I beg to move,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 January, be approved.
There remains a severe and sustained terrorist threat to the UK and its interests abroad. The Government are determined to do all that they can to minimise this threat. Proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add the organisation Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan—the TTP—to the list of 46 international terrorist organisations that are listed under schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the ninth proscription order amending schedule 2 to that Act.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism—that includes the unlawful glorification of terrorism—or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, she may, at her discretion, proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, she takes into account a number of factors, which were announced to Parliament during the passage of the Terrorism Bill in 2000.
It is not on the particular organisation that I want to intervene, but as I understand it, the debate is restricted to that organisation. Can the Minister tell us whether he has any plans to review any other organisations that are on the list, such as those representing the Kurdish and Tamil communities, as a way of promoting political dialogue and discourse to bring about peaceful resolutions to conflict, rather than people resorting to violence?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He will understand that, for obvious reasons, it is not the Government’s policy, and never has been the policy under any Government, to discuss whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription. It would clearly be foolish for any Minister to give running commentaries on what is going on with individual organisations, so I do not propose to start now.
My hon. Friend said that this was the ninth in a series of proscriptions. Bearing in mind some of the reservations that were expressed at the time that the original legislation was enacted, can he reassure the House that there has been no sign of any previously proscribed organisations seeking to get round the proscription by such devices as changing their names?
Indeed, that is one of the activities that concerns Ministers and it is one of the things that has happened in the past. Organisations have sought to reappear under different names and have been re-proscribed. We are extremely aware of the very serious problem to which my hon. Friend refers.
May I take the Minister back to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)? I do not think my hon. Friend was challenging the subject matter before the House. He was raising the issue of the process. The Act under which the proscriptions are laid before the House is 10 years old. Is the Minister satisfied that the way in which proscription is challenged is robust and will give organisations the opportunity to put their case to the tribunal? That is the point being made, not a challenge to the subject matter.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point. As he knows, all proscribed organisations are reviewed on an annual basis by a cross-Government group that assists the Home Secretary to come to decisions on these matters. Each case is carefully considered, taking into account all the detail as time passes. The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point that organisations can change over time. There is an appeal mechanism not just to the Home Secretary, but beyond the Home Secretary to an independent committee, so I am confident that organisations can present a case that they have changed. The system and the Act allow for that.
Proscription is a tough power, as is clear from the various interventions, but it is necessary. Its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. Proscription means that it is a criminal offence for a person to belong to or invite support for a proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to 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 the proscribed organisation.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. This includes open source material, as well as intelligence material, legal advice, and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is also right that the case for proscribing new organisations must be approved by both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that the TTP is currently concerned in terrorism. Although hon. Members will, I hope, appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail, I am able to summarise. The TTP is a prolific terrorist organisation that has committed a large number of mass-casualty attacks in Pakistan. It has announced various objectives and demands, such as the enforcement of sharia, resistance against the Pakistani army and the removal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. Examples of recent attacks include a suicide car bomb attack outside a courthouse in Mingora in March 2009 that killed 14 people and injured 130. Another attack on a police station in Lakki Marwat in September 2010 killed 17 people. Although the majority of attacks have been against military and Government targets, the TTP is also known to target religious events. In September 2010, a suicide attack on a Shi’a rally killed 50 people.
The group has also claimed responsibility for attacks on western targets. For example, in June 2010 an attack on a NATO convoy just outside Islamabad killed seven people and destroyed 50 vehicles. In April 2010, an attack on the US consulate in Peshawar killed at least six. The TTP has also threatened to attack the west and was implicated in the failed Times square car bomb attack last May.
Proscription will align the UK with the emerging international consensus against this murderous organisation. The TTP is already designated by the United States and proscribed in Pakistan. The proscription of the TTP will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and show our condemnation of the terrorist attacks the group continues to carry out in Pakistan. Proscribing the TTP will enable the police to carry out disruptive action more effectively against any supporters in the UK.
I should make it clear to hon. Members that proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping, but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. The TTP is not representative of Pakistani or wider Muslim communities in the UK. The organisation has carried out a large number of attacks in Pakistan resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties. It is clear that these actions appal the vast majority of British Muslims.
As a final point, I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact.
I can only repeat to my hon. Friend what I said to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). For obvious reasons, it is not this Government’s, nor was it the previous Government’s, policy to discuss whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription. He will be aware that Hizb ut-Tahrir is an organisation about which we have real concerns, and I can confirm that its activities are kept under review. But as I say, it would be unwise to promote a running commentary on any individual organisation.
Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, has an appeal mechanism, as I was saying to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. They can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed, and if the application is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. A special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission. I hope that gives some reassurance to those who were concerned about that.
With respect to any running commentary from the Home Office, my recollection is that we gave something approaching a commitment, at least in opposition, that Hizb ut-Tahrir was an organisation that we wished to proscribe. I understand that there may be difficulties, but it is reasonable to press the Minister for a clearer understanding of the process with regard to this organisation.
With respect to my hon. Friend, I really do not think that it is sensible in such sensitive matters for Ministers to give running commentaries at the Dispatch Box on whether organisations might be about to be proscribed. That applies to any organisation of any kind and background, for obvious reasons that I think he will recognise. That would not be a sensible course of action. There is ample evidence to suggest that the TTP is concerned in terrorism.
No, because the hon. Lady has already intervened and is about to speak. [Interruption.] I regret that Opposition Front Benchers regard the matter as humorous. Many people have been killed by the TTP, which is what the House is debating this evening. There are clearly serious issues about how this country attacks terrorism and defends itself against terrorists, so it is not the time for Opposition Front Benchers to regard something as amusing. There is ample evidence to suggest that the TTP is concerned in terrorism, and I believe that it is right to add the organisation to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I hope that Members on both sides of the House, particularly those on the Opposition Front Bench, will support the Government in that action, which is designed to promote the safety of the British people.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government’s reasons for the order. Let me clarify that no one on the Opposition Front Bench finds these matters amusing in any way whatsoever. I note, however, that the Minister was somewhat under pressure when the Prime Minister’s conduct in matters of national security and the banning of organisations was cited. We were merely pointing out that the Prime Minister does not have a glorious record in that regard.
Let me reiterate at the outset for the benefit of the House the approach adopted to counter-terrorism matters by the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls):
“We, the Opposition, will take an evidence-based approach which gives the greatest importance to national security in coming to a view on counter-terrorism issues, and therefore wherever possible we will seek to work with the government and will seek consensus.”
To that end, I can tell the House that, despite frequent earlier requests, my right hon. Friend received only in the past hour a Privy Council briefing on the organisation that is the subject of the order. As I have said, we are happy to seek a consensus-based approach on matters of national security, but I point out to Government Front Benchers that that would be helped along somewhat if they provided Privy Council briefings in a more timely manner.
I will return to the issue of Hizb ut-Tahrir shortly and hopefully deal with the substance of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.
I have a number of questions about the order for the Minister. Paragraph 7.2 of the explanatory memorandum states:
“The Secretary of State has regard to additional criteria (announced by the Secretary of State in 2001) in deciding as a matter of discretion whether or not to proscribe an organisation. These are:…The nature and scale of the organisation’s activities…The specific threat that it poses to the UK…The specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas…The extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK…The need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism”.
Those criteria seem to be perfectly sensible in providing the basic test against which a Secretary of State may decide to exercise his or her discretion, but will the Minister shed some light on how, in this particular case, they have been applied? The 2001 criteria are not contained in primary or secondary legislation, so in light of that are they under regular review by the Home Office? Will he give us some details about how the Government intend to keep them under review? How frequently will that be done?
Given that the criteria were stated first in 2001, does the Minister consider them to be fully comprehensive still? Could they usefully be added to, and are there any plans to do so? He will be aware that there is a large and settled British Pakistani community in this country, and many British citizens from that community travel regularly to Pakistan to visit family and friends. What is his assessment of the threat that Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan poses to them? That will be a matter of some interest to the British Pakistani community, so I hope that he will take this opportunity to address it. Related to that, is Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan operative in this country? How has the threat that the organisation poses in this country changed since it was set up in 2007, and what is the extent of its operations in this country?
The Minister will also be aware that, as a result of the devastating floods in Pakistan last year, the effects of which are still being felt by the Pakistani population, a large number of British aid workers operate in Pakistan and are involved in vital efforts to provide humanitarian relief and assistance to the flood affectees. Soon after the floods, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan made a number of statements, widely reported in the British media, threatening British aid workers. Will the Minister update the House on the threat posed to British aid workers engaged in flood relief work in Pakistan, and will he give some detail about the efforts being made to provide the maximum possible security and support to them?
The organisation was set up in 2007, proscribed by the Pakistani authorities in 2008 and designated by the United States in September 2010. What prompted the Government to follow suit now? How was the timing of the decision arrived at? There is, of course, necessary and close co-operation between the Pakistani authorities and the Government in combating terrorism. Is the Minister confident that the Government are doing enough to support the Pakistani authorities and society as a whole to prevent the rise of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Is she satisfied about the current process for challenging decisions? We understand that once the House makes a decision, an organisation is proscribed, but there is a process for challenging such moves, and that is right in a democratic society. Is she satisfied with that process, or do the Opposition wish to make any changes to it?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. In fact, I intended to put that question to the Minister in relation to any plans that the Government might have to look again at the legal process of appeal for an organisation that has been proscribed. I know that, in previous debates when the previous Labour Government proscribed organisations, my right hon. Friend raised the potential deficiencies in the processes for proscription and for challenging proscription, so can the Minister state the Government’s plans in that regard?
Do we know whether other countries intend to proscribe the organisation in the near future? What co-operation has there been between the Government and our allies engaged in operations in Afghanistan and other parts of the world in terms of proscribing it? Will there be continued co-operation, and what is the extent of such work?
Will the Minister give the House some details about the procedure by which the Government intend to keep the list of proscribed organisations under review? Will such reviews take place monthly, quarterly or less regularly, and can we be confident that all organisations that pose a threat to our national security are proscribed?
The House will be aware that during today’s Prime Minister’s questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked the Prime Minister about his plans to proscribe another organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir. This was also mentioned by the Minister. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir is not subject to this order, the Prime Minister’s comments about it raise questions about the Government’s policy on proscription as a whole.
Further to what was said at Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has written to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Let me refer to his letter, because it is important for the House to know this. His letter points out that last year the Prime Minister made a commitment to banning Hizb ut-Tahrir
“despite having not seen any of the evidence”.
“The clear suggestion was that proscribing this organisation was a simple act that could be made without any legal obstacles on the basis of the…evidence”
that was available in the public domain. He asks the Prime Minister a number of questions, which I will repeat for the Minister to comment on. He asks the Prime Minister when he intends to fulfil his commitment on Hizb ut-Tahrir and on what dates the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have met to discuss the matter. He asks:
“Will you share with me, on Privy Council terms”—
and, one hopes, in a timely way—
“the latest available evidence about”
“On the basis of the available evidence, is it still your intention to proscribe this organisation?”
and asks whether the Prime Minister has
“any plans to amend the relevant legal tests”
as set out in the Terrorism Act 2000 and amended in the Terrorism Act 2006.
Perhaps the Minister could shed some light on the Government’s response to those questions, because it is important that the House has placed before it the Government’s exact procedures and intentions in relation to proscription. Proscription should be a matter of last resort in order to safeguard our national security, and not the subject of off-the-cuff remarks or ill-thought-out pronouncements by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition.
As I have said, we will work with the Government to protect our national security, and in that spirit we will support the order.
I thank the Minister for setting out the reasons for proscribing Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. I have a couple of questions that I hope he might be able to answer, although I accept that if there are security considerations or the information is not in the public domain he may well be unable to do so. I will understand if that is the case.
First, on the catalyst for making this decision, was it prompted by the attempted car bombing in Times square in May 2010? As the Minister will know, the briefing from CTC Sentinel makes it clear that this organisation had been very active in Pakistan since 2007. Secondly, has there been any evidence of any activity in the UK, or any expectation that any assets may be seized?
I want to stress again that I will understand if the Minister is unable to respond to those questions, because clearly there may be security considerations attached. I think that the Government are taking the appropriate action. If he is able to answer them, that will benefit all those in the Chamber, but I am confident that the matter will be sorted out very shortly.
I hope not to detain the House for too long. I know this is a special day for you, Mr Speaker, and I would not like to keep you away from the birthday celebrations that are no doubt being planned for you in the Speaker’s house once you vacate the Chair.
This is a very important debate, and it is right that there is a full House to hear what the Minister has to say. In previous debates of this kind, the House has been almost empty; there is an assumption that such orders will go through automatically. That is why I am grateful for the way in which the Minister put the Government’s case, and for the way in which the Opposition said—I think—that they will support the Government.
My hon. Friend nods. It is right that the questions that she put forward should be answered at some stage—not necessarily this evening, but as soon as possible. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who raised issues that have to be addressed.
I sat through a number of debates on such orders on the Government Benches, when the Labour party was in power, in which Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and made the case for proscription. It is difficult for the House, because it cannot really challenge Ministers when they make such a case, because they come in good faith and they are in possession of all the information, much of it confidential and much of it given to them by the security services. We therefore accept what the Minister says in good faith.
Just the name of the organisation, the Pakistan Taliban, makes one want to ban it immediately because of the word Taliban. It is obviously not a friendly organisation. Although I know nothing about the organisation—I have heard as much as I know about it from the Minister tonight—I am happy to support what the Government are doing.
However, I caution the Minister and the Opposition—a number of Members raised this point when the Labour party was in government—to look again at the process that should be adopted when organisations want to challenge the decision. I was in the House when Mujaheddin-e-Khalq managed to get its proscription lifted. As the Minister knows, it was proscribed in March 2001, it challenged the decision in June 2001, and it was deproscribed seven years later. It took the organisation seven years to make its legal case against proscription. Therefore, from the point of view of the public, as opposed to that of the organisations, it is important at this time in the life of the Terrorism Act 2000, which has been with us for 10 years, to review the processes. I would offer a review by the Home Affairs Committee—I see that the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is here—but because the Government’s agenda on home affairs is so exhausting and plentiful, it is difficult to find the time to look at this issue. I am sure that we will do so, and certainly in the life of this Parliament.
It is important to consider the process. I will use the example put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), which involves a constituency interest for myself and others, of the previous Government’s decision to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. As you know from visiting the island of Sri Lanka, Mr Speaker, the war is over. The LTTE has been defeated, its leaders have all been killed, including Prabhakaran, who was killed as part of the conflict, and the Sri Lankan Government have said that the LTTE no longer exists. However, members of the community who wish to support charitable causes in Sri Lanka are still sometimes questioned about their involvement, including those who take part in the annual ceremony that takes place on 26 November each year to celebrate the lives of those who have been killed.
Although this is, of course, a narrow order and the proscription applies to those who support the Pakistan Taliban, it is possible that other members of the community who are completely unassociated with this terrible organisation will in some way be caught up in the problem. I think that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) was trying to allude to when she put her questions to the Minister.
I do not expect the answers tonight. After all, the Minister present is the Minister for Immigration, not counter-terrorism. I therefore do not expect the answers, although he is obviously very well briefed, a highly intelligent Member of this House, a hard-working Minister and all the other nice things I could say about him. I have mentioned your birthday, Mr Speaker, but it was also the Minister’s birthday on Monday, so we have to be nice to him. The questions that I have asked must be considered, and I hope that if the Minister cannot give me the information that I want today, the Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism, perhaps in a letter to my Committee, or the Home Secretary next time she addresses the issue, will be able to put my mind at rest.
I fully support the order and hope that the whole House will. We look forward to ensuring that these matters, which by their nature have the possibility of affecting the civil liberties of citizens of this country, are kept under review as closely as possible.
I thank the Minister for his opening statement and acknowledge that we have to accept such recommendations with a degree of trust because we cannot have access to all the information that he and others have. I know that he will have sought and listened to legal advice, as his comments reflected.
I welcome the Minister’s saying that the order is not about targeting the Pakistani community or the Muslim community; it is about a group of individuals whose activities need to be addressed and challenged. The Minister’s clear statement of that reassurance is really important for a community that has gone through a long period of feeling that it is targeted at every level.
As the Minister said, there is disgust and revulsion at the violence that has been carried out by the individuals in question, against civilians in the vast majority of cases, because cowards like to target civilians. Families and individuals have suffered as a consequence of that violence, and the leadership shown by the House in supporting the order will send out a clear statement about our solidarity in the desire to fight terrorism wherever in the world it manifests itself.
I, too, broadly agree with the system that we have in place for proscribing organisations. It is important not only for protecting ourselves and the security of those whom we represent but for playing our role in the international community in preventing terrorism and the spread of terrorism.
It is perhaps worth noting that the organisation whose terrorism I have personally experienced is Euskadi ta Askatasuna—ETA—in Basque Spain, where I grew up as a child, which is one of the proscribed organisations.
I agree fully with the addition of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan to the list, but I wish to ask the Minister some questions about the full implications of the system and how we arrive at the decision to proscribe some people and organisations and not others. The 2000 Act is pretty clear in its interpretation of what terrorism is. It states:
“In this Act ‘terrorism’ means the use or threat of action where…the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public”.
Section 2 adds that action is included if it
“involves serious violence against a person”,
and section 4 states that it
“includes action outside the United Kingdom”.
That is obviously vital in the case of many of the organisations that we proscribe, although I note that the elements that the Government consider include not only the specific threat that an organisation poses to the UK but the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism.
I suggest, as others have this evening, that we have perhaps not quite got the full list yet. I say that not as a reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir in particular but because those involved in the arrest, torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, and all those involved in the corruption that he unveiled in Russia, are and have been engaged in a form of economic terrorism against this country. I hope that the Home Office will therefore look at whether such an order is precisely the right vehicle to use to seize any of those people’s assets in this country, or to proscribe them from coming to this country. Sergei Magnitsky was working for a British company in Russia. He unveiled a vast nexus of corruption in the Russian system—$230 million-worth—and he was murdered in prison, having been put there without trial, and there has been absolutely no investigation since his death.
There have been moves similar to those allowed for by this order in other countries. In the United States, Senators McCain and Cardin have co-sponsored a law—the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act 2010—that will impose visa-entry bans and asset freezes on those Russians who took part. On 16 December 2010, the European Parliament recommended a very similar set of proposals—a vote on which was carried by 318 to 163.
The Minister may think that such an order is a wholly inappropriate way in which to proceed in relation to those people, but I very much hope that he will keep the matter under review.
I hope you are enjoying your birthday, Mr Speaker, and that this is an appropriate way to celebrate it.
I hold no brief for Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, and I do not wish to defend or support them in any way this evening. However, I want to follow the points made by other hon. Members on the process, which is not satisfactory. We add to the list of banned organisations during a Parliament, but the additions cannot be amended and the subject of the proscribed list is not open to general debate. There is therefore an argument for reviewing that process, and I hope the House heard what the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said—he seemed to indicate that his Committee might well be prepared to conduct an inquiry into the process.
The legislation is now 10 years old. According to the list that I have just downloaded, 46 organisations are proscribed under the 2000 Act, and a further group of organisations are banned in Ireland—presumably that ban applies in this country too. The list contains organisations that clearly no longer exist, and organisations that have changed their names and exist under others. It therefore seems to me to be high time to review the whole question.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). Proscribing an organisation from a particular country or community affects that country or community, and it affects the attitudes that officials take towards them. It is therefore necessary to consider such things very seriously. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about the LTTE, but it no longer exists and the situation in Sri Lanka has changed dramatically. I would have thought that we ought to look at that as a way of promoting political discourse and dialogue to ensure that the Tamil community has a place for negotiation, representation and political action. That is surely what we are trying to achieve.
Indeed we must, because proscription puts a requirement—not just a pressure—on the police to do those things. Therefore, there is the potential for an enormous waste of resources, not to mention damage to community relations. After all, in this country, as I understand it, we try to include and incorporate, and to build good community relations rather than divisions.
As somebody of Pakistani origin, may I say that the wider expatriate Pakistani community will fully support the decision to proscribe this terrorist organisation—there is no other way to describe it? Also, the people in Pakistan want a safe, prosperous Pakistan, whereas this organisation is committed to everything that works against that. This organisation was proscribed in 2008 in Pakistan, in 2010 in the United States of America and now in the United Kingdom. Should these periods not be shortened? As the host country of Pakistan proscribed it in 2008, should it not then have been proscribed in other countries soon after, so that it does not have the chance to launder money in other countries?
I also think it is an intervention that ought to have been directed at the Minister, not me, and perhaps the Minister will respond to it.
Obviously, there is a point in what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I also think it is important that this country does not just automatically proscribe an organisation because Government X, Y or Z has said so. If we did that, our history would be very different. Apartheid South Africa banned the African National Congress, yet the ANC had offices in this country, organised in this country, was completely open in this country, and eventually apartheid fell and the ANC became the Government of South Africa. I think we have to be a little careful about making instant responses all the time to banning requests made by particular regimes. I hold no brief whatever for the organisation under discussion tonight; I just think one should be slightly cautious.
Kongra Gele Kurdistan is listed, together with a number of Somali organisations. I have a very large Kurdish community in my constituency, as well as a very large Somali community. None of the people I speak to or represent holds any brief for violence or terrorist actions. They want a political development and a political solution to their problems in Somalia and Kurdistan. I suspect that the Minister will have difficulty in replying to this point tonight, but I urge him to look seriously at those organisations and to review the need for a positive democratic dialogue and process with the Kurdish people to bring about a peaceful resolution in Turkey, and the same goes for Somalia.
Banning and proscription do not necessarily work. What works is political dialogue. Let us consider what happened in Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams and John Hume came to an agreement and we eventually brought about a whole peace process there. It is important to look for positive solutions, rather than instant banning and the use of the state apparatus to suppress legitimate political activity.
The hon. Gentleman argues that the democratic process and dialogue cannot take place because some of these groups have been proscribed. He seems to suggest that that in some way hampers democratic dialogue. Clearly, these organisations do not speak for their communities as a whole, however. He mentioned that many of these groups no longer exist. Is it not the case that they no longer exist simply because they were proscribed?
There are various reasons why they are not in existence; some are to do with proscription, but some are to do with military activities in the countries concerned. There is a whole host of reasons.
My point is that proscribing organisations that probably do not exist, and in some cases naming people or suggesting naming people who are alleged to be representatives of those organisations, in turn limits their opportunity for legitimate political activity and political dialogue. I have drawn the parallel with what happened in Northern Ireland, and the parallel of the attitude that was adopted not by this country but by others towards the ANC in South Africa when the apartheid regime wanted it banned worldwide. I just think one has to look to bring about a solution to such problems, rather than having too simple a process.
I hold no brief whatever for the organisation under discussion, and the will of the House is clearly that the order should be passed. I just wanted to use this opportunity—I thank you for allowing me it, Mr Speaker—to encourage the Minister to consider the points that have been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), myself and others who have concerns about the process involved in this order.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and felicitations.
I am grateful to the House for the many important points raised and, in particular, for the tone of the debate on the key issue of the process. Clearly, the Government are exercising very serious powers, so it needs to be done carefully and kept under proper review. I assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that I very much share their feelings about that.
I should gently say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) that I am genuinely bemused by her point about the timeliness of the briefing given to the shadow Home Secretary. I understand that he asked for a briefing on Privy Council terms early this afternoon and received it later this afternoon. I genuinely do not know how much faster the Government could have been expected to react to that request, so I am puzzled by the point she made.
The hon. Lady asked a number of important questions, some of which were about the criteria and the process. Those legitimate questions were echoed by other hon. Members, not least by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). There seems to be a slight misunderstanding involving the absolute nature of proscription for ever, because this arrangement is not like that. I think it will help all those who asked the questions if I simply go through what has to happen under the Terrorism Act 2000 for a body to be proscribed.
The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation if she believes
“that it is concerned in terrorism.”
What “concerned in terrorism” means under the Act is that an organisation
“(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism,
(b) prepares for terrorism,
(c) promotes or encourages terrorism”—
that includes “unlawful glorification”—
(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”
If that statutory test is met, the Secretary of State will take into account other factors when deciding whether or not to proscribe. Those criteria are: the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the UK; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.
Most importantly, the Home Secretary comes to this decision after having received advice from a cross-departmental group. That group reviews the proscription of all proscribed organisations on a rolling 12-month basis, so there is a permanent rolling programme of checking which groups are proscribed and whether it is appropriate to continue with the proscription. That seems to me to be a proper process, because I take the points made by hon. Members on both sides about how groups can change and how, in all these areas of this world, it is of course in the interests of the British Government and the British people not only to combat terrorism—that is clearly important—but to try to foster a democratic dialogue so that troubled countries can move into the democratic ambit.
I wish to answer some of the other detailed questions, in so far as I can. I was asked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood and by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington about TTP’s activities and presence in the UK. I am sure that the House will understand that I cannot comment on intelligence matters and details, but I can say that the TTP aspires to mount attacks in the west, as was demonstrated by its involvement in the failed Times square car bomb attack, and TTP leaders have publicly threatened the UK in the past. The group also threatens this country by targeting our interests and allied interests overseas: for instance, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on the United Nations World Food Programme office in Islamabad in October 2009, which killed five people.
The hon. Lady rightly asked what the UK Government are doing to help to stabilise Pakistan. We actively engage the Government of Pakistan to implement political reform in the tribal areas. In addition, through the conflict prevention fund, the Foreign Office is spending £3.65 million a year on reducing the governance and security vacuum that evidently exists in that part of the world, improving Afghan-Pakistan relations and co-operation, and reducing insecurity in Balochistan. So we are playing a very active role.
I am still not quite clear about one aspect. Surely the banning of an organisation in this country is carried out because there is reason to suspect that it is going to try to be active in this country. It is not simply a matter of trying to perform a terrorist act, which would be a crime in any case, but of trying to function in this country. Is there any evidence that either this group or its sympathisers are currently active in this country? There are of course all sorts of terrorist groups around the world that are not active in this country which we do not seek to add them to our own proscribed list.
If I were to answer my hon. Friend in detail, I would reveal intelligence information. I am sure that he, with his distinguished background in defence, would not want me to do that. I would refer him to the list of criteria I mentioned, which includes attacks on British citizens and British interests, along with those of our allies around the world. I think it would be beneficial if he studied those criteria carefully.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood asked about the review. I hope she is reassured not just by what I said about the rolling 12-month review programme, but by the fact that there is an appeal mechanism—first to the Home Secretary and then to an independent committee. The legislation allows for that. She asked whether the discretionary criteria are still appropriate, and we believe that they are. Counter-terrorism policy is, of course, kept permanently under review. She asked about the time scale; she will be aware that the Home Secretary is currently reviewing the most sensitive and controversial counter-terrorism and security powers and measures. It would be particularly inappropriate to speculate on the outcome of the review, as we are going to announce the findings shortly. I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured by that.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) raised a particular case. I take his point, but say simply in response that the Government have a wide range of counter-terrorism tools at their disposal, including asset freezing, exclusion and so forth. It would obviously be improper for me to comment on an individual case.
I would be happy to do so, although the hon. Gentleman might prefer to meet the Minister of State with responsibility for security and counter-terrorism. If he wants to meet me, however, it is always a pleasure. I would be happy to do so, as I said.
One of the detailed points made by the hon. Member for Islington North was that proscription does not work, but dialogue does. Of course we all want to move towards dialogue, but proscription does send out a strong message that we do not tolerate terrorism, and it deters terrorist groups from operating here. It should in no way prevent peaceful dialogue. The hon. Gentleman also made a point about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil community in this country and elsewhere can express ideas it feels strongly about without supporting the LTTE.
Having heard what I thought was a good debate, I strongly believe, as I think every hon. Member does, that the TTP should be added to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. I emphasise once more that the TTP has carried out a large number of mass casualty attacks within Pakistan against the Pakistani military and Government and against civilian targets. The number of the group’s victims runs into the hundreds. It is important that we make the UK a hostile place for such terrorists and that we show our condemnation of this organisation’s activities. The TTP has also attacked western interests within Pakistan and has stated its intention to carry out attacks in the west—a threat given credence by the attempted attack in Times square. It is now right to align the UK with the emerging international consensus condemning this group and its activities. I commend the order to the House.
Question put and agreed to,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 January, be approved.