Previous Section Index Home Page

A significant point arises from the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford,
20 July 2006 : Column 502
West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). The order does not mention section 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006 as a ground for proscription. The explanatory notes and the Minister’s comments do. Having heard his remarks and the quotes that he read out from the websites of al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, I do not believe that proscription should be based purely on section 21. It may be unwise in legal terms to base the arguments on that section when they extend wider, because they are then open to challenge in court. From what I heard, the words used constituted prima facie evidence of the crime of incitement. I seriously ask Home Office Ministers why so few prosecutions for incitement have taken place when the comments that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) cited are made openly. They at least suggest an incitement crime. Why are so few prosecutions brought? Prosecuting for incitement could be more effective than the heavy-handed approach of proscription.

Dr. Evan Harris: I agree with my hon. Friend. Arguably, section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006 could also be used. He is not alone in expressing concern about proscription. The Joint Committee on Human Rights also argued in paragraph 63 of its third report that extending the ground for proscription to cover organisations that glorify acts of terrorism was unlikely to be compatible with the right to freedom of expression in article 10 and the right to freedom of association in article 11 of the European convention on human rights. There is a concern that those powers may, at some point, be struck down and we therefore need to ensure that we use them in the right way.

Mr. Heath: Under the terms of the order, which does not specify a section, I doubt whether a court would put such a narrow construction on the Minister’s words, but we are right to express concern.

Is the Minister confident that the internet sites, which seem to be his principal concern, will be closed down as a consequence of proscription or will they simply move to an overseas base and continue as before? If proscription does not achieve the primary objective of closing down those sites, it has failed as a mechanism.

It is a matter of natural justice that proscribed organisations should be regularly reviewed to ascertain whether the proscription remains necessary and in order. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (Mr. Marshall) mentioned the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran. There have been concerns about whether it should be proscribed. I make no comment on that apart from saying that I hope that it is subject to review. I especially hope that new assessments are made at the time of negative resolution orders for successor organisations. Rather than simply assessing whether an organisation is a successor body, we should assess whether it has the same principles and adherents as the previous organisation.

Mr. McNulty: Not least for the benefit of others who may go down that route, let me say that the PMOI currently has an application for de-proscription before the Home Secretary. However much people wax lyrical about it, I shall not comment on it. It would not be appropriate to do that. If people want answers from me
20 July 2006 : Column 503
about that specific organisation, they will not get any because the de-proscription request is before the Home Secretary.

Mr. Heath: The Minister is right to take that view. I am not acting as an advocate for the organisation, I am simply asking for the matter to be considered.

Hizb ut-Tahrir clearly holds views that many of us find abhorrent. I am especially worried about the anti-Semitism that the organisation expounds, which should be subject to legal sanction. However, whether it is a matter for proscription is a different question. The organisation is avowedly against the violent expression of its views. I am not in possession of intelligence material that would tell me whether that is true, but I know that it states that it is against violent and terrorist activities. We must be careful not to assume, simply because we do not like—and may abhor—an organisation, that we, as a state, should stop it being able to undertake its functions in this country. We should always, when possible, use the normal criminal law to ensure that people are charged with proper offences in court and that, if they are found guilty, they pay the appropriate penalty.

2.16 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I refer to the explanatory memorandums that were before the House in 2001. Those documents were fuller and amplified the Government’s case—— especially on the organisations to be proscribed and their activities in the United Kingdom——more than the current explanatory memorandum, which contains nothing to the same effect. I regret that. I do not want to belabour the point, as we fully realise that there are constraints on the Home Secretary. However, the memorandum could have been fuller and in line with what has been before the House previously. The Home Secretary asks hon. Members to trust his judgment, and I do, but that underlines the point that the Government need to review regularly the organisations that they have proscribed.

The Minister said in his opening remarks, and reminded us a few moments ago, that people can apply to be de-proscribed, but he himself cannot escape his duty to keep proscribed organisations under constant review. He did not refer to that and I regret it. If I could have his attention for a moment, it would make my journey to Westminster today worth while. I listened carefully to his comments, all of which were valid, but the Home Secretary has a duty to keep matters under review, especially given that the organisation to which the hon. Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) referred—the PMOI, also known as Mujaheddin-e-Khalq—was proscribed in 2001. The British Government have acknowledged that the organisation has not been involved in any military or terrorist activity since then. In 2001, they acknowledged that it was not involved in any such activities in the United Kingdom. There must be carrot and stick. If an organisation fulfils the criterion of being a lawful organisation in the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government should make some response.

The Minister was right to say that he could not comment on the PMOI’s application, which is before
20 July 2006 : Column 504
the Home Secretary, because the Home Secretary and the Minister will act in a quasi-judicial way. However, that does not stop me making points to underline the importance of considering such matters. As a backdrop, the Prime Minister referred to the Iranian Government this week from the Dispatch Box as the exporters of terrorism. Their opponents are trying to stand up to them, just as General de Gaulle kept the flame flickering while in exile.

The Minister for the Middle East is chuntering under his breath, but I hope that he will do me the courtesy of listening to me for one more minute. Even if he thinks that Andrew Mackinlay is talking rubbish, the case that I am advancing has been articulated much better by people such as Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former Labour Solicitor-General; David Waddington, a former Conservative Home Secretary; Lord Fraser, a former Conservative Lord Advocate; and Lord Carlile of Berriew, the person who has been charged by the Government with making an objective assessment of these proscriptions. In Lord Carlile’s most recent report, he flagged up the fact that the Government should reflect again on the PMOI, or the MeK, as it is also known.

I wish that the Ministers would recognise that some of us do trust them, but that we expect a quid pro quo. We, the custodians of liberties, need to be satisfied that they are reviewing past decisions that were dictated by a request from the Iranian Government to the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, which was then conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), to proscribe the PMOI. Some of us think that that decision was flawed, and we want reassurance that there will now be some objectivity, and that the organisation will not continue to be proscribed merely to appease the rotten regime in Tehran.

2.21 pm

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): I congratulate the Minister and the Government on proscribing al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. Those organisations are the successors to al-Muhajiroun, whose founder, Omar Bakri Mohammad, was involved in the commission and preparation of terrorist acts and recruitment for jihad. He trained young men, whom he sent to fight in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Jordan. He was also directly responsible for the recruitment and training of two young Britons, Asif Mohammad Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, whom he sent to their deaths in a suicide mission in Israel. His ideology is foul, and his organisation deserves to be proscribed. Its successor organisations also deserve to be proscribed, and I congratulate the Government on doing so.

I regret, however, that Hizb ut-Tahrir is not on the list of organisations being proscribed today. Last year, the Prime Minister outlined the case for the proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and, as so often happens when the Prime Minister talks about Islamist terrorism, I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with him. Why have the Government not proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir? Did the Foreign Office and the Home Office fall out over this matter, as has been reported in the New Statesman? Will the Minister specify the nature of the discussions between those Departments on this matter, and let us know why that proscription has not proceeded?


20 July 2006 : Column 505

Given that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been proscribed in Germany by Otto Schily, the interior Minister in an SPD-Green Administration, the proscription of the organisation would hardly be a reactionary move. Indeed, the desire for its proscription is endorsed by all those who believe that liberal, multi-ethnic democracies need to be protected from extremists who fly under flags of convenience.

I suspect that I might be rare in the House—although I note that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway) is here—in that I have had the privilege, if that is the word, of being invited to address a Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting in the past. I did not know that Hizb ut-Tahrir had organised the meeting when I was invited to address it. Because I did not know that, and because Hizb ut-Tahrir operates under a cloak of secrecy, I was rendered complicit in an exercise in radicalising young Muslim men. I saw how the organisation operated, and how it sought to divide young Muslim men from the rest of our fellow citizens. I recognise that it acts as a conveyor belt to extremist activity, as the Prime Minister has pointed out.

The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) pointed out that Hizb ut-Tahrir bore similarities to Trotskyist organisations, and so it does, in that it operates under a number of identities in order to achieve its totalitarian aims. However, it is far more dangerous than Trotskyist organisations ever were in this country.

The Prime Minister made a speech to the Foreign Policy Centre earlier this year, in which he said:

which we all need to counter—

For those who do not know the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, I shall spell it out briefly. Its ideology is Allah—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the groups that are named in the order, rather than any that are not? I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some discussion on these matters, but I must now call him to order.

Michael Gove: Thank you for bringing me back to the matter under discussion, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Why is the Muslim Brotherhood—a proscribed organisation in other countries, as the hon. Member for Hendon pointed out—not being adequately dealt with here? I am sure that the House is aware that there is an individual in the Foreign Office, Mockbul Ali, the Islamic issues adviser, who has described the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami as progressive organisations. Why is the Prime Minister’s stated desire to deal with the extremism promulgated by the Muslim Brotherhood not being dealt with effectively by the Government?


20 July 2006 : Column 506

Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I did not rise to the hon. Gentleman’s wholly gratuitous—and, as it happens, erroneous—reference to me. I have never attended a meeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir. However, is it in order for an hon. Member to name an individual civil servant in the Foreign Office in that disparaging way, when that civil servant is not here to answer for themselves?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have not heard anything that is out of order. Members who make speeches must take responsibility for what they say in the Chamber. I would remind hon. Members, however, that we are discussing the list of organisations that are named in the motion.

Michael Gove: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Will the Minister ensure that, when these provisions are reviewed in future, all the organisations that seek to take young men and turn them into terrorists are kept properly under review? Will he also ensure that any organisations that act as generators of extremism and recruiters for jihad are given the degree of scrutiny that the Prime Minister said that they would be given when he spoke last July, and at the Foreign Policy Centre in February?

2.26 pm

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): It is clear that terrorist organisations continually split up and change their names, and it is therefore difficult to keep track of them. We appreciate that, and we support the proposal to proscribe these organisations today. There is clear evidence that at least two of them are condemned out of their own mouths.

I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about keeping the situation under review. History shows that terrorist organisations sometimes split because some of their members move towards democracy. I appreciate the adherence to the precautionary principle, but the Minister should bear in mind the fact that there might be opportunities for some of these organisations to adopt peaceful means, and they should not be thrown away.

The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru are slightly concerned about the situation regarding Kurdish groups. Teyrebaz Azadiye Kurdistan—TAK—is being proscribed today, and we have no objection to that, as it stands condemned out of its own mouth. The successor groups to the PKK are also being proscribed, under the negative resolution procedure. However, the Kurdish peoples in Turkey, Syria and Iraq have a long history of fighting against non-democratic regimes for their democratic rights. There is now an autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, but the situation in Turkey is still very bad. The Turkish Government have taken action against democratic Kurdish groups, and Kurdish MPs have been imprisoned for using the Kurdish language.

Will the Minister ensure that, when requests are made for the proscription of groups by foreign Governments—especially Governments such as the Turkish Government, who are not entirely
20 July 2006 : Column 507
democratic—there is full investigation, so that we can be satisfied that they are groups that we would recognise as terrorist groups, and not simply groups that are unacceptable to the Government of the country in which they operate? There is a long history of oppression of the Kurdish people. We do not object to the proscription of the TAK, but we must ensure that we do not go too far, particularly in relation to Kurdish organisations.

2.28 pm

Mr. McNulty: I shall deal with the points raised in this very reasonable debate that were specifically about the order, rather than the assorted attempts—however well intentioned—to reopen the wonderful long debates that we had just before the election, which involved sittings lasting until 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning and losing a day’s business in the House. Wonderful memories! Nor am I going to go down the memory lane depicted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) when he talked about Trotskyist groups. I shall say no more about that, but anyone who wants to talk about Trotskyist groups in the 1970s—with or without my own inclusion—should see me afterwards.

In relation to some of the specific points about process, I take the point about the first order that listed some 21 organisations. There was some urgency, once we secured the power to proscribe, to get that initial series of organisations on the statute books as quickly as possible. On reflection, merely an hour and a half—locked as we were into our limited parliamentary procedures—on an order that proscribed 21 organisations was probably not the best way to conduct business. I will take that point back to the Home Office for consideration.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is not it a serious discourtesy to the House that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) should ask a series of questions of the Minister and then not be present to hear any answers?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Certainly, it is the convention of the House that Members stay and be present for both the opening and closing remarks.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) is taking a statutory instrument for the Opposition at 2.30.

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair, and the debate can continue.

Mr. Heath: I was about to intervene on the Minister to thank him for what he said, and to suggest that we need not to extend the parliamentary time available but to take a series of separate orders in a single debate. That would be the appropriate way of doing it, which he might like to consider.


Next Section Index Home Page