(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on Government actions in dealing with UK nationals returning from Syria.
May I start by paying my respects to the hon. Member for Newport West? Our sympathies are with his loved ones and all those in this House who were close to him.
I welcome the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). My priority as Home Secretary is to ensure the safety and security of this country. We cannot ignore the threat posed by those who chose to leave Britain to engage with the conflict in Syria or Iraq—more than 900 people took this path. Without the de-radicalisation work of our Prevent programme, there could have been many more. Whatever role they took in the so-called caliphate, they all supported a terrorist organisation and, in doing so, have shown that they hate our country and the values we stand for. This is a death cult that enslaved and raped thousands of Yazidi girls and that celebrated attacks on our shores, including the tragic Manchester bombing, which targeted young girls. Now that the so-called caliphate is crumbling, some of them want to return. I have been very clear: where I can, and where any threat remains, I will not hesitate to prevent that. The powers available to me include banning non-British people from this country and stripping dangerous dual nationals of their British citizenship. More than 100 people have already been deprived in this way. We must, of course, observe international law, and we cannot strip someone of their British citizenship if doing so would leave them stateless. Individuals who manage to return will be questioned, investigated and, potentially, prosecuted.
Our Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which received Royal Assent just last week, provides more powers to prosecute returnees. It extends the list of offences committed overseas that we can act on, and it creates new laws to ban British citizens from entering designated terrorist hotspots without good reason.
Our world-class police and security services closely monitor all who return if they pose any risk. We do not hesitate to use the range of tools at our disposal. That includes using temporary exclusion orders to put in-country restrictions in place, and managing risks through terrorism prevention and investigation measures—so-called TPIMs. Members will have seen the comments that Shamima Begum has made in the media, and they will have to draw their own conclusions. Quite simply, if someone backs terror, there must be consequences.
There is huge concern in this country about the return of Shamima Begum. This is an individual who willingly travelled to Syria to become a supporter of a terrorist organisation. She has shown no remorse about her decision, and it appears that she wishes to return to the United Kingdom only because of the benefits that this country can offer her. Many people are very angry about that. Her case highlights the problem facing this country and the Home Secretary: as a British national without any form of dual nationality, Begum cannot be refused entry. Does the Home Secretary accept that the removal of citizenship from Britons who travelled abroad to join Daesh is prohibited under international law?
Figures from the Home Office show that 900 British nationals travelled to Syria, and up to 400 have returned. On 11 June last year, the Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime told the House that of those who had returned from Syria:
“Approximately 40 have been prosecuted so far”.—[Official Report, 11 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 666.]
That is a reduction on the 54 that, in May 2016, Lord Keen advised had been prosecuted, and it is still only 10% of those who went to Syria and returned.
How many British nationals have returned from Syria? How many have been prosecuted for offences? What offences were they charged with? How many have been convicted? If we do not address this issue, not only do we risk the security of the United Kingdom but we put into doubt the safety of thousands of our Muslim constituents and we put them at risk of discrimination, abuse and violence. I make a great distinction between my hard-working, law-abiding Muslim constituents and the actions of a reckless child from east London. I ask the Home Secretary to take action on this vital matter.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the important questions that he has just put to me. He asked me about the case of Shamima Begum, and I hope he will understand that I am not at liberty to discuss the case of any particular individual. As I have just said, however, we have all seen and heard the remarks that she made in the media, and we can all draw our own conclusions.
My hon. Friend went on to ask me a number of related and important questions. He said that in some cases we can remove British citizenship. That is what I have referred to as deprivation. As I have said, the Government have done so on more than 100 occasions. If someone who has more than one nationality—British nationality plus another, or perhaps more than one other—is deemed a threat, and I consider this to be conducive to the public good, we can deprive that individual of their British nationality, and thereby prevent their return to the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend mentioned some numbers. From the best numbers we have available, we estimate that, in recent years, 900 people who have been deemed of national security concern in some way or another went to Syria or Iraq to join terrorist organisations. Of those, we estimate that 20% have been killed in the battlefield, and around 40% have returned, leaving about 40% still somewhere in the region.
My hon. Friend asked about those who have returned in recent years. In all those cases, we would seek to make sure, first, that that individual is questioned, investigated and, where there is enough evidence, prosecuted. We would seek to manage that return, so even if they are a British citizen, we can issue temporary exclusion orders. That will remove their passport and require them to travel on a specifically issued designated travel document into a specific port of entry. At that point of entry, they are monitored by police and face a number of other restrictions. If appropriate, we can also use TPIMs to place further restrictions on them while we may or may not be waiting for prosecution. Of course, we will also work with authorities, particularly if young children are involved, to make sure they get the mental health, psychiatric and other types of help that may be necessary.
Finally, my hon. Friend rightly mentioned communities and making sure that, whatever we do, we work towards building more cohesive communities and winning the understanding of all communities, and that is something we always try to do.
May I begin by joining the Home Secretary in his tribute to the late Paul Flynn? Paul was the first person to show me around the House of Commons, and he was an inspiration to me and many others in terms of entering politics. My thoughts today are with his wife, Sam, and all his family and friends.
The public have a right to protection from anyone thought to pose a threat to this country, and paramount for any Government is the security of their citizens. Will the Secretary of State confirm, first, that UK citizens are entitled to return to this country under international law, but that they should be held to account on their return for their actions?
Under international law, as the Home Secretary said, the Government cannot make people stateless, but they can sensibly take a number of practical steps to safeguard people in line with our respect for the rule of law. The designated areas offence introduced by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act has received Royal Assent in recent days. The Opposition worked with the Government on developing that mechanism, which provides the legal framework to deal with the issue of returning so-called foreign fighters. However, the Government now need to designate areas to ensure that those returning face justice and due process. Is the Home Secretary considering designating parts of Syria in line with that legislation?
Recently, attention has focused on those who have travelled to Syria to join the so-called caliphate. Given that people may start to return to the UK and will face legal proceedings, I will not comment further on individual cases. However, will the Home Secretary confirm that anyone returning to this country as a UK citizen should expect to face justice for their actions, in a legal process in which our police, our prosecutors and our courts will take into account the individual circumstances of each case?
I welcome the questions from the hon. Gentleman. First, he asked whether UK citizens are entitled to return. So long as they are still UK citizens, they will have a right to return, but even in that case it is possible to place certain restrictions on them. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, I mentioned temporary exclusion orders, which I have used on a number of occasions to put in place a number of restrictions by removing the passport but issuing different types of travel documents that control entry.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act and the measures in it to combat terrorism—especially the designated areas offence. I welcome the support of the whole House for the Act and particularly for that offence. He asked whether we are looking at designated areas, and of course we are. In anticipation of the Bill becoming an Act, we had already commenced some work on that. It would not be appropriate at this point for me to say which areas we looked at specifically—for an area to be designated, it has to come before the House and it has to be the will of the House to designate that area, and I do not want to prejudge that—but it is worth pointing out that it will not be retrospective, and the House should keep that in mind.
The hon. Gentleman talked of “if and when” people start to return. As I said a few moments ago, over the last few years several people have returned, and in all such cases I can assure him that we always seek first to try to control entry and question the individual. We investigate the individual, working with the police and the security services, and where appropriate we prosecute. That has always been the case and that will not change.
If we deem someone to be a serious threat to this country and it is in the public interest to prevent them from re-entering the UK and we can do so by legal means by depriving them of citizenship, or preventing entry in the case of a non-British national, we would always look to do that.
With regard to those terrorist fighters suspected of the most barbaric crimes, does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to avoid British or other nationals ending up in a new Guantanamo, we may need a new international agreement about how such cases are to be handled, and perhaps even an international terrorist court to make sure that they are properly prosecuted?
My right hon. Friend speaks with experience of fighting terrorism and he is right. The issue of foreign fighters is faced by several countries, including our European allies, our American allies and others. We are working closely with them to see what more we can do to ensure that in every case justice is done and, where possible, is done in the region.
I echo the comments that have been made about the sad death of Paul Flynn: he was a one-off and will be missed by all of us.
The SNP share the concerns of everybody else in the House and the country about the terrorist threat from Daesh and other extremist ideologies. Nevertheless, the UK still has a responsibility to UK citizens who left to join Daesh and, as the Home Secretary said, the UK is obligated under international law to allow re-entry to UK citizens without claim to another nationality. Shamima Begum, whatever her degree of culpability, was a child when she left the UK and is thought to have been a victim of a grooming campaign, like many other UK children at the time. She is a vulnerable young woman with a newborn child, and the Government should follow international law and allow her to return to face the consequences of her actions.
By showing our commitment to the rule of law, we demonstrate the strength of the democratic system and help to prevent others from being radicalised. Can the Home Secretary confirm whether Shamima Begum was a target of Daesh grooming and whether he has information on the number of UK children targeted by Daesh? I have a particular interest in the issue after meeting Safaa Boular on a visit to Medway secure training centre: what steps is the Home Secretary taking to ensure that a similar wide-scale Daesh grooming campaign could not happen today or in the future?
The hon. Gentleman has asked me about a particular individual and it would not be appropriate for me to be drawn into that.
On a more general note, if individuals have left Britain to join Daesh or other terrorist organisations in that region, we can understand why they are considered a threat to individuals and to our values in this country, and to our allies across the world. Those individuals have made that decision, and the Government’s first priority is to protect this country and do whatever is necessary. If those individuals have more than one nationality—again, I will not be drawn on a particular individual—we have the ability where appropriate to strip them of their British nationality. I have done that on several occasions and will continue to do so where I deem it appropriate. If that is not possible, we have other ways to manage the risk.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the grooming of young people by extremists and terrorist organisations, which sadly we have seen in this country and elsewhere. The Government are working with other public bodies to try to stop that, for example through the Prevent programme, which has been very successful to date. It is about safeguarding vulnerable young people who are susceptible to extremists.
This is a controversial area for our constituents, but surely the Home Secretary has got the balance right in what he has said today. It is important that these people are not left stateless in ungoverned spaces, floating around or consorting with those of ill intention. We have in this country courts and judicial structures, the rule of law and the security institutions of the state. Will he confirm that we have to take responsibility for dealing with these people, and that we cannot just close our eyes and pull up the drawbridge?
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. Of course it is very important that we take responsibility for doing what we can to reduce the risk to Britain and our people, but we also work with our allies to reduce the risk to them, for example through our deradicalisation programmes, and indeed through the work done internationally by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development to help stabilise those regions.
Not all UK nationals trying to return from warzones in the middle east have been consorting with terrorists; some are trapped there through no fault of their own. Will the Home Secretary work with his Foreign Office colleagues to make sure that people like my constituent, who is being held by Houthis in Sana‘a and is a UK national, can get back to Britain as easily as possible, even though they do not have documents?
Obviously, each case is dealt with on a case-by-case basis and we must consider the individual issues raised. It is important to note that, as we have heard with other cases raised in the House, the travel advice for all British citizens is not to travel to Yemen or Syria. It is important that people realise just how dangerous those areas are. Even if they have some benign intent, they should really think twice about going into a danger zone. But if someone is not connected to terrorism or is not deemed a danger in any way, we should absolutely look at what options are available for offering assistance.
Although the law on treason is antiquated, the act of treason most certainly is not. From what the Secretary of State has been saying, it is quite obvious that there will be many people coming back for whom it will not be possible to establish by normal standards in a court of law that they committed crimes while volunteering and spending time in the so-called caliphate. I draw his attention to the recommendation by Professor Richard Ekins of Oxford University, published yesterday in The Sunday Telegraph, that Parliament should
“restore the law of treason, specifying that it is treason to support a group that one knows intends to attack the UK or is fighting UK forces.”
Will he seriously address that point?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. This is a complex situation and we should always be looking to see what tools we have at our disposal to ensure that those who are guilty of terrorism, or of supporting terrorist groups, are brought to justice. That means ensuring that we have the right laws in place. I referred earlier to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which received Royal Assent only last week, which gives the courts more powers. There are already powers in existence, including those covering extra-territorial jurisdictions. He made another important point about something else we could look at. I have read that article and heard what Professor Ekins has said in the past, and I think that it is worth considering it carefully.
May I pay my party’s respects to the late Paul Flynn, whose contribution to this House and to British politics will be sorely missed?
Does the Home Secretary agree that our country’s long-term security is best served by understanding precisely why a young British girl would go to Syria in the first place? Is it not therefore better for UK security to interrogate and investigate this British citizen in the UK, rather than waste this opportunity to learn incredibly valuable lessons?
Again, I cannot speak about a particular case or an individual, but I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is better in every case to talk to someone who has left to join a terrorist group to try to find out why; I do not think that that is the case. The driving factor on every occasion should be what is best for the security and the national interest of this country. He is right to point to the issue of why so many people—as I said, it is approximately 900 over a number of years, and many of them are British—have been drawn to leave these shores to go and join such a vile terrorist organisation. We at the Home Office and our partners in the police, the security services and others take that work very seriously. When we start to understand more why that happened, we must use those lessons to safeguard more people, especially young people.
It is time we heard from a Berkshire knight—I call Sir John Redwood.
How will the UK authorities go about finding the evidence concerning those UK citizens who went abroad to join a terrorist organisation and to fight or intervene in acts of brutality or support those who did?
My right hon. Friend highlights an important issue. Members will understand why it is very difficult to gather evidence when someone has gone to a completely ungoverned space where we have no consular presence and no diplomatic relations of any type, and nor do our allies.
That said, we put a huge amount of effort—I take this opportunity to commend our security services, the police and some of our international partners—into gathering battlefield evidence and having that ready to use whenever appropriate. If we can supply that evidence in some cases to our partners for cases that they wish to bring in front of their courts, we will try to work constructively with them. The UN has also been looking at this. New measures are being considered on battlefield evidence conventions, and Britain, through the Ministry of Defence, is making an incredibly important contribution to that.
I completely understand that the Home Secretary wants people who have gone abroad to commit terrible crimes to face the full force of the law, but if they are British citizens, they have the right to be brought back here. So too do their offspring. What steps is he taking to recover, safeguard and protect the newborn baby, who I believe may be a British citizen, now languishing in a refugee camp?
I am sure the hon. Lady will understand that I cannot get drawn into a particular case, but I will respond to her general point. As a father, I think that any parent would have sympathy for a completely innocent child who is born into a battle zone or even taken there by their parents. But ultimately, we must remember that it is their parents who have decided to take that risk with their child; it is not something that Britain or the British Government have done. They have deliberately taken their child into a warzone where there is no British consular protection, and there is FCO advice that no one should go there.
Furthermore, if that person is involved with a terrorist organisation, they have gone to either directly or indirectly kill other people’s children, and we should keep that in mind. Lastly, if we were to do more to try to rescue these children, we have to think about what risk that places on future children in the United Kingdom and the risk that they may be taken out to warzones by their parents.
The armed forces of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria have done most of the fighting and dying, as our allies, in liberating parts of their territory from ISIS. They now have custody of many foreign fighters, including British citizens who found themselves in those ISIS areas. What is our obligation to the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria?
We work closely with our allies in the coalition forces in northern Syria, and both through the Ministry of Defence and other means, wherever appropriate and sensible, we provide support. There is limited information exchange on detainees, but where we are supplied with information, we would of course look at that and try to use it to bring about justice and make sure justice is done. Our priority will always be to see whether justice can be done in the region.
I thank the Home Secretary for his strong stance and leadership. I have been contacted by a large volume of constituents on this matter—probably because I am a tender-hearted person, I believe. I usually believe that if people have made a mistake and are repentant, we should be forgiving. However, in this case there is no repentance and certainly no apology, and someone who is “unfazed” at decapitated heads in a bin shows no remorse whatever. This is not a mistake; it is a matter of national security. She married a Dutch national, and if we strip her of her citizenship, she will have weight for her and her child in that nation and will therefore not be left stateless. Will the Secretary of State outline his opinion on this case?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I cannot speak about an individual case—it would not be appropriate for me to do so at the Dispatch Box—although I do understand the points that he has made. As I said earlier, many people, including of course the hon. Gentleman, will have heard the comments of Ms Shamima Begum and they will be drawing their own conclusions.
On 1 September 2014, I raised the question of returning jihadists with the then Prime Minister—after the murder of Lee Rigby and before the murder of many other people in Manchester, Westminster and elsewhere. I did say that I thought this was not something that might happen, but would happen. I mentioned article 8(3) of the 1961 United Nations convention on statelessness, which does provide the tools to which my right hon. Friend has referred, if the Government are prepared to take them up. It says that a person may be rendered stateless if he has acted
“inconsistently with his duty of loyalty”,
behaved in a way
“prejudicial to the vital interests of the State”,
“allegiance to another State”
and shown evidence of repudiation of allegiance. Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to look at that again? I have raised it several times, including with the present Prime Minister when she was the Home Secretary. Will he take another look at this because I do think the situation is now becoming more than critical?
My hon. Friend, as we have heard, has long taken an interest in these issues and has contributed greatly in so many ways in trying to fight terrorism. He has raised another important point. In the past, our lawyers have looked at these issues, but he has asked me whether I would be willing to look again. I will certainly do that, and I will write to him.
When will this Government stop maintaining that they cannot liaise with British citizens until they leave Syria? They know that there are many British citizens, including one of my constituents, who cannot leave Syria because their jailers will not release them unless it is to the home country of that captive. Ultimately, these individuals should surely be taken back to the UK, where they can face justice in our courts, rather than our Government totally absolving themselves of any responsibility.
First, it is worth pointing out again that the Foreign Office’s advice when it comes to Syria, for many years now, has been that it is very dangerous. No British citizen should be travelling to Syria. If a British citizen has ignored that advice, they will know that there is no consular support there and that we have no diplomatic relations with Syria. If the individual concerned is a foreign fighter who went to join a terrorist organisation to kill, rape and cause enormous damage, there is no way that this Government will risk the lives of British personnel—British soldiers, Foreign Office officials or others—to go and rescue such a person. No way.
When we cannot prevent their return, what about internment until they have been sufficiently quarantined?
My right hon. Friend might be reassured to know that when we cannot prevent someone’s return, we will in all cases seek to question them, investigate them and, where appropriate, prosecute them. Even if they are mono-national, if they are British citizens, we can strip them of their passport, have temporary exclusion orders and manage their return.
Wonderful tributes have been paid to Paul Flynn, and few things demonstrated his place as a wonderful contrarian so well as the fact that he lent his support to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) in the 2015 leadership contest despite the fact that he seemed to disagree with all her major policy points. Amid those tributes, I am sure that the House will want to register its thanks to Sir Charles Farr, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who passed away last week.
The Home Secretary talks about people facing consequences for supporting terror, but he knows that far too many of them do not face consequences. He talks about doing whatever it takes to bring people to justice, so why is he not making the very valuable designated area offence, for which many of us campaigned, retrospective? Does he really think that the law as it stands, under which people can go to Syria, make themselves jihadi brides and offer their support to foreign fighters yet not have their prosecution guaranteed, is strong enough? Surely it is not. What measures will he take?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to mention Charles Farr, who has sadly passed away, and to point out the huge contribution that Charles made to the security of this country, both at the Home Office and as the chairman of the JIC. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that, and he was absolutely right to do so.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the laws that are available and the tools for prosecution, and particularly about the new powers in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. These are far-reaching powers, and we tried to prepare a Bill that had the support of the House while being well balanced and offering due process. As for the designated powers procedures, as I said earlier, we started work on that in anticipation of Royal Assent, which has now happened. We hope to bring an order to the House as soon as possible.
In the European Court of Human Rights, the case of K2 v. the United Kingdom was about taking away nationality in the context of terrorism, and that was found to be manifestly ill founded. Why does that not apply here, since the defendant in that case had only one nationality at the time?
I am not familiar with the details of that case, and I do not have them to hand, but if my hon. Friend wants to send me more details I will give a more detailed response. As I said earlier, the tools available to us to remove someone’s British nationality—to deprive them of it—can be used only when they have more than one nationality.
Thames Valley police has lost several hundred officers thanks to Government cuts. Will the Home Secretary tell the House how he thinks such cuts will affect the police’s ability to monitor returnees from Syria?
On security, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of resources for our world-class police, including those in Thames Valley. That is why I am sure that he would welcome the record increase of up to £970 million in England and Wales for the police. It is a shame, given his concern, that he actually voted against that increase.
With the collapse of ISIL we are going to see more cases like this. Could the Home Secretary remind us of how many fighters, whether male or female, have returned to this country already, and how many are being observed by our security services?
What my hon. Friend highlights is that this is not a new problem. We understand why it is so prominent right now in the press, but people have been going to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq for a number of years. He is right to point out that with the weakness of Daesh at the moment it is possible that more will seek to return. He asks me how many. We only have estimates. There is no accurate information, but as I mentioned earlier we think approximately 40% of the 900 who we estimate left the UK to join those groups have returned. In every case, we seek to manage that. He also asked me how many are under certain measures, such as TPIMs. That is not something that would be appropriate to discuss.
The case of Shamima Begum is of course highly emotive and any of us who have read the interview will find it difficult to be sympathetic. However, I have grave concerns that vulnerable young children or vulnerable young people who have been groomed by extremists could be left stateless. Can the Home Secretary assure us that that will not happen? Will he also detail to the House the steps his Department is taking to tackle online grooming by extremists?
I can assure the hon. Lady that we would not knowingly make anyone stateless.
The sight of decapitated heads lying in a rubbish bin did not phase Ms Begum. Should the British people be phased if this individual is left to reap what she sows? No taxpayers’ money should be used in any way to repatriate this individual.
Again, I hope my hon. Friend understands that it would not be appropriate for me to talk about an individual or an individual case, but he makes a very important and powerful point. In many cases, the people who left Britain knew exactly what they were doing. They were full of hate for our country and hate for our values. They went out there to murder, to rape, to support rape and to commit many violent and vile acts. We can absolutely imagine why hardly anyone among the British public would have any sympathy for them.
I speak from the Back Bench because of the inimitable Paul Flynn, who in his superb book “How to be an MP” advised that one’s profile is best displayed from the Back Bench.
May I ask the Home Secretary how many returning combatants have been prosecuted and how many are subject to TPIMs?
A number of people have returned from the wars in Syria and Iraq. We have been able to gather evidence through questioning and other means, and they have been prosecuted for a number of offences. A number of TPIMs have been issued; I would not want to get into the exact numbers at this point. There are concerns about what might happen if we publish some of those numbers so readily, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that where we can, we do prosecute and will continue to prosecute individuals.
How effective has the Prevent strategy been in dissuading British people, especially young people, from travelling overseas to join organisations such as ISIS in the first place?
The Prevent programme is working; it has been successful. Since 2015, some 780 vulnerable people have been successfully supported away from terrorism. It is worth pointing out that the programme is voluntary and confidential. Over 180 grassroots projects support the Prevent strategy. The Channel, which is part of the Prevent process, supports those projects. If it is helpful, I should say that in 2017-18 over 7,000 people were referred. Of those, just under 400 received support from the Channel programme. If I may, Mr Speaker, it is also worth pointing out that, in the last year for which we have full information, about a quarter of referrals were for far right extremism.
Like the Home Secretary, I have little sympathy for those who headed out to the middle east—to Syria and Iraq—to support a form of medieval barbarism that sought to enslave an entire people and who committed genocide while they were as well. Does he agree that the important point now is to ensure that those who have survived this murderous campaign are brought to justice either here or in an international tribunal?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The overriding aim with all these individuals, whether they are from Britain or have left countries that are our allies, is to work together to make sure that justice is done in every case. As I said earlier, we will seek to work with our allies to make sure, first of all, that justice can be done in the region, but if that cannot be done, we will look to work with our allies on other means.
Is it the case that the lawyer of the individual concerned has described British law as akin to that of the Nazis? If that is how it was described, will my right hon. Friend condemn that because we are a proud country with our traditions of democracy and the rule of law, and particularly given that ISIS itself was a Nazi, medievalist death cult?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. There are reports today that one of the lawyers who is representing one of the foreign fighters described British law as akin to Nazism. If true, these are absolutely outrageous comments. They will be found to be deeply offensive, for example, by holocaust survivors and their families here in Britain and elsewhere, and if this lawyer has an ounce of dignity, they should consider apologising for these wholly insensitive remarks.
We would not want to fall foul of the European Court of Human Rights, would we? However, as a member of the Council of Europe, I refer the Home Secretary to recent judgments of the Council and the Court that one cannot deprive somebody of citizenship in an arbitrary way. Without asking him to comment on any individual cases, surely as a matter of law, it would not be arbitrary to strip someone of a passport if they willingly go out to join the jurisdiction of a terrorist organisation that has beheaded people, and all the rest, so I urge the Home Secretary to be robust on this matter. He will have the support not only of the whole country, but even of human rights lawyers.
My right hon. Friend has raised an important issue, within which there are two separate issues. One is removing someone’s British passport, which is not necessarily the same as removing their citizenship. It is possible—I have done this on a number of occasions, as have my predecessors—to remove someone’s passport using the royal prerogative if that is deemed in the public interest. Separate to that but related, is, under some circumstances, depriving someone of their British citizenship—I mentioned this earlier at the Dispatch Box. In all cases, none of that can be done—of course it cannot—in an arbitrary way. There is a due process to be followed, but if either of those things are necessary to protect the public, that is exactly what I would do.
I am sure that it is the view of most people—it is certainly the view of the majority of my constituents who have written to me—that when someone has made their bed, they lie in it, but clearly the course of law must prevail here. My concern is with the children. Since 2013, more than 150 cases of children subject to threats of radicalisation have been heard in the family courts. That figure will rise and our courts are little provisioned to deal with them. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with the family courts and children’s services to make sure that suitable and timely interventions are being, and can be, made with similar such children in future?
My hon. Friend rightly highlights the work we do with partners across Government and public agencies through the Prevent programme. That work is all about safeguarding—in many cases, young people and children of all ages—and working with authorities, including social services, local councils, schools and others, to safeguard those children. In terms of deradicalisation, it is one of the most important things we do, and we take it very seriously, which is why I welcome the commitment we made earlier this year to undertake an independent review of the programme to see how we can improve it even further.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those found guilty of the sort of sick atrocities he described will face a whole-life sentence?
My hon. Friend will know that when someone is charged, ultimately it is for the court and judge to decide any eventual punishment, but he can be assured that we want to ensure that justice is done in every single case, either in the region, by helping our allies or in some other way. Justice will be key in every case.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the safety of no British officials, civilians or military, will be put at risk in an attempt to extract those suspected of supporting terrorism in countries across the middle east?
I am very happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. As I mentioned earlier, anyone who has gone to Syria in recent years will have known the huge risk they were taking, and we certainly will not risk the lives of any British officials or soldiers, or anyone else, to help or rescue those who went to support terrorism.
What powers and resources does my right hon. Friend have to ensure that any British citizen returning from the so-called caliphate in whose case the burden of proof does not permit a criminal prosecution face mandatory and robust deradicalisation programmes?
As I have mentioned, this is not a new challenge—we estimate that one way or another more than 300 people have returned in the last few years. When someone manages to return, we first make sure, in the interest of justice, that they are questioned, investigated and, where appropriate, properly prosecuted. Where youngsters, in particular, are involved, however, we also make sure they get deradicalisation help through specific programmes; in some cases, through mental health support; and through support in other ways too. In each case, we will work with partners to create a bespoke programme for that individual and do all we can.
Hon. Friends have mentioned the possibility of withdrawing passports. If a minor has been counselled by Prevent or any other authority in this country and is still intent on going to ISIS or some similar organisation, is there not a strong case for withdrawing their passport for their own safety?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Generally in the circumstances he describes, if further action is needed, such as the withdrawal of the passport—other measures are available—we would not hesitate to take it.
Nine hundred British nationals have gone to support Daesh in Syria and Iraq; just 40 have been prosecuted. This simply is not good enough. Daesh may have been defeated in theatre, but Daesh and its sympathisers are in effect tying us up in knots in our own courts, and these people are getting away with it. The Home Secretary has admitted that 360 of these individuals are still at large and likely to return to this country. My constituents do not feel safe with the Government’s response to this threat. I urge him urgently to revisit the legal advice he has been given in several areas, because we need to do better, don’t we?
My hon. Friend is right. We do need to do more to ensure that we have more tools to prosecute people who have helped or supported terrorist organisations, whether they have actually gone to Syria—some examples have been mentioned today—or whether they are in our own country, helping those organisations in other ways. Since I became Home Secretary, I have been determined to provide more of those tools. I was pleased that my hon. Friend, and indeed the whole House, supported the Bill that became the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which will give us far more tools that can be used for law enforcement. We have increased sentences in many instances. The Act will also enable us to step up the work that we have been doing with our allies across the world to gather more battlefield evidence, because evidence is also crucial, especially if we are seeking higher sentences.
My hon. Friend is right to issue that challenge and to say we need to do more, and I agree with him.
I, and the constituents who have contacted me, find it hard to understand how someone who has joined an organisation whose aims are to destroy the values that we hold dear can then cite those same values in an attempt to justify being repatriated to the United Kingdom. May I therefore urge the Home Secretary to stand firm and use all possible legal means to keep these people out of our country?
I will not talk about a particular case, but I absolutely understand the sentiments that my hon. Friend has expressed, and I think that they are the sentiments of the vast majority of the constituents whom we are all here to represent. We must indeed use all the legal means that we have to ensure that those who have supported terror groups, either at home or abroad, are always punished for that, and are brought to justice.
May I pursue the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), and mention another—I would argue—ill-judged comment? In an attempt to build sympathy, the lawyer representing Miss Begum has also compared her to a first world war veteran suffering from shell-shock. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is deeply insulting to many thousands of former servicemen and their families? Those servicemen suffered deep trauma fighting for this country and defending democracy, rather than joining a terrorist group that was out to destroy it
That is another of the points that Members have made today about a particular case. Again, the solicitor should be very careful about the remarks that are made, and reflect very deeply on them. My hon. Friend has raised a good example of why that is so important.