An estimated 600 British citizens have now travelled to join the conflict in Syria, from extremists with a terrorist history to 15-year-old schoolgirls. The whole House will share a revulsion at the barbarism of ISIL, a determination to tackle extremism and strong support for the vital and unsung work of the security services and the police to tackle the threat here and abroad. Members on both sides of the House have also recently supported further legislation to tackle the terrorist threat. However, there are specific areas in which we need answers about Government policies and decisions.
First, we need answers on the handling of a west London network of terror suspects. In 2011, court papers described a network including three individuals relocated on control orders, 10 other named individuals and further unnamed individuals based in west London who were
“involved in the provision of funds and equipment” to terrorism and the
“facilitation of individuals’ travel from the UK” to join terrorist-related activity.
The Home Secretary’s decision, against advice, to abolish control orders and cancel relocations was implemented in 2012, meaning that no one could then be relocated, despite the continued police view that relocation was one of the best ways to disrupt terrorist networks. One of those who had been relocated absconded in a London black cab; another associate absconded wearing a burqa. Other men from that west London network have been reported in the media as subsequently leaving for Syria and becoming involved in brutal violence. The Home Secretary has finally restored the relocation powers within the past few weeks. Does she believe that her decision to remove those relocation powers made it easier for that west London network to operate, recruit and send people to Syria? Will she now ask the independent terrorism reviewer or the Intelligence and Security Committee to consider the details of that west London network and to assess whether Government policy made it easier for it to operate and harder for the police and the Security Service to disrupt it?
Secondly, we need to know about the Government’s policy to prevent young people and children from travelling to Syria, in the light of the distressing story of three schoolgirls from east London travelling there. I have not had a reply to my letter to the Home Secretary of last Wednesday, so will she tell us now whether the Government had an agreement in place with the airlines to raise alerts over unaccompanied minors travelling on known Syrian routes? If not, why not? And will she put such an agreement in place now? The girls flew out on Tuesday, but they did not leave Istanbul bus station until late Wednesday. It is reported that the police contacted the London embassy on Wednesday, but when were the Istanbul authorities alerted, and when were checks made at the main airports and train and bus stations in that city?
One pupil from Bethnal Green academy is reported to have left for Syria before Christmas, and it is widely known that recruitment is taking place through friendship groups and social media. What training and support was given to the teachers and parents of other children at Bethnal Green academy to prevent further recruitment, grooming and radicalisation? What community-led Prevent programmes is the Home Office currently supporting in Bethnal Green?
When the Home Secretary came to office and changed policy to end relocation orders and to remove community work from Prevent, she claimed that previous policies had failed to tackle extremism and she promised:
“We will not make the same mistakes”.—[Hansard, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 52.]
We need answers from her now about the mistakes that have been made under this Government, so that we can all work together to strengthen counter-terrorism policy in the face of these serious threats.