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30 Oct 2002 : Column 885—continued


Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of my interest in some of these matters.

Mr. Blunkett: I could not be anything else.

Mr. Dismore: I think that I have asked about 150 parliamentary questions on these matters over the past couple of years. My file of correspondence is probably as fat as my right hon. Friend's, but he will be interested to know that I do not propose to raise with him the question of the people whom he called loud-mouthed irritants. I assume that they include Abu Hanza, although I believe that he is a threat in a way that my right hon. Friend does not.

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Moreover, press reports suggest that Abu Qatada, one of the spiders at the centre of the terrorist web in Europe,is now in detention. I am pleased about that, and hope that the reports are correct. However, I want to raise the question of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, about which I was in correspondence with my right hon. Friend earlier in the year.

I have been looking at the criteria employed for the proscription of some of the organisations. The PFLP seems to meet all of them, but has not been proscribed. That seems rather odd. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier that proscription required that there be a specific threat to the UK or its nationals, or to those who support the international community's campaign against terrorism. Again, in that context, I am surprised that the PFLP is not on the proscribed list.

In a letter dated 29 May—and in response to a parliamentary question that I asked at around the same date—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told me that the list of organisations was kept under review, that decisions to proscribe or to deproscribe were taken after consideration of all relevant aspects, that the list was renewed periodically, and that organisations could be added in the light of available information. I welcome the fact that four organisations are being added to the list, but given the criteria for selecting those organisations, I find it surprising that the PFLP was not selected.

The PFLP has a long history of terrorism, going right back to 1968. I do not propose to go into it this afternoon, but it virtually invented aircraft hijacking with the 1970 black September hijacking, when Leila Khaled was detained in the United Kingdom after the death of a terrorist and serious injury to a flight attendant on an El Al airliner. That terrorism has developed and grown since those early days and I was very surprised that Leila Khaled was allowed into this country earlier this year.

In recent times, the PFLP has become increasingly active in terrorist attacks. It rejects the peace process and its leadership is very hard line. In the past year, in particular, there have been some serious incidents, which mirror and, indeed, go far beyond those described on the list in the explanatory memorandum for today's debate. For example, Jemaah Islamiyah is being proscribed because of its links with al-Qaeda and the memorandum mentions

In the past year, the PFLP attempted an attack on Ben Gurion international airport using a car bomb, which was mercifully foiled by the Israeli security services. Mohammed Kandas, a PFLP organiser, told his interrogators that he had been recruited in Iraq in 1988.

In the same month, there was an attempted attack on the Maccabiah games in Jerusalem. Salem Taleb Al-Darawi, of the PFLP, was one of those involved. It was described as a Xjoint operation" and a PFLP militia group was involved. Perhaps most chilling of all was the attempt to bring down the Israeli equivalent of the twin towers when, on 7 May this year, Israeli soldiers intercepted a truck filled with more than half a tonne of high explosives, the target being the 50-storey Azrieli towers. Again, two of those involved were senior PFLP

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leaders, Ra'ad Nazel, the area commander for the PFLP, who was killed in the operation, and another PFLP commander who was arrested. Let us contrast that record with that of the JI organisation, which was accused only of planning attacks. I think that the PFLP attacks were much more serious.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is being proscribed because it is supposed to have launched a sophisticated bombing campaign in Tashkent, which was directed against the Uzbekistan regime. We should note that it was not directed against UK interests. However, in the past few months the PFLP has organised more bomb attacks. On 3 September, a car bomb and three other bombs exploded in Jerusalem and nine civilians were injured. On 17 October 2001, there was a car bombing in the Gaza strip at Nahal Oz. On 16 February 2002, two children were killed and 27 wounded when a PFLP suicide bomber exploded himself at a crowded shopping mall in Karnei Shomron. On 19 May 2002, the PFLP carried out a suicide bombing in the coastal city of Netanya, in which three people were killed and 59 wounded, which was apparently planned from prison by Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the PFLP, according to telephone taps, while he was supposed to have been guarded by UK and American prison guards as part of the agreement with the Palestinians and the Israelis.

David Winnick: I make no apology for the organisation to which my hon. Friend refers, although I certainly see a distinction—even if he does not—between it and the organisations that have been proscribed, and I deplore all forms of terrorism. He referred to the totally unjustified killing of Israeli civilians, including children, which is absolutely deplorable. I hope that he will deplore the killing of Palestinian civilians and children by the Israeli authorities in the occupied territories.

Mr. Dismore: Obviously, I hear what my hon. Friend says and any deaths in the middle east are to be regretted. We need to do what we can to achieve a ceasefire, but one of the keys to that is an end to Palestinian terrorism. However, that is not the issue that I am dealing with today.

We are told that Asbat Al-Ansar is being proscribed because of its activities in the Lebanon, which we are told in the memorandum have

We can contrast that with the assassination of the Israeli Tourism Minister, Rechavam Ze'evi, on 17 October 2001, for which the PFLP actually claimed responsibility. When we contrast the PFLP record against the individual records of those organisations, it is as much as everything that they have done.

We are told that we should be supporting the international community. After the assassination of the Israeli Cabinet Minister, even the Palestinian Authority allegedly outlawed the military wing of the PFLP, yet we do not even seem to be doing the little that the Authority has done.

In June this year, the European Union declared the PFLP a terror organisation. To follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), there is a relationship

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between our domestic anti-terrorism laws and decisions taken by the EU. I understood that the EU decision to proscribe the PFLP as a terror organisation meant that, as one of the 15 member states, we, too, must take action by—at the least—freezing the funds and assets of the PFLP. If we accept that EU decision, I fail to understand why we are not proscribing the PFLP under the order.

We are told that we have to consider the threat to the United Kingdom and to UK citizens. There is no doubt that the PFLP is active on university campuses in the UK, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) suggested. For example, in January 2001 and May 2002, Leila Khaled visited the UK, but apparently we cannot prosecute her because in 1970 our laws against hijacking were not as strong as they are nowadays. If those offences had been committed today, she would have been jailed, presumably for life; yet she is allowed to come and go with impunity because the PFLP is not a proscribed organisation. In Manchester and at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, she reportedly justified suicide bombings. In the Daily Telegraph of 27 May, she stated that the PFLP has

Indeed, an organisation has been formed—the Che-Leila Youth Brigade—which is primarily a student group and has been sending British students to the West Bank and to Gaza.

The PFLP has never accepted the peace process in the middle east. The organisation is rejectionist. It has never renounced its intention to mount attacks overseas against Israeli citizens and, indeed, those who get caught in such attacks. We must not forget that, in 1994, the PFLP attempted to blow up the Israeli embassy in Britain. It is a terrorist organisation and has become increasingly active. We are being asked to proscribe four organisations and I cannot understand why the PFLP is not the fifth on the list.

4.38 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Next time, perhaps the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) might care to table an amendment. We could then at least address the question specifically.

Mr. Dismore: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg: Not yet.

It is right that we should not let the motion pass undebated and that several right hon. and hon. Members should participate in the debate. The motion is important. I raise no objection to the proscription of these organisations. I am perfectly prepared to accept that they genuinely are terrorist organisations that constitute a threat to us all. None the less we need to be clear that the order is draconian and that it affects British citizens dramatically.

If you will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall remind the House of the extent to which the rights of British citizens are affected. British citizens are made the subject of the criminal law and their rights to support political organisations are constrained by what is very largely an Executive action.

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The explanatory memorandum is helpful. Section 11 of the Act makes it an offence to belong to a proscribed organisation. That offence is punishable by 10 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Section 12 makes it an offence to seek support, financial or otherwise, for those proscribed organisations. That, too, is subject to a 10-year maximum prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.

Section 13 of the Act makes it an offence to carry placards, for example, or wear the insignia of the proscribed organisations. That, too, is backed by a sentence of imprisonment and/or a fine. Of course there are very wide powers in the Act to seize, detain and forfeit the property of proscribed organisations, and the full range of the powers in the Act are applied to terrorist organisations.

The fact that the four organisations are largely situated outside the United Kingdom should not blind us to the fact that there may be British citizens in this country who, prima facie, support them. So we are ourselves by this proscription greatly extending the scope of the criminal law to the British citizen, and we need to be absolutely clear about the gravity of what we are doing. We therefore need to consider the procedure by which the House—it is ultimately the House—makes the order.

To start with, the Home Secretary—or, of course, his successor—has to form a belief that the organisation in question is a terrorist organisation, and I shall return to that in a moment. Assuming that the right hon. Gentleman reaches that conclusion, he will lay an order— which will doubtless be passed by the House and, indeed, the other place, because it is subject to the affirmative procedure. But let us be absolutely clear about the fact that no hon. Member, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman, knows the nature of the evidence on which the proscription takes place, so we are entitled to ask how the British citizen affected by the order can challenge it.

I shall tell the House. The British citizen can apply for the proscribed organisation to be de-proscribed by applying to the person who proscribed it in the first instance, and if by any chance the Home Secretary says no, one is entitled to ask what then is the appeal. Well, that is where the difficulty arises. There is no proper appeal; there is a commission. I am not blackguarding the commission—I am perfectly prepared to accept that it is staffed by very eminent and respectable people—but its powers are limited because it reviews the Home Secretary's exercise of his powers in accordance with the principles that govern judicial review. In other words, the appeal is not an appeal against the merits of the Home Secretary's decision—oh, no—it is an appeal about the procedure. Provided that the Home Secretary got the procedure right—in other words, he did not act ultra vires or in any unreasonable manner—the decision not to de-proscribe stands because there is no review of the merits. The review applies the principles of judicial review to the procedure or the exercise of the powers. That is different.

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