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"It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation or to wear clothing or to carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of the proscribed organisation."
The Minister will recall the great difficulty that Parliament had during the long demonstration that took place in Parliament square. Now that the environment is less heated, can he tell us why no action was taken under that aspect of the law during that demonstration?
The LTTE has been a proscribed organisation since the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force because, since the 1970s, the group had carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka as part of its campaign to secure a Tamil homeland. Although support for the LTTE is unlawful, the Tamil community has the right to support that aim, and to discuss and make their views known on the matter. We have a long and proud
tradition of freedom of speech and assembly, and it is important that those who support the Tamil cause can express their views in Parliament square. Clear action can be taken under proscription legislation if individuals support organisations that are proscribed, but I have no problems with individuals demonstrating in Parliament square, provided that they are not demonstrating support for an organisation that is proscribed under these rules.
Ultimately, it is for the police to consider whether to take action on these matters. We provide a framework and the police make the operational decisions and determine whether charges should be brought under the relevant legislation for this and other proscribed organisations.
Mr. Hanson: One of the great joys of being a Minister is that I do not have to decide whether offences have been committed. That is the job of the police, not the Minister with responsibility for policing, and that is part of the separation of powers. We will provide the framework, the funding, the support and the general policy direction, but ultimately it is for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to determine whether prosecutions should be suggested to the Crown Prosecution Service so that charges may be brought. The right to protest is valid, and I have not seen any evidence that the terms of the 2000 Act were broken nor of charges being brought as a result of that demonstration, so-self-evidently-the police must have taken the same view. The policing of the demonstration was very effective.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I hope that my right hon. Friend realises that Members have concerns about this order. If there is no evidence that this organisation, al-Shabaab, exists or is behaving in a way that is causing serious concern, some in our community-with some justice-will be concerned that the Government are exaggerating the existence of terrorist threat in this country. That is the last thing that we should ever wish to countenance.
Mr. Hanson: The order is being debated and can be voted on. I have already told the House about the five suicide attacks, including one on the Ethiopian embassy; an attack on the United Nations development programme; a double suicide bombing against the African Union mission in Somalia; a suicide vehicle-borne device attack on 18 June 2009 against a hotel, killing the Security Minister and 30 other innocent individuals; and the responsibility for the attack on Mogadishu with 21 deaths. It is my opinion and that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that those incidents are evidence internationally of the intentions of the organisation. As I have said, I cannot comment on security matters in this country in detail, but we have made our assessment, based on that information, of whether the organisation should be proscribed.
I give my hon. Friend the assurance that it is open to the organisation-as it is to Islam4UK, which we proscribed only some four to five weeks ago-to apply to the Home Secretary for de-proscription. Proscribed organisations can test the Home Secretary's rationale on these matters and, if they are not content, they can appeal to the appropriate committee. The House, and
the other place, also have the opportunity to vote on the order today. The safeguards are in place, so I ask the House for its support.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have constituents from Somalia or who look to Somalia as their ancestral homeland, and I want to assure them that the Somali community is respected and valued. It plays a positive part in our community and nothing in this order will prevent members of the Somali community from visiting Somalia or sending money to relatives. Nor will it prevent the Somali community from openly discussing issues pertinent to them or the situation in Somalia. Indeed, nothing in the order will stop any individual or organisation having a political view on the situation in Somalia as a whole-
Keith Vaz: The Minister has been very generous in giving way, but what he has just said simply is not the case as far as other proscriptions are concerned. The hon. Members for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) and I-and others-have had to make representations in the last few years when Tamil organisations unconnected to the LTTE have sought to book rooms, for example in the ExCeL centre, and have been prevented from doing so because the LTTE was proscribed. Two of the leaders of those Tamil organisations were then subject to interview by the police. That is why we are concerned, despite the Minister's reassurances. As soon as an order is passed, it has a draconian effect on communities unconnected with the organisation concerned.
Mr. Hanson: The 2008 Act is clear. It says that individuals should not undertake activity that supports acts of terrorism, or prepares, promotes or encourages terrorism. Nothing would stop any organisation booking a room in a building if it were not one of the proscribed organisations and not undertaking one of those activities, and as long as its members were not wearing insignia and supporting or glorifying the proscribed organisation. It is perfectly legitimate to have a view, as many Tamil residents of the UK do, on the situation in Sri Lanka, as it will be for any resident to have a view on the situation in Somalia. What is not allowed under the proscription order is for individuals to support a particular organisation if we have determined that it is involved in the activities described in the legislation.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What action would the Minister be willing to undertake if organisations that are nothing to do with this particular Somali group encounter the sort of problems that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee described?
Mr. Hanson: With due respect, it is not for me to micromanage those sorts of issues. Ultimately, it is for the Home Secretary, having assessed the international situation and considered the information from the UK-about which I cannot go into detail-to determine whether the organisation is involved in activity that allows the proscription order to be brought forward for the House to consider.
It is for the police to make individual charges in relation to breaches of the proscription order, but this is not about a wider curtailment of political debate on
issues such as Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, Somalia or any other geographical or topical interest in which proscribed organisations happen to be interested. When we had the debate on Islam4UK, we did not prevent people from discussing the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan, and we are not preventing them from protesting against the Government on those issues or from saying that the Government have different views from theirs on any particular issue. As I described to the House earlier, we are trying to provide legal powers, using the legal test, to stop the organisation.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as Opposition Members, will support the order. It has been brought forward with due consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Before turning to the order, I want to reflect on the intervention from the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor). I thoroughly agree with her that we should not be exaggerating terrorism, but nor should we exaggerate the measures that we take against terrorism, so I invite her to recall that she was in the Lobby voting for 90 days and 42 days pre-trial detention and for the provisions on the glorification of terrorism, which bring other problems in their wake. I look forward to her position becoming more consistent for as long as she remains in the House.
Ms Dari Taylor: I have absolutely no problem in saying in this House that I did support 90 days, and were there reasonable cause for legislation to that effect to be laid before the House tomorrow, I would support it again.
I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government's reasons for the order, and Her Majesty's Opposition will support the Government in seeking to add al-Shabaab to the list of proscribed organisations. Decisions to proscribe organisations should not be taken lightly. Free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the Conservative party is clear that proscription should apply only to organisations whose activities include engagement in terrorism and its active encouragement.
The Minister will remember the arguments made by Conservative Members, most notably my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), during the debate on the Terrorism Act 2006. We sought to distinguish clearly between exhortation to commit acts of terrorism as opposed to the Government's definitions around glorification. I remind the House that, in seeking to prevent and suppress terrorism, we must do so in a way consistent with our values, and I am satisfied today that we can support the Government. However, I have several questions for the Minister.
Before I ask specific questions in response to the Minister's introduction of the order, may I make a point about methodology? When the Government proscribed Islam4UK in January, it followed press coverage of a proposed march in Wootton Bassett. The Opposition supported the ban on Islam4UK, and it was widely known that the organisation was a successor to al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. However, the timing of the ban suggested that it was in reaction to the proposals for a demonstration and in response to public pressure. Can the Minister assure the House that the decision to proscribe continues to be based on evidence? In the light of these questions, and those to follow, will he give the House more detail on the internal process that leads to an order such as today's?
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for that clarification, but perhaps when he replies, the Minister will describe as far as he can the processes that lead to a decision, as that may throw further light on the background to that reassurance.
Will the Minister confirm that al-Shabaab is the only name of the organisation that the Government wish to proscribe, or can we expect further proscription orders to cover other names for al-Shabaab? He will be aware that al-Shabaab was proscribed in the United States in February 2008 on the grounds that its leadership was working alongside al-Qaeda, and based on the intelligence that individuals from al-Shabaab had trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Other countries, including Norway and Sweden, also banned al-Shabaab in 2008, and Australia banned it last year. I would be grateful if he could explain what was contained in the statement issued by al-Shabaab on 2 February 2010 that prompted the Government to bring in this order because that appears to have been the cue for today's instrument.
Will the Minister explain what the Government's position on al-Shabaab was before 2 February and why it differed from that of a number of our allies? Could the Government have acted sooner? Al-Shabaab's campaign has been ongoing since the beginning of 2007, prompting the moves to proscribe it in other countries. Is there not a case for better co-ordination between countries on proscribed organisations, and have Her Majesty's Government received representations on the proscription of al-Shabaab from any other countries?
The explanatory memorandum refers to an explicit threat from al-Shabaab to attack targets in Kenya. Can the Minister tell us any more about the nature of this threat, and is there a specific threat to British interests in Kenya? Are the Government receiving the necessary co-operation from the Kenyan authorities to tackle the potential threat in Kenya?
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman referred to paragraph 2.2 in the explanatory memorandum with reference to Kenya. He has just asked whether we are getting full co-operation. With respect, I think it is the other way around: we owe Kenya an immeasurable debt for trying to police and control the northern border with Somalia against terrorism. The question that needs to be asked is whether the
United Kingdom and other western Governments are doing enough to help and bolster the great burden being borne by Kenya on behalf of us all.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that observation, but the order does refer to a specific threat to British interests in Kenya, and it is only proper to assume that, given that it is their country, they should be the first port of call for any practical assistance that might be needed. So co-operation would be required, and it is that co-operation that I am seeking to probe.
On the issue of al-Shabaab's presence in the UK, is the Minister in a position to say anything more about the numbers of people involved? I appreciate that there are growing concerns about potential terrorist links between Somali organisations and the Somali diaspora in the UK. Can he give any further details about the assessment of al-Shabaab's presence in the UK and any evidence of organised travel from the UK to Somalia for the specific purpose of terrorist training?
As everyone in the House is aware, British and other allied servicemen and women are paying a very heavy price in Afghanistan to prevent the resurgence there of a regime that might play host to al-Qaeda. I expect that the House will share my concern that as we, and in particular the Pakistani armed forces, close off options for terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist organisations may simply relocate? The current campaign of the Pakistani armed forces gives every indication of being of profound importance in this regard, and their apparent success should receive greater attention than it has done so far in the UK. Their success is very important to us. In the light of the consequences of that campaign in particular, will the Minister confirm that just as we now accept the need for more concerted efforts in Yemen, we cannot ignore the growing dimension of terrorist activity in the horn of Africa?
Finally, on the Somali diaspora, let me join the Minister in reassuring those in the Somali population in the United Kingdom, whether they are British citizens or not. As he will be aware, a significant number of Somalis living in Britain are here because they fled from the very people we are seeking to proscribe today. Does the Minister agree that when we proscribe organisations, we must be emphatic in saying that we are not labelling entire communities or nationalities?
Mr. Blunt: If the right hon. Gentleman will restrain himself, I am coming to the point that he made earlier. We should heed his concerns about the challenge of distinguishing, in the case of the Tamils, between the LTTE-the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-and other Tamil organisations, which is difficult for people who are not expert in that area, and about the consequences of such a proscription and what it means in the wider public mind. However, we must not lose sight of that proscription or the necessary measures against the organisation concerned. Such proscriptions, where a significant number of British citizens are affected-or, in this case, large numbers of the Somali population in our country-pose a particular challenge in that regard.
Having made what I imagine was the point that the right hon. Gentleman sought to intervene on me to make, let me conclude by saying that we support the
order before the House. I look forward to the Minister addressing the issues that I have raised when he replies to this debate.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): We all heard the Minister's opening remarks and his sobering assessment of the terrorism threat that we face, which is clearly at a high level. It is therefore entirely appropriate that we as a nation should have a high level of preparedness and seek to introduce measures to disrupt that potential risk. We shall thus support the order today, because it is clear from the evidence, so far as we can assess it, that al-Shabaab is committed to violence and the use of terror attacks to achieve its aims. Interestingly, as the Conservative spokesman pointed out, the problem is one that other nations have been aware of for a number of years. I, too, will therefore listen with great interest to what the Minister says in response to the question about what, as far as he can tell us, has triggered the Government's action now, when other nations took action a couple of years ago.
I accept the Minister's point that he should not be responsible for micro-managing things, and I would not expect him to be making hall bookings for organisations that fail to do so. However, it is perhaps incumbent on him to consider the unintended consequences of the legislation he is asking us to pass, and at least to think about who, if anyone, will be responsible for ensuring that the activities of legitimate organisations are not restricted. I am sure the Minister accepts that there is a natural tendency for people to err on the side of caution, which could have consequences for perfectly legitimate organisations.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Would the hon. Gentleman consider as legitimate the sort of activities that we saw on a Channel 4 programme shown only a few days ago? It appeared to indicate that some organisations masquerade as having political objectives, but in fact have fundamentalist objectives, including, so I understand, the Islamic federation of Europe.
Tom Brake: I am afraid I do not know enough about that particular organisation to say whether we might in future debate proscribing it in this House, but clearly the Minister and the Government will be keeping a close eye on such organisations and whether they have transformed themselves into other organisations, describing themselves in a slightly different way.
At the risk of being criticised by the Government for asking some questions, let me say that it is legitimate for us to use this opportunity to examine the effectiveness of such bans. I would like the Minister to confirm whether there has been any analysis of the effectiveness of bans. We know that organisations such as Islam4UK have had a number of name changes and may have sought to get round bans in that way. It would be interesting to know how often that has happened, how many organisations, having been banned, have simply changed their names to escape that ban, and how many people have been prosecuted and found guilty of belonging to a proscribed organisation that has been banned in that way. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the legislation we pass is as effective as possible in tackling terrorism, but there is still a fundamental question about banning and whether it is productive in any shape or form.
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