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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020

Before I call the Minister, I ask Liz Twist, on behalf of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, to make an announcement.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The House will see the note on the Order Paper that says:

“The Instrument has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.”

However, I can confirm that the Joint Committee met this afternoon, considered the instrument and has nothing to report concerning the draft order.

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 13 July, be approved.

That confirmation from the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) is very welcome. Subject to the agreement of this House and the other place, the draft order will come into force on Friday 17 July 2020.

The threat we face from terrorism remains significant, but, as assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service and national lead for counter-terrorism policing Neil Basu has said, right-wing terrorism is the fastest-growing terror threat in the United Kingdom. We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but the Government are determined to do all we can to minimise the danger it poses and keep the public safe.

The nature of terrorism is constantly evolving. There are organisations that recruit, radicalise, promote and encourage terrorism, as well as those that actually commit terrible acts of violence against innocent people with the aim of undermining our democracy. Proscription is therefore an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt the full range of terrorist activities.

The group that we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, is Feuerkrieg Division, or FKD. This is the 25th order under section 3(3)(a) of that Act. FKD is a white supremacist group whose ideology stands in direct contrast to the core values of our United Kingdom. Its actions, which seek to divide communities, stir up hatred and glorify violence, are reminders of the darkest times in Europe. Proscribing this group will prevent its membership from growing and help to stop the spread of propaganda that allows a culture of hatred and division to thrive. It will also help to prevent FKD from radicalising people who may be vulnerable to extreme ideologies and at risk of emulating the terrorist acts that they glorify.

Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned with terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary will then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise this discretion. They 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 to outlaw a listed organisation and ensure that it 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 while making 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 reflecting consultation across Government, which includes the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-Government Proscription Review Group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process.

I commend the Minister for bringing this legislation to the House. It is very important to have it in place so that these groups are outlawed at a very early stage. He mentioned the police. Are there, and will there be, enough resources set aside for police forces to ensure that they can keep an eye on all the people who are involved in these activities?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot get into commenting on particular police operations in relation to this group or any other group that may be of interest in connection with terrorism activities. However, he will be aware of the investment we are putting into the police and the resources that we have made available to counter-terrorism policing more generally, as well as resources for tackling the rise of far-right extremism.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that FKD is currently concerned with terrorism and the discretionary powers weigh in favour of proscription. Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities. FKD is a white supremacist group founded in late 2018 that has an international footprint, with members across North America and Europe. The group celebrates the concepts promoted in a collection of essays that advocate the use of violence and mass murder in pursuit of an apocalyptic race war. While the bulk of FKD’s activity is online, members have engaged in distributing violent, racist and antisemitic propaganda. In mid-2019, the group reportedly called for the deaths of a European Parliament politician and YouTube’s chief executive officer.

FKD’s members have been arrested on terrorism charges both in the UK and overseas. In 2019, US authorities charged several individuals with a variety of offences, including weapons charges, plotting to bomb a synagogue and attack members of the LGBTQ community, plotting to bomb a major news network, and distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction. In September 2019, UK police apprehended a 16-year-old on suspicion of the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism. As a result, the group distributed among its members a list of police buildings and an image of the chief constable of West Midlands police with a gun to his head and the words “race traitor” across his eyes, urging members to carry out attacks in retaliation for the arrest of one of its followers. In October 2019, a 21-year-old appeared in court in London charged with terror offences relating to his purported support for FKD. He allegedly encouraged the mass murder of members of the Jewish and LGBTQ communities.

Our strategy to combat terrorism looks at the full spectrum of activity. This includes ensuring that groups who call for violence and mass murder, and who unlawfully glorify horrific terrorist acts, are prevented from continuing to stir up hatred and encouraging violence. It is therefore right that this House agrees to add FKD to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

I want first to make it clear that the Opposition’s overriding priority is, and always will be, to keep the public and the country safe, so we welcome this proscription order, which will provide clarity and direction in respect of this organisation and its members. It also sends a strong and unambiguous message that condoning or glorifying acts of terrorism will never be tolerated. That is a message with which we on the Labour Benches fully agree. We therefore support this motion, and, as with all Government proscription decisions, we will work constructively with the Government and carefully scrutinise it.

As has been outlined, Feuerkrieg Division—or FKD—is a white supremacist group that was formed in late 2018 with an international outreach, and members situated across north America and Europe. Its abhorrent, racist, antisemitic and violent messages were predominantly spread via online networks, where vulnerable and young individuals would be targeted on social media, but also physically, with the FKD disseminating its vile propaganda in person.

We know that the authorities in the UK and the United States have apprehended FKD members on terrorism charges, such as for planning heinous atrocities, including the targeted attacks against synagogues and members of the Jewish and LGBT communities, threatening senior UK police officers, and disseminating information about explosives and weapons of mass destruction. We must do everything we can to tackle such repulsive manifestations of extremism and terrorism, and we therefore believe that there is a powerful case to be made for FKD’s proscription today.

In her letter to the shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), the Home Secretary made it clear that the FKD had dissolved itself in February of this year. The task now, I put it to the Minister, must surely be to monitor and intercept any FKD activity operating through new aliases and alternative channels. This also leads me to wonder whether the timing of the proscription order the suggests in that perhaps the current processes are too slow and less effective in the contemporary context—one in which organisation names and affiliations are quickly disposed of and regenerated in the dark depths of the online sphere. We want and need these orders to have maximum impact, so we must know, first, that the processes are robust and agile and, secondly, that counter-terrorism police and their strategic partners have the right resources to deal with these challenges.

Today’s order also reflects the concerning fact that the menace of far-right extremism and terrorism, of which FKD is an expression, is growing at an alarming rate on UK streets and on those of other countries across the globe. It is welcome that the Government are taking this threat seriously, but, of course, there is much more work to be done. First and foremost, that includes having a coherent and comprehensive strategy in place to tackle far-right extremism, which I have called for, and indeed all other such manifestations, which the shadow Home Secretary has called for in relation to commissioning a judge-led inquiry on lone attacker terrorists. I urge the Government to take our proposals on this seriously and work constructively with us on them.

We must also see to it that other groups we know to be promoting violence and terrorism are dealt with in similarly robust fashion, and here I commend the work undertaken by HOPE not hate in its annual “State of Hate” report, which highlights so clearly the threat posed by groups on the far right. The organisation the Order of Nine Angles is a case in point. Disturbingly, it remains active today, using social media channels to inspire people to become terrorists and incite violence, often horrifically using sexual violence as a political tool. Will the Government undertake to look closely at such vile groups in the context of proscription, which is something that will, I suspect, be raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who have done incredible work to raise awareness of this growing threat?

There is also little doubt that covid-19 is being used globally by opportunists on the extreme far right to promote chaos, disorder and violence. We cannot let this crisis become another opportunity for those who seek to divide us, spread fear and promote violence. We need to know how the Government are responding to these defining issues and what their plan is for the future.

Our priority is to keep the public and our community safe. Today’s proscription order is welcome in relation to that most important of goals, and the official Opposition wholeheartedly support it.

I start by thanking the Minister for the advance discussions that we have had about this matter.

The Scottish National party abhors all forms of terrorism, and we consider it very important that this Parliament is alive to the risks posed by the far right and white supremacists. We must never forget that one of our own number was murdered by a far-right racist terrorist only four years ago, and I pay tribute to the memory of Jo Cox. The risks from these far-right groups persist. During the evidence session of the Committee on the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, on which I served, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorist Legislation, Jonathan Hall QC, stated that

“an increasing number of quite young people are being caught up in terrorism, including new forms of terrorism—not just conventional Islamist, extremist or right-wing terrorism, but other new emerging forms, such as the incel movement, or even things at the very boundaries of what you might consider to be terrorism that are very violent.”––[Official Report, Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill Public Bill Committee, 25 June 2020; c. 10, Q15.]

I think his warning was well made. The group that the Government seek to proscribe today seems to fall into the categories that Jonathan Hall warned us to be particularly alive to.

On the basis of what the Government have said, the SNP is satisfied that the statutory test for proscription is met, and that the Home Secretary in this instance is doing the right thing in the exercise of her discretion. The Government have our support on this matter.

I wholeheartedly welcome this order and endorse the comments made by my hon. Friends and from the SNP Benches. Across the House, one thing we all have in common is the view that these groups are utterly despicable and need the strongest action to be taken against them. The tactics, ideology, and methods that the Minister rightly outlined in relation to FKD are deeply disturbing, and are unfortunately shared by a range of other organisations. While this order is welcome, the description that the Minister gave of antisemitism, racism and encouragement of attacks on minority groups, our police and public figures, as well as the use of the online world to groom and radicalise individuals into these organisations, is an all-too-familiar tale. I looked at this issue in great detail during my time on the Home Affairs Committee, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), and other Members. We have also raised the matter in the House on a number of occasions, including in the past few weeks.

I urge the Minister to look carefully at groups that are using similar tactics or ideologies, or pose a similar clear and present danger to the citizens of this country, and indeed globally. I commend the remarks about the Order of Nine Angles. That group was rightly raised by HOPE not hate, which does incredible work on this issue. The Order of Nine Angles is a Nazi satanist group that is deeply antisemitic and advocates the use of sexual violence and murder. It was founded by an individual who spent 50 years in satanism and in organisations such as the British Movement, Column 88, Combat 18, and the National Socialist Movement. We must not forget the London nail bomber—we were discussing the anniversary of that tragic event that targeted the black community, the Muslim community and the LGBT community with terror, violence and murder on our streets. The London nail bomber was a member of the National Socialist Movement.

Such groups present a clear and present danger. HOPE not hate has identified how four people linked to that organisation in the past 12 months have been convicted, including individuals in this country and the United States, where a soldier was linked to providing classified information in order to be able to attack his own unit. Such groups also use the online world that the Minister spoke of in relation to FKD, using a disgusting channel, Rapewaffen, via the channel Telegram, to encourage disgusting sexual violence.

We saw a similar pattern with an organisation that has now been proscribed, and I raised that over many years with the Government, in private and public. The System Resistance Network and the Sonnenkrieg Division were effectively rebrands of National Action, which targeted a Member of this House with severe violence and threats of murder, for which individuals were convicted.

I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) about the length of time  that it is taking the Government to proscribe these organisations, even in the face of very clear, undisputed evidence about their activities. The system is simply moving too slowly. I know that the Minister has good intentions, and I know that many in the law enforcement community wish to see this move much more quickly. But when evidence has been presented by HOPE not hate about the Order of Nine Angles and individuals have been convicted, the Government need to act, and they are not doing so quickly enough at the moment.

The online world is a key factor in the way that these organisations groom, organise and spread their vile ideology. It is therefore deeply concerning to have heard in the last few weeks of potential further delays to the online harms Bill. The Government introduced the online harms White Paper, and there is much in it that many of us across the House agree with, particularly in relation to the use of online space by extremists in extreme right-wing organisations, Islamist organisations, organisations involved in terrorism in Northern Ireland and so on. However, the reality is that the voluntary approach has not worked in tackling such organisations online. Every week it is easy to find information relating to these extreme organisations and their ideology. They are not hiding—they are active in plain sight, encouraging people down a dark, despicable well of hatred and on to other platforms where there are direct encouragements to murder, rape and attack minority groups and public figures. Let us not forget that these people want to attack the institutions of our state. They want to attack the police, our armed forces, public figures and those in the justice system because they believe them to be traitors to their sick and twisted ideologies.

The Government must act on platforms such as Telegram, where many of these organisations are organising and sharing information. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon regularly uses Telegram, and these very extreme organisations use it as well. The Government simply have not acted. Channels in the gaming world are being used to recruit and encourage young men in particular. We have seen some disturbing examples of that in south Wales, where individuals have been interdicted. I have seen it in my own community, where an individual was recently convicted for involvement in the System Resistance Network and Sonnenkrieg Division. He spread vile Nazi graffiti around Cardiff South and Penarth, encouraging people to join their local Nazis, with some very advanced imagery being shared to recruit and radicalise individuals.

While I welcome the order, there is a clear case for proscribing a number of other organisations, including the Order of Nine Angles, for the Government to move much faster on this, and for tackling the way that these organisations operate online.

I welcome the banning of the FKD. Far-right terrorism is the fastest—growing terror threat in this country, and that is why Government action is very welcome. There is, however, an enforcement gap. For proscription measures to have the maximum possible impact, they cannot become an end in themselves. Banning an organisation should be the start of the enforcement process. When National Action was banned in 2016, not enough was done to track the activity of those involved in the National Action network. As recent events have shown, including the charging of a police officer, National Action still had a presence in this country after it was formally prohibited. Today’s ban must mark the beginning of new police efforts to track FKD members and their activities.

While this proposed ban is welcome, I firmly believe that another neo-Nazi organisation already mentioned more than once in the debate—the Order of Nine Angles —represents a greater threat to UK citizens. As parliamentary chair of HOPE not hate, an anti-fascist campaign group, I co-ordinated a letter from a group of cross-party MPs to the Home Secretary. We called for the organisation to be banned. HOPE not hate has provided a clear case for the proscription of the O9A. It is active today. Its members make use of largely unmonitored, encrypted social media platforms to incite hatred and inspire people to commit acts of terror.

The recent events in the US outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) show a clear case for the proscription of this organisation. Since we wrote to the Home Secretary in March, a United States soldier has been indicted for plotting with the O9A to murder members of his unit. In the past year, four people linked to the O9A have been convicted of terror offences in the UK. Using social media channels such as Telegram, it radicalises vulnerable people, promoting neo-Nazi, antisemitic, Satanist beliefs and glorifying unspeakable acts of terror. So I, along with many other Members across the House, am calling for the Government to ban the Order of Nine Angles. It belongs, along with other neo-Nazi groups such as National Action and now the FKD, on the list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

Groups like these operate in dark online spaces. Their names, aliases and affiliations can be changed at a moment’s notice. This makes tracking and monitoring their activities incredibly difficult. Will the Minister give me assurances that our police, intelligence and security services have the resources they need to continue to monitor organisations once they take their activities underground? Will he outline what steps his Department has taken, in partnership with social media platforms such as Telegram, to break up these online networks? The proscription of the FKD comes four months after it dissolved itself in February this year. On that basis, may I ask what recent assessment the Government have made of the performance of the proscription review group and the current proscription process?

I urge the Government to follow through with action by targeting other far right extremists. The Order of Nine Angles is active today, and we must act now to stop its members conspiring to commit acts of terror and to protect our communities.

I start by welcoming the overall support for this measure from the Opposition Benches and in particular the constructive tone struck by the Labour and SNP spokespeople in responding to my speech. In terms of the process, I hear what the shadow Security Minister says. He will appreciate that, in a democracy, criminalising joining an organisation should be something that we do only when there is significant evidence and intelligence that it has gone beyond holding views that we would all disagree with or dislike and into an area of extremism, violence and inciting hatred. I can assure him that the process to deal with aliases is more truncated, in allowing the Home Secretary to deal with that via a negative instrument rather than the full process of proscription. Again, we welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support.

The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) hit the nail on the head when she said that this was a growing threat. We see what is happening online, and those of us who were elected alongside her in 2015 in particular will remember the contributions of the former hon. Member for Batley and Spen. We will always remember her message that we have more in common than the values of the person who took her life away.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), a fellow Royal College of Defence Studies alumnus, gave a typically powerful performance. I welcome his overall comments, but I hope he will appreciate that it is inappropriate for me, at the Dispatch Box, to go into any considerations we are making of other groups or the nature of the intelligence involved. We recognise that the methods these groups are using are changing. They are adapting online and using different types of platforms, particularly moving away from some of the larger ones and on to the smaller ones. I can reassure him that we plan to publish a full Government response to the online harms White Paper and to bring in online harms legislation in this Session of Parliament.

I very much appreciated the speech from the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), and the work that she is doing to tackle these issues. Again, it would not be right for me to comment on what the police and intelligence agencies may or may not be doing in relation to particular groups or investigations, but we are conscious of these matters. We have the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill going through, and other ongoing work. I would just caution her that, although the FKD claimed on one of its social media feeds to have dissolved, the Home Secretary is satisfied, on the basis of the intelligence, that an active group is still engaged in terrorism and that it meets the statutory test. I am loth to take the group’s own proclamation that it has dissolved as the final word on these things. As I say, I cannot go into the intelligence behind the decision, but we are satisfied that it meets the statutory test of being active, and that proscription was therefore essential.

As has rightly been pointed out, proscription is just part of the process and, sadly, does not in itself eliminate these types of group and their activities. It is important that we, the police and the intelligence agencies—and the courts, when people come before them—work to ensure that appropriate action is taken, and that the cases are considered fairly under a type of justice that, sadly, they do not believe in themselves. We, as a values-based democracy, must ensure that they receive a fair trial.

I welcome the overall support that has been expressed and the constructive nature of the debate. I thank Members for their support.

Question put and agreed to.