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?