I beg to move,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 1 March, be approved.
First, I thank the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which he chairs, for agreeing to consider the order today.
The terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and its interests abroad remains severe and sustained. This week we have already debated the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in Force of Sections 1 to 9) Order 2010, and I know that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) shares my assessment of the situation. We as a Government are determined to do all that we can to minimise that threat, and the proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities at home and abroad.
With this order we would therefore like to add the group, al-Shabaab, to the 45 international terrorist organisations that are listed under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the eighth proscription under the 2000 Act. Section 3 of the Act provides a power for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if he believes that it is concerned with terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned with terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism—including the unlawful glorification of terrorism—or is otherwise concerned with terrorist activity.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for setting out those criteria. Have the Government received evidence that that particular organisation, al-Shabaab, has been involved in any of those activities? Has he seen that evidence? Is that, therefore, why he has come before the House with this order?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I was going to come to this point later in my speech, but I shall happily cover it now. He will know that the organisation, al-Shabaab, is currently and actively concerned with terrorist activity. I cannot go into the details of every aspect, because we are aware of matters that we cannot disclose to the House for a range of reasons, but the group has waged a violent campaign against the Somali Transitional Federal Government, and against the African Union peacekeeping troops in Somalia since the beginning of 2007. It has undertaken a range of terrorist tactics, such as suicide operations and roadside bombings, and mounted a range of operations since 2007, including in June 2009 in Beledweyne, one of the largest cities in Somalia, a suicide car bomb attack that killed the transitional Government’s Security Minister and, as a random act of terrorism, about 30 other people in the process.
The organisation has launched terrorist attacks outside areas under its control, most notably in October 2008, when five co-ordinated suicide attacks were mounted against targets in Somaliland and Puntland, including the Ethiopian embassy, the presidential palace and the United Nations Development Programme compound. In September last year, al-Shabaab released a video statement in which it pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden. As recently as 2 February 2010, it announced its intention to combine the jihad in the horn of Africa with the global jihad led by al-Qaeda. I hope that that helps to give my right hon. Friend a flavour of some of our concerns in relation to the international operation of al-Shabaab.
It certainly does. However, Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and said very similar things to the House about the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, and the Government lost that case under the proscribed organisation legislation. We have to be very careful about this. Clearly, al-Shabaab has been involved in these activities abroad, but does the Minister have any evidence that it is operating in the United Kingdom—where he is a Minister and we are the Parliament—and engaged in any of the activities that he has described? I have not seen that evidence, and other Members of this House have not seen it—has he seen it?
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that, as I said, we are aware of a range of issues in relation to that evidence about which we are unable to give details to the House. I can say, however, that we remain concerned that the activities of the organisation and its potential influence on individuals in the United Kingdom meet the legal test that we have to meet to ensure that proscription takes place. Proscription is a tough and necessary power, but it involves specific tests that need to be met. At the beginning of my speech, I outlined the details of the particular activities that we need to consider.
I say to my right hon. Friend, and to the House as a whole, that in the event of the organisation or its agents wishing to make representations about the proscription order, they can do so following the consideration of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. If he upholds the order, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, which is a special tribunal that will review whether my right hon. Friend has properly exercised his powers in refusing to de-proscribe the organisation. The commission is able to consider the sensitive material to which we have had access, which underpins proscription decisions, and a special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission. We believe that the international evidence shows that there is a real need to take action against al-Shabaab. We are convinced, having looked at the evidence internally, that there is evidence which would be upheld by that legal test and which we, as a nation, could defend if the appeal came forward in due course.
I would also say to my right hon. Friend that, having considered all the evidence, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary firmly believes that al-Shabaab is currently concerned with terrorism and is involved in the activities that I have described to the House. Indeed, there is not only a concern in the United Kingdom but an international consensus of condemnation of the organisation’s activities. For example—I hope that this further reassures my right hon. Friend—the organisation is already proscribed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Our actions today, if approved by this House and in another place later on, will help to protect the United Kingdom against terrorist activity.
We are actively examining the situation. As my right hon. Friend will know, we cannot comment directly on intelligence matters, but I have made an assessment, with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that there is a small but genuine risk that British nationals and British interests may be harmed as a result of al-Shabaab’s activities in Somalia and, indeed, in the wider region.
The Minister prayed in aid the fact—I am sure that he is correct—that the United States of America and Australia have proscribed this organisation. May I respectfully remind him that the United States Congress and the federal Parliament of Australia both have a security and intelligence committee that is a committee of the Parliament, but we do not? Unless and until the Prime Minister and this Minister understand that there is a serious flaw—a deficiency—in our procedures here, in that there is no parliamentary oversight, there will always be some doubt as to the efficacy of some of these decisions. It is a serious, fundamental flaw.
I respect my hon. Friend, who always takes a keen interest in these matters. He will know that there is an Intelligence and Security and Committee comprising senior Members of Parliament—of this place and another place—who can call to account my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and the head of the security services, to consider these issues. As I explained to the House, there is a procedure whereby organisations that are, under the legal test of proscription, brought before the Home Secretary for proscription purposes, can ask the Home Secretary to reconsider that decision. There is an independent process for looking at the evidence and assessing whether he has acted accordingly and in an appropriate manner.
I do not know why this Prime Minister, like the previous one, and Ministers are so cussed about this. As sure as night turns into day, one day a Prime Minister will create a parliamentary Committee. The committee to which the Minister refers is not a parliamentary Committee—it is clerked by a spook. That is the reality of the situation. In the Congress of the United States, which he prayed in aid, and in Australia, these are parliamentary committees. They meet in private, because these matters are secret, and everyone has confidence in them. Why cannot the Minister get his head around the issue that there should be such a committee here? It does not matter how distinguished our colleagues are: they are hand-picked by the Prime Minister with the rubber stamp of Mr. Evans and his people—spooks.
My hon. Friend has made his point in his usual forceful manner. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will pay attention to this debate and note the comments that he has made. I simply say to the House that there is a procedure and that it is tested. There is a genuine legal test for proscription, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has to ensure that that test is met. It is open to challenge and open to defence.
We are bringing this order forward not only in response to the litany of issues that I have mentioned in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) but because it is important that proscription will allow the police in the United Kingdom more effectively to carry out disruptive action against supporters of this organisation in the United Kingdom. It also sends a very strong message from the United Kingdom that we are not willing to tolerate terrorism here or anywhere else in the world.
It is essential that the Government keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. The Minister knows, because I have raised it with him before, the situation regarding the proscription of the LTTE—Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam. As far as everyone is concerned, the LTTE is finished. The war is over and the leader of the LTTE is dead, and the Sri Lankan Government are confident about all that. Why does that organisation remain on the list when it no longer exists?
I know that my right hon. Friend knows the procedure, but it is worth outlining it to the House as a whole. We keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. When I was Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, several proscribed organisations in Northern Ireland went in and out of proscription as their status changed to reflect their activities in relation to the peace process. The position of the organisation that my right hon. Friend mentions will be reviewed on a regular basis by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It can, as can the organisation that we are discussing, apply to my right hon. Friend for de-proscription, and he will consider that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) will have noticed that we are in the House of Commons Chamber having a debate about the order. Later on, in another place, my noble Friend Lord West will introduce the same order, and there will be a debate there. Neither House needs to approve the order today. There could be a vote after one and a half hours, and if I, or my noble Friend, have not made the case, the proscription order will not be passed. There is parliamentary oversight of this matter.
While we are on the subject of the LTTE, I notice that the policy background notes say:
“It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation or to wear clothing or to carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of the proscribed organisation.”
The Minister will recall the great difficulty that Parliament had during the long demonstration that took place in Parliament square. Now that the environment is less heated, can he tell us why no action was taken under that aspect of the law during that demonstration?
The LTTE has been a proscribed organisation since the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force because, since the 1970s, the group had carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka as part of its campaign to secure a Tamil homeland. Although support for the LTTE is unlawful, the Tamil community has the right to support that aim, and to discuss and make their views known on the matter. We have a long and proud tradition of freedom of speech and assembly, and it is important that those who support the Tamil cause can express their views in Parliament square. Clear action can be taken under proscription legislation if individuals support organisations that are proscribed, but I have no problems with individuals demonstrating in Parliament square, provided that they are not demonstrating support for an organisation that is proscribed under these rules.
Ultimately, it is for the police to consider whether to take action on these matters. We provide a framework and the police make the operational decisions and determine whether charges should be brought under the relevant legislation for this and other proscribed organisations.
One of the great joys of being a Minister is that I do not have to decide whether offences have been committed. That is the job of the police, not the Minister with responsibility for policing, and that is part of the separation of powers. We will provide the framework, the funding, the support and the general policy direction, but ultimately it is for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to determine whether prosecutions should be suggested to the Crown Prosecution Service so that charges may be brought. The right to protest is valid, and I have not seen any evidence that the terms of the 2000 Act were broken nor of charges being brought as a result of that demonstration, so—self-evidently—the police must have taken the same view. The policing of the demonstration was very effective.
I hope that my right hon. Friend realises that Members have concerns about this order. If there is no evidence that this organisation, al-Shabaab, exists or is behaving in a way that is causing serious concern, some in our community—with some justice—will be concerned that the Government are exaggerating the existence of terrorist threat in this country. That is the last thing that we should ever wish to countenance.
The order is being debated and can be voted on. I have already told the House about the five suicide attacks, including one on the Ethiopian embassy; an attack on the United Nations development programme; a double suicide bombing against the African Union mission in Somalia; a suicide vehicle-borne device attack on 18 June 2009 against a hotel, killing the Security Minister and 30 other innocent individuals; and the responsibility for the attack on Mogadishu with 21 deaths. It is my opinion and that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that those incidents are evidence internationally of the intentions of the organisation. As I have said, I cannot comment on security matters in this country in detail, but we have made our assessment, based on that information, of whether the organisation should be proscribed.
I give my hon. Friend the assurance that it is open to the organisation—as it is to Islam4UK, which we proscribed only some four to five weeks ago—to apply to the Home Secretary for de-proscription. Proscribed organisations can test the Home Secretary’s rationale on these matters and, if they are not content, they can appeal to the appropriate committee. The House, and the other place, also have the opportunity to vote on the order today. The safeguards are in place, so I ask the House for its support.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have constituents from Somalia or who look to Somalia as their ancestral homeland, and I want to assure them that the Somali community is respected and valued. It plays a positive part in our community and nothing in this order will prevent members of the Somali community from visiting Somalia or sending money to relatives. Nor will it prevent the Somali community from openly discussing issues pertinent to them or the situation in Somalia. Indeed, nothing in the order will stop any individual or organisation having a political view on the situation in Somalia as a whole—
The Minister has been very generous in giving way, but what he has just said simply is not the case as far as other proscriptions are concerned. The hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) and I—and others—have had to make representations in the last few years when Tamil organisations unconnected to the LTTE have sought to book rooms, for example in the ExCeL centre, and have been prevented from doing so because the LTTE was proscribed. Two of the leaders of those Tamil organisations were then subject to interview by the police. That is why we are concerned, despite the Minister’s reassurances. As soon as an order is passed, it has a draconian effect on communities unconnected with the organisation concerned.
The 2008 Act is clear. It says that individuals should not undertake activity that supports acts of terrorism, or prepares, promotes or encourages terrorism. Nothing would stop any organisation booking a room in a building if it were not one of the proscribed organisations and not undertaking one of those activities, and as long as its members were not wearing insignia and supporting or glorifying the proscribed organisation. It is perfectly legitimate to have a view, as many Tamil residents of the UK do, on the situation in Sri Lanka, as it will be for any resident to have a view on the situation in Somalia. What is not allowed under the proscription order is for individuals to support a particular organisation if we have determined that it is involved in the activities described in the legislation.
With due respect, it is not for me to micromanage those sorts of issues. Ultimately, it is for the Home Secretary, having assessed the international situation and considered the information from the UK—about which I cannot go into detail—to determine whether the organisation is involved in activity that allows the proscription order to be brought forward for the House to consider.
It is for the police to make individual charges in relation to breaches of the proscription order, but this is not about a wider curtailment of political debate on issues such as Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, Somalia or any other geographical or topical interest in which proscribed organisations happen to be interested. When we had the debate on Islam4UK, we did not prevent people from discussing the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan, and we are not preventing them from protesting against the Government on those issues or from saying that the Government have different views from theirs on any particular issue. As I described to the House earlier, we are trying to provide legal powers, using the legal test, to stop the organisation.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, will support the order. It has been brought forward with due consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I commend it to the House.
Before turning to the order, I want to reflect on the intervention from the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor). I thoroughly agree with her that we should not be exaggerating terrorism, but nor should we exaggerate the measures that we take against terrorism, so I invite her to recall that she was in the Lobby voting for 90 days and 42 days pre-trial detention and for the provisions on the glorification of terrorism, which bring other problems in their wake. I look forward to her position becoming more consistent for as long as she remains in the House.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I may not be alone in detecting a certain philosophical inconsistency in the hon. Lady’s position.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government’s reasons for the order, and Her Majesty’s Opposition will support the Government in seeking to add al-Shabaab to the list of proscribed organisations. Decisions to proscribe organisations should not be taken lightly. Free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the Conservative party is clear that proscription should apply only to organisations whose activities include engagement in terrorism and its active encouragement.
The Minister will remember the arguments made by Conservative Members, most notably my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), during the debate on the Terrorism Act 2006. We sought to distinguish clearly between exhortation to commit acts of terrorism as opposed to the Government’s definitions around glorification. I remind the House that, in seeking to prevent and suppress terrorism, we must do so in a way consistent with our values, and I am satisfied today that we can support the Government. However, I have several questions for the Minister.
Before I ask specific questions in response to the Minister’s introduction of the order, may I make a point about methodology? When the Government proscribed Islam4UK in January, it followed press coverage of a proposed march in Wootton Bassett. The Opposition supported the ban on Islam4UK, and it was widely known that the organisation was a successor to al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. However, the timing of the ban suggested that it was in reaction to the proposals for a demonstration and in response to public pressure. Can the Minister assure the House that the decision to proscribe continues to be based on evidence? In the light of these questions, and those to follow, will he give the House more detail on the internal process that leads to an order such as today’s?
I am grateful for that clarification, but perhaps when he replies, the Minister will describe as far as he can the processes that lead to a decision, as that may throw further light on the background to that reassurance.
Will the Minister confirm that al-Shabaab is the only name of the organisation that the Government wish to proscribe, or can we expect further proscription orders to cover other names for al-Shabaab? He will be aware that al-Shabaab was proscribed in the United States in February 2008 on the grounds that its leadership was working alongside al-Qaeda, and based on the intelligence that individuals from al-Shabaab had trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Other countries, including Norway and Sweden, also banned al-Shabaab in 2008, and Australia banned it last year. I would be grateful if he could explain what was contained in the statement issued by al-Shabaab on 2 February 2010 that prompted the Government to bring in this order because that appears to have been the cue for today’s instrument.
Will the Minister explain what the Government’s position on al-Shabaab was before 2 February and why it differed from that of a number of our allies? Could the Government have acted sooner? Al-Shabaab’s campaign has been ongoing since the beginning of 2007, prompting the moves to proscribe it in other countries. Is there not a case for better co-ordination between countries on proscribed organisations, and have Her Majesty’s Government received representations on the proscription of al-Shabaab from any other countries?
The explanatory memorandum refers to an explicit threat from al-Shabaab to attack targets in Kenya. Can the Minister tell us any more about the nature of this threat, and is there a specific threat to British interests in Kenya? Are the Government receiving the necessary co-operation from the Kenyan authorities to tackle the potential threat in Kenya?
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman referred to paragraph 2.2 in the explanatory memorandum with reference to Kenya. He has just asked whether we are getting full co-operation. With respect, I think it is the other way around: we owe Kenya an immeasurable debt for trying to police and control the northern border with Somalia against terrorism. The question that needs to be asked is whether the United Kingdom and other western Governments are doing enough to help and bolster the great burden being borne by Kenya on behalf of us all.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that observation, but the order does refer to a specific threat to British interests in Kenya, and it is only proper to assume that, given that it is their country, they should be the first port of call for any practical assistance that might be needed. So co-operation would be required, and it is that co-operation that I am seeking to probe.
On the issue of al-Shabaab’s presence in the UK, is the Minister in a position to say anything more about the numbers of people involved? I appreciate that there are growing concerns about potential terrorist links between Somali organisations and the Somali diaspora in the UK. Can he give any further details about the assessment of al-Shabaab’s presence in the UK and any evidence of organised travel from the UK to Somalia for the specific purpose of terrorist training?
As everyone in the House is aware, British and other allied servicemen and women are paying a very heavy price in Afghanistan to prevent the resurgence there of a regime that might play host to al-Qaeda. I expect that the House will share my concern that as we, and in particular the Pakistani armed forces, close off options for terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist organisations may simply relocate? The current campaign of the Pakistani armed forces gives every indication of being of profound importance in this regard, and their apparent success should receive greater attention than it has done so far in the UK. Their success is very important to us. In the light of the consequences of that campaign in particular, will the Minister confirm that just as we now accept the need for more concerted efforts in Yemen, we cannot ignore the growing dimension of terrorist activity in the horn of Africa?
Finally, on the Somali diaspora, let me join the Minister in reassuring those in the Somali population in the United Kingdom, whether they are British citizens or not. As he will be aware, a significant number of Somalis living in Britain are here because they fled from the very people we are seeking to proscribe today. Does the Minister agree that when we proscribe organisations, we must be emphatic in saying that we are not labelling entire communities or nationalities?
If the right hon. Gentleman will restrain himself, I am coming to the point that he made earlier. We should heed his concerns about the challenge of distinguishing, in the case of the Tamils, between the LTTE—the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—and other Tamil organisations, which is difficult for people who are not expert in that area, and about the consequences of such a proscription and what it means in the wider public mind. However, we must not lose sight of that proscription or the necessary measures against the organisation concerned. Such proscriptions, where a significant number of British citizens are affected—or, in this case, large numbers of the Somali population in our country—pose a particular challenge in that regard.
Having made what I imagine was the point that the right hon. Gentleman sought to intervene on me to make, let me conclude by saying that we support the order before the House. I look forward to the Minister addressing the issues that I have raised when he replies to this debate.
We all heard the Minister’s opening remarks and his sobering assessment of the terrorism threat that we face, which is clearly at a high level. It is therefore entirely appropriate that we as a nation should have a high level of preparedness and seek to introduce measures to disrupt that potential risk. We shall thus support the order today, because it is clear from the evidence, so far as we can assess it, that al-Shabaab is committed to violence and the use of terror attacks to achieve its aims. Interestingly, as the Conservative spokesman pointed out, the problem is one that other nations have been aware of for a number of years. I, too, will therefore listen with great interest to what the Minister says in response to the question about what, as far as he can tell us, has triggered the Government’s action now, when other nations took action a couple of years ago.
I accept the Minister’s point that he should not be responsible for micro-managing things, and I would not expect him to be making hall bookings for organisations that fail to do so. However, it is perhaps incumbent on him to consider the unintended consequences of the legislation he is asking us to pass, and at least to think about who, if anyone, will be responsible for ensuring that the activities of legitimate organisations are not restricted. I am sure the Minister accepts that there is a natural tendency for people to err on the side of caution, which could have consequences for perfectly legitimate organisations.
Would the hon. Gentleman consider as legitimate the sort of activities that we saw on a Channel 4 programme shown only a few days ago? It appeared to indicate that some organisations masquerade as having political objectives, but in fact have fundamentalist objectives, including, so I understand, the Islamic federation of Europe.
I am afraid I do not know enough about that particular organisation to say whether we might in future debate proscribing it in this House, but clearly the Minister and the Government will be keeping a close eye on such organisations and whether they have transformed themselves into other organisations, describing themselves in a slightly different way.
At the risk of being criticised by the Government for asking some questions, let me say that it is legitimate for us to use this opportunity to examine the effectiveness of such bans. I would like the Minister to confirm whether there has been any analysis of the effectiveness of bans. We know that organisations such as Islam4UK have had a number of name changes and may have sought to get round bans in that way. It would be interesting to know how often that has happened, how many organisations, having been banned, have simply changed their names to escape that ban, and how many people have been prosecuted and found guilty of belonging to a proscribed organisation that has been banned in that way. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the legislation we pass is as effective as possible in tackling terrorism, but there is still a fundamental question about banning and whether it is productive in any shape or form.
Finally, on Somalia, the Government have identified al-Shabaab as an organisation against which we need to take action. Although the Minister is a Home Office Minister, it might have been useful—perhaps he can do this when he responds—to set out what we are doing as a nation to support the Somali Government and the legitimate political players there, so that we can see not only that we are taking action here against organisations that might want to pursue a terrorist agenda, but that as a country we are supporting legitimate Somali authorities.
As I stated at the beginning of my speech, we shall support the order today. However, it is legitimate to ask questions about the unintended consequences of the ban and whether the general principle of applying bans to such organisations is particularly effective in tackling terrorism.
I, too, will be relatively brief, but I want to note my concerns to the House.
On these counter-terrorism measures, Ministers come to the Dispatch Box at short notice to present their cases, on which they have had evidence and information; and Members, because they trust the Government, accept everything that Ministers tell them about such organisations. I have no reason to distrust this Minister: I rate him highly, and in all the posts that he has held he has been straight, honourable and transparent with this House. Therefore, when he comes before us today and says, “This is a wicked, nasty organisation that has been involved in gross acts of violence in the horn of Africa and in Somalia. It seeks to destabilise the Somali Government, and it fits the Government’s criteria for proscribed organisations,” we accept what he says, because neither I nor the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) nor any other Member has had the benefit of seeing the information that he has seen. However, there are problems with the scrutiny of such measures and with just accepting absolutely everything that is said without probing and prodding, which is the role of Parliament.
As the Minister knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington is a distinguished member, produced a report about the need to bring together the various agencies and organisations that deal with counter-terrorism. We suggested establishing a national security council, with advisers to the Prime Minister who would then be able to come before the House and answer questions on issues such as that which we are debating today. Sadly, the Government were dismissive of our report—that is politics: we are dismissive of certain aspects of what the Government do—but our proposal bears scrutiny, because we were suggesting a more effective way of putting such information before the House.
If the Minister says that al-Shabaab meets the criteria and the Home Secretary has decided to proscribe the group, we will go along with that and there will be no vote in the House today on this matter. I cannot see any Member or political party doubting the sincerity of the Government in this respect.
However, the Minister needs to look very carefully at the effect of the proscription on the wider Somalian community. I accept his statement that he cannot micro- manage the way in which these orders operate, but I can tell him—and call on other Members who are not present today to give him examples—of the effects of proscription of organisations such as the LTTE. As far as I am concerned, that organisation no longer exists. It was defeated in Sri Lanka a few months ago, and its leader has been executed. It does not function in Sri Lanka at all now. I do not believe it ever functioned in the United Kingdom, and I did not therefore see the need to proscribe it here.
The Government need to pay heed to the effect of that proscription on the wider Tamil community, and to the effect that the proscription of al-Shabaab will have on the 45,000 Somalis who live in the United Kingdom. When members of the Somalian community wish to hold meetings to discuss the terrible situation in Somalia, they will face a lot of pressure from the police and from the Government of Somalia. They will be told that their meeting is actually in support of al-Shabaab. They might have absolutely no connections or dealings with al-Shabaab; they might, as the Minister has said, have come to this country to escape its activities, but the fact that they are holding a meeting to discuss the situation in Somalia will result in police activity and almost certainly in the embassy of Somalia writing to the organisations from which the people wish to book accommodation for their meeting, to prevent those meetings from taking place. How do I know this? I know it because that is precisely what happened to the British Tamils Forum and members of the Tamil community over the past few years, since the Government decided to proscribe the LTTE.
The Minister says that there is a simple answer to all this: if people do not like proscription, they can appeal to the independent commission that the Government have set up. That is precisely what the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran has done in respect of its proscription, in relation to its activities in Iran. Did the Government accept the wishes of the independent commission that they set up when the People’s Mujahedeen appealed to it and asked it to raise the proscription? Absolutely not! The Government fought their own commission—their own creation, which was supposed to act independently—tooth and nail, all the way to the Supreme Court, which in those days was in the House of Lords, until they lost and had to give in. Then, a Minister—not this one—had to come before the House and eat humble pie at the Dispatch Box because the Government had to recognise that they could not defy the highest court in the land.
That is why I say to the Minister that, although we will not vote against the motion to proscribe al-Shabaab, I do not think he has given sufficient consideration to the consequences of his action. I know he is a good Minister; he is also a busy Minister, and Home Office Ministers have to accept the advice presented to them by their civil servants. I hope that, as the Minister responsible for counter-terrorism, he will ask the large number of civil servants who have advised him on this issue whether the Government should go back and look at the consequences for communities of the proscription of these organisations. I hope he will also ask whether they have looked at the list to ensure that it is absolutely current and that the organisations still exist. Who looks at the list? When do the submissions come up to Ministers? How many meetings has he had with his civil servants to discuss the number of organisations on that list? Is there a monthly meeting, or does it take place every three or four months? When does he probe and push his civil servants into giving him this information? That is what we expect of the Government when we go along with a motion such as this, because, although we do not have the information that he has, we accept everything that he says and believe the case that he makes.
When I asked the Minister whether the criteria had been met, he reeled off a list of all the terrible atrocities that al-Shabaab had been involved in. I am not sure, however, whether he told the House that those activities had found their way to the UK mainland. I accept his assertion that it might well be involved in terrorist activities in the horn of Africa, but is it involved in these activities in the United Kingdom? Are al-Shabaab cells operating in the UK at the moment? This is not private information that the Minister needs to keep secret; it is the kind of information that the House needs to be made aware of. Can he satisfy the House that he has seen a file on the activities of al-Shabaab in the United Kingdom? It would bolster his case if he could say that he had, and that he has seen the evidence.
As the Minister knows, he had me from the moment he stood up at the Dispatch Box and put this proposal before the House. We give the Government a huge amount of leeway on counter-terrorism matters, as do the Opposition: the hon. Member for Reigate has spoken very eloquently in support of the Government today. In order to continue to give our support, however, we need to know that these processes of scrutiny are ongoing in the Home Office. That would help us to explain to our constituents why this is happening. There is still confusion among the 300,000 members of the British Tamil community, and there has been confusion among those who support the People’s Mujahedeen.
There will now be confusion among the Somalian community in Leicester. I have a thriving British Somalian community in my constituency. There was a time when I wondered why so many Somalis were ending up in Leicester. I was told that they were making their way from the horn of Africa to Holland, where they settled in Rotterdam. Then, having become EU residents, they were deciding to exercise their right to come to the United Kingdom. They were choosing to come here and settle in places such as Leicester, London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester because they felt very safe here. From time immemorial, millions of people have come to settle in those places because Britain is the safest country for them. This is the most tolerant country in the world. It is a mirror of the world, and that is why people choose to come here when they are fleeing persecution.
I ask the Minister please to look at the consequences of what he is doing, in respect of the wider Somalian community. I have no problem with proscribing al-Shabaab, but he must realise that what he does today will have a profound effect on the Somalian community in the United Kingdom. Will he please ensure that that effect is carefully assessed, monitored and reviewed?
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) has referred to cross-border activity, and I would like to invite the Minister to respond to one point. In the television programme that I saw a couple of days ago—which I can only take at face value—an organisation that I think was called the Islamic federation of Europe appeared to have a number of cells in Tower Hamlets and other parts of the country. It also appeared to be pretty endemic throughout Europe as a whole. In the context of considering whether to proscribe an organisation, and the prevention of terrorism, we need to look at the objectives of any organisation or umbrella organisation that sympathises with—and/or has similar objectives to those of—the organisation being proscribed.
It is not simply a question of proscribing, but of preventing. I simply ask whether the Minister knows of any evidence that this federation, which was given one and a half hours on Channel 4 a couple of days ago, is in fact engaged in activities that are in any way inimical to the stability of the UK. I also ask whether and to what extent it is infiltrating the political system. The Minister’s colleague, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), was also on the programme. Is there any evidence of infiltration on the basis of what one might describe as a masquerade?
We would all utterly defend freedom of speech and freedom of election, but the question that lies at the heart of the issue is whether there was any attempt to delude the electorate into believing that they were taking part in a political choice, when the people standing or organising actually represented a different objective of a fundamentalist nature.
Order. Before the right hon. Member intervenes, may I remind the House that we are looking closely at a particular order, whose main reference is to al-Shabaab? The general point is accepted, but that is the particular organisation named in the order referred to in the motion on today’s Order Paper.
I will not widen the debate because you have made your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. A number of people who were in the programme deny any involvement in this organisation, however, so to be fair to them—the hon. Gentleman has put one side of the story—it is important to note that a number of elected councillors have categorically denied any involvement at all in this organisation.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has pointed that out. What I am stating here is more in the nature of a question—asking the Minister, in the context of this particular order, whether he is aware of a connection of any description between the kind of activities described in the programme, which I am sure he knows about, and this organisation; and, indeed, whether any general lessons need to be drawn, as it would be completely unacceptable if any proscribed organisation, or anybody working with such an organisation under an umbrella, were engaged in activities that could undermine our electoral system.
Let me commence by answering the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who asked about recent television programmes and activities in Tower Hamlets. I cannot really comment on whether any consideration has been given to proscribing groups that are not on the proscribed list. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, there is a statutory test under the 2000 Act, which indicates whether or not an organisation should be proscribed. In response to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), we continue to keep under review not just organisations on the proscribed list, but organisations about which we have potential concerns, and which we may wish to bring forward at a future date to join the proscribed list. What I can say is that we keep all matters under review and we are active—not just in the borough of Tower Hamlets, but throughout east London and in many other parts of the UK—in helping to prevent terrorism through a range of activities and programmes to ensure that we do not allow radicalisation to occur.
That brings me to the initial point raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), echoed somewhat by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), which was about the evidence base. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East also touched on this. The decision to proscribe an organisation is not taken lightly. It entails building a case that meets the legal test under the 2000 Act, and which is examined by officials in the Home Office and other Government Departments. That case is assembled over many weeks and months as the evidence is brought forward and collated. Ultimately, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has to take a decision on that case.
To answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has seen evidence put to him, which we cannot discuss in detail here, indicating not only that suicide attacks, bombings and murders involving explosive devices might have been carried out by this organisation abroad, but general concerns about its operation. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East that British interests are sometimes affected by British interests abroad, and that solidarity with other organisations fighting terrorism abroad sometimes requires that we take particular steps. We have assessed the situation carefully and come to this conclusion, based on the evidence that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has examined.
My right hon. Friend will have to accept that I cannot go into detail about the activities we wish to examine or about decisions taken on them. I have indicated to him clear evidence of activity abroad that we are concerned about. I hope that he will accept that, as we bring this measure forward. As I explained earlier, if an organisation does not accept proscription, it can make representations to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and if he upholds his decision, supported by both Houses of Parliament, the organisation can then take its case elsewhere and ask for the evidence to be looked at further. I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and, indeed, the hon. Member for Reigate will accordingly accept that.
The hon. Members for Reigate and for Carshalton and Wallington effectively asked me, “Why now?” We keep these matters constantly under ongoing review. The hon. Member for Reigate asked about our relationship with Kenya. We have strong relationships with that country; we keep the situation under review and we will take action against any organisation when we believe we can meet the statutory test. I was also asked whether an organisation might morph into another organisation by changing its name. We keep that, too, under constant review. The same charge was made regarding our proscription of Islam4UK some four to five weeks ago. Other organisations have changed their name, and we have had to bring back orders to meet our obligations. As I say, we have to keep such matters under review.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked how many prosecutions we have taken. Between 2001 and 2009, 31 people have been charged with breaches of their proscription, and accordingly there have been 15 convictions in various forms across the UK.
We are very concerned not to label the Somali community as a whole—this issue was raised in the debate—in connection with our concerns about this particular organisation. The Somali community—in Leicester, as in other great cities of the UK—plays a very positive role. As accepted by hon. Members, members of the Somali community are often here because they have escaped from intimidation and terrorist activity elsewhere—concerns that we are trying to tackle. Britain has a great tradition of welcoming the Somali community and other refugees into the country. Concern has been expressed about whether the order will label the Somali community. I hope that it will not, and I believe—if I reflect on these matters carefully, as I have done—that the UK Somali community will welcome this action because it shows that we are concerned to tackle terrorism in their home country and the impact of such terrorism on the interests of citizens in their adopted country. That is why I hope the Somali community will welcome this measure—I am sure they will.
I was asked what else the Government were doing to help to defuse the cauldron that leads to terrorist organisations developing in the first place. The Government are greatly concerned to support the nation of Somalia and to tackle some of the wider issues to date. In 2009, the UK Government contributed £15.7 million to the African Union Mission in Somalia. I remind you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this mission was attacked by the organisation being proscribed today.
For the financial year 2009-10, the Department for International Development’s programme budget for Somalia is £25 million, and the Africa conflict prevention pool allocation to Somalia is £5.7 million. We are also spending a further £1.4 million on counter-terrorism projects, and we spent £750,000 on a three-year migration project that ended in December last year. We are extremely concerned to ensure that we support our European Community colleagues in the humanitarian office and the United Nations central emergency relief fund. Let me remind the House that the United Nations mission was also attacked by five suicide bombers, and by al-Shabaab organisation members, in October 2008. Sometimes, to secure support and improve the situation in Somalia, which is under attack from forces trying to destabilise it, we must invest British Government money.
I hope I have assured the House that the order is valuable, and that we are committed to Somalia as a whole. We will do nothing to label citizens of Somalia who live and make their homes in the United Kingdom as fellow travellers of the organisation concerned—they are not. They support the order, which I commend to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 1 March, be approved.