Motion to Approve
My Lords, the threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at “severe”. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning.
We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do all we can to minimise it. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt the full range of terrorist activities. The group that we now propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, is National Action. This is the 21st order under Section 3(3)(a) of that Act. This is the first time we have laid an order for a right-wing group. Proscribing this neo-Nazi group sends a strong message that we will not tolerate terrorist activity here, regardless of what motivates it.
As noble Lords will appreciate, I am unable to comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a brief summary of the group’s activities. National Action is a racist, neo-Nazi group that was established in 2013. It has a number of branches across the UK, which conduct threatening street demonstrations and activities aimed at intimidating local communities. Its activities and propaganda materials are aimed particularly at recruiting young people.
National Action’s ideology promotes the idea that Britain will inevitably see a violent “race war”, which the group claims it will be an active part of. The group rejects democracy, is hostile to the British state and seeks to divide society by implicitly endorsing violence against ethnic minorities and perceived “race traitors”. National Action has links to other extreme right-wing groups abroad, including in Europe. In May 2016, National Action members attended Buchenwald concentration camp, where they carried out Nazi salutes and posted images of this online.
The Government’s counter-extremism strategy challenges extremism in all its forms. Alongside this and our Prevent work, we will continue to monitor whether extremist groups have crossed into terrorism.
This is a relatively small group which has only been in operation in the UK for a few years, but the impact of its activities has been felt in a number of UK communities. Since early 2016, the group has become more active and its activities and propaganda material have crossed the threshold from extremism into terrorism. National Action’s online propaganda material, disseminated via social media, frequently features extremely violent imagery and language. It condones and glorifies those who have used extreme violence for political or ideological ends. This includes two tweets posted by the group in 2016 in connection with the murder of Jo Cox, which the prosecutor described as a terrorist act. One states, “Only 649 MPs to go”. Another contains a photo of Thomas Mair with the caption, “Don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain. Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!”. The group has also disseminated an image which was doctored to condone and celebrate the terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people lost their lives, and another depicting a police officer’s throat being slit.
There are people who may have become aware of these messages who could reasonably be expected to infer that these acts should be emulated; therefore, such propaganda amounts to the unlawful glorification of terrorism. Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes a number of factors into account, including the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription in effect outlaws a listed organisation and makes it unable to operate in the UK. Proscription can also support other disruptive activity, including prosecutions for other offences, and acts to support strong messaging to deter fundraising and recruitment. Additionally, assets of a proscribed group are liable to seizure as terrorist assets. The Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on an organisation. This includes open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in this decision-making process. A decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case, and it is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses.
Proscription of this group will prevent its membership growing and help to prevent individuals who might be vulnerable to radicalisation, and possibly at risk of emulating the terrorist attacks that National Action glorifies, being drawn into the group’s extreme ideology. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think the Government are doing the right thing with this organisation and the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for having set out in some detail why action is necessary. I have just one question. The noble Baroness rightly said that if an organisation of this kind is proscribed it is possible to seize its funds, but I take it that any organisation that knows it is going to be proscribed would takes its funds out of the jurisdiction, or otherwise distribute them so as to put them beyond reach. Has it been possible in this case, and would it normally be the Government’s practice, to freeze these funds in some way before the announcement of the proscription?
I thank the noble Baroness for her explanation of the purpose of the order. The order was, as I understand it, agreed by the Commons yesterday and we hope that it will be agreed in your Lordships’ House this afternoon. We welcome and support the order. As the noble Baroness said, it amends Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 by adding the neo-Nazi National Action to the list of proscribed organisations concerned in terrorism. The Minister also set out the provisions of the relevant parts of the 2000 Act, as well as the relevant part of the 2006 Act, which amended Section 3 of the 2000 Act. I do not intend to repeat those provisions.
As has already been said, National Action is a racist, neo-Nazi group. It was established some three years ago and is virulently racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic. Its online propaganda material, which it puts out through social media, frequently features extreme violent imagery and language. It condones and glorifies those who have used extreme violence for political or ideological ends. As the Minister said, this has included tweets posted by the group in 2016 in connection with the murder of Jo Cox MP, which the prosecutor described as a terrorist act.
I would like to ask just two questions, although I want to make it clear that we welcome and support the order. First, how easy or otherwise will it be for this organisation to get round the order? Can it do that simply by renaming itself or setting up another organisation, which may not be all that difficult? Is it more complicated for an organisation in this position to get around the order which we hope will be made this evening? Secondly, are there any other right-wing organisations—I stress, without naming them—of similar views, means of operation and objectives to National Action in the sights of the Government for adding at some future stage to the list of proscribed organisations?
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for her careful explanation. I will not oppose the order, but this is a moment for reminding ourselves of the distinction between distasteful and, in a non-technical sense, offensive speech and the promotion of terrorism and other actions which are the criteria for proscription. In that connection, I would like to remind myself and the House of the importance of freedom of speech.
The Minister described some of the activities of National Action. I have read of its advocacy that, when it assumes power, those who promote liberal values, tolerance and multiculturalism will be “in the chambers”. She referred to photographs taken in what had been gas chambers. It has used the phrase “Hitler was right”; it is quite clear what it means by “the chambers”. When one of its members was jailed for a series of anti-Semitic tweets against the Member for Liverpool Wavertree, National Action led a campaign to have him freed. It clearly supports violence to achieve its political goals and has gone well beyond the bounds of free speech, into advocating violence and engaging in acts to “compel, coerce or undermine” the Government, which is engaging in terrorism.
However, that is a stronger definition of terrorism than in the current legislation. This definition was first advocated by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew in 2008, when he was the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. It was supported by David Anderson, the current reviewer, in 2014. National Action clearly falls within both the legal and recommended definitions of a terrorist organisation, but I wonder whether the Minister has anything in her brief about these recommendations. David Anderson also recommended that proscription should be for a limited period and subject to renewal. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether this order is time-limited or in some way subject to review.
As the Minister said, this is the first order against a right-wing organisation that advocates terrorism. I understand—I think these figures are from the National Police Chiefs’ Council—that the number of far-right referrals to the Prevent programme increased from 323 in 2014-15 to 561 the following year, which must be the most recent year for which we have figures. Does the Minister have any comments on that?
These Benches support freedom of speech and this proscription, and it has occurred to me, listening to this debate, that an organisation such as this infringes the right of free speech for the rest of us.
I thank noble Lords for their constructive comments. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about the freezing of funds. As I outlined in my speech, it is entirely possible and we freeze assets, but we do not comment on whether individuals are being considered for an asset freeze. If that were the case, it would be an operational issue for the police and the Treasury.
On how easy it is to get round the order if an organisation is renamed or a new organisation is set up, if organisations change their name, they remain proscribed. We can, of course, also lay a name change order to clarify that they remain proscribed. We most certainly keep extreme right-wing groups under review, as we would with any other type of proscribed organisation, but we do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is under consideration. I hope that answers noble Lords’ questions. I thank noble Lords for their comments.