Amendment to the Motion

Part of Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill - Second Reading (and remaining stages) – in the House of Lords at 6:06 pm on 24th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 6:06 pm, 24th February 2020

My Lords, I do not welcome the Bill but I support it, because it is needed to protect our national security from the deadly threat posed by convicted terrorists who, if released from prison, may still believe that their mission is to kill without discrimination, under the banner of Islamic jihad. There have been eight such attacks in Britain since March 2017. Many others have been detected and prevented. I start, therefore, by offering a heartfelt tribute to our security services—MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the anti-terrorist police.

Before considering the Bill in more detail, however, we should face up to what lies behind it all. My noble friend Lord Leigh has just indicated some of that. In recent decades, a belief based on the teachings of the Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam has gathered momentum among a small but growing minority of Muslims. The belief is that there is a religious obligation to impose theocratic government, by whatever means are needed, on nation states throughout the world. It is generally described as political Islam.

In many countries the dormant seeds sprouted with the Arab spring of 2011. They flowered with astonishing vigour with the launch of Islamic State from the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda on 8 April 2014. IS had declared the aim of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It swept through much of Iraq and Syria. After five years of struggle, IS lost its last territory with the capture of Baghuz in Syria on 23 March last year. The embers of IS, however, still glow throughout the world, including in British prisons.

IS is, of course, a cruel distortion of peaceful Islam and has been, and will continue to be, rejected by the vast majority of Muslims in the UK. I fear, however, that there is little prospect of effective deradicalisation of those who believe that they act with religious authority, as my noble friend was saying. Only when the leaders of Islam themselves seek to extrude and expel—or, in Muslim terms, declare as kufar or un-Islamic infidels—jihadists who seek to justify their violence, will there be any real hope of proper deradicalisation. Sadly, there is little sign of the leaders taking such initiatives. On the contrary, there has been prolonged and determined advocacy of exactly such beliefs in some UK mosques.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, has been the political arm of al-Qaeda, rather as Sinn Féin was of the IRA. One of its leaders, Ibrahim Munir, lives in Britain. The Muslim Brotherhood gains sustenance from both Qatar and Turkey. I have never heard the UK Muslim Brotherhood publicly condemning IS acts in this country—not even the terrible May 2017 Manchester bombing which killed 22 people. In that case, those alleged to be responsible were the three Abedi brothers, who had deep al-Qaeda roots in Libya.

The closest that Sunni Islam has to a world leader is, perhaps, the Sheikh and Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, founded in 970 AD in Cairo. On 2 December last year, the long-time sheikh, Dr Ahmed al-Tayeb, refused to denounce ISIS as un-Islamic but declared that, under sharia, it committed a great sin by causing “corruption on earth”. He went on to say that, under sharia, drinking alcohol is also a great sin but that those who do so cannot be denounced as infidels. So, tragically, we cannot yet expect support for deradicalisation from the supreme leaders of the Islamic world.

So what are the options and implications? First, what is the potential impact of the Bill on the capacity and cost of our prison system? The cost of incarceration, especially in high-security, category A prisons is very high. They only have a capacity of 5,600. Belmarsh prison, built for 760 prisoners, is regularly overcrowded with as many as 70 more. Each inmate costs £40,000 a year. The most expensive, which has been referred to several times, is Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire, at £58,000 a year.

Secondly, the cost of close supervision of those who are released can be enormous. The prospect of detection should be a deterrent, especially as it has recently ended in the death by police shooting of seven terrorists. In Britain, when life is threatened, the police shoot to kill. Unfortunately, some jihadists have been groomed to seek martyrdom. The Government are right to deny the return to the UK of those who have left to take up arms with ISIS.

We have a really dangerous threat ahead of us. Inevitably there will be difficult balances to strike between homeland security and civil liberties, as there were in World War II, but we are once more under attack. The overriding motto must be, “Britain’s safety first”. That is why I support the Bill.