May I begin by saying that the Opposition are delighted with the four names on the order to which the Minister has referred? We certainly support the Governments proscription of those organisations, but I should be grateful if the Minister would kindly answer one or two questions. I shall first deal with the first two organisations that have been proscribed today. Both al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sectalso known
as the Saviour Secthave been proscribed, but they are remnants of al-Muhajiroun. What are the Governments views about other remnants of that organisation, such as the followers of Ahl Us-Sunnah Wal-Jammaaah, the Muballigh, the Islamic Thinkers Society and the Society of Muslim Lawyers, which is not the same as the Association of Muslim Lawyers?
Al-Muhajiroun has many organs which are active within society under its leadership. These organs specialize in different fields, such as: the Society of Muslim Lawyers, the Society of Converts to Islam, the Society of Muslim Parents, the London School of Shariah, the Shariah Court of the UK, the Society of Muslim Students, the Islamic World League, the Muslim Cultural Society and the Party of the Future.
How will the Government cope with that? As soon as organisations are banned, they change their name. The same happened with the IRAfirst, there was the Official IRA, then the provisionals, then a series of other splinter organisations. How will we cope with that? Can the Minister help me on that point? As soon as one organisation is banned, it springs up under another name. That is not a criticism; I am merely asking for information about how that can be controlled.
Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The answer is that there are any number. As soon as I name one of those organisations, it will rename itself. As soon as it is proscribed, it will spring up under another guise. As I said, that is not a criticism of the Government; it is a merely question about how they intend to deal with it.
Hezbollah is much in the news at present. Will the Government explain why the external security organisation of Hezbollah is proscribed, whereas Hezbollahs political arm and its guerrilla forces in south Lebanon are not proscribed? I shall quote from the Minister for the Middle East, although his words make the situation no clearer. He stated in March 2006:
We are not aware of any involvement by Hizballah in terrorist activity in southern Lebanon. However, we remain very concerned by Hizballahs support for terrorist activity within the Occupied Territories.[ Official Report, 22 March 2006; Vol. 444, c. 422W.]
Why is Abu Hamzas old group, the Supporters of Sharia, not proscribed? What is the Governments view on them? From their chat rooms, it is clear that they are a thinly disguised front for al-Qaeda in the United Kingdom. What are the Governments views on Tablighi Jamaat? That organisation has plans to build a £100 million mosque in east London that will apparently accommodate 10,000 worshippers. French intelligence is deeply worried by that organisation, claiming that 80 per cent. of Islamist fundamentalists in France come from TJ and calling it the antechamber of fundamentalism. How will we cope with that? Do the Government propose to allow the groups recruiting methods to continue? Are we to give
succour to it? Again, I simply require information from the Government. What about the Student Islamic Movement of India inside the United Kingdom? We have already touched on that. What are the Governments views on the comments of Lord Carlile about the de-proscription of Mujaheddin-e-Khalq?
I return to the point that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made about Hizb ut-Tahrir, or HUT for short. A few days ago the Home Secretary told us how pleased and delighted he was with the way that Project CONTEST was developing. That is the Governments anti-terrorist strategy, which revolves around four streams of thoughtfour streams of action. Will the Government explain how HUT fits into both the protect and the prepare streams of thought of project CONTEST? I remind the House that the Prime Ministers delivery unit said of Project CONTEST that activity in the project was not connected or coherent, it asked who was in charge, and it said that Project CONTEST measures meetings and reports, not real world impact. The Home Secretary denied all that.
HUT is banned from many Arab countries, the former Soviet Union and Germany, yet London appears to be its headquarters. Its UK branch was founded by Omar Bakri Muhammad, who founded al-Muhajiroun, and it talks endlessly about anti-Muslim integration. On 5 August 2005, the Prime Minister said that HUT would be proscribed. Why has it not been? If we have Project CONTEST, a strategy for counter-terrorism, which the Home Secretary tells us is in good shapealthough the Prime Ministers delivery unit says it is not fit for purposecan the Minister please explain to me why the Prime Ministers words have not been honoured?
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I share the hon. Gentlemans views about HUT, particularly about its statements, which it made openly, that Muslims should be tried according to sharia in this country. We have the rule of law in the United Kingdom, which everyone must obey. The attitude of HUT may not be a reason for proscribing it, but it is certainly a reason for strong argument with the group. If it does not obey the rule of law in the UK, it is outwith a democratic society. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Patrick Mercer: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I entirely agree. I cannot understand why an organisation that espouses the views to which the hon. Gentleman has just drawn attention is not proscribed. More to the point, I agree with what the Prime Minister said on 5 August 2005. Why has HUT not been proscribed? If we are preventing terror, protecting our population, preparing for attacks and pursuing terrorists under Project CONTEST, why has that not been done?
Mr. Hancock: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the points that he is making are the issues that cause so much confusion and concern within the Muslim population in this country about the way in which some organisations are treated, whereas others are ignored for other reasons, although they know not why?
Patrick Mercer: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We had such discussions when we were serving together on the Defence Committee. There is nothing worse than inconsistency in a campaign such as the present one. Inconsistency will always be misinterpreted, perverted and turned against us. I am grateful for the hon. Gentlemans intervention.
Patrick Mercer: The hon. Gentleman is right, of course. Many of the questions that I have asked today may well be covered by the Minister in an explanation making that precise point. Certainly, I am criticising, but many of the other points that I am making are points of information that the whole House, as evidenced by the interventions, would be interested to know.
Lastly, if we proscribe organisations, it is all very well talking and generating hot air, but what is done about asset seizure? There must be delivery, not just talk. There is no point in Government anti-terrorism strategies that are torn apart by the Governments own audit organisations. I welcome what the Government have done today. I ask the Minister for some thoughtfulas I know they will beand trenchant replies to the questions that the Opposition have asked.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I, too, welcome the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety. As he knows, I have been pursuing the fundamentalist extremists since 1998. That was when I first asked questions about Bakri Muhammad and al-Muhajiroun in the House. We should remember that Bakri Muhammad set up al-Muhajiroun because he has fallen out with the Muslim Brotherhood, which he came to the United Kingdom to set upan extreme organisation banned in many countries around the world.
I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) about the problems of the splinter groups that are continually set up. It is a little like the Trotskyists in the 1970s. Whenever one looked at them, they were a different organisation. The present case is rather more sinister and rather more dangerous than the Trotskyists ever were. They may have purported to undermine society as we knew it, but they never got very far.
Dr. Julian Lewis: I cannot resist a brief trip down memory lane. Although it is true that Trotskyists and other far left groups and, indeed, pro-Soviet groups used to rename themselves, it was nevertheless also true that when the hon. Gentlemans party fatally abolished the proscribed list, that had a huge effect on reviving the overt way in which those groups were able to function. That is why, despite the danger of reinvention, proscription is worth while.
We are getting a little off the point. The serious issue is how we keep up with the continual name changes of organisations that are effectively the
same organisations as those that were proscribed. If they have the same website, address or telephone number, that is relatively easy to follow. If the same people are involved, it becomes more difficult because many of them have aliases and noms de guerre. When we look them up on the internet, we find a series of different names for the same people. Moreover, they are not organisations like political parties with membership lists, membership cards and so forth, but loose associations, which makes it that much harder.
The explanatory memorandum, which gives the reasons why Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect should be proscribed, uses somewhat measured and temperate language that understates the nature of the organisations with which we are dealing. One of Al-Ghurabaas key activists, Anjem Choudary, was the prime mover behind the demonstration outside the Danish embassy and was recently convicted of not giving proper notice to the police. I regret to say that he received a mere slap on the wrist, which no doubt encourages rather than discourages people in those circumstances. Several trials for more serious offences are still outstanding in relation to that demonstration. The rabid anti-Semitism of those groups is notorious. One need only look at some of the statements made on the demonstration, such as, Butcher those who mock Islam, or Kill those who insult Islam, and the people dressed as suicide bombers, to apprehend the nature of Al-Ghurabaa.
The Saved Sect is probably the most direct line back to al-Muhajiroun. It was formerly known as the Saviour Sect, but changed its name. That is why I mentioned name changes. Sometimes the new name is dissimilar, but it is often very similar. People associated with the Saved Sect included Mizanur Rahman, who demanded the beheading of those who insult Islam at the Danish embassy demonstration, and Islam Uddin, who called the Jewish people
the most disgusting and greedy people on earth.
Many others have made similar statements. I would like particularly to highlight Abu Yahya. When I first started this campaign back in 1998, I remember him speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, proclaiming the jihadist message and boasting of the terrorist training that he had received in Afghanistan.
My key concern is the fact that so many organisations, not only those listed by the hon. Member for Newark, have not been brought within the realms of proscription. I particularly want to raise the question of Hezbollah. The military wing of Hezbollah is proscribed, but the political wing is not. Hezbollah itself does not make any distinction between those two entities and operates as one single organisation.
Mr. Dismore: I presume that my hon. Friend means Lebanon, which I have not mentioned, as I do not think that we have any members of Hezbollah in the UK Government. The fact remains that we are talking about the proscription of organisations in the UK. I am extremely concerned that Hezbollah has not been banned in its so-called political form as it has in the United States, Canada, Australia and Holland.
Similarly, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have not been banned either, although they appear on the US list of foreign terrorist organisations. The anti-Semitic, anti-British way of life organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir, is clearly a matter of great concern to many Members. The arguments in favour of banning Hizb ut-Tahrir have already been advanced at great length. I agree. I cannot understand why an organisation that is banned in so many countries around the world, and which proclaims a message of anti-Semitism and of trying to destroy our society, should not also be proscribed.
I very much welcome the announcement by my hon. Friend the Ministermy only concern is that it does not go far enough. There are still loopholes that people who undermine our society and rule of law are more than willing to exploit in order to achieve that objective. We need ever greater tightening of these measures and further organisations put within the parameters of the proscription list.
I take the basic message from the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), which is that attacking these organisations in an organised way is like battling a hydra, because there is no way of satisfactorily keeping pace with the splinter organisations that will inevitably develop. It may seem a rather thankless task.
The first order concerns a matter of process. When we debated the last set of orders, of which there were a great number, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) said that each organisation should be given separate consideration. One of the procedural difficulties that the House sometimes has, if not today, is that we do not have the opportunity to consider organisations separately because we can only accept or reject the entire list that is put before us.
Mr. Heath: I made that point at the time, and it does concern me. In debating such matters, we have to rely a great deal on trust, which is often well placed in Ministers and the advice that they receive from the security services. Nevertheless, we have to decide as a House whether to agree to the orders, and we should do so on the basis of the maximum information available.
I want to put one minor point to the Minister. The separate negative order that has been laid could have been included with the affirmative order to give the entire House the opportunity of agreeing to it. That would have meant that some of the exchanges in which the Minister has engaged with hon. Members would have been in order rather than almost out of order, as they must have been.
When we debate such matters, we often lack the evidence that the Minister has in his possession. That is inevitable. The House cannot know about all the advice
that has been received because some of it will be from our security services and police and from foreign sources, and it would not be appropriate to divulge all that information in the public domain. However, we are entitled to know about the levels of activity of such organisations in the United Kingdom so that we can make a judgment about the danger to British citizens and British interests elsewhere.
We should be told whether any of the orders have been placed at the request of another Government. I fear that the Government are in danger of putting themselves in a difficult diplomatic position whereby they accede to requests for proscription from some countries but not from others. It becomes ever more difficult not to accede to such a request, even if there is a suspicion that it is less well founded, and that puts diplomatic pressure on the Government. It should be made clear to the House where there has been a request from an overseas Government and the extent to which that has been supported by British intelligence-gathering organisations in the field that can corroborate the view of that Government.
Mr. Weir: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, particularly in relation to Kurdish organisations. There has been oppression of Kurdish people by Turkey, Syria and Iraq over many years, and the Governments of those countries perhaps have a very different view of the operations of organisations that we would consider democratic but they may not.
Mr. Heath: I agree with the hon. Gentleman in one respectthat we must not proscribe organisations simply because another country with which we may be friendly believes that they are undemocratic. However, I have to say that there are clear cases where Kurdish organisations are engaged in terrorist acts, and those are the ones that have been put before the House. There may be a case for reconsideration at some stage in the future, but where there is evidence, then let us accept it.
Two organisations listed today are clearly, from the evidence presented to the House, involved in terrorist activity. They are the Baluchistan Liberation Army and Teyrebaz Azadiye Kurdistan. They pose fewer difficulties than the two that the Minister has included purely on the basis of section 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006. I shall not rehearse the arguments about the clause that were used during the Bills passage. There were different viewsnot about the intent to stop the vile and evil recruitment of people to carry out terrorist acts in this country but about whether glorification was the right term and whether other, more appropriate legal mechanisms existed. Let us not enter into that debate today.
There is a danger of moving away from our commitment in this country to free speech purely because people say things with which we profoundly disagree. Proscription is not the way in which to argue against, for example, an organisation that wants the Islamic caliphate or sharia law. An organisation would have to go much furtherhowever violently one might disagree with its viewsfor it to be proscribed.