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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 10 December 2013

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 2 December, 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. In that regard, we propose to add Imarat Kavkaz, also known as the Caucasus Emirate, to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 13th 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 commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

If the test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors, namely the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat it poses to the UK; the specific threat it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.

Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. This includes open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The Home Secretary is supported in her decision-making process by the cross-Whitehall proscription review group. Decisions to proscribe are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is right that the case for proscribing organisations must be approved by both Houses.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, we firmly believe that Imarat Kavkaz is currently concerned in terrorism. Right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot comment on specific intelligence, but I hope to provide the House with a brief summary of its activities. Imarat Kavkaz or the Caucasus Emirate is a terrorist organisation that seeks a sharia-based caliphate across the north Caucasus. It regularly uses terrorist tactics, and has carried out attacks against both Russian state and civilian targets.

The organisation claimed responsibility for the January 2011 suicide attack on Domedodevo airport in Moscow that killed 35 people, including one British national, and a suicide attack on the Moscow metro in March 2010 that killed 39 people. Since, then, Imarat Kavkaz has continued its activities, including renewed threats of activity in Russia this summer. The organisation is designated by the US, and is listed by the UN under the al-Qaeda sanctions regime.

Subject to the agreement of this House and the other place, the order will come into force on Friday 13 December. It is, of course, not appropriate for us to discuss specific intelligence that leads to any decision to proscribe, but I hope that the House will agree that it is right to add Imarat Kavkaz to the list of proscribed organisations under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

I thank the Minister for his statement and explanation, and for taking the time to talk to me about the order earlier today. There is a long tradition of cross-party co-operation on issues of national security, and the Opposition will support the Government’s motion.

Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a group can be proscribed if the Home Secretary is persuaded that 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.”

In addition to the Minister’s speech, a wealth of publicly available evidence links Imarat Kavkaz to acts of terror.

Indeed, the United Kingdom is two years behind the United States in proscribing the organisation. The United States acted in 2011, after Imarat Kavkaz was linked to two deadly attacks in Moscow. In January 2011, the group was linked to an attack at Moscow international airport, in which 35 people were killed and scores were wounded. The group was also linked to an attack carried out by two female bombers in March 2010, which killed 39 people in the Moscow metro.

The State Department helpfully gave us background information on Imarat Kavkaz or the Caucasus Emirate, as it is otherwise known. The group was founded in late 2007 by the Chechen extremist Doku Umarov. It is an Islamic militant organisation based in Russia’s north Caucasus. Its stated goal is the liberation of what it considers Muslim lands from the control of Moscow. It regularly conducts attacks against Russian security forces in the north Caucasus. As the Minister said, Imarat Kavkaz is linked to al-Qaeda through its leader, Doku Umarov, who I understand is one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

Terrorist organisations originating in that part of the world have been in the spotlight because of last year’s attacks in Boston in the United States. In the light of those attacks, it is appropriate for the Government to review the activity of related groups in the United Kingdom.

The Opposition are always limited in what they can say in such cases, because we do not of course have access to the same intelligence as the Home Secretary. It would therefore be helpful if the Minister commented generally on why the United Kingdom has decided to act now.

I also want to ask the Minister about the effects of proscription on social media. Imarat Kavkaz has a number of Facebook pages and a range of fan pages are directed towards Doku Umarov. I hope that the Minister will clarify whether Facebook will be prohibited from hosting such fan pages and allowing people in the United Kingdom to access them once the group is proscribed.

The Government take the misuse of social media and the internet extremely seriously. The group’s Facebook page has been referred to the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit, which has responsibility for assessing such issues. If the site is assessed to be illegal, the CTIRU will flag that up with Facebook directly and have it taken down.

I am grateful to the Minister for responding on that point.

As I said earlier, the Opposition are always limited in what they can say about proscription because it is up to the Home Secretary to analyse the evidence and make a decision. However, that did not stop the previous Opposition calling for proscription. The former Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister, said to the House that he wanted Hizb ut-Tahrir to be banned. I hope that the Minister will say what progress has been made in banning Hizb ut-Tahrir and that he will assure the House that he continues to keep the activities of that group under review.

Earlier this year, I raised in the House my concerns about the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir on university campuses. It was singled out by the Prevent strategy review as a group that was active in radicalising students on university campuses. That concern is particularly pertinent given the current trial of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were radicalised at the university of Greenwich.

Finally, I want to raise the issue of de-proscription and time limits. The Minister is well aware that the Home Affairs Committee has long asked the Government how a group can be de-proscribed. The only group ever to be de-proscribed sought de-proscription through judicial review proceedings. The Select Committee has been pushing the Government for some time to put a proper structure in place for making such decisions. Time-limiting proscription was recommended by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC. He felt that a proscription order should be subject to a review after a fixed period, following which it could be renewed or it would lapse. The Minister has been pressed on that issue on previous occasions. I hope that he will update the House tonight on the Government’s position or at least give an indication of the steps the Government are taking towards reaching a conclusion on how to de-proscribe.

I rise briefly to support the Government motion.

I take on board the comments that have been made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). It is right that we proscribe an organisation only after a great deal of thought and when there is a lot of evidence.

As a central London MP, I want to say how lucky we are that the relations between different cultures and races in this country are so good. We too often take that for granted, particularly given the situation in many other western countries, including in the United States and other European countries. The melting pot in my constituency and throughout London operates very well. There is very little evidence of home-grown terrorism, although we rightly clamp down on it where possible.

In such debates, it is right to consider with the utmost seriousness the suppression of such groups, but we must also recognise that community relations in this country are incredibly good. That is a credit to this Government, but also to the last Labour Government. The Prevent strategy has made a real difference to communities at large and within our campuses. It is in that context that I support what the Minister is doing.

I will respond briefly to the short points that have been made. I welcome the support that has been offered for the motion this afternoon.

The proscription of Imarat Kavkaz will demonstrate our condemnation of that group’s activities. Proscribing Imarat Kavkaz will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against its supporters in the UK and ensure that it cannot operate here. I strongly endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) about the strength of communities. The work of the Prevent strategy has been enhanced and taken forward through the extremism taskforce, and he will know that further steps have been identified through that work. One issue that we are examining further is whether there should be a requirement for banning orders that sit underneath proscription—in other words, proscription is focused on those who are actively engaged in terrorism, but we are considering carefully whether there should be a further order aimed at any group that undertakes extremist behaviour that is counter to our fundamental values. Following that reflection, we will bring further proposals before the House.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked me about de-proscribing. There is a high bar for a decision to proscribe a group in the first place, so it is right to take a precautionary approach when considering any removal of groups from the list. As allowed by legislation, de-proscription should be considered on receipt of an application, which should set out the grounds on which it is contended that the group is no longer concerned in terrorism. The Home Secretary is required to determine the application within 90 days, and if she agrees to de-proscribe the organisation, she will lay an order before Parliament removing the organisation from the list of proscribed organisations. The order is subject to the affirmative procedure, as is the order being debated this afternoon. We believe, therefore, that there is an effective process for the Home Secretary to consider de-proscription on application from groups, and there is a right of appeal and challenge.

The hon. Lady highlighted Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is not currently proscribed. Proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes an organisation to be concerned in terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Act. However, that group is an organisation about which the Government have significant concerns, and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. Individual members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are, of course, subject to the general criminal law.

We are taking action now in response to continued activity by Imarat Kavkaz and renewed threats in Russia during the summer. We believe that it is appropriate to bring the order before the House this afternoon, and I hope the House will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Humber Bridge Bill

Consideration of Lords amendments

Lords amendments 1 to 22 agreed to.