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MS-12: CONTEST Review

Ruth Murphy

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Mr. Speaker,

I rise to provide the House with a statement on the government's review into CONTEST - the United Kingdom's counterterrorism strategy. 

Before proceeding, I want to be perfectly clear to the public that the government's first priority is guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. Being tough against terrorists and protecting the British people is my very first priority as Home Secretary. The government has been frank that disruption from the earlier stages has meant that this review is three months delayed. While I am confident this has not compromised national security, I understand this delay has looked like we have not given counterterrorism the focus and priority is deserves. That projection ends today with the publishing of this review. With me as Home Secretary, Britons can rest assured they have a Home Secretary who will work around the clock tooth and nail to keep them safe and to deliver swift justice on those who commit evil and appalling terrorist acts. 

As the House is aware, though I understand the Shadow Home Secretary needs a refresher, since 2003 the Home Office has pursued the CONTEST model of tackling counterterrorism. It is composed of the four p's - to prevent people becoming terrorists or sympathisers of terrorism; to pursue to stop terrorist attacks by disrupting, prosecuting and disrupting potential terrorists; to protect the United Kingdom and her citizens by strengthening protections within the United Kingdom and her overseas interests and to prepare to mitigate the impact in the instances terrorist attacks cannot be disrupted. 

Though this is an approach that has been hailed as a world leading counterterrorism strategy and has long garnered cross party support from governments of all colours, the government accepts we cannot keep our counterterrorism strategy fossilised. That has become more true than ever when in recent days the people of Manchester and London have been subjected to devastating terrorist attacks. In 2003, children could not be radicalised at the touch of a button. The Syrian war had not erupted and created a haven for British and foreign terrorists. Terrorist strategies had not evolved in the way they have today, with road vehicles increasingly being used as weapons. And that is only the beginning: we also know that far right and Northern Irish related terrorist offences have also evolved in recent years.

So it is right we have a modern strategy that evolves too. This government has been wholly aware CONTEST must be reviewed, as it had been when it was established in 2003 and as it had been again in 2011. And it is right we take a multifaceted approach in which the government, public sector and private sector work together to clamp down on terrorism root and branch in a proactive way that ensures we do not back down against terrorists when they recruit British children in online chatrooms up to when they have committed heinous acts on our streets. That is why I ordered a review into the government's CONTEST strategy so we can have an updated perspective of how terrorists recruit, organise and execute attacks and respond accordingly.

Mr. Speaker,

That internal review found that CONTEST remained an effective strategy and the principles behind the four p's remind as relevant today as they always have, but outlined a variety of ways government can act to strengthen those principles and make them fit for purpose in 2018. This includes:


• Focusing our activity and resources in those locations where the threat from terrorism and radicalisation is highest.
• Expanding our Desistance and Disengagement Programme with an immediate aim over the next 12 months to more than double the number of individuals receiving rehabilitative interventions.
• Developing a series of multi-agency pilots to trial methods to improve our understanding of those at risk of involvement in terrorism and enable earlier intervention.
• Focusing our online activity on preventing the dissemination of terrorist material and building strong counter-terrorist narratives in order to ensure there are no safe places for terrorists online.
• Building stronger partnerships with communities, civil society groups, public sector institutions and industry to improve Prevent delivery.
• Re-enforcing safeguarding at the heart of Prevent to ensure our communities and families are not exploited or groomed into following a path of violent extremism.

• Implementing a step-change in our domestic investigative capabilities through implementing the recommendations of MI5 and counterterrorism Policing’s Operational Improvement Review.
• Introducing new counter-terrorism legislation to disrupt terrorist threats in the UK earlier, taking account of the scale of the threat and the speed at which plots are now developing.
• As set out in in the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, recruiting and training over 1,900 additional staff across the security and intelligence agencies.
• Developing a series of multi-agency pilots to trial ways to improve information sharing and enrich our understanding of the threat at the local level, including of closed and closing subjects of interest.
• Bringing foreign fighters to justice in accordance with due legal process if there is evidence that crimes have been committed, regardless of their nationality.
• Maintaining our use of enhanced legislative tools to target and disrupt terrorist finance.
• Ensuring we maintain our global reach to disrupt those that directly threaten the UK or UK interests.
• Ensuring strong independent oversight of our counter-terrorism work, including publishing annual reports by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, the Biometrics Commissioner and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

• Collating and analysing greater volumes of high quality data to enhance our ability to target known and previously unknown persons and goods of potential counter- terrorism concern.
• Maintaining the UK at the forefront of developing world leading screening and detection technologies at the border, including behavioural detection, new detection techniques, data analytics and machine learning.
• Targeting the insider threat by strengthening information-sharing about those working in sensitive environments in airports, to ensure that persons of concern do not have access to restricted environments.
• Further strengthen security and resilience across the UK’s transport network and other parts of our critical national infrastructure that keep our country running and provide essential services.
• Working in partnership with the aviation industry and international partners to deliver robust and sustainable aviation security in the UK and overseas.
• Improving security at crowded places through closer, more effective working with a wider range of local authority and private sector responsible partners.
• Enhancing capabilities to detect terrorist activity involving Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) material and their precursors and to control and safeguard these materials.

• Maintaining our investment in the capabilities of the emergency services in order to deliver a coordinated and effective response to terrorist attacks.
• Ensuring the UK is resilient and ready to respond in a proportionate and effective manner to a wide range of CBRNE threats.
• Fully embedding the Joint Emergency Service Interoperability Principles across the emergency services by 2020, to ensure that they can work together effectively in response to a terrorist attack.
• Regularly testing and exercising the multi-agency capabilities required to respond to, and recover from, a wide range of terrorist attacks.
• Improving support arrangements for victims of terrorism to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response.

To ensure these changes are funding, and to fill funding shortfalls as identified in the review, the government will be providing investment in new counter-terrorism capabilities for the security and intelligence agencies worth £1.4 billion to enable them to investigate, analyse and help disrupt terrorist plots. £2 billion of new investment in the capability of UK Special Forces, which allows us to strike terrorists wherever they are in the world. £500 million of additional investment in the Home Office to protect UK citizens from terrorist threats, including: a real terms increase to the Counter-Terrorism Policing Grant; a new National Digital Exploitation Service to analyse the growing volumes of seized media for evidence and intelligence leads; an increased number of specialist firearms officers; improved intelligence and threat detection at the border; and increased efforts to counter the ideologies that feed terrorism and extremism. This is funding that will be provided within the next spending period.

I want to also announce, Mr. Speaker, that the government will be providing £13 million to Manchester City Council to support them in the aftermath of last year's brutal attack. Campaigners across Manchester have bravely identified further support needed to help them recover from last year's brutal attack. And though that money can never take back the lives, dreams and ambitions of those lost, we sincerely hope it can help Manchester come back as strong as ever. 

Mr. Speaker, I want to further be clear this is not job done. For heroes on the frontline of the fight against terrorism, it will never be job done. Government must maintain the same vigilance. Tireless work will need to be done to implement the findings in this proposal. And we must continue to evolve and be vigilant following this report. But it is a promise to the British people that when faced with the threats, violence and brutal ideology presented to us by terrorists and extremists, we do not submit or live in fear. We come together as a country and respond. We saw that in Manchester. We saw it in London. And I know we will see it across all sides of this House and in this government and future governments.

I commend this statement to the House. 

Ruth Murphy.

Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton (1974-).

Opposition Whip (1982-).

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