§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
I beg to move,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001, which was laid before this House on 28th February, be approved.
The Terrorism Act 2000 was passed by this House and the other place with very wide support, and came into force on 19 February. It provides new permanent and United Kingdom-wide legislation that is proportionate to the threat that the UK faces, and may face, from all forms of terrorism.
The Terrorism Act 2000 brings our provisions into line with the European convention on human rights and ensures that we are better able to deal with the serious threat that terrorism poses.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will recall that during the many debates on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Acts in previous Parliaments, particular concern was expressed about the fact that the Executive had power to extend detentions and also about exclusion orders. Changes were made to both those provisions under the Terrorism Act 2000. Under the 2000 Act, extensions of detention are now handled and have to be decided by members of the judiciary, and the provisions for exclusion orders were not included in the new Act. As a result, the derogations that the Government had to extend to the European convention on human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights because our provisions were not in line with our international obligations were lifted on 26 February 2001.
At the same time, when the 2000 Act came into force, we were able to ratify the remaining two of the 12 extant United Nations conventions relating to terrorism—the convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings and the convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism. Our obligations, therefore are in respect of human rights and the liberty of the subject—even where those subjects have been involved in terrorism—which is entirely proper. They are also in respect of significant United Nations conventions obliging all signatories to take better steps against terrorism.
An important part of the Act that came into force on 19 February makes available, for the first time, the power to enable the Secretary of State to proscribe terrorist organisations concerned in international or domestic terrorism, and not just those concerned only in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. Organisations that had previously bean proscribed under the earlier legislation in respect of Northern Ireland were proscribed by schedule 2 to the Act, and they remain so proscribed. In passing the Terrorism Bill into law, Parliament gave its support to extending the proscription regime in this way.
We discussed at some length why it was necessary to extend proscription. The view that this House and the other place accepted—it is the view of the Government—was that such powers were necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom did not become, or continue to be, a base for international terrorists or their supporters.
The draft order that we are debating—the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001—was laid before Parliament on 28 February. It lists 946 21 international terrorist organisations which, in my considered judgment, should be subject to proscription in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
The right hon. Gentleman has made it plain that there are 21 organisations which he thinks should be proscribed. I thought that there were 23, but we will not argue about that. I have read, as no doubt have many other right hon. and hon. Members, the letter dated 28 February which explains the process. Will the right hon. Gentleman say, in relation to each organisation that is identified as "to be proscribed", whether he has satisfied himself that there is sufficient evidence from the intelligence agencies or elsewhere to justify the assertions of fact set out in the list with which we have been provided? Otherwise, we do not know the basis on which we are being asked to make a proscription.
§ Mr. Straw
The answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question is yes. I went through the documentation and submissions at considerable length. I devoted a lot of time to them, as it was necessary and proper to do. We were under no obligation to provide any details about why I had reached that judgment, but the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and I believed that it would be convenient for the House if we provided a synopsis of such information as we could make public concerning my reasons for coming to those conclusions.
§ Mr. Straw
I should like to make some progress and then I will happily give way to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I will explain the basis for coming to those decisions. Under section 3 of the 2000 Act, I—or in the case of organisations concerned only in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—have the power to proscribe any organisation that I come to believe is concerned in terrorism. Under section 3,an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it … commits or participates in acts of terrorism 7hellip; prepares for terrorism … promotes or encourages terrorism, or … is otherwise concerned in terrorism.
§ Mr. Straw
I will make a little progress first.
An organisation is defined in section 121 of the Act as includingany association or combination of persons.",Having satisfied the statutory criteria in any particular case, 1 then have discretion as to which organisations should be recommended to Parliament for proscription.
In considering which such organisations should be so proscribed, I took into account a number of factors, including those indicated to Parliament by Ministers 947 during proceedings on the Terrorism Bill, which included the nature and scale of the organisation's activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the extent of the organisation's presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism.
§ Mr. Straw
I will continue for a moment and then I will do so.
Depending on the organisation concerned and its sphere of operation, certain factors will have carried more weight than others. As far as possible, however, I considered each organisation on a similar basis to ensure a consistency of approach.
As I mentioned, to assist consideration by both Houses all hon. Members and noble Lords were sent a brief summary in respect of each organisation named in the draft order. As right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate, in reaching my decisions, in addition to that information which is in the public domain, I have had access to related intelligence-based material on the various organisations and taken account of police, security and legal advice. I am entirely satisfied that the organisations that I am recommending to Parliament for proscription are "concerned in terrorism" and thus fully meet the criteria laid down in the 2000 Act.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell
Does the Secretary of State understand the discomfort that some of us feel at the notion that 21 organisations should appear in the motion that we are debating, and that there has not been an opportunity to deal with each on an individual and separate basis? In particular, does he understand the discomfort that I feel, as someone who consistently supported the terrorism legislation so far as it affected Northern Ireland that, on the subject of the 17 November Revolutionary Organisation—the last on the list—under the heading "Representation and activities in the United Kingdom", we read from the letter thatThere is no indication that N17 has any representation in the UK.In those circumstances, can the Home Secretary explain why he considers it necessary that that organisation should be proscribed?
§ Mr. Straw
On the first question, I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, but I suggest that, had the House and the other place wished there to be separate orders for each organisation, they would have so agreed and so proposed. As it happens, the current procedure was agreed and I suggest that it is a practical way forward. I will also draw attention to the opportunities for organisations or their representatives to 948 make representations to me for de-proscription and, if I refuse to accept the case for that, to appeal to an independent judicial—
§ Mr. Straw
I will not. I am dealing with the second matter raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North?East Fife. He raised the fact that it states in the last sentence of the note on page 14:There is no indication that N17 has any representation in the UK.However, the list that I read out of the factors that I take into account, which build on the criteria in section 3 of the Act, included the specific threat that the organisation poses to British nationals overseas. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware, the previous paragraph on page 14 refers to the fact that in June 2000 N17 murdered Brigadier Stephen Saunders, the British defence attaché in Athens. The group has also carried out numerous small-scale attacks in Greece on the interests of EU and NATO members, including a rocket attack on HMS Ark Royal while it was docked at Piraeus in 1994.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the possibility that mistakes could have occurred in the list? Only today, we were lobbied by one or two organisations. Does he agree that the list undoubtedly includes some of the most notorious terrorist groups? I see no reason at all why they should not be on the list. If we did not introduce such measures, it would be difficult for us to lecture other countries about terrorism—we would be allowing the United Kingdom to be a base for terrorist action.
§ Mr. Straw
I ant grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. He has constantly supported the Act and has always understood that the defence of freedom requires us also to be vigilant against terrorism. I do not believe that mistakes have been made—in the end, that is, of course, a matter of judgment. Certainly, no organisation was included in the list by error or inadvertence, given the care taken by my officials and—may I say—by me. However, if an organisation feels that it has been unfairly included in the list, there is every opportunity to make representations about that—as I shall explain in more detail.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell); it is unfortunate that we cannot debate each organisation on the list. By not doing so, we cannot differentiate between those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and other organisations. I remind my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there is grave disquiet in the Sikh community about the inclusion of the International Sikh Youth Federation. That organisation is active in my constituency and I have been involved with it.
I have two questions. First, if an organisation applies to my right hon. Friend to be de-proscribed, will all the information available to him also be available to the organisation, so that it can make a point-by-point refutation? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend tell the House how much pressure has been put on him and the Government by the Government of India to include organisations in the prevention of terrorism list?
§ Mr. Straw
I shall deal with my hon. Friend's second point first. It is well known and a matter of public record 949 that, over the years, a large number of Governments—including the Government of India—have made representation to the British Government concerning the need for such powers. As to whether that resulted in pressure being brought to bear on me to exercise my discretion unfairly, the answer is no.
I applied myself to the evidence before me. That leads to my hon. Friend's first question. He asks whether the information on which I based my judgments—which are before the House—could be made available to organisations that make representations. The answer is no—for a very good reason. A great deal of such information cannot be placed in the public domain because it is sensitive intelligence. It may be sensible for me to explain how the process will operate both for representations for de-proscription and for appeals to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission.
Any organisation seeking de-proscription can, at any time while it is subject to inclusion on the list, make representation to me, as Secretary of State. The representations do not have to be made by individuals who have a direct association with the organisation, but can be made on behalf of the organisation. That is an important protection.
Representations can be made to me We have provided a basic summary, as fairly as we can, of the facts taken into account in making the initial decision—I accept that the summary only goes into brief detail I shall consider such representations carefully. I shall of course take into account representations made in the House today, as well as any others that are made by right hon. and hon. Members. I shall then come to a decision on de-proscription. If I decide to de-proscribe, that is the end of the matter. The organisation is de-proscribed by order. The matter is not burdensome for any individual; it is subject only to the negative resolution procedure. That is straightforward. If, however, I decide to maintain the proscription, the organisation has a right of appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission.
§ Mr. Straw
It depends whether I have time to give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, given that I have already given way to him. I am normally very indulgent of his wishes, but others also want to get in.
The Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission is a new independent judicial tribunal to consider these appeals. The commission will consider any refusals to de-proscribe in the light of judicial re view principles. The substantive basis for appeals is different from that in a parallel organisation called the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, but procedurally it has been modelled on that latter commission. That latter commission, which operates in a very similar way, 950 although the basis for appeal is different, has clearly demonstrated its independence from Government in the cases that it has had to consider.
§ Mr. Straw
No. If I may, I shall explain this point to the House and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission exists to deal with decisions by the Home Secretary of the day to exclude individuals from this country on national security grounds, where those individuals have a right to remain in this country. After a decision is made to exclude, the individual makes an appeal. Because the decision has been made on the basis of intelligence that cannot be disclosed, the individual concerned cannot see that intelligence, but all the information must be disclosed to the independent appeal commission and a special advocate is appointed to the appeal commission, to scrutinise in very close detail—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not intervene from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The occupant of the Chair does not appreciate that kind of intervention, even when it is addressed as an apology.
§ Mr. Straw
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) knows very well that I do my best to give way to as many hon. Members as possible, but I have to give way to other people before I give way to him two or three times. I have already dealt with his point.
§ Mr. Straw
I want to finish the point, and then I shall give way to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn); I promise.
951 A special advocate appears on behalf of the individual before the SIAC or the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission to scrutinise all the evidence before those special commissions, and to cross-examine the witnesses who go before it. The SIAC has worked entirely independently of Government, and in at least three cases decisions that I have made to exclude people on national security grounds have been overturned, including two cases in respect of two individuals who, although they were accepted as Sikh terrorists, were not deported because the commission was not satisfied about their safety were they to be returned to India, and therefore decided not to accept my decision that they should be deported.
§ Mr. Wilshire
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for keeping his promise; it is exactly what I would expect of him and I do not wish to quarrel with the list that he brings here. May I take him back to his list and to the Terrorism Act 2000, because that is when I started to try to let him give me a chance to ask him this question?
I had expected to see the Real IRA on the list in the order because I knew that it was not in the Act, so I went back to the original list, where I saw the Irish Republican Army listed. I am confused and I should be most grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would help us with this matter, because I doubt whether there is anyone in the Chamber who would disagree with the assertion that the Real IRA should be a proscribed organisation. The Terrorism Act 2000 simply refers to the Irish Republican Army. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what that means? Does it mean the Official IRA, the Provisional IRA, the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA? Which of them is included, or are they all? The House needs to know whether any body that may have been invented this afternoon is included, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, those organisations dress themselves up in any sort of name to try to show that they are not the same.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. As I understand the process, he proposes to ban 21 organisations on the basis of information that he has received from the security services and, possibly, other sources, and those decisions could go to the appeal organisations that he describes. In the event that any one of those organisations attempted to take his decision, or that of the appeal commission that he has set up, to judicial review, would the security information on which he has based his initial decision be available in open court so that it could be contested, or would it be privy to himself and the judge so that the appellant organisation would not even know what the case was against it?
§ Mr. Straw
First, given that the criteria on which the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission considers whether to de-proscribe an organisation can themselves come under judicial review, it is not for me to decide— 952 I merely speculate—but it is unlikely that there would be grounds to seek a judicial review of the process before the administrative court. It would be hard to envisage circumstances in which the merits of a decision could be challenged, unless there were some major defect of process.
In the event that such a circumstance occurred, it would not be the case that, simply by virtue of an application or permission—as it is now called—before the administrative court being granted for judicial review, that the intelligence on which I have to some extent, but not entirely, based my decisions could be disclosed. Where such matters have arisen in the past—they do so quite frequently—the appropriate Secretary of State signs a public interest immunity certificate.
By that process, all the information that the applicant Secretary of State seeks to withhold from open court is put before the judge. The judge then decides whether to accept the PII. If the judge decides, as occasionally happens, to reject the PII application and to order that the information be disclosed, the Secretary of State must decide whether to proceed with the substance of the application. That is how the process works.
§ Mr. Straw
I shall finish this point before giving way to the hon. Gentleman.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will appreciate, as I am sure he does, that, by definition, intelligence information cannot be disclosed publicly, because doing so would render its collection impossible and put the sources of that intelligence at very serious risk. However, I understand the implication of what he says. One of the inherent problems in such a process, which we have tried to square with the SIAC and POAC processes, is that if the intelligence cannot he challenged, its veracity is more difficult to ascertain. That is why, although the information will be withheld from the applicant organisation, it will be challenged rigorously before the SIAC by the special advocate.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Home Secretary has confirmed, first, that even if he forms a view that an organisation is a terrorist organisation, he has discretion about whether to proscribe it. Secondly, he could have, but has not, sought the formal view of the Security and Intelligence Committee or that of any independent judicial authority, so he comes here with the proposals with no authority, other than that of his office and his Ministers. Lastly, on the question of how many of the 21 organisations, have there been formal representations from foreign Governments? In how many cases have the organisations or their representatives been asked for information before the Secretary of State made his decision?
§ Mr. Straw
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I have not consulted the Security and Intelligence Committee. It knows about the process and was informed in advance of the decisions, but it has not been involved in reaching judgments. That is not its role. It would be quite 953 inappropriate if it were to be embroiled in Executive decisions. The process that has been established by this House and the other place—with my full endorsement and recommendation—is that it should be an Executive decision subject to proper scrutiny and the kind of appeal on judicial review backgrounds that I have already described. I should have added in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North that there can be an appeal on a point of law to the appeal courts in any event against a ruling by the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked me if I could list all the Governments who have made representations seeking to proscribe the organisations. The answer is no. but it is in the public domain that a large number of Governments in the originating territories have made public statements seeking the proscription of the equivalent of these organisations by Governments across the world.
On the hon. Gentleman's question about whether I will disclose the degree of liaison that exists with security and intelligence services overseas, for reasons that I think he will understand, the answer to that is no.
§ Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)
May I pursue my right hon. Friend about the point on the verification of intelligence specifically in relation to the example of the International Sikh Youth Federation that was cited? Sikhs in my constituency have made representations to me—I suspect that many other hon. Members have received similar representations—and have pointed out that Mukhtiar and Paramjit Singh, who were accused of acts of terrorism, are not members of the International Sikh Youth Federation. The organisation itself has made it clear that they are not, and have not been, members of the organisation.
The other charges that have been cited against the organisation do not make sense if the connections do not exist. Sikhs raise money in the United Kingdom, but they do so for entirely social purposes. That is consistent with other observations that there is no evidence of a threat to the west from the organisation's activities. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how intelligence sources or representations from other Governments are checked against other sources that might provide a different picture about the credibility and integrity of that organisation?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is not possible to intervene on an intervention. The Home Secretary must be allowed to reply to the first intervention.
§ Mr. Straw
I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) if he first allows me to answer the other point.
954 The paragraphs in the document are based on the best information available. Is every effort made to check intelligence sources and the information derived from those sources? Yes, and to a degree that I did not anticipate before I took on this job. Very great care is taken on the assessment of intelligence. Intelligence that is wrong is worse than worthless; it can be extremely dangerous. In human organisations errors can sometimes be made, which is why we have the process that I have described beyond the decisions that I recommend to the House.
Although the criteria for appeals to the POAC are different from and narrower than the criteria for appeals to the SIAC, the process is very similar indeed. The presiding retired judges and special advocates have already shown, through the SIAC process, that they are rigorous and entirely independent of Government, and I expect the same to be true in this process.
§ Mr. Turner
I appreciate the opportunity to intervene. We all realise that these are weighty matters, and that my right hon. Friend finds himself in a difficult position in his very responsible job. I appreciate that the appeals mechanism will give organisations the right to make representations, but I would be failing in my duty as a constituency Member for Wolverhampton, which has a large Sikh population and an active membership of the International Sikh Youth Federation, if I did not ask my right hon. Friend to recognise that the people whom I represent—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to those who intervened earlier that interventions are getting longer and longer. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. I remind all hon. Members that this is a debate and they will have the chance to make their contributions, if there is time.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas
At least one of the 21 organisations on the list has been on a ceasefire for 18 months. Flow will the Secretary of State review the list? Will he seek to de-proscribe organisations if ceasefires hold? How can individuals who support those organisations take part in the appeals process? If the organisations are proscribed, they may be seen as supporting terrorism, so how can they raise funds for an appeal?
§ Mr. Straw
The criteria for proscription are laid down in section 3 of the Act. I have also given information about the tests that I have adopted in addition to those criteria. The fact that a terrorist organisation is on a ceasefire for the time being does not, in itself, mean that it is no longer a terrorist organisation. Although the Irish Republican Army, including the Provisional IRA, has been on a ceasefire for some time, it is still on the list of proscribed organisations. If the organisation concerned 955 wishes to make representations to the effect that its ceasefire is so permanent and durable that it has ceased to be a terrorist organisation, that is another matter.
I turn now to the hon. Gentleman's second point, about the humanitarian and fund-raising activities of some of the organisations or bodies associated with them, which has been implicit in many interventions. I cannot stress too strongly to the House that the provisions of the Act are not aimed at any specific community or at those protesting in a peaceful, non-violent way against alleged injustices or for political change. Nor are they aimed at those raising funds for legitimate social or humanitarian purposes. I recognise that some terrorists and their supporters might seek to operate under the cover of legitimate organisations that are, perhaps, promoting political change by non-violent means and that some well-meaning people associated with those organisations have nothing whatever to do with terrorism. Those people have nothing to fear from the new legislation.
§ Dr. Starkey
Will my right hon. Friend clarify the status of information on each organisation in his letter to Members of Parliament? He will know that I am concerned about the section on Hezbollah attacks, which includes an attack by Lebanese nationals against armed forces illegally in occupation of Lebanon. Is he suggesting that that should count as a terrorist activity? Does that imply that we support the illegal occupation of Lebanon?
§ Mr. Straw
I have discussed this formally with my hon. Friend and yesterday she saw the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South, about it. The information on organisations is nothing more than that. It is a synopsis of what can be made public to explain why I reached the decisions that I did.
We are not seeking to proscribe Hezbollah and Hamas generally. Both organisations are political movements and, just as Sinn Fein is not proscribed, neither are they. We have tried to proscribe—according to one's point of view—their military or terrorist wings, in this case, the Lebanese Hizballah External Security Organisation and the Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades.
§ Mr. Straw
No, I am sorry, but I must finish.
956 I appreciate hon. Members' concerns. I hope that the House will accept that I have tried to deal with the issue with great care, as is appropriate. In our view, the draft order is compatible with the rights set out in the European convention on human rights. It represents a fair, just and proportionate response to the threats from international terrorism. I commend the order to the House, but I shall listen carefully to representations and try to respond.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)
The House only has one and a half hours for such an important debate and, as many hon. Members want to contribute, I intend to be brief. I am grateful to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for making their Ministers available to the Opposition during discussions on what is a difficult subject. I associate the Opposition with the Home Secretary's remarks about terrorism. We do not intend to oppose the order.
We fully support the Government's measures to deal with the destabilising menace of international terrorism. The increasing globalisation of recent years has made it much easier for international terrorist groups to move their operations from country to country. The revolution in communications technology and the internationalisation of financial markets have also made it much easier for such organisations to operate across the globe. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the United Kingdom should net offer sanctuary to those who use unacceptable violence to achieve their ends. We also agree that the measures are necessary and timely. We support his actions.
I am also grateful to the Home Secretary for setting out the background. Will he expand on the opportunity that the organisations that are named in the order have had to object? Have any objected and, if so, in what terms?
§ Mr. Hogg
Does my right hon. Friend understand the anxiety of some Conservative Members? The appeal process in section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is not based on merits. As the Home Secretary rightly said, there is only a power to have a judicial review, which can ask whether he has acted reasonably. That is different from a review on the merit; of whether an organisation should be proscribed.
§ Miss Widdecombe
Yes, I accept that entirely, which is why I was starting to probe the Government on the opportunities that named organisations might have had to object and make representations, either directly or through others on their behalf. If so, have there been representations on the merits of the decisions taken?
The Home Secretary gave a rather cursory answer—that is not meant critically, but relates to the time available—in response to one intervention. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) may wish to return to the subject in any remarks that he may make. I should be grateful if the Home Secretary would respond because it is clearly right in the interests of justice that that those who are named and proscribed should have the opportunity to make representations to the opposite effect.
§ Mr. Winnick
Mention has been made of the International Sikh Youth Federation, which may well 957 have a case. Hence my intervention on the Home Secretary in which I said that mistakes could have been made. Nevertheless, does the right hon. Lady accept, as I pointed out earlier, that some of the organisations named in the order are notorious terrorist organisations? Surely, it would be farcical to ask organisations such as the 17 November Revolutionary Organisation and other terrorist organisations for their views, especially bearing in mind the latest murder carried out by N17.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I was not trying to make that case at all. I was trying to probe the Secretary of State on the issue. Reasons for proscribing are properly set out in an annexe that describes the various organisations. However, bearing in mind the fact that one or two objections have been made and that there is slight concern about some organisations, I wanted to probe the Home Secretary on the opportunity for representations—even for hon. Members to make representations on behalf of groups or in response to representations that they had received.
I was not seeking to take the matter much further than that, and I would be amazed if the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) objected to people having the right to make representations.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
We would all welcome the military wing of, respectively, Hezbollah, Hammas and the Abu Nidal Organisation being proscribed, but a few hon. Members would have doubts about Mujaheddin e Khalq, which is attempting to impose—if that is the word—a democratic regime in Iran. I would welcome responses from my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary, in his winding-up speech, on whether the MEK has had discussions with the Home Office about whether or not it should be proscribed.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that the Home Secretary must answer that question, not me. I cannot possibly know what representations the Home Office has received, although in a few weeks' time I expect to receive that information on a regular basis.
Does the Home Secretary have any plans at present to include—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I am endeavouring to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. Does he have any plans at present to include any further terrorist organisations, either international or domestic, in the list of proscribed organisations? I should also be grateful to know what action he envisages taking against the funding arrangements of proscribed organisations.
In addition to the destabilising effect of the international terrorism groups mentioned in the order, recent events have highlighted the constant danger of terrorism in the United Kingdom. The Opposition feel as strongly as anyone else that tough measures are essential to deal with that danger. Will the Home Secretary therefore enlarge on his earlier answer about the Real IRA and Continuity IRA?
The list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 includes the Irish Republican Army, but does not make a distinction between the Provisional IRA and the so-called Real IRA. I think that the Home Secretary said that that did not matter, as both organisations were covered. However, I should like that to be spelled out.
958 The IRA is proscribed under the terms of the Act, as I said, but that Act incorporates pre-existing legislation which enables the Secretary of State to use emergency powers to enact special provisions, introduced after the Omagh bombing, against specified organisations. In order for special provisions to be enacted against specified terrorist organisations, the organisation has to be both proscribed by schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 and specified in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.
Organisations such as the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA are listed under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act, but they are not specifically proscribed under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act. In the debate on the Terrorism Bill in the other place on 6 June last year, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office assured the other place that the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA would be covered by the generic prohibition of the IRA in schedule 2 to the 2000 Act. I should be grateful not only if that assurance could be repeated—we have heard that tonight—but if some explanation could be given as to why there is no specific prohibition. There seems to be room for confusion in that arrangement.
The Real IRA and Continuity IRA, along with the Red Hand Defenders and the Orange Volunteers, are specified under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act as organisations that are not observing a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, but those organisations are not specifically proscribed again under schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act.
Given all that complication, would it not be more appropriate if there were one list of proscribed organisations? Should not all terrorist organisations be fully subject to all available anti-terrorist legislation? Is there not a lack of clarity in the present arrangements? Should not the force of law be applied to all proscribed organisations, whether they are currently on ceasefire or not?
Having said that I think that there may be a case—I put it no more highly than that, pending the Secretary of State's reply—for one list, may I probe him on some rather odd omissions? There are hon. Members who have been threatened by the Animal Liberation Front. That group has been connected with activities that most of us would consider extreme and unlawful. I am sure that all hon. Members would condemn such actions in the strongest terms, yet the ALF is not proscribed. Nor is Combat 18 proscribed. That organisation also uses and espouses violence.
I have discussed the matter with the Secretary of State, but 1 should be grateful if he would put on the record his reasons for not proscribing those two organisations. Aside from those remarks, I repeat the Opposition's willingness to give all possible support to the measure. I shall be interested to hear the contributions of other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I should make it clear that I chair the British Committee on Iran Freedom, and share the dismay and disbelief of most of the UK's Iranian community at the mujaheddin being labelled a terrorist organisation. A range of Iranian organisations in this country have been in touch with me, but I shall not weary the House by listing them.
The reason there are so many Iranians living in the UK and why the number of asylum applications from Iranian citizens has almost trebled in the past year or so is because 959 those are people who cannot live at home. They are in this country and elsewhere in Europe not as terrorists and not because they support terrorism. They are, in every sense of the word, the victims of terrorism. They are among the relatives of an estimated 30,000—yes, 30,000—political prisoners butchered by the regime in Iran in the single year of 1988, and of the estimated 700 people executed under the rule of the so-called reformist President Khatami, and of the 35 political opponents that the regime has murdered abroad. The Government acknowledge that the mujaheddinhas not attacked UK or western interests.They argue that the mujaheddin has no acknowledged presence in the UK, although it is supported here by the National Council of Resistance—the same body that was invited for many years to the annual Labour party conference.
§ Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
With regard to the number of Iranians living in this country because of the circumstances in Iran, does my hon. Friend agree that it astonishing that the Mujaheddin e Khalq should be placed on the list of proscribed organisations at a time when the Home Office accepts that membership of that organisation or association with it are proper grounds for asylum in Britain?
§ Mr. Corbett
My hon. Friend is right; that may not be the best recent example of joined-up government.
During the passage of the Bill that became the Terrorism Act 2000, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the legislation was aimed at groups in Britain that supported efforts to overthrow democratic regimes abroad, but he made clear that dissent was a vital part of our democracy. Does he consider the present regime in Tehran to be democratic? Not even the mullahs would describe themselves in that way, and nor should they, as they have stolen democracy from the Iranian people. If he needs some help on that, he should know that as lately as yesterday, the UN special representative on human rights in Iran, Professor Maurice Copthorne, reported:Breaches of human rights are in large part as common today as they were five years ago.He also stated:The number of executions reported in the Iranian press from I January to 1 December 2000 are placed at about 2000.
§ Jackie Ballard (Taunton)
When was the hon. Gentleman last in Iran, and when did he last speak to ordinary Iranian people, as I have done recently? If he speaks to them, he will find that most of them support progress and reform. He will also find little or no support for the mujaheddin or armed revolution.
§ Mr. Corbett
The hon. Lady's comments are interesting. I happened to be chosen to be part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Iran. I think that it was three years ago. The then Iranian Parliament found the visit inconvenient, as myself and one of my hon. Friends were known critics of the mullahs' regime, which did not feel able to allow us to make the visit under the auspices of the IPU. The delegation never left the country 960 and I do not know whether the invitation has been renewed. Whatever impressions she gained on her visit to Iran, they cannot wipe out the brutal atrocities and murders that the mullahs' regime carries out against its own people and its political opponents around the world. Those are matters of fact; if she wants to borrow "Crime Against Humanity", a book which details the murders committed in the single year of 1988 and lists the victims' names, I shall gladly lend it to her.
Professor Copthorne went on to say:The jailing of journalists and political dissidents and the general denial of fair trial continues unabated.What puzzles me about that is that the Home Secretary told the British Committee on Iran Freedom in his letter that the mujaheddin is an "Iranian dissident organisation". He went on to say thatit claims to be seeking the establishment of a democratic, socialist Islamic Republic".He might more accurately have said that it leads a broad coalition that wants to establish a pluralist and secular regime that guarantees human rights and freedoms. What is it doing, therefore, on the list of proscribed organisations? It is the regime and not the resistance to it that belongs on the list.
I must tell my Front-Bench colleagues that it is suspected that when the regime's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamal Kharazi, came here last year, he demanded the banning of the mujaheddin as the price of better relations between our two countries. It is further suspected that that call was repeated when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office was in Tehran last month. The Home Secretary should know that last year, 335 Members of the House—a majority, as it is one more than a half—and 61 peers signed a statement on human rights and democracy in Iran. It called on our Government to support the Iranian people's struggle for freedom and democracy. That action was mirrored by a majority of members of the US Congress, 150 French Deputies, and Members of the Parliaments of Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg.
This year, in a statement headed "Iran—the cry is freedom", hon. Members are again signing up to say that the United Kingdom should support the millions, not the mullahs, in the rising demands for democracy and human rights. While she was in Iran, the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) might not have noticed the evidence from pro-democracy demonstrations across that country that the mullahs' regime is on its last legs. The so-called reformers and reactionaries are two faces of a single, repressive regime.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious case, but would he accept that one of the vices involved in the process on which we are embarking is that no independent body exists to asses s the points that he is making in relation to the mujaheddin? Will he also accept that the review mechanism provided by section 5 of the 2000 Act is concerned not with the merits of the argument but with process and procedure, and with whether the Secretary of State has acted reasonably?
§ Mr. Corbett
I understand exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. However, in this case, the question is much easier. Either our Government regard 961 the regime in Iran as democratic or undemocratic. That is very simple, and I hope that the Secretary of State will give a clear answer when he replies to the debate.
The evidence that I have presented to the House shows that Iran has one of the most vile and corrupt regimes anywhere in the world. It is a regime that is afraid of its own people and one which will not tolerate dissent or enable any aspect of democracy. It closes newspapers, jails journalists, and brings out the army if there is any kind of demonstration for jobs and freedom. Those are not the hallmarks of a democratic country, and that is why I object to the mujaheddin being on the list.
I say in all seriousness to my right hon. Friend that, in this respect, this order repeats the mistakes of 1978, when this country backed another dying regime in Iran. If this order is passed, we shall add insult to injury, and betray the hopes of the Iranian people again.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
Let me start with a word or two of agreement with the Government. The Liberal Democrats argued, before the Terrorism Act 2000 was introduced, that we should have a UK-wide anti-terrorism Act, not an Act that treated part of the United Kingdom differently, as previously, when exclusion orders could be issued in relation to Northern Ireland. We also believed that the ability to review the legislation should exist, to reconsider the way in which terrorism was defined. We also argued that Parliament should be able to review the legislation regularly.
The Home Secretary knows from debates on the Act—the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), other hon. Members and I served on the Committee that considered it—that the definition of terrorism was highly controversial, and that my hon. Friends and I proposed much more narrowly drawn alternatives. We also proposed that the Act should lapse after five years if it was not renewed. We lost those arguments and the Government got their way.
Liberal Democrats have always accepted the need for the power to proscribe terrorist organisations. When the House debated the Bill, it specifically discussed the Irish organisations on the list, which had been the subject of detailed scrutiny in Conunittee. We foresaw from the beginning the problems that we are discussing tonight.
We foresaw problems in allowing the Secretary of State to make a subjective judgment—this is not a slight on his integrity—on the basis of information not available to other Members of the House, that enables him to issue orders that, if approved, proscribe organisations from that moment.
Organisations avoid proscription only if they can clear one of two hurdles. They must either persuade the Secretary of State to reverse his view or win a case before the appeal commission. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykenam (Mr. Hogg) and others have argued, that, too, is not an appeal in which both sides would appear with an equality of arms and a party could know the case against it and be able to rebut it.
It is also clear that the Home Secretary could have asked the Intelligence and Security Committee to give him a view, but he chose not to—that is why I put the specific question to him—although he asked it to 962 comment on the Mitrokhin affair. The committee represents Parliament. It meets to deal with sensitive matters and to give an opinion that provides a broader base for Government decisions and for judgments to be made on them in the House. It was not asked to comment, however; nor was an independent judicial view taken, although we argued for that in Committee.
Perhaps the most telling concern of all is that, although we have had only an hour and two minutes of debate and have only 28 minutes left, the House is meant not only to judge on 21 entirely different organisations, but to hold one vote and make one decision that will proscribe every one of them, regardless of whether, according to the Home Secretary's list, they have a headquarters here, have members here or have been active here.
§ Mr. Hogg
I mean no slight on the Home Secretary, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that the real problem is that we do not have a clue about the strength of evidence on which the right hon. Gentleman relies? We have to accept his word. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is too fragile a basis on which to proscribe an organisation?
§ Mr. Hughes
My colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches and I share that view. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) referred to N17, which of course is a terrorist organisation. It has committed terrorist acts abroad, but never here. The mujaheddin has a good case for saying that it is taking on an undemocratic regime. It may be a terrorist organisation, but that does not necessarily require the Home Secretary to proscribe it. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is involved in a peace process with an intermediary—the Norwegian Government—and is seeking to resolve an intractable and awful civil war in Sri Lanka. The International Sikh Youth Federation also seeks to play its part.
All those organisations have a case, just as 20 or 30 years ago the African National Congress would have had a case, or 10 or 20 years ago those opposing General Pinochet would have had a case. Many such organisations, by any definition, would be classed as terrorist for undertaking activity that may have been illegal in their own countries, but which would always have been legal in democratic countries. That is the difficulty of tonight's debate.
There has been no judicial confirmation of the proposed organisation and no cross-party agreement. There would be no appeal based on the merits of a case. We must be careful that we do not put outside the law certain activities and certain people when their opportunity to put their case under the criminal law is not the same as that for others in different contexts.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)
Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on his case involving the example of N17 in Greece, which has a democratic Government? Why should it not be on the list?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not argue that none of the organisations listed is clearly terrorist under the definition in the Act. I am not arguing on the basis of facts—not only in the list given by Ministers, but known to the House—that certain organisations have not owned up to 963 committing terrorist activities. N17 is in that category. What appears to have happened, however, is that a list has been presented to the House on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, largely as a result of representations from foreign Governments about concerns abroad rather than as a result of concern about whether terrorist acts would be committed in this country—acts that this domestic legislation is intended to regulate.
§ Mr. Hughes
No. The hon. Gentleman has already intervened several times.
My colleagues and I are unhappy about the motion above all because we cannot possibly give fair treatment to each and every organisation when we cannot vote on separate proposals that they be regarded and proscribed as terrorist organisations. Let me give an example. My constituency contains the headquarters of a Tamil organisation, Eelam house. I have been there to see members of the organisation, who have links with, and associate with, those who have—in their words—taken on a freedom struggle for the Tamil homeland. Many people in the world have been through that process prior to self-determination, but the order could make any Member of Parliament who talked to any such organisation guilty under the 2000 Act from the day of the order's implementation, before we had been able to argue the case.
It may be wrong for those organisations to be proscribed as terrorist organisations, or it may be not wrong but unhelpful. I merely say that we should be very careful about endorsing a proposal on a take-it-or-leave it basis. It would be better for the Home Secretary to withdraw the order, and allow the House to consider each organisation on its merits. That could have been done, it should have been done, and it is a great pity that it has not been done.
We are not giving proper consideration to what is a properly weighty proposal, intended to ensure that we deal with terrorism firmly and fairly. We are certainly not dealing with it fairly tonight.
§ 12.7 am
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I shall be brief, because we have to be brief. This is a travesty of the way in which such an important and serious issue should be discussed. Debate is being limited to an hour and half, late at night, with a catch-all of 21 different organisations that the order proposes to ban. We have been given no opportunity to discuss those organisations in any detail, or to engage in any other form of parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation.
The history of anti-terrorist legislation is not good. The original Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 was rushed through the House, and resulted in serious miscarriages of justice. The first person to be arrested in this country under the Act was Paul Hill, a constituent of mine, who was subsequently imprisoned as one of the Guildford Four. He was finally released 17 years later, with an apology of a sort from the High Court and the Home Secretary of the day. I think that we should think very carefully about the effect of the overall ban that the Home Secretary is proposing.
964 The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is absolutely right: if this legislation had been in place 10 or 15 years ago the ANC would certainly have been on the list, as would Umkhonto we Sizwe—which was undertaking some forms of military activity in South Africa—and many other organisations from different parts of the world.
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
While no one denies the atrocities perpetrated by some groups on the list, what we are attempting to scrutinise tonight is the process, the thinking and the procedure behind this type of proscription. The history of Britain's withdrawal from empire is littered with groups that were described as terrorists, but survived to take tea with the Queen.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Indeed. I am sure that had such legislation been in operation in 1945, when the pan-African unity conference was held at Chorlton cum Hardy town hall, every one of the people there would have been arrested for being a terrorist, because they were seeking freedom from the British empire. Later, however, every one of those people became either a Prime Minister, President or Cabinet Minister of one African country or another. Later, without exception, every one of them took tea with the Queen.
The Home Secretary should also tell us—if he has a few minutes at the end of the debate perhaps he will do so—where the list came from. I am very well aware that the Indian Government, the Turkish Government, the Sri Lankan Government, the Iranian Government and undoubtedly many other Governments have been constantly pressing the British Government to close down political activity in this country by their opponents. I also believe that all those organisations—surely it is purely coincidence—are also on the State Department list in Washington. I am sure that that is just a coincidence of history and that there is no complicity whatsoever.
I also ask the Home Secretary to think through the implications of what hon. Members are saying. None of us likes bombing. None of us supports terrorism. None of us wants violence. The end game to violence and to achieving peace is a political process, giving people and their organisations the political space to argue and debate.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned the situation in Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are on the list of organisations to be banned. It is currently observing a ceasefire, although it has been violated by the forces of the Sri Lankan state What message are we sending to the Tamil people living in this country, perhaps because they have gained asylum here? We are saying that an organisation that many of them support is to be banned. A similar point can be made in relation to the peace process in Turkey—which we hope will end successfully—where the Kurdistan Workers party is also observing a ceasefire.
Surely it would be far more useful to work with international organisations that are attempting to achieve ceasefires and peace than to ban them from operating in this country.
§ Mr. Winnick
I think that my hon. Friend has conceded that some of the organisations listed are 965 engaged in terror. In what type of continuing peace process is N17, for example, engaged? Greece is an entirely democratic country—the junta has, fortunately, been overthrown—and has been so for the past quarter of a century. N17, however, wants to destroy that democratic structure. As my hon. Friend knows in June 2000 it murdered Brigadier Stephen Saunders.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend has jumped slightly ahead of my comments, but I shall help him with that. If an organisation is engaged in criminal activity, the criminal law is available to deal with it.
I believe that the proposed process is wrong because it would entail the Home Secretary making a decision on the basis of intelligence information. Subsequently, he would receive representations from hon. Members, from representatives of the organisation concerned and from anyone else who cared to make a representation that he cared to receive. Hon. Members and the organisations would not know what had been said to him. Subsequently, he may impose a ban, which may then be the subject of an appeal to the independent appeal committee that he has appointed. The chairman of that tribunal will also receive the security information, whereas the other parties will not. If the matter becomes the subject of a judicial review, a public interest immunity certificate may be granted by the Home Secretary.
Whoever is Home Secretary, under the order he or she is judge, jury and proponent of the initial decision. I believe that the process should be far more open and that if something is wrong, the criminal law is available to deal with it.
Despite the Home Secretary's earlier comments, I believe that there are serious problems with the legislation's compliance with the European convention on human rights and with our own Human Rights Act 1998. There are serious problems also with the possible criminalisation of people during the appeals process. If the House passes the order and all the organisations are banned, the order would, as I understand it, take effect immediately. Consequently, anyone involved in those organisations will automatically become a criminal. However, the organisation may appeal against the ban and it may be lifted. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice if people are convicted of criminal activity by belonging to an organisation, despite the fact that the organisation can appeal and, subsequently, the ban might be lifted.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
I believe that my hon. Friend has met a constituent of mine who is an active member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, and who has certainly persuaded me that his activities have nothing to do with terrorism. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the order covers some organisations whose members are social and political activists, and that it could criminalise them in a way that would be inappropriate, given the work in which they are involved?
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend is right. I met a delegation of people from the Sikh community this afternoon, as did many other hon. Members. One could not meet more active, upright or socially aware people. Are we to make them criminals for their membership of those organisations? That will be the effect of the order. The message being given to members of Muslim, Sikh, 966 Tamil, Turkish and Kurdish communities around the country is that we are interested in banning their organisations because they are calling for fundamental political changes in their home countries.
We are in danger of making a very bad decision that will set a bad example of the true work of a democratic Parliament. We will be in danger of criminalising—or of driving into the hands of criminals—a lot of people who have no wish to take part in criminal activities. That danger will arise because we are not prepared to take part in what ought to be the political process to bring peace to places around the world where at present there are only difficult and almost intractable problems.
How many more organisations will be put on the list because Governments around the world find it inconvenient that international organisations use London as a base from which to spread political propaganda aimed at securing change in their home countries? Britain has given refuge to many people from different parts of the world for a long time. Enormous political changes have resulted, such as those resulting from the struggle to bring about independence from empire, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) referred.
The House should not pass this order tonight. I very much hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider seriously the great mistake that I believe he is making.
§ Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)
I, too, have a number of reservations about adding 21 new organisations to the proscribed list. It is true that many of those organisations are involved in violence in other parts of the world, but the judgment that we have to make is whether they have been involved in violence in the United Kingdom. An order proscribing every organisation involved in violence around the world would be very wide and difficult to police.
We in Northern Ireland have had plenty of terrorists from various organisations. On numerous occasions we have asked that they be proscribed. We have always been told that that was a difficult matter, that a careful balance must be struck, and that proscribing the organisations might give them more publicity than they would otherwise achieve. As far as we can see, the order strikes no balance and makes no judgment as to what activity a proscribed organisation might be carrying out in Northern Ireland. The fact that such an organisation is carrying out terrorism in other parts of the world is considered to be sufficient for it to be proscribed here. That is an undesirable feature.
I wish to emphasise a difficulty raised by other hon. Members—the use of the term "Irish Republican Army". I know that it has been said that the term is used in a generic way, to cover both the Provisional IRA and the Real IRA. That may be difficult to argue in legal terms. The order should be made explicit in its references to the Real IRA: in that way, there will be no doubt or controversy in any future legal discussion.
The Real IRA is a terrorist organisation which killed 29 people in my constituency. Its members are carrying out terrorist activities on the mainland. It is a very dangerous organisation. It is therefore right that it should be explicitly named so that there can be no doubt.
967 We must, however, ask ourselves what the point of proscription is. The IRA is a proscribed organisation, yet the Government are prepared to negotiate with its members. Various other terrorist organisations are proscribed—what difference has it made? The Government have still negotiated with them and made concessions to them—indeed, whether those organisations were proscribed or not does not seem to have made much difference. What is the point of proscription and what benefits will accrue from it?
In conclusion, we have reservations about the order and although we do not wish to support terrorism in the United Kingdom in any way, we believe that this is the wrong way to go about it at this time.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
This has been a good, albeit all too short and perhaps truncated, debate. Let me make it clear at the outset, echoing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said at the beginning of the debate, that we endorse the Government's central intention and do not intend to frustrate it tonight. Accordingly, I cannot encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends to do any differently. Nevertheless, I hope that the Home Secretary has listened carefully to the views expressed.
Terrorism is the most appalling scourge; the overwhelming majority of Members are united in denunciation of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald rightly pointed out that the extent of globalisation, the increase in the facility of technology and the nature of international financial markets all conspire to assist the terrorist and make our task that much more difficult.
I readily acknowledge that in a procedure of this kind, intelligence reports naturally cannot be freely tossed around, or their contents exchanged, in the open political marketplace. I recognise the constraints within which the Home Secretary is operating. Nevertheless, at the risk of inflicting grave injury upon myself, I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), to the cogent and considered speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and to the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who has been consistent on this subject. Their speeches raised legitimate concerns, which I suspect have permeated the Chamber.
Particular grievances have been raised about individual organisations such as the International Sikh Youth Federation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the mujaheddin. Those concerns must be addressed. It is obviously a weakness of the arrangement that the Government have adopted that there is no opportunity to cherry pick and consider the merits of each organisation. We are invited en bloc to give our approval or en bloc to withhold it.
Tonight we will give the Government the benefit of the doubt in the name of presenting a united front in opposition to terrorism. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) makes it clear that he does not intend to follow suit, and his intentions are respected. However, I am setting out the position of the Opposition Front Bench.
968 I hope that the Home Secretary will respond seriously to the points that have been made. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham made the point that the test in an appeal seems purely to be the legal test of reasonableness rather than one requiring the merits of the case to be considered. Need that be the case? Is it unavoidable? Could the Home Secretary reconsider that test for the future?
My second observation is again intended to amplify the concern that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary expressed at the outset—why have the exclusions? There is no reference to the Animal Liberation Front, despite the fact that two years ago about 800 recorded incidents of serious violence were perpetrated in this country by animal rights terrorists. Those are all on the record. There is a grievance. Elsewhere in Government policy, it is a public grievance that they are rightly addressing, which does not seem to be consistent with what is being said in this measure, so I hope that the Home Secretary will look into that.
Finally, my right hon. Friend made a valid point about Combat 18—a truly despicable organisation, which has deployed enormous violence in pursuit of its sinister goals on many occasions. The Government's intention is sound. The Secretary of State's motivation is, as far as all decent people are concerned, not remotely in dispute, but this is a democratic Chamber, democratic concerns have been expressed by democrats and I invite him to respond to those concerns.
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) for the way in which he spoke from the Conservative Front Bench and to my hon. Friends and Opposition Members for the manner in which they made what are in some cases very strong opinions felt about organisations that have been included in the order.
To all right hon. and hon. Members who spoke about individual organisations I would say that we will take full account of what has been said here and, obviously, of further representations made if, as I suspect, a number of those organisations that have been mentioned apply, initially to me, for de-proscription.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) made a powerful speech about Iran—a subject on which he speaks with considerable knowledge. He asked some questions about how I judge the current political position in Iran. For me, the criteria in determining whether an organisation should be included—I think that he will understand this—in the list are those laid down in section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000. I have had to apply myself to the law, which has only recently been the subject of considerable discussion and agreement by the House.
I was asked about other organisations, including some involved in domestic extremism. The list is the list for the time being. It is open to addition or subtraction at any future stage.
§ Mr. Straw
I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way.
969 We keep those matters under review. I made the decisions in the light of the best evidence, my judgments and the advice available to me.
There are two final matters. One is the scope of the appeal before the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, which will be on judicial review grounds as that is laid down in section 5 of the 2000 Act. Since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, however, the grounds are wider and POAC will have to address whether refusal to de-proscribe amounts to interference with convention rights, which will in turn lead to questions about the proportionality of my decisions.
Finally, on the process, I appreciate; that this has been a short debate but a good one. As fat as I can recall, no amendments were tabled during the proceedings of the Terrorism Bill to call for a different process other than the affirmative procedure with one order. We will take full account of all representations nude and I commend the order to the House.
§ Division deferred till Wednesday 14 March, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].