Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am grateful for being able to make a small contribution on the most important and dangerous subject facing Parliament at the moment. I am also grateful to be able to endorse the views of my Nottinghamshire colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). He has just made an extremely important contribution, which was not trivial in any way, shape or form. I welcome this opportunity because, like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that these organisations need to be considered in detail. We need to have time to debate what they stand for. We should not simply take a block of names, philosophies and confused ideologies, give them a convenient tag, and write them off. We need to look at the matter in detail.

I shall not oppose the Government today, and I praise the dispatch with which they have now chosen to move, but I wonder why they have taken so long to ban one, two or possibly three organisations that, so far as I can see, probably represent the same thing. I am concentrating particularly on the organisations that call themselves Ansar Al-Islam and Ansar Al Sunna. The Minister might equally have put on the list al-Qaeda in the Country of Two Rivers, and a series of other names by which these organisations go whenever it suits them.

It is an aphorism I know, but we are not considering concrete organisations. We are considering ideologies and organisations that have more in common with a piece of mercury, which, when hit with a hammer, will split into various different parts and spring up enormously dangerously. As we are concentrating on those organisations—which, it is fair to say, owe their allegiance to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the gentleman who brings us on the television screen the charming views of Britons' heads being sliced off with bread
13 Oct 2005 : Column 481
knives, who is such an expert in handling the media that when we lose one of our aircraft, whether to friendly fire or enemy fire I do not know, he has his cameras on the spot within minutes and those images projected across the world within hours, and who runs a propaganda machine far in advance of anything that we seem to be able to handle in countering his particular threat—I wonder why this individual has not had more interest shown in him and his organisation before now.

Without making any judgment on the rights or wrongs of the Iraq war, I am interested to hear those criticisms that spring up, saying that the war has made us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks since we engaged in it. Let me point out that those organisations, Al-Islam and Al-Sunna, brought us the January 2003 ricin attack—please note, before we went to war in Iraq. That organisation, I suggest, leaves al-Qaeda as we believe it to exist in the shadows. It is a long way in advance of some of the amateurish operations that we have seen from that group. That organisation tried to use weapons of mass destruction, and I use the phrase advisedly, on the mainland of this country as long as three years ago. If the newspapers are to be believed, it was active as recently as last weekend and its suspects are in custody. Whether they will be charged, released or released on control orders I have no idea. While I am delighted that the Government are getting a move on from this particular point, why has it taken so long to address those two, three or four groups, whatever they might call themselves?

I challenge the Government to go a step further. Many of us have ignored the problem of terrorism—writing it off, thinking it would never happen in this country and that the study of it was too difficult. Well, it has happened. We have had the events of 7 July and 21 July. Possibly, something was planned for last weekend. Certainly, the arrests that followed suggest that we are still very much in jeopardy. Given that a debate on emergency planning is coming up later next week, I ask the Minister why all we see from the Government is lists of names and suggested legislation. Why do we not see concrete methods for the prevention and suppression of terrorism?

The Minister talked eloquently about those organisations on this list of names adding to the hostile environment. There are a million things that we could do to make terrorism that much more difficult to demonstrate inside this country, but I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South: we need to raise our awareness of it in the House and to ensure that our public understand what the threat is. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), we must not think that these are a series of bizarre websites with bizarre names that we do not understand. We need to understand them.

We the public—not just here in Parliament, but on the street—need to understand what the threat is. We must not just proscribe those organisations, but have a campaign for public information and public training that makes people understand what the threat is and know what to do about it. We have done this a million times before. For instance, I could ask the Government what their approach is on flooding. They are taking it extremely seriously, telling us what the danger is and how to cope with it.
13 Oct 2005 : Column 482

I shall finish on this point, if I may. This is not just a question of proscribing organisations, although that will help, and laying down laws, which might help, although I have yet to see a suicide bomber who would have been deterred by a law. We must have concrete measures, we must ensure that our people understand the dangers and know how to deal with them. We will be attacked again. We must ensure next time that we first make things more difficult for our enemies and that casualties are minimised.

2.15 pm

Hazel Blears: I am grateful to hon. Members for the tone and way in which they have responded to the presentation of the order. Some serious and significant issues have been raised, and I shall endeavour to deal with them as far as I can. If any further detailed information is required, particularly by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), I shall try to ensure that we provide it.

Several Members asked whether we could have had a debate on a single organisation, or perhaps separate votes on single organisations. As I understand it, the procedure we have adopted today is that set out in the Terrorism Act 2000. This procedure is the normal way in which such things are brought forward, but I am conscious of the fact that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in particular raised the issue of an organisation over which there is controversy rather than a degree of consensus around the House in relation to the order. I undertake to look further into it. I cannot say that we will necessarily do as we have been asked, but I am conscious of the strength of the argument. No Member would welcome the prospect of 15 separate votes on such an order—that clearly would not be sensible—but I am conscious of Members' feelings.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson)—not that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is not my hon. Friend; I have two hon. Friends sat behind me—asked whether these organisations are simply fundamentalist, what the depth is of the activity they are engaged in, how we can get more information and what the role of Parliament is in scrutinising such orders. Again, I understand the point, because all Members of Parliament feel a strong duty in wanting to be able to take a view on behalf of their constituents and in terms of their role generally.

Inevitably, I am constrained by the fact that these are matters of huge sensitivity involving desperately sensitive intelligence information, which, if in the public domain, could reduce our ability to withstand the threat of terrorism that faces us. I say to both my hon. Friends that for the Home Secretary to come forward with an order of this nature, he has to be satisfied that these people are not just expressing fundamentalist views, but are concerned in terrorism. We have a definition of terrorism, which is about violence, and he is satisfied that all these organisations—in one way or another in terms of their links to organisations and the activities they are engaged in—are concerned in terrorism.

So, this is not simply a matter of free speech or people expressing views. There is a hard definition in the 2000 Act that these groups have to be concerned in
13 Oct 2005 : Column 483
terrorism for them to meet the proscription criteria. I ask my hon. Friends to think about that. This is not an academic debate about what people are saying on which we can all take a view; it is a real situation, as the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said. We face a serious threat and these people are concerned in terrorism. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield talked about the fact that people have been murdering other people. That is one of the reasons they are included.

John McDonnell: When we come to the debate on the Terrorism Bill, proscription will be on the grounds of statements that glorify or exalt, so it will be on the basis of statements made in the future.

Hazel Blears: Yes, and I hope to say a word or two about the Terrorism Bill before I conclude.

Next Section IndexHome Page