Motion to Approve
Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach
That the draft order laid before the House on 19 November be approved.
Relevant documents: 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
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 Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, known as Ansaru, to this category. Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Ansaru meets the statutory test for proscription and that it is appropriate to exercise her discretion to proscribe it. This is the eleventh proscription order amending Schedule 2 to the Act.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors. These factors 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 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 thoroughly reviewing the available relevant material on the organisation. This includes open-source material as well as intelligence material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultation across government, including the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These decisions 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 Ansaru is concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to go into much detail, but I am able to summarise. Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, which publicly emerged in January 2012. It is motivated by an anti-Nigerian government and anti-Western agenda and is broadly aligned with al-Qaeda. Ansaru is believed to be responsible for the murder of British national Christopher McManus and his Italian co-worker, Franco Lamolinara, in March 2012.
The proscription of Ansaru will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and will signal our condemnation of this organisation and its activities. I should make clear to noble Lords that proscription is not targeted at any particular faith or social grouping but is based on clear evidence that an organisation is concerned in terrorism.
Finally, I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of this, the legislation provides for an appeal mechanism. 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 de-proscribed. If refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions. I believe it is right that we add Ansaru to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I commend this order to the House.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend in what he said about the proposed proscription of this organisation. Acting swiftly and early is one of the best ways of attempting to prevent terrorist activity, and I wish that we had done more of that in earlier decades. The swift action that my noble friend proposes is excellent.
I also welcomed what the Minister said when he stressed again the view that proscription is not aimed at any particular religious faith, calling or group. That is something that we have to shout from the political and ministerial rooftops, because there is always the suspicion that, as news of an action mutates and develops around the world, people will think this is anti-Islamic, anti-Catholic or whatever. I applaud what my noble friend said and I hope that government Ministers such as him will never miss the opportunity of saying that we are blind to religion but eagle-eyed in the prevention of terrorism.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his presentation on the SI today and for ensuring that a copy of the Home Secretary’s letter was sent to me prior to the debate. As I made clear when we had a similar order previously, of course we support the Government on issues of national security and we work on the basis of cross-party co-operation. I am grateful to him for his explanation of how decisions are reached, which is helpful for the House. I appreciate that the process of obtaining evidence on which action can be taken is often complicated. This week, and during the Committee stage of the Justice and Security Bill, we have discussed how the Intelligence and Security Committee operates. One of the things that became clear is that evidence is obtained from a number of different sources and it is often only by putting it together like a form of jigsaw that the true picture can be obtained. That is a complex matter to address. The Home Secretary has to be satisfied on the basis of the accuracy of that information in deciding what action can be taken—and taken as quickly as possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, pointed out.
As the Minister said, a group can be proscribed under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if it,
“commits or participates … prepares for terrorism … promotes or encourages terrorism, or … is otherwise concerned”.
That illustrates why it is so important that information is accurate and up to date. My understanding, which was confirmed by the Minister’s comments, is that the Government are acting today against a group that was only indentified as a separate, independent entity earlier this year, in January 2012. I also commend the Government on their speedy action, given the processes that have to be gone through to reach this stage.
Obviously the Opposition do not have access to the same information or intelligence data as the Government, but we have seen some of the publicly available information and we are satisfied that the Home Secretary is justified in her judgment that Ansaru meets the criteria required under the Act and we support the Government in the Motion to proscribe this group. We are particularly concerned about the links, which the Minister confirmed, between Ansaru and the kidnap and murders of Christopher McManus and his Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara. The treatment of these two men was barbaric and despicable. It is quite right that the UK Government take action against any group which is prepared to commit such acts of terror against UK citizens.
From reports, it would appear that Ansaru is linked to, or is a breakaway group from, the long-established Boko Haram sect. That sect is not proscribed. I appreciate and understand that the Minister cannot always provide detailed information to your Lordships’ House, but will he ensure that the status of Boko Haram is kept under review? I appreciate that, so far, the actions of this group have been mainly confined to Nigeria. I hope that the Government will not hesitate to take action to proscribe Boko Haram if links to the UK, or any credible threats to UK citizens at home or aboard, were to emerge.
Finally, as I mentioned in similar debates, when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in opposition he repeatedly attacked the then Labour Government for not proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Minister has been very clear on this today—that any action to proscribe a group has to be taken on the evidence available. I know how complex and difficult it can be to get all that evidence and present it in an appropriate manner. The party opposite has now been in power for two and a half years and Hizb ut-Tahrir has still not been proscribed. I am not going to make the same points as were raised against us when we were in government. I thought at the time those comments were inappropriate and irresponsible, and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible of me to make similar ones now. All I ask for is an assurance that the Government are keeping the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir under observation and review and that should there be evidence that this group should be proscribed, that matter will be presented to your Lordships’ House.
I thank the noble Baroness for her positive support of this measure. She will understand totally that the Government do not talk about other groups that they may be looking at. The Government keep a range of options open and have a global view of the terrorism threat. I hope that the noble Baroness will therefore understand why I do not go into any detail about any of the groups that she has specifically mentioned. However, I think that she can see by the way that the Government are acting in this case that we are undertaking our responsibility to try and maintain the security of our nation, of our citizens overseas and others as best as we can.
We are concerned about Hizb ut-Tahrir, and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. Such groups are not free to spread hatred and incite violence as they please. The police have in any case comprehensive powers to take action under criminal law to deal with people who incite hatred, and will do so.
I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Patten, who made a very important point. This is directed against terrorism, not against faith or beliefs. It is about the way in which people dispense with their humanity in the pursuit of objectives which we cannot tolerate. I hope that noble Lords will support this measure and I commend it to the House.