It is a pleasure to be here this morning to speak at this important event. I would like to thank Cityforum for organising such an impressive list of speakers and for hosting this timely debate on the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
It is now almost 10 months since the coalition government was elected. Over that period I have personally seen much that has
impressed me in the way that the UK does counter-terrorism: the hard working men and women who do so much, unnoticed, to protect our security - from law enforcement, the intelligence and security agencies, the armed forces, the emergency services and the wider community. I wish to thank them for their hard work.
For CONTEST to be successful it must involve law-makers, business and industry, academia, law enforcement and our international partners. This is why, it is important that we use the opportunity we have today to consider the issues at the very heart of our strategy - to ensure that we factor in all the accumulated knowledge which is shared between you. The focus of today’s event is ‘the future of CONTEST in the security of the United Kingdom’.
I would like to invite your contribution to all aspects of that debate and say that we are in listening mode.
I would like to reflect briefly on the changing shape, and complexity, of the terrorist threat we face. A number of incidents over the course of the last year demonstrate how the threat from terrorism continues to diversify:
- in December, a Swedish citizen who had spent sometime living in this country partially detonated two bombs in Stockholm city centre.
- last October Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsular attempted to blow up two aircraft bound for the United States (one of which was intercepted in the UK).
- in May a young women - radicalised, it would seem, on the internet - attempted to murder a Member of Parliament at his constituency surgery in East London.
What these and many other events show is that the threat we face is changing. Al Qaida is under pressure from the international community. But let us not be in any doubt that this group still aspire to launch attacks against the West. We now see new alliances between previously unconnected and indeed, unknown terrorist groups. We face an inherently unpredictable threat from self starting individuals motivated by Al Qaida’s rhetoric of global jihad. This is the context for CONTEST - our strategy for countering the terrorist threat.
The aim of CONTEST is to reduce the risk to the UK, and its interests overseas, from all forms of terrorism. To do this we aim to reduce the threat - through work on PREVENT and PURSUE - alongside reducing vulnerability and promoting resilience, through PROTECT and PREPARE. It is this framework which shapes our programme today.
This government wants to balance the vital measures taken to ensure safety and security with the other rights we value. We must strike a balance between the requirement for government intervention in the interests of security and the need to guard our civil liberties and restore public confidence in our counter terrorism powers. The key to delivering this new approach is the rigorous assessment of both proportionality and necessity.
Within Pursue, we have recently completed and announced the findings of the counter-terrorism security powers review. We reviewed counter-terrorism legislation because too much of it was excessive and unnecessary. At times it gave the impression of criminalising entire communities. It was also ineffective in certain areas.
We have reduced the maximum period of pre-charge detention from 28 to 14 days. We are committed to repealing section 44 powers of stop and search and replacing it with a more tightly defined power to use in extraordinary circumstances. We will repeal control orders and replace them with a new package of measures which is better focused and has more targeted restrictions, supported by significantly increased resources for surveillance and other investigative tools.
And we must also address any technical shortfalls in our ability to tackle cyber terrorism and safeguard our ability to access communications data.
This should not be mistaken for being ‘soft’ on terrorism. In a number of areas we are investing to ensure that we have suitable capabilities in place to respond to the threat posed by terrorist activity.
We take these measures because (unlike random stop and search) they are necessary and they are proportionate.
No strategy, however perfectly crafted and well implemented can entirely mitigate the threat we face - but how should we ensure that our efforts and resources for tackling terrorism are properly focused amid a constantly evolving threat environment?
We are also reviewing the Prevent strand of CONTEST. We want
Prevent to do just that: prevent people becoming terrorists. We do not want to use counter terrorism money to promote integration. We do not want Prevent to appear to stigmatise communities.
Prevent will focus upon countering terrorist ideology by empowering communities with the theological and technological expertise necessary to challenge terrorist ideology. Where individuals are at risk of becoming terrorists we will intervene to prevent this happening and crack down on those who radicalise others.
In doing all of this we will provide support to those institutions where radicalisation is most prevalent, including, universities, schools and prisons.
Integration will be addressed in a strategy by the Department for Communities and Local government. While the two strategies are distinct, there are linkages. The Government will not work with those with extreme views, even if they are not advocating violence. Extremism undermines our common values. These values are the fabric that binds our society together.
If we want a more integrated and cohesive society we must be much more assertive in promoting common values and challenging the views which undermine them. If we, as a society, believe in certain irreducible values, we should not stand by passively if they are threatened by extremists.
In revising our Prevent strategy we will follow the same approach as we do with the other parts of our counter-terrorism strategy. Our response will be firm but proportionate and targeted to the threat. I believe that there is much that we in Government can learn from the expertise that you bring to this topic. How can we tackle the divisive ideology which seeks to radicalise vulnerable individuals towards terrorism? And how should we work with public institutions to ensure that they can strengthen the safeguards against radicalisation?
We have also done much in PROTECT and PREPARE.
On the Protect strand we have reviewed aviation security and are now bringing forward measures to stop terrorists attacking the international air freight system including the suspension of air freight from Yemen and unaccompanied freight from Somalia. We are also committed to providing updated guidance to airport security personnel to assist them to identify future potential threats.
And on Prepare we are investing in police firearms capability to respond to the potential of a marauding Mumbai style attack; we also conduct regular, live-play, counter terrorism exercises which test the ability of the police, the ambulance service and others to respond to a range of terrorist scenarios. These exercises also allow us to test the interoperability of the emergency service network across all providers.
But we know that we must not rest there. How can we enhance our cooperation with partners and the public to reduce vulnerability and promote resilience?
This government recognises the importance of a flexible and responsive strategy to help us tackle emerging threats - that is exactly, with your assistance today, what we will develop.
With a new government come new views, new opinions and new policies. But the objective remains the same - to stop terrorist attacks. We are determined to apply all of the tools at our disposal to achieve the first duty of any government - protecting the British public.
And all of this must be done in line with our broad and firm commitment to protect the fundamental rights and liberties that we all hold dear.
As I made clear at the beginning, effective counter-terrorism work relies not only on government but on the continued efforts and cooperation of many individuals working across a range of sectors. To deal with these challenges it is clear to me that we all need to listen to the views of all those who can help improve our understanding of how best reduce the risk that terrorism poses - and I hope that we can do that here today.