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Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2012

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 5 July 2012

Motion to Approve

Moved By

My Lords, the Government are determined to do all that they can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. 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, Indian Mujahideen—IM—to the list of 47 international terrorist organisations that are listed under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary’s firm belief is that IM meets the statutory test for proscription and that it is appropriate to exercise her discretion to proscribe it. This is the 10th 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 currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it: commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, she may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, she takes into account a number of factors which were announced to Parliament during the passage of the Terrorism Act 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 unable to operate in the UK. Proscription makes it a criminal offence for a person to belong to, or invite support for, the proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation or to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of the 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 that reflects consultation across Government, including with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary and it is right that both Houses must approve the order proscribing a new organisation. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that IM is concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail of the evidence but I am able to summarise.

IM uses violence to achieve its stated aims of creating an Islamic state in India and implementing Sharia law. The organisation has frequently perpetrated attacks against civilian targets, such as markets, with the intention of maximising casualties. For example, in May 2008 a spate of bomb detonations in the city of Jaipur killed 63 and in September 2011 an explosion outside the High Court in Delhi reportedly killed 12 and injured 65. IM has sought to incite sectarian hatred in India by deliberately targeting Hindu places of worship. For example, an attack during a prayer ceremony in Varanasi killed a child in December 2010. The group also targets areas popular with tourists. For example, a shooting incident outside a tourist attraction in Old Delhi wounded two Taiwanese tourists in September 2010. The group also made an unsuccessful attempt to detonate an explosive device at the scene. The organisation has threatened to attack British tourists, so it clearly poses a threat to British nationals in India.

The proscription of IM will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters and will signal our condemnation of the terrorist attacks this group continues to carry out in India. IM is already banned by the United States, India and New Zealand; thus proscription will align the UK with the emerging international consensus. Proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. IM has carried out a large number of attacks in India, resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties.

I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of this there is an appeal mechanism in the legislation. Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be deproscribed. If refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal which is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. A special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission. There is ample evidence to suggest that IM is concerned in terrorism and I believe it is right that we add the organisation to the list of proscribed organisation under Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. I beg to move.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness pointed out, the order before us today proposes that the Indian Mujahideen—IM—joins the list of 47 international terrorist organisations proscribed in the UK. I understand that a much smaller group of organisations operating in Northern Ireland is also proscribed.

It is a very serious matter for an organisation to be proscribed. It makes it an offence to be a member of that organisation, to support the organisation, to invite others to support the organisation or wear the uniform of the organisation. The uniform is not what we might think of in the traditional sense, but to wear clothes which might indicate that an individual supports that organisation. As the noble Baroness said, it is right that a decision to proscribe an organisation is never taken lightly. The consequences of proscription are serious, not least because it potentially criminalises every member of that organisation or group, so it must be reserved for the most dangerous groups, where there is clear evidence of terrorist activity.

Under Part 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000, a group can be proscribed only if the Home Secretary believes that the organisation,

“commits or participates in acts of terrorism”.

I have read the information available about the organisation and listened to the noble Baroness, and we are confident that there is evidence to support proscription of the organisation, so we will support the order.

It is clear that the Indian Mujahideen is a terrorist organisation. The noble Baroness gave examples of the most appalling terrorist attacks that have taken place in recent years. It also shares responsibility for the general decline in security in parts of the Indian subcontinent. The group rose to prominence in 2007, but has been active since about 2001. I was looking at the background and history of the organisation. The noble Baroness will be aware that there are strong links between IM and the Students Islamic Movement of India, which was first identified back in 1977. I am not clear, and I am not sure that there is absolute clarity, about the exact nature of the relationship between the two organisations, but from what I have ascertained, the relationship between them may mean that their membership is fluid—if they are two separate organisations.

That is important because the Government have not included the Students Islamic Movement of India in the order. Was consideration given to including that organisation and do the Government consider that it is also a terrorist organisation? If the membership of those two organisations is that fluid, could members of the IM put themselves beyond the scope of the order by an IM branch or individuals converting back to the Students Islamic Movement of India and just change their membership? I am sure that that is not what the Government intend, but it would be helpful to have assurances that there is no such loophole in the order and that the Government have considered the issue and are confident that terrorists will not be able to evade the force of law through a legal technicality.

As the noble Baroness said, to proscribe an organisation, it is not sufficient that it be involved in terrorism. The Home Secretary has to take account of secondary considerations. She repeated them, and they are in the Explanatory Notes. She said that the Secretary of State announced them in 2000, but the Explanatory Notes state that they were announced in 2001, so we may need clarification that we are talking about the same criteria.

Is the decision to proscribe the organisation now the direct result of evidence suggesting an increase in the scale of IM’s activity? Can she—I appreciate that she may not be able to—say anything about the nature of the threat? I am particularly interested whether there is a specific threat from the organisation to UK citizens abroad or within the UK. Given the strong links, associations and connections between IM and the Students Islamic Movement of India, what is the Government’s assessment of either group’s activity in the UK and whether there is evidence of links between IM and other proscribed groups within the UK?

The final criterion in the Explanatory Notes to the order which the Minister mentioned is the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism. The UK has proscribed the organisation now, following action already taken by India, New Zealand and the USA. What discussions have there been with these other countries? Was the UK asked to take this action by India and did the discussions that took place include references to the role of other organisations which I mentioned, such as the Students Islamic Movement of India? Are there also European consequences? I am not aware that any other European countries have proscribed or banned this organisation and I wonder whether the Government are in contact with our European allies on this.

Perhaps I might also ask one brief question about Hizb ut-Tahrir. The noble Baroness will be aware that before I came to this place I was in the other House for 13 years. At one point, during the first two years of Gordon Brown’s premiership, I was his parliamentary private secretary. I recall clearly that on Gordon Brown’s first outing at Prime Minister’s Questions, which is almost five years ago to the day, David Cameron, the then leader of the Opposition, chose proscription as his first topic for Prime Minister’s Questions. What Mr Cameron said then was very critical of the Labour Government. He said that Hizb ut-Tahrir,

“should be banned—why has it not happened?”.

When it was pointed out that evidence was required, Mr Cameron criticised that and said:

“What more evidence do we need before we ban that organisation? … when will this be done? … People will find it hard to understand why an organisation that urges people to kill Jews has not been banned”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/7/07; cols. 951-2.]

As I said to the noble Baroness, these are very serious issues and it is not appropriate to have shouty debates across the Dispatch Box on them, as we had on that occasion. However, can she confirm whether she knows whether the Prime Minister still holds the view that he held about five years ago? Are we likely to see a further order coming forward concerning that organisation? These are serious matters, and I know that decisions to bring forward such orders are not taken lightly without examining evidence. However, I can tell the noble Baroness that this order has our support.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments and very much welcome her support. She obviously made a number of points, which I will endeavour to respond to. However, I am sure she will appreciate that this being the matter it is, there is a limit to what I can say because of the sensitivities of what is under consideration. As I said and as the noble Baroness restated, there is a very clear process in the Terrorism Act 2000 that is followed before any decision is made by a Home Secretary to proscribe a group. The noble Baroness asked, as a point of clarification, whether the other factors that the Home Secretary considers were first stated in 2000 or 2001. I can confirm that they were stated in 2000, so wherever the discrepancy is we will make sure that that is properly addressed and corrected.

Most of the noble Baroness’s comments were linked to the Indian Mujahideen and she suggested some connections between that group and another, the Students Islamic Movement of India, which also goes by the name of SIMI. As she will understand, I am afraid that it is not possible for me to comment on intelligence matters. We keep the list of proscribed organisations under regular review but, if I might give her some assurance, if there is evidence that the IM has reformed itself under a different name, any new name will be subject to the same process of consideration for proscription. The use of an alternative name that is not listed does not prevent the police and Crown Prosecution Service taking action against an individual for proscription offences. There is a body of open-source information on links between IM and SIMI, but this is not necessarily information which we would endorse.

The noble Baroness raised questions about Hizb ut-Tahrir in particular. Before I respond to that specifically, it is worth pointing out that it is essential that when the Government—or any Government—take action to proscribe or ban a group, they have sufficient evidence to ensure that however great the revulsion at what people are doing, action is taken under the letter of UK law and that we have sufficient evidence of that law being breached. If not, when these people appealed, it could be a propaganda coup for them if we were to take action that failed.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an organisation that the Government have significant concerns about. We will continue to monitor its activities closely. Such groups are not free to spread hatred and incite violence as they please. The police have comprehensive powers to take action under criminal law to deal with people who incite hatred, and they will do so. We will ensure that HUT and groups like it cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country; we will not tolerate secret meetings behind closed doors, on premises funded by the taxpayer. We will ensure that organisations are made well aware of HUT and of groups like it, the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business.

The noble Baroness asked me about consultation with our European partners. The UK has the largest Indian population in Europe, as I am sure she knows. Other EU member states have tended to follow the UK’s lead in matters like this. She asked whether any European Union countries had proscribed IM. None has, but we do not necessarily wait to be led in this context.

I shall see whether there is any issue raised by the noble Baroness that I have not covered, but I think that has covered everything. I repeat my thanks and I welcome her support for the order.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that IM should be added to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. IM has carried out a large number of indiscriminate mass casualty attacks in India. It has also sought to incite sectarian hatred in India by deliberately targeting Hindu places of worship. The number of victims of this organisation is over 150 and it is essential that we show our condemnation of its actions.

Motion agreed.