Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 4th July 2012.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:02 pm, 4th July 2012

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 2 July, be approved.

The Government are determined to do all we can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add the organisation Indian Mujahideen—the IM—to the list of 47 international terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 10th proscription under the 2000 Act.

Section 3 of the 2000 Act provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including through the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, she may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I thank the Minister for giving way so early in what will probably be a short contribution. What reviews have been conducted of all the other organisations on the list? Every time these orders come up, we seem to add to the list, rather than subtract from it.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to tell the House that an annual review is undertaken in respect of all the proscribed organisations. I also note the recommendation from David Anderson, the independent reviewer on terrorism, in respect of a mechanism for de-proscription. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are examining that recommendation carefully, and that we will respond to David Anderson’s report in due course.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Select Committee’s report on the roots of radicalism supported what the Government were doing, but suggested that the matter needed to be looked at. It is six months since the publication of the report. Given that the Minister is now bringing another organisation before the House, will he tell us when we can expect a definitive answer from the Government on what form that mechanism will take?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I acknowledge the Select Committee’s interest. Indeed, I gave evidence to the Committee, and I remember the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asked me during the evidence sessions. The matter is being considered, in relation to the Select Committee’s report and in the context of the recommendation made by the independent reviewer. All I can say is that we will make a further announcement in due course. Unfortunately, I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a more specific answer now, but I acknowledge the point that he is making, and we will respond to the points made by the Select Committee and by the independent reviewer shortly.

We recognise that proscription is a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the United Kingdom. Proscription makes it a criminal offence for a person to belong to, or invite support for, the proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of the organisation, or to wear clothing or carry articles in public that could arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual was a member or supporter of the relevant organisation.

Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information and evidence on that organisation. Having carefully considered all the evidence, she firmly believes that IM is involved in terrorism. Hon. Members will appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail, but I am able to give them the following information. IM is a terrorist organisation based in India. It emerged in 2007. It uses violence in its attempts to achieve its stated objectives of creating an Islamic state in India and of implementing sharia law there.

The organisation has frequently perpetrated attacks on civilian targets, such as markets, with the intention of maximising casualties. In May 2008, for example, a spate of bomb detonations in the city of Jaipur killed 63, and in September last year an explosion outside the high court in Delhi reportedly killed 12 and injured 65. IM has sought to incite sectarian hatred in India by deliberately targeting Hindu places of worship. An example of that was an attack on a prayer ceremony in Varanasi, which killed a child, in December 2010.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

I understand and wholeheartedly support the reason for proscribing the organisation here, but is it proscribed in India as well?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, the organisation is proscribed in India and in several other countries, including the United States and New Zealand. The proscription here will align the UK with the emerging international consensus.

It is important, in the context of this order, to state that the group is also known to target areas popular with tourists. A shooting incident in Old Delhi wounded two Taiwanese tourists in September 2010, and there was an unsuccessful attempt to detonate an explosive device at the scene. The organisation has also publicly threatened to attack British tourists, so it clearly poses a threat to British nationals in India.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

My hon. Friend has mentioned the fact that the United States and other countries have also condemned these terrorist organisations. What international co-ordination is there to ensure that if such an organisation is proscribed in one country, it is proscribed in other countries that we see as our allies?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand my hon. Friend’s particular interest in this subject. Clearly, we need to be satisfied that a particular organisation meets the statutory requirements for proscription, which I outlined at the start of my contribution. We seek to draw on information wherever it is available so that we can determine that the relevant steps are met in respect of the statutory tests, thus giving the Home Secretary the discretion to exercise a determination to proscribe an organisation.

We believe there is ample evidence to suggest that IM is concerned in terrorism, and I believe it is right to add the organisation to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 to the 2000 Act. I commend the order to the House.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 7:10 pm, 4th July 2012

I start by thanking the Minister for his courtesy in having discussions with me about the order. Proscription is serious, and it is quite right that the decision to proscribe an organisation is not taken lightly. The consequences of proscription are very serious, not least because it potentially criminalises the group’s members. Proscription must be reserved for the most dangerous groups where there is clear evidence of terrorist activity.

Under the regulations laid out in part II of the Terrorism Act 2000, a group may be proscribed only if the Home Secretary believes that the organisation commits or participates in acts of terrorism and the Opposition are confident that there is evidence to support the Minister’s assertions and will support the proscription.

I would like to ask the Minister a few questions about the Indian Mujahideen. It is quite clear that it is a terrorist organisation. Indeed, as the Minister set out, it has been behind some of the most appalling acts of terrorism of recent years—most horrifically, the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, in which nearly 170 people were killed. The IM also shares responsibility for the general decline in the security situation on the Indian subcontinent.

It is important, however, to look at the group’s history and to understand the wider movement from which it developed. It is particularly important to recognise the strong links between the IM and the Students Islamic Movement of India—a movement first identified back in 1977. In 1986, the SIMI called for the liberation of India’s Muslims, and evolved into a militant organisation at some point in the 1990s.

The Royal United Services Institute suggests that the IM needs to be understood as a product of the SIMI. This is important because, as far as I am aware, the Government have not banned the SIMI. Will the Minister explain why the SIMI has not been included in the order? As I understand it, if an IM branch converts back to become a SIMI group, it will not be proscribed and the Government will be unable to act against its members. Is that correct? Will the Minister confirm whether he considers the SIMI group to be a terrorist organisation? We also know of concerns about links between the IM and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has also been known to commit attacks on the Indian subcontinent and has already been proscribed.

Let me move on to other factors to which the Home Secretary has to give consideration in making a decision to proscribe. The first is to look at the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities. Will the Minister confirm whether the decision to proscribe this organisation now is a result of evidence suggesting an increase in the scale of the IM’s activities?

Secondly, the specific threat posed to British nationals overseas has to be considered. There are many British nationals in India, particularly in Mumbai. Sadly, British nationals have already been caught up in terrorist attacks in India. Does the fact that the Government are proscribing this organisation now mean that the UK Government recognise that there is an increased level of threat in India and to British nationals in particular?

The Minister has set out evidence of the targeting of UK nationals, and we know that the IM, being active in India, also has a presence in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. I understand that it uses the porous borders between Nepal and Bangladesh and Bangladesh and India to avoid Indian security on the Pakistan border when it acquires weapons from factions based in Pakistan. May I also ask whether there is any evidence linking that group to forces attacking UK troops operating in Afghanistan?

Thirdly, there is the issue of the extent of the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom, and the question of whether any specific threat is posed to the UK. Is there any evidence that the IM is active in the UK, or receives direct support from it? Have the Government any estimate of the number of people in the UK who might be affected by the proscription of the group?

According to a 2011 report by the Royal United Services Institute,

“SIMI's (and, thereafter, IM's) distinguishing characteristic was that it was, essentially, home-grown. Its activists and leaders are virtually all Indian.”

Does the decision to proscribe the group reflect a change in its composition? Is there now a greater IM presence outside India? In particular, have links been found between that group and groups operating in the middle east and Europe?

As I said earlier, there are strong links between IM and the Students Islamic Movement of India. Will the Minister tell us whether SIMI is known to the Home Office, and whether there has been a proper assessment of its activities in the United Kingdom? Specifically, is there any evidence that it has operated in UK universities, colleges or mosques, or within communities? Is there any evidence that the IM has forged links with other Islamic terrorist organisations operating in the UK? As I said earlier, there is evidence that Lashkar-e-Taiba has given logistical support to the IM. Is there now evidence to suggest that the IM has developed links with any other groups? In particular, is there any evidence of links between the IM and any other groups on the UK’s proscribed list, which I think now contains about 47 international terrorist organisations?

Fourthly, the Home Secretary should bear in mind the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism. The Minister has said that the UK is proscribing the IM when that has already been done by some of our international allies: India, New Zealand and the United States. Why is that? Did India ask the UK to proscribe the IM? Did discussions include a discussion of the role of other groups, including SIMI? Will this have any European consequences, and have any discussions taken place with our European allies?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the first Prime Minister’s Question Time after my right hon. Friend Mr Brown became Prime Minister. On that occasion, the then Leader of the Opposition chose proscription as his first topic, using the opportunity to attack the then Government for not proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir. He said:

“Hizb ut-Tahrir. We think it should be banned—why has it not happened?”—[Hansard, 4 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 951.]

Five years later, the Minister stated in a letter to me:

“this is an organisation about which we have significant concerns and their activities are kept under review”.

Will he explain today why Hizb ut-Tahrir still has not been banned, five years after the present Prime Minister called for such action?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington 7:18 pm, 4th July 2012

I thank the Minister for setting out so clearly why the coalition Government intend to proscribe this organisation. He could have listed, I believe, nine separate incidents in which it was involved between 2007 and 2011. It is clearly a prolific and dangerous organisation.

Diana Johnson asked a great many questions, to which I can add just one. I understand that the Minister may not be able to answer it—and many of the other questions—for security reasons, but is there any evidence of activity in the UK and specifically of, perhaps, charity work to support that organisation?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 7:19 pm, 4th July 2012

I do not wish to detain the House, as I know many of the Members present want us to move on. I can tell them that, given what we have heard from the Front Benches, I do not believe that the House will divide.

When we proscribe an organisation, it is important that we do so carefully, because it is something we do very rarely. Such a move is also almost never opposed by the Opposition. That has certainly been the case throughout all the years that I have been Home Affairs Committee Chair and, indeed, in Parliament—and throughout all the years you have been in Parliament, Madam Deputy Speaker. In all that time, I have never known Government and Opposition to disagree on the proscription of an organisation. We will support the Government order because I am sure that the Home Secretary will have taken good advice before proscribing this organisation, and that she will not have taken the decision lightly.

However, the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, was right to press the Minister on a number of issues concerning the operation of the organisation within the UK. The Minister is right: the Indian Government have banned the organisation, as it has conducted a number of atrocities, most recently in Mumbai in 2011. However, I represent a constituency that, on the last census, has more people of Indian origin than any other constituency in the country, and I am not aware of this organisation operating in the UK. The Home Secretary obviously knows better than I, so I am happy to take her lead, but it is important that we proscribe for a reason.

Mr Ellwood rightly says we should not act in isolation. The Minister named five countries, including New Zealand, but there needs to be better co-ordination among countries, so that when we ban an organisation in our country, that applies also in other countries in the EU, because it would not of course be acceptable for that organisation to continue to operate in France, for instance, while being proscribed in the UK. I am sure that when the Minister replies he will confirm that we will also be asking other EU countries to make this decision, as well as other international organisations with which we are associated, and that we will act together with other countries that are friendly to the UK.

My main point goes back to an issue raised by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, however, and it is specifically about proscription. When the Select Committee produced its unanimous report into the roots of radicalism—I note that Michael Ellis, a distinguished brain on the Committee, is present—we were very clear about the issue of de-proscription. We looked at the example of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. It took the then Government to court and it won, and that Government had to allow it to continue. We do not want to go along that path again. There needs to be a clear route for organisations that have become clean, or that have got rid of their terrorist operations—and for their supporters who may support certain causes but who do not support terrorism—to be able to be part of an exercise of de-proscription.

The excellent independent reviewer, David Anderson, proposes time-limiting proscription, so that Governments have to come back in two years and renew the proscription. The Select Committee has not taken a view on the time limit, but we certainly feel that there ought to be some such mechanism. The Minister has given us an answer, but I am afraid that it is similar to some of the letters I have received from the Home Secretary and other Ministers that use the words “in due course”. I know that when we use the seasons—spring and summer, for example—that can mean virtually anything and I know that “shortly” does not necessarily mean tomorrow, but “in due course” sounds like quite a long time. Clearly this will not happen before the recess, as that is in 10 days’ time, but it would be good to have a timetable so that people know what to expect.

I raise these issues because of my concern about my constituents who are members of the Tamil community. They still face difficulties in booking halls when they want to discuss Tamil issues because of the ban that remains on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. As the Minister knows, the LTTE lost the war in Sri Lanka, effectively all its leaders were killed and the organisation no longer exists. If he wants to take advice other than mine, he should talk to my hon. Friend Mike Gapes and especially to Mr Scott, who is, of course, a member of the Minister’s party and the chairman of the all-party group on Tamils. These members of the Tamil community wish to operate within the law and have no connection with the LTTE, but they still have difficulties in raising money for compassionate and charitable reasons because of the ban that remains on that group.

How do we de-proscribe an organisation that does not exist? Who makes the application when no members of the LTTE are operating in the United Kingdom? Who will write a letter to the Home Secretary to say, “Dear Home Secretary, please de-proscribe us” when the group no longer exists? The previous Government, whom my hon. Friend Diana Johnson and I supported—although my hon. Friend was not a Home Office Minister in that Government, so I cannot hold her responsible—were unable to come to this House and say that they would de-proscribe any organisation. How will the Government demonstrate their good faith, therefore, not just as regards what they are doing today, which I fully support for the reasons set out by the Minister—many of which we obviously take on good faith because we have not seen the files—but by ensuring that there is a mechanism in law that will satisfy our constituents in cases such as the one that I have raised?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 7:27 pm, 4th July 2012

I shall be brief, but I want to follow up on the comments made by the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, and the questions asked by my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, who speaks on behalf of the Opposition.

I feel that we should be cautious when we proscribe any organisation. As the Minister pointed out, the effect is that anti-terrorist law rather than normal criminal law applies to that organisation, not just in this country but in other countries. It almost ends up criminalising entire communities, as my right hon. Friend for Leicester East mentioned in the context of the Tamil community, but it affects many others too. We should not always reach out to anti-terror laws to deal with our problems in security; we should instead use the criminal law that we have.

The other effect of banning an organisation from a particular community can be to choke off perfectly open and legitimate political debate and deter people from taking part in normal political debate. It might also have the perverse effect of encouraging some people in completely the wrong direction. We should be more than slightly cautious about that.

These issues are not new and they have been raised many times. I realise than the Minister probably cannot give a full answer today, but I have asked questions concerning the Anderson inquiry and its proposals. There are a substantial number of organisations on that list and, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, the LTTE is a banned organisation although it no longer exists, so there does not seem to be a great deal of point in continuing that ban. Will the Minister give us a more specific indication than “in due course” of when he will be able to come before the House with a substantial reply to the queries of many Members about some of the organisations listed?

Will the Minister also give a strong message to the law enforcement officers in this country at all levels? If a specific organisation is banned, there is clearly a legal sanction against that organisation. However, it is not a legal sanction against all members of the community or against legitimate political debate. It is not a legal sanction against normal political discourse but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, some people somewhere hear that the LTTE is banned and therefore believe that all Tamil activity is banned. That is obviously not the case, but it is a message that some people misunderstand, or choose to misunderstand. If the Minister would set the record right, that would be extremely helpful. I look forward to his reply, and I hope that he can give a substantial answer to the report by the Home Affairs Committee sooner rather than later. I realise that that will not be before the summer recess, but if we could at least have an indication that it would be available in early autumn that would be helpful.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:30 pm, 4th July 2012

With the leave of the House, I shall be brief. Important points have been made, and I will reflect on de-proscription and the other things that have been raised this evening. I shall certainly write to Keith Vaz, who chairs the Select Committee, about relevant matters. I welcome support across the House for the measure. Unfortunately, there are a number of things on which I cannot comment because of intelligence and security matters, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will understand.

A number of issues were highlighted with regard to specific organisations. The Home Secretary has to be satisfied through the tests that I outlined that an organisation is connected with terrorism, so this is not a step that is taken lightly—it is a serious issue. I hope that the House understands that the Home Secretary has considered the issue carefully and that the IM has been engaged in indiscriminate mass-casualty attacks in India. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order, which was laid before this House on 2 July, be approved.