Counter-Terrorism: Conflict Zones

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:31 pm, 2nd March 2015

As the Government have made clear repeatedly, the threat we face from terrorism is grave and is growing. The House will appreciate that I cannot comment on operational matters and individual cases, but the threat level in the United Kingdom, which is set by the independent joint terrorism analysis centre, is at severe. This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely and could occur without warning.

The Government have consistently and emphatically advised against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq. Anyone who travels to these areas is putting themselves in considerable danger, and the impact that such a decision can have on families and communities can be devastating.

The serious nature of the threat we face is exactly why the Government have been determined to act. We have protected the counter-terrorism policing budget up to and including 2015-16, and increased the budget for the security and intelligence agencies. In addition, we have provided an additional £130 million to strengthen counter-terrorism capabilities and help address the threat from ISIL, and we have taken significant steps to ensure that the police and the security services have the powers and capabilities they need.

Last year, we acted swiftly to protect vital capabilities that allow the police and the security services to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to clarify the law in respect of interception for communications-service providers. This year we have introduced the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. This has provided the police with a power to seize a passport at the border temporarily, during which time they will be able to investigate the individual concerned—and I can confirm that this power has already been used. It has created a temporary exclusion order that allows for the managed return to the UK of a British citizen suspected of involvement in terrorist activity abroad. It has strengthened the existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures regime so that, among other measures, subjects can be made to relocate to another part of the country, and it has enhanced our border security for aviation, maritime and rail travel, with provisions relating to passenger data, no-fly lists, and security and screening measures.

Since its national roll-out in April 2012, more than 2,000 people have been referred to Channel, the Government’s programme for people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism, many of whom might have gone on to be radicalised or to fight in Syria. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has now placed Channel on a statutory basis. It has also placed our Prevent work on a statutory basis, which will mean that schools, colleges, universities, prisons, local government and the police will have to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Already since 2012, local Prevent projects have reached more than 55,000 people and have helped young people and community groups to understand and challenge extremist narratives, including those of ISIL.

In addition to this work, alongside the checks we already conduct on a significant number of passengers who leave the UK, we have committed to reintroducing exit checks, and arrangements to do so will be in place by April 2015. These will extend our ability to identify persons of interest from a security, criminal, immigration or customs perspective. And as the Prime Minister stated last week, the Transport Secretary and I will be working with airlines to put proportionate arrangements in place to ensure that children who are at risk are properly identified and questioned.

The Government are taking robust action, but we have been clear that tackling the extremist threat that we face is not just a job for the Government, the police and the security services; it needs everyone to play their part. It requires educational institutions, social media companies, communities, religious leaders and families to help to protect people vulnerable to radicalisation and to confront this poisonous ideology. If we are to defeat this appalling threat and ideology, we must all work together.