Paul Goodman MP: They may be terror-linked but we won't comment
Tablighi Jamaat is a controversial organisation which wants to build a large mosque close to the site of the 2012 Olympic stadium. Its critics claim that it’s associated with extremism and terrorism. Ministers may have a view on these claims – but, if so, won’t say what it is.
The Editor’s kindly allowed me to share with ConservativeHome readers how I unearthed this strange Government policy position (or lack of one).
Earlier this year, Conservative MPs began to receive letters which cited these claims. Shadow Ministers were asked for a view. Obviously, we don’t have access to the same security advice as Ministers, so the sensible course to take was to write to the Government asking for its view on the record.
I sent an enquiring letter to Hazel Blears, the DCLG Secretary. The reply that I received from Parmjit Dhanda, the Community Cohesion Minister, took us a bit further. It confirmed “that there’s no current planning application before Newham Council” (which we knew); said that the site “suffers from a number of development constraints” and that “the Council does not expect a planning application in the near future” (which was interesting), and that “Tablighi Jamaat is not proscribed and I’m sure you will understand that it is Government policy not to comment on organisations or groups that are not proscribed”.
This last claim was puzzling. This is because it was clearly inconsistent with Parliamentary answers on the record from David Blunkett, when Home Secretary; from Charles Clarke, when Home Secretary; from Bill Rammell, when a Foreign Office Minister; from Kim Howells, now a Foreign Office Minister and, not least, from Gordon Brown himself.
All these answers concerned the notorious organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which David Cameron wants banned. Indeed, David quizzed Brown about a ban at his first Prime Minister’s questions. Readers will remember that it was on this occasion that Brown confessed, to the astonishment of those watching, that he’d “only been in the job five days”.
So I wrote back to Dhanda, citing the Ministerial quotes, and adding: “I can only assume…that the Government’s view at present is that Tablighi Jamaat isn’t associated with extremism or terrorism, and will do so unless or until I receive a contrary opinion from you”.
I must assume from what followed that this latest letter set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. For I received a further reply not from Dhanda, but from Tony McNulty, the Security Minister.
McNulty wrote, with regard to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, that “as you correctly note, the Government has commented on Hizb ut Tahrir. The publicity surrounding this group and their possible consideration for proscription was the main reason why the Government has chosen to make limited comment on them”.
It surely follows that since Tablighi Jamaat has also been surrounded by publicity recently, and since Ministers won’t comment on the organisation, that it hasn’t been considered for proscription.
But wait. McNulty’s letter also said: “Parmjit’s response…stated that Tablighi Jamaat was not proscribed as a terrorist organisation. I realise that this may be unhelpful, but you should not make any inferences from this as to the Government’s wider views of the organisation, either that they are or are not associated with extremism or terrorism”.
He went on to set out criteria for proscription. These include: “the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat 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”.
So what can we conclude from all this? I suggest the following.
First, that Ministers may nor may not have a view on whether Tablighi Jamaat is associated with extremism or terrorism.
Second, that if they believe that Tablighi Jamaat is associated with either or both, they’ve none the less not proscribed it.
Third, that they won’t say anything about anything.
And fourth, that no inference is to be drawn from the fact that they won’t say anything about anything.
In conclusion, perhaps all I can say for the moment is that our enquiries continue. The voter-on-the-street could be forgiven for believing that this is a strange way for a Government to run a security policy.