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Patient Choice

Mr. Peter Lilley accordingly presented a Bill to reinstate a patient's right to choose the hospital in which to receive treatment within the National Health Service: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 199].

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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

3.43 pm

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

The Terrorism Act 2000 came into force on 19 February last year. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the Foreign Secretary, laid orders for proscription on 21 groups on 28 February last year which were approved by this House. Since then no other groups have been proscribed, but a close watch is being kept on groups, including those looking to reconfigure and rename themselves.

I want first to state that there is no party political difference between us this afternoon, and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, for indicating to me issues that may prove appropriate for Privy Council briefings. I need to say now that there is information to do with the time for which particular groups have been monitored and the knowledge about their meetings and base which we would be happy to offer on Privy Council terms. Obviously, there will be questions about whether that is the earliest point at which groups may be proscribed, and I am happy to deal with them. Having moved the motion on proscription, I hope that the whole House will back us.

I do not intend to repeat the long discourse that we had a year ago, or even the statements made since the attack in Bali, as Members are well aware of events, including the escalation that has changed the position radically, as well as the behaviour since 11 September 2001 of al-Qaeda and its offshoots—its network of cells and the loose confederation of those who are not part of its central core but who are prepared to support and help it. We must respond, monitor what groups are doing, how they relate to one another, and how their support systems, including funding, work.

People's heightened awareness since 11 September last year has been reinforced by the tragic deaths in Bali and other events. However, security and intelligence services of countries across the world have been able to intervene and are on record as having done so to save communities from threat. It is in the light of those attempts, not just the events that led to loss of life, that we have moved the motion this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport today answered a parliamentary question about a review that he and I set in motion—we asked Sir John Wheeler to investigate security levels at our airports and the way in which that related to wider security issues. We obviously take that review seriously and its general conclusions have been published this afternoon. Again, I would be happy for Opposition Members to see more detailed information on Privy Council terms. The House would expect us to act immediately on Sir John's recommendations on security tightening, and we have done so. I and my right hon. Friend are grateful for his work. We owe him a debt of gratitude.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I am grateful to the Home Secretary, and listened carefully to what he said

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about security at our airports. I would wish to share information on Privy Council terms, but unfortunately I am not a Privy Councillor. However, I am concerned about our seaports, which are largely unpoliced, with the exception of my port—Tilbury—Felixstowe, and Tees and Hartlepool. Many of us are deeply concerned that our seaports are porous—I think that that is the word—as people are coming in. The immigration authorities, Customs and Excise and the police force are simply not there to provide the necessary cover. I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider, along with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, creating a national dedicated police force for our seaports.

Mr. Blunkett: Following the work on airport security and its relationship to air travel from airports across Europe and the world—an important factor in making our population and people travelling to our country secure from the threat of terrorism—the Transport Secretary has already told me that he is taking a close look at strengthening the present arrangements spelt out by my hon. Friend, which consist of various forms of policing, including port health and environmental health programmes. That has been drawn forcibly to my attention.

We are also interested in putting in place technological surveillance equipment to tackle a wider threat—not simply people entering the country, but materials as well. I make that clear in case anyone who is contemplating terrorist acts or trying to get material into the country is under the misapprehension that we are not taking the necessary steps. We also want to stress, as Sir John did, the importance of people working in and around airports and our ports being vigilant—not merely those who are on policing duties but those going about their usual business.

The report that we are putting in the Library this afternoon demonstrates that we need to tighten all forms of security, not just the obvious ones. It also behoves us to ensure that the public exercise the greatest vigilance. We need to keep our routes in and out of the country open and free. That is critical for the free movement of people, goods and commerce. It is critical that we are not damaged economically or socially, and that those who are determined to perpetrate terrorism do not get an opportunity to disrupt the lives of the nation.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does the Home Secretary agree that those who have hitherto enjoyed freedom and rights of way through our ports nationally must now accept that, in the interests of security, rights of way may be re-routed?

Mr. Blunkett: Wherever there is perceived to be a credible threat, steps will be taken to ensure that people are re-routed or that diversions are put in place to secure the well-being of the public. If there is a specific concern that the hon. Gentleman would like to draw to my attention or to that of my right hon. Friends, I shall be happy to take it forward.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): My right hon. and hon. Friends will support the order. I hope that that is a helpful early indication, and I hope that the Home Secretary will feel able, at the appropriate

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time, to include my right hon. Friends, or me, or an appropriate combination, in the briefings. That would be appreciated, and it would be helpful.

Has the right hon. Gentleman further considered the Select Committee's recommendation of a common border force at our airports and seaports? Given the frequency of concern about security at our ports over the past two years, that seems a strong case well made that merits further attention from the Government.

Mr. Blunkett: None of us would dismiss thoughtful contributions on how best to achieve that. There are wider issues of co-operation between the various law enforcement and security agencies, which the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friends and I are examining. I am yet to be convinced that the establishment of another force with another bureaucracy is the right way of achieving the objective. That has a wider read-over to issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised with me before in relation to a European joint border force. Although I have moved policy on to indicating that we would contribute to that, we are not in favour of some centralised administration that would undoubtedly lead to more people being employed in managing it than in securing our borders. I am happy to continue exploring the best way of achieving the common goal.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's indication of support. We need to ensure that we are open to scrutiny and that we will answer necessary questions. I have indicated to him and his colleagues over the past 15 months a willingness to ensure that we share the maximum number of facts and the greatest amount of information, and I will continue to do that.

Today, I am asking the House to proscribe a further four organisations, in addition to the 21 that I mentioned earlier. Those four have discernible links with al-Qaeda. Following a number of recent attacks, including the one in Bali, international co-operation and the coherence of evidence and information from security and intelligence services across the world have indicated those links more clearly. That is primarily the answer to the question why we have not banned at least one of those groups, Jemaah Islamiyah, before. The evidence base, the links that have been established, the information from security services, and information that has emerged from other events over the past few months have provided a conclusive case that they are involved with and are part of the broader federal network of al-Qaeda. Of course, evidence has emerged since the tragedy in relation to suspected direct links with the bombing.

Since 11 September last year, we have been working closely with all those seeking to fight terrorism. We have learned even more from the bombing in Bali and want to ensure a sustained and coherent approach. That is why we are linking the four proscribed groups together. Last Thursday, on the back of action taken through the United Nations, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I issued further guidance and took further measures in relation to the freezing of assets and the movement of funds. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 will clearly help us in that regard and make it easier to monitor and take action, and we will take whatever further steps are necessary.

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The proscribed organisations fall within criteria of which it will be useful to remind hon. Members. They are specified in the definition of terrorism provided in the Terrorism Act 2000, which refers to those who commit or participate in acts of terrorism, prepare for terrorism, promote or encourage it or are otherwise concerned with it. The factors spelt out alongside the original decision a year last February were as follows: consideration by the Home Secretary of the nature and scale of the organisations; the specific threat to the UK or British nationals overseas; and the presence and support of the international community. It is the support of the international community and the threat to our citizens overseas that we have weighed very carefully indeed, along with other factors, in proscribing the four groups.

The proscribed groups are Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, with which we are familiar in relation to allegations made about the bombing in Bali; Abu Sayyaf, a group based in the Philippines; the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has links with those whom we believe were involved in the hostage taking in Moscow; and Asbat Al-Ansar, which is based in Lebanon. Attached to the order is an explanatory memorandum that has been available to hon. Members, setting out the reasons why those groups meet the specific criteria and match the factors to which I referred.

Proscription sends a signal. It allows us to deal swiftly with those associated with groups that are committing terror across the world, whether they are members of them or provide support to them. It provides a coherent approach involving the UN and other international partners in seeking to attack and undermine terrorism, and it is also part of the mutuality and solidarity that we have expressed in the House on a number of occasions.

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