Previous Section Index Home Page

All right hon. and hon. Members support the motion. Many of them supported the extension from 28 days’ detention to 42, but some, on principle, did not. Perhaps Front Benchers will use their winding-up speeches to explain why the extension by 14 days to 28 days without charge was right and a principled move, but the extension by 14 days to 42 days is somehow different and wrong in
23 Jun 2008 : Column 94
principle. I see the pragmatic differences, but I do not yet understand and no one has explained to me the difference in principle between those two extensions. I see advantages in the extensions, but I see no difference in principle. I would like an explanation of that.

Mr. Winnick: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not see any principle being involved. Does he not accept that in non-terrorist cases the longest period for which a person can be held—the maximum—is 96 hours, after which they must be released or charged? The increase for terror suspects, which in my view was necessary and justified up to 28 days, is one thing, but it baffles me when he says that going beyond 28 days, perhaps to any figure, makes no difference and that no principle is involved.

Bob Spink: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because he allows me to make my point again. I see that there is a principle involved, but I do not see the difference in principle in changing 96 hours to 28 days, and from 28 days to 42 days. I do not see the difference in principle in those extensions. That is the point I was making. If he thinks it right to detain people without charge for 28 days, but not for 42, I would like him to meet me afterwards to explain where the principle in that difference lies, because I just do not see it.

I believe that we must send a strong message to the international terrorist community that Britain is not opening its borders for business from those terrorists and that we are retaining our maximum vigilance and our maximum defence for all our constituents, particularly those who work in London and face that terrorist threat.

I would like two simple assurances from the Minister. If we ever see evidence that the 28-day measure, which we are extending tonight, is being abused, I would like the matter to be brought back before the House so we can deal with it. If and when the terrorist threat abates, I would like us to go back to the situation that endured before we introduced 28 days, or indeed 42. I am sure that he will be able to give me those assurances.

7.49 pm

Mr. McNulty: On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, I can do no better than to paraphrase the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who, on page 136 of his excellent little book “Celsius 7/7”, talks about the broad Islamist threat in precisely those terms: as and when the threat increases, it is right and proper that a democracy takes all the power it requires, within its value system, to meet that threat. Equally, as and when that threat abates, so should those extraordinary powers. As I said, without going down the pathway of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, all that we seek to do in going beyond 28 days is predicated rightly and properly on the annual renewal of 28 days’ detention. For terrorist cases, 14 days is the norm, 28 days is the exception, and beyond 28 days—I shall not dwell on that debate—is utterly the exception to the exception. Partly to answer the hon. Gentleman’s point further, that is why we did not come back to the House with a proposal for a universal extension beyond 28 days, annually renewed
23 Jun 2008 : Column 95
or otherwise—we have sought to outline why there are grave and exceptional circumstances in which a period beyond 28 days is required.

Broadly, I am grateful to the House for the nature of the debate. It should be a detailed debate. As I said, as and when greater collective awareness of the ins and outs of those detained beyond 14 days is possible, that will happen. I hope that that can happen by next year, not least because a goodly number of those suitably charged beyond 14 days are already in the courts, and some are about to go before them, so matters will be resolved one way or another. None of the 11 charged beyond 14 days has yet been convicted, and to return to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), they are allowed due process before we start crawling all over the statistics relating to how they got to that position in the first place. As and when all the information is available on those detained beyond 14 days before charge, it will be right and proper to dissect that information retrospectively.

As I said in my opening statement, this is a serious and sensitive matter—we do not depart leisurely, or in anything but a very serious spirit to respond to a threat, from the 14-day norm accepted by the House for terrorism offences. I accept the broad sweep of colleagues’ comments that, hopefully, post-charge questioning, intercept as evidence, resources, greater use of the threshold test, and greater use of acts preparatory and other elements put into legislation, will mean eventually that more people are charged as close to arrest as possible. But I am afraid that I do not share the faith of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that any of those elements will eradicate the need to go beyond 14 days, given the nature of the current threat.

As I said during last week’s debate, collectively, things such as the broader prevention agenda and the broader battle for hearts and minds—for want of a better phrase—should obviate the need for using such extraordinary legislation, by ensuring, first, that more and more individuals are dissuaded from the path of violent extremism in the first place, and secondly, that they are charged much closer to arrest than is currently possible. However, I cannot guarantee that. It is the Government’s responsibility to make the judgment on the balance between guaranteeing public safety and otherwise.

In answer to some direct questions, at least nine of the 11—if not all—were transferred to prison at day 14 and then brought back for interview, principally at Paddington Green, as and when required. In passing, let me say that the detention of individuals beyond 14 days is about not just interviewing them, but as much, if not more, about the investigatory process in which the police need to be engaged to get the evidence in order to put questions to such individuals in the first place. Invariably, as in the code, such individuals are transferred to prison post-14 days and then returned for interview. Code H says clearly that there should be eight hours’ complete freedom from questioning on any given day. It is not the case that, other than during those eight hours, there is routine questioning on a regular basis. Often in terrorist cases, the investigation goes on and the individual will not say anything, and there is an iterative-type process. That goes back to the point about the times that individuals were apparently interviewed
23 Jun 2008 : Column 96
after 14 days—a point made with a degree of sophistry, I would say, by those to whom I referred earlier. Interestingly, there has been no case whatever of an accusation of oppressive questioning by any of the individuals kept post-14 days.

On the other point made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), a Crown Prosecution Service paper—I think that it was already published—has set out in detail the extension process, and is still available on the website. We have not done a special paper on the impact of questioning on the right to a fair trial and those other elements of which he spoke, but that might be worth considering.

At the Report stage of the last Bill on this matter, I said clearly that there would be a review of the impact on communities of all our counter-terrorism legislation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) made an entirely fair point in that regard. Although there are plenty of assertions about the impact post-14 days of the legislation that we are renewing today, there is no significant evidence. But as I said at a conference on stop-and-search powers last Saturday, although we are considering section 44 and the code of practice associated with it, such stop-and-search powers will have more impact on communities than the legislation under consideration. We have published information on numbers held and charged, and will try to prepare more.

I am afraid that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East slightly misreads the Bill considered last week, in the sense that we seek not to consult the relevant Select Committee Chairmen on the process, but inform them—unless I have misread the Bill—

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): It’s all a charade anyway.

Mr. McNulty: That is my hon. Friend’s view, and he is entirely welcome to express it, although while he is on his feet rather than from a sedentary position, if I may say so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon is entirely wrong about schedule 8 and article 5 and the right to a fair trial—it is a tedious, circular debate. He says glibly that defendants are excluded from large parts of the hearings—wrong, as Sue Hemming said in her evidence. Just because one says something often enough, a bit like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, it does not mean that it comes true. Sue Hemming was very clear that in some cases the process had ex parte elements, but they were very limited. Although the law did not require anything further than the gist of the case, in many instances, certainly beyond 14 days, she was very clear that substantially more than that was provided.

For as long as this legislation has annual renewal, however, it is right and proper that there is due scrutiny. I freely accept that, and I commend the House for the way in which it has taken place. We think that the renewal is proportionate—it is certainly temporary and rightly so. The one thing that I will not forgive the hon. Member for Eastleigh for—it is either sloppy thinking, or if he believes it, he is profoundly wrong—is the notion that we only face a threat, regardless of individuals’ position, because of actions taken by this country in relation to Iraq. That is profound twaddle and nonsense of the finest order.

23 Jun 2008 : Column 97

Chris Huhne: The Minister knows perfectly well, and will be able to confirm if he consults Hansard, that I never said “only”. What I did say was that if there was a justification for our having already extended the period to 28 days, more than double the period allowed by any other common law jurisdiction—Australia’s limit, for instance, is 12 days—it was that we faced a greater threat. The threat is greater precisely because of the foreign policy actions of this Government, who involved themselves in an illegal invasion of Iraq.

Mr. McNulty: If that was clarity, I think that the hon. Gentleman has some difficulties in a broader sense. His view remains profoundly wrong, as indeed are his comparisons with international jurisdictions, based on our system or otherwise—but I will not rehearse those arguments either, because we have significant evidence, and it is rather tedious when people fall into the trap of indulging the sophistry of others.

That said, however, I am grateful to the House for the manner in which the order has been debated. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


23 Jun 2008 : Column 98

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

8.1 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,

The People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, or PMOI, is opposed to the Iranian Government, and its stated aim is to replace that regime with a secular democracy. Most of its members are based at Camp Ashraaf, which is in Iraq, and under Saddam’s regime it operated as a de facto wing of the Iraqi military. Although it currently describes itself as a non-violent democratic movement, there can be no doubt that the PMOI was responsible for vile acts of terrorism over a long period, stretching back some two decades prior to 2001. Those were not acts attributed to the PMOI by the Iranian authorities; it expressly admitted responsibility for a number of horrendous crimes carried out against the Iranian people, aimed at both civilian and military targets. The PMOI is not widely supported in Iran, because of those attacks, and because it fought alongside Iraqi forces against Iran in the war between the two countries.

The PMOI says that it decided to renounce violence at an internal meeting in 2001, and that it now seeks instead to pursue its objectives by peaceful means. Indeed, it has not conducted any attacks since then, although it has not made any public statement renouncing violence. Until 2003 it maintained an extensive arsenal at Camp Ashraaf, at which point it found itself surrounded by United States forces and surrendered its arms.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that he has had discussions with the Foreign Office about this matter, and that it agrees wholeheartedly with his decision to present the order to the House today?

Mr. McNulty: The position taken by the Government to date is the position of the entire Government. When we proscribe organisations in an international rather than a domestic context, of course we consult Departments across Government, including the Foreign Office, whose position is in accord with ours.

The PMOI was added to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations in 2001. We consider proscription to be a tough but necessary power. Its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the United Kingdom. The consequence of proscription is that specific criminal offences apply in relation to a proscribed organisation. They include membership of the organisation and various forms of support, including organising or addressing a meeting and wearing or displaying an article indicating membership of the organisation. Further criminal offences exist in relation to fundraising and various uses of money and property for the purposes of terrorism.

A group of 35 interested parties, consisting of Members of this House and of the other place, disagreed with the PMOI’s proscription. A statutory procedure exists for any proscribed organisation, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, to apply to the Home
23 Jun 2008 : Column 99
Secretary for that organisation to be de-proscribed. The group followed that procedure correctly, and wrote to the Home Secretary requesting that the PMOI be de-proscribed. It argued that it was no longer concerned in terrorism, having renounced violence and disarmed, and that its desire to express its legitimate support for the PMOI and its objectives was being unlawfully curtailed by its continuing proscription.

The then Home Secretary considered the application carefully, but continued to believe that the PMOI was concerned in terrorism, which is the statutory test for proscription. He formed that view in the light of the PMOI’s lengthy history of violence, in the absence of any public renunciation of violence, and taking into account the fact that it had disarmed some two years after the decision to renounce violence, and only when it had no other choice in the face of the overwhelming force of the US military.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the Minister accept that history is full of organisations that once practised violence in support of their beliefs and subsequently followed the democratic process? They include—closer to home—Sinn Fein-IRA, and various liberation movements in what was formerly the Empire and is now the Commonwealth.

Mr. McNulty: I would accept that, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the IRA is still a proscribed organisation. I discussed this just before these two debates began. I do not think that Sinn Fein was ever formally proscribed. I do accept the broad historic point that the hon. Gentleman has made, but I do not accept—if this is what he subsequently asserts—that the PMOI is in the position that he has described, and the Government do not accept it either.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware that the Foreign Affairs Committee went to Iran in November last year, but one of the things that struck us then was the Iranian regime’s absolute obsession with this organisation. My right hon. Friend says that it has no influence in Iran, and I think that he is probably right; nevertheless, the Iranian Government are completely obsessed with the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, the PMOI, or whatever name we choose to give it. They even tried to organise a televised meeting between us and victims of MEK terrorism.

Mr. McNulty: I take my hon. Friend’s description of the Committee’s visit to Iran at face value. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary considered the application carefully, but continued to believe that the PMOI—or the MEK, as my hon. Friend rightly calls it—was still concerned in terrorism. That is the statutory test for proscription, as opposed to what other countries may think.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab) rose—

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. McNulty: I shall be happy to give way shortly. I am always—I hope—quite generous in giving way. Let me make some progress first, however. The points that my hon. Friends wish to make will not go away, given the theme that runs throughout the debate.

23 Jun 2008 : Column 100

While accepting that there had been no attacks since 2001, the then Home Secretary adopted a cautious approach. He was not satisfied that the renunciation of violence was more than a temporary cessation for pragmatic reasons, or that the 2003 disarmament would have taken place had it not been for the military position in Iraq and the artificially restrictive circumstances arising from it. He was concerned that the PMOI might return to terrorism as a means to achieving its objectives in the future if the situation in Iraq made possible for it to do so, and if doing so became strategically advantageous.

Mr. Drew: It is good to hear my right hon. Friend welcome the de-proscription so wholeheartedly, but I want to know where the evidence comes from. Perhaps this will be made clear during the wider debate, but I should be interested to know what representations the Government of Iran have made about the PMOI.

Mr. McNulty: As I have said, what my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary had to consider was the application from the 35 interested parties for de-proscription. His first port of call was the evidence submitted in support of putting the MEK, or PMOI, on the list of proscribed organisations in the first place.

This decision was not taken lightly. The Government share the desire of those 35 Members of both Houses to see the advance of democracy and the promotion of human rights around the world. Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, we are committed to ensuring that proscription decisions are lawful and proportionate.

The Terrorism Act 2000 sets out the definition of terrorism and the criteria for considering whether an organisation is concerned in terrorism. The Act does not refer to the motivation or political agenda of those who perpetrate acts of terrorism and, as the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission accepted, the Secretary of State is entitled to conclude that there is no right to resort to terrorism, whatever the motivation. We do not condone terrorism anywhere, whatever its justification or its target. These decisions must be evidentially based, however; we must not use this part of the Act to proscribe those whom we do not like. There have been many debates, and many foolish comments have been made from the Opposition Front Bench—although not by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), I freely admit—about a particular organisation, and the idea that its remaining unproscribed somehow shows a lack of willingness to engage with, and be tough on, terrorism. Clear criteria and processes are laid down, and the Home Secretary’s refusal to de-proscribe was appealed to POAC, which upheld the appeal and found that the PMOI was no longer an organisation concerned in terrorism. POAC directed that the Government lay an order before the House de-proscribing the PMOI, which brings us to where we are now.

Mr. Dismore: The Minister has said that the Government had concerns about the PMOI when the former Home Secretary proscribed it and then resisted the application for de-proscription; indeed, the Government resisted that case through the judicial process. Is my right hon. Friend now satisfied that the PMOI is not engaged in terrorism, and that it has not been since 2001, and that there is no prospect of its returning to terrorism? In other words, does he fully and completely accept the findings of the judicial process?

Next Section Index Home Page