With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement regarding the UK terrorism threat level. The UK faces a serious and enduring threat from terrorism. Recent events in France and Vienna have provided a stark and brutal reminder of the risks that we face and the continuing need to be resolute in the face of those who would wish to sow division and hatred. This Government are committed to tackling terrorism in all its forms and to supporting our friends, partners and allies against those who would do us harm. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of France and Austria at this time of hurt and pain. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and all those who mourn the loss of loved ones. We have made formal offers of support to their Governments and underlined our shared resolve to stand together in solidarity against the extremists who despise our liberal values and our very way of life.
Since March 2017, UK police and security services have foiled 27 plots, including eight motivated by right-wing ideologies. The threat level system is designed to give a broad indication of the likelihood of a terrorist attack. It is a tool used by security practitioners working across different sectors and used by the police to determine the level of their overall protective security activity. It is also an important way of keeping the public informed about the threat from terrorism and to providing the context to understand why security measures are in place.
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, JTAC, is responsible for setting the threat level to the UK from terrorism. JTAC operates independently of Ministers and keeps the threat level under constant review. It is based on the latest intelligence from our world-leading intelligence agencies and from our allies around the globe and considers factors including capability, intent and timescale. JTAC took the decision on Tuesday to change the UK threat level from international terrorism from “substantial”, meaning an attack is likely, to “severe”, meaning an attack is highly likely. JTAC keeps the threat level under review based on the very latest intelligence and taking into account international events. The recent terrorist attacks in France and Monday night’s attack in Vienna suggest that the temperature of the threat in Europe is rising.
I should stress that this change in the threat level is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat. However, there is a risk that the recent attacks in France and Austria could have a galvanising effect in other parts of Europe, including the UK, and the change of threat level is therefore seen as prudent. We know that these incidents can be exploited by those who want to further their own cause, especially on online platforms. I am pleased to note that communities from across the UK stand together in uniformly condemning the attacks in Vienna and France. In particular, they stress that places of worship should never be targets for violence, and that religion should not be used to justify murder.
The national terrorism threat level takes account of the threat from all forms of terrorism, including—but not only—Islamist and right-wing terrorism and Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Great Britain. A separate threat level for Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland is set by the Security Service, MI5, and remains at “severe”. When JTAC’s assessment of the threat changes, it is important that it is communicated as quickly as possible to ensure that those who rely on it to inform their decision making and planning can do so.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has confirmed that the police have activated their established planning mechanisms following the change in threat level, and the public will see additional police officers deployed to certain places over the coming days. Our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, sets out how the Government will confront all forms of terrorism. It aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its citizens and interests overseas from terrorism, so that our people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. Already, the Government have taken steps to ensure that Counter-Terrorism Policing and the Security Service have the necessary tools and powers to keep us all safe from the threat from terrorism.
In response to the horrific Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham attacks, the Government acted swiftly by passing emergency legislation, the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, to end the automatic release of terrorist and terrorism-connected offenders. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill is currently being debated by Parliament. It will improve protections for the public by strengthening every stage in the process of dealing with terrorist offenders. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the police, security and emergency services, who show such resilience, courage and professionalism when responding to terrorist incidents, both in the immediate aftermath and in the investigations that follow. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, and we should never forget their service in keeping us all safe. Their skill and dedication are why we constantly invest in our security and intelligence agencies, to help ensure that they have the resources they need to deal with the threats we face.
We also continue to challenge ourselves as to what more we should do. The public inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack is currently taking evidence. I know that this is a difficult and painful time for many people. The inquiry is rightly examining the events of that terrible night so that those who survived and those who lost loved ones can get the answers they need, and so that we learn and apply the lessons, whatever they may be.
Finally, at this time, I urge the public to remain vigilant. We should be alert but not alarmed, and any suspicious or concerning behaviour should be reported to the police. Those responsible for these attacks want to change our very way of life. Our clear message to them is that our values, our freedoms and our principles are what make us strong, and that they will never succeed. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for early and advance sight of his statement. I know that the Home Secretary also spoke to the Leader of the Opposition this week. It is important that the House and, indeed, the country know that there is unity of purpose between the Government and the Opposition on these matters.
I start by extending our heartfelt sympathy to the victims of the recent attacks in France and Austria. Our hearts go out to the family of Samuel Paty and to those who lost loved ones, killed in the most horrific and senseless way, in Vienna and Nice. I am sure that many Members will join me in sending solidarity and support to our friends and allies, the citizens of France and Austria, who have experienced this assault on their values, their freedoms and their way of life.
I have been clear from this Dispatch Box that we on the Opposition Benches consider it our first responsibility to keep this country, its people and our communities safe. We will be forceful, fair and robust in supporting the fight against terrorism and crime in all its forms. We therefore wholeheartedly support the decision of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre that the terror threat be raised from substantial to severe, and we share the Government’s view that this decision should not cause undue alarm. It is a precautionary move, but it demonstrates the importance of us all remaining vigilant, building up our current capabilities and closely monitoring existing threats. We are deeply grateful for the work of JTAC alongside our security services and Counter Terror Policing, who continue to carry out vital work to keep us safe.
I would, however, like to ask the Security Minister a few questions. First, what is the Government’s strategy for enacting and reinforcing these heightened measures? Will the Minister outline to the House how regularly JTAC reviews the terror threat level, or is it on an ad hoc basis? We welcome the proactive response from the head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, whose work and team I pay tribute to. He said that the police had “activated …established planning mechanisms”, increased “levels of visible patrols” and implemented wider security and protection measures. Will the Minister inform the House what additional resources have been made available to counter-terror police, the UK intelligence services, UK law enforcement and their operational partners to keep the public safe, in line with the heightened measures? Public communication will also be vital to the efficacy of these changes, and at a time when public health messaging has been uniquely bombarded and we are asking a lot of the public in terms of interpreting and co-operating with it, how can the Government ensure that they are successfully promoting a strong, clear and consistent message on public safety in this regard? What routes are available to the public for reporting suspicious activity?
Can the Minister confirm to the House the status of the independent review of the Prevent strategy? We feel that this is long overdue and it has a vital role to play as part of the holistic, preventive approach to tackling terrorism. Will the Government provide additional border and port checks in Great Britain as part of the measures? Does the Minister continue to be satisfied that a separate assessment for Northern Ireland continues?
We have faced our own challenges in this country, as the ongoing inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack demonstrates only too well. The citizens of France and Austria are enduring this pain now. We know that we can never let terror or extremism, whether from Islamism or the far right, divide or undermine our core values or diminish our way of life. It must always be met with a robust and decisive response. Keeping the public safe is our shared priority. We support today’s decision and urge the British people to remain vigilant and, as ever, steadfast.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support and that of the Opposition. As he highlighted, the Home Secretary spoke to the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, I also spoke to leaders in the devolved Administrations to ensure that there was good communication and co-ordination across the whole United Kingdom, recognising that this threat level speaks to all the UK.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the role of JTAC. I can say to him that JTAC keeps the threat level under constant review, so it is a question always of assessing not only the intelligence and information that is available, but the context, which is why, as I indicated, the international perspective is also so important when analysing this.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the public communication. I underline that the counter-terrorism policing network effectively sent a communication around the entirety of the network so that policing in all parts of the UK had consistent messaging. There are established processes and procedures that apply to ensure that we step up visibility in public places, thinking about how to provide support to places that may have areas of vulnerability, crowded places and all those sorts of themes. Therefore, this is part and parcel of the standard approach that is reflected in the resources we provide to our intelligence and Counter Terrorism Policing.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Prevent strategy. We are in the final stages of the recruitment of the independent reviewer, and there is a real opportunity to examine those elements of our work and see what further steps we need to take. As I have indicated to the House already this afternoon, we will continue to challenge ourselves on what additional measures may be appropriate.
In terms of Northern Ireland, we judge that a separate assessment is appropriate. It is a separate process that operates, and the Security Service is involved in that step, looking at the threat, sadly, from dissident republican terrorism in Northern Ireland. That threat very much endures. We remain vigilant and robust in meeting the challenges there, in co-ordination with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as well as other agencies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We stand united against those who would seek to divide us. National security and the safety of our citizens remain the utmost priority for this Government.
I welcome the fact that the Government have chosen to make this statement. The attack plans of lone terrorists are obviously the hardest to anticipate, yet their behaviour often sends signals to those in their immediate circle. What advice does my right hon. Friend have for people who see worrying signs that someone they know is developing an extremist outlook?
My right hon. Friend makes a really important point about the nature of the threat that we face from self-motivated individuals, but they are not isolated and they are not alone; they sit within communities and within families. They have connections with different agencies. That is why we introduced the Prevent duty on statutory agencies, but if people have concerns, they should report them in confidence to the police. The counter-terrorism hotline is 0800 789 321. There are additional resources online at gov.uk and also the Action Counters Terrorism—or ACT—app. That can be downloaded and provides further information and ways to report.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This is a prudent move, and the United Kingdom Government have the full support of the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government in the fight to keep all our communities safe from terrorism. I take this opportunity to express condolences on behalf of my party to those bereaved or injured in the recent terrorist atrocities in Vienna and across France, and to express our solidarity with the people of Austria and France. I pay tribute to those who risk their lives to keep us safe. The funeral of Sergeant Matt Ratana yesterday was a sad reminder of the high price they pay for our safety. I salute his courage and his service, and extend the sincerest condolences of my party to his family and friends.
Will the Minister tell us what work is being carried out with local communities and faith groups to ensure a co-ordinated response as the threat level is increased? What support and assistance are being offered to minority groups in need of additional reassurance? He will be aware that in Scotland, the delivery of the Prevent strategy is devolved and has worked well to foster strong relations between communities and the police. Will he consider looking at the success of Scotland’s approach and seeing what lessons can be learned for the rest of the United Kingdom?
Finally, it is the remit of the Home Office to ensure that all our communities are kept safe and secure. In mid-September, counter-terrorism police warned the Home Secretary that it was suspected that a far-right extremist had attempted to carry out a terrorist attack at a solicitors firm in London, yet in early October she and the Prime Minister went on to intensify their anti-lawyer rhetoric. Will the Minister acknowledge that there is a responsibility on politicians and other public figures to avoid saying anything that could inflame tensions or put people at risk?
I welcome the support that the hon. and learned Lady gives to the steps that JTAC has taken, and I underline to her the contact that I had shortly afterwards with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to again emphasise that co-ordinated approach across the United Kingdom. The hon. and learned Lady rightly highlights those who put their very lives on the line for us, and the funeral of Matt Ratana, as she highlights, underlines that so clearly. I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with his friends, his loved ones and his colleagues today.
The hon. and learned Lady highlights the issue of communities. The counter-terrorism network clearly works across the UK to provide support, contact and advice to faith communities and other places of vulnerability in order to ensure that appropriate measures can be put in place. The places of worship scheme, which was established by the Home Office, has awarded 183 grants in England and Wales. I also highlight the broader work that we co-ordinate with the Scottish Government to ensure that we can work and learn together, recognising, as Neil Basu said, that it is communities standing together that defeats terrorism.
In relation to the hon. and learned Lady’s last point, let me say very gently that this case is pre-trial and it would not be appropriate to provide any further comment that might have an impact on legal proceedings.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making it clear that Islamist terrorists are a threat not just to our physical security, but to all that we stand for. They are of a separatist tendency, intolerant, violent and against our very way of life. Does he agree that all of us, in this House and beyond, have a duty to constantly re-emphasise our belief in democracy, a secular rule of law, freedom of the individual, religious tolerance, and equality between men and women? Do we not have a further duty to make it very clear that what we believe in is not just different from the Islamists—that what we believe in is better?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for expressing that view. It is our liberal democracy, values and principles—who we are—that these terrorists want to attack and change. We will not allow them to do so, because it is the very essence of our country, our values and our democracy that makes us strong; by being vigilant and robust in our defence of those values, we will ensure that these people never, ever succeed.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I also thank the police, and security and intelligence agencies, for the work that they continue to do to defend our values and keep us safe. I join the Minister in thinking of those who have been affected by the terrible attacks in France and Austria. We stand firm with our friends and neighbours against these violent extremists and terrorists.
Given how important it is for us to be able to work closely with our neighbours against terrorism and extremism, will the Minister update the House on the progress with establishing a new security agreement for the end of the transition process? In particular, can he confirm that the Government expect to have strong arrangements in place on information sharing, access to crucial databases, work with Europol and arrest warrants in time for 1 January, and that not to do so would make it much harder for the police and security agencies, who work so hard to keep us safe?
As the right hon. Lady will appreciate, the negotiations with our EU partners are at a sensitive point. We continue to focus firmly on security issues, but I remain positive that we will find a way through, recognising the important message that we are stronger by working together and that it is that co-ordination and co-operation that assists us all. As we look to a future beyond the end of the transition period, the focus on national security—ensuring that we are a safe nation and a safe place to be—will remain. As the negotiations continue in these crucial days, I hope that we will achieve a positive outcome that reflects the interests of us all in defending our values and our citizens.
May I put on record my gratitude, and the gratitude of my constituents and the Community Security Trust, for the decision by the Metropolitan police to provide additional patrols in the Hendon constituency following the Vienna attack? Is the Minister aware that some parts of the media erroneously reported that the attack in Vienna was at a synagogue, and that this produced an increase in the amount of online incitement from jihadists and far-right extremists? If the threat level has been changed as a result of a heightened threat to the Jewish community, can the Minister provide reassurances that sufficient police resources will be provided to meet that threat?
My hon. Friend is clearly aware of the reassurance approach that Counter Terrorism Policing has taken. That has led to increased patrols and discussion with the Counter Terrorism Policing network and the Community Security Trust, to provide that reassurance, and ensure that action is well co-ordinated. As my hon. Friend will know, the Jewish community protective security grant has been provided for protective security measures at community sites, including a number of synagogues. We keep this issue under review, recognising that important essence of support so that all communities can practise their faith, and those are precisely values that we as a country seek to uphold.
I, too, wish to extend my thoughts and prayers to the families, and to all those who have been bereaved or injured by these horrendous, horrible and evil attacks. The Vienna authorities have indicated that they failed to act on some of the advice they were given, and I hope that such a criticism could never be made of our British authorities and the good work they do. The jihadist and Islamist terror threat, and the Irish terror threat, are well known and well voiced, and this adds weight to calls to have the Muslim Brotherhood proscribed in this country. Will the Minister take this opportunity to commend the work of the National Crime Agency? It has a magnificent approach to its work across all the United Kingdom, and it works closely with our authorities in Northern Ireland. Is there any effort to extend that organisation’s footprint in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the excellent work done by the National Crime Agency. Earlier this year I was able to travel to Northern Ireland and see the actions of the NCA, and meet some of the officers who are doing sterling work in Belfast and across the whole of Northern Ireland. It is important to continue to support that, and I underline the connections between the National Crime Agency and Counter Terrorism Policing. If any links or intelligence straddle organised crime and terrorism, those should be picked up, and we must ensure that that strong co-ordination has the effect on our security and safety that we all wish to see.
All of us owe a daily debt to the security services, the Foreign Office and the police for all that they do to keep us safe, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost friends and loved ones in the recent devastating attacks. I appreciate the supportive tone of those on the Opposition Front Bench, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that just a few weeks ago, when the House was asked to give our security services the support they need in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, those on the Opposition Front Bench sat on their hands and refused to stand by our security services?
Parties across the House need to reflect on the messages they give, and Conservative Members stand four-square behind our police and security agencies. That is why we judge that the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill is important to safeguard capabilities and ensure that terrorist plots can be disrupted, and our security services can certainly rely on our support, and on continued support in the future.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of this statement. He is well regarded across the House because he takes his duties seriously, and he generally goes about his business in a thoughtful and non-partisan way that prioritises keeping us all safe. I think we should place that on the record, whatever other disagreements we may occasionally have. With that in mind, is he aware of the comments of former EU security commissioner, Julian King, who said that a Brexit deal would still provide useful access to intelligence and security co-operation across the European Union, but that a no-deal Brexit would mean cutting ourselves off from that? Given his approach in other areas, what is the Minister doing to ensure that we have the best possible access to security and intelligence sharing post 31 December?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and yes, I do take these issues incredibly seriously, as he well knows from the discussions on these topics that we have had over many years. Clearly, negotiations are going on with our EU partners, but if they do not conclude successfully, we will move back to pre-existing tools and powers. I would say to him that the emphasis on security and protecting our citizens is the utmost element of all that we do and therefore so is ensuring that, whatever the outcome, we keep our citizens and our country safe.
The current, floundering Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has threatened to cut the Metropolitan police budget by £110 million. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be grossly irresponsible and leave us at greater threat of terrorism?
I am concerned by what my hon. Friend has said. In January, the Home Secretary announced a £90 million increase in funding for counter-terrorism policing, taking the total for this year to £906 million, the highest ever. Clearly, that sits within the footprint of other policing activity, and I would say to those in authority to think carefully about the decisions they take and how they then relate to the security that we all feel.
The UK Government fund community groups to work against extremism. Were the budgets for those groups cut this year? If so, is the Minister concerned that any reduced funding at a time of increased threat could hinder efforts to help communities fight the battle against extremism?
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that clearly we have supported communities. We have supported funding for places of worship and those who may be effective. We have our Prevent strategy, which absolutely is about engaging and ensuring that communities can come forward, and that we do all work together. That remains part of our strategy, keeping us all safe.
Colleagues across the House have talked rightly about defending our liberal values, but it is first and foremost our people we must defend—the first duty of any Government. Can my right hon. Friend elaborate to the House on what powers and tools he is giving to our police forces, including my own force, Thames Valley police, to keep us safe from this emerging and evolving terrorist threat?
As I have indicated, the Government will do all that is necessary to ensure that Counter Terrorism, Policing and the security services have the necessary tools. We have acted swiftly in seeing the end of automatic release for terror-connected offenders, and the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill will strengthen things further, ensuring that serious and dangerous terrorism offenders will spend longer in custody and strengthening the regime on terrorism prevention and investigation measures. We stand reflective, and the Home Secretary and I have asked officials to review with partners existing and proposed powers in the light of the horrific attacks in France and Austria to consider what more, if anything, might be needed.
The likes of me were saddened and sickened by the horrific terrorist atrocities perpetrated recently in Paris, Nice and Vienna. While expressing condolences, I would like to convey my solidarity with the good people of France and Austria in the battle against extremist ideology. While our brave counter-terrorism police and security services have already thwarted several terrorist plots here in the UK, and I thank and commend them for helping to keep us all safe, the Security Minister will appreciate that our constituents will be extremely concerned by the heightened terror threat right here in the UK. Will he outline what lessons have been learned for the counter-terrorist strategy in our country from what has happened on the continent?
Clearly, there is a broader network of information sharing, intelligence sharing and working with partners—our Five Eyes group, as well as our European partners. Therefore those exchanges, that work and that sharing of good practice and ideas are very firmly in place, and our Contest counter-terrorism strategy has informed the thinking of others. We remain vigilant. We remain reflective and open-minded in terms of how we can strengthen our tools and powers and strengthen our approach, and it is through that co-ordination and co-operation that we can do so.
I very much welcome the Minister’s statement. He has outlined the number of incidents that have been foiled by our excellent intelligence and police services. Can he clarify the number of people currently considered potentially to be violent Daesh or far-right-inspired extremists in the United Kingdom, and has that number gone down or up over the past 12 months?
I commend the work of my hon. Friend in challenging so much of these issues around extremism, and indeed the work that he has done on the issue of faith in such a positive way. He will understand that I will not get drawn into matters of intelligence, but the head of MI5 has said that there are several thousand subjects of interest that are monitored and assessed. We are very vigilant against the threats and challenges that are there. Therefore, through our approach on the threat level and our approaches through the Contest counter-terrorism strategy, we challenge ourselves to do all that we possibly can. Equally, this Government will support our counter-terrorism policing and the Security Service in that endeavour in keeping us safe.
Those detained under terrorism legislation are entitled to legal representation. Many, after all, are released without charge, or indeed even stain on their character. Northern Ireland has previously seen attacks on lawyers doing such work, as the deaths of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson testify to. Will the Minister ensure that legal representatives are not besmirched or undermined, and that their necessary and appropriate role in due process and the rule of law is respected?
This Government stand behind the rule of law. It is part of the essence of who we are as a country. That obviously does necessitate, require and oblige fair representation. I say to the hon. Gentleman in very strong terms that I condemn and take strong issue with those terrorists who would seek to undermine our very values. That is why I made the comments in the statement about seeing that as a Government, as a House and as a country we stand up for our values and stand against those who would wish to destroy them.
Having devised, implemented and managed effective and successful Prevent programmes at home and overseas, I know that the best way to prevent terrorist atrocities from taking place is to stop people being drawn into terrorism in the first place. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of the Prevent review, and does he agree that we must make this programme more effective?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he has done and the powerful and important point that he makes—that we need to do all we can to prevent people from becoming engaged in terrorism and moving down a pathway that takes them further and further into it. We launched a full and open competition to appoint the next independent reviewer of Prevent, and the successful candidate will be announced as soon as possible. I want to get on with this. There is some very good practice within Prevent, but equally we need to challenge ourselves as to how we can improve that—what more we can do—and that is what I am committed to doing.
Coming from Manchester, I can say that we stand in absolute solidarity with the people of Paris, Nice and Vienna. National security and protecting the population is one of the most important duties of Government. Indeed, it is something that this House should always take seriously. I thank and support the police, security and intelligence services in the difficult job that they do to keep us safe from vile acts of terrorism. Given the upcoming comprehensive spending review, can the Minister tell the House what level of resources our Counter Terror Policing has requested and whether that funding will be forthcoming?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman takes me down that route, but the spending review is obviously ongoing. We do take these issues of national security incredibly seriously, and announcements in relation to the spending review and allocations to Departments will be made in due course.
South Kensington in my constituency is the heart of the French community in the UK. Given the recent terrorist atrocities in France, can my right hon. Friend assure me that we are doing everything to protect French sites in the capital?
I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend. It is a point of discussion that I have had with Counter Terrorism Policing, and I know how seriously it takes this in looking at sites and providing support to the community. It is the richness of our community that I think makes our capital city and our country so special, and why we give that sense of reassurance to everyone here and stand against those who despise that and would wish to destroy it.
I know that the Muslim community in Swansea will be appalled by and condemn the awful terrorist attacks in France and Austria and stand in solidarity with the victims. Islam, after all, is the Arabic word for peace. Does the Minister agree that we need to ensure all our communities stand together side by side to identify and to root out terrorism, whether it is based in a perversion of mainstream religion or in right-wing violence, and that all our communities deserve the protection the state must apply in that process?
I do. The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the peaceful religion of Islam, and the twisted perversion that terrorists seek to apply to it to advance their twisted cause. I think it is important to underline that message of standing together shoulder to shoulder with all our communities against those who would wish to create division, hatred and extremism. That is not what our country is all about, and it is why, as a community and as people, we stand against those who would use those sorts of terrorist tactics, which are in complete opposition to who we are.
The UK’s terrorism threat level has just been raised to severe, and from today the Government are once again telling people to stay at home because of the risk caused by the virus, with Remembrance Sunday services cancelled up and down the country, yet tonight thousands of people will be protesting in London, which is a complete slap in the face to my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland. Can the Minister confirm that, in the light of these things, today’s protest should not be going ahead, and will he encourage the police to enforce the law, protect the public and disperse the protest?
In response to my hon. Friend, I think I would make the point that the right to peaceful protest is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, but in these unprecedented times any gathering risks spreading the disease, leading to more deaths, so it is vital that we all play our part in controlling the virus. People must follow the rules on meeting others, which apply to all gatherings and therefore to protests, too. As they have done throughout the pandemic, the police and local authorities will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules before moving on to enforcing the law.
Having recently joined the Intelligence and Security Committee and as a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I have huge respect for the vital work of our police and security services in keeping our citizens safe and protecting our values. However, it is strongly suspected that covid lockdowns have increased the conditions in which largely unknown lone individuals are radicalised online by terror groups, including those of the far right. Can the Minister say what he is doing to review the adequacy of the powers to monitor and take action on potentially dangerous individuals?
The hon. Lady sits on the ISC, and I commend the Committee and the comments of its Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), earlier in relation to these really important issues. The hon. Lady is right to highlight how the increased use of the internet as a result of covid-19 has brought into focus the need for us to remain vigilant of terrorists seeking to exploit the situation. We are working closely with tech companies to ensure that preventing terrorists’ use of their platforms continues to be a priority and that companies are responding quickly to any emerging threats. We need to focus on the issue of end-to-end encryption, which intentionally blinds tech companies’ access to content and would have a disastrous impact on public safety. That is why we ask them to find solutions that put the public’s safety first, and they must not turn a blind eye to this problem.
I thank the Minister for what he has said. Last weekend, the papers in Northern Ireland reported that dissident republicans had a very large bomb, and intelligence agencies indicated that they were trying to find it. For our police to effectively prevent and respond to terrorist attacks, they need to have all the funding and resources required. Can he confirm that the £90 million funding boost that this Government delivered for our counter-terrorism police this year ensures that our regional forces have the capabilities to mount a swift and effective response to any terrorist attack and that additional funding is making its way to Northern Ireland as we deal with our additional threats of the home-grown variety—dissident republicans?
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know of my focus on issues of Northern Ireland’s security, given the incredible and positive time that I had experiencing the wonderful people of Northern Ireland. We remain very conscious and vigilant of the threat. As he will understand, I will not comment on issues of intelligence, but I can assure him that we take a co-ordinated and resolute approach, which plays into the consideration of funding, to ensure that all parts of our United Kingdom are safe and secure.
The terrorist threat to this country does not only come from isolated individuals but from some hostile states as well. Can my right hon. Friend outline the powers that this Government have given our police forces and security services to ensure that they are able to combat those threats as well?
I appreciate the powerful point that my hon. Friend makes about the threats to this country. We stand resolute and vigilant against the threat from hostile states. We are actively considering further measures in this space. There is a commitment in the Queen’s Speech on further legislation to counter hostile state activity, and I will update the House further in due course in that regard.
The Minister will be all too aware that many individuals start their path to extremism and radicalisation on the internet. With our lives moving online even more this year due to the pandemic, does he agree that it is even more crucial to move forward with legislation such as the much delayed online harms Bill and that there can be no excuses for further stalling?
I have already outlined the emphasis that we give to the online space, which we will not allow to be in any way a place where those who wish to foment terrorism or extremism are able to thrive. That is why we are working with online companies and have established the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, which does takedown work. The response to the online harms White Paper will be published shortly, with legislation to follow thereafter.
The recent terrorist attacks across Europe are deeply concerning, and I want to thank the emergency services and multiple agencies in Carshalton and Wallington for their joined-up approach to preparations for major incidents. Can the Minister assure me that this multi-agency approach is being taken across the United Kingdom and that all these services have the powers and resources they need to deal with developing threats?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words of support to our emergency services for the incredible job that they do. As I have indicated, we have strengthened the powers, we keep this under review, and we have provided additional resources. But I underline that national security and keeping our citizens safe is the priority of this Government, and we will do all we can to see that that continues.
My thoughts are with those who recently lost their lives and were injured in the horrific attacks in France and Austria. We must not let recent events and the increased terror threat level correspond with increases in racism and hate crimes against our Muslim communities by the far right. Will the Minister outline the conversations that he may have had with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about the actions that the Government intend to take to stop that happening?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful and important point about supporting all communities. The issue of right-wing terrorism is firmly on my mind. We have taken action on proscribing various groups. We keep that under careful and steady review.
As I indicated, since March 2017, the police have disrupted eight right-wing terrorist plots. It is concerning to see the ages of some of those involved, but we work closely with our colleagues across Government to take action and to provide assurance to all communities that hatred and division are firmly responded to and that we act together as a collective community.
The attacks in Paris, Nice and Vienna are attacks on all of us that cut to the heart of our values. We all stand in solidarity with the people of France and Austria. To tackle the constantly evolving threat, it is vital that we give our security services the tools that they need and that we learn the lessons of past attacks. With that in mind, will the Minister urgently introduce legislation when the Manchester bombing inquiry reports on its findings?
As I have already indicated, we will continue to challenge ourselves as to what more we need to do. As we speak, the Manchester inquiry is rightly asking searching questions and taking evidence clearly. As I said, I know that this is a very difficult and painful time for many people. We want to see that inquiry conclude and to reflect on its recommendations. It is important to state that we have already taken a number of steps, but if there is more learning that we need to take or apply, we will do so.
The Minister knows that, despite our political differences, I have a great deal of respect for him, so I am sure it was only an oversight that he did not reply to part of the question of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). She reminded us that we all have a responsibility to remember that if we allow the language of hatred and intolerance to become acceptable in our lives, actions of hatred and intolerance will follow.
Last night, for example, election observers from the internationally respected Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe went as far as to accuse the man who claims to be the leader of the free world of deliberate attempts to weaken confidence in the election process. I give the Minister another chance to follow the example of his colleague the Justice Secretary earlier this week in committing to being mindful of the language that he uses and urging all his Cabinet colleagues to do the same.
As the hon. Gentleman said, we have had a number of discussions on many different fronts over the years. I stand for the rule of law and for our upholding it to ensure that we reflect on seeing it as a core part of our values as a country. Therefore, we stand shoulder to shoulder against those who would seek to create terrorism, whether against lawyers or parts of our community. Terrorism and hatred have no place in our society and the Government will always stand against them.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware that many of the attacks across Europe have been religiously motivated. Sadly, our places of worship across England and across the UK are currently closed for collective worship, but available for private worship. In particular, Hindu new year is in two weeks’ time. Can he confirm what arrangements have been made to make sure that people who attend places of religious worship for private prayer can do so safely and securely and that places of worship will be thoroughly protected during the lockdown?
If it is helpful to my hon. Friend, I can reassure him that Counter Terrorism Policing has asked all forces to review all events over the next 14 days to ensure that appropriate advice and security arrangements are put in place. As we have a heightened threat level, it is important that we reflect on forthcoming events and where communities may be celebrating or marking particular events in the religious calendar. I underline that and recognise that, yes, of course, at this time when communal acts of worship are not permitted, notwithstanding that there will be individual acts of worship, places themselves may be potential challenges, which is why the police are taking that co-ordinated approach in offering reassurance and advice for the good reasons that he highlights.
I thank both the Minister for his statement and the security services for the work that they do, day in, day out, to keep us safe. We know that many perpetrators of terrorism are isolated and vulnerable individuals and so taking a safeguarding approach is really important. May I ask him what terms of reference will be in the Prevent review to ensure that a safeguarding approach is taken?
When I was last in this role a number of years ago, that element of safeguarding was how I very firmly articulated our work in relation to Prevent, to deal with some vulnerable individuals who may be isolated and who may face a whole host of different factors. For many of them, it is about ensuring that we have the right preventive measures and the right support measures in place, which is why so many different agencies are involved.
We are in the final stages of appointing the independent reviewer, and the terms of reference will be discussed with that individual. That will enable the review to move forward and, I hope, ensure that we have the right learning and the right lessons that we can apply so that we take action not only to prevent, but to safeguard.
As my right hon. Friend will know, the threat that we face from terrorism is ever evolving. Will he tell the House what technology and data tools have been made available to our security services so that they can stop these attacks before they occur? What monitoring and disruption weapons are in the armoury that he can give to our very, very important security services?
I recognise the leadership and the interest that my hon. Friend has shown in science and technology over so many years and I commend him for everything that he does. I hope he will understand that I will not be drawn down a route of opening up techniques and tactics and the way in which our intelligence and security agencies operate, but I can say that we keep these issues under very careful review. We are blessed with world-leading intelligence agencies which invest very firmly in ensuring that they have the right capabilities to meet the challenges of an ever more data-driven age, and they will continue to do so.