HL Deb 30 October 2002 vol 640 cc252-6

6.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th October be approved [39th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the House will know, the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force on 19th February 2000 and signalled the Government's determination to do all they could to defeat terrorism in all its forms. At the time that that legislation was passed by the House we would little have been able to predict the events of some 18 months afterwards, or how our perceptions of the scale, form and risk of terrorism would expand.

On September 11th 2001 we saw the tragic events in New York. The extent to which terrorists could go in pursuit of their goals was a shock to all the civilised world. Further, we have recently seen the horror which took place in Bali. Again, that has drawn the attention of the world to the risks that ruthless terrorists pose to order and civilisation in all countries of the world. Clearly, many countries now see terrorism as potentially as great a threat to world peace as other forms of risk have been seen previously.

The development of terrorism as a threat has increased the importance of international cooperation around the world between governments which are concerned to work together to defeat it. Certainly, it has heightened the level of awareness in the United Kingdom of the risk of terrorism. At a local level, for ordinary British citizens it has reinforced the importance of heeding travel advice where possible, recognising how difficult it is to obtain appropriate travel advice which will be able to forecast and correctly judge such risks. By its nature, terrorism is unpredictable. Things we would have thought impossible have taken place in the past year or two.

An important part of the Terrorism Act 2000 is the power to proscribe organisations concerned in international or domestic terrorism. It is a heavy power which should be used only where circumstances warrant. Under the Act the Secretary of State has the power to proscribe any organisation which he believes is concerned in terrorism. The criteria used are that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

The impact of proscription is to make it more difficult for international terrorist organisations to operate in the United Kingdom and seeks to deter them from coming here in the first place. We hope and expect that it acts as a powerful deterrent in that it inhibits activity in the first place. The proscription offences are a means of tackling some of the more low-level support activities for terrorist organisations. Finally, the Act is a powerful signal of the Government's and society's rejection of those organisations' claims to legitimacy.

The House may remember the penalties for proscription. They bear on the membership of a proscribed organisation: that is an offence. Similarly, it is an offence to support a proscribed organisation or to display support in public for a proscribed organisation. Relevant sanctions apply.

When considering which terrorist organisations should be subject to proscription, the Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors, including those indicated to Parliament by Ministers during the passage of the Bill. He takes into account: first, the nature and scale of an organisation's activities; secondly, the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; thirdly, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; fourthly, the extent of the organisation's presence in the United Kingdom; and, fifthly, the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.

There have been no changes to the list of proscribed organisations since the order proscribing 21 international terrorist organisations came into force on 29th March 2001, although the list of proscribed organisations and the need to make judgments about whether others should be proscribed are kept under constant review.

As the House knows, the order recommends the proscription of four organisations. It might be helpful if I commented briefly on each of them. The first, Jemaah Islamiyah, which I shall refer to as JI, is the name of an Islamist extremist group based in Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern Philippines. I shall illustrate its past activity. In December 2001, 13 JI members were arrested in Singapore. They had been planning attacks against several targets in Singapore, including the British Council, the High Commission and the US, Israeli and Australian embassies.

The second organisation is the Abu Sayyaf Group, which I shall refer to as the ASG. It is an Islamist extremist group based in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The group has committed a number of kidnappings: in April 2000, 21 people of different nationalities were kidnapped from a resort in eastern Malaysia; in August 2000, an American citizen was kidnapped and held captive for eight months; and in May 2001, the ASG conducted an armed raid on a holiday resort, took 20 people hostage and killed two of the American hostages during that activity. The ASG has killed hostages when ransoms have not been paid and is known to have links to Al'Qaeda.

The third organisation is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the IMU. It was formed in 1998 out of a more general political Islamic resistance to post-Soviet rule in Uzbekistan. In February 1999, it launched a sophisticated bombing campaign in Tashkent, directed against the Uzbekistan regime. The close ties to Al'Qaeda and the Taliban meant that it often followed the agenda of Al'Qaeda and the Taliban. Osama bin Laden is widely reported to have given money and training to it on the understanding that it followed his agenda in central Asia.

The final group is Asbat Al-Ansar, which was formed in 1985. It is a Sunni Muslim terrorist organisation based primarily in the Lebanese-Palestinian refugee camp of Ain Al Hilweh. Its terrorist actions have so far been limited to bombings and assassinations within Lebanon, including the assassination of the leader of Al Ashbashi. It is believed to have been responsible for the murder of four Sidon judges in 1999. Its most recent attack, in January 2000, was against the Russian Embassy in Beirut when it used rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

I have previously indicated the factors that are taken into account in making judgments about who should be proscribed. Clearly, the Home Secretary has had to exercise his judgment about each of those organisations against those criteria. Clearly, access to related intelligence-based material on those organisations is also an important part of that process.

Proscription is both a fair and proportionate response to the terrorist threat that is found in this country and abroad. It is clearly not aimed at any specific community or at any religion; it is aimed at terrorists. There is a fair and robust appeal process already in place. The Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission is an independent judicial tribunal. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th October be approved [39th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Filkin.)

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I apologise to the House for not being in my place at the start of this debate. We on this side of the House very much welcome the steps that the Home Secretary is taking. We accept that this approach is the result of very careful intelligence gleaned from international sources. It has obviously been given additional impetus by the events in Bali, which, if nothing else, show how unpredictable terrorism can be throughout the world. What procedure is there for keeping the organisations under constant review? The Minister referred to the appeals procedure. Is there a review procedure within the Home Office? In general, we support the order.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I have a question for my noble friend about the list. What evidence is there that a group operating in Uzbekistan or Lebanon is also a danger to British citizens in the United Kingdom? Will he comment on extreme organisations in India, for example, which were responsible for killing British citizens? Those organisations have not been proscribed on the terrorism list. I refer to the VHP, Shiv Sinna, Bajrangdal and RSS. They were widely reported to be responsible for the murder of many innocent people in Gujarat. At least three British citizens were also murdered by them. Will they be considered for inclusion on the list in future?

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I speak on behalf of those on these Benches. We share the Government's view of the danger of international terrorism and the noble Lord's horror at the events of 11th September last year in the United States, the bombing in Bali earlier this month and the events in Moscow during the past few days.

When debating the original list, we objected to the inclusion of 21 different organisations in a single order. A statutory instrument cannot be amended and it is therefore impossible to vote on the exclusion of one organisation, however weak may be the case for treating that organisation as terrorist, without scrapping the whole order.

There was genuine argument about whether some organisations belonged on the original list. There is no reason to doubt that all organisations on the list are terrorist organisations. They are already all on the United Nations list of terrorist organisations. We therefore support the order.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, raised some important questions. My honourable friend in another place, Mr Simon Hughes, has asked on various occasions whether it would be possible to be somewhat more forthcoming about the evidence. Perhaps that could be done in the Select Committee responsible for intelligence and security in the other place.

Although we support the order, that does not alter the principle involved: we continue to believe that there should be separate orders for each organisation. There may be controversy about one or more of the names on the list. We should not object to several orders being moved as a group with a single debate, thereby incurring no extra time.

But, given the draconian nature of the effect of an order against an organisation, we believe that there should be a separate debate on each organisation so that it is possible for Members of each House to take a proper decision in respect of each organisation. Indeed, I understand that a challenge is currently being made in the courts as to whether it is proper for the Home Secretary to lump more than one organisation together in a single order. Therefore, we believe that on this occasion issues do need to be aired, although, as I have made clear, we support the order today.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I start by thanking both Front Benches for their explicit support for the order and for recognising that it is necessary and proportionate. I shall respond to the specific questions raised.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the review procedure. Clearly, if there is no longer a need for an organisation to be proscribed because the circumstances have changed and its threat has been removed, it is possible for that to happen. The Home Office chairs an inter-departmental working group at official level, comprising representatives from all relevant government departments and agencies, including the FCO, the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Northern Ireland Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers. The group reviews all organisations listed as proscribed. In practice, the membership of that organisation advises the Home Secretary before he considers whether or not to use his powers under the Act.

My noble friend Lord Ahmed asked whether it was necessary to proscribe a terrorist organisation acting in Uzbekistan. As I believe he implied, it is not only a question of a threat to British citizens in this country; it could be a question of a threat to British citizens abroad. It is also possible that we would consider it our duty, as our contribution, to support actions against international terrorism. International groups might also merit proscription because, if they were not so proscribed, the future risk to UK citizens might be real and substantial.

My noble friend also raised—I believe we have corresponded with him on the matter on previous occasions—the issue of VHP in India and a number of other organisations. I am afraid that I shall give the same answer as was given to my noble friend's written questions. The list is kept under review and a decision to proscribe or de-proscribe is taken after careful consideration of all the facts.

If my noble friend feels that we should consider any further points, I hope that he will write to me or to the Home Secretary and we shall look at them. But a judgment always has to be made. I believe that it would be disproportionate to proscribe every single terrorist organisation in the world that potentially posed some risk. No country acts in that way. Therefore, a judgment has to be made about where and when one believes that the risk to British citizens or to global security is sufficient to trigger proscription by the United Kingdom Government.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his question. There is no reason to doubt that these are terrorist organisations. I believe he is correct that the legislation does not prevent more than one group being listed in one order. However, I do not believe that that was his point. Basically, he was saying that, from his perspective, it would be desirable to deal with them as separate orders, or even as a grouped amendment. I shall reflect on that. I would say only that today's order contains a coherent list of a group of organisations, all of whom have Al'Qaeda connections. Therefore, it seemed both efficient and appropriate to group them under one order. I hope that that goes some way to meeting the questions raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.