Counter-terrorism: foreign fighters - Home Affairs Contents

Appendix: Conclusions of the Home Affairs Committee's 2014 Report on Counter-terrorism

Conclusions and recommendations from Home Affairs Committee, Seventeenth Report of Session 2013-14, Counter-terrorism, HC 231.


1. The number of UK citizens and Westerners travelling to fight in foreign conflicts has reached alarming levels unlike anything seen in recent years. We require an immediate response targeted at dissuading and preventing those who wish to go to fight from going; helping countries who are key to intercepting those who are entering Syria, and ensuring those who return do not present a danger to the UK.

2. We are alarmed by the relative ease by which foreign fighters appear to be able to cross the border into Syria. It is the responsibility of the international community to assist transit countries, and the UK must offer practical support to those countries in securing their borders. We have been impressed by the efforts made to prevent football hooliganism in foreign countries by sending "spotters" to help pick out those at risk of committing criminal acts and believe similar practical help would be beneficial in the fight against terrorism. We recommend that the Government maintain representation from the UK Counter Terrorism command to help the Turkish authorities identify those who are at risk of crossing the border into Syria intending to fight and make available any relevant intelligence to the Turkish authorities that may be beneficial. The Government should also work with transit countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to better establish who is likely to be travelling for genuine humanitarian reasons.

3. The Government needs a clear strategy for dealing with foreign fighters on their return, which may include help to come to terms with the violence they have witnessed and participated in, as well as counter-radicalisation interventions. We are concerned that their experiences may well make them vulnerable to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder thereby increasing their vulnerability to radicalisation. We recommend that the Government implement a programme, similar to Channel, for everyone returning to Britain where there is evidence that they have fought in Syria. The engagement in this strategy should be linked to any legal penalties imposed on their return. In developing the strategy the Government must work with mental health practitioners and academia to ensure that the programme best integrates those returning from conflict zones such as Syria.


4. The increasingly diverse and dispersed nature of the threat makes capacity building a front-line defence against a changing threat landscape. We note that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's budget is limited by available resources but given the importance of capacity building to the Government's counter-terrorism efforts we look to the OSCT and the FCO to reassure us that the Counter-Terrorism Fund will be maintained at current levels in this and the next financial year. In the light of the announcement that the Prime Minister is considering using some of the UK's aid budget on peace keeping and other defence-related projects, we recommend that within the definitions of Overseas Development Aid, money could be used to increase resource for capacity building abroad.

5. We accept that some of the UK's capacity building programmes are sensitive but we believe that greater transparency about how much the Government spends on capacity building overseas and who funds these programmes (i.e. fully by UK Government or jointly between UK and EU) is crucial for accountability.

6. We recommend that the Government raise the issue of Interpol databases as part of discussions around counter-terrorism at the next EU Justice and Home Affairs Council and encourage others to utilise the tools at their disposal.

7. Interpol is an international policing organisation with a proven record of success and should be widely supported. We recommend that the Government take the lead in working with Interpol and the UK's international partners to create an international operational platform supporting terrorist investigations. The UK should use its pivotal position in the G7 to ensure that this change is achieved. Whilst UK policing may lack sufficient resources to supply a significant number of staff to such a platform, we also recommend the Government consider offering to host the permanent base of the platform.


8. The withdrawal of passports is a vital tool in preventing UK citizens from travelling to foreign conflicts. We understand the need to use the prerogative power to withdraw or withhold a citizen's passport. Given that the estimates of foreign fighters are in the low hundreds, we are surprised that it has only been used 14 times since April 2013 and recommend that, in all appropriate circumstances where there is evidence, the power is utilised as an exceptional preventative and temporary measure. However, we note that its use is not subject to any scrutiny external to the executive. We recommend that the Home Secretary report quarterly on its use to the House as is currently done with TPIMs and allow the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation to review the exercise of the Royal Prerogative as part of his annual review.

9. We have grave concerns about how effective the deprivation of mono-citizenship powers will be. Drafting legislation on the basis of an individual case lessens the impact of the legislation because the exact circumstances are unlikely to repeat themselves. We support the Minister's commitment to the power being used sparingly. We recommend that the Government endeavour to use the power only when the person subject to the decision is outside the UK.

10. It is deeply worrying that anyone who is subject to a TPIM, or those who were subjects of control orders, can abscond with relative ease. We recommend that a review of the types of measures placed upon subjects needs to be conducted to ensure that enough is being done to prevent absconsion.

11. So far there have been no jury convictions of breaches of TPIMs or Control Orders and the CPS needs to bear this in mind when bringing prosecutions. We recommend that the Government and Crown Prosecution Service produce specific guidance on investigating and prosecuting breaches. The continued failure to secure a conviction undermines the system of TPIMs.

12. Many breaches of a TPIM order are minor infringements which might plausibly have happened inadvertently. It is therefore right that the CPS does not prosecute every single breach, considering the cost to the public purse and the difficulty of convincing a jury of the materiality of the alleged breach without being able to explain the basis on which the relevant restriction was included in the order. It is worth noting that no prosecution has been successful following a not-guilty plea and in only one case has the accused pleaded guilty. In the case of the tag tampering trial, it is of serious concern that the prosecution was discontinued. Deliberately tampering with a tag must be viewed as an attempt to abscond and we recommend that the Home Office request independent testing of the tags provided by G4S to definitively prove, as they claim, a tag-tamper alert can only be caused through deliberate actions. This will enable the Home Office to present reliable evidence to the court that such an alert cannot be caused inadvertently. Given that five prosecutions for tag tampering have been withdrawn or collapsed it is vital that both the public and TPIM subjects understand the extent to which it might or might not be possible for a tag-tamper alert to be innocently caused.

13. It is essential that the Government engages with those placed on a TPIM whilst they are subject to the control and not only afterwards. It is a missed opportunity not to implement a de-radicalisation programme until the subjects are free of the measures. We recommend that all TPIM subjects are placed on a graduated scheme, which commences concurrently with the measures, with the sole purpose of engagement and de-radicalisation. We accept that the anonymity order may cause difficulties in terms of liaising with the local community when seeking support for that process. However, we believe that the Government should engage with community leaders who are working with prisoners and ex-prisoners who have been radicalised in order to design a programme which would be suitable for TPIM subjects. Such a programme should take account of the different narratives of radicalisation. Due to the constraints placed on a subject it is unlikely that they will be eager to engage with the state or official parts of society. It is disastrous, therefore, for a subject to left without a constructive path towards reintegration following the end of the measures.

14. The Government must ensure that an exit strategy is started as soon as the TPIM is imposed upon a subject. We recommend a continuation of the de-radicalisation engagement programme which they would have started under the TPIM which evolves into a more practical scheme enabling the former subject to reconnect with society through work or education.

15. We welcome the progress made by internet companies such as Google (who own YouTube) in the work they are doing to promote counter narratives. We commend the work by the creators of Abdullah-X and note the importance of peer-led education. Given the role that social media is playing in the dissemination of extremist messages we hope that other large multi-national social media companies status to support terrorist actions. We recommend that he assess the response to such abuse and suggest changes which will improve the ability of the authorities to tackle terrorist financing whilst ensuring that law-abiding charities can continue their vital work.

16. The National Crime Agency was established as a national mechanism as part of the changing landscape of policing. Like all new organisations, it is still seeking to establish a strong identity and its own remit. For instance, we remain concerned that the NCA does not have full operational capacity in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police have a wide remit which has many complexities and the current difficulties faced by the organisation lead us to believe that the responsibility for counter-terrorism ought to be moved to the NCA in order to allow the Met to focus on the basics of policing London. The work to transfer the command ought to begin immediately with a view to a full transfer of responsibility for counter-terrorism operations taking place, for example within five years after the NCA became operational, in 2018. When this takes place, it should finally complete the jigsaw of the new landscape of policing.

17. Both members of the public and those in private enterprises have to ensure that vigilance is constant, this is especially important in areas where crowds of people congregate. Those in charge of areas visited by high numbers of people (such as shopping centres) must ensure that they have adequate security, surveillance and response plans. Ensuring public safety cannot be the sole purview of the counterterrorism command and the security service, it is a responsibility in which all UK citizens and companies take a share. We note that the British Council of Shopping Centres have updated their guidance following the Westgate attack. We recommend that all police forces ensure that local shopping centres have received this guidance and put in place and test a Response Plan.


18. We do not believe the current system of oversight is effective and we have concerns that the weak nature of that system has an impact upon the credibility of the agencies' accountability, and to the credibility of Parliament itself. The scrutiny of the work of the security and intelligence agencies should be not the exclusive preserve of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Whilst we recognise the importance of limiting the access to documents of a confidential nature, we believe that as the relevant departmental select committee, we ought to be able to take oral evidence from the head of the security service. Engagement with elected representatives is not, in itself, a danger to national security and to continue to insist so is hyperbole. There are questions about the accuracy of information provided to the House by the security and intelligence agencies in the past, particularly in 2003. As future decisions on warfare look likely to be determined by votes of the members of the House of Commons, there is heightened importance in ensuring that the House is accurately informed in future.

19. Furthermore we recommend that the Commons membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee should be elected like other select committees and that the Chair, who should always be a member of the Commons, ought to be subject to election of the whole House, as is the case for Select Committees from the start of the next parliament. We further recommend that the Chair should always be a member of the largest opposition party.

20. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal is the only body which can investigate individual complaints against the security and intelligence agencies and actions taken under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. It ought to command public confidence in its actions. For there to be public confidence there must first be public understanding of the work of the Tribunal. We recommend that the if the Investigatory Powers Tribunal are unwilling to voluntarily produce a detailed annual report on their work, that legislation be amended so that they are required to do so. Such an annual report should, at the very least contain the number of cases it has received and the outcome of cases determined in that year with comparable data for the previous four years. We also recommend that the data be broken down to show which agency the complaint was against.

21. It is unacceptable that there is so much confusion around the work of the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. We recommend that as a matter of urgency data is collected on how many applications there were under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and how many people were subsequently subject to an application. Furthermore, the fact that the Intelligence Services Commissioner cannot tell us what percentage of consolidated guidance cases or disciplinary proceedings he has examined is concerning.

22. We have serious doubts that either the Interception of Communications Commissioner role or the Intelligence Services Commissioner role should be part-time. We are also concerned that the extent of the Intelligence Services Commissioner's staff is one personal assistant. The fact that less than 10% of warrants which allow intrusion in to the private lives of individuals are examined is concerning—we believe this figure ought to be at least 50%, if not higher. We recommend that the Commissioners are made full-time positions and that their resources are increased to allow them to examine half of the requests for information.

23. All parts of the oversight system need to do more to improve public confidence in their work. We recommend that each of the Commissioners and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal develop an outreach strategy which ought to be published as part of their annual reports along with details of how they have tried to fulfil the objective of improving knowledge of their work.

24. The security and intelligence agencies are staffed by brave men and women who in many cases risk their lives to protect this country. They deserve our gratitude and they deserve to be honoured for their work. The best way to honour them is by ensuring that there is no need to question their integrity and, in order to prove this, there must be adequate scrutiny of their actions. The current system of oversight belongs to a pre-internet age, a time when a person's word was accepted without question. What is needed is a scrutiny system for the 21st century, to ensure that sophisticated security and intelligence agencies can get on with the job with the full confidence of the public.

25. It is essential that the legal position be resolved clearly and promptly. It is currently unclear whether CSPs are obliged to store communications data as they were previously, or indeed if they are allowed to, because of the Data Protection Act. It is also unclear if the Home Office will continue to pay CSPs for their work on communications data.

26. Given the criticism which the Regulation of the Investigatory Powers Act is subject to, we believe that the legislation is in need of review. We recommend that a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament should be appointed in order to hold an inquiry with the ability to take evidence on the Act with a view to updating it. This inquiry would aim to bring the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act up to date with modern technology, reduce the complexity (and associated difficulty in the use of) the legislation, strengthen the statistical and transparency requirements and improve the oversight functions as are set out in the current Act. We recommend that the inquiry address the areas of concern raised with us concerning communications data and the oversight of Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984.

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Prepared 26 March 2015