Motion to Approve
My Lords, the threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at severe. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning. We can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, but we are determined to do all that we can to minimise the threat from terrorism to the UK and our interests abroad. Additionally, it is important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism wherever it occurs. Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt terrorist activities.
The two groups we propose to add to the list of international terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, are Jamaat ul-Ahrar and the Haqqani network. This is the 18th proscription order under that Act. As noble Lords will appreciate, I am unable to comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a brief summary of each group’s activities in turn.
Jamaat ul-Ahrar is a militant Islamist group that split away from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in August 2014. JuA aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan and aspires to extend global jihad into the Indian subcontinent. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in November 2014, including a grenade attack in Karachi that killed three members of the Sindh Assembly and injured 50 workers; twin bombings targeting peace committee volunteers in the Chinari village of Safi Tehsil in the Mohmand Agency, which killed at least six people; and the suicide bomber attack on the Pakistan side of Wagah border crossing, shortly after the famous flag-lowering ceremony had concluded, which killed over 60 people. In September 2014, its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, released a statement criticising the British Government for arresting al-Muhajiroun associates and made a threat, stating that,
“your future security depends upon how nicely you treat the Muslims in Britain”.
Additionally, the group claimed responsibility for the fatal attacks on Christian sites in Lahore earlier this month.
The Haqqani network is an Islamist, nationalist group seeking to establish sharia law and to control territory in Afghanistan. It is ideologically aligned with the Taliban. The Haqqani network has links with a number of terrorist groups in the region, including a proscribed central Asian group, the Islamic Jihad Union, and has long-established links with al-Qaeda. The Haqqani network continues to play an active and influential role in the Afghan insurgency in the east of the country and is seeking to expand its influence into other areas of Afghanistan.
It can be difficult to identify specific Haqqani network responsibility for attacks, given the Taliban practice of claiming attacks on behalf of the insurgency as a whole. The Haqqani network is believed to have been responsible for the attack against a British embassy vehicle in November 2014, which killed six people including a UK national and an Afghan member of the UK embassy staff, and injuring more than 30 people. It is likely that the Haqqani network will continue to view Kabul as a key target location due to the concentration of UK and western interests in the capital. The Haqqani network has been banned as a terrorist group by the USA since September 2012, by Canada since May 2013 and by the UN since November 2012.
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. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, the Home Secretary takes a number of factors into account, including the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the threat it poses to British nationals overseas; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription, in effect, outlaws a listed organisation and makes it unable to operate in the UK. Proscription can also support other disruptive activity such as the use of immigration powers, including exclusion, prosecutions for other offences, EU asset freezes and messaging to deter fundraising and recruitment. Additionally, assets of a proscribed group are liable to seizure as terrorist assets.
The Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. This includes open source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government Proscription Review Group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. A decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case, and it is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses.
My Lords, as the Minister said, this is the 18th proscription order that your Lordships’ House has debated. In my case it is the ninth or 10th. As always, the key thing is the evidence that the Government are able to provide. We appreciate that we do not have access to the same intelligence information as the Government, so there is always an element of trust involved in these issues. Again, I am confident that the Government would not have brought this order before us today unless they were confident that there was a case for proscribing the organisations, and we support proscription.
It is clear in these cases that the organisations condemned themselves by their own words when they claimed credit for some of the atrocities that had been committed. The noble Lord referred to some of them in relation to Jamaat ul-Ahrar. I was pleased to see that its Twitter account has already been suspended, because I have previously raised issues about cases where social media has been used after proscription. That does not apply in this case. In both cases it is clear from the organisations’ own accounts that there is a strong case for proscription, which has our support.
I gave the Minister notice that I would be raising the following issue. He mentioned in his opening remarks —it is a completely valid comment—that when we proscribe organisations we support the international community. The fight against terrorism can never be for one country alone. As this kind of terrorism knows no borders, the only way in which the fight against it can work is if there is international cross-border co-operation and shared intelligence.
In view of that, I am surprised that HQN has been banned as a terrorist group by the USA since September 2012, by Canada since May 2013 and by the UN since November 2012. We are now at the end of March 2015, which seems quite a time lag. If Canada, the USA and the UN had information, was that not shared with us or did we not think before now that there was a case for proscription? I note that the attack on the British embassy vehicle was carried out in November 2014, and I hope that it is not the case—I am sure that the Minister can reassure me on this—that we wait for British interests to be attacked before we act, because these are international issues.
We are happy to support the order, but if the Minister is able to say something about why other countries have acted so much sooner than we have, that would be appreciated.
My Lords, I support very much what my noble friend is proposing in this order, and in doing so I should like to say that the plethora of these splinter groups which are affiliated to what is now the umbrella body known as ISIS or Islamic State is an extremely worrying phenomenon. It is interesting to discover that new ones are constantly being created, which of course is quite a usual technique among terrorist organisations in order to avoid any disruption to their activities.
In that connection, I want once again to ask my noble friend about the Muslim Brotherhood, which is actually a very dangerous organisation. It, too, seeks to have theocracy with sharia law and is prepared to use violent methods to achieve that. As my noble friend will remember, the Muslim Brotherhood was started up in 1928 and in January 1949 it assassinated the Egyptian Prime Minister. It was banned by President Nasser after it tried to assassinate him in 1954. It was also responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981. The organisation is the trunk of the tree, the roots of which are the Wahhabi and the Salafists, and the branches of which are the various organisations to which my noble friend has referred.
At this point we are in more danger from terrorism in this country than probably at any stage in my lifetime, and it is getting worse and more serious. There are actions which could be taken which I much regret have not been taken on what are not very good grounds. A particular point which I do not apologise for returning to again is the need for tighter control over passports, in particular through the introduction of a system by which the British Government are at least aware of the other passports being held by British passport holders.
The Government recently announced the reintroduction next month of exit checks, which is thoroughly desirable. I am glad that that is going to happen, although I am a little worried about the mechanics of how it is to be done. Will the checks on exit be as thorough as those on entry? Apparently, the exit checks are going to be done by the agencies carrying the passengers—the shipping lines, train companies and airlines—rather than by immigration officers who check entrants.
It would be a great help if we had at least some knowledge of the second passports being held by people. There is no discrimination about it. I was very concerned by the argument used by the Home Office against this proposal because it struck me that it was totally out of proportion to the threat we face. Perhaps I may remind the Minister by quoting from the letter signed by his noble friend:
“If there were security benefits, we would look to make best use of such a database”—
that is, a database of second passports. The letter continues:
“However, we are not persuaded that this is the case. It would create a level of intrusion for all British citizens who hold dual nationality, who would be obliged to keep HMPO informed of any change to their second passport. There are legitimate concerns about imposing such intrusion on one particular class of UK nationals, which we do not believe would be outweighed by operational benefits”.
I suggest that, with the situation we face, the arguments against this are so trivial that it is absolutely astonishing that they have even been raised. We have had cases in recent weeks and months of people getting out of the United Kingdom who should have been kept in the country because they were on bail or wanted for terrorist offences. Of course, in many cases these sorts of people have other passports, so they may travel in and out when it suits them on British passports and then do other things on other passports.
All I am asking is for my noble friend to ensure, please, at any rate during the period when all of us are campaigning for our particular political persuasions, that the Home Office will continue to work on better methods of securing our borders and defending the realm. It is certainly true that a balance has to be struck between national security and human rights, but personal privacy, in such a period of crisis as we currently face, cannot itself rate highly against the need to introduce all necessary measures.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for her support not only today but in previous discussions on terrorism, along with her noble friend Lord Rosser, who has been constructively critical over many hours of debate on these subjects.
I begin with the noble Baroness’s question about why we have not proscribed the Haqqani network before, when it has been proscribed by other countries. When we proscribe a particular organisation depends on the extensive consideration that we have across government. We know that the Haqqani network has met the statutory test for proscription for some time, being concerned in terrorism. When a group meets the test of being concerned in terrorism, there are then discretionary factors which may mean that a decision is not taken to proscribe it at a particular time. Those include the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities, the specific threat it poses to the UK, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas, the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.
We keep groups of concern such as the Haqqani network under review. The attack against the British embassy vehicle in November 2014, which killed six people, including a UK national and an Afghan member of the UK embassy staff, and injured more than 30 people, meant that the Home Secretary considered that the discretionary factors are now balanced in favour of proscription.
By contrast, the other organisation that we are talking about today, JuA, has not been proscribed by any other country in the world. Depending on the nature of the particular threat from each of those organisations, we can act before other countries, but in some cases it is not appropriate to do so, in the light of the tests that we have to apply to proscribe organisations.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford asked—not, I think, for the first time—about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is not proscribed in the UK at the moment. Proscription can be considered only when the Home Secretary believes it to be concerned with terrorism. However, the Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation that the Government have significant concerns about and we will continue to monitor its activities very closely. We will seek to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood 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 the Muslim Brotherhood and groups like it and of the names under which they operate and the ways in which they go about their business.
As noble Lords will know, the Prime Minister commissioned an internal review, which was submitted to him in July. The National Security Adviser is advising the PM on the resulting policy options. We understand that the PM has not yet made a final decision about the timing of an announcement on the Muslim Brotherhood review, although the Government have committed to making the findings public.
My noble friend talked about passports, which is slightly off-piste for this debate on proscribing two terrorist organisations. I will, of course, bring his remarks to the attention of my noble friend the Minister. He asked whether during the election campaign the Home Office would continue securing our borders and defending the realm. I can assure him that we will.
It is the Home Secretary’s firm opinion that on the basis of the available evidence both groups named in the order meet the statutory test for proscription. It is appropriate in each case for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion to proscribe these groups. Proscribing these groups demonstrates our condemnation of their activities and our support for the efforts of the international community to tackle terrorism.
Finally, I would like to echo the words of the Security Minister in another place and thank on behalf of the House the police, the security services, the intelligence agencies and the Armed Forces for working so hard to keep us all safe. I commend this order to the House.