Previous Section Index Home Page

14 Nov 2007 : Column 668

Just as we are constantly vigilant about the ways in which we can tighten our security, we must also ensure that the travelling public can go about their business in the normal way. In the most sensitive locations, for example, some large rail stations—and while doing everything to avoid inconvenience to passengers—we are planning additional screening of baggage and passenger searches.

In the past few months at key airports, there has already been additional investment in new screening capacity and we have been able to review the one-bag-per-passenger rule. The Transport Secretary is announcing today that, as soon as we are confident that airports can handle the additional baggage safely, the restrictions on hand baggage will be progressively lifted. Starting with several airports in the new year, we will work with airport operators to ensure that all UK airports are in a position to allow passengers to fly with more than one item of hand luggage.

The security budget, which is £2.5 billion this year, will rise to £3.5 billion in 2011. Because of the terrorist threat, the size of the Security Service, which was under 2,000 in 2001 and is 3,300 now, will rise beyond 4,000. That is twice its size of 2001.

I can also report that we have now constituted dedicated regional counter-terrorism units, with, in total, more than 2,000 police and support staff. They are responsible for overseeing investigations into those who recruit terrorists and promote hate.

From the Home Office budget, from now until 2011, an additional £240 million will finance counter-terrorism policing, which is focused as much on preventing the next generation of terrorists as on pursuing current targets. That will include additional funding for further training of our 3,500 neighbourhood police teams to deal with radicalisation in their local communities.

The scale of our international effort is such that around £400 million in the next three years will be invested through the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the British Council to tackle radicalisation and promote understanding overseas. The Government will report back on action overseas with other countries to counter extremism when we launch the full national security strategy. I can also confirm that £70 million is being invested in community projects that are dedicated to countering violent extremism. So, in total, we are now investing nearly three times as much in security compared with six years ago.

In line with the measured way in which we responded to the terrorist incidents in June, we will seek only new powers that are essential to the fight against terrorism. The forthcoming counter-terrorism Bill, which will be introduced shortly, will include stronger sentences for terrorist-related offences and, where terrorists have served sentences, new powers for the police to continue to monitor their activities.

Asset-freezing is an important tool in the fight against terrorists buying weapons or using money for terrorist purposes. Sophisticated evidence gathering of financial transactions can both deny terrorists finance and locate the sources of terrorist plots. Current legislation makes it difficult for us to take preventive action, so the new Bill is intended to give new powers to ensure that we can use all available information to pursue those who finance terrorist attacks.

14 Nov 2007 : Column 669

In addition to measures to process terrorist cases more efficiently and reduce the time between arrest and trial—including 14 new specially protected courtrooms—a single senior judge has been nominated to manage all terrorism cases. There will also be a single senior lead prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service responsible for cases relating to inciting violent extremism.

To ensure that we protect our borders and detect possible terrorist suspects, members of the new UK border agency will have the power, from January next year, to detain people not just on suspicion of immigration offences or for customs crime but for other criminal activity, including terrorism. Powers will also be given to airline liaison officers to cancel visas when justified.

In line with the statement that I made in July, there will be one single primary checkpoint for both passport control and customs. The UK border agency, which will have 25,000 staff in total, will now apply controls at points of entry and exit on people and goods, into and out of the UK, as well as working throughout the world. The new agency will enable us to transfer intelligence from UK operations overseas to those making visa decisions, and to check biometrics taken from visa applicants against criminal and counter-terrorism records. Further details of the new UK border agency, which has been welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, are published in the Cabinet Office report issued today. This will go hand in hand with what is increasingly necessary: biometric visas for all applicants from March next year, biometric ID cards for foreign nationals introduced from the end of 2008 and a strengthening of the e-borders programme, with the contract to incorporate all passenger information awarded today.

With repatriation arrangements for foreign terrorist suspects agreed with Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria, work is under way with a number of additional countries, with a view to signing new agreements for deportations. In addition to the nine foreign nationals recently deported under immigration powers on grounds of national security, a further 24 foreign nationals are currently subject to deportation proceedings on national security grounds and 4,000 foreign prisoners are likely to be deported this year.

All faith communities in the UK make a huge contribution in all spheres of our national life. They are integral to our success as a society. And as we found, listening to all communities in and after June, the vast majority of people of all faiths and backgrounds condemn terrorism and the actions of terrorists. But the objective of al-Qaeda and related groups is to manipulate political and humanitarian issues in order to gain support for an agenda of murder and violence, and deliberately to maim and kill fellow human beings, including innocent women and children, irrespective of their religion. We must not allow anyone to use terrorist activities as a means to divide us or isolate those belonging to a particular faith or community.

To deal with the challenge posed by the terrorist threat we have to do more, working with communities in our country, first, to challenge extremist propaganda and support alternative voices; secondly, to disrupt the promoters of violent extremism by strengthening our
14 Nov 2007 : Column 670
institutions and supporting individuals who may be being targeted; thirdly, to increase the capacity of communities to resist and reject violent extremism; and fourthly, to address issues of concern exploited by ideologues, where by emphasising our shared values across communities we can both celebrate and act upon what unites us. This will be achieved not by one single programme or initiative and it will not be achieved overnight. It is a generational challenge that requires sustained work over the long term, through a range of actions in schools, colleges, universities, faith groups and youth clubs, by engaging young people through the media, culture, sport and arts, and by acting against extremist influences operating on the internet and in institutions from prisons and universities to some places of worship.

As part of our intensifying measures to isolate extremists, a new unit bringing together police and security intelligence and research will identify, analyse and assess not just the inner circle of extremist groups, but those at risk of falling under their influence, and share their advice and insights. Building on initial roadshows of mainstream Islamic scholarship round the country, which have already attracted more than 70,000 young people, and an internet site which has reached far more, we will sponsor at home and then abroad, including for the first time in Pakistan, a series of national and local events to counter extremist propaganda. The next stage will draw upon the work commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, King’s College and the Royal Society for Arts on how best to deal with radicalisation at home and abroad.

One central issue is how to balance extremist views supporting terrorism that appear on the internet and in the media. The Home Secretary is inviting the largest global technology and internet companies to work together to ensure that our best technical expertise is galvanised to counter online incitement to hatred. I also welcome the decision by the Royal Television Society and the Society of Editors to hold a conference on how to ensure accurate and balanced reporting of issues related to terrorism in the media. To ensure that charities are not exploited by extremists, a new unit in the Charity Commission will strengthen governance and accountability of charities.

A specialist unit in the Prison Service will be tasked with stopping extremists using prison networks to plot future activities. And because young people in the criminal justice system are especially vulnerable to extremist influence, we are making further funding available through the Youth Justice Board, the National Offender Management Service and the many voluntary agencies that work with young people to support young people who may be targeted for recruitment by extremist groups. Following evidence that some of those involved in promoting violent extremism have made use of outdoor activity centres and sports facilities, we are working with Sport England to provide guidance for the sector to ensure that, where possible, these facilities are not abused. Backed up by a new website to share best practice, a new board of experts will advise local authorities, local councillors and local communities on tackling radicalisation and those promoting hate.

14 Nov 2007 : Column 671

We have had mosques in the UK for more than 100 years, serving local communities well. These communities tell me that mosques have a much wider role, beyond their core spiritual purpose, in providing services, educating young people and building cohesion, and the majority already work very hard to reject violent extremism. As the newly constituted Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body recognises, however, the governance of mosques could be strengthened to help to serve communities better and to challenge those who feed hate. Our consultations with Muslim communities emphasise the importance of the training of imams—including English language requirements—and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be announcing an independent review to examine, with the communities, how to build the capacity of Islamic seminaries, learning from other faith communities as well as from experience overseas.

In addition to updated advice for universities on how to deal with extremism on campus, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education will invite universities to lead a debate on how we maintain academic freedom while ensuring that extremists can never stifle debate or impose their views. We will also consult on how to support further education colleges as well as universities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to agree a common approach to deal with the inflammatory and extremist material that some seek to distribute through public libraries, while also of course protecting freedom of speech.

We know that young people of school age can be exposed to extremist messages. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families will be convening a new forum of head teachers to advise on what more we can do to protect young people and to build bridges across communities. To ensure that young people have the opportunity to learn about diversity and faith in modern Britain, we will work in partnership with religious education teachers to promote the national framework for teaching religious education in schools, including making sure that children learn about all faiths. An advisory group will work with local communities to support the citizenship education classes run by mosque schools in Bradford and elsewhere. I can announce that one essential part of this will be to twin schools of different faiths through our £2 million school linking programme, supported by the school linking network.

I am also announcing today a youth panel to advise the Government, learning from youth projects in different parts of the country which all enable young people to debate and discuss issues of concern, as does the work of the Youth Parliament, which has been running debates.

We are sponsoring and encouraging a series of national and local mentoring programmes for young people, including a business in the community Muslim mentoring programme, new leadership training, and local youth leadership schemes in Blackburn, Waltham Forest, Leeds, and in partnership with Tottenham in Haringey. After discussion with Muslim women, a new advisory group has been set up by the Secretary of
14 Nov 2007 : Column 672
State for Communities and Local Government, which will advise on the access of women to mosques and their management committees.

It is by seeking to build on shared interests and shared values that we will isolate extremists and foster understanding across faiths. Following the recent remarkable letter by 138 Muslim scholars from a diversity of traditions within Islam, which paid tribute to the common roots of Islam, Christianity and Judaism and called for deeper dialogue, we stand ready to support new facilities for multi-faith scholarship in Britain. A Green Paper will be published to encourage inter-faith groups to come together in every constituency of the country. I am also inviting the Higher Education Funding Council to investigate the idea of setting up in Britain a European centre of excellence for Islamic studies.

We will have joint work with the French and German Governments on building an appreciation of the Islamic and Muslim heritage across Britain and Europe. Arts Council England, the Tate gallery, the Victoria and Albert museum and the British Library will all be taking forward projects to promote greater understanding. And, just as the British Council is connecting young people across the world through school twinning and volunteering exchanges, I am announcing that we will finance a rising number of young people from all faith communities to volunteer overseas.

The intercept review will report in January. We believe that consensus now exists on post-charge questioning, and the Home Secretary is beginning a new round of consultations with parties and communities on detailed proposals on pre-charge detention, on which we believe that we can establish an all-party consensus. There is no greater priority than the safety and security of our people, and building the strongest possible relationships across all faiths and communities. I believe that it is possible, through the actions that we are proposing, to build a stronger consensus in Britain that will both root out terrorist extremism and build more vibrant and cohesive communities.

I commend this statement to the House.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): First, let me welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. I am absolutely convinced that the terrorist threat we face today is of a completely different order from those we have faced in the past. As a nation, we need the hard-nosed defence of our liberties. The Prime Minister started by mentioning his national security approach and I have to say that we back it. We back the idea of a national security strategy and a national security committee. They were all proposed and adopted in our policy review earlier this year.

As I listened to the statement, I noted a number of good ideas—from school twinning and a mosque commission to post-charge interview—that I am glad to say the Prime Minister has adopted. We are delighted that we are providing those good ideas and that the Prime Minister is taking them on. I have to say that there is one slight difference on the Opposition side: when we have good ideas, I do occasionally allow other Front-Bench Members to announce them. Perhaps that is another good idea for him to take on.

14 Nov 2007 : Column 673

On the broader issues of security raised in today’s statement, we have three particular areas of concern. First, on securing our borders, the Prime Minister talks about a border force. Will he confirm that his proposals do not include the police, so it cannot be a proper border police force, which is what we want to see? Specifically, can he tell us whether the new force will have new powers or will it have to rely on existing powers? Similarly, will it have new money or will it have to rely on existing budgets?

The second area of concern is counter-terrorism. As I said, we welcome the Government’s adoption of our proposal that it should be possible to question suspects after they have been charged. The Government have also agreed to our suggestion of a review into the use of telephone tap evidence in court. I know that the review is taking longer than expected, but will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be scope for its conclusions to be included in the terrorism Bill when it comes before the House?

Taken together, the introduction of those two measures—post-charge interview and the use of telephone tap evidence—should, we believe, relieve the need for holding terrorist suspects for more than 28 days without charging them. On that subject, can the Prime Minister explain what happened this morning? At 8 o’clock, his security Minister, Admiral West, said on the radio, and I quote:

Those were his words. One hour later, he said, and I quote again:

Can the Prime Minister tell us what happened this morning? People will conclude two things: first, that Admiral West was leant on; secondly, and more worryingly, will not the episode confirm in some people’s minds that when it comes to this vital and important debate, the Government are not so much concerned with the evidence as with the politics? Does not that desperately need to change?

Turning to Admiral West’s review, we welcome his proposal on security at railway stations, airports, sport stadiums and shopping centres. Given what happened on 7/7, can the Prime Minister tell us what specific steps are being taken to safeguard London underground? Can he tell us whether the cost of guarding key sites will be met from the single security budget?

More generally—this is something that the Prime Minister did not say, but I am sure that he believes it—does he agree with me that safeguarding our country against terrorism is actually a matter for all of us and not just the Government, the police and the security services? It remains the case today, as it has always been, that if we are to win against the terrorists, everyone has to be vigilant and to play their part.

In a wide-ranging statement, the Prime Minister covered a number of specific areas, so may I throw out some specific questions? On the single security budget, the Prime Minister talks about extra money for counter-terrorism policing. Can he clarify—I have asked the question before, but have not had an
14 Nov 2007 : Column 674
answer—whether the single security budget covers special branches up and down the country that will do vital work in fighting terrorism?

On asset freezes, the Prime Minister says that more needs to be done on legislation. He had responsibility for that area as Chancellor for 10 years and he often told us how much had been done. Can he now tell us in more detail about the weaknesses in the system over which he presided?

On deportations, I very much welcome the progress report on the subject. The Prime Minister spoke about the need to deport those who put our national security at risk. Does he agree that we have got to will the means as well as willing the end? If he is advised that the Human Rights Act gets in the way of deportation, will he agree to its replacement?

On mosques, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to be absolutely clear that new imams coming to Britain should be able to speak English? Other countries such as Germany have taken steps to ensure that imams coming from abroad can speak the national language. Can he be specific and say whether he agrees with that?

On the new border agency, he says that the new agency will enable the Government

I have to ask him whether that does not happen already—and, if not, why not?

The final area of concern that I want to address is the battle for hearts and minds. In his article in The Sun this morning, the Prime Minister rightly talks about the need to

Next Section Index Home Page