Our values will prevail in the fight against terrorism and extremism
Thank you, Alexander, for that thoughtful and inspiring speech.
It’s difficult for most of us here in this hall to really appreciate the effects of stop and search. You see, most of us are white. Most of us are of a certain age. Well, we’re certainly not teenagers anymore. But imagine walking home, or driving to work one day, and being stopped by the police. Imagine, having done nothing wrong, you are patted down, you have your pockets turned inside out, and your possessions examined. Imagine you ask why you’re being searched and you’re told it’s “just routine” even though the police need “reasonable grounds for suspicion” that you’ve broken the law. Imagine growing up and the indignity of this happening to you twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty or sixty times. And imagine what it’s like to feel, deep down, that this is only happening because you’re young, male and black.
Properly conducted, stop and search is a legitimate and useful police power, but figures gathered by the police themselves bear out the experiences of young men like Alexander. Only about ten per cent of stop and search incidents lead to an arrest. If you’re black you’re six times more likely to be stopped than if you’re white. And according to the Inspectorate of Constabulary, 27 per cent of stops are carried out without the “reasonable grounds for suspicion” required by law. That means more than a quarter of a million stops carried out last year were probably illegal.
This is hugely damaging to public confidence in the police. It’s a dreadful waste of police time. And it’s simply not right that young men like Alexander, who have worked hard, respected the law, and done all the things expected of them by their parents and by society, should be treated this way. And that is why I’ve always been determined to reform stop and search.
Under Labour - you remember them, the party of equality - stop and search powers were extended and extended. Under the Conservatives, they’ve been cut back. Under Labour, oversight rules and safeguards were downgraded and discarded. Under the Conservatives, they’ve been strengthened. And the result is less and better-targeted stop and search.
At its peak under Labour, there were more than 1.5 million stop and search incidents per year across the country. We have reduced that by a third, to one million last year. The result is less injustice, less anger, and more time for the police to catch real criminals.
But I know that the misuse of stop and search is still a real problem. So if those numbers do not keep falling, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if the stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve, we will legislate to make those things happen. Because I am determined to make sure that nobody should ever be stopped and searched because of the colour of their skin.
Conference, I could easily spend all my time today talking to you about our other achievements in the Home Office. Because of European free movement rules, overall immigration is still too high. But where we can control immigration we are controlling it, and immigration from outside Europe is down to the levels of the 1990s. To deal with Labour’s debt crisis, we have cut police spending by more than a fifth. But police reform is working, and under this government crime is down by 22 per cent.
I could go into a lot more detail. But instead, I am going to talk to you about the deadly terrorist threat we face. David Haines was a tireless humanitarian worker who helped Muslims….not just in Syria….but in Bosnia, South Sudan and Libya. Two weeks ago, he was murdered by terrorists, simply for being British. His murder followed the equally barbaric killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American journalists who were reporting to the world the plight of the Syrian people.
The terrorists who murdered David Haines like to call themselves the Islamic State. But I will tell you the truth: They are not Islamic. And they are not a state. Their actions have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Quran. What they believe has no resemblance whatsoever to the beliefs of more than a billion Muslims all over the world. And, like all the other Islamist terrorist organisations, they have caused the deaths of many thousands of innocent Muslim civilians. They occupy large parts of Syria and Iraq, and not only are they bringing death and destruction to the people of those countries, they have made absolutely clear their desire to attack Britain, America and the West.
ISIL are just one of the terrorist threats we face. There is Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, like-minded groups in Libya, Al Shabaab in East Africa, terrorist planning in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and home-grown extremists, who, like the 7/7 bombers, were radicalised here in Britain. Last year, Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered by Islamist extremists in London, while Mohammed Saleem, an elderly British Muslim, was murdered by a Ukrainian far right extremist here in Birmingham. The police and Security Service are working hard every day to prevent other terrorist attacks on our streets.
Dealing with those threats requires a deep understanding of what is going on in the world and a studied, careful response. Because there are no simple answers. We can’t go around the world trying to re-make it in our own image. We can’t just remove dictators and assume that liberal democracy will follow.
When you look at what is going on across the Middle East, there is a battle raging for the heart and soul of Islam itself. And that battle is very complicated. There is the ancient split between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Tribal rivalries and hostilities. Autocracies, theocracies and, yes, democracies too. States that fight proxy wars against others in third countries. Countries that sponsor insurgent movements and terrorism. Whole regions that are beyond the control of their governments. Terrorist groups that are more powerful than the states they’re based in. A conflict between different interpretations of the true faith, between scriptural literalism and modernity, between tradition and progress, between unelected strong men and popular consent, between nihilistic violence and human rights.
This is a battle that has already been fought for many years, and will be fought many years into the future. And it is not for Britain, or any other Western power, to try to resolve it. Only the many peoples of the world’s Muslim countries can determine their future. Yes, we should stand up for human rights. Yes, we should support friendly states and moderate elements within other states. Yes, we should provide humanitarian support when wars are fought. But we have to disentangle our own national interest from the struggle that is going on in the Middle East and across the Muslim world.
That judgement will sometimes be difficult to make. But in the case of ISIL the danger is clear. They have already murdered British and American citizens in the most brutal and cowardly manner possible. They have attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters, including thousands of Europeans, Americans, Australians and British nationals. One of their terrorists has already struck in Europe, when he murdered four innocent civilians outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels earlier this year. And they have made clear that they want to go on attacking Western targets. That is why it’s right that we are part of the international coalition dedicated to ISIL’s destruction.
If ISIL succeed in firmly consolidating their grip on the land they occupy in Syria and Iraq, we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state established within a few hours flying time of our country. We will see terrorists given the space to plot attacks against us, train their men and women, and devise new methods to kill indiscriminately. We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us. This is not somebody else’s battle. They have made clear their ambitions. And they have made us their enemies. And the lesson of history tells us that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it. We must not flinch. We must not shy away from our responsibility. We must not drift towards danger and insecurity. While we still have the chance, we must act to destroy ISIL.
The threat we face from ISIL is made even greater by the fact that there are at least 500 British nationals who have gone to Syria and Iraq, many of them to fight. Where they have dual nationality, I have the power to deprive them of their British citizenship and keep them out of our country. Thanks to our recent Immigration Act, in certain circumstances I can do the same to naturalised British citizens and keep them out of the country too. But under international law, no country is allowed to make its citizens stateless, and most of those British fighters are likely to return to the UK in the end. So, like other countries faced with the same problem - and there are 700 from France, 400 from Germany, 300 from Belgium, and thousands in total from countries across Europe - we have to deal with the threat.
The first thing we must do is discourage young British Muslims from travelling to Syria and Iraq in the first place. We know that some have travelled in order to do genuine humanitarian work. Others have gone in the hope of fighting against the government of Bashar al Assad. But some have been drawn by the ideology of extremist militias like al Nusra Front and ISIL.
We are working with families and community groups across the country to remind people how they can alleviate the suffering of civilians in Iraq and Syria without actually travelling there. Fighting for terrorist groups is never the answer. It is not acceptable. And it is illegal.
We are working with other European countries to disrupt and prevent travel to the region. And when we know people are planning to travel to Syria and Iraq, I can strip them of their British passports. So far, I’ve removed the passports of 25 people in relation to Syria and I will go on using that power. And in a new Counter-Terrorism Bill, which will be introduced by the end of November, we will toughen up these powers further. So when the police suspect somebody they encounter at the border, they will be able to seize their passport, prevent travel and give themselves time to investigate the suspect.
The British nationals who do travel to Syria and Iraq risk prosecution for participating in terrorist activities abroad. This year, 103 people have been arrested for offences relating to terrorism in Syria. 24 have been charged and five have already been successfully prosecuted. We are legislating to toughen these laws, too, so it will become a criminal offence to prepare and train for terrorism overseas.
For people we cannot prosecute but for whom there is evidence of their involvement in terrorism, we have some of the strongest laws in the world. The police and Security Service can already apply to me to put these people on Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, or TPIMs, which require subjects to be at a particular address for a number of hours every night, limit their access to the internet and telephones, and prevent them meeting named associates. We believe we need to strengthen these powers, so I am determined to do exactly that.
When we came to power, we protected the counter-terrorism policing budget and the budgets for the security and intelligence agencies. And we’ve given them extra resources for surveillance. But we must make sure, too, that the police and the security services have all the capabilities they need to keep us safe. And there is one capability that is diminishing at such a pace that not only are we risking letting terrorists plan their attacks undisrupted, we are allowing organised criminals to operate undisturbed. Crimes are going unpunished, children are being abused, and lives are being put at risk.
For years the police and security services have had access to communications data - that is, the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication but not its content - and it’s played a significant role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation in the last decade. It’s been used as evidence in 95 per cent of all serious organised crime cases handled by the Crown Prosecution Service. And it’s played a significant role in solving many of the most serious crimes in recent years, including the Oxford, Rochdale and Rotherham child abuse cases, several modern slavery cases, and the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. It can prove and disprove alibis, identify associations between potential criminals, and tie suspects and victims to crime scenes.
But because the way in which we communicate is increasingly online, our ability to obtain the data we need is declining rapidly and dangerously. Over a six-month period, the National Crime Agency estimates that it had to drop at least twenty cases as a result of missing communications data. Thirteen of these were threat-to-life cases, in which a child was judged to be at risk of imminent harm. In a three-month period, the Metropolitan Police had to drop twelve cases because communications data was not available. These cases included sexual offences and potential threat-to-life scenarios relating to a suicide threat and a kidnap.
The solution to this crisis of national security was the Communications Data Bill. But two years ago, it was torpedoed by the Liberal Democrats. I’m told that the Lib Dems now tell the newspapers that “they might have to give ground on surveillance powers in a future coalition agreement”. But they also say that they have “no intention of allowing changes before the general election”. This is outrageously irresponsible, because innocent people are in danger right now. If we do not act, we risk sleepwalking into a society in which crime can no longer be investigated and terrorists can plot their murderous schemes undisrupted. We have to give the police and the security services the powers they need to keep us safe. And that is what the next Conservative government will do.
So we must give ourselves the legal powers and technical capabilities we need to protect the public. But we will not prevail against the terrorist threat through military strength or counter-terrorism powers alone. We need to defeat the ideology that lies behind the threat.
The extremists believe in a clash of civilisations - a fundamental incompatibility between Islamic and Western values, an inevitable divide between “them and us”. They demand a caliphate, or a new Islamic state, governed by a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law. They utterly reject British and Western values, including democracy, the rule of law, and equality between citizens, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. They believe that it is impossible to be a good Muslim and a good British citizen. And they dismiss anybody who disagrees with them - including other Muslims - as non-believers.
This hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam itself. And it is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain and around the world. The Quran says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” It says: “let there be no compulsion in religion.” So let the message go out from this hall that the extremists will never succeed in dividing us. Let the message go out that we know Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies. Let us stand side by side with the British Muslims who are coming together and saying “not in my name”.
We must do everything we can to defeat this ideology and prevent the radicalisation of young British Muslims. We are toughening up the charity rules and the powers of the Charity Commission, working with Ofcom to deal with extremist broadcasts, improving the inspection regime and strengthening the rules for schools. We are working with the Ministry of Justice to tackle radicalisation in prisons, demanding more from universities to prevent radicalisation on campus, and improving our ability to take down terrorist material from the internet. Since the start of this year, the police have secured the removal of more than 30,000 pieces of terrorist material. We have an established network of organisations that work with people who are drifting into extremism and violence.
We have made important changes to the ‘Prevent’ programme we inherited from the last government. We separated it from the integration and community-building work overseen by Eric Pickles. There are now strict rules and checks to make sure we do not fund and do not work with people and organisations that do not share British values. And our policy doesn’t just focus on violent extremism, it deals with non-violent extremism too. Since 2010 I have prevented more foreign hate preachers coming to Britain… than any Home Secretary before me. And – despite the European Court of Human Rights – I’ve kicked a few of them out of the country too: Babar Ahmad, Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada.
But we must continue to do more. Soon, we will make Prevent a statutory duty for all public sector organisations. I want to see new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism. I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred. So both policies – Banning Orders and Extremism Disruption Orders – will be in the next Conservative manifesto.
And I want to tell you about another change we intend to make. As part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent has only ever been focused on the hard end of the extremism spectrum. So the Home Office will soon, for the first time, assume responsibility for a new counter-extremism strategy that goes beyond terrorism.
This strategy will be devised and overseen by the Home Office, but its implementation will be the responsibility of the whole of government, the rest of the public sector, and wider civil society. It will aim to undermine and eliminate extremism in all its forms - neo-Nazism and other forms of extremism as well as Islamist extremism - and it will aim to build up society to identify extremism, confront it, challenge it and defeat it.
Here in the city of Birmingham, local people know the problem only too well. Because it was here that extremists infiltrated state schools and sought to impose a hardline curriculum on children. School pupils were told about the dangers of “white prostitutes”, the call to prayer was broadcast over loudspeakers, music was banned, boys and girls were segregated, trips to Saudi Arabia were arranged for Muslim-only children, and inspectors found a “culture of bullying and intimidation”.
But it is not just a problem in Birmingham. Following divisive community politics and allegations of the mismanagement of public funds in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Eric Pickles has sent inspectors to investigate Lutfur Rahman, the elected mayor of the borough. Across the country, there are concerns about the way Shari’ah law is being applied, the way women are told to live and the intolerant attitudes shown to people of different beliefs and ways of life. We must not sleepwalk into separation, segregation and sectarianism.
We must be clear to people that the United Kingdom is a great place to live. We choose to live here, immigrants come to live here, and many dream of building a life here because we have a free society. We celebrate different ways of life, we value diversity, and we cherish our freedom to lead our lives as we choose.
All British people – including British Muslims – are free to practise their faith, and wear whatever clothes they choose. They are free to establish their own faith schools and give their children - including their girls – the best education possible. They are free to build their own churches, temples and mosques and worship freely. These are the benefits of living in a pluralistic society. But the whole point of living in such a society is that there are not just rights but responsibilities too. You don’t just get the freedom to live how you choose to live. You have to respect other people’s right to do so too. And you have to respect British values and institutions. The rule of law. Democracy. Equality. Free speech. And respect for minorities. These are the values that make our country what it is. These are our values. There is no place for extremism here.
There will, I’m sure, be some who say politicians shouldn’t get involved in these matters. But to live in a modern liberal state is not to live in a moral vacuum. We have to stand up for our values as a nation. There will, I know, be some who say that what I describe as extremism is merely social conservatism. But if others described a woman’s intellect as “deficient”, denounced people on the basis of their religious beliefs, or rejected the democratic process, we would quite rightly condemn their bigotry. And there will be others who say I am wrong to link these kinds of beliefs with the violent extremism we agree we must confront. To them I say, yes, not all extremism leads to violence. And not all extremists are violent. But the damage extremists cause to our society is reason enough to act. And there is, undoubtedly, a thread that binds the kind of extremism that promotes intolerance, hatred and a sense of superiority over others to the actions of those who want to impose their values on us through violence.
Those extremists are dangerous but they are a small minority. We know the overwhelming majority of British people want to be free. Free from danger. Free from fear. Free from prejudice. Free from discrimination. Free to practise their religion. Free to observe their cultures and traditions. Free to dress as they like. Free to be educated as they choose. Free to work where they wish. Free to live with whom they love. Free to raise their families as they see fit. Free to get on with their lives.
We must not become a society where these things are no longer possible. We must confront segregation and sectarianism. We must face down extremism in all its forms. We must stand up for our values. Because, in the end, as they have done before, those values, our British values, will win the day, and we will prevail.