Previous SectionIndexHome Page

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 assess 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

13 Mar 2001 : Column 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.

11.57 pm

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 Committee. 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 Hykeham (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

13 Mar 2001 : Column 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

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

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.

13 Mar 2001 : Column 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.

Next Section

IndexHome Page