Lone terrorists: Review of strategy

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 7th July 2020.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State must commission a review and publish a report on the effectiveness of current strategies to deal with lone terrorists.

(2) A review under subsection (1) must be conducted by a person who meets the criteria for qualification for appointment to the Supreme Court, as set out in section 25 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

(3) A review under subsection (1) must consider—

(a) counter-terrorism policy;

(b) sentencing policy as it applies to terrorist offenders;

(c) the interaction and effectiveness of public services with respect to incidents of lone terrorist attacks.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (3)(c), “public services” includes but is not limited to—

(a) probation;

(b) the prison system;

(c) mental health services;

(d) local authorities; and

(e) housing providers.

(5) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(6) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than 3 months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.’—

This new clause ensures that the Government orders a judge-led review into the effectiveness of current strategies to deal with lone terrorists including, but not exclusively, current counter-terrorism and sentencing policy.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

As we have reiterated throughout the passage of the Bill, our overriding priority, which is shared on both sides of the Committee, is and always will be to keep the public safe, including from those individuals who seek to attack our values, destroy our way of life and divide us through abhorrent acts of violence and terror. The remarks made this morning by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford were a testament to that and the response to it. We in Committee were privileged to hear the speech, which was worthy of a wider audience. I hope to hear her invoke some of what her friend Louise said again on the Floor of the House on Report, because it was very valuable.

Following the shocking and tragic incident in Reading a matter of weeks ago, we need to take stock of the new and emerging threats from terrorism. The agility that the Minister has asked for in amending TPIMs should be applied when it comes to looking at the threat from lone actors. That is why we have asked for a judge-led review into the Government’s strategy on tackling the dangerous and growing menace of lone attackers. Reading was the third time in less than a year that we have witnessed such devastation on UK streets, each with a lone attacker at its core, callously intent on mayhem and destruction in our communities.

Our proposal would make provision to address the systemic response needed to that phenomenon. The new clause asks the Government to order a judge-led review of the effectiveness of current strategies to deal with lone terrorists. It should address counter-terrorism sentencing policy, as the Bill does, as it applies to terrorist offenders and the interaction and effectiveness of public services with respect to incidents of lone terrorist attacks.

Fundamentally, the review would seek to build firmly on previous research and expertise, such as the extensive work carried out by Lord Anderson that has provided a valuable insight into how we can improve and better connect the current systems. It would include an analysis of a wide range of key public services, including our probation and prison system, whose value and potential have been closely reflected on throughout these debates, but also mental health services, housing providers and local authorities, each of which can intervene at critical points. That is also why we need to get on with the Prevent review, which will play a critical part in addressing some of those issues.

There is absolutely no question about the high skill, dedication and bravery of our police and security and intelligence services. We need to do everything we can to support them as they set about their task of tackling extremism from root to branch, which is not easy. The fall in terrorism-related arrests to its lowest level in six years is concerning, particularly at a time when radicalisers and dangerous extremists increasingly operate through more and more sophisticated networks of hatred online, which are often understandably difficult for the authorities to monitor and intercept.

While the dangers of Islamist extremism persist, the menacing threat from far-right extremism is growing at a deeply disturbing rate. Far-right cases now make up almost a quarter of Prevent referrals and nearly half of all adopted Channel cases. All the while, the number of individuals in custody for terrorism-related offences and subscribing to those vile and hateful ideologies is up by one third on last year. That is on top of already record levels and steady rises over recent years.

We must urgently face up to this threat. We need to see that coherent and comprehensive strategy which, at this moment, I am afraid to say, appears to be lacking. The suspect in the Reading case was believed to be known to multiple public agencies and to have had a history of significant mental health issues; so too did the London Bridge and Streatham attackers. So many of our vital public services have interactions with individuals, which give them real concern, but they must have the necessary tools to intervene and work together in the most effective and efficient manner possible, ultimately to save lives and keep people safe.

The Lord Anderson review of 2017 outlines interesting pilot work on multi-agency centre pilots. They involve the identification of newly closed, high-risk subjects of interest; the sharing of data by MI5 and counter-terror policing with other agencies, such as local authorities and Government Departments; and the enrichment of that data from the databases of multi-agency partners. I wonder whether the Minister would write to me or enlighten the Committee on what is being done to address the existing barriers that were identified by the review to local partners’ involvement in managing subjects of interest, including the challenges of resourcing.

Lord Anderson said that

“some local authority representatives cautioned against unrealistic expectations of services such as mental health and community safety… against, what was described to me as, a background of widespread recent degradation of local services”.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting so clearly the risk of lone offenders, who are often not clearly linked to any particular organised network and are operating off not much more than hate, mental health problems and the internet. I think of David Copeland, who, in the space of two weeks, used nail bombs in violent attacks, causing death and injury to the black community in Brixton, gay people outside the Admiral Duncan in Soho and the Asian community in east London. Does he agree that there are potential new threats, as the independent reviewer pointed out in his evidence, such as the incel movement?

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I do. My hon. Friend has eloquently outlined the development of the terrorist threat and its changed dynamics, as well as the fundamental point that hatred and terrorism does not discriminate. It is not homogeneous, because it is perpetrated by different people with different motives, nor does it discriminate, because fundamentally other people are hurt by it.

In asking for this, we are saying to the Government that those three attacks in different places, perpetrated by different people with no connections, over a relatively short space of time, provide evidence of a new and increasing threat. Coupled with the increase in right-wing extremism and the manifestation of that through referrals to Prevent and arrests, that needs to be looked at very carefully. Things have moved on since Lord Anderson’s very good report in 2017.

It is time that the Government looked at that again to identify the issues Lord Anderson raised and what they have done to break down some of the barriers that he identified in 2017 that were preventing us from apprehending these people at various junctures throughout their journey—from starting out with an extremist ideology to, on their own, as lone actors, committing the most heinous crimes, causing the types of suffering, hurt and heartache that were expressed so eloquently earlier today.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member for St Helens North has raised an important matter: the problem of lone wolf attackers acting outside recognised group structures. We have seen, in those incidents that he referred to, the terrible impact of the actions of those people who, while they are acting alone, none the less cause devastating consequences for the victims of their actions. We should take the threat they pose extremely seriously.

Since those first two events—at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham—we have moved to change the law in a number of areas. First, we introduced emergency legislation—the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020—which came into force on 26 February. As we know, that ended the automatic early release of terrorist prisoners and instead moved their release point to two thirds with Parole Board consent or later if not given, followed by the period on licence. We have legislated today to ensure that there is at least a year on licence, even where they serve their full term. That was one element of the response to those events to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Of course, this legislation we are debating is part of that response, making sure that those most serious offenders are physically prevented from harming the public by incapacitation, which is a second important element of the Government’s response. The third element was a review of the MAPPA—multi-agency public protection arrangements—which the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor commissioned in the aftermath of the Fishmongers’ Hall attack from Jonathan Hall QC, whom we met a couple of weeks ago, to see what more we can do to ensure that those agencies are working together where opportunities arise to identify somebody who might pose a threat to the public. That work was extremely important.

It is worth saying that in the three years since March 2017, 25 different attacks have been foiled so, while it is of course a tragedy that any attacks at all happen, the measures taken have disrupted, foiled and prevented 25 atrocities that might otherwise have taken place. Now would be a good time, in that context, to extend our thanks and gratitude to counter-terrorism police and the security services, who have done that work to keep us and our constituents safe these past few years.

The hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to be vigilant on this topic is well made. My colleague the Security Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and—

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Member for St Helens North is more familiar with parliamentary constituencies than I am. My hon. Friend the Security Minister is working on this and I am sure, in a spirit of cross-party co-working, he would be willing to sit down and have a chat, possibly a confidential chat, with the hon. Gentleman about the work that is going on in this area.

It is a good topic to debate and to think about. I have made my views on statutory reviews clear and I will not repeat them, but this is a topic that Parliament should be considering. We have been discussing it ourselves, because these threats do exist and we need to do everything we can on prevention, not only through policing, but through other forms of intervention. The spirit of the hon Gentleman’s comments is one I embrace and agree with, while very gently and politely resisting another statutory review.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I was going to put the new clause to a vote, but I thank the Minister for his very generous offer—

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Shadow Minister (Home Office)

His colleague’s time, I note, but I think this is something we can work on together. My colleague, the shadow Home Secretary, has written to the Home Secretary on this matter, so while awaiting a response to that, which hopefully we will receive before Report, I will not push the new clause to a vote on this occasion.

We have approached all these amendments in the spirit of wanting to work together with the Government. As the Minister rightly says, while we are focusing here on how we can improve things, that should not for a minute be taken as an indication that we have anything other than incredible gratitude for the work that has been done to prevent what could have been many more catastrophic and devastating attacks. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.