Encouragement of Terrorism Offences

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:13 pm on 10th December 2020.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Minister of State, Home Department 5:13 pm, 10th December 2020

I congratulate Carla Lockhart on securing the debate, and on the very powerful and poignant speech she delivered to the House this evening. Her comments on the brutal murder of William Heenan will have struck a chord with all who have heard the debate tonight. The loss and impact on his son Sammy Heenan, and on the rest of the family, is lifelong. I am sure that all in this House would wish to convey our deepest and sincerest condolences for his and their loss, and for all the pain that they continue to suffer.

Certainly, as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I have met too many who continue to suffer that pain and that loss. We still collectively need to do much more to be able to look to Northern Ireland’s future with a positive sense of the amazing place that it is and the incredible people there who make it such a special place, while equally knowing that the legacy of the troubles and of the past still runs very deep and knowing the pain that it continues to cause. Therefore I understand and hear that sense of the need for us to be able to look to a future beyond all of those troubling issues.

I speak as the Security Minister, and therefore look to these issues of national security across all parts of our United Kingdom. I was struck by the emphasis that the hon. Lady gave to issues relating to this House, which brought to mind the response that she received from the Leader of the House recently during business questions when she highlighted this point. The Leader of the House underlined that very clear message, saying:

“We should remember and commemorate those who were killed”,—[Official Report, 26 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 993.]

drawing to mind the shields within this House to remember Airey Neave and Ian Gow, and stating that commemorating those who committed murder is absolutely not what we as a House should do. I understand that it is in that sense that the hon. Member for Upper Bann approaches all of this.

I want to look at the work that we do as a Government across the United Kingdom, and I am sure that the hon. Lady would join me in recognising the work that happens here and now. What do I mean by that? I mean the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, MI5 and others, who work tirelessly to keep people safe and have our full support for the immense contribution they make on a daily basis. I commend all those who, sometimes quietly, sometimes out of sight, help to deliver safety and security for the public in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. That ongoing work by the police and MI5 means that most people in Northern Ireland, mercifully, are not directly affected by the severe terrorist threat that endures.

It remains unacceptable that, decades on from the Good Friday agreement, there are still groups who are using and hiding bombs and bullets in residential areas, putting their own agendas above the rights of the community who want to live and thrive in peace. Where terrorism, paramilitary-style attacks and attacks on the community endure, so, too, will our efforts to tackle them. We will always do everything in our power to ensure they do not succeed.

I take this opportunity to commend the recent successes of Operation Arbacia, an ongoing Police Service of Northern Ireland-led operation into the activities of the New IRA, which has involved collaboration with partners such as MI5, Police Scotland, An Garda Síochána and the Metropolitan Police Service. In August, the Police Service of Northern Ireland arrested 10 people, all of whom have now been charged with a range of terrorism offences under the Terrorism Act 2006. Violent dissident republicans cause substantial harm to communities and the fabric of society. These arrests, I believe, are a welcome step in maintaining peace in Northern Ireland and keeping people safe from criminality and violence.

We have robust UK-wide legislation to counter the threat of terrorism and protect the public. The legislative framework was established in the Terrorism Act 2000; it was updated and strengthened in the post-9/11 era, again more recently to respond to the threat connected with the Syrian conflict and individuals travelling from this country to join terrorist groups, and then again following the attacks in the UK in 2017. Our framework provides a coherent approach, including an ideology-neutral definition of terrorism, which determines the scope of other terrorism powers and offences.

On the particular issue raised in this debate today, the Government are clear that statements that encourage or glorify terrorism are unacceptable and that individuals who make such statements should be liable for prosecution. It is an offence under section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 for an individual to intentionally encourage members of the public to engage in terrorism or be reckless as to whether their statements will encourage it. That applies whether or not any person is in fact encouraged or induced to engage in terrorism as a result of the individual’s statements.

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 updated the section 1 encouragement offence in three ways: closing a gap that existed whereby the offence would not necessarily be committed in a case where someone radicalised or sought to encourage a child or vulnerable adult to carry out an act of terrorism; ensuring extra-territorial jurisdiction applies fully to the encouragement of any act of terrorism, meaning that a person may be prosecuted in the UK for conduct that took place outside the UK that would have been unlawful had it taken place here; and increasing the maximum penalty available following a conviction from seven to 15 years’ imprisonment to reflect the seriousness of the offence. That is an appropriately broad offence of encouragement, which also covers the glorification of terrorism and ensures that perpetrators can be prosecuted appropriately.

In addition, our counter-terrorism legislative framework includes the separate offence under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 of inviting support for a proscribed organisation. The 2019 Act extended the offence by making it clear that it is illegal to make statements in support of a terrorist organisation or to be reckless as to whether others will be encouraged to support the organisation.