Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 4th July 2012.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 7:19 pm, 4th July 2012

I do not wish to detain the House, as I know many of the Members present want us to move on. I can tell them that, given what we have heard from the Front Benches, I do not believe that the House will divide.

When we proscribe an organisation, it is important that we do so carefully, because it is something we do very rarely. Such a move is also almost never opposed by the Opposition. That has certainly been the case throughout all the years that I have been Home Affairs Committee Chair and, indeed, in Parliament—and throughout all the years you have been in Parliament, Madam Deputy Speaker. In all that time, I have never known Government and Opposition to disagree on the proscription of an organisation. We will support the Government order because I am sure that the Home Secretary will have taken good advice before proscribing this organisation, and that she will not have taken the decision lightly.

However, the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, was right to press the Minister on a number of issues concerning the operation of the organisation within the UK. The Minister is right: the Indian Government have banned the organisation, as it has conducted a number of atrocities, most recently in Mumbai in 2011. However, I represent a constituency that, on the last census, has more people of Indian origin than any other constituency in the country, and I am not aware of this organisation operating in the UK. The Home Secretary obviously knows better than I, so I am happy to take her lead, but it is important that we proscribe for a reason.

Mr Ellwood rightly says we should not act in isolation. The Minister named five countries, including New Zealand, but there needs to be better co-ordination among countries, so that when we ban an organisation in our country, that applies also in other countries in the EU, because it would not of course be acceptable for that organisation to continue to operate in France, for instance, while being proscribed in the UK. I am sure that when the Minister replies he will confirm that we will also be asking other EU countries to make this decision, as well as other international organisations with which we are associated, and that we will act together with other countries that are friendly to the UK.

My main point goes back to an issue raised by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, however, and it is specifically about proscription. When the Select Committee produced its unanimous report into the roots of radicalism—I note that Michael Ellis, a distinguished brain on the Committee, is present—we were very clear about the issue of de-proscription. We looked at the example of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. It took the then Government to court and it won, and that Government had to allow it to continue. We do not want to go along that path again. There needs to be a clear route for organisations that have become clean, or that have got rid of their terrorist operations—and for their supporters who may support certain causes but who do not support terrorism—to be able to be part of an exercise of de-proscription.

The excellent independent reviewer, David Anderson, proposes time-limiting proscription, so that Governments have to come back in two years and renew the proscription. The Select Committee has not taken a view on the time limit, but we certainly feel that there ought to be some such mechanism. The Minister has given us an answer, but I am afraid that it is similar to some of the letters I have received from the Home Secretary and other Ministers that use the words “in due course”. I know that when we use the seasons—spring and summer, for example—that can mean virtually anything and I know that “shortly” does not necessarily mean tomorrow, but “in due course” sounds like quite a long time. Clearly this will not happen before the recess, as that is in 10 days’ time, but it would be good to have a timetable so that people know what to expect.

I raise these issues because of my concern about my constituents who are members of the Tamil community. They still face difficulties in booking halls when they want to discuss Tamil issues because of the ban that remains on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. As the Minister knows, the LTTE lost the war in Sri Lanka, effectively all its leaders were killed and the organisation no longer exists. If he wants to take advice other than mine, he should talk to my hon. Friend Mike Gapes and especially to Mr Scott, who is, of course, a member of the Minister’s party and the chairman of the all-party group on Tamils. These members of the Tamil community wish to operate within the law and have no connection with the LTTE, but they still have difficulties in raising money for compassionate and charitable reasons because of the ban that remains on that group.

How do we de-proscribe an organisation that does not exist? Who makes the application when no members of the LTTE are operating in the United Kingdom? Who will write a letter to the Home Secretary to say, “Dear Home Secretary, please de-proscribe us” when the group no longer exists? The previous Government, whom my hon. Friend Diana Johnson and I supported—although my hon. Friend was not a Home Office Minister in that Government, so I cannot hold her responsible—were unable to come to this House and say that they would de-proscribe any organisation. How will the Government demonstrate their good faith, therefore, not just as regards what they are doing today, which I fully support for the reasons set out by the Minister—many of which we obviously take on good faith because we have not seen the files—but by ensuring that there is a mechanism in law that will satisfy our constituents in cases such as the one that I have raised?