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UK Security and Entry Clearance Procedures

Volume 612: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2016

I beg to move,

That this House has considered UK security and entry clearance procedures.

With extremism on the rise and threats to our national security increasing, tightening up UK entry clearance procedures should be our top priority, but sadly we have increasingly taken it for granted that our borders are policed and secure from non-UK threats. I sought to bring this issue before Parliament following the brutal murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Mr Asad Shah in March this year. Mr Shah was murdered by an Islamic extremist who violently hated his peaceful Ahmadi Muslim views. His killer, Tanveer Ahmed, declared that he killed Mr Shah to

“protect the honour of Islam”.

Mr Shah’s brutal murder, the first of its kind on UK soil, has terrible implications for this country. The radical extremist Islamist views that inspired the killing have been fanned by extremist preachers from outside the UK being allowed to come into this country and spread their hate. Our entry clearance regulations have failed to prevent their entry.

Anti-Ahmadi hate preachers are being let into the UK as we speak, and are calling for Ahmadi Muslims to be killed on account of their faith. For instance, just a month after Mr Shah’s murder, a prominent anti-Ahmadi preacher from Pakistan was touring UK mosques with his message of hate. After I found out, I requested an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary and senior representatives from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. I was grateful to have met the Home Secretary, but I was extremely disappointed by the fact that reforming entry clearance policies did not seem to be a priority. The Home Secretary did not seem to be aware of this particular radical extremist preacher having been allowed into the UK. It is no exaggeration to say that I left the meeting with a genuine fear for UK security and a grim feeling of surprise that we have not seen even more anti-Ahmadi terrorism on UK soil.

I have no reservations in saying that inadequate Home Office entry clearance procedures are allowing the entry into this country of individuals who pose a direct threat to our democracy and our social cohesion. I shall highlight in my speech why it is so urgent that the Home Office tackles this urgent problem now. As a side point, it is extremely ironic that although individuals who spread hate are allowed into the UK, every MP will be aware that a large number of completely law-abiding Pakistani citizens are refused entry clearance to attend weddings, funerals and other important family events. That, too, is the result of problems with Home Office entry clearance.

I turn to a case study that highlights the gravity of the situation. Mufti Muhammad Hanif Qureshi is a radical Islamist cleric from Pakistan who has repeatedly been allowed into the UK to spread the sort of anti-Ahmadi hate that led to the murder of the peaceful Mr Asad Shah. To be clear, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, to which Mr Shah belonged, is a persecuted religious group in Pakistan. The Ahmadis live by their message of “love for all, hatred for none”, and they categorically reject terrorism in any form. But despite how well-established and peaceful the community is, Ahmadi Muslims are victims of terrible injustice. As they do not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind, they face accusations of heresy among orthodox Muslims. At worst, they face extreme violence in Pakistan—and now, sadly, in the UK, too. Anti-blasphemy and anti-terror laws are wrongly used against them in Pakistan, and they are murdered on the grounds of their faith. To this day, they are branded worse than apostates by hard-liners and forbidden by the state to call themselves Muslims.

The intolerance and hatefulness has made its way to the UK. The Muslim Council of Britain has long been criticised for not acting to counter anti-Ahmadi hatred, partly because it, too, does not recognise the Ahmadis as Muslims. Mr Asad Shah in Glasgow was the first Ahmadi Muslim to be murdered on UK soil on the grounds of his faith. Mufti Hanif Qureshi is an individual who is greatly responsible for spreading messages of hate. He is the founder of Shabab e Islami, and is well known in Pakistan for his virulent anti-Ahmadi preaching, of the sort that inspired the murder of Mr Shah. For instance, in a recording of a sermon Qureshi delivered in 2014, which is freely available on YouTube, he said with regard to Ahmadi Muslims:

“Let them know those who consider Sunnis as cowards that Allah has honoured us with the courage and power to strangulate those involved in blasphemy, to cut out their tongues, and to riddle their bodies with bullets. For this, nobody can arrest us under any law”.

Such highly inflammatory and hateful sermons have indeed incited others to commit violence and murder. In 2011, Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer, who opposed Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws, was shot dead by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. After his arrest, Qadri said he had been inspired to act by a 2010 sermon delivered by Qureshi in Rawalpindi, in which the cleric branded the likes of Taseer as “deserving to be killed” under Islamic law. Qureshi was arrested after Taseer’s murder, but later released, and continued to defend the murder in public sermons before Qadri was executed in January this year.

The same hateful preacher who inspired the murder of a prominent Pakistani politician just a few years ago was last month allowed to enter this country without any problem, despite the murder of Mr Asad Shah in Glasgow just months before. Could the Home Office not make the connection between the incitement of anti-Ahmadi hatred and the committing of murder? Just last month, on 4 May, Qureshi spoke at a Luton mosque where, according to the mosque’s spokesperson, he made a “very impressive” speech to an audience of hundreds. The event doubled up as the 36th annual Khatm-e-Nubuwwat meeting at the Luton mosque. The Khatm-e-Nubuwwat—translated as the “finality of the Prophet”—movement has been implicated in the violent persecution of members of the Ahmadi religious sect in the UK and Pakistan. Despite that, it is a registered charity in the UK and is listed on the Charity Commission website.

Members may well be aware that Khatm-e-Nubuwwat is well known for its anti-Ahmadi views and regularly invites preachers from Pakistan to visit the UK on speaking tours to spread the message of hate. Qureshi is just one example. His words have incited violence in Pakistan and they will incite violence in this country, too. He should be banned from ever travelling to Britain. Given the context of anti-Ahmadi sentiment in the UK and growing religious violence throughout Europe, his message of hate has no place here. How on earth could he have been granted entry clearance? A quick Google search brings up hundreds of English-language news stories about his preaching, yet such a basic level of research was apparently beyond the Home Office.

At my meeting with the Home Secretary, I was stunned to be informed that the high commission in Pakistan had only recently hired a specialist Urdu section for its intelligence office. It seems that until recently there was no one at the high commission in Islamabad who could actually understand some of the watch lists unless they were translated into English. How can our anti-extremism measures be so weak that such terrible oversights occur? Despite the fact that the UK authorities seem to lack the basic linguistic resources needed to identify extremist threats, we know that extremist rhetoric can be changed to moderate for the English-speaking media, and then revert to extremist for Urdu speakers. It is much easier for radicals like Qureshi to switch between the two.

The case study of Qureshi is important because we tend to take it for granted that our borders are policed and protected from individuals who might cause harm to our country. We all lead our lives in the hopeful confidence that the Home Office and immigration officials are able to refuse entry clearance to any person deemed undesirable. We put our faith in Government Departments and agencies to protect our democracy and peace. As far as I know, there is no exhaustive list of reasons why someone’s visa application can be rejected by UK authorities, but there is a list of unacceptable behaviours that would lead to a person being refused entry to, or excluded from, the UK. Qureshi seems to me to fulfil all the criteria, including

“using any means…to express views which”

seek to

“justify or glorify terrorist violence”

or incite or

“provoke others to terrorist acts…or foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK”.

Exclusion is not targeted against any specific group. Those excluded can include, and have included, far-right extremists, homophobic extremists and Christian, Jewish and Islamic extremists. In November 2014, the Home Secretary said that she had excluded “hundreds of people” from the UK—suggesting that those powers are sometimes enforced—including 61 people on national security grounds, 72 who

“would not have been conducive to the public good”

and 84 hate preachers. So why was Qureshi able to enter this country just a month after his brand of anti-Ahmadi hatred had inspired the murder of a peaceful Glasgow shopkeeper?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for securing this debate. The murder of Mr Shah in Glasgow absolutely shocked all of us in the city. Does she agree that while hate preachers such as those she has described can come into the country, the Ahmadiyya community in Glasgow and the rest of the UK cannot really have confidence that the UK is keeping them safe?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady’s comments. The expressions of hatred across the country, particularly since the referendum result was announced last week, show us the importance of preventing extremism by all means. Simply, it threatens the fabric of our democracy and our social cohesion. Mr Shah’s murder demonstrates how high the stakes are.

Back in 2005, in the wake of the London bombings, the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said that Departments and intelligence agencies were working together to

“establish a full database of individuals around the world”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2005; Vol. 436, c. 1255.]

He said that such information about dangerous people would be available to visa and immigration staff and added to the UK’s warning index. We cannot know the details of Home Office and intelligence workings, but given the admission of Qureshi to the UK just last month, we can assume that they may not be working.

History teaches us what the consequences are when the Home Office does not do its job properly. For example, the Pakistani cleric Masood Azhar delivered extreme messages across the UK in more than 40 mosques in the early 1990s. At the time of his tour, he was chief organiser of the prominent Pakistani jihadist group Harkat-ul- Mujahideen. We now know that Azhar, who was close to Osama bin Laden, planted the seeds of extremism on his 1993 UK tour that later inspired at least two Britons to go on to plan the 2005 London bombings and the beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl. One would hope that the UK authorities had learned their lesson, but the admission of Qureshi suggests that not much has changed.

The Henry Jackson Society published a short report earlier this year as part of its “Student Rights: Tackling extremism on campuses” project, which detailed the range of individuals expressing extremist and hateful views who were given a platform at UK universities, mainly in London, in the last year. It includes South African politician Mr Julius Malema, who was convicted of a hate crime just a few years ago, Mr Asim Khan, who has compared

“homosexuality to incest and ‘burglary, theft and sexual abuse’”

and Mr Suliman Ghani, who

“has expressed sectarian attitudes towards Ahmadiyya, claiming they are not Muslims”.

The UK Ahmadi community and the very fabric of our democracy is under threat, now more than ever. In April, leaflets calling for members of the Ahmadi Muslim community to be killed were allegedly distributed in universities, mosques and shopping centres in London. One leaflet distributed widely in Stockwell, for example, entitled “Qadianis”—a pejorative name for Ahmadis—describes Ahmadis as “dualist infidels” and “worse than apostate”. It prescribed the same punishment doled out for apostates—those who have renounced their own religion—giving Ahmadis three days to denounce their faith or else “be awarded capital punishment”.

Scottish mosques are becoming increasingly radicalised in the wake of Mr Shah’s murder, and anti-Ahmadi conferences took place in Slough just a few months ago. The threat posed to our society is real and imminent, and now inept Home Office entry clearance procedures have allowed hate preachers such as Qureshi, who has called for death penalties for Ahmadi Muslims, into our UK Muslim communities. These are dangerous times for our democracy and the precedent for racial and religious hatred is huge. The British Government’s double standards are terrifying. At one end, they seek to crush all extremism—we know from the recent terrible atrocities that that goal is more important than ever—and yet they still give visas to people such as Qureshi, who incite intolerance and even violence in our society.

There should have been an absolute storm of anger following Mr Shah’s death. Just hours before he was murdered, he posted a message of peace and love on Facebook to his Christian friends, on the occasion of Good Friday. Hours later, he was brutally murdered outside his shop by a religious extremist. Why have we not called out Mr Shah’s murder for what it is—a religious hate crime? Is it because we cannot be bothered to understand that victims of Islamist extremism include other Muslims, as well as non-Muslims? I shudder at the thought that we do not take Mr Shah’s death seriously.

Developing stronger Home Office entry clearance structures to screen out individuals such as Qureshi from being able to come to this country are just part of the problem—internet and social media communication means that pan-national extremist and terrorist threats can spread beyond borders in seconds—but allowing such hatred to cross our borders is almost legitimising or endorsing their hate. Qureshi, and all those who express his hateful views, have no place in our country. Today more than ever, we have to ensure that such individuals are not able to come here and spread their hateful messages under the banner of free speech.

I ask the Minister the following questions. To what extent can the Home Office check if a person has promoted hate and extremism when a visa application is made? How do the Government monitor hate speech in Pakistan and elsewhere to help inform their visa decisions? Do the UK Government give equal weight to hate speech whether committed online, on TV or in any media, including social media? How can individuals or organisations in Pakistan or the UK provide information on such matters that would be of use? What procedures will the Government put in place to make that easier?

I sincerely hope that the Home Office takes seriously the deep flaws that are jeopardising security and social cohesion as we speak. Only then can we claim to have a society that promotes love for all and hatred for none—the Ahmadi ideal that we should all seek to live by.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing the debate and highlighting this extremely important issue.

Hatred and extremism in our society must be challenged in all their different forms. The hon. Lady highlighted the appalling murder of Mr Asad Shah for the faith that he professed. The Government utterly condemn that act. We take with the greatest of seriousness our responsibility to combat those who sow hatred in our country and our communities, which might inspire others to take action against our own citizens for their faith.

I have had extensive contact with the Ahmadi community over a number of years. I have visited the mosque in Morden, and I have had the privilege of sitting down with His Holiness to talk through a number of issues, including how we combat extremism and terrorism. I am clear that the Ahmadi community makes an enormous contribution to our society and culture in the UK. I, for one, stand up and defend the right of members of that community to profess and practise their faith without fear of intimidation or violence. I assure the hon. Lady of my personal commitment on that issue, of the steps I have taken over a number of years to work with the Ahmadi community, and of the respect that I have for that community and the work that it does.

The hon. Lady made a number of points about confronting extremism and about how our visa processes operate. I want to reassure her about the importance that we attach to the issue and the steps that we have taken to prevent preachers of hate from coming into this country. I am unable to comment on individual cases, some of which are subject to orders, but I would like to take her through some of the processes and procedures that we adopt. I also underline that the current Home Secretary has banned more hate speakers than any preceding Home Secretary and is committed to this issue.

The debate gives me the opportunity to clarify that we have robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that foreign nationals who seek to undermine the national security and values of the UK through violence and hatred can be prevented from coming here to do so. Visas—entry clearances—are important tools to reduce illegal immigration, tackle organised crime and protect national security. They allow us to intervene before someone arrives in the UK. The information provided in the application process enables us to identify links that we would otherwise not have known about and, where appropriate, prevent someone from coming to the UK by refusing a visa. It is of paramount importance that immigration processes ensure that individuals who have come to notice as a threat to the UK’s security and society, or who may present such a threat, are prevented from coming here to spread their messages and incite violence.

Visas are an important part of our immigration system, which is fair to legitimate migrants and tough on those who flout the rules. We have strong processes in place at all stages—visa application, leave to enter and extension of stay—to provide assurance that appropriate checks are made before any leave is granted. UK Visas and Immigration staff play a critical role in distinguishing between those who are entitled to come to the UK and stay here and those who are not. That requires appropriate application of the immigration rules and a series of checks on individuals, so that accurate decisions can be made to help keep the UK safe and secure.

The operating mandates of the Border Force and UKVI require specific checks to be made, with referral to experts where necessary. Entry clearance officers receive a range of training to support them in identifying individuals who may pose a threat to the UK. For those who need a visa to come to the UK, the application process requires the applicant to declare any criminality or immigration offence and to provide their facial image and fingerprints as biometrics.

Entry clearance officers are required to check a range of databases, including biometric, Home Office and police databases, for any traces of the applicant’s history. The biometrics fix the identity of the applicant so that entry clearance officers can identify the same individual in the future, and so that important information about the applicant’s immigration history, including any travel ban or exclusion order, is available even if, for instance, they change their name or seek to conceal their identity. In addition, applicants must qualify for entry under the immigration rules and will normally be refused a visa or leave to enter or remain if they do not.

The authority to carry scheme, operated by the national border targeting centre, means that carriers, including airlines, require authority to carry individuals to the UK. That authority may be refused for any individual who has been excluded from the UK, whom the Home Secretary is in the process of making the subject of an exclusion order or who is the subject of United Nations or EU travel restrictions. If authority to carry a specific individual is refused and that individual is carried to the UK, the carrier is liable to a financial penalty of up to £50,000. Our processes on arrival at the border also include full checks against Home Office databases, providing further assurance.

This is a dialogue of the deaf. I have explained to the Minister a case in which an individual who has been cited as the cause of a murder in Pakistan and a murder in the UK was granted entry clearance. Can we address that issue?

As I have already stated, I am unable to comment on those who are or are not subject to exclusion orders or on individual cases, for sound legal reasons. I am trying to explain the steps that are taken, and I will come on to the process for exclusion orders, which is at the heart of what the hon. Lady is talking about. Our special unit within the Home Office analyses information and is a core part of the activities that the Home Office undertakes.

We are clear that the threat the UK currently faces from extremism is unprecedented. The Government are taking a stronger stance to ensure that extremist ideas do not gain a foothold here and challenge this country’s values of tolerance, respect and democracy. We have acted to protect our communities by publishing our counter-extremism strategy, which is based on four pillars: countering extremist ideology; building a partnership with all who are opposed to extremism; disrupting extremists; and building more cohesive communities. The strategy will challenge all forms of extremism. The Government, however, can only do that in partnership with all those who want to defeat extremism and build a stronger Britain.

As Her Majesty the Queen recently announced to Parliament, the Government intend to introduce a counter-extremism and safeguarding Bill to provide stronger powers for the Government and law enforcement agencies to protect the public from extremists. The Government will consult on new powers for disrupting extremists before they are introduced.

On the specific issue of exclusion, the Home Secretary has the power to exclude from the UK foreign nationals whose presence she considers would not be conducive to the public good, or whose exclusion is justified on grounds of public policy or public security. A person may be excluded for a range of reasons, including national security, criminality and unacceptable behaviour. There is no time limit on exclusion, and a person who is excluded remains so until the Home Secretary lifts the exclusion. Anyone excluded by the Home Secretary who applies for entry clearance or leave to enter must be refused so long as the exclusion remains in force. That power is very serious, and no decision is taken lightly or as a means of stopping open debate. All decisions must be based on sound evidence and must be proportionate, reasonable and consistent.

Although I cannot comment on particular cases, the current Home Secretary has excluded more than 100 hate preachers from the UK since May 2010, which is more than any previous Home Secretary. Our special cases unit works with language and other experts to look at social media and other media to identify those who may pose a threat and therefore may need to be considered for such action. The Home Office has a sense of purpose and seriousness in addressing those who could pose a threat.

Given the time available, I will write to the hon. Lady with details on the work, including those who are involved and the steps being taken. She and I have had previous exchanges on these issues, and obviously I am happy to provide further detail and information and, equally, to reflect on some of her questions to which I have not responded specifically.

I underline the unprecedented threat that the UK faces from extremism, with extremists using the internet to spread their ideologies quickly and on a scale that we have not previously seen. That is why we have introduced new approaches for combating and confronting extremism. We recognise the challenge we face in our communities where extremism takes root. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the appalling murder of Mr Shah and its impact on the community in Glasgow, and I recognise that in the firm and clear way in which I am underlining our utter condemnation of any acts of violence. Equally, the Government have resolved to confront all forms of extremism, including by identifying those who may wish to travel to the UK to peddle their hate and ideology. To safeguard our communities and confront extremism in all its forms, we will continue to take action to prevent such people from travelling to the UK.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.