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10 July 2007 : Column 1369

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

6.22 pm

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,

I am happy both to discuss and take questions on organisations other than the two listed in the order. I would like to deal with those first, and then we can have whatever discourse the House would like on Hizb ut-Tahrir or any other organisation. I think that I was eight lines into my speech the last time that I moved any kind of proscription order before my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked a question about Hizb ut-Tahrir. I am happy to come back to that or any other organisations that should or should not be on the proscribed list once I have dealt with the two organisations under consideration.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am sticking absolutely to the Minister’s suggestion. May I put to him the point that I have made previously when we have considered proscribed organisations, which is on a matter of procedure? The list of proscribed organisations is presented as an order, which is unamendable. If the same order lists organisations that are not related to one another, it is not possible for the House to apply discretion as to the merits or otherwise of the bodies listed. I have no reason to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) will not agree to the Minister’s suggestions in respect of the two organisations concerned. I put it to him again, however, that it would be much more satisfactory, in procedural terms, if separate orders were provided for each organisation, which could be debated in a single debate, with the agreement of the House. That would allow dissent, if appropriate, to be demonstrated.

Mr. McNulty: Let me explore that issue, because I get the general point. Last time, the issue was even more pronounced, as the four organisations on the list were so discernibly different, some being successor bodies to Al Mujahiroun, and some being related to the PKK and the Turkish situation. As a matter of law, I think that the orders are split up into separate orders after we have passed them. I do not know or understand the procedure that puts the organisations together in one order. I do not doubt that there might come a stage when people are very exercised about one organisation on the list, and may want to press that matter to a Division, while accepting the proscription of the other organisations. I shall look at the procedural elements. The hon. Gentleman should not be suspicious: the way in which the order is presented is not related to anything that I have done. He makes a fair point, which he also raised last time, when it was more appropriate.

After that little preamble, I will deal with the specifics of the two organisations. Proscription is a tough power: it means that the organisation is outlawed in the UK and cannot operate here. Membership of a proscribed organisation is an offence, as is inviting support for it. Proscription also makes it unlawful to raise funds on behalf of the organisation.

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Members of the House know, because they have read the order, that the two organisations concerned are to be proscribed under the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2007, rather than the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2006, the difference between which is clear to everybody.

The two organisations listed in the order are directly concerned in terrorism, not just in propagating, supporting or proselytising on behalf of such groups. They are Jammat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh— JMB from now on—and Tehrik Nefaz-e Shari’at Muhammadi, or TNSM.

TNSM’s objective is the militant enforcement of sharia law in Pakistan. There is significant evidence that it regularly attacks coalition soldiers and Afghan Government forces in Afghanistan. It provides direct support to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and is believed to have been behind an attack on a Pakistani military base in November 2006, which killed 42 personnel.

JMB has claimed responsibility for numerous fatal bomb attacks in Bangladesh since first coming to prominence in 2002. In August 2005, some 500 bombs were set off in all but one of Bangladesh’s 64 districts in the space of an hour by JMB. The Bangladeshi Government recently announced the execution of six leaders of the JMB, including its chief. However, some sources indicate that the organisation has a significant number of full-time members. There are indications that it is making efforts to re-group to continue its campaign of terror.

The proscription of those two groups will support our international partners in disrupting terrorist activity by making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters. It will also send the strong message to terrorists that the UK is not willing to tolerate terrorism either here or anywhere else in the world. There is a substantive case against JMB and TNSM.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): My hon. Friend is setting out a good case in respect of the evil and nefarious activity of those organisations overseas. What is the evidence that they are active in the UK, like organisations such as the LTT, which, as we saw in recent arrests, is active in both Sri Lanka and London?

Mr. McNulty: Let me tell my hon. Friend and the House, which I deliberately tried to resist doing, the factors, to which the order refers, that are taken into account in proscribing such organisations. They are: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the UK; 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. At least two, if not more, of the criteria, apply to the two organisations—certainly, the one regarding the international community. Furthermore, the Pakistan-based group offers a specific threat to British nationals overseas—our servicemen. I do not know offhand why those concerns relate specifically to those organisations in this country, but I shall find out for the House. The criteria I mentioned are among the range that determines whether we should proscribe them.

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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I accept that the Government are entitled to look at the criteria in the round, but the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised an important issue: the extent to which the Government believe that one or other of the organisations is present in the United Kingdom in an organised form. As the Minister will appreciate, proscribing something that does not really exist in this country serves little purpose in reality. It would be helpful if he could amplify his remarks to explain whether the Government believe that one or other of the organisations has a presence in the UK, financially—in terms of raising or placing money—or in terms of recruitment or organisation.

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. As I understand the order, the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism and the specific threat the organisation poses to British nationals overseas are the principal criteria. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s remark that if groups do not organise in this country, or there is no evidence that they do so, proscribing them is redundant. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), if I can offer the House evidence about the ability thus far of the groups to organise in this country, I shall do so, to the extent that I am able to give such information.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that although organisations may not be present in this country, they invariably use various networks, and occasionally literature and other things, to raise funds to support their activities in the countries where they are based? Proscribing such organisations in the UK is a practical step to stop funding that supports them in other countries.

Mr. McNulty: I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have already said, to the extent that I can put in the public domain the information that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon requires, I shall do so. He referred earlier to police activity involving the LTTE, another proscribed organisation; his implication was right. Many Members know that the LTTE organises effectively in the UK, especially in terms of fundraising and other support, for its nefarious activities in Sri Lanka. It is not the case that each of the 44 proscribed organisations meets every element of the criteria under the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Terrorism Act 2006. We have to make an overall judgment as to the balance of their offences according to the criteria, and it is on that basis that I offer the orders to the House.

I have been waiting anxiously for my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda to intervene, but as he seems to have chosen not to do so and we are not to have a lengthy discussion about Hizb ut-Tahrir, I shall quit while I am ahead and sit down.

6.34 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I hope that our debate on the order is not as long as our previous debate.

To make my position clear, I must point out that the Minister somewhat traduced my remarks. There may
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be compelling reasons why we should ban the organisations, even if they have no presence in the UK at all. Indeed, Jammat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh is an active terrorist organisation in that country and there is ample evidence of its activities, so, on the basis of comity between nations that are international partners in the fight against terrorism, that in itself would be a good reason for banning it. However, unless there are compelling security reasons why the Minister cannot amplify his remarks, it would be useful for the House to know whether the Government think that the activities of one or other of the organisations pose a threat within the UK.

The second organisation, Tehrik Nefaz-e Shari’at Muhammadi, appears to be involved in direct violence against British or coalition forces in Afghanistan, although I rather suspect—I may be wrong—that, like many localised groupuscules in that benighted country, its reach does not extend to the UK. That raises an important issue: proscription must be for a purpose—to prevent organisations from operating in this country. I agree entirely with the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) that the problem with such groups is that unless they have an organised structure in this country that proscription will disrupt, which is all that proscription can do, I am afraid the evidence suggests that there are plenty of means whereby people can raise funds for them in this country or support them in some other way, if they want to do so—for example, by setting up bogus charitable foundations to funnel money. At the end of the debate, it would be useful if the Minister amplified briefly his remarks to tell us how the Government are tackling that phenomenon. From my personal contacts, I know of plenty of examples that give me serious doubts about where so-called charitable fundraising may be going. The debate may provide an opportunity to discuss that. Subject to that proviso, I do not intend to take up the House’s time further on the two organisations.

Before I sit down, however, I mention in passing that the Minister is well aware that other organisations have excited the concern of the House—in particular, Hizb ut-Tahrir. I remind him that Hizb ut-Tahrir would not feature so much in the House’s discourse were it not for the fact that the previous Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, stated openly—I think in the House—that he considered it a terrorist-supporting organisation that ought to be banned. He thereby raised a hare that a large number of people have pursued ever since. As the then Prime Minister of the UK took the view that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a terrorist organisation, it was rather strange that nothing happened thereafter. Two years later, despite those emphatic statements, Hizb ut-Tahrir has still not been banned, so I hope the Minister will take the opportunity of this debate, when we are looking at other organisations, to explain more fully than in the intervention of the previous Home Secretary at Prime Minister’s Question Time why the Government feel that the basis for proscription does not exist.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What I am about to say is in no sense meant to be in support of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but the organisation has written widely that the Leader of the Opposition wrote to it last year to congratulate it on its comments about the relationships
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between western Governments and the Muslim world. Would the hon. Gentleman like to put on the record precisely what the Conservative party’s position is with regard to Hizb ut-Tahrir?

Mr. Grieve: I have not yet encountered the letter. In the past, I have appeared on television to debate matters with Hizb ut-Tahrir, and when I listen to what its members have to say what springs to my mind is Oliver Cromwell’s description of the Fifth Monarchy Men—poor fantasticals. That expression seems the best way of describing Hizb ut-Tahrir and its beliefs. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is considerable evidence to suggest that individuals who have committed terrorist acts have passed through Hizb ut-Tahrir on the way. I seem to remember that there was compelling evidence of an association between Hizb ut-Tahrir and Omar Bakri Mohammad.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): My hon. Friend makes some excellent points on Hizb ut-Tahrir, but is not al-Muhajiroun another conveyor belt to terrorism in this country? Would the same points that he makes about Hizb ut-Tahrir be equally applicable to al-Muhajiroun?

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and the House should bear in mind two things. First, a proscription list is a draconian sanction. The fact that people may say things that we regard as unpleasant or unacceptable or that they have a view of the world with which we profoundly disagree does not give us a justification for proscribing them. The Minister and I would be entirely in agreement about that. My hon. Friend may be right about al-Muhajiroun, but what arises with regard to Hizb ut-Tahrir is the remarkable fact that the then Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, considered that it required proscription, yet proscription has never taken place. Quite compelling evidence links that organisation with Omar Bakri Mohammad, who has undoubtedly said and done things that place him well beyond the line of criminal behaviour, and there is clear evidence that people have passed through Hizb ut-Tahrir into terrorism.

As the Minister rather invited hon. Members to raise this issue, it is worth raising. If he could amplify the few things that have been said about that organisation to explain the Government’s reasoning in relation to it and, in particular, the Government’s change in position from what the previous Prime Minister clearly believed, which was that the organisation ought to be banned, it would be useful to the House. Quite apart from anything else, it would enable us to draw comparisons about why certain organisations are proscribed and others are not.

Chris Bryant: I rather sympathise with the points that the hon. Gentleman makes about the organisation, but I want to clear up the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir says that the Leader of the Opposition wrote to it saying:

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The letter concludes:

That seems an extraordinary thing for him to write to such an organisation if he wants it to be proscribed. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would like to check whether such a letter was written.

Mr. Grieve: I am very happy to check. Given the use of the third person in the passage that the hon. Gentleman cited, I detected that it was not a letter signed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). How that letter came to be written, if it came to be written, I simply have no idea. I say that honestly; I do not know. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raise the issue directly with my right hon. Friend and his office, and he might then have an answer.

My right hon. Friend has repeatedly expressed concern rather legitimately about why, in view of the previous Prime Minister’s attitude to Hizb ut-Tahrir—he believed that it was fomenting violence—and the fact that it was seen as more than just an unpleasant organisation, the Government have not taken action in respect of it. The Minister may be able to answer our questions.

6.43 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I certainly have no objection to the two organisations specified in the draft order being proscribed on the basis of their activities overseas. When I asked my hon. Friend the Minister whether they were active in the UK, I intended not to oppose what he proposes but to try to elicit whether there is evidence to support his argument. It is important that we know what activities proscribed organisations are carrying out in the UK. Of course, when considering Islamic terrorism in particular, we have always had the problem of splinter groups. When a group is proscribed, it suddenly reinvents itself as something else—it changes its name—and that may well have happened with some of these organisations.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend might be aware that, as soon as students join certain well-known colleges in the university system, their first contact in many instances is with really very extreme groups. Frankly, that is very worrying.

Mr. Dismore: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and that brings me to Hizb ut-Tahrir. As the House knows, I first raised the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir many years ago, and I have done so consistently over the years. I have spoken privately to the former Home Secretary and, indeed, successive Home Secretaries about the need for action to be taken.

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