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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 13 July 2021

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021, which was laid before this House on 12 July, be approved.

This motion would ordinarily have been moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who sadly had to step down from his role as Security Minister a few days ago to assist in his recovery from serious illness. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending him our best wishes for a very speedy recovery.

This Government are committed to taking all necessary steps to protect the people of this country. Tackling terrorism, in all its forms, is a crucial part of that mission. This Government’s concerns regarding extreme right-wing terrorism are well documented.

I reassure the Minister and the Government that my party fully supports the motion, but does he not agree that we must send an appropriate message that those on the extremes, whether on the left or the so-called right, must understand that the huge majority of this UK abhor what they do and will not tolerate it, and that there will be continual proscription of cells such as the one in today’s motion? We should call them out for what they are: despicable terrorist cells.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This House, and the whole country, is united in our disgust for terrorism of all kinds. It is right that we call out these organisations, whatever colour they claim to have, and that we are united in our total condemnation of terrorist acts wherever they may occur.

The use of hateful ideologies to prey on young and vulnerable people is abhorrent and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to crack down. Terrorist groups can now recruit, radicalise and train individuals from a distance, distributing terrorist material at the click of a button. The use of the internet for these purposes has had a huge impact on the threat and on the way we respond to it.

There are 77 terrorist organisations currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Four are far-right groups; the majority are Islamist groups. Thanks to the dedication, courage and skill of counter-terrorism police and our security and intelligence services, most of those groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. I pay tribute to our security services for the work that they have done.

Proscription is a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations; I will explain shortly the impact that it can have. The group that we propose to add to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations by amending schedule 2 to the 2000 Act is called The Base; it is a predominantly US-based militant white supremacist group whose activities include seeking to train members with weapons and explosives.

The proscription power arises under section 3 of the 2000 Act. Under that section, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned in terrorism. Where that statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion.

The effect of proscription is to outlaw the listed organisation, ensuring that it cannot operate in the UK. It is designed to degrade a group’s ability to operate by enabling prosecution for various related offences, allowing the removal of online material, underpinning immigration-related measures such as excluding group members from the UK, and making it possible to seize cash associated with the organisation. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or meet a proscribed organisation, and a criminal offence to wear clothing or articles that may arouse reasonable suspicion that that individual is a member of that group. Penalties include a maximum 14-year prison term and an unlimited fine.

The Home Secretary takes decisions on proscription only after great care and consideration of the evidence. Having considered carefully all the evidence in this case, the Home Secretary, informed by analysis by the joint terrorism analysis centre, believes that The Base is concerned in terrorism and that the discretionary factors support proscription. This abhorrent group, as I have said, is a predominantly US-based white supremacist militant group that seeks to radicalise and train people for potentially violent activities. It almost certainly prepares for terrorism. We believe that the training that it provides is highly likely to be paramilitary in nature and is possibly preparatory for offensive action.

We therefore believe that the statutory test is met and that the group should be proscribed. That will aid the police in their work to disrupt the threat that extreme right-wing terrorist groups pose to our national security, and will build on the robust action that the Government have already taken in the area, proscribing groups such as National Action, the Sonnenkrieg Division, the Feuerkrieg Division and Atomwaffen, which the House proscribed just a few months ago. It sends a strong statement of intent that their ideology is unacceptable and that the UK is a hostile environment for terrorism in all its forms.

Our message is clear: we will always take every possible action to counter the threat from those who hate the values that we cherish and who threaten our safety. The safety and security of the public is our No. 1 priority. I commend the draft order to the House.

May I start by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who has stood down as Minister for Security? Suffice it to say that he was everything that one would have wanted in an opposite number: he was courteous, he was co-operative and he was also combative. We wish him well.

The Opposition fully support the draft order and the proscription of the vile hate group The Base, which, as we have heard, is a US-based white supremacist group whose sickening ideology mobilises racism, division and violence in an attempt to advance its repulsive goals. We know, too, that it retains close links to other neo-Nazi and right-wing terrorist groups that are already proscribed and provides paramilitary training, resources and support to sustain far-right global networks of terror, giving them the capability to undertake terrorist activity and potentially inflict serious harm.

In a week where we have seen the repulsive targeting of three black English footballers, subjected to a torrent of vile, racist abuse, the spotlight is turned again to the ugly underbelly of far-right hate within this country. As ever, we welcome the clarity and purpose that this order will give to counter-terrorism policing, the security services and their partners, whose tireless work, much of which is done selflessly and behind the scenes, keeps us safe from those who wish us harm.

However, while we agree with this measure, I am sure the Minister will understand that I have some questions on such integral issues of national security. Last October, the new director general of MI5 warned that violent far-right terrorism was now a major threat, with eight of 27 serious terrorist plots stopped in the final stages in the past three years linked to neo-fascist and racist groups. The recruitment and exploitation of young people such as that found online via chat forums and in video games has reached unprecedented heights. The number of those under 18 among those arrested has almost trebled, and this demographic is showing a worrying increase.

This is the third white supremacist hate group that Parliament has had to proscribe in a year. I say gently to the Minister that it does all feel a little bit ad hoc. Is there a plan to address the clearly alarming rise in this genre, and can he do that without having a clear, coherent and robust strategy such as those that Labour Members have called for and still await? The Base was founded in 2018 and has been operational since. That was three years ago. There is a concerning pattern of delay. It seems that whenever we have the opportunity to discuss the proscription of a far-right group in this House, the time elapsed between its initial founding, the recognition of threats and its eventual proscription is a matter of years. What is the status of the proscription review group? How often does it meet? Does he think that it is doing its work proactively enough? Is the current process working? Does he agree that doing things seriously does not mean that we have to do them slowly?

Will the Government, as highlighted by the group Hope not Hate, whose work I pay tribute to, seek to outlaw the neo-Nazi organisation Order of the Nine Angles, alongside other despicable far-right groups? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) for the work that she continues to do on this as chair of the all-party Hope not Hate group. Clearly, proscription should mark the start and not the end of the process. As such, is the Minister happy with the level of enforcement against proscribed organisations and their members?

We fully back these measures, which send a clear message that hate and terror will never be tolerated in our country. The Minister has our support and, I am sure, that of the whole House. However, I gently say that it would be good to see more from the Government than reactive, retrospective action. The threat from the far right is a serious and growing national security threat, and it should be treated as nothing less.

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the reasons for this order. Of course, we fully support the proscription of the US white supremacist group The Base, whose message is abhorrent. We must do everything possible to tackle these far-right groups and their rhetoric. It is fitting that we acknowledge the racism experienced by three exceptionally talented English players this week and right that we call this out at every possible opportunity.

Will the Minister ensure that any and all necessary steps are taken swiftly, and will he outline any plans to strengthen these processes? Will he ensure that Members have the opportunity to scrutinise any new legislation whenever possible? We fully support proscription of this horrendous organisation, and pay tribute to all those who work hard to tackle and contain such groups and keep us all safe.

I welcome the banning of The Base, which is a violent group of highly determined, hardened Nazis. Based in the United States, the group has access to weaponry and have actively been plotting terrorist attacks. Although it primarily operates in the US, its leader is living in Russia and its members are promoting their hateful calls for violence globally via messaging apps and other online platforms. Although I welcome the ban, I want to speak about the context in which it is being proposed.

As parliamentary chair of the anti-fascist campaign group Hope not Hate, I have spoken previously in the Chamber about the threat of far-right terrorism, which is substantial and rising fast. There have been numerous arrests of people accused of terrorist offences. Many of these people—usually men—are just in their teens. I pay tribute to the work of the police and intelligence services in apprehending these men.

I also want to take a moment to pay tribute to a man known as Arthur, who operated at different times to counter the far-right. Twenty-seven years ago this summer, Arthur, a committed anti-fascist, met Nick Lowles, who worked then for Searchlight and who now runs Hope not Hate. Over the course of 10 years, Arthur worked at the heart of the British National party. During more than 400 events—from rallies to campaign sessions and more—Arthur gathered information about the activities of this fascist party. Using that information, Searchlight and Nick Lowles were able to sow division within the party and wreak havoc on its London operation.

Arthur was the first source to link the London nail bomber to the far right and help the police to stop his murderous campaign. Arthur never saw any recognition and he even lost out on a huge reward in order to continue his infiltration. Even his own family thought he was a Nazi activist. Now his story is being told for the first time, and I want to put my thanks—and, I hope, the thanks of the whole House—on record. We owe Arthur a huge debt of gratitude.

Countering far-right groups today, just as we have in the past, is vital to protect our way of life and our democracy. Although I welcome the steady stream of banning orders against these Nazi groups, I remain concerned that the Government still have not acted with regard to the Order of Nine Angles. Hope not Hate has consistently provided a clear case for the proscription of the O9A. It is not a new organisation; it has been active since the 1970s. Its members make use of largely unmonitored, encrypted social media platforms to conduct activities that are illegal under existing legislation and that warrant the group’s proscription under the same laws—namely, inciting or inspiring people to commit acts of terror. Nazis with links to the O9A have been convicted of terror offences in the UK and strong evidence suggests that children as young as 13 are being groomed by the group. Figures associated with the group consistently promote content that seeks to incite acts of horrendous violence.

This is not the first time that I am asking the Government to respond to this urgent call. It is more than a year since I co-ordinated a letter from a cross-party group of MPs, calling for the O9A to be banned. The Government have previously, understandably, refused to explain their rationale for allowing this terror group to continue to be free of a proscription order, but does the Minister share my frustration that this deplorable situation continues to exist?

In previous debates of this kind, Ministers have consistently made two points: first, that they will not provide any commentary on which groups are or are not being considered for proscription by the review group; and, secondly, that the proscription review process is robust and working as it should. Does the Minister seriously consider a situation whereby the Order of Nine Angles can operate without being subject to a banning order suggests that the proscription review process is working perfectly? Does that process really have sufficient resources to ensure that it can move briskly enough? Given that the far right poses the fastest growing terror threat, is the Minister satisfied that the intelligence gathering is sufficiently strong to proactively consider groups that engage in activity close to the threshold for proscription? Is he happy with the level of enforcement against proscribed organisations and their members?

In the past, proscription was the culmination of a process against a group, whereas it should merely be the start. I again urge the Government to review the process fully and seriously to consider the proscription of other groups, such as the Order of Nine Angles, that have a clear and consistent record of spreading hate and conspiring to commit acts of terror.

I thank the Members who have contributed to this evening’s debate. There is clear unanimity throughout the House on the importance of taking action against terrorist threats where they arise, regardless of the ideology that sits behind them. I assure the House that the process for seeking, identifying and reviewing organisations that might be subject to proscription proceedings is ongoing at all times, properly resourced and occurs on a regular and frequent basis. There is eternal vigilance among the counter-terrorism officers associated with the Home Office and the security services more widely. We take the threat of terrorism extremely seriously, as Members would imagine, which is why this is the second time in just a few months that I have come to this Dispatch Box to proscribe another organisation.

If the Minister cannot address the issue of the Order of Nine Angles in the Chamber this evening, will he agree to meet me to discuss it further?

As the hon. Lady said in her speech a few minutes ago, we do not comment on specific organisations for obvious reasons of operational security. In the absence of the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who has very sadly had to stand down owing to ill health, ministerial responsibility sits for the time being with Baroness Williams of Trafford, to whom I shall pass on the hon. Lady’s request.

In conclusion, let me repeat how seriously this Government take action against terrorist organisations, regardless of their ideological motivation. We will leave no stone unturned nor any path untrodden in our ceaseless battle to keep our fellow citizens safe.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.