Motion to Approve
That the draft order laid before the House on 8 July be approved.
My Lords, the Government are determined to do all that we can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. The proscription of terrorist organisations is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. We therefore propose to add both Jama’atu Ahli Sunna Lidda Awati Wal Jihad, more widely known as Boko Haram, and Minbar Ansar Deen, also known as Ansar al-Sharia UK, to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. This is the 12th proscription order under that Act.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary believes that both organisations meet the statutory test for proscription and that it is appropriate to exercise her discretion to proscribe them. 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, 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: 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; and 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 information on the organisation. This includes open-source material as well as intelligence material, 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 before proscribing a new organisation.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary firmly believes that both organisations are concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am unable to comment on specific intelligence but I can provide a brief summary.
Boko Haram is a prolific terrorist organisation, based in Nigeria, whose ultimate goal is to establish the Islamic Caliphate, seeking to undermine democratic government through its campaign of violence and attacks. It has targeted all sections of Nigerian society—Muslims, Christians, rich, poor, civilians and members of the security forces alike—as well as members of the international community. For example, an attack near Abuja on Christmas Day 2011 that killed at least 26, and an attack on a bus station in Kano City in March 2013, that killed more than 60, were both attributed to the organisation.
The organisation has also sought to attack western targets in Nigeria. In August 2011, it claimed responsibility for a suicide attack against the UN building in Abuja that killed 26. They have also targeted westerners for kidnapping in the last few years.
I stress that the Government are aware of the concerns over the approach used by the Nigerian Government to defeat Boko Haram. While the UK Government continue to work with Nigeria to fight terrorism, we also make it clear that human rights must be respected at all times in our work to defeat terrorism around the globe.
Minbar Ansar Deen is a Salafist group based in the UK which promotes and encourages terrorism. Minbar Ansar Deen distributes material through its online forum which promotes terrorism by encouraging individuals to travel overseas to engage in extremist activity—specifically fighting. The group is not related to Ansar al-Sharia groups in other countries.
Decisions on when and whether to proscribe an organisation are taken only following extensive consideration and in the light of emerging intelligence. It is important that decisions are built on a robust evidence base, do not adversely impact on any ongoing investigations and support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism. It is not, of course, appropriate for us to discuss specific intelligence that leads to any decision to proscribe.
The proscription of both these organisations will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters, and will signal our condemnation of these organisation and their activities.
I should make it 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.
I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact, so the legislation provides an appeal mechanism. 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.
In conclusion, I believe it is right that we add both groups to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the explanation and the information he has given to us today. I understand that he is restricted in what he can say for reasons that are obvious to us all, but I appreciate the information he has been able to give. We also understand that Governments do not act unless they are assured that the information available is accurate and up to date. I feel some sympathy for the noble Earl on these issues as I did in connection with the Misuse of Drugs Act, in that some of the words can be quite difficult to pronounce. I commend him on his efforts.
Obtaining evidence on which to bring forward such orders is obviously time consuming, painstaking and can at times be very dangerous. I am sure that your Lordships’ House wishes to pay tribute to the work of the agencies that undertake such investigations. As the Minister said, a group can be proscribed under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if it,
“commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism, or is otherwise concerned in terrorism”.
On the basis of the information provided by the noble Earl, we are content to support the Government in this proscription.
This is the third time I have spoken for the Opposition on proscription orders; unfortunately, each time a different Minister has spoken for the Government, but I hope that the noble Earl has had the opportunity to look at some of the previous debates we have had on the other two orders. He will have noted that last year I queried why action had not been taken against the Boko Haram sect, given that the organisation that we were then taking action to proscribe, Ansaru, was in fact a breakaway group from Boko Haram and had been in existence for a much shorter time. I asked then that it be kept under review as we were somewhat surprised not to be discussing this group then, given the evidence of their activities that was available.
I understand the need to have accurate, up-to-date information, but there is also the need to act swiftly and decisively. Are the noble Earl and the Government content that they have acted quickly enough? It would be helpful if he could give some explanation about why there has been a time lag between these two orders, given that we previously knew about the activities of Boko Haram when we discussed this issue last year. The evidence appears overwhelming and the Government are quite right to bring it before us; the Minister described some of the large-scale terrorist attacks that have claimed many lives.
That brings me to one aspect that is of concern; I do not know how the Government are seeking to address it. One core or central organisation may have many different parts, and as one group or organisation is proscribed, another ready-made organisation takes its place and carries on with its deadly mission. I appreciate all the issues we have discussed about action having to be evidence-based, but I am pretty sure that the security services must have some kind of organisational chart or map of the relationships between different groups and individuals and how they interact. It would be helpful if the noble Earl was able to say something about how we can address this issue of different organisations being proscribed and then others springing up.
In both the previous debates I raised the issue of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The noble Earl will recall that when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was the leader of the Opposition, he was in no doubt that Hizb ut-Tahrir should be proscribed. He repeatedly attacked the Labour Government for not doing so. The Minister, rightly, has been very clear today that action to proscribe a group has to be taken on the evidence available. I know how complex and difficult it is to get all that evidence and present it in an appropriate manner. However, unless David Cameron was acting irresponsibly as leader of the Opposition, he must have examined and considered the issue and the information at that time and made the judgment that Hizb ut-Tahrir should be proscribed.
At Gordon Brown’s first Prime Minister’s Questions in 2007, David Cameron made this his first topic. He said:
“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. 951-52.]
The party opposite has now been in power for more than three years and still Hizb ut-Tahrir has not been banned but there must have been evidence available for the then leader of the Opposition to make the very bold statement he made on many occasions in the House of Commons.
I am not going to make the same points that were raised against us when we were in government. I thought at the time that it was inappropriate and irresponsible and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible for me to do so as well. However, I ask the Minister to assure your Lordships’ House that this organisation is under observation and review and that there will be no unnecessary delays in bringing forward a further order if the evidence warrants it.
Is the Minister aware of the evidence presented in the 2011 review of the Prevent strategy that Hizb ut-Tahrir is targeting universities and seeking to radicalise students? That was confirmed in a Parliamentary Answer to Diana Johnson MP last week. The Minister, James Brokenshire, said that,
“we believe there is unambiguous evidence to indicate that some extremist organisations, including Hizb-ut-Tahrir, target specific universities and colleges … with the objective of influencing and recruiting students to support their agenda”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/7/13; col. 786W.]
I know the noble Earl understands the danger of home-grown extremism. Your Lordships’ House was shocked, angered and deeply saddened by the horrific killing of Lee Rigby in London. I do not think that there is anything more that I, or anyone else, can say that makes a more powerful and compelling case for reviewing all measures in place for tackling this kind of recruiting behaviour to ensure they are appropriate and effective. I hope the Minister can give an assurance today that there will be such a review to ensure that all the current measures to tackle recruiting behaviour are effective and if not, that they will be strengthened to ensure that they are. Can I also ask the noble Earl about the funding for the Prevent strategy and similar work and if any changes have been made to that in the past three years?
Towards the end of his speech the Minister referred to organisations that could be deproscribed on application to the Home Secretary and, if the response was unsatisfactory, by judicial review. As I understand it, the independent reviewer, David Anderson, has proposed that there should be a process for organisations to be deproscribed. I am not convinced that the Government have acted on that yet. It would be helpful if the noble Earl could say something about that. On both points I am happy for him to write to me.
We support this measure and I hope the noble Earl can address the points I have raised. We are deeply grateful to those who obtain the evidence required and appreciative of the dangers they face in obtaining such evidence. I also want to impress on the noble Earl how important it is that we act on accurate information as swiftly as possible.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. She referred to the work that various agencies do and the risks that they take and, I share in her thanks. It is also important to understand that we use all available sources of information and not just HUMINT.
The noble Baroness quite rightly asked why we did not take action earlier. She said we should act swiftly and decisively. However, there are tactical considerations as well, regarding the optimum time to intervene. We also need to work in collaboration with our international partners; there may be a reason why they do not want us to take action at a particular point.
She also mentioned the important issue of splinter groups and new names. Derivative organisations which are effectively the same organisation operating under a different name can be dealt with under the negative procedure so it is a bit easier in parliamentary terms. The same tests have to be met for splinter organisations and there are the same considerations regarding international co-operation.
The noble Baroness, unsurprisingly, talked about Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is not proscribed in the UK. Proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes that an organisation is concerned in terrorism, as defined by the Terrorism Act. We cannot proscribe for political reasons; if we did, we could be challenged in the court. We have to apply the tests in the legislation, and then the other considerations that I referred to in my opening comments on when it is the right thing to do at the time. However, Hizb ut-Tahrir is an organisation that the Government have significant concerns about, and we will continue to monitor its actions very closely, as suggested by the noble Baroness. 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 seek to ensure that Hizb ut-Tahrir, and groups like it, cannot operate without challenge in public places in this country; we will not tolerate secretive meetings behind closed doors on premises funded by the taxpayer. We will ensure that civic organisations are made well aware of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and groups like it, and any of the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business.
I agree in general with the points that the noble Baroness made about the need to prevent terrorism, but that is also the reason for applying the law, or the tests, properly, and not proscribing an organisation, as I gently suggested, for political reasons.
The noble Baroness also asked about the Anderson report. The Government noted David Anderson’s comments in his report about the deproscription process, and responded to his report in March. Cross-government officials continue to explore options for improving the deproscription process; the Government will, of course, inform Parliament of any resulting changes to the regime. Under the current regime, any person affected by a proscription can submit an application to the Home Secretary with the question of whether she considers that organisation should be deproscribed. She has not received any deproscription applications, and I understand that none has been received by her predecessors since 2019.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that both Boko Haram, and Minbar Ansar Deen should be added to the list of proscribed organisations under Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. The proscription of Boko Haram demonstrates our condemnation of this group’s activities; proscribing it will also enable the police to carry out disruptive action against any of their supporters in the UK and ensure that they cannot operate here. The proscription of Minbar Ansar Deen will be a powerful tool for the police to help to disrupt the organisation successfully and send out a powerful message that the promotion and encouragement of terrorism are not acceptable, and that we will take action against organisations who partake in such activities.