Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

10.59 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move,

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 been 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

13 Mar 2001 : Column 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. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) rose--

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) rose--

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) rose--

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,

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: I will make a little progress first.

An organisation is defined in section 121 of the Act as including

Having satisfied the statutory criteria in any particular case, I 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

13 Mar 2001 : Column 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. Wilshire: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Straw: I will give way to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell).

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 that

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

13 Mar 2001 : Column 948

make representations to me for de-proscription and, if I refuse to accept the case for that, to appeal to an independent judicial--

Next Section

IndexHome Page