Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: counter-terrorism

Updated 8 May 2015

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-the-uk-against-terrorism. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


The threat to the UK and our interests from international terrorism is severe. This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely.

The terrorist threats we face now are more diverse than before, dispersed across a wider geographical area, and often in countries without effective governance. We therefore face an unpredictable situation, with potentially more frequent, less sophisticated terrorist attacks.

The most significant terrorist threat to the UK and our interests overseas comes from the Al Qa’ida senior leadership based in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and their affiliates and supporters in other areas.


The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in the Home Office, works to counter the threat from terrorism. Their work is covered in the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.

The strategy is based on 4 areas of work:

We are developing and improving our work to protect the UK from terrorism. In particular, we are:


National Security Strategy

In October 2010, the government published a new National Security Strategy which identified terrorism as one of the 4 highest risks we face. In the strategy we committed to giving top priority to countering the threat from terrorism at home and overseas.

CONTEST strategy

In July 2011, we published the third version of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. The strategy set out the threat we face and our priorities for dealing with it through to 2015.

When we published the CONTEST strategy, we committed to producing an annual report setting out the progress we’ve achieved against the strategy’s objectives.

Review of counter-terrorism powers

In January 2011 the Home Secretary published the findings from the review of the most sensitive CT and security powers. This led to 3 new pieces of legislation (see below).

Review of the Prevent strategy

In 2011 Lord Carlile of Berriew carried out a review into the Prevent strategy. After the consultation we updated the strategy. We now deal more proportionately with all kinds of terrorist threat and concentrate on some aspects of non-violent extremism that create an environment conducive to radicalisation.

Bills and legislation

Terrorism Act 2000

The Terrorism Act 2000 provides the legal basis for prosecuting terrorists and proscribing organisations (ie banning them from operating in the UK).

The Home Office publishes the criteria for proscribing organisations and a list of the organisations that are proscribed.

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 repealed the stop and search powers known as ‘Section 44’ and replaced them with fairer and more specific powers.

The new stop and search powers enable the police to protect the public but also make sure that there are strong safeguards to prevent a return to the previous excessive use of stop and search without suspicion.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 also reduced the maximum period that a terrorist suspect could be detained before they are charged or released from 28 to 14 days. Control orders were repealed and replaced with a more streamlined and less intrusive system.

The act ended the use of the most intrusive Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) powers by local authorities to investigate low level offences. It introduced a requirement that applications by local authorities to use any RIPA techniques must be approved by a magistrate.

Find out more about RIPA

Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Act 2011

In December 2011 the Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Act 2011 introduced the new system of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

These measures protect the public from the small number of people who pose a real terrorist threat to our security but who cannot be prosecuted, or in the case of foreign nationals, deported.

Communications data legislation

We published a draft Communications Data Bill on 14 June 2012. A Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament scrutinised the draft Bill and reported on 11 December 2012. The Intelligence and Security Committee also conducted its own inquiry into the draft Bill and published its full report, Access to communications data by the intelligence and security agencies, on 5 February 2013. In their findings both committees recognised the need for new laws.

Communications data acquisition powers are primarily regulated by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which contains a number of robust safeguards and is fully compliant with the UK’s human rights obligations.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) was passed in July 2014. The legislation was brought forward after the European Court of Justice declared the European Data Retention Directive (which formed the basis of the 2009 UK regulations governing the retention of communications data by communication service providers) invalid. The Act maintains the status quo by providing a clear basis in UK law for the retention of communications data; however its provisions expire at the end of 2016.

Gaps in communications data capabilities have a serious impact on our law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ ability to do their jobs. One such gap is internet protocol (IP) address resolution. The Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a provision on IP resolution. This will improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to identify which device is responsible for sending a communication on the internet or accessing an internet communications service.

This is a significant step in the right direction but further legislation is needed to address the capability gaps we still face. We need to ensure that cyberspace does not become a haven for terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals.

Read more about communications data.

Justice and Security Bill

The Justice and Security Bill is being considered by Parliament. The bill will:

  • make the government and the intelligence services more accountable to the courts – it will introduce Closed Material Hearings in a very limited number of cases, so the court will be able to hear the case - and see all the evidence - regardless of how much information relating to national security is involved

  • stop people, including those with no connection to the UK, using the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction of the court to get access to intelligence material which, if made public, could compromise national security

  • make the intelligence services more accountable to Parliament for their actions - the bill extends the committee’s remit and improves Parliamentary oversight so that Parliament, not the Prime Minister, will have the final say on the membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee

Who we’ve consulted

Over the last 2 years the Home Office has consulted with the public and relevant interested parties on a number of issues relating to counter terrorism.

In November 2010 we undertook a 3 month consultation process about the Prevent strategy - this resulted in a revised and updated strategy published in June 2011.

In March 2011 we consulted on a new code of practice for the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems and other similar surveillance systems.

In September 2011 we consulted on proposals to introduce a statutory authority to carry scheme, which would prevent individuals who pose a terrorist threat from flying to the UK. We published the government response in April 2012, together with the final security and travel bans authority to carry scheme, which came into effect in July 2012.

In February 2012 we consulted on a draft code of practice for counter-terrorism stop and search powers. This consultation followed the review of the counter-terrorism and security powers, which recommended that existing stop and search powers be replaced with more specific measures. Following the consultation we made a number of changes to the code of practice to ensure the powers are used fairly and effectively. The code of practice came into operation in July 2012.

In September 2012 we consulted on the operation of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in order to ensure that the operation of its powers is necessary and proportionate. We are now reviewing possible improvements to the powers.

In December 2012 we consulted on a revised code of practice governing independent custody visiting for England and Wales. In March 2013 we published a summary of responses and the final code of practice.  

Appendix 1: using science and technology to counter the threat from terrorists

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Home Office uses science to counter the threat from technically aware terrorists, and have an ongoing programme for the procurement of research solutions. We use a range of sources across government, industry and academia to support this.

This forms part of our science and technology strategy for countering international terrorism.

We believe science and technology can help us:

  • understand the causes of radicalisation
  • protect the national infrastructure
  • reduce the vulnerability of crowded places
  • protect against cyber terrorism
  • improve analytical tools
  • identify, detect and counter novel and improvised explosives
  • understand and counter chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats (CBRNE)

Chemical recovery handbook

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has, working with the Home Office, Defra and other stakeholders, published a chemical recovery handbook. It provides guidance in managing the recovery phase of chemical incidents where contamination has affected food production systems, inhabited areas or water environments.

The UK Recovery Handbook for Chemical Incidents is a user-friendly guidance document for recovery co-ordination groups and other stakeholders.

The handbook has been developed with interest and support from national and international partners, and has been developed following the model adopted in the UK Recovery Handbook for Radiation Incidents: 2009.

For more information, email the HPA’s chemical recovery team or telephone 01235 824868.

We have now started working on a biological handbook. This will compliment existing handbooks on chemical and radiation incidents.

Scientific advice

For policies to be effective, it is essential that we base them on what works. Scientific advice provides us with clear evidence to help us weigh up the risks and benefits of a course of action.

We take scientific advice from many sources, including:

  • the Chief Scientific Advisor of a government department (usually an academic from outside the civil service), who provides independent advice to the minister and management board
  • specialist scientists and engineers eg the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) provides technical science advice for the Home Office
  • government departments whose work contributes to the Home Office’s counter-terrorism work, including the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence
  • experts in universities, other research bodies and industry

Technical innovations can often support improvements in the delivery of our policies. This may involve choices between commercially available technologies or an assessment of how well systems will work.

The government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) is responsible to the Prime Minister for the quality of scientific advice within government.

The GCSA’s advice is independent and he or she is supported in his work by staff in the Government Office for Science.

Each departmental CSA ensures that scientific advice is robust by encouraging peer review and continued professional development among government scientists.

We also use Scientific Advisory Councils to provide independent, expert and strategic advice on the science underpinning specific policies.

Further information

Further information on Protect, and the work done to strengthen our protection against terrorist attacks, can be found in the government’s Counter Terrorism Strategy, CONTEST, and in the CONTEST Annual Report

Appendix 2: Prevent

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Prevent is 1 of the 4 elements of CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. It aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

The Prevent strategy:

  • responds to the ideological challenge we face from terrorism and aspects of extremism, and the threat we face from those who promote these views
  • provides practical help to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure they are given appropriate advice and support
  • works with a wide range of sectors (including education, criminal justice, faith, charities, online and health) where there are risks of radicalisation that we need to deal with

The strategy covers all forms of terrorism, including far right extremism and some aspects of non-violent extremism. However, we prioritise our work according to the risks we face. For instance, following the death of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the Prime Minister is leading a task force on tackling extremism and radicalisation. The special committee, which includes senior members of the cabinet and security chiefs, builds on the Prevent strategy.

The Home Office works with local authorities, a wide range of government departments, and community organisations to deliver the Prevent strategy. The police also play a significant role in Prevent, in much the same way as they do when taking a preventative approach to other crimes.

We use a range of measures to challenge extremism in the UK, including:

  • where necessary, we have prevented apologists for terrorism and extremism from travelling to this country
  • giving guidance to local authorities and institutions to understand the threat from extremism and the statutory powers available to them to challenge extremist speakers
  • funding a specialist police unit which works to remove online content that breaches terrorist legislation
  • supporting community based campaigns and activity which can effectively rebut terrorist and extremist propaganda and offer alternative views to our most vulnerable target audiences - in this context we work with a range of civil society organisations
  • supporting people who are at risk of being drawn into terrorist activity through the Channel process, which involves several agencies working together to give individuals access to services such as health and education, specialist mentoring and diversionary activities - more information on Channel can be found in the Channel Guidance and Channel Vulnerability Assessment

Overseas, we work closely with countries where those who support terrorism and promote extremism are most active. Our activity is concentrated on Pakistan, the Middle East and East Africa where radicalising activity can have a direct impact on communities in the UK.

We measure the outputs and impact of our work locally and nationally to make sure the Prevent programme provides value for money.

Further information on Prevent, and the work done to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, can be found in CONTEST, and in the CONTEST Annual Report. Translations of Prevent’s Executive Summary in Arabic and Urdu, and the Prevent equality impact assessment are also available.

Appendix 3: Pursue

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Pursue is 1 of the 4 elements of CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The purpose of Pursue is to stop terrorist attacks in this country and against our interests overseas. This means detecting and investigating threats at the earliest stage, disrupting terrorist activity before it can endanger the public and, wherever possible, prosecuting those responsible.

The government’s preferred approach to dealing with terrorists is to prosecute them, and in the case of foreign nationals, we will prosecute and deport them.

We make sure that the police and security agencies have the powers they need to protect the public, but at the same time we make sure that we preserve the fundamental values that terrorists seek to undermine.

We reviewed the most sensitive and controversial counter-terrorism and security powers in 2011. We have implemented the recommendations of the review, including:

  • replacing control orders with the terrorism prevention and investigation measures
  • abolishing section 44 stop and search
  • limiting the length of pre-charge detention

This ensures that we strike the right balance between protecting individual freedoms and national security.

From 2013 to 2015 we will:

  • continue to assess our counter-terrorism powers and ensure they are both effective and proportionate
  • improve our ability to prosecute and deport people for terrorist-related offences
  • increase our capabilities to detect, investigate and disrupt terrorist threats
  • ensure that judicial proceedings in this country can better handle sensitive and secret material to serve the interests of both justice and national security
  • work with other countries and multilateral organisations to enable us to better deal with the threats we face at their source

More information on Pursue, and the methods used to disrupt terrorist’s activities, can be found in the government’s Counter Terrorism Strategy, CONTEST, and in the CONTEST Annual Report.

Memoranda of Understanding on Deportations with Assurances

Where the UK needs to deport someone, but need specific assurances that they would be treated in line with human rights standards such as the European Convention on Human Rights, this is done under the Government’s Deportation with Assurances (DWA) policy.

The UK has agreements with a number of countries – usually in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding between governments – which give assurances around the treatment of people deported from the UK to one of these countries, or from one of these countries to the UK.

Appendix 4: Prepare

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Prepare is 1 of the 4 elements of CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. Prepare aims to mitigate the impact of a terrorist incident where it cannot be stopped. The Home Office works with the intelligence agencies and the emergency services to bring a terrorist attack to an end, and to recover from its aftermath.

Prepare is based on an approach to emergency preparedness that concentrates on managing common consequences of a wide range of emergencies, including terrorism.

The Home Office supports the emergency services to enhance their ability to work together effectively at the scene of a major incident.

We are also enhancing the firearms capabilities of police armed units and the emergency services more broadly to take account of a Mumbai style terrorist attack.

From 2013 to 2015, the Home Office’s Prepare objectives are to:

  • continue to build generic capabilities to respond to and recover from a wide range of terrorist and other civil emergencies
  • improve preparedness for the highest impact risks in the national risk assessment
  • improve the ability of the emergency services to work together during a terrorist attack - Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme
  • enhance communications and information sharing for terrorist attacks

Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme

Our emergency services are already among the best in the world, but we can do more to make sure that the handling of any incident is as joined-up as possible.

In autumn 2012 the police, fire and ambulance services launched the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme.

This 2 year programme focuses on improving the immediate emergency response to any major or complex incident. The projects include work to ensure that the services:

  • have a detailed understanding of each others’ roles and responsibilities
  • have clear guidance on how to work together where appropriate
  • share information quickly and effectively
  • can make rapid decisions supported by a joint assessment of risk

All of this will be supported by a greater emphasis on joint training and exercising at all levels of command.

More information on Prepare, and the work done to reduce the impact of a terrorist attack, can be found in CONTEST, and in the CONTEST Annual Report

Appendix 5: Protect

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Protect is 1 of the 4 elements of CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. Protect aims to strengthen our protection against terrorist attacks in the UK or against our interests overseas, and so reduce vulnerability.

From 2013 to 2015 the Home Office is working to:

  • strengthen UK border security
  • reduce the vulnerability of the transport network
  • increase the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure
  • improve protective security for crowded places

Increasing the resilience of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI)

Ensuring the security of our national infrastructure is one of the main Protect priorities as set out in the UK’s National Security Strategy and the UK Counter Terrorism Strategy CONTEST.

The government prioritises its efforts by working with intelligence agencies, regulators and trade bodies to allow greater cooperation to encourage owners and operators of CNI to improve protective security.

Protective security is principally achieved by identifying risks, assessing vulnerabilities and encouraging infrastructure owners and operators to implement proportionate mitigation measures.

This means putting in place, or building into a design, security measures and response procedures so that threats may be deterred, detected, or the consequences of an attack minimised. These measures aim to either prevent a direct assault on a site or reduce the potential damage and injuries that could occur should an incident take place

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), working with lead government departments, provides expert advice on appropriate and proportionate protective security measures, including cyber security and personnel security directly to the most critical sites.

Improving the protective security of crowded places

Crowded places remain an attractive target for terrorists who have demonstrated that they are likely to target places which are easily accessible, regularly available and which offer the prospect for an impact beyond the loss of life alone.

The national network of Counter Terrorism Security Advisers, CPNI and National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) give advice to organisations in the public and private sectors to reduce their vulnerability to attack.

Guidance documents for anyone involved in the design and development of the built environment are available.

Sector specific guidance documents aimed at owners and operators of crowded places sites are available on the NaCTSO website.