Before I ask the Minister to move the motion, I should point out to the House that there is a note on the Order Paper saying that the draft order under the Terrorism Act 2000, item 4 on the Order Paper, has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I can now inform the House that the Joint Committee considered the order at its meeting earlier this afternoon and decided that it does not need to draw the House’s special attention to it.
I beg to move,
That the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 31 March, be approved.
The Government are determined to do all they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. In addition, it is important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We propose to add Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is also known as Ansar Jerusalem, Al Murabitun and Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 14th 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 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. These are 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 UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism. 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 is a criminal offence for a person to belong to a proscribed organisation, invite support for a proscribed organisation, arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. 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.
When we proscribe an organisation that has links to other countries—the first two the Minister mentioned have links to Egypt; the second two have links to Tunisia—do we consult those countries before placing an order before the House? I support what the Minister is doing today, but I just want to be clear about the process. Did we tell those countries that the orders were on their way?
The orders are made after careful consideration, part of which involves input and consideration from the Foreign Office. That might or might not include co-operation or contact with individual Governments or authorities. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that such broad consideration is always given to these orders, in the light of the factors that I have identified, including the impact that they could have here in the UK and on British citizens overseas. There is a need to send out a clear message in relation to a number of these terrorist organisations.
I shall expand a little on the steps that are being undertaken. They include research into and investigation of open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across the 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. The decision to proscribe is 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 believes that ABM, Al Murabitun and Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia are currently concerned in terrorism. Hon. Members will appreciate that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, but it might help the House if I provide a brief summary of their activities.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis—ABM—is an al-Qaeda-inspired militant Islamist group based in the northern Sinai region of Egypt. The group is said to recruit within Egypt and abroad, and it aims to create an Egyptian state ruled by sharia law. ABM is assessed to have been responsible for a number of attacks on security forces in Egypt since 2011. The attacks appear to have increased since the overthrow of the Morsi Government in July 2013. The group’s reach goes beyond the Sinai region, in that it claims responsibility for a number of attacks in Cairo as well as cross-border attacks against Israel.
ABM has undertaken attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and surface-to-air missiles. I shall give the House some examples of attacks for which the group has claimed responsibility. They include an attack on the Egyptian Interior Minister in September 2013 in which a UK national was seriously injured; an attack on a police compound in Mansoura on 24 December 2013 that killed at least 16 people, including 14 police officers; an attack on an Egyptian police helicopter in the northern Sinai on 25 January 2014; the assassination of General Mohammed Saeed, an official in the interior ministry, on 28 January 2014; and an attack on a tourist bus in which three South Koreans and their Egyptian driver died on 16 January 2014.
The second group, Al Murabitun, resulted from a merger of two al-Qaeda in the Maghreb splinter groups that are active in Mali and Algeria: the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s group, the Al Mulathamine Battalion, which included the commando element known as “Those Who Sign in Blood”. The merger was announced in a public statement in August 2013. The group aspires to unite Muslims from the Nile to the Atlantic, and has affirmed its loyalty to the al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the emir of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar. Al Murabitun’s first statement threatened France and its allies in the region, and called on Muslims to target French interests everywhere.
Belmokhtar has announced that he will not continue to lead the group to allow a new generation of jihadist leaders to come to the fore. Reports indicate that the new commander has fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and against the international intervention in Afghanistan in the 2000s. Although the group has not claimed responsibility for any terrorist attacks since the merger, both precursor groups participated in a number of terrorist attacks and kidnapping for ransom in the past 13 months. Belmokhtar’s group was responsible for the attack against the In Amenas gas facility in January 2013 that resulted in the death of more than 30 people, including Britons. In May 2013, the two groups targeted a military barracks in Agadez in Niger and a uranium mine in Arlit which supplies French nuclear reactors. The suicide attack in Agadez resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people. Shortly after the attacks, Belmokhtar indicated that they had been carried out as a form of revenge for the death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, an al-Qaeda in the Maghreb commander who was killed by French forces in northern Mali earlier in 2013. Despite previously separating themselves from al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, citing leadership issues and the desire to expand their control, both precursor groups continued to co-operate and fight alongside AQM fighters in Mali and other regions of west Africa—that activity has continued since the merger.
The Sahel region continues to see high threats of kidnap and terrorist attacks, which were further heightened following the French military intervention in Mali. Hostages are currently held in the Sahel and surrounding regions, which includes Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Nigeria. The Canadians designated Belmokhtar’s group in November 2013 and the US designated it in December 2013, specifying Al Murabitun as an alias.
The third group, Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia—AAS-T—is a radical Islamist group founded in April 2011. The group aims to establish sharia law in Tunisia and eliminate western influence. Between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals may be attracted to rallies organised by the movement. The group is ideologically aligned to al-Qaeda and has links to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. It is reported that the group announced its loyalty to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in September 2013.
AAS-T’s leader, Seif Allah Ibn Hussein, also known as Abu Ayadh al-Tunis, is a former al-Qaeda veteran combatant in Afghanistan. He has been hiding following the issue of a warrant for his arrest in relation to the allegation that he incited the attack on the US embassy in Tunis that killed four people in September 2012. Salafists believed to have links with AAS-T are assessed to be responsible for the attacks in October 2011 on a television station and the attack in June 2012 on an art exhibit. AAS-T is assessed to be responsible for the attacks on the US embassy and American school in Tunis in September 2012. The Tunisian Government believe AAS-T was responsible for the assassinations of two national coalition Assembly Members, those of Chokri Belaid in February 2013 and Mohamed Brahmi in July 2013. Additionally, elements of the group are believed to have been involved in the attempted suicide attack, in October 2013, at a hotel in a tourist resort in Sousse, where a significant number of British tourists were staying. More than 400,000 British tourists visited Tunisia last year. The Tunisian Government listed AAS-T as a terrorist group in 2013 and the US did so in January 2014.
Subject to the agreement of this House and the other place, the order will come into force on Friday 4 April. It is, of course, not appropriate for us to discuss specific intelligence that leads to any decision to proscribe.
Paragraph 12 of the explanatory memorandum states:
“If a proscribed organisation…applies to the Secretary of State for deproscription, the proscription of the organisation will be reviewed.”
How does that work in practice? If an organisation and its members are illegal—proscribed—how do they have the locus to apply to be have the proscription reviewed?
Under the current regime, the organisation or person affected by a proscription can submit a written application to the Home Secretary requesting that she considers whether they or a specified organisation can be removed from the list of proscribed organisations. There is a process for this. The application should also state the grounds on which it is made, and the Home Secretary is required to determine the application within 90 days.
If the Secretary of State agrees to de-proscribe that organisation, she has to lay an order before Parliament removing it from the list of proscribed organisations. In practice, all the evidence and intelligence have to be considered across Whitehall. The order is then subject to the affirmative resolution process. In other words, it is a similar process to a proscription application. I have to say to the House that no de-proscription applications have been received since June 2009.[Official Report, 8 May 2014, Vol. 580, c. 3MC.]
On the process of de-proscription, I have raised it whenever these orders have gone through the House. The process is not as robust as it should be. David Anderson, the independent terrorism tsar—if we can call him that—has made specific suggestions to try to improve it. When I last raised this matter with the Minister, he said that he would come back to the House shortly—to use that classic phrase—and explain his views. Does he have views now on the process?
I did come back to the House on the last proscription order. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to participate in that particular debate, but I did underline that it is the Government’s intention that de-proscription should be considered on receipt of an application setting out the grounds on which it is made. De-proscription will then be considered by the Home Secretary in accordance with the Terrorism Act 2000. In other words, it is on an application process, and that is the view to which we have come. Just to finish the point on this process, if the application is refused, there is an appeals process that operates through the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission. The commission will allow an appeal if, after applying judicial review principles, it considers that the decision to refuse the proscription was flawed. I hope that that explains to the right hon. Gentleman the process that we adopt in these circumstances.
In conclusion, it is right that we add Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Al Murabitun and Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, and I hope that the House will support the Government in that move.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for the letter from the Home Secretary to the shadow Home Secretary, laying out the rationale for the proscription of the three groups.
There is a long tradition of cross-party co-operation on issues of national security, and the Opposition will support the Government in their motion today. As the Minister has laid out, section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 sets out the grounds on which a group can be proscribed.
Proscription is a vital tool against terrorism, and it enables us to tackle and disrupt terror groups co-operating around the world. Of course that makes proscription a serious matter. It makes it illegal to belong to, or support in any way, a listed organisation. This is a draconian measure, so we should use the power only when we know that it is appropriate.
In this case, the Opposition are happy to accept the Minister, and the Home Secretary’s assurances on the basis that all three groups seem to have been involved in terrorism at the highest end of seriousness, including some directed at our citizens and allies.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis came to prominence during the Arab spring. It aims to establish sharia law in Egypt. The group, which appears to be al-Qaeda-inspired if not linked, has been responsible for a string of terror attacks, which the Minister outlined. In 2010, the group was linked with an attack on a Jordanian and Israeli pipeline. In 2013, it was thought to be responsible for rocket attacks into southern Israel as well as the murder of three South Koreans and an Egyptian. In January this year, as the Minister set out, the group was linked with a suicide attack that killed 16 people, including 14 police officers.
Al Murabitun has an even closer al-Qaeda link, having emerged out of al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The group has been linked to jihadists across north Africa and to terror attacks in Algeria and Niger, both killing scores of people. In particular, I should mention the January 2013 attack on the In Amenas gas facility, which killed 30 people including Britons and Americans.
Finally we have Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia, whose founder is known to have ties to al-Qaeda. The State Department says that that organisation
“is ideologically aligned with al-Qaeda and tied to its affiliates, including AQIM”.
The group has been involved in a number of attacks on western targets in Libya and Tunisia.
The Opposition are always limited in what we can say in these cases, because we do not have access to the same intelligence as the Minister and the Home Secretary. It would be helpful if the Minister could comment in general terms on why the United Kingdom has decided to act now, as many of the groups have committed attacks on our allies or have resulted in the deaths of Britons over the past two years.
Last time a proscription order was discussed in the House, I raised the effect of proscription on content relating to terror groups appearing on social media. That content is hosted outside the United Kingdom but is readily accessible in the United Kingdom. The Minister helpfully laid out the work of the counter terrorism internet referral unit. Will he confirm what progress the group has made on removing material in the past year and how many pages it has managed to take down? Last year, the Minister told the House how the counter terrorism internet referral unit took referrals and passed them on to ISPs. What measures are in place proactively to seek out such sites and to get the hosting companies, whether they are Google, Facebook or other companies, to seek out and remove such content?
I was pleased this morning that the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, announced additional industry support for the Internet Watch Foundation to tackle online child abuse. What similar measures have been discussed in relation to counter-terrorism?
As I said earlier, the Opposition are always limited in what we 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 Government using proscription to score political points when they were in opposition. The present Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, said in this House that he would ban the group Hizb ut-Tahrir. I hope the Minister will comment on why the Prime Minister made that rash promise. If the Prime Minister was right to make that promise, why has not the Home Secretary acted on it?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the question of Hizb ut-Tahrir. I was in the House when the Prime Minister made that pledge and I think he meant it genuinely and thinks that the group ought to be banned because of its violent activity. Is she therefore as surprised as I am that even though the Prime Minister feels that a group is a terrorist organisation, it carries on with its activities and the Government appear to be unable to do anything about it?
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee makes an important point. I hope that the Minister will respond to our concerns and will be able to reassure the House that he is continuing to watch and consider the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Last year, I raised in the House my concerns about the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir on university campuses. Hizb ut-Tahrir was singled out by the Prevent strategy review as a group that was active on university campuses radicalising students. It would be helpful if the Minister could update the House on what has happened to deal with that issue.
Finally, I want to raise the issue mentioned by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). It concerns de-proscription and time limits. The Minister is well aware from the comments and interventions that have been made as the House has considered several such motions that the Home Affairs Committee and the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation have long been asking the Government how a group can be de-proscribed. The only group ever to be de-proscribed obtained that through judicial review. The Select Committee has been pushing the Government for some time to get a proper structure in place to make these decisions.
According to the independent reviewer of terrorism, the Home Office was at one point considering an annual review of the proscribed list to see which groups still met the criteria. Of course, we should encourage any group to renounce terrorism. The Home Office clearly needs to justify the continued proscription of terror groups, on some of which we know that the independent reviewer of terrorism suggests there is no current evidence of terrorist involvement even in this century. According to the independent reviewer’s website last summer, the Home Office had compiled a list of up to 14 groups that no longer met the criteria for proscription. Will the Minister confirm that that is correct?
The independent reviewer had been calling for that annual review of proscribed groups, but the Home Office seems now to have ignored that suggestion and instead instigated this procedure, which the Minister set out in response to interventions, whereby an individual who is directly affected by a proscription order can apply for the order to be lifted. Owing to the level of concern, does the Minister consider it appropriate to set out in detail how that procedure takes place, so that hon. Members can fully understand how an individual, who might put themselves in difficulty by coming forward, might access it and take it forward? It would be helpful if the Minister were to put a letter or note in the Library setting that out in detail.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). It is always good to participate in a debate on a measure that has all-party support. I am convinced that the order will pass through the House, because the House understands the importance of these orders and the significance of counter-terrorism issues.
I am delighted to see two members of the Home Affairs Committee here today, both of whom play an important part in the Committee’s deliberations: the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Northampton North (Michael Ellis). The Committee is undertaking an inquiry into counter-terrorism, and it is our intention to publish our report at the beginning of May. The inquiry is slightly longer than those the Committee usually undertakes; it has now lasted about six months. The issue of proscription is one that we have raised in our Committee sessions. Committee members currently spend more time with the Minister for Security and Immigration than they do with members of their own families. He was with us for an hour and a half yesterday at the Home Affairs Committee and here he is again in his other job. I am not sure about British jobs for British workers, but at least two jobs for each Minister may be the solution to the unemployment problems in this country. So far he has done them extremely well. Only time will tell, given his huge work load. I am one of his fans, so I am sure he will cope.
Back Benchers and members of the Select Committee usually take it as read and accept at face value a Minister—be it a member of this Government or the previous Government—coming to the Dispatch Box to say that they have intelligence and believe strongly that certain organisations should be banned. We appreciate that there are issues that Ministers, especially the Minister for Security and Immigration, know about that they cannot disclose to the House. Therefore, we support what he says. I certainly support it, and I am sure the House will support it. It is awful to sit here and hear about the activities of various groups—Ansar Jerusalem and Al Murabitun, operating in Egypt, and Ansar al Sharia, operating in Tunisia. Some have been operating for a good deal of time, and in respect of the atrocities that in some cases have been committed by these groups, they go way back to 2011. My concern, which I raised in my earlier intervention, is that those organisations are not household names for the British public. Therefore, when Ministers tell us about them, we listen carefully and accept what they say. That is why I think that when an order of this kind comes before the House, the Government ought to ensure that the Governments concerned—I would not like to call them the parent Governments, but the Governments those groups seek to overthrow—are informed.
Before coming to the House today I spoke with the Tunisian ambassador, His Excellency Nabil Ammar, an excellent representative of Tunisia, who informed me that the Tunisian Government were not aware that this order was coming before the House. That could be the result of a breakdown in communications between the Foreign Office and the Home Office, or perhaps our Government do not tell foreign Governments when this is about to happen, but I think that it would be wise for them to do so in future.
The order is to come into force on Friday. I think that all these organisations are banned in their own countries. They certainly are Tunisia, although I could not get through to the Egyptian ambassador to speak to him about these matters. The Tunisian ambassador tells me that Ansar al Sharia was banned three months ago, partly because of the changes following the Tunisian revolution, the election of a Government and then their fall and replacement by the present President, Moncef Marzouki.
My plea is that in future it should be incumbent on the Home Office to tell the Foreign Office and for the Foreign Office at least to tell the foreign Governments concerned. That might have been done in Cairo and Tunis, but it certainly has not been done in London. We are concerned with what those groups are getting up to not in Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh, Alexandria, Tunis, Hammamet or Sousse, but here in our country. It is therefore important that we get that information across.
It would also be helpful if the Minister could tell us—I am not sure whether he intends to wind up the debate—whether he knows how many people are operating in those organisations in our country. I know that it is not the 5,000 he mentioned with regard to Ansar Jerusalem, which regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of people, or Ansar al Sharia, which I am told has around 100,000 people involved in Tunisia, even though only 5,000 might turn up to its demonstrations. I think that it is important to know broadly how many people are involved in those activities here.
I want to make two other points, one of which concerns the way that certain organisations can change their name, telephone number and website but carry on being involved in the same activities. On a previous occasion I used the example of Anjem Choudary, whose organisation had a number of different names, including Islam4UK, Al-Muhajiroun, Call to Submission, Islamic Path, the London School of Sharia and the Saved Sect. The latest name is Islamic Emergency Defence—IED. I know that the Minister is on top of his brief, but perhaps he could reassure the House that we are monitoring changes in names, websites and addresses so that we know whether organisations are still there but called by other names.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, I am concerned about what is happening with Hizb ut-Tahrir. I think that the Prime Minister genuinely wants to ban that group. He has probably gone to the Home Secretary and said, “Ban this group. I don’t like them. They’re up to mischief,” and the Home Secretary, who I know is tough, would ban something if she could, as we know from Monday’s delegated legislation Committee. Why is Hizb ut-Tahrir still carrying on its activities when the Prime Minister, who I know feels very strongly about these matters, feels that it ought to be banned? I was in the House on the occasion in May 2011, which I am sure you will recall, Mr Speaker, when he made a passionate plea for the organisation to be banned, so I hope that we can satisfy his desires on this subject.
My final point is about de-proscription. David Anderson, the terrorism tsar, if I may call him that, felt that there ought to be time-limited proscription. I have raised before and raise again the situation of the Tamil community and the LTTE—the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The head of the LTTE, Mr Prabhakaran, has been killed, and the organisation has ceased to exist, but it is still banned. I have 7,000 members of the Tamil community in my constituency. Before you took the Chair, Mr Speaker—I think it was your last delegation before you took office—you went to visit Sri Lanka and saw for yourself the misery that had been inflicted on the Tamil community. Sometimes I get calls from members of my community who feel that the LTTE ought to be de-proscribed. Obviously, the Minister will say, “Well, let them apply for it”, but who could do that? People do not want to be associated with this organisation. If they start to fill in the application forms, somebody might think that they were involved with the LTTE, but that is not the case—they are good law-abiding Tamils. There should be a mechanism—perhaps an automatic trigger—that enables the Government and Ministers to review these matters before the order becomes a continuing one that goes on for ever.
I want to make a brief contribution and ask a few questions of the Minister.
We in the Democratic Unionist party fully support the Government’s intention to proscribe these organisations and feel that that is necessary. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has specifically targeted the state of Israel. As a supporter of the state of Israel, I am concerned about that. There have been attacks on troops and on the pipeline between Israel and Egypt, so it has attacked the military life and the economic life of Israel. I am keen to hear the Minister’s views, although I fully appreciate that there are restrictions on what he can say. Do the Government feel that there is a specific threat against the Israeli embassy or Israeli interests here in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom? In fairness, the same thing probably applies to Egypt as well. Will he tell us as much as he can about the exchange of information and intelligence that clearly has to take place? The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said that Tunisia was not aware of the proscription that is proposed today. There must be proscription, yes, but we also need to make sure that intelligence exchange takes place, given the clear threat to middle east peace.
On Al Muribitun, the explanatory memorandum mentions at the bottom of page 2 the merger of two al-Qaeda groups in Mali and Algeria. This issue is very real to us in Northern Ireland because of the dissident republican attacks that have taken place. According to security information and intelligence information that we have received and are aware of, the dissident republicans have very close contacts with al-Qaeda and with the Taliban, but particularly al-Qaeda, in relation to the supply of weapons and of terrorist expertise regarding the creation of bombs. The bomb attack on a Police Service of Northern Ireland Land Rover on the Falls road just two weeks ago involved a specific type of bomb that has been used by al-Qaeda in its attacks in the middle east. All the indications are that there are close links between al-Qaeda and dissident republicans. That poses a threat to us in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Will the Minister comment on that, as far as he is able to, in his response?
It seems to us in Northern Ireland that dissident republicans are focusing on attacks on members of the security forces, both in uniform and at home. The sophistication of weaponry and of the bomb attacks would indicate that there is that close relationship I mentioned. When the Minister responds, I feel it is important that he offers the House and all Members for Northern Ireland constituencies assurance that everything is being done to combat that strong relationship.
All the intelligence points us towards there being a relationship between al-Qaeda and the organisations listed in the order—certainly the second one. How will our relationship with other countries such as Israel, Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon be affected? The second organisation listed has specifically targeted Christians in Beirut, and the Lebanese Government and army have responded. Again, we see specific attacks on people to whom many of us would feel that we owe some support, including the Christians in Lebanon.
I look forward to the Minister’s response to those few points.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in this short debate this afternoon. I am pleased to note that their contributions have supported the assessment of the Home Secretary and myself that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Al Murabitun and Ansar al Sharia-Tunisia should all be added to the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist organisations are not tolerated in the UK and deters them from operating here. I know that a number of questions have been asked about the nature of any activity that those groups may undertake in the UK. Unfortunately I am unable to comment on intelligence matters but it is important to underline the point that the proscription regime is intended to deter activity in this country.
Fifty two international and 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations are already proscribed. To give a sense of the enforcement regime that has sat alongside that, I point out that, between 2001 and the end of March 2013, 32 people have been charged with proscription-related offences as a primary offence in Great Britain, and 16 have been convicted.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) asked about Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. As I indicated, that group has claimed responsibility for a number of cross-border attacks against Israel. That gives him some sense of its activity.
Another question asked was why now, rather than at a different time. Decisions on whether and when to proscribe an organisation are taken after extensive consideration and in the light of a full assessment of all available information. It is important that decisions have a robust evidence base, do not have an adverse impact on any ongoing investigations and support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism. Those factors often sit within our thinking. There is a statutory test that needs to be met in connection with a decision to proscribe.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about speaking to parent countries when an order is laid. There may be discussions in advance of laying an order, and some groups are nominated for proscription by the parent country, to use that terminology. Ultimately, however, decisions have to be taken according to the national security interests of this country and those of our citizens overseas. Although I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s point, that is what must always drive our consideration. Therefore, I would not want to be bound in all circumstances. Even so, careful consideration is given to the matters.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), asked about social media. I can update the House that since 2010 the counter terrorism internet referral unit has taken down more than 29,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material from the internet. I underline the fact that any online activity by the three groups under consideration, including Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, has been referred to CTIRU. If it is assessed as illegal—there is a legal test that has to be met—CTIRU will flag it directly to Facebook and Twitter for removal.
I reassure the hon. Lady that we continue to have discussions with the industry and I take the issue extremely seriously. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East will attest, I also told the Home Affairs Committee, when we touched on social media, that we are considering whether a code of conduct and other, similar measures would be appropriate in order to ensure an effective response.
As I said during the previous proscription debate, the Government do not intend to set a time limit on proscription. We consider the existing de-proscription mechanism provided by the Terrorism Act 2000 to be sufficient. The legislation allows de-proscription to be considered on receipt of an application setting out the grounds on which it is being made. Any application will be considered by the Home Secretary, in accordance with the Act. In my opening speech, I set out some of the detail on the time limits, the processes and procedures and the consideration given in that regard. I hope that when the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North examines Hansard tomorrow, she will see that I have set out the process and how it is intended to operate. Any information provided as part of a de-proscription application is given a number of statutory protections so that people should be able to come forward if appropriate.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has been mentioned in this and a number of previous debates. It is not currently proscribed in the UK. Proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes that terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Act 2000, is a concern. That statutory test needs to be satisfied in order to bring a proscription motion—an application order—before this House. The Government continue to have significant concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. Indeed, individual members of Hizb ut-Tahrir are, of course, subject to the general criminal law. We will seek to ensure that Hizb ut-Tahrir and similar groups cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country.
The hon. Lady highlighted the issue of university campuses. Very good work has been undertaken with universities, the National Union of Students and others. Those of our regional Prevent co-ordinators who are focused on the university sector are providing good advice, information and knowledge to establishments and institutions in order better to support their work in understanding who may be coming to speak on a university campus and use their accommodation and facilities. We have also been supporting the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in important work to ensure that universities focus on any relevant activities.
It is really important that the issue of the internet has been raised by both Front Benchers. The Home Affairs Committee recently visited the headquarters of Google—I do not know whether the Minister has been there—to look at the work it is undertaking and the co-operation between the Home Office and the internet service providers that enables us to monitor very carefully those who wish to use the internet in order to prosecute inappropriate activity.
The right hon. Gentleman was not in his place when I touched on that issue a few moments ago. He will know that I mentioned it in my evidence to his Select Committee, which has recently had a session with Google. I recognise the Select Committee’s work to support community groups to harness social media and other technologies more effectively to ensure that there is a full and informed debate on the internet, not one simple narrative.
I have highlighted the work of the counter terrorism internet referral unit, as well as our more general work and ongoing dialogue with the industry about what further steps can be taken. The CTIRU has reach in this country, but much of the material is hosted overseas. Some of the steps taken in and consideration given to combating child sexual exploitation imagery—ensuring that it is more effectively filtered and blocked—is learning that can be taken forward and applied in this area. That theme very much underpinned the recommendations of the extremism taskforce. We are continuing to do that work.
The Prime Minister was very clear in underlining the concern about that group. As I have said, we continue to be concerned about that organisation, which is why we continue to monitor its activities. I have already told the House that the Government obviously have to be cognisant of the statutory tests in looking at all the evidence and deciding whether tests are satisfied. We do not comment on which organisations continue to be under review for proscription, so I will not be led down that path, but we have to be satisfied on the clear statutory tests in introducing an order in this House.
Another issue relates to groups changing their name. Section 3(6) of the 2000 Act allows the Home Secretary, by an order subject to the negative resolution procedure, to specify an alternative name for a proscribed organisation. We keep under close review whether organisations are seeking to use an alias. We have used that mechanism to introduce orders to add other names of proscribed organisations. I underline that the use of an alternative name that is not listed does not prevent the police and the Crown Prosecution Service from taking action against an individual for proscription offences. Such action is based on an assessment made by the police and the CPS.
I have commented on de-proscription. The right hon. Member for Leicester East has highlighted the LTTE—the Tamil Tigers—in the past. He congratulated me on my current role and the work in which I am engaged, and now that he is back in his place I want to recognise the many jobs that he does as an MP and Chair of the Select Committee—it does a broad spread of work in my areas of responsibility and other areas—and he is involved in other activities. I certainly congratulate him on the many jobs that he holds. He has raised the issue of de-proscription as Chair of the Select Committee, as well as in his capacity as a Member of Parliament. We judge that the responsibility for it is as I explained in relation to the de-proscription process.
I could not come up with a more eloquent description, so I will not tread on that territory.
The agreement of the House that the three organisations should be proscribed under the relevant legislation sends a strong message in respect of those groups and underlines our focus on securing this country from the threat of terrorism. I therefore commend the order to the House.
Question put and agreed to
That the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 31 March, be approved.
I have given further consideration to the point of order that was made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) earlier this afternoon. I realise that the question he raised deserves an urgent response, given that the deportation of the young woman is imminent.
This House does not interfere with the due process of law. It is not a contempt of the House for the Administration to continue a legal process, even when there is a possibility that it will clash with the wishes of a Select Committee. Ultimately, it is not for the Chair but for the House to decide questions of privilege and contempt. That said, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue that line, there are established ways of doing so after the fact, if need be. To put it simply, if he is alleging that there has been a breach of privilege or a contempt of the House, our process requires that he write to me to make that allegation. I would then consider whether the issue should be given precedence in the deliberations of the House. I hope that that is helpful.