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Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2011

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011

Motion to Approve

Moved By

My Lords, the terrorist threat to the UK and its interests abroad remains severe and sustained. The Government are determined to do all that they can to minimise that threat. Proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We would therefore like to add the organisation Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, to the list of 46 international terrorist organisations that are listed under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that the TTP meets the statutory and discretionary tests for proscription. This is the ninth proscription order amending Schedule 2 to that Act.

Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes that it is concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, she may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise that discretion, she takes into account a number of factors, which were announced to Parliament during the passage of the Terrorism Act in 2000. The factors considered 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 United Kingdom; 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 the proscribed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. Proscription means that it is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, or invite support for, a proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation or to wear clothing or to 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 an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information on the organisation. This includes open-source material as well as intelligence material, legal advice and advice reflecting consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is also right that both Houses must approve the order proscribing a new organisation.

Having carefully considered all the advice, the Home Secretary firmly believes that the TTP is currently concerned in terrorism. Although, as noble Lords will appreciate, I am unable to go into much detail on the evidence, I am able to summarise. The TTP’s stated objectives are: the enforcement of Sharia, resistance to the Pakistani army and the removal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. The group is a prolific terrorist organisation which has frequently perpetrated attacks in Pakistan. For example, an attack in July last year on a meeting of tribal elders in a marketplace in the Mohmand Agency killed 104 people and injured 120. Two recent suicide attacks on army vehicles in Lahore killed 57 people in March last year. Although the majority of attacks have been against military and governmental targets, the TTP is known also to target crowded areas and places of worship; for example, an attack on the two Ahmadi mosques in May 2010 which killed more than 80 civilians.

The group is also known to target and claim responsibility for attacks on western targets; for example, in June 2010, an attack on a NATO convoy just outside Islamabad killed seven people and destroyed 50 vehicles and, in April 2010, an attack on the US consulate in Peshawar killed at least six. The TTP has also threatened attacks in the West and was implicated in the failed Times Square car bomb in New York last May.

The proscription of the TTP will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and will signal our condemnation of the terrorist attacks that the group continues to carry out in Pakistan. Proscription will also support the emerging international consensus against the organisation. The TTP is already designated by the United States and Pakistan, and I understand that proscription is being considered by a number of other countries.

Proscribing the TTP will enable the police to carry out disruptive action against any supporters in the UK. It will also send a strong message that the UK is not willing to tolerate terrorism either here or anywhere else. Proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping, but it is based on evidence that the organisation is concerned in terrorism. It is clear that the TTP is not representative of Pakistani or Muslim communities in the UK. The organisation has carried out a large number of attacks in Pakistan resulting in mass casualties. I know that the vast majority of British Muslims joined us all in condemning those abhorrent acts of violence.

Finally, I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of that, there is an appeal mechanism in the legislation, and any organisation that is proscribed or any that is affected by the proscription of an organisation can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed. If the application is refused, the applicant also has a right to appeal through the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, which is a special tribunal that is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. A special advocate can also be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission. This is a fair process.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the TTP is concerned in terrorism, and I believe it is right that we add it to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, I have no doubt whatever that the House should support this order, and I rise simply to ask why it has taken so long for the order to be sought. It appears from the contents of the letter that the Minister sent to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, the chairman of the Merits Committee, in anticipation of the meeting that the committee had to peruse this document, that information has been in the hands of the authorities indicating that since 2007 the TTP has carried out mass-casualty attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that it was implicated in an attempted Times Square car bomb attack in May 2010, and that there were other atrocities in the first half of 2010, as referred to by the noble Baroness. Although I thoroughly support the making of the order, I wonder why it has taken so long for it to be made.

My Lords, first, I apologise to the Minister as I was slightly late in coming into the Chamber for her opening speech. However, I welcome the order and I also welcome the fact that time has been taken over it. Noble Lords may be aware that when the now Prime Minister was asking us to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, I said that it is absolutely essential that, when we take action to proscribe or ban, we have sufficient evidence to make sure that, however great our revulsion at what these people are doing, that action is taken under the letter of the UK law and that we have sufficient evidence of that law being breached; otherwise, when these people appealed, it would be a propaganda coup for them if we were to take action that failed. Therefore, I thank the Minister for her Statement today. I understand how difficult it often is to get concrete evidence to carry such measures forward, but I am sure that, even at this stage, we will all be relieved that the action has been taken, because these are very dangerous people.

My Lords, I also support the order, but I have one or two questions about the process. It is a very difficult process and I would be grateful for guidance from the noble Baroness as to how it operates. The reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir that we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Reid is important. I know that, when he was leader of the Opposition, there was a desire by the now Prime Minister for that organisation to be proscribed forthwith and that did not happen. Therefore, I should be interested in knowing a little more about the decision-making process that has gone on in this case and the extent to which that provides us with lessons about the Hizb ut-Tahrir case. For example, was there a specific request from the Government of Pakistan or perhaps the Government of the United States in support of such a ban? What consideration has been given to whether a ban makes it easier or less easy to disrupt the activities of this group? It seems to me that banning a group under a particular name may simply mean that it re-emerges with a different name or in a different guise or simply disappears off the radar altogether. I would be interested in what considerations are given to such points.

Finally, it would be helpful if the Minister could give us an indication of the extent to which the guiding factor was this group being a threat in the UK or to British nationals overseas or whether other factors were the final motivation in taking this decision. However, I do not doubt that the Home Secretary has made the right decision in this case.

My Lords, I support the Motion. I am sure that, now the Minister is in government, she realises how unbelievably difficult these decisions are. The TTP was around when I was Minister for Security. It was extremely difficult to pull together enough information to make certain that one needed to do this because, as the Minister pointed out, this is quite a step to take. One has to weigh up not just what it does to stop it being able to do the dreadful things it wished to do, but how much it might garner support within certain ill-informed parts of our community and abroad. That is very difficult to do.

My noble friend Lord Reid mentioned HuT. While I was in government, we were continually lambasted about it, but it was very difficult to highlight and pin down specifics to enable us to do this within our law. We must not step forward quickly and do these things. To do that quickly and wrongly is a terrible mistake. My noble friend Lord Reid mentioned that. We have to be very measured and careful. Each time, we have to think about what the effects are within our communities in this country and overseas. Partly in answer to my noble friend Lord Harris, I think that the judgment has to be that if the threat is to our people abroad, not just our civilians but also our servicemen who are out there doing things for our nation, that is just as great an issue as things happening within this country, and all of those issues are an important balance. I support this Motion. These are very difficult issues. They are not at all party political, but are very important for the nation. We have to be very careful, and we need to scrutinise each decision.

My Lords, I broadly concur with what other noble Lords have said in support of this order. I wonder whether the House is aware that over the past decade 60,000 to 70,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, yet not a single successful prosecution has been brought in the Pakistani courts. While proscribing an organisation is indeed an extremely grave and serious matter, one has to live with the reality that if a country that has less than ideal procedures for taking people through due process is unable to take control of these elements of its population, it rests on the rest of us to ensure that our populations are secure and safe.

I am a little disappointed that it has taken this long to proscribe this organisation, as I know from a great deal of openly available evidence in the Pakistani communities that it has left its signature against some of the most heinous crimes committed in recent years. It has a rather innocent sounding name “the community of the learned students of Pakistan” and sounds entirely inoffensive, but in fact it is armed to the teeth, it has some of the nastiest propaganda at its disposal and it particularly selects people who support human rights to target. The Minister told us of its attacks on the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan, a peaceful, law-abiding, extremely well educated community that provides professionals, such as doctors and others in the most difficult professions, who work across the country to alleviate poverty and hardship. They specifically target this community because they have a warped view of what their religion comprises. In the past two years, they have also taken to targeting journalists and lawyers. I personally know of people in Pakistan who have been sent anonymous letters, whose fax numbers have been obtained and who have been told by this group, “We are watching you, we are going to come and get you”. I would have thought there was sufficient evidence to have proscribed them some time ago.

The Government’s statement talks about the possibility of de-proscription and my noble friend mentioned that 46 organisations have been proscribed under these powers. Can she tell us how many have applied for successful deproscription because as a liberal at heart I am very conscious of free expression? It worries me that organisations, once proscribed, would find themselves in that situation and unable to be deproscribed. I wonder if she could tell us how many applications there have been and how many have been successfully de-proscribed. We must recall that freedom’s struggles in other parts of the world involve organisations that—due to the exegesis of their operating circumstances—might have been somewhat implicated in some kinds of violence. Yet when they revert to the path of peace, it is also right that we reconsider their standing at that time.

I hope it is not too wide of this particular order to ask the Minister what steps the Government are taking to train up judges, police officers, forensics teams and so on, so that Pakistan is better equipped to bring people to trial itself rather than waiting for them to be unable to travel to other countries.

Finally, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, a lot of these organisations are known, the minute they are proscribed, to sail under a new flag. In other words, they find another innocent-sounding name but their aims continue as before and many of the same individuals are involved in the same heinous activities.

Several noble Lords have made reference to the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is established perfectly legally in the United Kingdom. I would not therefore draw that analogy as it is an entirely different ball game, but can my noble friend tell us, since it is not clear to me, whether this organisation is established in any sense openly in this country?

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for setting out the background to and the Government’s reasons for this order, which is intended to help protect our national security and which we support. I will make a number of points and ask a number of questions, some of which I recognise the Minister may not feel in a position to answer in any detail. Some of the points that I wish to raise have already been made in one form or another by other noble Lords.

The TTP—the organisation we are discussing today—was set up some three or four years ago, and about a year after that was proscribed by the Pakistani authorities. Last year, the United States took similar action. Are other countries considering similar action and are we pressing other countries to take similar action in respect of this organisation? Proscription—which is based on clear evidence that an organisation is involved in terrorism—means that an organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the United Kingdom, with it being a criminal offence to be involved in the activities of the proscribed organisation.

The TTP has been very active in Pakistan since its formation. Among the factors that the Home Secretary takes into account is the specific threat that an organisation poses to British nationals overseas and the need to support other members of the international community in the fight against terrorism. The Minister said that the TTP had been implicated in attacks in the West, such as the attempted Times Square car bomb attack in May 2010. In very general terms, are there also concerns that the TTP has been, or is likely to be, active in this country? Also in general terms, can the Minister assure the House that there is evidence that previous proscription orders have proved effective in their objective of tackling terrorist activities through disrupting and preventing the organisations concerned achieving their aims?

There are 46 international terrorist organisations listed under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. As the Minister said, this is the ninth proscription order amending that schedule. The criteria for deciding whether to proscribe an organisation were determined some 10 years ago. Do the Government intend to stick with the current criteria; or do they intend to review or amend them? A proscribed organisation can appeal to an independent committee, and proscribed organisations are currently reviewed annually. Do the Government intend to keep the present arrangements; or are they considering more or less frequent reviews or changes in the appeal mechanism?

The Minister said that the Home Secretary has exercised her power to proscribe the TTP only after carefully examining all the evidence and information available from a number of sources. I do not doubt that. Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister, when he was leader of the Opposition, gave a commitment to ban another organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir—when presumably he had not been able to examine carefully all the evidence and information available—can the Minister give an assurance that if the activities of that other organisation or under review, the Home Secretary will make any decision, as she has in the case before us today, only on the basis of the relevant information and evidence available? I repeat: we support the order.

I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for the support that they have given to the action that the Government propose to take. I believe, and I hope I am right, that it represents the broad opinion of the House.

I have been asked a number of questions, to which I shall attempt to respond. In reply to the last question, we will certainly proscribe only on the basis of relevant criteria. I was asked a number of questions about our intentions for proscription in future. If I may, I will leave that largely to next week's Statement. We will continue to conduct a regime that is rigorous in its demand in the circumstances in which an organisation is liable to proscription—that it is related to terrorism. We believe that that is an important line that should be drawn when proscribing organisations.

The question was asked: why not sooner? Some noble Lords felt that we had taken too long to do this; others felt that we need to take our time when doing something so serious. Of course, the possibility of proscribing the TTP was available to the Government before this Government came into office. I take the view that proscription is a serious action to undertake. I agree with those who said that it is a propaganda coup for the other side if an appeal against governmental action of this kind succeeds and that one needs to be absolutely certain of one’s ground. As noble Lords are aware, the grounds are broad terrorism grounds and not others, but it does not just affect the UK, although that is obviously relevant. It also has an affect abroad and on our allies.

In the end, one cannot seriously distinguish between the effect of terrorist activities abroad and the security of the United Kingdom, as if somehow they represent a threat to this country or to our allies only if they are active in this country. One has to take a view that makes it clear that terrorism is a global phenomenon and that it is extremely interactive in its character.

I was asked about representations being made to us. Government is a large place and I cannot guarantee that no Government have said anything to United Kingdom Ministers about the TTP. I am not aware of any representations having been made. The decisions of which I am aware were taken on the basis of views within Whitehall and consultation with all relevant departments.

If an organisation adopts the—perhaps I might say—trick, which has happened, of changing its name and adopting an alias, although it is the same organisation we will do as our predecessors have done, which will be to ban it. The law provides specifically for that and it is right to do so. My noble friend Lady Falkner also asked a number of questions about our experience with this legislation. She is right to say that dealing effectively with terrorism and proscription are not at all the same thing, although I hope and trust that they help each other. Simply banning without acting is by no means the full answer. However, we take the view that outlawing that kind of activity is a powerful political act and that there are circumstances in which that is exactly what we need to do.

The People’s Mujaheddin, an Iranian-related organisation, has been deproscribed. I have to say that it was done under our predecessor Government, but they were not very happy about deproscription and we shared their unhappiness. There was a difference of view between the Government and the independent tribunal that took the view. The difference of opinion probably persists, but it is an example of the fact that the process can be reversed. As I have said, it is illustrative of the importance of being on solid ground before you take the action. I will have to write to the noble Baroness about the extent to which we are engaged in helping to train judges in Pakistan. My belief is that we are active in that area, but I do not have the detail here.

I believe that other countries are taking action. We, having taken a decision to proscribe, would normally report this to our EU partners, for instance. We will probably take action with other Commonwealth countries and make known our action. Other countries will often factor that sort of mechanism into their own decision-making. We are part of a broader trend.

Previous orders have been effective. Clearly, one of the things that can happen as a result of proscription—this is a legitimate charge—is driving the organisation further underground. My view is that organisations that get proscribed are not exactly open; their activities are already well concealed and they are not in the public interest. I do not believe that the downside of proscription is damaging. It tells young men—it is usually young men—that they should not go near the organisation. That is important; it sends a broad message. It is just one instrument—but an important one—in our armoury.

I turn finally to HuT. This organisation was referred to quite properly by a number of noble Lords. We are continuing to watch it. However, as I said, the criterion for proscription is involvement in terrorism, and one has to be very clear if one is going to proscribe an organisation that one is applying the legal criteria correctly. We remain concerned about HuT, and we continue to watch it and to follow its activities closely. The organisation not only operates in this country but has extensive international activities. It is a global organisation, but an important part of it is in the UK.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.37 pm.