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Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2021

Volume 811: debated on Thursday 22 April 2021

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 19 April be approved.

Instrument not yet reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, this Government are committed to taking all necessary steps to protect the people of this country. Tackling terrorism in all its guises is a key element of that mission. The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at “substantial”. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is likely.

The constantly evolving nature of terrorism means that we continuously consider whether new action is necessary to ensure that our response is adapted to the threat picture. There are growing concerns about the spread of extremist ideologies, such as white supremacism, and their pernicious influence, particularly on children and young people. The danger posed by terrorist organisations varies from one group to another. There are those that recruit, radicalise, promote and encourage terrorism as well as those that prepare and commit terrible acts of violence against innocent members of the public.

In the internet age, extremist and terrorist groups can more easily and rapidly influence those vulnerable to their recruitment tactics. At the click of a button, they can spread their abhorrent world views to other groups in different countries, encouraging them to take up their mantle and engage in violence. We have a duty to our allies, as well as to our own people, to tackle those groups that inspire and co-ordinate international terror. While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we will always do all we can to minimise the danger it poses and keep our public safe.

Some 76 international terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to the dedication, courage and skill of counterterrorism policing and our security and intelligence services, most of these groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. Proscription is a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations, as noble Lords know.

The groups we now propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are Atomwaffen Division, or AWD, and its alias, National Socialist Order, or NSO. AWD is a predominately US-based white supremacist group active under that guise between 2015 and 2020. NSO is the alias of AWD, has claimed to be AWD’s successor group and remains active. The group’s actions, which seek to divide communities and stir up hatred, are entirely contrary to the interests of our nation.

Given the wide-ranging impact of these powers, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available 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 her decision-making process. Her 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.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that AWD, including through the activities of its alias, NSO, is concerned in terrorism and the discretionary factors weigh in favour of proscription. Although, as noble Lords will know, I cannot comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities. AWD celebrates a collection of noxious essays that advocate the use of violence to bring about a fascist, white ethnostate by initiating the collapse of modern society by means of a race war. This ideology has become known as “accelerationism”. AWD’s online propaganda has encouraged and promoted terrorist acts, and this content likely remains influential among accelerationist terrorist groups. We know that AWD has inspired, at least in part, several loosely affiliated franchise groups abroad, including Feuerkrieg Division, which was proscribed in 2020.

In March 2020, AWD claimed that it had disbanded following pressure from US law enforcement agencies. In July 2020, NSO announced itself online as AWD’s successor. NSO adheres to the same abhorrent ideology and has similar accelerationist aims as it did when it was called AWD. Under the name NSO, the organisation has publicly dedicated itself to bringing about white- power Governments “by any means necessary”, and it is the Government’s belief that it is almost certain that “any means necessary” is intended to be understood as endorsing violence.

Our strategy to combat terrorism looks at the full spectrum of activity. It is absolutely right that this includes confronting, square on, the threat from groups who call for violence and mass murder, and who unlawfully glorify horrific terrorist acts, so that they are prevented from continuing to stir up hatred. When groups without a physical presence in the UK are proscribed, particularly groups such as AWD which have an established online presence, it is important to consider the wider impact that proscription has. By proscribing white supremacist, accelerationist terrorist groups with like-minded ideologies, such as Sonnenkrieg Division, Feuerkrieg Division and Atomwaffen Division, we underline our commitment to ensuring that the UK is a hostile environment for individuals involved in white supremacist or accelerationist terrorism.

Our objective is to ensure that there are no safe spaces online for terrorists to promote or share their extreme views. In proscribing AWD and NSO, we send a clear signal that the dissemination of the group’s online propaganda is unacceptable. The Home Office continues to work closely with law enforcement, our international partners and tech companies, including through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, also known as GIFCT, to collaboratively tackle the spread of terrorist content online. We know that proscription of groups helps tech companies to better tackle terrorist material on their platforms. I believe that there is a strong case for the Government to proscribe AWD and list NSO as an alias. It will build upon the robust action the Government have already taken by proscribing National Action, Sonnenkrieg Division and Feuerkrieg Division.

Our message is clear: we will always take every possible action to counter the threat from those who hate the values that we cherish. The safety and security of the public is our number one priority, and I commend this order to the House.

My Lords, my comments will be brief. As a law officer, I had to take an interest and advise on many aspects of terrorism matters. We are debating a very narrow order, otherwise I would have raised questions following the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report as far back as 2009-10 on special advocates, who I appointed for the first time. I chose them very carefully. The Joint Committee was critical of their ability to operate properly. I would have asked for an update, but I presume that they are still there and there will be another occasion when I can seek to do this.

The noble Baroness carefully spelled out the objects of the order, and I am grateful to her. I welcome the updating of the names of organisations from which we are in danger. If we are to have an efficient system of proscription, it is important that it is, first, speedily updated; secondly, relevant and accurate as far as names and descriptions are concerned; and lastly, achieves the object of being preventive. It is the preventive nature of the order that I particularly welcome.

We are referring now to three organisations named in accordance with Section 3 of the Terrorism Act. Some 24 orders have been laid already, two of them in 2019, and in accordance with Section 3, those we wish to add are named. I deliberately will not give the advantage of further publicity to the activities of the one organisation that caught my eye in particular, Sonnenkrieg Division. We are dealing with the activities of such organisations today. Therefore, I will not give any additional publicity to the matters that have already been set out. I welcome the order very much and I support it.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order, but I confess to being somewhat confused. Before I get on to that, I pay tribute the work that our security services and police do to keep us safe in the face of a substantial threat.

On 27 February 2020, the Government brought forward a similar order, proscribing the white supremacist group Sonnenkrieg Division—Sonnenkrieg means “sun war” in German—or SKD. My confusion is because SKD is apparently the British branch of Atomwaffen Division—Atomwaffen means “nuclear weapons” in German—which is based in the southern United States and is heavily influenced by extremist Islamist ideology in that it encourages neo-Nazis to kill and die for the cause. As I said almost 14 months ago in this House, the overlap between extremist Islamists, who advocate the violent overthrow of democracy and liberal values, and neo-Nazis is worrying. One of Atomwaffen Division’s followers apparently sees ISIL as preferable to multi- culturalism and liberal values.

As the Minister said, it recruits young people and has been active on university campuses in the United States. Some members of the British SKD convicted of terrorism offences were teenagers. Will the Minister explain why the Government are only now proscribing an organisation—Atomwaffen Division—that even Wikipedia says is also known as National Socialist Order, whose British branch was proscribed 14 months ago?

In the Explanatory Memorandum, the Government say that an instrument such as this

“which imposes duties that are significantly more onerous than before should not usually be brought into force earlier than 21 days after it is made … However, any significant delay between the laying and coming into force of the Order would alert the organisation to its impending proscription and may result in pre-emptive action by the organisation’s members designed to circumvent the provisions of TACT and/or the criminal law.”

Can the Minister explain, given that the British branch of Atomwaffen Division was proscribed 14 months ago, and that the National Socialist Order is named in Wikipedia as an alias, why it would come as a surprise to anybody that the parent organisation is now being proscribed? The only surprise is that the parent organisation, the British branch of which was proscribed 14 months ago, is only now being proscribed.

I accept that one of the factors considered by the Secretary of State is the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK, but another is the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism. Surely, the United States of America is one of those partners. Bearing in mind that Atomwaffen Division is based in the southern United States, why was it not proscribed at the same time as the British branch of the same organisation, the Sonnenkrieg Division, 14 months ago? Indeed, the Explanatory Memorandum says:

“The Home Secretary believes that AWD is almost certainly now operating under the name NSO in the United States”

in the same way as Atomwaffen Division was operating in United States between 2015 and 2020. Yet it is only now that Atomwaffen Division is being proscribed—more than a year since it claimed to have disbanded following pressure from US law enforcement.

Of course, we support this order, but we also have serious questions as to why it has taken so long to proscribe Atomwaffen Division and its alias, National Socialist Order.

My Lords, on behalf of the Official Opposition, I want to make it very clear that we offer our full support to the Government on all matters of national security and public safety and in ensuring that the public and our communities are safe. Combating terrorism, no matter where it comes from, will always have the full support of these Benches.

It is right that the organisation before us today is outlawed, and we welcome and support this order proscribing it. It sends a strong message that racism, fascism and the glorification of terrorism will simply not be tolerated on our streets and in our society. Like others, I pay tribute to our security services, the counterterrorism police and others for all the work they do to keep us and our communities safe. We will never know all the work they do to keep us safe and we very much thank them for that.

This order will give some clarity and direction to the counterterrorism police for the work that they do. As the Minister set out, this organisation—Atomwaffen Division or AWD—is a white supremacist organisation. In recent years, we have seen a proliferation of these organisations and groups turning up in the UK, and it is right that we deal with them. Just hearing what the Minister has told us is disturbing enough, along with the material that they write about bringing about a “white ethnostate” instigated by the collapse of society through a race war. Everything we stand for as British citizens—our country and our values—is opposed to these ideas. It is vile propaganda, and I am delighted that the organisations will be outlawed today.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a fair point about the different forms of the organisation, asking why we did not deal with all of them at the same time. If the Minister could help us out, it would be interesting to hear the explanation. I accept that the organisations try to change—like a chameleon—by having one name first and then changing to something different, but it is fair to ask why they were not all captured at the same time. I accept that the Home Secretary has to look at a number of factors, and perhaps that is the reason why, but that is the only question I have for the Minister. We very much support and welcome the order today, and offer the Government our full support.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in favour of this proscription. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, made the pertinent point that these actions are preventive—and, my goodness, the security services have certainly prevented some terrorist action over the last few years. Like the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy, I pay tribute to them.

The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, pressed me on why we are bringing these measures forward now. Obviously, there is information that the Home Secretary receives that I cannot discuss, and she will make decisions based on the intelligence and legal information that she receives. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, we do not think that SKD was actually the British branch of AWD. It might have been influenced by AWD, but we understand that it is not the same group. They are all equally awful, but we do not think that those links are there. With that, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.