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30 Oct 2002 : Column 882—continued

Mr. Speaker: Order. This order refers to four terrorist organisations, so it is narrower than the point that the hon. Member is making.

Andrew Mackinlay: I fully accept and abide by your ruling, Mr. Speaker. In my defence, I should say that it was the Home Secretary who referred to the technology at ports, not me. I noted that, because I thought that you might call me to order. He was the guilty man, not me, but I shall move on. The Home Secretary might know of the incident to which I refer. I realise that the question of security is involved, but I would welcome the opportunity to talk to him or his colleagues about this issue.

I have discussed in the Foreign Affairs Committee and with the Foreign Secretary my great anxiety about the presence in our scientific postgraduate institutions of members of groups such as those that are the subject of this order who are studying doctorates. The scientific community in this country is transient. It is a high-income earner for the United Kingdom, and long may it flourish, but all the indications are that our security and intelligence services and academia have not the foggiest idea who some of these people are. That constitutes a great void in our security and intelligence services, and I hope that the Home Secretary will refer to it. The organisations mentioned in the order could well have people working at the University of London, in Bloomsbury, at Imperial College, or at other of our great and proud institutions. Such people might be working on proper research 95 per cent. of the time, but what we do not know is what they are doing during the other 5 per cent., and what they have kept in the back of the fridge.

4.16 pm

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I told the Home Secretary and the House that my colleagues and I will support the order in this House, and in the other House later today. Given that this is the first debate on this issue for more than a year, it is appropriate first to join Ministers and others by reaffirming our solidarity and sympathy with the huge number of people who, since we last debated proscription and terrorist organisations, have suffered at the hands of terrorists. Atrocious numbers were killed in the United States in the late summer of last year. According to the latest figures, 184 people were killed in Bali just a couple of weeks ago, of whom 14 were UK

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citizens, and according to research carried out by my assistant with the help of our very good Library staff, the intelligence suggests that other terrorist activities that took place between 11 September last year and the Bali incident resulted in the deaths of a further 50 people in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Tunisia, Yemen and Kuwait.

The Home Secretary is right to say that we need to be continually vigilant in this matter, and the Government are right to say that proscription must be kept under permanent review. As I have always made clear, we have an obligation to have legislation that helps to counter terrorism. Although he was not in his current post at the time, the Home Secretary may remember my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I arguing for the end of the old anti-terrorist legislation that split the UK into two parts—Northern Ireland in one category, and Great Britain in the other—and for comprehensive legislation that treats all parts and all citizens equally. That is why we welcomed the principle of the 2000 Act and accepted the principle of proscription. Sometimes, it is necessary to take the drastic step of telling those who belong to, work for and associate themselves with certain organisations that such activities are unacceptable in this country. We still hold to that view, which is why we will support the order, and consider it absolutely right that this country reserve the power to proscribe certain organisations in the right way.

To pick up on a phrase that the Home Secretary used, we should, of course, never be a haven for terrorists. The justifiable argument was made that we perhaps unwittingly became such a haven, in part, during the late 1990s. There is a difficult balance to strike. We must not become such a country, but on the other hand we must be a haven for free speech and liberty for those who, within the law, want to be critical of—in spoken word and in writing—regimes, faiths and practices that they consider unacceptable. I therefore hope that the Home Secretary—of whom I, like the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), would like to ask a few questions—will accept the good faith of our position.

Lady Hermon (North Down): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that proscription often leads to fragmentation and splinter groups, which go underground and change their names? Sometimes, proscription can lead to greater difficulties, rather than addressing current ones.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Lady has clear local experience of that issue in Northern Ireland, and I understand her point. When we debated the legislation in Committee, her party's nominee on the Committee was sometimes critical—as were other Opposition Members—of some of the terminology, definitions and processes put forward by the Government, and that was because of his Northern Ireland experience. Now that we have common legislation that proscribes both Irish organisations and international organisations, we have a common interest in ensuring that we get it right. One of my questions for the Home Secretary is how we can get it right so that banning one organisation does not just force the people involved to invent themselves in another guise and carry on, with the inevitable lead time before that guise is also banned.

I have a question on timing, which is not meant to be accusatorial. The Home Secretary puts the names of four organisations before us today, which are all

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extremist Islamic organisations. The first, Jemaah Islamiyah, is based in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and was put on the proscribed list by the United States, Australia and the United Nations only in the past couple of days or weeks. I have not been able to check whether it is on the European Union list yet. What triggered the Government's view that the organisation should be proscribed? I understand the delicacy of the intelligence issues, but that organisation clearly has a reputation in the areas in which it is based that has given real cause for concern.

As for the other three organisations, Abu Sayyaf is based in the Philippines, Asbat Al-Ansar is based in the Lebanon and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is—self-evidently—based in that former Soviet state in Asia. All those organisations appear to have been put on the EU list last October. What link is there between a decision by the EU to put them on its list and the Government's decision to put them on our list? I accept the point, which was well made by the Home Secretary, that we must not act simply on the basis of somebody's assertion of the case against an organisation. The Home Secretary has himself had experience of a case in which someone was arrested in this country but then acquitted because the United States did not produce the evidence that the authorities had been led to believe—in good faith, I am sure— would be forthcoming. The Government are right to make their own intelligence assessment and not rely on arguments put forward by another country that might have different motives to which we might not always wish to subscribe.

Can the Home Secretary confirm that to his knowledge none of those organisations are or have been active in the United Kingdom or are or have been a threat to our interests here? I understand that in relation to activities in Indonesia, there was a clear threat if those killed included British citizens—indeed, the organisation in question there showed that it is a threat to the international community. Is it sufficient for the purposes of the legislation for the Home Secretary to be of the view that a threat exists abroad?

Can the Home Secretary tell us when we may expect Lord Carlile's review, taking place under the process for checking on the legislation? It is due in the near future and will be helpful as an independent review of the working of the legislation. Does the Home Secretary remember whether the Government said in Committee that they would also undertake a regular review process? What is the mechanism for doing that?

The Home Secretary may remember that the Liberal Democrats had some arguments with the Government about the definition of terrorism. I shall not rehearse them today, but we argued for a narrower definition. We accept that we lost the argument, but we were also concerned that the legislation was a matter of proscribe first, review later. On that key issue, will the Home Secretary give further consideration to seeking the advice of the Intelligence and Security Committee—on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) serves—to obtain an independent view on every case in which he is minded to proscribe? That could be done very quickly. In some circumstances, it might not be possible immediately, but it would still remain a parliamentary backstop. I should be grateful if the Home Secretary would give consideration to that process, not least because it would

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give him support for his propositions in connection with information that cannot always be available to the House or the country.

It has been suggested outside the House that one currently proscribed organisation, the Sri Lankan Tamil organisation the LTTE, might be a candidate for de-proscription, as it has been de-proscribed in Sri Lanka. Given the peace process that is under way, will the Home Secretary say whether de-proscription of the LTTE is under active consideration? Which organisations currently on the list have appealed to the Home Secretary and, beyond him, to the commission? I presume that any organisation still on the list was unsuccessful in its appeal, but whether an organisation has appealed—and to which level—should not be a secret.

Finally, I represent a constituency with a significant multi-faith community that includes Muslims. We have to do another job that is the opposite of banning organisations. We have to educate young people who might be tempted to serve the causes of bad people. It might be useful for any such education process to list the banned organisations, and to ensure that correct information is propagated. That would ensure that people were not under any misapprehension that the organisation to which they were being recruited was involved in justified activity, whether it be in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines or Indonesia. Will the Home Secretary consider ways to ensure that the communities affected—in this case, the Islamic community—can have the information that will help people with good motives to avoid entrapment in organisations that will lead them badly astray?

This is an important debate. The level of unanimity among hon. Members of all parties shows how seriously we take it. In the past, my party asked that organisations be proscribed separately rather than collectively. We argued that differences of view about organisations meant that it was impossible to vote on them all together. We hold to that view. As it happens, we believe that each of the four organisations in the order pass the test and therefore we agree that they should be proscribed. However, we hope that the Home Secretary will consider separate proscriptions for each organisation. We also hope that there will be separate votes, if not separate debates, if the matters come before the House again while he is in office.

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