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12.20 am

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): This has been a good, albeit all too short and perhaps truncated, debate. Let me make it clear at the outset, echoing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said at the beginning of the debate, that we endorse the Government's central intention and do not intend to frustrate it tonight. Accordingly, I cannot encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends to do any differently. Nevertheless, I hope that the Home Secretary has listened carefully to the views expressed.

Terrorism is the most appalling scourge; the overwhelming majority of Members are united in denunciation of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald rightly pointed out that the extent of globalisation, the increase in the facility of technology and the nature of international financial markets all conspire to assist the terrorist and make our task that much more difficult.

I readily acknowledge that in a procedure of this kind, intelligence reports naturally cannot be freely tossed around, or their contents exchanged, in the open political marketplace. I recognise the constraints within which the Home Secretary is operating. Nevertheless, at the risk of inflicting grave injury upon myself, I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), to the cogent and considered speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and to the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who has been consistent on this subject. Their speeches raised legitimate concerns, which I suspect have permeated the Chamber.

Particular grievances have been raised about individual organisations such as the International Sikh Youth Federation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the mujaheddin. Those concerns must be addressed. It is obviously a weakness of the arrangement that the Government have adopted that there is no opportunity to cherry pick and consider the merits of each organisation. We are invited en bloc to give our approval or en bloc to withhold it.

Tonight we will give the Government the benefit of the doubt in the name of presenting a united front in opposition to terrorism. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) makes it clear that he does not intend to follow suit, and his intentions are respected. However, I am setting out the position of the Opposition Front Bench.

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I hope that the Home Secretary will respond seriously to the points that have been made. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham made the point that the test in an appeal seems purely to be the legal test of reasonableness rather than one requiring the merits of the case to be considered. Need that be the case? Is it unavoidable? Could the Home Secretary reconsider that test for the future?

My second observation is again intended to amplify the concern that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary expressed at the outset--why have the exclusions? There is no reference to the Animal Liberation Front, despite the fact that two years ago about 800 recorded incidents of serious violence were perpetrated in this country by animal rights terrorists. Those are all on the record. There is a grievance. Elsewhere in Government policy, it is a public grievance that they are rightly addressing, which does not seem to be consistent with what is being said in this measure, so I hope that the Home Secretary will look into that.

Finally, my right hon. Friend made a valid point about Combat 18--a truly despicable organisation, which has deployed enormous violence in pursuit of its sinister goals on many occasions. The Government's intention is sound. The Secretary of State's motivation is, as far as all decent people are concerned, not remotely in dispute, but this is a democratic Chamber, democratic concerns have been expressed by democrats and I invite him to respond to those concerns.

12.25 am

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) for the way in which he spoke from the Conservative Front Bench and to my hon. Friends and Opposition Members for the manner in which they made what are in some cases very strong opinions felt about organisations that have been included in the order.

To all right hon. and hon. Members who spoke about individual organisations I would say that we will take full account of what has been said here and, obviously, of further representations made if, as I suspect, a number of those organisations that have been mentioned apply, initially to me, for de-proscription.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) made a powerful speech about Iran--a subject on which he speaks with considerable knowledge. He asked some questions about how I judge the current political position in Iran. For me, the criteria in determining whether an organisation should be included--I think that he will understand this--in the list are those laid down in section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000. I have had to apply myself to the law, which has only recently been the subject of considerable discussion and agreement by the House.

I was asked about other organisations, including some involved in domestic extremism. The list is the list for the time being. It is open to addition or subtraction at any future stage.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) rose--

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way.

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We keep those matters under review. I made the decisions in the light of the best evidence, my judgments and the advice available to me.

There are two final matters. One is the scope of the appeal before the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, which will be on judicial review grounds as that is laid down in section 5 of the 2000 Act. Since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, however, the grounds are wider and POAC will have to address whether refusal to de-proscribe amounts to interference with convention rights, which will in turn lead to questions about the proportionality of my decisions.

Finally, on the process, I appreciate that this has been a short debate but a good one. As far as I can recall, no amendments were tabled during the proceedings of the Terrorism Bill to call for a different process other than the affirmative procedure with one order. We will take full account of all representations made and I commend the order to the House.

Question put:--

Mr. Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 14 March, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].

13 Mar 2001 : Column 970

Science and Technology Committee

12.29 am

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon): I beg to move,

I shall not detain the House, except to say that the change between the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) and the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) has been agreed by both hon. Members and by all members of the Committee of Selection. I commend the motion to the House.

12.29 am

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): This matter should not pass without tribute being paid to the hon. Member for Corby. I have the honour of serving on the senate of the Engineering Council with the hon. Member for Corby--[Hon. Members: "Crosby"]--with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas). I am grateful for that correction. The reason that I made a mistake about the hon. Lady's constituency is that I know her as "Our Claire". She serves with me on the senate of the Engineering Council and plays an active role in promoting engineering, both in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall.

I have not had a chance to speak to the hon. Lady this evening, to determine why she is leaving the Committee, although I am delighted that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) will join it. He, too, has an engineering background. He took a BSc in pure mathematics as well as one in philosophy--an interesting combination.

I have some concerns that no explanation of the change has been given, other than the fact that both hon. Members have agreed to it.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I certainly do not want to cavil about the thrust of my hon. Friend's argument, but can he explain why he chose to describe a study of mathematics and philosophy as interesting for the purposes of the debate?

Mr. Fabricant: A friend of mine--with whom my hon. Friend is familiar--is a director of the John Lewis Partnership--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the motion is extremely narrow.

Mr. Fabricant: I shall not pursue philosophy, politics and economics, but will simply point out that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead, who is to join the Committee--the purpose of the motion--holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in mathematics, which--

Mr. Bercow: Like Descartes.

Mr. Fabricant: Indeed. The holding of such degrees may or may not make an individual suitable for the Committee.

13 Mar 2001 : Column 971

Why have the two hon. Members agreed to make that swap? The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who proposed the motion, said that the two hon. Members had agreed to the swap. However, before my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) intervened, I was about to ask why the swap is being made at such a late stage of the Parliament.

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