Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 2nd April 2014.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 4:46 pm, 2nd April 2014

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in this short debate this afternoon. I am pleased to note that their contributions have supported assessment of the Home Secretary and myself that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Al Murabitun and Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia should all be added to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist organisations are not tolerated in the UK and deters them from operating here. I know that a number of questions have been asked about the nature of any activity that those groups may undertake in the UK. Unfortunately I am unable to comment on intelligence matters but it is important to underline the point that the proscription regime is intended to deter activity in this country.

Fifty two international and 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations are already proscribed. To give a sense of the enforcement regime that has sat alongside that, I point out that, between 2001 and the end of March 2013, 32 people have been charged with proscription-related offences as a primary offence in Great Britain, and 16 have been convicted.

Jim Shannon asked about Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. As I indicated, that group has claimed responsibility for a number of cross-border attacks against Israel. That gives him some sense of its activity.

Another question asked was why now, rather than at a different time. Decisions on whether and when to proscribe an organisation are taken after extensive consideration and in the light of a full assessment of all available information. It is important that decisions have a robust evidence base, do not have an adverse impact on any ongoing investigations and support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism. Those factors often sit within our thinking. There is a statutory test that needs to be met in connection with a decision to proscribe.

Keith Vaz asked about speaking to parent countries when an order is laid. There may be discussions in advance of laying an order, and some groups are nominated for proscription by the parent country, to use that terminology. Ultimately, however, decisions have to be taken according to the national security interests of this country and those of our citizens overseas. Although I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s point, that is what must always drive our consideration. Therefore, I would not want to be bound in all circumstances. Even so, careful consideration is given to the matters.

The shadow Minister, Diana Johnson, asked about social media. I can update the House that since 2010 the counter terrorism internet referral unit has taken down more than 29,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material from the internet. I underline the fact that any online activity by the three groups under consideration, including Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, has been referred to CTIRU. If it is assessed as illegal—there is a legal test that has to be met—CTIRU will flag it directly to Facebook and Twitter for removal.

I reassure the hon. Lady that we continue to have discussions with the industry and I take the issue extremely seriously. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East will attest, I also told the Home Affairs Committee, when we touched on social media, that we are considering whether a code of conduct and other, similar measures would be appropriate in order to ensure an effective response.

As I said during the previous proscription debate, the Government do not intend to set a time limit on proscription. We consider the existing de-proscription mechanism provided by the Terrorism Act 2000 to be sufficient. The legislation allows de-proscription to be considered on receipt of an application setting out the grounds on which it is being made. Any application will be considered by the Home Secretary, in accordance with the Act. In my opening speech, I set out some of the detail on the time limits, the processes and procedures and the consideration given in that regard. I hope that when the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North examines

Hansard tomorrow, she will see that I have set out the process and how it is intended to operate. Any information provided as part of a de-proscription application is given a number of statutory protections so that people should be able to come forward if appropriate.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been mentioned in this and a number of previous debates. It is not currently proscribed in the UK. Proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes that terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Act 2000, is a concern. That statutory test needs to be satisfied in order to bring a proscription motion—an application order—before this House. The Government continue to have significant concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. Indeed, individual members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are, of course, subject to the general criminal law. We will seek to ensure that Hizb ut-Tahrir and similar groups cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country.

The hon. Lady highlighted the issue of university campuses. Very good work has been undertaken with universities, the National Union of Students and others. Those of our regional Prevent co-ordinators who are focused on the university sector are providing good advice, information and knowledge to establishments and institutions in order better to support their work in understanding who may be coming to speak on a university campus and use their accommodation and facilities. We have also been supporting the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in important work to ensure that universities focus on any relevant activities.