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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 553: debated on Thursday 22 November 2012

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 19 November, be approved.

The Government are determined to do all they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, known as Ansaru, to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 11th proscription order under 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 currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation

“is concerned in terrorism if it—

(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism,

(b) prepares for terrorism,

(c) promotes or encourages terrorism”—

including the unlawful glorification of terrorism, or—

“(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”

If the test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation.

In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box in dealing with counter-terrorism matters. I had not realised the Immigration Minister was now going to be responsible for counter-terrorism within the Home Office, but I am glad he has got this portfolio as well. Is there any indication as to how many supporters Ansaru has in the UK?

The right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, may be pleased or disappointed to know that I am handling this order, but my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, retains responsibility for security matters. He is out of the country today on Government business, so I am dealing with the order on his behalf.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not answer the question he asks. There are things I am not able to say in the House, based on intelligence issues. If he will forgive me, I would prefer not to answer his question directly.

Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation concerned. That includes open-source material, intelligence material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These decisions are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is 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 Ansaru is concerned in terrorism. Members will appreciate that I am unable to go into detail, but I can provide a brief summary. Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, which publicly emerged in January 2012. It is motivated by an anti-Nigerian Government and an anti-Western agenda, and is broadly aligned with al-Qaeda. It is believed to be responsible for the murders of British national, Christopher McManus, and his Italian co-worker. Franco Lamolinara, in March 2012.

In conclusion, for these reasons I believe it is right that we add the organisation to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I commend the motion to the House.

I thank the Minister for his statement, and congratulate him on his pronunciation of the full name of this group. I shall refer to it as Ansaru.

We support the Government on issues of national security and work with them on the basis of cross-party co-operation. As the Government are acting today against a group that was identified as an independent entity only in January 2012, I commend them on their speedy action.

As the Minister has said, under section 3 of the 2000 Terrorism Act a group can be proscribed if it

“(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, .

(b) prepares for terrorism,

(c) promotes or encourages terrorism, or

(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”

Obviously, the Opposition are at a disadvantage in evaluating the evidence against such groups, as we do not have access to the same intelligence data as the Government. However, based on what is in the public domain and the brief summary the Minister was able to give today, we are satisfied that the Home Secretary is justified in coming to the conclusion that Ansaru meets these criteria, and we will support the motion.

Members will be particularly concerned to hear about possible links between Ansaru and the kidnap of Chris McManus and his Italian colleague, Franco Lamolinara. The treatment of Mr McManus and Mr Lamolinara was barbaric and despicable, and it is right that the UK Government should take action against any group that commits such acts of terror against UK citizens.

Ansaru has also been linked to the long-established Boko Haram sect, which is not proscribed. I hope the Minister will commit today to keeping the status of Boko Haram under review. So far the actions of this group have been largely confined to Nigeria, but I hope the Government will act to proscribe Boko Haram if links to the UK emerge.

Finally, I remind the Minister of his party’s commitment, made repeatedly when it was in opposition, including by the now Prime Minister, to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Conservatives have now been in power for two and a half years, yet Hizb ut-Tahrir is still a legal organisation in the UK. Now that the Minister has the responsibilities of government I wonder whether, in respect of that organisation, he regrets playing politics with national security while in opposition.

I fully support the motion that the Government have put before the House today. One of the features of the fight against terrorism is that the Front-Bench teams unite as they have today in supporting what the Home Secretary proposes.

We must, of course, give the Home Secretary the benefit of the doubt. I am sure she has looked at this case very carefully indeed. I am certain that she, like previous Home Secretaries, does not take lightly the decision to proscribe an organisation. However, I want to raise a number of concerns that I have raised in the past, and that the Select Committee has raised, that have not been really been answered by the Government. I am glad to see here the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is also a member of the Select Committee and who played a leading part in producing the report that we published at the end of last year on the roots of radicalism.

Of course it is right that when the Government have the evidence, and the security services and others give advice to the Home Secretary, they should initiate a ban. Despite the fact that we have had successive orders on the Floor of the House that have gone through relatively quickly because of the support of the Opposition, the concern expressed by the Select Committee, which has not really been answered, is that the orders are not time-limited. Once the proscription is put in place, there is no revisiting it unless there is an application by the group concerned to get itself de-proscribed.

In the time that I have been in the House, there has been only one example of a group being de-proscribed. That was the People’s Mujahedeen, which in the end had to go to court in order to get the proscription lifted by the then Government. The concerns that I have raised have been raised with me and with the Home Affairs Committee by a number of groups including, for example, members of the Tamil community, who were concerned at the banning of the LTTE, an organisation that no longer exists, whose leaders have been executed or dissipated. It does not function, yet that proscription remains in force. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have members of the Tamil community in their constituencies and they have raised this concern. That is why it is important that the Government should take a view on the matter.

Whenever Ministers have come to the House before to talk about proscribing organisations—in this case, Ansaru—we have raised the point but we have never received a response with a definitive answer. David Anderson, QC, the reviewer of counter-terrorism appointed by the Government, has favoured a time limit. In Australia there is a time limit of two years. There should perhaps be not an automatic de-proscription, but at least the opportunity for senior Home Office officials to review the decision and to see whether the organisation has changed. One of the points that was made to the Home Secretary the last time she used proscription against an organisation—I think it was Muslims Against Crusades— was that organisations can change their name, but still function. By changing their name, they become, in a sense, a new organisation.

The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) about Hizb ut-Tahrir are relevant. I know the Prime Minister is very keen to ban this organisation. He has said so as Leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister, but he has come up against advice that has been given, presumably, by those who give advice whose names we do not know —obviously, because by the nature of their job they have to operate in the shadows. They have clearly said to the Home Secretary that in respect of Hizb ut-Tahrir there is no case to proscribe, but that there is in respect of Ansaru.

We in the House probably know more about Hizb ut-Tahrir than we do about Ansaru. Many of us, myself included, probably discovered this organisation only when we knew that a proscription order was going to be issued on the Floor of the House today. In the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir, we know what its members are up to, we know about their activities, we know what they have said, but still they are not proscribed.

It may seem odd that Members are asking for more proscription and at the same time are asking for time limits, but when an organisation ceases to exist and members of settled communities, though not members of that organisation, are loosely associated because they come from the same geographical area, such as members of the Tamil community who are settled in this country, obviously there are concerns.

I hope that when the Minister replies, he will at least give us some indication—I appreciate that this is not his area of responsibility—when we will know that the Government have made up their mind in respect of the response to the Select Committee’s report published a year ago. That will assist us, as I am sure it will assist David Anderson, QC, in our deliberations on this very important subject. On the substance of the order, I fully support what the Government are doing today. I have faith in the Home Secretary’s judgment. I know that she would do this only if she felt that it was the right thing to do, and I hope the order will go through with the support of the whole House.

Let me deal with the issues that have been raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The hon. Lady spoke on behalf of the Opposition, and I thank her for their support, as I thank the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for his support. This is always a difficult area, because as the hon. Lady said, there are things that the Government know which they are not able to share publicly. I am grateful for what she and the Chairman of the Select Committee said about my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Proscription is a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It makes it a criminal offence for a person to belong to that proscribed organisation, to invite support for it, to arrange a meeting in support of it or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member of that organisation. Proscribing Ansaru will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against any of its supporters in the UK and—picking up the point made by the Chairman of the Select Committee—ensure that it cannot operate effectively in the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned de-proscription. Anyone who is proscribed can apply to the Home Secretary to be de-proscribed. If that application is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal which is able to consider the sensitive material that underpins proscription decisions.

The Chairman of the Select Committee also mentioned the report that David Anderson, QC, has recently produced and also the Select Committee’s report. The Government have carefully noted the comments that David Anderson made in his report about the de-proscription process and the Home Secretary will respond shortly to the report, so the right hon. Gentleman may not have too long to wait to find out the Government’s view.

I know that we have become used to the word “shortly”, but it may well have been used a year ago, when we were told that there would be a response shortly. Is that this year? Is it next year? [Interruption.]

As my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary says, the waiting time is getting shorter. I will not put an exact date on it, because when I have done that in the past I have inevitably disappointed people. The right hon. Gentleman will clearly have less time to wait than he did when he heard a Minister say that last year.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North mentioned Boko Haram, which operates in Nigeria. For very sensible reasons, the Government do not comment on whether any group is under consideration for proscription, but we are deeply concerned about violence, whether terrorist or otherwise, in Nigeria. We remain committed to working closely with the Nigerian authorities to tackle the security situation in Nigeria. When the Prime Minister met President Jonathan in February this year, he re-affirmed our shared agenda. We have experience on counter-terrorism policy and various frameworks for dealing with it, and we work closely with our Nigerian colleagues to support them in any way we can in combating the security challenges that they face.

The hon. Lady mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir. As she knows, that organisation is not proscribed in the United Kingdom. As I said, proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes that an organisation is involved in terrorism, as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East suggested though, it remain an organisation about which the Government have significant concerns, and we continue to monitor its activities very closely.

The final issue that the Chairman of the Select Committee raised was organisations that change their name but not necessarily their activities. Section 3(6) of the Act allows the Home Secretary, by order, to specify an alternative name for a proscribed organisation, and we keep the list of organisations under review, including consideration of whether they are operating under any alternative aliases.

Is there a streamlined process for claiming that a group with a new name is still the old group? Instead of having to start again and prove that the group under the new name is a risk, is there is a quick and simple process for saying “This is the old group under a new name”?

Yes. If we proscribe a group on the basis of all the information we have about it, and it then tries to change its identity, there is provision in the Act to allow us to specify an alternative name without having to go through the process of reconsidering all the legal tests that the Home Secretary has to carry out.

I hope that with those answers I have dealt with the questions that were raised, and that the House will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 19 November, be approved.