Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2021 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 2:17 pm on 15th July 2021.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford:

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the draft Order laid before the House on 12 July be approved.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, this Government are committed to taking all necessary steps to protect the people of this country. Tackling terrorism in all its forms is a critical part of that mission. The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at “substantial”, which means that a terrorist attack in our country is likely.

Terrorism by its nature is a fluid and changeable threat. It is therefore right that the Government continuously consider whether new action is necessary, adapting our response to the evolving picture. The concerns that this Government have regarding extreme right-wing terrorism are well documented. The use of these hateful ideologies to prey on young and vulnerable people is utterly abhorrent, and we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to crack down on such activity.

The threat posed by terrorist organisations varies, depending on the group’s ideology, membership and ability to train members. Some groups focus on radicalising, and promoting and encouraging terrorism, and some prepare and commit terrible acts of violence against innocent members of the public. Terrorist groups can now recruit, radicalise and train individuals from a distance, distributing terrorist material at the click of a button. The use of the internet for these purposes has had a huge impact on the threat and the way that we respond to it.

We have a duty to our allies, as well as to our own people, to tackle groups that inspire and co-ordinate international terror. While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we will always do all that we can to minimise the danger that it poses and to keep the public safe. Some 77 terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to the dedication, courage and skill of counter- terrorism policing and our security and intelligence services, most of these groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. Proscription is a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations, and I will come on to explain the impact that it can have shortly.

The group that we now propose to add to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, is the Base, a predominantly US-based militant white supremacist group. The group’s actions, such as seeking to train members in weapons and explosives, along with an ideology which aims to divide communities and stir up hatred, are entirely contrary to our values.

It may be helpful for me to provide some background on the proscription power. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation.

The Home Secretary considers a number of factors in considering whether to exercise this discretion. These include—and are relevant for this group—the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

The effect of proscription is to outlaw a listed organisation and ensure that it is unable to operate in the UK. It is designed to degrade a group’s ability to operate through various means, including: enabling prosecution for the various proscription offences; supporting take-downs of online material associated with the group; underpinning immigration-related disruptions, including excluding from the UK members of groups based overseas; and making it possible to seize cash associated with the organisation.

It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. The penalty for proscription offences is a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation. This includes open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only with great care and after consideration of the particular case, and it is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses.

Having considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that the Base is concerned in terrorism and that the discretionary factors support proscription. Noble Lords will know that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, but I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities.

As I have said, the Base is a predominantly US-based, militant white supremacist group that was formed in 2018. It draws influence from a collection of essays by prominent national socialist James Mason that advocate the use of violence to initiate the collapse of modern society through a race war and the subsequent creation of a white ethno-state. This ideology is known as accelerationism.

The Base has links with other internationally based national socialist groups, such as Atomwaffen Division, which was proscribed by this Parliament in April, along with some individuals, and it seeks to provide training, guidance and networking.

The Base almost certainly prepares for terrorism. While it outwardly seeks to promote itself as a self-defence and survivalist group, and refutes any claims that it is involved in terrorist activity, the training that it provides is highly likely to be paramilitary in nature and preparatory to offensive action. This training would almost certainly enhance the intent and capability of trainees to conduct terrorist acts. Members of the Base have engaged in weapons and explosives training.

The Base has almost certainly promoted or encouraged acts of terrorism and elements of its membership will almost certainly continue to do so. In late 2017 the group’s founder released a series of videos that cover topics such as lone-wolf activity and leaderless resistance, and advocate guerrilla warfare.

It is essential that our strategy to counter terrorism allows us to tackle the full spectrum of activity. This includes confronting the threat from groups that prepare for acts of violence and mass murder and unlawfully glorify horrific terrorist acts, so that they are prevented from stirring up hatred and division in our communities.

When groups without a physical presence in the UK are proscribed, particularly groups like the Base, it is important to consider the wider impact that proscription has. Proscription of the Base will aid the police in their work to disrupt the threat that extreme right-wing terrorist groups pose to our national security by supporting efforts to remove online content associated with this group. It will build on the robust action that the Government have already taken in proscribing National Action, Sonnenkrieg Division, Feuerkrieg Division and Atomwaffen Division. Proscription sends a strong statement that the ideology of such groups is unacceptable in the UK, and that the UK is a hostile environment for extreme right-wing terrorism.

Our message is clear: we will always take every possible action to counter the threat from those who hate the values that we cherish. The safety and security of the public is our number one priority. I therefore commend this order to the House.

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Non-affiliated 2:26 pm, 15th July 2021

My Lords, I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said in her introduction and I will not repeat the Explanatory Memorandum for this SI. Does the Minister agree that a large proportion of the Muslim community does not agree with terrorism and that these terrorists are acting in their own personal interests?

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:27 pm, 15th July 2021

[Inaudible]—the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. I thank the Minster for explaining this order and I again express my thanks to those in the police and security services who work tirelessly to keep us all safe.

We have seen in recent weeks the hideous face of British racism and the disgraceful failure of senior members of the Government to support the anti-racism stance taken by the England football team. I quote from the Times opinion piece by the Conservative noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, published yesterday:

“In the contest between Priti Patel and Tyrone Mings there will only be one winner, and it won’t be the politician.”

As the Minister has explained, that is why proscribing extreme right-wing terrorist groups such as the Base is so important. I quote the Home Office press release:

The Base has celebrated and promoted the use of violence in an attempt to establish a fascist, white ethno-state by means of a race war, and members are known to have engaged in weapons and explosives training. Its founder has also published a series of videos under his alias covering topics including”,

as the Minister has said,

“lone wolf activity, advocating guerrilla warfare, and leaderless resistance.”

When we considered the last proscription order on 22 April, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark—I warmly congratulate him on his appointment as the Labour Party Chief Whip in this House—and I questioned why it had taken so long to proscribe Atomwaffen Division when a cursory search of various news articles showed that it was linked to Sonnenkrieg Division, an organisation that had been proscribed 14 months previously. The Minister replied:

“The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, pressed me on why we are bringing these measures forward now. Obviously, there is information that the Home Secretary receives that I cannot discuss, and she will make decisions based on the intelligence and legal information that she receives.”—[Official Report, 22/4/21; col. 1978.]

With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, if the challenge were that there did not appear to be information in the public domain to justify the proscription, the noble Baroness may have a point, but that is not the issue. The question is why, when there appears to be overwhelming evidence in the public domain that an organisation should be proscribed, it is not proscribed earlier. Any delay in proscribing such dangerous and divisive organisations runs the risk of people being influenced and atrocities being perpetrated. As MI5’s Ken McCallum warned yesterday, racism is fuelling the far-right threat in the UK.

This order proscribes the Base. I quote a BBC article published on 24 January 2020, almost 18 months ago. It says:

“The Base is a major counter-terrorism focus for the FBI. Seven alleged members were charged this month with various offenses, including conspiracy to commit murder. Court documents prepared by the FBI describe The Base as a ‘racially motivated violent extremist group’ that ‘seeks to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethno-state’ … In social media posts that year”,

which was 2018, “Norman Spear”, an alias used by the founder of the Base,

“posted imagery and videos by the outlawed British terrorist group National Action, praised al-Qaeda, and asked for volunteers possessing various skills, including with weapons, for his new organisation”.

That is not the information that the Minister has just given us; it is information from a BBC article 18 months ago.

An article in the Guardian newspaper, published on 24 January, the same date, states:

“The white supremacy group, which has regional and international cells, extols the virtues of an all-out race war while specifically targeting African Americans and Jewish people”.

Here we have evidence from the FBI that this is a dangerous terrorist organisation, that it was promoting the UK proscribed organisation National Action and had international cells. There appears to have been, in January 2020, almost 18 months ago, sufficient grounds to proscribe the base, yet the Government are bringing forward this order only now.

After the debate on 12 April, the Minister dismissively derided my internet research. In this case, there are various serious questions for the Government to answer. In the face of overwhelming evidence from the FBI in the public domain, published by reputable news organisations 18 months ago, that this organisation should be proscribed, why has it taken the Government until now to ban it? To say that there is information that the Home Secretary receives that cannot be discussed is simply not good enough. Of course we support this order, but we would have supported it 18 months ago, when it should have been introduced.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:33 pm, 15th July 2021

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for explaining this order. As she said, terrorist groups now recruit, radicalise and train individuals from a distance, distributing terrorist material at the click of a button. Young people, mainly young men, are sucked into a world of conspiracy theories, fascist propaganda, race hate and quasi-military action. The use of the internet for propaganda and training purposes has had an impact on this potential threat to our way of life; it also means that the Government have to respond to this threat in a sophisticated and direct way. The Government, quite rightly in the Opposition’s view, have a responsibility to act to protect young people from being sucked into this world and to protect the public from the race hate, bombs and bloodshed that these groups promote. We will support today’s order.

This is the third white supremacist hate group that Parliament has proscribed in the past year. The group, called the Base, was founded in 2018 and has been operational since then. That was three years ago. There have been TV programmes about it and there is plenty of information on the internet on its activities, so the question of delay arises—the central point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made in his contribution. Is the Minister satisfied that this group and far-right groups like it are properly monitored and that action, such as today’s proscription order, is put in place in a timely manner for the protection of the public? My honourable friend Mr McGinn, in the other place, asked about the status of the proscription review group and the Minister, Chris Philp, described proscription as a powerful tool to degrade terrorist organisations. I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on the work of the review group—for example, on how often it meets, whether she believes that the current review process is working satisfactorily and whether there is there a robust strategy within which it works. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke in some detail on the information available 18 months ago, in January 2020, and made the point that there seemed to be enough information available 18 months ago to ban this group, so why the delay?

As I understand it, ministerial responsibility for dealing with these types of potentially terrorist groups currently lies with the noble Baroness. This is following the resignation of Mr Brokenshire. Yesterday in the debate in the other place, fulsome tributes were paid to Mr Brokenshire, which I am sure were well deserved. My honourable friend the Member for Barnsley East, Stephanie Peacock, in yesterday’s debate expressed a desire to meet the Minister to talk about another far-right group that is potentially terrorist in its nature; she referred to the details of that group yesterday and her work through the relevant all-party group in looking at potential right-wing terrorism activity. I hope that the Minister will meet my honourable friend so that she can explain the nature of the threat as she sees it.

There are 77 terrorist organisations currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Four are far-right groups and the majority are Islamist groups. Last October, the new director-general of MI5 warned that violent far-right terrorism was now a threat, with eight of 27 serious terrorist plots stopped in the final stages in the past three years linked to neo-fascist and racist groups. Online chat forums and video games are used as recruitment tools. The number of those under 18 among those arrested over the last three years has almost trebled. I believe that this trend is worrying and getting closer to home. The use of hateful ideologies to prey on young and vulnerable people is wrong and abhorrent and the Government have a responsibility to do everything in their power to crack down on them.

I close by paying tribute to the dedication, courage and skill of counterterrorism police and our security and intelligence services. We should be grateful that most of the proscribed organisations have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 2:39 pm, 15th July 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Just to go to a general point, a decision to proscribe must be based on evidence that a group is concerned in terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Act 2000, and it must be proportionate.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, challenges me on why we are making this decision to proscribe now. Decisions on whether and when to proscribe a particular organisation are taken after extensive consideration and in light of a full assessment of available information. It is important that the decisions we take are based on robust evidence and do not adversely impact on any ongoing investigations, and, in order to keep the public safe, it is not appropriate for us to discuss any specific intelligence that led to the decision to proscribe. I know that will frustrate the noble Lord, but that is the situation.

The PRG operates as a cross-government group that supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making. It makes recommendations and provides advice to the Home Secretary on issues relating to the implementation of the proscription regime, including on the case for proscription name-change orders and consideration of deproscription applications. We do have several horizon-scanning processes in place to ensure we can tackle emerging threats. It might frustrate noble Lords, but, with those things in place, I think my right honourable friend the Home Secretary makes the right decisions at the right time, based on the evidence available to her.

As for meeting the honourable Member for Barnsley East, I have written to her—perhaps she has not got my letter yet. I am pleased that she is keen on this agenda.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in his praise for the CT police and the security intelligence services. As he says, because of their work, we have not seen a major attack in this country. I join the noble Lord also in his concern about the vulnerability of young men who may be sucked into such organisations while they are impressionable and, as he said, young.

I would also like to refute the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the Government not standing up to racism. I speak for myself: I do not think anyone would ever accuse me of that, and I am part of this Government. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has herself been, on many occasions, the victim of trolling and racism online. I have seen some pretty horrific things said about her. The Prime Minister, only yesterday, talked about the very stern action he was going to take to tackle racism in football.

I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, that a large portion of the Muslim community does not agree with terrorism. Not only do Muslims make a great contribution to this country, but Islam is a religion of peace and Muslims, I might say, are often the victims of terrorism rather than the perpetrators.

I think I have answered all questions and I beg to move.

Motion agreed.