessary. The order demonstrates that when proscription is no longer necessary, we are prepared to act to de-proscribe groups that are no longer “concerned in terrorism”.
I believe that it is right to add these four groups—al-Ashtar Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Hasam and Liwa al-Thawra Brigade—and their aliases to the list of the proscribed organisations in schedule 2 of the Act, and, equally, that it is proportionate to remove HIG from the list. Subject to the agreement of both Houses, the order will come into force on Friday 22 December.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. I also ask him to pass on our thanks to the Home Secretary for the letter that she sent yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), the shadow Home Secretary, setting out this decision.
Let me make it absolutely clear that the Opposition support the motion. We support the decision to proscribe the four groups that the Minister mentioned, and the de-proscription of HIG. Any Government’s first duty is to protect the public, and Labour Members appreciate the difficult balance that has to be struck when considering the application of the test in section 3 of the 2000 Act.
I turn to the four groups to be proscribed. We certainly hope that that decision will assist in tackling terror activity and send from this House a powerful signal of condemnation of the activities of those groups. I would, however, make three observations, and I hope the Minister will take them in the constructive spirit in which they are intended.
First, public confidence in this process is very important and, although I of course appreciate that some matters have to remain confidential for reasons of national security, to the extent that it is possible, transparency is important. The Minister will be aware that the former independent reviewer of the terror legislation, David Anderson QC, made various suggestions in successive reports, including when considering these matters, looking at the cohesion and capability of organisations. It would be useful if the Government could respond in due course to David Anderson’s 2016 report and the suggestions made therein.
My second observation relates to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes): proscription is of course only one of the measures available, and our ability to tackle terrorism, at whatever level and wherever it comes from, depends on proper resourcing of not only counter-terrorist policing but mainstream policing. When these terrible major incidents happen, it is not only counter-terror policing that is affected; resources are inevitably drawn in from mainstream policing as well. In addition, I commend neighbourhood policing, which not only provides reassurance in our communities, but can provide vital local intelligence in the fight against terrorism.
Thirdly, as we move on to the next stage of the Brexit negotiations, I hope that the Minister will speak to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union about the toolkit available to us from the European arrest warrant and Europol to ensure that that is a high priority in this stage of the negotiations to enable us to tackle terrorism across the continent.
On the decision to de-proscribe HIG, as the Minister has set out, de-proscription is appropriate in some cases. Where it is appropriate, it should be promptly dealt with when the statutory test is no longer met. Again, however, I commend to the Minister as much transparency as possible on this decision. As recently as June of this year, a House of Commons Library briefing stated that HIG was believed to have some UK-based supporters, and there were indications that HIG had conducted attacks on Afghan and indeed western targets. Clarification of when the application to de-proscribe was made, when the statutory test ceased to be met and that this situation will be kept under review would be reassuring to Members across the House.
Above all, our counter-terror policy needs to be carefully thought out. Above everything else, it needs to be effective. The incidents this year at Westminster bridge, London bridge, Finsbury Park, Parson’s Green and the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester are a reminder of the terrible threat these callous acts cause to our society, but they also show the tremendous efforts of our emergency services, and the resolve and strength our communities have shown in the face of these threats should give us cause for great optimism.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the background to the order and I am pleased to confirm that my party supports approving it this evening.
Our task in scrutinising draft instruments of this nature is not always straightforward, for the simple reason that the Secretary of State has access to information and intelligence that we as MPs for very good reasons cannot have access to. However, given what the Minister has said this evening, there is no reason for me to doubt that the Secretary of State has exercised her discretion appropriately in deciding to proscribe two groups in Bahrain and two in Egypt; nor, indeed, to doubt her conclusion on de-proscription, given the developments in Afghanistan, although the shadow Minister raised a couple of sensible questions on that issue.
I want to make two short points. First, this de-proscription again raises the question of why proscription orders never lapse, despite recommendations from the former independent reviewer of terrorism and the Home Affairs Committee, and despite the fact that the Home Office itself has acknowledged that at least 14 proscribed organisations no longer meet the statutory test.
Secondly, I accept that, when deciding whether to exercise powers under the Terrorism Act 2000, it is right for the Secretary of State to take into account the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism, but we have to look at the broader context in those countries as well. I echo the statement issued by the US State Department in June, when it too was taking action against individuals associated with the al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain. The statement said of the Government of Bahrain that
“we encourage the government to clearly differentiate its response to violent militia groups from its engagement with peaceful political opposition”.
There are no excuses for the grave human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Governments in both Bahrain and Egypt. If anything, those human rights abuses risk assisting the recruiters for the very terrorist organisations that we are seeking to clamp down on.
I thank the Minister for Security for his speech. It is much appreciated by my constituents that he and his team are working so hard to ensure their safety. This is an incredibly difficult challenge, because the threat keeps changing and it is always difficult for our security forces to identify the threat at each stage of its development. However, they are doing a fantastic job. It is important for the Minister to know that, when talking to our constituents, we all come across people who understand the enormity of the task that our security forces face and who respect the diligence with which they go about their business.
We face an incredibly difficult challenge. I look around the Chamber and see all my colleagues on electronic devices. We were talking yesterday about how electronic devices can spread hate and division. I know it is difficult for my right hon. Friend the Minister to be in everybody’s pocket, if that makes sense. It is difficult to have a police officer in everyone’s pocket, keeping an eye on what they are doing through social media, but these are the challenges that this country faces.
I support the points that my hon. Friend is making. At this time of year, when we are all preparing for the Christmas and new year holidays, this statement is a great reminder to us all that there are, thankfully, men and women in our security services who are diligent and ceaseless in their surveillance and assessment of risk, to the point that this kind of measure can be brought to the House.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The people who work in our security forces do not get a day, an hour or even a minute off. They are constantly vigilant. I imagine that, even when they are not on duty, they take home their concerns and their enormous sense of responsibility to society. We should congratulate them and respect them for that.
We talked about the responsibility of the tech companies yesterday, we are talking about it today, and will probably go on talking about it tomorrow. They simply cannot say, “It’s nothing to do with us, guv’. We just provide the platform.” That is no longer a sufficient excuse. Politicians around the world—particularly the free western world—are now identifying the fact that, if the tech companies are not willing to address the problem or to challenge those who use their technology for nefarious and dangerous purposes, we as legislators are going to have to do that for them.
I thank the Minister for his statement and particularly congratulate him on his Arabic pronunciation. If he had my Ulster Scots accent, the challenge would perhaps have been greater, but that is by the way.
I am pleased with and can support the legislation the Minister is bringing forward today and the information that he has laid before us. He mentioned social media, as did other Members, including the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), and we perhaps need a bit more information on that. We all know that there are methods of recruiting terrorists, influencing terrorists, and influencing people who are not terrorists but who could be terrorists, so what resources are available to ensure that the influence that some people can have through social media is spent? I read in the press yesterday that a far-right group had been removed by one of the big social media companies, so if they are able to do that with far-right groups, they should be able to do that with all terrorist groups. I am unsure whether cyber-security comes under the Minister’s remit, but we have to ensure that things are being done the right way. The Minister did not indicate where far-right groups stand, so perhaps he will confirm whether the Government are keeping an eye on their activities and on what they are doing and saying online, of which we should be ever mindful.
I want to reinforce a point made by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who is not currently in the Chamber to hear this. I went before the Backbench Business Committee today with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) to ask for a debate on the proscription of Hezbollah, and reference was made to the flags of proscribed organisations that were flown in central London. When that matter was referred to the police, they said that they could not take action due to some disparity over the rule of law. Many of us will be of the opinion that Hezbollah should be on the list and that the flying of its flag anywhere in this country, but particularly in London, should not be allowed, because Hezbollah sows a distinct hatred for Israel, for Israelis and for many others.
The Minister also referred to the Muslim Brotherhood. I am ever mindful that we have a good working relationship with President el-Sisi and the Egyptian Government, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) is the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Egypt. He does good work, and we are pleased to see him in that position. From what the Minister says, I understand that we work closely alongside the Egyptian Government on matters relating to proscription, but will he reinforce our understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood?
I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman’s comments, particularly those relating to the paraphernalia of extremism, which is all too often on public display. Will he add to his comments about social media? Social media platforms seem to wash their hands of full responsibility for the things that are published, but that washing of hands would not be appropriate for any other publication or source of publishing. What would the hon. Gentleman like to see done?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I want to see what has happened to the far-right groups. I want groups that espouse evil words and terrorist acts to be taken off social media. That is the action that we want, and I think the Minister is probably saying that, so we look forward to it.
Returning to the Muslim Brotherhood, it continues to be a difficult group that tends to try to undermine the Egyptian Government and President el-Sisi, and I want to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that democratic stability in the middle east can continue.
When we think about terrorism and counter-terrorism, it is easy to think in terms of world politics beyond our local communities. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the events of the past year show the importance of the work of our security services in keeping all our constituents safe? Also, will he join me in welcoming the Government’s recent announcement of extra funding for counter-terrorism?
I thank the hon. Gentleman —who, from his service with me on the Select Committee on Defence, I refer to as my hon. Friend—for giving way. Does he share my concern that there is a degree of complacency regarding the Muslim Brotherhood? Some organisations see the Muslim Brotherhood as running counter to terrorism, rather than, as in many cases, facilitators and inspirers of terrorism.
That is exactly the point I am trying to make to the Minister. We are very concerned about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and we all look to the Minister and our Government to respond in a satisfactory fashion.
To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), I put on record our thanks to all our security forces, our police, MI5 and every one of the emergency services that have contributed so much over the past year. Both inside and outside the House, we owe them an eternal debt.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his speech and on his work, a lot of which is completely unseen by our constituents.
My constituents in Redditch want to feel safe and secure at all times. We often see the high-profile plots—when those plots go tragically to plan, we all see the evil that is done on our streets—and we sometimes hear of the plots that are foiled, but I imagine most of us in this House will not know of the many, many more plots that are continually foiled and of the work that goes on all the time.
My hon. Friend mentions the occasions when the intelligence services have foiled the plotters and their dastardly plans. Will she comment on the importance of co-operation with the intelligence services of our friends and partners in Europe, in North America and across the world, and on the important part that passing intelligence between those agencies plays in making the picture more complete so that action can be taken to prevent loss of life in such incidents?
My hon. Friend touches on the critical point that, even as we leave the European Union, we must seek to cement our deep and special partnership on all these matters—and with our friends in the United States, too—because it is clear that these are the relationships that are keeping all our constituents safe, day in, day out.
We cannot imagine what it must be like to work in the intelligence services. I cannot even begin to imagine for one second what it must be like to face such threats and such terror, how frightening it must be and how brave those men and women must be to face it every single day. I add my thanks to those of Members on both sides of the House who have put on record their thanks to those brave men and women who go out of their way every day to keep us safe, and I know my constituents in Redditch thank them, too.
While I am welcoming announcements, it is great to see that additional funding has been announced for the police service today. Significant funding has been pledged to my West Mercia region, which will undoubtedly help our police forces to work in partnership.
The hon. Lady should look at the detail of today’s announcement. No extra Government funding has been announced at all. What is happening is that the cash from central Government is being kept flat and her local taxpayers will be asked to fund the gap.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I will return to the subject of my remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I also want to put on record the importance of education in our schools. We have heard Members from both sides of the House mention the work our schools do in talking to young people about terrorism and the sorts of extremist threats we are seeing in our communities. At this time, it is also important to recognise the work of my local communities in Redditch. I am sure everyone will have seen the way in which local communities come together proactively when we are facing some of the most tragic events in our country. I saw that myself in Redditch in an all-faith service and celebration at my local mosque, where it was so inspiring to see everybody coming together in the face of these threats.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She rightly celebrates that human spirit that is inside all of us. Sometimes it can take a tragic, awful, terrifying event to see the best of our human spirit shine forth. When I see that, I find it incredibly inspiring, and we should celebrate and recognise it.
It is also relevant to mention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) did, yesterday’s statement, when we looked at the role of intimidation and abuse, and the link it can sometimes have to extremism when it is taken too far. It is important that we recognise that in the round of the work that the Minister is doing in his Department to combat terrorism in all the forms it takes. I am sure he is looking at the role social media companies play. It is absolutely right that they play a role; we face a holistic threat, so we need a holistic response. One problem with the social media companies is that their business model is completely wrong, because they rely on the clickbait they put out on their platforms to whip up hatred. That is how they make their money; they actually receive revenue from clicks. They do not have any regard to what they are disseminating into the public’s mind. It can spread into schools and communities, among young people. We should all be aware of that. The work the Home Secretary and her Department is doing needs to look at all these issues together. The tech companies have a really important role to play and I am pleased to see that the Government are taking further action here.
As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, we have to look at far-right groups. We have to look at all groups that pose a threat to our communities and our society. We have seen disgusting examples of this recently, so I am delighted to hear that the Government are looking at all the threats together and I congratulate the Minister on today’s statement.
I rise to add a few words of appreciation to the Minister for bringing this measure to the House and to compliment Members on how it has been received. I wish to pay a specific tribute to a number of different groups that are making our country safe. Mention has been made of our security services. It was said that the submariners represented the silent service, but in fact we have a modern-day silent service: those who are carefully and studiously monitoring what is going on, both online and all around us. So I pay tribute to our security services, and I do so on behalf of my constituents, who are the beneficiaries of their service, which, as has been mentioned, is a 365-day-a-year operation, day and night. That professionalism is what is keeping us safe. I join others in paying tribute to the security services—MI5 and MI6 were specifically mentioned, but many other branches of the security services are working together. It is because of their good work and the levels of co-operation between the national agencies not only of this country and our immediate allies but around the world that this order is possible.
I pay tribute to the work that is done locally to prepare for the eventualities that we all dread, fear and hope will never happen. Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Stirling, I have had the opportunity to spend time with the Police Scotland officers in my constituency. I have been hugely impressed with their professionalism and how they carefully and diligently prepare themselves for any eventuality. It is humbling to listen to what they are doing day in, day out in anticipation of an event that we all dread. As it expands the range of services it offers, under excellent national and local leadership, the fire and rescue service in Scotland is also being prepared and trained to respond to the type of incidents that, as Members have reminded us, have taken place in our country this year. Those events have deeply shocked and shaken us.
The third group of people who deserve to be mentioned in the context of the resilience and resolution the country has shown is the British public. The perfect answer to all the events of this year and to the ever-present threat that the Minister mentioned in his speech is that when these events happen, or when it is reported that they have been averted, the British public’s response is to just get up and carry on. That is the full measure of the spirit of the people of these islands and it has been demonstrated and exemplified time and again.
Several agencies are doing excellent work to continue to raise public awareness of the threat of terrorism. As a regular user of the national rail network, I wish to mention a successful awareness-raising campaign mounted by British Transport police called “See It. Say It. Sorted.”, which is intended to activate and engage the British public in their role as the eyes and ears of the security forces on the ground, both locally and nationally.
I welcome the evidence of the intelligence services’ continuous assessment of the environment in which we all live and operate. We should remember the bravery and courage of those who this year have shown again the British people’s resilience, especially in response to the events we sadly witnessed that took place very close to the Chamber, before my time in Parliament.
My hon. Friend is making a great case and setting out the important contribution that so many people make to keep us safe. Does he also recognise the volunteers who make up local neighbourhood watch groups—I am sure you have some in your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker—because although they may not be at the forefront of counter-terrorism work, they are still part of the effort to gather intelligence and keep abreast of what is going on?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, because it is a reminder of the point that I wish to make and enforce. When it comes to counter-terrorism, intelligence gathering and the sharing of information, we have an important part to play as individual citizens. My hon. Friend has just described the great tradition of our doing that in this country.
The overwhelming evidence from senior counter-terrorism officers is that much of the useful information they gather comes from ordinary beat police officers who are involved in their local communities. Is not it therefore deplorable that the Government have cut funding to the Metropolitan police in particular and are thereby denuding that capability?
I am a Scottish Member of Parliament, but I understand that matters relating to the budgets of the Metropolitan police may be decided by the Mayor of London, just as similar such budgets in Scotland are decided by the Scottish Government. I do not want to introduce any controversy to the things that I am trying to say, because this is not necessarily a moment for any kind of party posturing.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about not just funding, but the powers that the police have and the regulatory system that has been set up? All too often we have seen opposition to some of those powers by the Labour party, even though we might get some welcome consensus on these powers in relation to proscribed groups.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to conclude my remarks if I may by referring back to the comments of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) when he responded to my intervention about social media. I feel very strongly that the time has come for social media companies, with all their resources, to do something more than they have been doing in this area. For too long, too much has gone on to those platforms without appropriate intervention. I feel very strongly that they are things that we would not permit to be published in mainstream, traditional, and old-fashioned material. Why on earth would we turn a blind eye to it when it is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or whatever? There are other social platforms as well. The Minister’s statement has brought home again the importance of dealing with that issue. I know that the Government are dealing with it and that they are stepping up their discussions with these social media companies. I appreciate that much is improving and changing, but, again, I am reminded today that perhaps for too long we have been guilty of that traditional British virtue of being too tolerant about some things for which, really, there must be zero tolerance.
With the leave of the House, I will reply to the points made by hon. and right hon. Members. I will, if I may, reflect on the tributes that have been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and by other Members of the House to the people who are working, as we speak, to keep us safe.
This morning, in Sheffield and in other parts of the north of England, there were a number of raids in which the police and security services disrupted what potentially was the 10th plot to cause us harm by some pretty determined terrorists, and they will keep going. The results of that raid will mean that investigators and detectives will have to work throughout Christmas and new year. In offices up and down the country, there will be people on duty—I am talking about the emergency services, the police, and intelligence officers. Even a Minister will be on duty at Christmas and new year as well. These people carry out their job unseen, often in some of the harshest conditions. They often have to deal with the aftermath for the rest of their lives, especially if they are first responders, ambulance personnel or police who are on the scene when an attack happens.
Over the past year, I have spent a lot of time in Manchester, meeting some quite remarkable people who were present when the bomb went off and throughout the process. They have never stopped trying to bring justice and comfort to the victims. At the same time, they have to live with the things they saw on that day. Those people not only demand but deserve our respect and support.
The Home Secretary and I strongly believe that al-Ashtar Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Hasam and Liwa al-Thawra should be added and that HIG should be removed from the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
In answer to some of the points raised by Members on the Opposition Front Bench, the request for de-proscription of HIG was on 19 September 2017. I cannot comment on who made that request, but there was an application and we responded to it.
I totally agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) about the comments made by the former reviewer of terrorism legislation. For the rule of law and this law itself to be valid, we have to show that we change when the evidence changes. People may be particularly distasteful but when they move into violence or terrorism, we must act. We must also be in a position to help our friends and allies around the world who are sometimes the victims of terrorist organisations, and ensure that their concerns are heard.
Hon. Members have mentioned Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups. Groups such as those are constantly under review to see whether they engage in terrorism. If they do—for example, if the non-military wing is viewed as not separate—we will review the situation, use the law and take the required steps. Proscription works: 51 people have been charged with membership of proscribed groups and 32 have been convicted. There are currently 71 proscribed international groups and 14 Northern Ireland groups. The law enforcement agencies often tell us how useful proscription is, and we will always listen to any changes they request. Indeed, we would also listen if they felt that the regime did not work. I am sure that Opposition Front Benchers would do exactly the same. Proscription is a tool for us to stay within the rule of law.
Over the past few weeks and months, we have heard a lot about dealing with terrorism. The big thing that we have heard on the difference between us and terrorists is that we believe in the rule of law with the oversight of this House. We make sure that we are better than them. Measures such as proscription are very important in forcing the Government, quite rightly, to mark out why they think something should be proscribed, and in holding those groups to account. But when the evidence changes, we change with it.
Hon. Members mentioned Brexit. As we have said and will continue to say, we seek tools similar to the European arrest warrant, which we find incredibly useful. It helps us and our law enforcement agencies. The Home Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union published a security paper that made many of those points clear.
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) said that there are no new resources for the police. I am sorry to correct him, but today we announced £71 million more money for counter-terrorism policing. That is new money, on top of the £24 million increase we gave the police in response to the attacks and the £144 million armed uplift that we gave them post-Nice to ensure that our armed police are well-equipped to deal with threats.
From a sedentary position on the Treasury Bench, the hon. Gentleman says that I was wrong, but I was not. In Durham and other places, the flat budget for police funding from central Government will have to be made up by local taxpayers. Taking into account the pay increase and inflation, that will amount to a real-terms cut.
I heard the hon. Gentleman during the statement earlier. The question I could ask about the police funding settlement is: will police have more to spend on policing in their force areas after the statement today by the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service? The answer is yes. We can argue about whether this is from the core grant plus the precept, but the reality is that the police will be spending more on policing in the next year than they were last year. That is a fact.
For counter-terrorism, the Minister is correct; there will be more money for counter-terrorism. But unless he can read the tea leaves and predict that every single policy authority will put the maximum on local precepts, he cannot give the undertaking on frontline policing that he has just given.
No Minister at this Dispatch Box can ever guarantee what a police force will do, because the police have independence in their forces. If the hon. Gentleman were on this side of the debate, he would not be able to give guarantees because he would know that police forces have operational independence. How much is spent is a matter for the police and crime commissioner and the police. That is why some forces have grown their reserves—some by over 100%. [Interruption.] Not Durham. I think it is the one force that probably has not. That is because the chief constable is from Lancashire; he is a proper chief constable—it takes one to teach people.
On the points raised by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) about online, which was mentioned by many other Members, the Government recognise the real challenges. That is why, a number of years ago, we set up the CT referral unit, which has seen 300,000 pieces of offensive or terrorist material taken down on request. It is a permanent unit that requests, and works with, communications service providers to take that material down.
However, of course we have said that we want the providers to do more. We want them to invest some of their very large profits in technologies to improve the speed of these things. We think they can do more, and that is why my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, through the Global Internet Forum, are leading international efforts to deal with this issue.
One of the challenges, obviously, with online is that many of these people are based overseas, and as much as I would like to take immediate action in some areas, we simply do not have the power to do that in other countries. It is incredibly frustrating to the Government that, on National Action, which we proscribed almost this time last year, an internet company in the United States refuses to take down some of its propaganda and some of its material. I have not checked whether it has been taken down in the last few days, but that situation is incredibly frustrating, and we are working with the United States to apply more pressure in that space.
I have already answered the points around Hezbollah and Hamas. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) that it is right that the point about what the services do is absolutely clear. That is why proscribing organisations gives the services extra power to their elbow to deal with them. It also means that people charged with terrorist offences—TACT offences—can and will often receive much more hefty sentences. That is why we are determined to continue at the moment to use this legislation.
I would like to put on record my thanks to the Labour party, the Scottish National party and the Democratic Unionist party for their support for this measure tonight. Proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social group, but it is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. It is my and the Home Secretary’s firm opinion that, on the basis of the available evidence, all four groups in the order meet the statutory test for proscription and that it is appropriate in each case for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion to proscribe these groups. The proscription of these groups demonstrates our condemnation of their activities. Proscribing them will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against any supporters in the UK and to ensure that they cannot operate here.
It is also our firm opinion that, on the basis of the available evidence, HIG no longer meets the statutory test for proscription. However, as with all groups, we will continue to monitor its activity to make sure that it stays within the rule of the law and abides by the law. It is therefore appropriate in this case for the Home Secretary to remove HIG from the list of proscribed organisations in accordance with the de-proscription process set out.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish you, and all Members of the House, a safe and secure Christmas? May I ask that Members remind their constituents to be vigilant over the festive period? Unfortunately, the threat has not gone away. However, I hope that, by being vigilant and by supporting our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence services and our other emergency services, all Members have a safe and happy Christmas. Therefore, I commend the order to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2017, which was laid before this House on 18 December, be approved.