This Bill is designed to strengthen the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and introduce a variety of new laws to respond to the unprecedented terrorist threat, allowing earlier intervention to disrupt terrorism.
If the Bill is passed police and immigration officers will for the first time be given the right to stop and question people they suspect of “hostile activity” at UK airports and ports. Hostile activity is defined as something that “threatens national security, threatens the economic well-being of the UK, or is an act of serious crime” and is linked to a foreign state. If their suspicions are confirmed, they will then be able to pass them to Border Force officials to be deported.
The Bill will also introduce longer sentences of up to 15 years for terrorist propaganda offences in recognition of the increased danger posed by the speed at which some terrorists are becoming radicalised.
Further provisions will make it easier to tackle those who stream or repeatedly view extremist material online and extend the ability of police and prosecutors to bring charges for terror offences committed overseas.
This Bill has been introduced partly in response to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury earlier this year. Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP said:
We judge that it was highly likely that the Russian state carried out the appalling attack in Salisbury which demonstrates why the police need robust powers to investigate, identify and challenge those acting against our interests. This is a necessary and proportionate response to the threat and will, of course, be subject to strict safeguards and robust oversight to assure its proper use.
Home Office officials said the UK faces a sustained threat from hostile state actors seeking to undermine national security in a variety of ways, including espionage and, as the attack in Salisbury made clear, violence against individuals.
The UK terrorist threat level has been at “severe” since the murder of Lee Rigby in 2014, but since then there have been a number of terrorist attacks on British soil, notably at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge, and Finsbury Park. Against the background of this heightened terrorist treat, the Government has said that it considers it necessary to update and strengthen the legal powers and capabilities available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism and ensure that the sentences for terrorism offence properly reflect the seriousness of the crime.
This is a Home Office Bill introduced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP.
Most pieces of counter-terrorism legislation are heavily scrutinised by civil liberties and human rights groups, as there is always a balance to be struck between national security and personal liberty. Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at civil rights group Liberty, said:
Terrorism is a serious issue deserving serious thought. Sadly this ‘strategy’ is a regurgitation of failed thinking – heavy on soundbites, light on substance. The Government continues to use dangerously vague definitions of extremism to tarnish communities, encourage policing by prejudice and press service providers and local authorities into becoming unwilling and untrained agents of the security services. Yet again they attack encryption and talk up data analytics, while offering no actual proposals and no explanation of how our privacy and cybersecurity will be protected. If and when they come up with something concrete we will be scrutinising it closely.
How to get involved
You can contact your MP, or the Home Office, or civil liberties group Liberty who will be scrutinising this Bill.
If I don’t act, will it go through?
This is a Government Bill, so it is likely to go through, however Bills such as this are often subject to a number of amendments, so it is not set in stone yet.