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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 672: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2020

Before I call the Minister, I will ask the Chair of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Jessica Morden, to make an announcement.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The House can see the note on the Order Paper saying that this instrument has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. However, I can confirm that the Joint Committee has met this afternoon, considered the instrument and has nothing to report concerning the draft order.

I beg to move,

That the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 24 February, be approved.

The people of the United Kingdom continue to live under the threat of terrorist violence. None of us has forgotten the terrible tragedy at London Bridge last November or the attack in Streatham less than four weeks ago. I would like once again to pay tribute to the police, emergency services and members of the public, whose swift action and selfless bravery prevented further loss of life. Those are only the most recent incidents in a string of attacks that have repeatedly shocked the country in recent years, but the fortitude of the British people and their refusal to be cowed or intimidated has made it clear to those responsible that they can never win.

The most recent attackers in this country had been radicalised and motivated by a dangerous perversion of the Islamic faith, but as the appalling murder of nine innocent people in the German city of Hanau has shown, no ideology has a monopoly on hatred. The visceral racism of the extreme right is just as likely to inspire terrorism as any religious fanaticism. We have a duty to our allies, as well as to our own people, to tackle those groups that inspire and co-ordinate international terror.

Some 75 international terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to our security and intelligence services, most of those groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. Proscription is a vital tool to disrupt terrorist networks and bring those who support them to justice. Once proscribed, an organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the UK. It becomes a criminal offence to be a member, to support them or to encourage the support of others. Proscription makes it harder for banned groups to fundraise and recruit members. Their assets can become subject to seizure as terrorist property, and those linked to them may be excluded from the UK using immigration powers.

Today’s order makes certain changes to the list of proscribed groups under the Terrorism Act 2000. First, it adds a new group, Sonnenkrieg Division or SKD. This is a white supremacist group formed in March 2018 as a splinter group of System Resistance Network, itself an alias of the proscribed group National Action. Members of SKD were convicted of encouraging terrorism and possession of documents useful to a terrorist in June 2019. The group has encouraged and glorified acts of terrorism via its online posts and images. It has also issued home-made propaganda using Nazi imagery, calling for attacks on minorities. The images can reasonably be taken as implying that these acts should be emulated, and therefore amount to the unlawful glorification of terrorism. SKD is the second right-wing group to be proscribed in the United Kingdom.

This order also seeks to add two more names to the list, as aliases of the PKK, an armed separatist group that advocates an independent Kurdish state in south- east Turkey. The TAK—from the Kurdish for Kurdistan Freedom Hawks—has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in its own right since July 2006. Although it presents itself as a breakaway faction of the PKK, the Government now understand it to be an alias of that group. The same goes for the HPG, another PKK alias that is not currently recognised as such in the UK. Amending the PKK listing to include both TAK and HPG as its aliases will send a clear message that the UK recognises the ongoing threat that the PKK poses, and that we will never be a haven for international terrorism.

By way of separate order under the negative resolution procedure, we have also updated the Act to include System Resistance Network or SRN as an alias of the proscribed group National Action. National Action is a neo-Nazi group that was established in 2013. It has a number of branches across the UK that conduct provocative street demonstrations and stunts aimed at intimidating minority communities. Its activities and propaganda materials are particularly aimed at recruiting and indoctrinating young people. The group is virulently racist, antisemitic and homophobic. Its ideology promotes the idea that Britain will inevitably see a violent race war, of which the group claims it will be an active part. The group rejects democracy, is hostile to the British state and seeks to divide society.

In 2016, National Action was assessed to be concerned in terrorism, and became the first right-wing terrorist group to be proscribed in the UK. The group’s online propaganda material, disseminated via social media, frequently features extremely violent imagery and language. National Action also promoted and encouraged acts of terrorism following the tragic murder of our colleague Jo Cox, condoning and glorifying those who have used extreme violence for political or ideological ends.

It is right that we take the threat of the extreme far right seriously. That is why the 2011 Prevent strategy explicitly discusses the threat of extreme right-wing terrorism and our 2015 counter-extremism strategy sets out how we will challenge extremism in all its forms, including from far-right racist beliefs. Since the proscription of National Action and its aliases, 27 individuals have been arrested on suspicion of being a member of the group, 15 of whom have been charged with terrorism offences. Since March 2017, our security and intelligence services have disrupted no fewer than eight major right-wing terrorist plots and our Channel programme seeks to safeguard people who are vulnerable to radicalisation from the far right. Of the 561 individuals who were adopted to a local Channel panel last year, 45% were referred for concerns related to right-wing terrorism. Of course, our police forces are making full use of public order powers to disrupt far-right demonstrations and organised intimidations.

The proscriptions that have been laid before the House are a key part of our strategy. Terrorist organisations are seeking to change their names, hiding behind aliases to avoid detection and prosecution. They seek to circumvent our robust anti-terror laws so that they can continue to spread hatred and inspire violence. It is vital that the Government’s counter-extremism strategy challenges extremism in all its forms—violent and non-violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi—and it does, and will continue to do so. We will not tolerate any groups who spread hate by demonising those of other faiths or ethnicities, and who deliberately raise community fears and tensions by bringing disorder and violence to our communities. As the threat posed by these groups continues to evolve, so will our response to them. These proscriptions are part of that evolution, and I urge hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House to join me in supporting them today.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his remarks and for his briefing me earlier today. I welcome him back to the role that he used to occupy when the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) was Home Secretary. Of course, I wish him every success in this very, very important role in Government.

I join the Minister in his remarks about the extraordinary bravery and heroism of those who acted to save life both at London Bridge and at Streatham. But as he set out, they are only two in a long line of incidents, so while that threat is evolving, so too must our response. I entirely share his view that those who peddle hatred will never divide us across this House.

I ask the Minister to pass on my thanks to the Home Secretary for the letter that she sent to the shadow Home Secretary setting out the logic behind this decision. I make it absolutely clear that the Opposition support the measure before the House. We support the decision to proscribe Sonnenkrieg Division and the merging and amending in relation to PKK, and the decision taken in relation to SRN. The first duty of any Government is the protection of the public. These are, of course, difficult decisions where a balance has to be found in proscription decisions as per section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

I turn first to Sonnenkrieg Division. As the Minister set out, it is a white supremacist group—a splinter group of System Resistance Network, which is an alias of the already-proscribed National Action. Members of SKD were jailed in June 2019 for terrorism offences, including encouraging terrorism and possession of documents useful to a terrorist attack. It encouraged an attack on the Duke of Sussex because of his marriage to the Duchess of Sussex. The Home Secretary’s letter on this stated that the group has

“encouraged and glorified acts of terrorism via its posts and images, including home-made propaganda using Nazi imagery calling for attacks on minorities.”

SKD is the second right-wing organisation to be proscribed, and rightly so. National Action was proscribed in December 2016 when it was found to be publicising its online material via social media, frequently featuring extreme violent images, including promoting and encouraging acts of terrorism in the wake of the murder of our dear friend and colleague Jo Cox. That is why, as I indicated, I join with the Minister in his action with regard to SRN.

It is a sad fact that far-right extremism is increasing. Last week we saw the awful tragedy in Germany to which the Minister referred, with the killing of nine people and the wounding of six others in two late night cafés before the individual concerned went home and killed himself and his mother. Before that rampage, he released what can only be described as a letter of hate to the German nation.

Earlier this week, The Times interviewed Dave Thompson, the chief constable of West Midlands police and vice-chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council, who also outlined the fact that the far-right threat is rising. He said:

“There is a greater prevalence of extremist far-right activity, and we’ve got to police that very carefully because people are not just talking about a shared ideology, they do talk about doing things…It isn’t just promoting an ideology, it is a very much fixated approach to attacking people.”

As of September 2019, on the latest available Home Office statistics, there were 38 individuals in custody who expressed extreme right-wing views; by comparison, in 2013 there were only six. On that basis and in this context, this proscription is a welcome move to tackle the threat that is before us.

I move on to the amendment and merging of PKK and TAK in the list of proscribed organisations, and adding HPG as an alias of PKK. It is worth noting that PKK was proscribed and listed back in 2001. TAK had been proscribed since 2006, and the assessment has been made that HPG is an alias of PKK. Looking at that history, it is important that as the organisation evolves, the law evolves with it. On that basis, the changes that the Minister is suggesting are sensible.

As I said, the recent attacks in London Bridge and Streatham highlight the need for a continuing focus on this area. Proscription, as the Minister will be aware, is only one part of doing that. He mentioned the Prevent programme. Could he confirm when an independent reviewer of the Prevent programme will be appointed? I am sure he is aware of the statutory obligation that requires the report to be laid before the House before August this year. It is, of course, important to have the right person in place, but time is also of the essence. More widely, can he confirm the importance of maintaining the strength of our existing security tools in our negotiations with the EU this year? The European arrest warrant, Europol and the other databases are crucial in the fight against terrorism, which recognises no borders.

Terror attacks are a reminder—a terrible reminder—of the atrocities that can happen, but they also show the tremendous efforts of our emergency services, police and security services and the resolve and strength of our communities. While these occasions are always sombre, we should derive great optimism from the strength of our communities and the resilience they show in the face of a threat of hatred that will never divide us in this House.

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the reasons for the order, and I join him and the shadow Minister in paying tribute to the emergency workers and members of the public who have stood up to and responded to the recent terrorist attacks. The Scottish National party supports the additions and amendments that the Government have proposed to the list of proscribed organisations.

As the Minister said, the backdrop to this legislation is a rise in far-right activity, and therefore we particularly welcome the proscription of Sonnenkrieg Division and, via the separate order to which he referred, the addition of National Action, alias the System Resistance Network. There seems to be no doubt that those are vulnerable, sick and hateful organisations that are concerned with terrorism.

We have seen recent arrests and convictions of various members of proscribed right-wing terrorist groups. On the one hand, that suggests that the powers to proscribe are assisting police officers to disrupt activity, but on the other hand, it reminds us that proscription is far from a solution in itself—it is just a small first step. The very fact that since National Action was proscribed, we have had to add NS131, Scottish Dawn and System Resistance Network shows that, for these organisations, proscription is not the end in itself but a significant inconvenience. We need to ask ourselves at some point whether we are making it inconvenient enough for them and whether there might be other ways to deal with the process of terror groups morphing into one another.

The other part of the order seems essentially to be a tidying-up exercise in relation to the PKK and its aliases. As the Minister explained, the PKK is an organisation that has engaged in violence over many years, including during periods covered by ceasefires with the Turkish Government. It remains on the proscribed lists of our international allies, so adding appropriate aliases seems logical.

At some point, we need to have a review of the effectiveness of proscription and whether there are ways we can make it more difficult for proscribed organisations. There may also be questions to ask about how we scrutinise these orders in the House, but that is for another day. These are not controversial additions, so we join the shadow Minister in lending our support to the order.

First, I thank the Minister for bringing this order to the House, which is really important. There is rightly a focus on ISIS terrorism here in the United Kingdom, on the mainland, but there is also a rise in right-wing terrorism. He mentioned the attacks in Germany, but here on the UK mainland, there are indications of a rise in right-wing extremism. These groups may masquerade as different organisations and try to transform or transmute into something else, and the proscription of the SKD is very important. Has the Minister, or perhaps the Minister for Crime and Policing, had an opportunity to have talks with the Police Service of Northern Ireland? It is a yes/no question; we do not need the detail.

I look forward to maintaining the contact with the PSNI that I enjoyed while holding other responsibilities, and I know the importance of focusing on security in Northern Ireland. Equally, I will take this opportunity to underline, in relation to the prevention work for those involved in terrorism, that we are committed to the independent review of Prevent, and this important work will go ahead. We will be running a full and open recruitment process to appoint the next reviewer, and further details will be announced shortly.

I thank the Minister for that, which is very positive. I always expect positivity from the Minister whenever the opportunity arises, and it very clearly has tonight.

I thank the hon. Member for his very important contribution. Does he agree with me that it may be useful to hear from the Minister about updates in relation to other police forces, and whether there could be a more systematic way in which police forces, perhaps like the Met, update Members of Parliament about where there may be growing threats in our regions or local areas?

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. I think there probably is a method in place for doing that already. I believe there is—I know it is done in different ways in this House and outside this House—and I know that the Minister’s role as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gives him a real insight into what happens in Northern Ireland.

I wanted to ask that question because my understanding is that there is a growth in right-wing extremism in the Province, probably masquerading under the proscribed organisations already there. I know it is very important, so could I, for the record, gently refer to the IRA dissident threat? It is still very clearly there for police officers and prison officers, with booby-traps under their cars. A large bomb, destined for the Larne ferry, was found and thwarted by the police and intelligence officers—and a real biggie that would have been for the IRA. Again, however, it shows that police forces are on top of that. It is very clear to me that this is a salient reminder that IRA terrorists and IRA dissidents in particular are just as dangerous in the United Kingdom, as indeed are ISIS terrorists.

The Minister referred to going for the assets. I welcome his comment, but could we have a bit more detail, if possible, for the record? It is so important that the assets of such organisations are targeted and focused on in order to take away the money and the opportunity that they quite clearly have. In Northern Ireland, paramilitary groups are involved in drug dealing, trafficking, protection rackets and all of those things. Again, I understand that the close contacts between paramilitary and right-wing organisations in Northern Ireland and those on the mainland involve all the spheres of fundraising that they are trying to use.

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman reassurance on the issue of tracking terrorists’ finance and assets. Proscription actually aids this, which is why we have brought this order before the House today.

I just want to assure the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) that my door is open to all Members across the House on issues relating to how we can brief and give updates. I very much remain open to all colleagues who wish to come and talk to me and, if they have concerns, to draw them to my attention.

Again, I thank the Minister for the confirmation he has given.

I have one wee thing to say on the assets issue. Very often, paramilitary groups or criminal groups turn some of their ill-gotten gains and money into businesses that are legitimate, and they may even pay tax. However, the issue of the moneys to create those assets and those money-making opportunities needs to be addressed. For a company taking on the assets, if we destroy the money-making capabilities, we destroy the organisation that is trying to succeed.

I want to raise a last point with the Minister in relation to the contact he has very clearly said he has with the PSNI. May I ask what contact there has been with the Garda Síochána? I am ever mindful that the person in charge down there is a former police officer from the PSNI, with a good pedigree, and I think the relationship should be strong. Again, would the Minister confirm that that is the situation?

Briefly, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we maintain very close contacts with a number of our security partners. Obviously, as he will understand, I will not go that in any detail, but I do recognise the point he makes.

I really welcome what the Minister has put forward tonight, and I am reassured by what he has said. For us back home in Northern Ireland, including in my constituency, and all the other people across the world who wish to build a future that is free of terrorism, the comments the Minister has made are reassuring. They reassure me personally, and I hope they reassure my constituents as well.

Question put and agreed to.