I beg to move,
We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do what we can to minimise the threat from terrorism in the UK and abroad. Additionally, we must continue to demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. Proscription is an important tool in those efforts; it is part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt terrorist activity.
The four groups we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are the Global Islamic Media Front, including the Bangla Team; the Turkistan Islamic party; the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur; and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah. This is the 20th order under the Act. These groups are particularly relevant to south and south-east Asia but, significantly, also to the ongoing conflict in Syria.
I am sure the Minister will find the House in full agreement with what he is proposing today, but may I ask a question of fact? How many organisations are currently proscribed?
I will be dealing with that later in my remarks. I know the right hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in these matters as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. Indeed, he contributed the last time I was at the Dispatch Box on these subjects, and I will also be referring to some of the remarks he made on that occasion later in my speech.
I want to emphasise that these groups are also significant to the conflict in Syria. The House will of course be aware that Syria is the No. 1 destination for jihadists in the world. The recent attacks earlier this month in Bangladesh demonstrate the high threat level from terrorism in Asia. Proscribing these appalling organisations sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens.
Under section 3 of the 2000 Act, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation that she believes is currently concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise discretion to proscribe the organisation, and it may be useful to the House to set out the factors that are considered when exercising that discretion. These include the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
I also want to say a word about the effect of proscription. Proscription means that an organisation is outlawed and therefore unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. Proscription can support other disruptive activity including the use of immigration powers such as exclusion or prosecution for other offences. It also acts to support strong messaging to deter fundraising and recruitment. Additionally, the assets of a proscribed organisation are subject to seizure as terrorist assets. Given the wide-ranging impact of this power to proscribe, the Home Secretary exercises it only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation.
I want to deal with the question put by Keith Vaz. Currently, 66 international and 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations are proscribed. When we last debated these matters, we were talking about de-proscription rather than proscription, and he asked about the review and appeal processes. He made the case for these matters to be reviewed periodically because he was concerned that proscription was an indefinite business. I asked those questions too, when I arrived at the Home Office and took on these responsibilities.
Currently, an organisation can apply to be de-proscribed. That process, like the proscription process, is a thorough one. The Home Secretary has to respond to a request within 90 days and the organisation can then appeal to a commission made up of senior judicial figures. I have become convinced that that is the right way to go about these things. As long as that appeal process—first to the Home Secretary and then beyond—is a robust one, the emphasis should be on those organisations to make their case. I think it is right to take this opportunity to deal with that question, as the right hon. Gentleman has raised it on a previous occasion.
The independent reviewer, David Anderson, has suggested that there needs to be a time limit. What is the Government’s response to that? On a number of previous occasions, including before the Minister took office, the Government said that their response would be coming shortly. It is now a couple of years since the Minister first mentioned this. Does he have a view on whether the Government accept what the independent reviewer has said?
I have made clear my own views on this, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to ask what the formal response will be. I take his overtures on these matters very seriously and I will return to the Home Office with fresh alacrity to deal with the specific issue of how we will respond formally. He has articulated these matters on a previous occasion, and he is right to raise them now. I too feel that it is important to get this right and, as I have said, I have been asking the same questions. I have become convinced that the process as it stands is the right one, but it is right that we should formally respond and I will ensure that we do so.
As I have said, the proscription process is a thorough one. It includes looking at open source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross- Government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken carefully after considering all the evidence.
Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of each group’s activities in turn. The first group that this order proscribes is the Global Islamic Media Front, including the Bangla Team. It is an Islamic extremist propaganda organisation associated with al-Qaeda and other extremist groups around the world. Its activities include propagating a jihadist ideology, producing and disseminating training manuals to guide terror attacks and publishing jihadi newscasts. It produces materials in a number of languages including Arabic, Urdu, Bengali, English, German and French.
Hon. Members will be aware of the rise of sectarian violence in Bangladesh and of its tragic effects. The first group we are proposing to proscribe in this order has claimed responsibility for a number of prominent murders and attacks involving secular bloggers since 2013. For example, the Bangla Team has published an infographic chronicling attacks carried out against “blasphemers in Bangladesh”. The graphic contained the names and locations of 13 attacks, eight of which were celebrated as successful assassinations.
The second group this order proscribes is the Turkistan Islamic Party. This is an Islamic terrorist and separatist organisation founded in 1989. It has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in China, the latest in April 2014. The group also has terrorist links to al-Qaeda. In November 2015, the TIP released the 18th issue of its magazine Islamic Turkistan, which detailed the group’s jihad against the authorities and the fact that it hosted training camps controlled by the Pakistan Taliban. More recently, the TIP has maintained an active and visible presence in the Syrian war. It has published a number of video clips of its activities and claimed responsibility for attacks and suicide bombings. The TIP has been banned by the United Nations and is sanctioned by the USA under the terrorist exclusion list.
The third group to be proscribed is Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, which is Indonesia’s most active terrorist group. It is based in the mountainous jungle area of Poso in central Sulawesi and is led by Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist. The group’s modus operandi is to attack the police and the army, and those attacks include the use of explosives and shootings. The group has been responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen police officers. The fact that it has claimed responsibility for a number of recent terrorist attacks confirms its determination not only to propagate but to plan and execute terrorism.
The last group to be proscribed is Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which was established in March 2015 following the merger of several Indonesian extremist and terrorist groups. It has close ties to other terrorist groups, including Daesh. Its membership includes several former Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists. JI was responsible for the 2002 and 2005 Bali attacks. JAD was responsible for the attack in Jakarta in January 2016 which was claimed by Daesh and resulted in the deaths of seven people.
Proscription matters, and our determination to counter the malevolence that I have described matters too. In thwarting terror, we must act—as a people, a House and a Government—with an iron will and strong determination. The American poet Robert Frost wrote:
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”
In these dangerous times, we must—and will—do all we can to protect ourselves and others from attack. I believe it is right that these four groups should be proscribed in the way that I have set out.
I would customarily start a speech such as this by saying something like, “Where is the Home Secretary?” but even I will admit that Mrs May has better things to do today. I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the Opposition Benches to pay tribute to her tenure as Home Secretary. I have found that she has certainly been prepared to listen, particularly in the case of Hillsborough, on which her work was outstanding for the families who had faced a terrible injustice for all those years. I hope that she will continue to listen, and I have every hope that she will go on to make a good Prime Minister.
I also pay tribute to Mr Hayes, the Minister of State—for now. With the fast impending reshuffle, he will be twitchy on the Front Bench, but I suspect that his obvious talents will be rightly rewarded.
The order before the House today arises from the Terrorism Act 2000, which was passed by the previous Labour Government and was intended to provide a flexible framework to deal with the changing and emerging threat of new forms of terrorism. It is fair to say that we have seen unimaginable events in the 16 years since that legislation was originally enacted. Specifically, we have seen the rise of terrorism based on a distortion of Islam and its values. It is important to describe it as such rather than use the shorthand “Islamic terrorism”, because that is inaccurate and makes life harder for those in the Muslim community who face a daily and monumental battle against this perversion of their faith. Let us be careful in our language and help those battling radicalisation, not those who foment it.
The BBC has taken to using the phrase “so-called Islamic State”. In my view, that is not helpful. The use of “so-called” does not undermine “Islamic” or “State” and those are the two words that the public hear. It gives undeserved status to the organisation and makes it sound as though it is an authorised branch of Islam. I urge the director-general of the BBC to review that editorial decision and to move, as the Government have, to the use of Daesh. That is important, as I said at the beginning, because we face a highly changeable and challenging terrorism landscape.
Figures from the “Global Peace Index 2016” report show that deaths from terrorism increased by 80% in the past year. Only 69 countries did not record a terrorist incident. The intensity of terrorist activity is also increasing. Last year, 11 countries reported 500 or more deaths from terrorist incidents—double the year before—and incidents are happening all the time. Last month, a police officer was killed in France, for which Daesh claimed responsibility, and 44 people were killed and 239 injured by a bomb at Istanbul airport, for which it is suspected that Daesh was again responsible. Those are big increases on a rising trend. The year 2014 saw some 13,500 terrorist attacks around the world and 32,700 deaths. This is the context in which we are considering today’s order. As the terrorism landscape changes, the Government are right to be vigilant and to try to keep one step ahead.
We are being asked today to give agreement to the Government to proscribe four organisations linked to terrorism. Two have links to al-Qaeda and the others have links with Daesh. The public and political debate is obviously focused on the activities of Daesh in Syria and the wider middle east. It would however be a mistake for this House to lose sight of what is happening in Asia, particularly south-east Asia, as the Minister rightly said. It would be a further mistake for the House to focus on Daesh and to lose focus on al-Qaeda and its efforts to regroup. That is why the Government are right to bring this order for consideration today and to disrupt the activities of the relevant organisations before they establish a stronger foothold. The evidence that the Home Office put before the House makes it clear that there are grounds to proscribe the organisations.
We accept that evidence and will support the order this afternoon, but I want to make one point before I close that I ask the Minister and the Government to take into account. I want to go back to when the legislation was first introduced and to the first group of organisations to be proscribed under the 2000 Act, which included the International Sikh Youth Federation. There were objections at the time and what followed was a protracted legal argument in the courts, which ended only recently, and led to the Government coming to the House to lift the proscription. Learning from that experience, I say to the Minister that evidence does change over time. There may have been grounds to proscribe that organisation back then, but those grounds clearly expired some time ago. However, the people to which such orders relate may find that they stigmatise a section of their community.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The fear of stigma is very much in the minds of communities. An example is the LTTE, which was correctly proscribed by the Government. Its leader was killed and the organisation no longer exists, but a stigma is still attached to members of the Tamil community. That is why it is so important to have a time limit, after which proscriptions can be reviewed, rather than people having to go to court each time. We of course support what the Government are doing on this occasion—we always have—but it is important that we are able to review without the need to go to court.
I strongly agree with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. The experience of the Sikh community in challenging the proscription of the International Sikh Youth Federation was pretty dispiriting, in that it had to pursue a lengthy legal process while facing an unresponsive Home Office. There may be good grounds to proscribe organisations—my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz accepted that there was a case with the organisation that he mentioned—but the stigma does affect a much wider community.
When the evidence changes, so should the Government, who should act quickly to remove any perceptions. I hope that they listen to what my right hon. Friend said—and they would be right to, because he is full of judgment and wisdom on such matters. My only request of the Government is that they institute a regime of the kind that he suggests, that there is a regular process of review, and that there are up-to-date assessments of the organisations that pose a genuine threat to the safety of our country. We should also make the challenge process easier than it was found to be by members of the Sikh community.
That is the only caveat that I place on our support for the order. Terrorism is a threat to our country. It is right that we take every possible action to root it out and we should work with the communities that struggle to deal with it. The Government are right to bring the order before the House today and we will give it our full support.
You will no doubt be pleased, Mr Speaker, as will hon. Members, to hear that I intend to keep my comments brief, with a view to freeing up as much time as possible for discussion of the Iraq war inquiry.
Although issues of national security are reserved, the Scottish Government have co-operated closely with the UK Government and will continue to do so. We recognise that the security services and the police require adequate powers to fight terrorism. However, such powers should always be necessary, proportionate and in accordance with the rule of law. We have assessed the four organisations that it is proposed to add to the proscribed list against that benchmark. There is clear evidence that the Global Islamic Media Front propagates jihadist ideology. The MIT has a clear modus operandi of attacking the police and army, and it has made many killings, as the Minister outlined. The Turkistan Islamic party has claimed responsibility for a number of atrocities in China. The JAD was responsible for the awful mall attack we all witnessed earlier this year in Jakarta.
I wish to add the calls from Scottish National party Members to the request made by Andy Burnham to the BBC to reconsider the language it uses when dealing with terrorist organisations, and in particular, the kind of legitimacy it gives by using the phrase “so-called Islamic State”, which I consider to be appalling. These people are not Islamic and the phrase should not be used any more. The BBC should accede to calls championed by my SNP colleagues that we should use, as the Government now do, the term “Daesh”.
I, too, wish to add my party’s support to what the Minister is doing today. As we all know, the focus is very much on Syria, although today’s proscriptions go further than that, in dealing with organisations from the far east, and he has referred to the names of proscribed organisations.
The Prime Minister, in today’s Prime Minister’s questions, said that Daesh has had 20,000 of its terrorists killed in battle and has lost some 40% of its territory. As that has happened, and as Daesh is becoming more fragmented and is not the overall body that it was in the past, there will be more organisations to proscribe, as small splinter groups and organisations spring up from across the whole of the middle east. The shadow Minister also touched on this, but let me ask the Minister: is there a better way for us to proscribe organisations than by coming to this House every time? I know that there is a procedure to follow, which has been clearly outlined, but is there a better way of doing this? That is my first question.
Secondly, we have been told that the legislation and the change will apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Minister referred to proscribed organisations in Northern Ireland in his speech and in his response to Keith Vaz. The threat level from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland has been at severe since this was first published in 2010. What is being done to bring down the threat level? What impact is the high threat level having in terms of the 2000 Act and Northern Ireland’s ability to suppress and prevent terrorism? Is the Act effective enough in dealing with those organisations already proscribed in Northern Ireland, given the high level of threat?
Thirdly, as we all know, terrorists across the world seem to flock together to supply each other with weapons, ammunition and bomb-making explosives. Some groups in Northern Ireland, dissident republicans in particular, have been very focused on that. I do not know whether this is the Minister’s remit, but can he say whether any activity has been seen involving terrorist groups in the far east, the middle east or south America, and those at home in Northern Ireland? I will leave that with him.
I wish briefly to ask in this debate why the Government still have not banned, and have not included in today’s order, Hizb ut-Tahrir. Around the time of the 7/7 attacks, the current Prime Minister—if he is still in office as we speak—said:
“We think it should be banned—why has it not happened?”—[Official Report,
In 2009, he attacked his predecessor in very strong terms for not banning that organisation. In 2010, the Conservative party manifesto said:
“A Conservative government will ban any organisations which advocate hate or the violent overthrow of our society, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir”.
My point to the Minister is simple: why have the Government, after all these years—after six years in government and all the work they have been able to do on all these issues—still not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, as they promised to do on so many occasions?
Order. If the Minister of State wishes briefly to respond, he is at liberty to do so, but he is under no obligation to do so.
The House will bear that with stoicism and fortitude, and may even experience excitement in the process. We shall see.
I hope my remarks will be pithy, but it would be a discourtesy to those who have contributed to the debate if I were not to deal with some of the important matters they have raised. First, let me deal with the points made by the shadow Secretary of State and thank him for his support for the work we are trying to do today. I echo his sentiments about both the dynamism and the intensity of terrorism—he is right about both—and because of that dynamism we need to keep these matters under constant review. I thank him for his remarks about my talents and hope that they have been heard right across the Treasury Bench and further afield. He is also right to draw attention to Asia, and south-east Asia in particular. It is of course important that we focus on Syria—as I say, it is the main destination for jihadists from across the world—but we should not underestimate the worldwide spread of terrorism and indeed we do not in the Home Office. I can assure him that we take Asia and south-east Asia very seriously, which is partly why we are dealing with these matters in the way we are today.
A considerable number of comments were made by the Chairman of the Select Committee and others about the process by which we proscribe and have proscribed organisations. I will go a little further than perhaps my officials and others might have expected, and say now that I am not going to put in place a statutory period of review, contrary to the advice of David Anderson and the advocacy of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. However, I have listened carefully to what the shadow Minister and others have said about the speed at which the current system works. If we are not going to have a review, and I think we should not—that is my formal response on behalf of the Government, which I will put in writing—we need to ensure that the process, as it stands, is fit for purpose. That means ensuring that it is not burdensome, that it is not too lengthy and that it is not insensitive in the way it was suggested it might have been in some cases. To that end, I will look again at making sure we put in place a process that is robust and transparent, but which is not endless. That is the point the shadow Minister was making, and he is right about the effect that stigma can have. I understand that and I want to be as sensitive to it as we can be. He can reasonably say that he and the Select Committee Chairman have earned that commitment from me, given that they put their case so reasonably.
Jim Shannon raised some issues specific to Northern Ireland and some that are more general. He can be certain that the Government look at these matters very carefully and repeatedly. As I said earlier, we consider proscription with absolute care. He is right, too, that we need to look at the links between organisations, which I talked about when I introduced this order. I will follow up the question he raised about those links. I cannot speak about some of those matters on the Floor of the House, because they are highly sensitive. As he will appreciate, these intelligence issues cannot be aired on all occasions. I will, however, follow up his question. He will understand that part of it relates to something he has raised in this House before, as he is a diligent Member of this House and understandably takes an interest in these subjects. He has previously raised the role that social media and communications technology play in making some of those links real. He is right to do so. The Government take that seriously and do a great deal of work in that area, and I am more than happy—as I have been in the past—to correspond with him on those matters.
Ian Austin raised the matter of Hizb ut-Tahrir—[Interruption.] Well, the pronunciation is not perfect, but then I cannot be perfect in every way. It would not be appropriate for me to speak more specifically about HUT—as it is more commonly known—in this debate. The Government have significant concerns about that organisation, and he has drawn attention to them. He will know that that has been articulated repeatedly in exactly the way he described. We continue to monitor its activities extremely closely. Individual members are of course subject to general criminal law, and we will certainly continue to ensure that groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country, and that civic organisations are made aware of them and the names under which they operate in order to disguise their activities. The group is not proscribed in the UK at the moment, but, as I have said, these matters are regularly scrutinised and considered by Government. I think that I had better leave it at that. With those comments—
Before the Minister sits down, will he address the point that I raised, and that was echoed by Richard Arkless? I am talking about the use by the BBC of the phrase, “so-called Islamic State”. I have been in mosques recently and seen how it causes great despondency among the people who are trying to counter radicalisation. They say that the use of the words “so-called” does not undermine the words “Islamic” or “State”. They feel very strongly that, by repeating that phrase, the BBC is only making their job harder. Will the Minister join the Scottish National party, the Labour party and, hopefully, the Conservative party in sending a clear message to the BBC today that it needs to review this editorial decision?
Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has done this House a service in drawing our attention exactly to the subject that he raises. He is absolutely right that the media, and particularly the BBC, have a salient responsibility in this respect. The BBC is of course taken seriously, and as a result, the impression that is created from the words that it uses can have devastating effect. I entirely agree with him and others who have made the case in this House today and say, on behalf of the Government, that we should indeed send a message to the BBC that calling organisations “so-called” creates entirely the wrong impression. I hope that, henceforth, it will drop that description in exactly the way he said.
That alone would not be good enough. I will speak to the BBC and write to it. The matter will also be recorded today in Hansard. The letter will leave my office this afternoon, and I will speak to BBC staff by telephone today. As you have often said, Mr Speaker, I never disappoint in this House.
The exciting peroration to which I was about to move is this. Edmund Burke said:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The good men of this country, and women—I emphasise that particularly in the current climate—when it comes to the struggle against—
Order. I want to hear not only the Minister of State’s peroration, but application.
When it comes to the matter of terrorism, this House will speak with a single voice, exercise an iron will and certainly, rather than doing nothing, do everything it can to bring about its defeat.
I am extremely grateful—and I think the House will be—to the right hon. Gentleman, in light of the pressure on time, for his addressing us with the eloquence of Demosthenes and with a pithiness that is all his own.
Question put and agreed to.