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Counterterrorism Practices

Volume 752: debated on Thursday 27 February 2014

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of counterterrorism practices; and what measures they will adopt to reduce any harm caused by ineffective or provocative practices.

My Lords, the background to this debate is the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on 25 June last year. In a characteristically hard-hitting speech, the noble Lord pointed out that criticisms of secret detention, rendition and Guantanamo had made:

“Killing … a more attractive proposition than making captures”.

He went on to ask,

“where does that leave the rule of law … Where does it leave the credibility of the alliance?”.—[Official Report, 25/6/13; col. 721.]

I start from the proposition that democracy and humane values can best be defended by humane and lawful methods. The so-called war on terror has been a mistake from the start, although the use of force against particular terrorists is acceptable. I remind your Lordships that successive British Governments used the criminal law against terrorists associated with Northern Ireland. Internment and shoot to kill were briefly tried, but soon rejected. If anyone says that the IRA or others were just operating in a remote part of Ireland, I would reply that we should remember that the whole British Cabinet were twice nearly killed, in Brighton and in Downing Street.

For the reason I have given, I opposed the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial. My name was included, with many others, as an amicus curiae in cases about Guantanamo detainees and I have met with Reprieve and others defending such detainees. I deeply regret that President Obama has not yet fulfilled his pledge to end detention without trial. Secret detentions—in eastern Europe, Djibouti, Afghanistan or elsewhere—are equally objectionable. Rendition to enable others to carry out torture that Western states are too law-abiding or too squeamish to do themselves is wholly despicable. It cannot be doubted that British airspace and airfields were used to assist renditions, whatever equivocations have been used to deny this. Waterboarding and other techniques of enhanced interrogation, although approved in some cases by US authorities, are tantamount to torture and therefore rejected by most fair-minded people. Why have I gone through this list of unacceptable practices? It is because they are wrong in themselves as well as short-sighted. They sacrifice long-term interests and reputation for the sake of short-term gains, which may well prove illusory.

Attacks by drones, or UAVs, began in 2002. In Yemen, there were 93 strikes, killing some 900 people, including 66 civilians, for example a wedding party last December. In Pakistan, at least 400 civilians have been killed, including some children. Survivors have given evidence to Congress, and only this week I met some such survivors here in Westminster. The toll may be much higher, as also in Afghanistan and Somalia. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones last May put the total number of deaths at 2,700. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who I am glad to see in his place, when replying to the earlier debate, said the RAF had launched 394 missiles in Afghanistan. Our forces were relatively lucky, because it is claimed they have only killed four civilians.

Since 2001, detention and drone killings have been principally used against Afghans, Arabs and other assorted Muslims who have come under the sway of jihadi ideologies. What seems to have been overlooked is that Afghans and Arabs have a highly developed sense of personal honour. The special term for this is “izzat” in Pashtun and “karama” in Arabic. For every person arbitrarily detained, tortured or maltreated, and for every related woman or child killed, a whole extended family or tribe may seek revenge in order to restore their wounded honour. It is true that traditional Sunni ethics forbid suicide, even to promote a just cause; they also ban the killing of women and children even in a just war. The extreme jihadi/takfiri ideology has, however, consistently rejected such teaching. We should therefore beware of policies that simply raise up future generations of jihadi holy warriors, including suicide bombers. We should understand that death from the skies is a good way to alienate whole populations, who are largely defenceless.

It is worth noting that the United States has followed Israel in its policy of targeted killings of supposed enemies. Between 1995 and 2012 Israel assassinated at least 61 men in the Middle East outside its own borders, and no doubt others before and after those years. Israel thus lowered itself to the level of the notorious medieval Old Man of the Mountain, the patron of the Assassins. I hope that the US will see that assassinations have not stopped terror attacks, or even defeated national resistance. Neither has administrative detention, as the Israelis describe it.

Will our Government discuss these issues with the United States, pointing out the risks involved and how counterproductive some of the practices are likely to prove? Will they press for binding codes of conduct? Will they emphasise international law and conventions and assert the importance of parliamentary, civilian and judicial control over the treatment of suspects and the use of drones to kill alleged enemies?

I thank in advance your Lordships who are kindly speaking in this debate, despite the strong pull of the main Chamber. I look forward to replies to questions of which I have given notice. Some of the counterterrorist practices which I have criticised are wrong in themselves. All of them may harm British citizens overseas, provoke terror attacks at home and damage our social cohesion.

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Nobody has been more consistent, in his modest but effective way, in pursuing the issues before us in this short debate. In supporting him, I will make a few general observations.

First, we must not allow ourselves to be tempted into thinking that it is somehow weak to say that we are in a battle for hearts and minds. We are faced with an appalling threat which every father and grandfather in this country must take seriously: the threat to the innocent is real. We must therefore talk about what is muscular in policy. What is muscular in policy is not to react—not to settle for simply containing and managing the problem—but to seek to win minds. One observation that I would make about extremism and terrorism is that they operate best in the context of ambivalence.

There are large numbers of people, as we saw in our own history in Ireland, who would individually be appalled and horrified by some of the things that happened. Yet they would always have an element of doubt. However dreadful and however deserving of unqualified condemnation the acts, there was the idea that the perpetrators were perhaps on their side. They were perhaps fighting for rights and a concept of society which had not yet been achieved. There is a grey area of ambivalence. This means that people do not leap up from—or struggle out of—bed every morning and say, “What can I do today to expose the terrorists?”. There is an undermining element of doubt and ambiguity. That is why I will never take second place to anyone in saying, “Let’s be rid of the nonsense which we allow ourselves to hear from time to time about what is strong and what is weak in the response”.

The real issue is to win minds. If we are to do this there must be something to which people can relate. There must be hope, and a context of decency and fairness in society. There must be a convincing context of justice that people can see and relate to. In the aftermath of Syria we have been presented with a renewed campaign. I applaud those with responsibility in this area who remind us without qualification that the dangers of terrorism in our own society are accentuated because of what is happening in Syria. We have to be on our guard and we have to be effective.

However, that makes it all the more important that we establish in the United Kingdom in all we do a transparent commitment to the values that we say are basic to our society and which we wish at all costs to defend. That is why I am very glad indeed that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, is replying to this debate. If I am allowed to say so, over a number of issues over the years I have come to like and admire him as a decent parliamentarian who cares about society, although across a political divide.

I now want to make some points about the interconnections, or connected government as we sometimes call it, and our effectiveness in winning hearts and minds. Forgive me if I have to oversimplify slightly. If a well qualified, intelligent, thinking and decent man or woman, who is struggling to find a future for their family in the real desperation of the world as it is, has a bad experience in the immigration process, are we not sowing the seeds of the ambivalence of which I speak? I am not one of those who object to the concept of the need for a convincing immigration policy; we cannot just have an open door. However, this is why it matters desperately that everything within the procedures happens with decency, civilised values and so on.

When something goes wrong, let us please remember that there is an element of real potential—I hesitate to use the word because it is very strong—treasonable activity. It plays into the hands of the extremists, who play on the doubts and the anxieties that exist. It strengthens the climate of ambivalence: is this society really about the things it talks about, or has it got double-speak and double values? That is why what we do in immigration policy is so important. It is why, when we are talking of the armed services, the police or the security services, we should uphold people within those organisations who are determined to operate by the highest standards.

When things go wrong, they are not just wrong and to be condemned as acts that are insupportable in terms of the rules and regulations and conventions, they are counterproductive in terms of giving ground to extremist recruiters. We have to be infinitely more rigorous in seeing the connections in so many elements of our society and public life between what is happening and the way it is happening, and our determination to preserve security in this country.

I think I have said this in the House before and I do not apologise for saying it again: I was greatly influenced at the age of 13, in 1948, when I was taken to Geneva by my father to an international conference that he was organising. At that conference, I had the privilege of meeting personally Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was not just championing a nicer way of organising society in which human rights would be an element. She was a tough woman. Like many others in the aftermath of the Second World War, she had seen that human rights and all that attaches to them were a fundamental and indispensable element of security and stability. If you do not have human rights, there is always the danger of extremism gaining ground. The commitment to human rights throughout everything we do is therefore desperately important.

Sometimes I am anxious about phraseology that is too easily used about the trade-off between human rights and security. There is no trade-off between them. Human rights are central to security, and from that standpoint it is all about how we uphold them in everything we do.

My Lords, perhaps I may also add my voice of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and say of him and a number of his noble colleagues in the House of Lords that they constitute the collective conscience of the Chamber, and in that context I want to express my great appreciation of all the work that he does. Let me also say, like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for whom I have the greatest respect, that it is very nice to have the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, here to respond to the debate. As far as I can tell he works infinitely hard to respond to the questions and pleas of his fellow Members. I would like to express my thanks to him and to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for their willingness to be present and to take seriously the issues we are raising.

I am going almost entirely to address the domestic scene because the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Judd, have talked quite rightly about the international and broader position. I want to talk a bit about the issue of the indefinite detention of those who are either suspected of terrorism or, in some cases, are simply illegal immigrants, because I believe that it is a very serious issue. We all heard this morning an inspiring speech by the Chancellor of Germany, and one of the most impressive things about it was the way in which she frequently reiterated the goals of the European Union. She said that they are peace, freedom and prosperity. I want to address the issue of freedom.

Of all the countries of the European Union, there are only two that have no limit on the length of detention of people who are sent to detention centres either because they are illegal immigrants or because they are suspected—in most cases it is found to be rare—of being involved in some kind of terrorist activity. I found that amazing when I first heard about it. I did not really believe it, so I pursued it using every line of research I possibly could. Let me say in a completely non-partisan spirit that the understanding and agreement to allow non-limited detention to go on started with the Labour Government and has been continued, to my great regret, by this Government. I want to challenge this bipartisan policy.

For every EU country which has not opted out of the so-called return directive which was passed in 2008 and made active in 2010—it is a prime EU directive—that directive says that the maximum period for which people can be detained without any form of trial is six months. One can then appeal for an extension of an additional 12 months, making a total maximum figure of 18 months. However, we should not forget that that figure is subject to there having been an agreement to the extension of 12 months: the normal limit is six months and 18 months is the absolute limit. That is not so in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, partly for reasons that are a hangover from the terrorist issues of the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, indicated.

That means that, at the present time, on the figures for 2012-13, we spend £34 million in keeping just under 3,000 people—the latest figure is 2,685—in unlimited detention. That is bad enough. However, in addition to that, these detention centres—and there are enough to deal with the 3,000 figure, which is the current maximum—are outsourced to private administrators or private executors of the rules. They are not run by the Home Office or the police; they are run by private bodies.

As I understand it, these private bodies are not subject to any form of regular inspection. They are inspected if there is a death in their premises by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but that is the only form of accountability there is. Therefore one of the first questions I want to ask my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach is whether the Home Office might consider bringing in a regular inspection of these detention centres. In some centres, such as Harmondsworth, the numbers are quite troubling. Eight people have lost their lives through self-harm, suicide or accident in Harmondsworth over the past few years. The figures are lower for other detention centres.

I declare an interest: I am a patron of the Gatwick detention centre, which is remarkable and has never had a single unacknowledged death. What characterises Gatwick but does not characterise Harmondsworth is the existence of a regular pool of volunteers drawn from the locality, from the countryside—from the community, if you like—who regularly visit those in detention, giving them moral support and help and useful advice. That has had a wonderful outcome because it has not only given the local community an understanding of the detention centre and made it willing to engage with it, but it has also given the detainees, some of whom had been tortured or imprisoned for years before they got here, the kind of moral support and friendship that they desperately need. It is a wonderful social experiment, recognised by the Queen but not very much by Parliament.

Having asked the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whether we could consider some kind of accountability for these detention centres, I come to the serious point that many of those in detention find it difficult to apply for bail. Under the new Immigration Bill, they will largely be expected to apply for any reconsideration of their case from another country. For most of them, that is not possible and not practicable. They cannot afford it, they do not have the communication, they do not have the language and they do not have the advice.

The other aspect of this issue which troubles me, apart from the high expense, is the fact that it makes the UK look like a poor member of the attempt to get civil liberties and freedom strengthened within the European Union. I repeat that we are the only country— along with the Republic of Ireland, which has been persuaded by us to support an opt-out—which has opted-out completely from the return directive of 2010. Sadly, that opt-out was made in 2006 and so, once again, none of us can say, “Sorry, it was not us”. It was us. It was all of us.

As I have said, the current expenditure is £34 million, which is quite a lot for 3,000 people, but there is now a proposal to convert the old prison at Verne in Dorset to a detention centre at a cost of £30 million. That is a big jump in the amount of money made available for detention. It is due to open later this year or, at the latest, early next year. So, on the basis of legality, freedom and expense—and, not least, on the basis of losing the good will and respect of other countries, because we are one of only two in the whole of the EU about which this is true—we really ought to consider whether there are some alternatives.

Let us take people—for example, from Somalia—against whom there is no criminal charge but who cannot be returned under United Nations HRC rules because their country is too dangerous to be sent back to. They are in suspension: they are not out of detention but cannot be returned, they have not been tried, they have not committed crimes and there are several hundred of them in this condition. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whom I regard, as does the noble Lord, Lord Judd, as a sensible and thoughtful person, whether he and the Home Office might not find it possible to let such people —I am talking now about Somalians, or others who cannot be returned for the reasons given—be released on licence, or, if you like, under probation, where they might have to report to police every week and their position would be regularly reviewed? It would cost the country a great deal less, it would obviate a great deal of real psychological and mental suffering, which, as I said, has led in some cases to self-mutilation and suicide, and it would save the Government a great deal of money and gain them a great deal of respect.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I am delighted and honoured to follow the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who are all much more experienced, knowledgeable and committed than I am. However, I want to say a few words. We are discussing this important issue a day after Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowali were sentenced for their appalling, despicable and heinous crime against Lee Rigby, an innocent soldier. I thank Mr Justice Sweeney for separating these two criminals from the Islamic faith and the Muslim community in his remarks.

In February 2011 the Prime Minister, David Cameron, tarnished the image of British Muslims by speaking in Munich about radicalisation and “Islamic extremists”. Then in December, during his visit to China, he said:

“There are just too many people who have been radicalised in Islamic centres, who have been in contact with extremist preachers, who have accessed radicalising information on the internet and haven’t been sufficiently challenged. I want to make sure in our country that we do this effectively”.

I have no problem with the Prime Minister’s fight against extremism and we will help him and work with him, but I wish that he had made these two speeches in east London, Bradford or Luton, or even at his Eid party at Downing Street, rather than in Germany and China. It sounds so much like the colonial attitude of divide and rule. The good guys are invited to the Eid party but the bad guys he cannot face—Sufi Islam versus the Jamat-e-Islami, the Deobandis and the Ahl-e-Hadiths, the so-called Wahhabis. Although he enjoys the hospitality of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and others, I wonder whether the Prime Minister tells them what he says and does at home.

The isolation of large sections of the Muslim community is not good. Demonisation and sensational headlines in the tabloid newspapers are also bad. Despite what the media portray, Muslims are not the major source of terrorist atrocities. The Government seem preoccupied with Islamist terrorism despite the fact that, according to Europol, fewer than 6% of terrorist acts across the continent, year on year for the past 10 years, have been carried out by Muslims. Counterterrorist anti-extremism measures need to be more holistic in their approach and be careful not to cast aspersions and turn particular communities into social outcasts.

Counterterrorism practices have often been leveraged through dangerous rhetoric on so-called “non-violent extremism” and “conveyor belt theory”. The whole discourse is problematic and lacks evidence. CIA officer Marc Sageman, who also advised the New York Police Department and testified in front of the 9/11 Commission, described the conveyor belt theory as “nonsense” and said that there was little empirical evidence for such a conveyor belt process:

“It is the same nonsense that led governments a hundred years ago to claim that left-wing political protests led to violent anarchy”.

The Government need to take an evidence-based approach. There are clear laws surrounding incitement to violence and hate speech. For the Government to develop a new category called “non-violent extremism” and claim that it produces a conveyor belt to violent extremism has real implications for freedom of speech. People have a right to hold opposing views on political governance, whether they be communist, socialist or whatever.

Both the media and the Government have made assertions that radicalisation is occurring at universities, yet the Universities UK report makes clear that there is no evidence for such a link. Ms Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said that universities had been unfairly singled out for attention because many terrorists went to university,

“but they tend to be young people and 40 per cent of young people go to university”—

again, an evidence-based approach, not simply making assertions. Such measures would only be detrimental to free speech at university campuses and oppose the values that we are supposed to cherish. The protection of free speech on campus is enshrined in law within Section 43 of the Education Act, but it is in jeopardy.

Professor Michael Lister and Professor Lee Jarvis from Oxford Brookes University and Swansea University wrote a paper based upon empirical data from a series of UK-based focus groups. It was on the impact of antiterrorism measures on citizenship in the UK. They found that people felt that antiterrorism measures eroded rights, freedoms and liberties and went against the whole point of living in a democracy. If you remove the freedom of individuals, it restricts the democracy we live in. The Government should take on board a wide range of expert opinions, not a few select or cherry-picked voices.

I turn to policies abroad, a point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Judd. At the meeting of the APPG on Drones on Tuesday, we heard evidence from two victims of drone attacks and from Mr Clive Stafford Smith from Reprieve, who described the 600,000 citizens of North Waziristan as living through a blitz. His mother had lived through the Blitz and he said that she described how people lived day after day in the same conditions. One third of the population in the region is on antidepressants due to drone attacks and the fear of them. He said that the American policy on drones has made the Americans the most hated people on earth for the Pakistanis in Pakistan. True, the Pakistan Government are taking action against the terrorists and the Taliban. It because they are doing it themselves that the public support that action. However, they resent any outsider making attacks on their land, on their culture and, as they perceive it, on their religion. That increases radicalisation and creates suicide bombing.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us this opportunity to debate a matter of real concern and import to the citizens of this country. The subject matter of the debate is the Government’s assessment of the effectiveness of counterterrorism practices. I want to refer in that context to the recent developments in Syria.

Terrorism is not just a major issue for the United Kingdom; it is a global threat. As I understand it, in 2011 more than 10,000 terrorist attacks occurred in around 70 countries, resulting in almost 45,000 casualties and more than 12,500 fatalities. About three-quarters of those attacks occurred in the Near East and south Asia, but in 2011 attacks in Africa and the western hemisphere were at a five-year high. The figures indicate that in the 12 months to 30 September 2012—I am not sure if there are any more recent figures—there were 245 terrorism-related arrests in Great Britain; 45 people were charged with terrorism-related offences and 18 convicted, with a further 25 people awaiting trial. At the end of 2012, 122 people were in prison in Great Britain for terrorist, extremist or terrorism-related offences, including those on remand. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has already mentioned, the sentencing in a case yesterday reminded us of the brutality and savagery that can be involved in such offences in our own backyard in broad daylight. The value and importance of the work that our police and security services do to protect us cannot be overestimated.

In their last annual report on the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism, the Government stated that there were now hundreds of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria and that, as and when UK residents return here, there is a risk that they may carry out attacks using what were described in the report as the skills that they have developed overseas. The most recent annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of this Parliament also referred to the increasing potential for those who travel overseas to train and fight alongside one of the al-Qaeda affiliate groups to subsequently return to the UK and pose a direct threat to the UK’s national security. The report went on to say that what was most significant in this regard was the growing trend for UK resident extremists to join elements of the opposition in Syria, and that this was likely to form part of the terrorist threat picture for years to come. The report said that the shape of the terrorist threat was potentially changing from what it described as tightly organised cells to looser networks of small groups and individuals who operate more independently, and that it was essential that the agencies continued to make a clear assessment of this evolving picture in order to keep ahead of the threat.

We have had a much more recent update on the position, with the head of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism being reported in the media as saying that the biggest challenge now facing the police and intelligence agencies was the size of extremist groups in Syria and the number of Britons joining them. He was reported as having gone on to say that the number of foreign fighters in Syria was higher than anywhere since Afghanistan in 1989, and that Syria was different from any other counterterrorism challenge that this country had faced since 9/11 because of the number of terrorist groups now engaged in the fighting; their size and scale; the number of people from this country who are joining them; the ease of travel; the availability of weapons; and the intensity of the conflict. Statements along very similar lines have also been made recently by the head of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit.

There have been suggestions—I stress that that is all they are—that there may now be new laws being considered by the Government. That would of course be an interesting development; the Government have hardly strengthened our ability to keep a check on the potentially most dangerous people, since the Government’s own terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which placed the most menacing terror suspects under special, albeit watered down, restrictions were, I assume—subject to the Minister telling me otherwise—brought to an end, as intended, a month or so ago.

The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has confirmed that those who were the subject of terrorism prevention and investigation measures and their special restrictions were considered the most dangerous threats even by the standards of international terrorism. In relation to one who absconded, the Secretary of State simply tried to assert that the only reason why that individual had been made subject to a TPIM was to prevent them travelling to support terrorism overseas. In the light of the recent warnings about Syria, that suggests that if that really is the Government’s criterion, rather more people should be being placed on TPIMs instead of allowing the measures to lapse after two years with the consequences that we now see. It would certainly be helpful if the Minister could indicate what the additional cost has been, in terms of extra surveillance, of watering down the previous control orders and replacing them with TPIMs, and what is now the additional cost of surveillance of those who, I assume, were until a month or so ago subject to a TPIM and its associated restrictions, but are no longer so even though there has presumably been no change in the assessment of the serious threat that they represent to national security.

Perhaps the Minister could also say if the Government are indeed considering new laws. Are the Government considering activating the Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, which, in essence, reinstates control orders? Is Clause 60 of the Immigration Bill, on deprivation of citizenship, the Government’s response? A number of steps were initiated following the work of the task force set up by the Prime Minister on tackling radicalisation and extremism. What is the position now in regard to the implementation of those steps, and what consideration is being given to any further steps that may be needed in the light of very recent concerns that have been expressed, particularly in relation to the potential implications for us of the situation in Syria?

We all have a common interest in national security and in protecting the citizens of this country from acts of terrorism. We need to have the ability to take proportionate, strong and firm action quickly and decisively, within the law, against those individuals who constitute a real threat. Equally, though, the approaches that we adopt and the actions that we take need to give at least as much attention to strengthening the hand of those who work hard to persuade predominantly young men and women to ignore the siren voices of those who may seek to encourage them to go down the road of violence and hatred, and instead to reject that route.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say what the Government's response is to the very recent concerns that have been expressed about the potential consequences of the situation in Syria, and apart from—of course—continuing to try and get negotiations to resolve matters under way, what further actions if any the Government now intend to take in respect of counterterrorism practices.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for tabling it. It has been a useful discussion. The debate has ranged far and wide. I hope that my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby will allow me to write to her on detention and detention centres because I would like to be a position to reassure her. She raised some challenging issues in bringing that into this debate. If I may, I will copy all noble Lords in on the subject and place a copy in the Library.

I think it is clear that we all share a common agreement that the Government’s first responsibility is the security of the public. We face a real and serious threat from terrorism, and this threat becomes more diverse and less visible. It disperses into areas where it is harder for us to work and threatens the freedoms that we all hold dear. The police and the intelligence agencies do an outstanding job in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots. It is good that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, paid tribute to their work. It is vital that they have the resources that they need to do just that. The Government have protected police counterterrorism funding, maintaining core capabilities since 2010.

As Andrew Parker, the director-general of MI5, informed the Intelligence and Security Committee when he appeared before it in November last year, since the attacks on London on 7 July 2005, 34 terrorist plots have been successfully disrupted in this country. However, there can be no guarantee that each and every plot—some hatched thousands of miles away, or by a lone individual—can be thwarted.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, reminded us of the sentencing yesterday of the murderers of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. That, in turn, reminds me of the similar incident of the vile murder of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham. Further afield, we remember the attacks at the Boston Marathon and the Nairobi shopping mall, which resulted in 60 deaths, six of them British nationals. All this goes to show that terrorism is an international problem. The numerous casualties of terrorism are found in many countries. Our partnerships with international allies are vital to the protection of the UK and our interests overseas, and innocent people everywhere. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, should be assured that the Government are well aware that both victims and protagonists of terrorism are of many different faiths and are found in many different countries. The statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, reinforce that point.

The threat continues to arise from Syria, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out. We know that it is the number one destination for jihadists today. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, thousands of foreign fighters, including a large number of Europeans, gain combat experience and forge extremist links there. It is sobering that more than 200 of these individuals have connections with the UK.

Notwithstanding the terrorist threat, this Government also remain committed to protecting our freedoms. In combating the threat, the United Kingdom will never use methods that undermine our deep attachment to freedom, human rights and the rule of law, and we will not condone them anywhere. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to emphasise the necessity of maintaining civilised standards in regard to human rights. Naturally, we expect all states to act in accordance with international law and take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting counterterrorism operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked me how we measure the effectiveness of our counterterrorism practices. As he will know, we do this under the UK’s counterterrorism strategy, CONTEST, with its four key aims. I hope that as I recount these I will reassure noble Lords about this strategy. Our strategy is to prevent people becoming terrorists. Our strategy is to protect against terrorist attacks. Our strategy is to prepare, in the event of an attack, and to pursue terrorists and those who support them. That lies at the core of our policy. It is shared, I think, by people across the political spectrum.

Under CONTEST, we continually review our counterterrorism powers to ensure that they are effective and fair. Following our 2011 review of these powers, we reduced the limit on pre-charge detention from 28 to 14 days. We ended the indiscriminate use of stop and search powers. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson, QC, is often quoted when we discuss these matters. He said,

“The cautious liberalisation of anti-terrorism law from 2010 to 2012 is to be welcomed”.

While ensuring that our powers that are proportionate, we also have to be certain that they remain effective. The Justice and Security Act 2013 means that civil courts can handle and protect sensitive material and provide for robust oversight of our agencies by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Noble Lords will remember passing that legislation through this House late last year. The Bill that I have just been handling provides further safeguards that we have proposed to Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000. These include a reduction of the maximum time for which someone can be examined at our ports and borders.

We have also recently updated the royal prerogative, which can be used to prevent individuals from seeking to travel on a British passport to, for example, engage in fighting overseas and to return to the UK. Any action to refuse or withdraw a passport must be proportionate, and this power will be used only sparingly. We continue to enjoy an open and constructive relationship with international partners, including the United States, on a range of counterterrorism matters, such as the security of our borders.

Since the attempted aviation attacks on Christmas Day 2009 and at East Midlands Airport in 2010, we have banned inbound flights from the highest-risk countries, helped to raise security standards at departure points, strengthened pre-departure checks and introduced a no-fly scheme to stop those who pose a threat from travelling here. Following the Boston and Woolwich attacks, we have worked with the US to share learning on preventing radicalisation, including radicalisation online. Our success in countering terrorism is supported by our relationship with other countries, by sharing our learning with each other.

In order to be truly effective—in order to work—our counterterrorism powers must also command the trust of British communities. The Prevent strategy, which we revised in 2011, aims to stop people becoming or supporting terrorists. It can work only if the public believe our approach is measured and appropriate. I reciprocate the generous comments that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made about me. He pointed to the importance of a civilised relationship between citizen and government at all times. He will know we work closely with local authorities, the police and others to challenge the radical and distorted ideologies that can lead to violence and to support those who may be vulnerable to them. The Prime Minister’s Extremism Task Force will ensure that no opportunity is missed to counter terrorism in all its forms. We cannot be complacent: the terrorist threat changes and develops. We must change and develop with it.

I have mentioned the threat from Syria and elsewhere overseas, but back home we must also continue to build Prevent capability, make our borders and aviation sector more secure, and give the police and agencies what they need to do their jobs. There can be no doubt that the publication of intelligence material stolen by Edward Snowden has made this work harder. Communications data remain essential to the investigation of serious crime, and this must be addressed in the next Parliament.

Our powers must remain strong and effective to counter the terrorist threat. But I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and all Members of the Grand Committee that we are clear that they must remain within the bounds of international law. We must also ensure that they remain necessary and fair, and are understood publicly by all to be so. We have a proud tradition of protecting our freedoms, and this must be upheld. It is fitting for me to pay tribute to the police officers, prosecutors, community workers and others who protect us all from the very real threats we face.

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he say something about the kinds of bilateral conversations with the United States for which I was asking?

I think I made it clear that we work very closely with the United States and with other allies. If the noble Lord would like me to, I can perhaps expand in writing to some degree on what I have said in my response if he feels that it will help, and I will certainly include other noble Lords in that correspondence, but he will also be aware that we do not comment in detail on security matters. Given the scale of the threat we face, we have to honour that convention because it is very important for our security that we do so. But to the extent that I am able to reply to the noble Lord, I will very much seek to do so; I will copy in noble Lords who have participated in this debate and place a copy in the Library.

Sitting suspended.