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.
While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we are determined to do all we can to minimise the threat to the UK and our interests abroad, and to disrupt those who would engage in it. Recognising that terrorism is a global threat that is best tackled in partnership, it is also 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 four groups we propose to add to the list of terrorist organisations, amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 are, first, al-Ashtar Brigades. This includes a number of aliases of this group: Saraya al-Ashtar, the Wa’ad Allah Brigades, the Islamic Allah Brigades, Imam al-Mahdi Brigades and al-Haydariyah Brigades; secondly, al-Mukhtar Brigades, including Saraya al-Mukhtar; thirdly, Hasam including Harakat Sawa’d Misr and Harakat Hasm; and Liwa al-Thawra. This is the 22nd order under the Act.
Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise this discretion. These include the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism. The effect of proscription 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, invite or provide support for, or arrange a meeting in support of, a proscribed organisation. It is also an offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public, such as flags, which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
Proscription sends a strong message to deter fundraising and recruitment for proscribed organisations, and the assets of a proscribed organisation can become subject to seizure as terrorist assets. Proscription can also support other disruption of terrorist activity, including, for example, the use of immigration powers such as exclusion from the UK where the individual is linked to a proscribed organisation and their presence in the UK would not be in the public interest. Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary only exercises her power to proscribe after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation. This includes information taken from both open sources and sensitive intelligence, as well as advice that reflects consultation across government, including with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government Proscription Review Group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of each particular case—but, given the impact the power can have, it is appropriate that proscriptions must be approved by both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that al-Ashtar Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Hasam and Liwa al-Thawra are currently concerned in terrorism. As noble Lords will appreciate, I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, but I can provide a summary of each group’s activities in turn.
The first group that this order proscribes is the al-Ashtar Brigades and its aliases. The al-Ashtar Brigades is a Bahrain-based Shia militant organisation that was established in 2013. Its aim is to overthrow the Bahraini al-Khalifa ruling family through violent militant operations. It lists the ruling al-Khalifa family, Bahrain security forces and Saudi Arabia as targets for attack. The group has been responsible for numerous attacks in Bahrain for which it has claimed responsibility, including a jail-break of 10 convicted terrorists which led to the death of a police officer in January this year; an IED attack in a bus station in Sitrah, which was claimed by the group under the name Wa’ad Allah Brigades in February; and an attack on a police vehicle near the village of al-Qadeem in July. More generally, the group has promoted violent activity against the Bahraini Government, as well as the British, American and Saudi Arabian Governments on social media.
The second group is al-Mukhtar Brigades, also known as Saraya al-Mukhtar. The al-Mukhtar Brigades is also a Bahrain-based Shia militant organisation that was established in 2013. It lists the al-Khalifa ruling family, Bahraini security forces and Saudi Arabia as targets for attack. The group’s activities include the continued promotion and glorification of terrorism via social media throughout 2017.
The third group to be proscribed is Hasam and its aliases. Hasam is an extremist group targeting the Egyptian security forces and the overthrow of the Egyptian Government. The group announced its creation on 16 July 2016 following an attack it conducted in Fayoum governorate, Egypt. In September 2016, the group claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of assistant prosecutor General Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, and the attempted assassination of the former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, a month earlier. The group has claimed responsibility for over 15 attacks. Between March and September this year in Cairo, it carried out small-arms fire attacks in March, May and July and IED attacks in March, June and September; the latter exploded close to the Myanmar embassy in Cairo.
The last group to be proscribed is Liwa al-Thawra, which is another extremist opposition group using violent tactics against Egyptian security forces, and seeking an end to the Egyptian Government. It announced its creation on 21 August 2016, following an attack in Monofeya, Egypt. The group has claimed responsibility for attacks, including bombings and assassinations. They include an attack in Monofeya, Egypt, in August 2016; the assassination of Egyptian Brigadier General Adel Regali in October 2016; and, in April 2017, the bombing of the Egyptian police training centre in Tanta, Egypt.
In addition to adding these groups, we propose to remove Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, which is an offshoot of the political Hezb-e Islami Party, formed in 1977 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. HIG is anti-western and desires the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Afghanistan. Since 2001, its main objective has been the removal of western forces and influence in Afghanistan, as well as restoring Islamic law. HIG has been proscribed in the UK since October 2005. However, on 22 September 2016, the group agreed a peace deal with the Afghanistan Government. After careful consideration, the Home Secretary has concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that HIG is currently concerned in terrorism as defined by Section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary also has the power to remove an organisation from the list of proscribed organisations, if she believes that it no longer meets the statutory test for proscription. Accordingly, she has brought forward this order and, if approved, this means that being a member of, or providing support to, HIG will cease to be a criminal offence on the day the order comes into force. The decision to de-proscribe HIG was taken after extensive consideration and in light of a full assessment of available information.
The Government do not condone any terrorist activity, and takes a cautious approach to de-proscription. De-proscription of a particular group should not be interpreted as condoning any previous terrorist activities of that group. The British Government have always been clear that HIG was a terrorist organisation. Groups that do not meet the threshold for proscription must remain within the law and are not free to spread hatred, fund terrorist activities or incite violence as they please. The police have comprehensive powers to take action against individuals who engage in such activity under the criminal law. We are determined to detect and disrupt all terrorist threats, whether home-grown or international. Proscription is just one weapon in the considerable armoury at the disposal of the Government, police and security service to disrupt terrorist activity. The Government continue to exercise the proscription power in a proportionate manner, in accordance with the law. We recognise that proscription potentially interferes with an individual’s rights, in particular the rights protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and should be exercised only when absolutely necessary. The order before the House today demonstrates that, when proscription is no longer necessary, we are prepared to act to de-proscribe groups that are no longer concerned in terrorism.
In conclusion, I believe it is right that we add the four groups, the al-Ashtar Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Hasam and Liwa al-Thawra, and their aliases, to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Equally, we believe that it is proportionate to remove HIG from that list. Subject to the agreement of this House, the order will come into force on Friday 22 December.
My Lords, noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I will be brief. However, these are very serious matters. As the Minister just outlined, this measure can interfere with people’s human rights. Therefore, I have to ask: can she tell us any more about the four organisations being proscribed? I understand that the first group has been involved in attacks in Bahrain and is suspected of financing terror in Qatar; the second group has also been involved in attacks in Bahrain; the third group has been involved in attacks in Egypt; and the fourth group has been involved in attacks on the army and the police in Egypt. However, clearly, this order primarily has effect in the United Kingdom. Is the Minister able to say whether there is any evidence that these groups are active in, or have supporters in, the United Kingdom that would require such draconian steps to be taken? However, I understand that it may not be possible to give those details for security reasons, as she said.
As regards the group being de-proscribed, again it is good to see that the Government are actively considering groups that have been proscribed in the past, and are prepared to de-proscribe where the evidence suggests that is merited. My only concern is that the reasons the Minister gave for de-proscribing the organisation to which she referred raise questions about the amount of evidence available to support the proscription of the other organisations, bearing in mind the alternative measures that can be taken against individuals, in particular, who might be supporting terrorism in the United Kingdom.
I thank the Minister for her explanation of the purpose of, and reasons for, this order, which we support, and which proscribes four groups based in Bahrain and Egypt, and removes one group from the list of proscribed organisations. Fortunately, I do not have to go to the same lengths as the Minister in giving the full names of these organisations.
The order, which is the 22nd proscription order under the Terrorism Act 2000, went through the House of Commons two days ago and will come into effect tomorrow, subject to it being passed by this House today, as the noble Baroness said.
The effect of proscription is that a listed organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the UK, with it being a criminal offence for a person to belong to, invite or provide support for, or arrange a meeting in support of, a proscribed organisation. The assets of a proscribed organisation can become subject to seizure as terrorist assets. As I understand it, some 51 people have been charged with membership of proscribed groups and 32 have been convicted.
I also thank the Minister for the letter she sent to me at the beginning of this week setting out the reasons why the Home Secretary had come to the conclusion that each of the four groups is concerned in terrorism. As the noble Baroness said, having reached that conclusion and belief, the Home Secretary then has to decide whether to exercise her discretion to proscribe each organisation, which she has decided to do in each case. One of the factors that the Home Secretary takes into account in considering whether to exercise that discretion is the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism. There are, however, four other factors the Home Secretary has regard to in deciding whether to exercise her discretion to proscribe: the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities; the specific threat it poses to the UK; the specific threat it poses to British nationals overseas; and the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK.
In the case of the four groups or organisations covered by the order, which of those five factors, which are also set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, were key to the Home Secretary deciding to exercise her discretion to proscribe? I am not clear whether this is being done primarily to support international partners in the fight against terrorism, or primarily because of the threat that these groups pose to the UK and the extent of their presence in the UK, or indeed whether one or more of the remaining five factors have been crucial in the Home Secretary’s consideration. It would be helpful if the Minister could throw some light on this matter, particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also raised it and, in particular, the issue of involvement in this country.
We are satisfied, though, that evidence available to us shows that the four groups in question, Hasam, Liwa al-Thawra, the al-Ashtar Brigades and the Al-Mukhtar Brigades are concerned in terrorism. The order also removes Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin from the list of proscribed organisations. It has been proscribed in the UK since October 2005, but in 2016 the group agreed a peace deal with Afghanistan’s Government. In this instance the Home Secretary, following a request for de-proscription three months ago, has come to the conclusion that the statutory test for proscription is no longer met and that there is insufficient information to conclude that the group is currently concerned in terrorism, as required by the Terrorism Act 2000, if the proscription is to be maintained.
As the Minister said, proscription does not solve combating terrorism, but it is an important tool. The effectiveness of and support given to our security and intelligence forces and our police is crucial, as is the level of public involvement in reporting suspicions that they may have or which otherwise come to their attention.
In conclusion, I raise just two points on this de-proscription. First, how many organisations have been de-proscribed under the terms of the Terrorism Act 2000? Secondly, is any check subsequently carried out to ensure that some members of deproscribed organisations do not simply transfer their allegiance to another existing organisation not yet proscribed, or a new organisation, which is in reality also concerned in terrorism?
I thank both noble Lords for their comments. I think they will absolutely understand that the information I have given at the Dispatch Box is the information I can give, and that obviously, for national security reasons, I cannot go into further detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the deproscription mechanism, to which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also alluded. Two other groups have been deproscribed under the Terrorism Act since 2000. On deproscribing, under the legislation, any group must be considered for deproscription following the receipt of a valid application—which we received for the deproscription of the HIG. In addition, on proscribing, the noble Lord asked about the various criteria. I would also not like to say under which specific criteria these groups were proscribed; suffice it to say that the Home Secretary takes the various criteria into account, and that one may significantly outweigh another in her determination. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will understand that I am not being particularly forthcoming at the Dispatch Box.
Finally, the activity of deproscribed groups, just as that of proscribed groups, is kept under review, as noble Lords would expect. If the test for proscription is met in the future and it is appropriate for the Home Secretary to exercise her discretion in favour of proscription, she will lay an order to reproscribe the group, and the order will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also talked about the loss of human rights when proscription is enacted. He is absolutely right. That is why, in the round, proscription should be a proportionate response, given the restrictions it places on people’s human rights.
I do not want the noble Baroness to regard this as a challenge to what she has just said; I am merely asking for confirmation. Is it really regarded as a security issue to give any indication of which of the five factors set out in the Explanatory Memorandum weighed with the Home Secretary in her decision? I ask that in the context of the noble Baroness’s opening statement, when she referred to supporting international partners in the fight against terrorism, which is one of the five factors. One could take it as a pretty good hint that that was a factor, but that would then be inconsistent with the noble Baroness’s statement that she cannot say which of the factors weighed in the mind of the Home Secretary on this issue.
My Lords, perhaps I can assist. I do not know whether it is beyond my pay grade to suggest something to the Minister but perhaps she could consult after today’s proceedings and, if there is any other information that she can possibly put into the public domain, perhaps she can write to us.
That is a very helpful suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will understand that I am cautious on these occasions. I would not want to breach national security at the Dispatch Box, but if there is any further general information that I can give, I will give it.