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30 Oct 2002 : Column 893—continued

4.54 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I agree with his view that it is an important measure, so it is a matter of regret that the Chamber is so empty on this occasion.

I preface my remarks by saying that the experience of living through 30 years of terrorism in Northern Ireland colours one's impressions when speaking on any measure that deals with terrorism and extends the powers of the Home Secretary. It is with the appalling consequences that thousands of people in Northern Ireland have had to endure for those 30 years in mind that we welcome the fact that we are tightening measures to combat terrorism, not just in the United Kingdom, but around the world, where Governments are taking collective action and rightly standing shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister. I assure the Home Secretary that although other Members from the Ulster Unionist party are not here in body, they are with him in spirit. To quote the Prime Minister, we stand shoulder to shoulder with him in tightening measures to combat the awful scourge and threat of terrorism.

However—I realise that it is an awful moment when an hon. Member uses that word—there are two matters on which I would welcome the Home Secretary's comments. The first relates to the statement of compatibility with the European convention on human rights, on which I should like guidance. The Home Secretary knows that, according to the convention, everyone within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, irrespective of their nationality, is guaranteed the right to life and to freedom from degrading and inhumane treatment. If a non-British national who is within the jurisdiction of the UK is a member of, or associated with, any of the four proscribed organisations listed in the order, can he be deported to a country where he will almost certainly be put to death or at least subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment or torture? I am greatly worried about the powers that we are taking to ourselves because the rights, privileges and the guarantees of the convention apply to everyone in the jurisdiction, irrespective of nationality.

My second concern relates to what I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). Although proscription rightly sends out a strong signal to terrorist

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organisations, as the Home Secretary said, it often leads to fragmentation of those organisations, which go underground and rename themselves. That has been our experience in Northern Ireland of both loyalist and republican organisations, although internal feuding has also been a factor.

I shall not give a comprehensive list because I do not want to delay hon. Members, but the loyalist list includes the UDA, the UFF, the UVF, the Red Hand Commandos and the Red Hand Defenders. They have rebranded many times, primarily because of proscription, but also because of internal feuding. On the other side of the coin, the list of republican organisations started with the IRA. After a falling out, the list was extended to include the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA. The Real IRA, Continuity IRA and the INLA are also now on the list, to name but a few. Will the Home Secretary reassure me that the proscription of the four organisations will not follow the similar tragic pattern of proscribed terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland?

4.59 pm

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for the manner in which they have addressed the issues, and I will endeavour to respond to the wide range of the questions that have been asked. If questions remain that I have not tackled, I shall be happy to answer them in correspondence. As I indicated at the beginning of the debate, I shall deal on Privy Council terms with issues that require security clearance.

I assure the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that we need to be vigorous in pursuing the intentions of proscription. If an organisation reconfigures itself—I used the term Xreconfigure" earlier in the debate—and reappears with the same members presenting themselves in a different guise, it must fall under the original proscription. The key task, of course, is to ascertain that a group has done so, and I would not demur from the inference that the task needs to be performed with vigour and clarity. In other words, we have not fallen off a log, and we know that simply changing a name or vaguely reconfiguring the membership would constitute a prima facie case. I am happy to continue to discuss that, and I shall do so with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The issue was also raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes).

I want to make it clear that the use of these powers and the designation of proscription are designed not to damage the interests of any individual but to protect the interests of the wider community. The hon. Member for North Down asked me about the process whereby an individual would, prima facie, be sent to certain death or torture. Such considerations were the reason for the establishment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under the 1997 Act of the same name, and for it being given powers that are wide enough to review raison d'etre and to consider evidence in camera for the decision of certification. Obviously, those provisions would apply if an individual were deemed to be a member of a proscribed organisation and was to be ejected from the country on the grounds that their presence was not conducive to the public good.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) raised several issues—fervently, as he always does. I repeat my view that all

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security and intelligence issues, including proscription and the issuing of warrants, should be the job of the Home Secretary, and I take that very seriously because the buck stops here.

I make it clear to all hon. Members that, as the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) rightly and generously said, I find decisions on proscription or the issuing of certificates weighty issues that have to be tackled with the utmost seriousness and care and in great detail. The unit established in the Home Office is able to provide that detail because it draws from the security and intelligence services evidence that they have adduced and evidence that they have gleaned from other such services throughout the world, with whom they have tremendous relationships.

The intelligence services—MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the defence intelligence service—have the best possible relations and, therefore, the ability to draw on and share information. That is crucial for the evidence that we use, particularly concerning organised international terrorism. All four organisations in this measure are being proscribed on the basis of their international action rather than—this answers one or two of the questions raised—the presence in the United Kingdom of individuals who can be shown to be members of the organisations. However, we are concerned about the general support, financial or otherwise, that may be given to those organisations, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I acted as we did following the UN decision last week.

In response to a question by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, I have to say that there is always a difficult issue concerning the proportionality and balance between the rights of individuals in a free society and the protection and public interest of that society as a whole. We debated that at length last year, and we will continue to debate it because we are a democracy. We will continue also to debate the nature of those who review the actions of the democratically elected Parliament, embodied in the Executive who are held to account, this afternoon and on many other occasions, by Parliament. The review should be conducted by people who can ask questions about the process described by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, as well as the evidence base and the way in which that relates to the original terms of the legislation and the definitions that I gave earlier. We should not consider democracy by Parliament and elected representatives more flawed and less reliable and secure than democracy by judicial methods—the two go hand-in-hand and are pillars supporting the same structure of protection. It is important that people do not think that the democracy that we have constructed is less secure and less of a democracy because we do not constantly hand over final decisions to those who are not elected and do not have that accountability or responsibility.

Mr. Burnett: As usual, the Home Secretary is giving a fair view of sensitive matters, which are rightly confidential. No one in the House would impugn his personal integrity. Nevertheless, I hope that he agrees that, in the interests of justice, it should be possible for a court to scrutinise in camera the merits of a decision

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made by him or one of his successors with the appropriate advocate chosen from a pool of prolocutors in a process similar to that used by the SIAC system.

Mr. Blunkett: We could obviously debate whether the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission goes far enough in reviewing matters that we are reviewing and in being able to provide a proper form of appeal. I was asked earlier about appeal and de-proscription. If an organisation—the example given was LTTE, but others are also relevant—provides evidence that it has forsworn terrorism and is clearly distanced from it, here or internationally, it is important that we take evidence from the country that has suffered most and consider whether it is still actively raising funds and engaged in other ways with international terrorism. If so, it should be proscribed. That process can take place; the organisation can produce evidence and argue its case properly, not just to the Home Secretary but to the commission. We must take a reasonable and rational view—if the organisation believes it has a case, it can take that action. I shall supply the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey with a list, but some appeals are going through at the moment, so I shall not comment any further. Lord Carlile's review is due in February, and a 15-month review will be debated in Parliament on the back of the sunset clause in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. There are so many review bodies and commissions, including those that rightly review all the warrants and certificates that I sign, that they almost constitute an industry. That is a proper safeguard, albeit one that is little known to the outside world, which assumes that we make a decision, then go away and that is the end of it. It is not, of course.

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