Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Bridgeman: I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, which we shall study carefully. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 14 agreed to.

Clause 116 agreed to.

Clause 117 [Consent to prosecution]:

5.30 p.m.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 173:

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 173, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 176, both of which stand in the names of my noble friends and myself. These amendments concern the question of whether it is appropriate for the Director of Public Prosecutions to consent to prosecutions in terrorist cases which are concerned mainly with overseas terrorism or whether that consent should be given, as we suggest, by the Attorney-General.

It will be a useful safeguard to require consent to be given at a high level to the prosecution of offences under the Bill. Of course, we welcome that. Clause 117 as it now stands requires that in all cases the consent be that of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Our view is that the consent of the DPP is indeed sufficient where the case relates to what I might describe as "internal terrorism". However, a prosecution, for example, for funding of allegedly terrorist activities outside the United Kingdom, or, to take another example, weapons training for overseas terrorism prosecuted under Clause 54, may raise very sensitive political issues.

If the organisation in question to which the accused person is said to belong is proscribed under the Bill, the decision is in some ways much simpler. The political decision regarding the justification of prosecution for membership of or activities under the aegis of that

6 Jun 2000 : Column 1085

organisation will already have been taken by the Secretary of State when he made the proscription order. Therefore, we believe that in the case of prosecution for offences under Clauses 11 to 13, which come into play only when the relevant organisation is a proscribed organisation, the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is adequate. However, all the offences referred to in Amendment No. 176 can be committed by members of an organisation which is not proscribed.

At Second Reading of the Bill, I, as did a number of other speakers, touched on the difficulties concerning overseas terrorist organisations which conduct fund-raising, organisational or other activities in this country. They raise the question of whether the activities of such an organisation are ones that we support to an extent which would make it inappropriate to prosecute, even if technically they come within the definition of terrorism. I do not believe, for example, that in this country we would have wished to prosecute someone who raised funds in the 1980s for the African National Congress, even though some of the activities carried on by the ANC during the course of its armed struggle undoubtedly came within any reasonable definition of terrorism. Therefore, a decision would have to be taken as to whether the ANC was an organisation whose members we should prosecute if they conducted fund raising or training in this country.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is a civil servant. He or she is and should be non-political. However, the decision to prosecute for involvement in overseas terrorism requires to be taken by someone who certainly has political experience and good political antennae. Of course, the decision must not be taken as a political decision. If that happened it could lead to disaster, as, indeed, happened with the decision of Sir Patrick Hastings, the Attorney-General in the first Labour government in the Campbell case in 1924.

However, we believe that the decision must be taken by someone who has a political background and, above all, by someone who sits in one or other House of Parliament and who can be called upon to explain himself in that House. I do not intend in any way to be disrespectful to Mr David Calvert-Smith, the present DPP, but I certainly believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, would be admirably placed to undertake the difficult task of deciding whether or not prosecution should be authorised in these borderline cases.

The Conservative amendments propose to require all prosecutions under the Bill to have the consent of the Attorney-General. We do not object to that in principle but it seems to us that the decision in cases of domestic terrorism is likely to depend much more on nuts and bolts issues, such as whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution. Our own feeling is that those decisions can properly be taken by the DPP and thus save the time of the Attorney-General. However, I express the hope that the Government will

6 Jun 2000 : Column 1086

be willing to accept the principle behind either our amendment or that of the Conservatives, which we would support in default of our own. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has just pointed out, we also have two amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 174 and 175, which go slightly further than the Liberal Democrat Amendments Nos. 173 and 176, also being debated. First, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said with regard to his amendments concerning overseas terrorism and making the case that proceedings should not be instituted without the consent of the Attorney-General where they concern terrorism wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom.

There is also a case for saying that, given the political nature of all terrorist offences, the Attorney-General is the right person to sanction prosecution for all these offences, whether or not they are concerned with foreign terrorism. That is obviously the effect of our amendments. However, apart from that, there is a potential difficulty in trying to distinguish between terrorism which is wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom and terrorism which is not.

Much of the terrorism about which we have been speaking this afternoon, though by no means all, is in connection with Ireland. There is reason to suppose that a good deal of the capacity of PIRA and other related organisations exists outside the United Kingdom; that is, substantially in the Republic of Ireland and, to a small extent, further afield. Is PIRA terrorism, therefore, wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom? When PIRA was active, the bombs it let off and the incidents it perpetrated were within the United Kingdom. The same can be said now of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. But there are other organisations at the Protestant end of the scale, the loyalist end, which have carried out attacks in the Republic of Ireland. I do not think they would claim to have carried out more offences in the Republic of Ireland than in Northern Ireland; nor would anyone point to that fact. Certainly, they are not doing so at present.

However, I mention that to draw attention to the potential difficulty of trying to distinguish in this way between terrorism wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom and other terrorism; that is to say, within the United Kingdom. That is one reason for marginally preferring our Amendments Nos. 174 and 175 to those moved by the noble Lord on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I believe the point is worth the consideration of the Committee.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton : I do not want Members of the Committee on the Benches opposite to get too excited, but my speaking note starts, "Resist - but".

It is common ground between us that there should be a consent provision in relation to the main offences in the Terrorism Bill. Clause 117 of the Bill provides for that. The issue is whether these offences in some or

6 Jun 2000 : Column 1087

all circumstances should be subject to Attorney-General rather than Director of Public Prosecution consent.

Amendments Nos. 173 and 176 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, propose that where offences relate to terrorism wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom there should be Attorney-General consent for a prosecution to go ahead. At Second Reading the noble Lord indicated that he supported such an approach because of the difficult and sensitive issues which can arise in connection with such cases. Perhaps I may say that he developed that argument very well this afternoon, with his usual talent. He said that political antennae were required. I believe that that is, indeed, the case.

The noble Lord also stressed the importance of the involvement of someone directly accountable to Parliament in issues which can touch on international relations and related matters. That is a wise observation.

I am sure that the Committee will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, indicated on the first day of Committee that we have sympathy with those arguments. We recognise the particular sensitivities that may apply in international cases. However, we are not entirely persuaded that Amendments Nos. 173 and 176 quite do the trick. On a technical point, they do not cover Northern Ireland. We take the view that any change to the current consent provisions should also apply there.

More substantively, we should like to look carefully at the formula proposed for defining an international case. That may have some bearing on the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. It is important that the right ground is covered, and as clearly as possible. We need to reflect further on whether the phrase,

    "terrorism wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom",

fully meets those tests. For instance, we are not sure that it is entirely clear whether the formula applies to acts that take place wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom or to acts undertaken in the United Kingdom or elsewhere to advance a cause wholly or mainly connected with a place other than the United Kingdom, or both. This is far from straightforward territory. I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that we want to consider further whether the approach adopted in the amendments is the best one in all the circumstances.

As we have indicated, we have sympathy with the concern underlying the amendments, although we cannot accept them in their current form. We should like to take them away for further consideration with a view to tabling further amendments of our own at Report stage.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 174 and 175 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. These amendments go further--although the principle is the same in terms of the major offences under the Bill--in arguing that they should be subject to Attorney-General rather than DPP consent.

6 Jun 2000 : Column 1088

We believe that the amendments perhaps go a step too far. We have indicated that we have sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. We accept the case for requiring the involvement of the Attorney-General in international cases because of the sensitivities which have been alluded to in the debate. However, we do not think that it is necessary to require his personal consent for prosecutions under the Bill which do not have an international dimension. That is not to say that we do not recognise the many delicate issues which may be involved in deciding public interest in such cases. However, the DPP is well used to making such decisions in complex and sensitive areas. It is always open to him to consult the Attorney-General on particularly difficult and sensitive cases. Indeed, the Attorney-General is informed as a matter of course of all serious cases. The Director of Public Prosecutions can and does raise individual cases of concern in their regular discussions.

It is important that Attorney-General consent to prosecution is reserved for the most sensitive and serious cases of all and that the numbers of categories of cases he has to consider personally are kept to a manageable number so that he can give them the sufficient detail of attention they require. I think the House will agree that a line has to be drawn somewhere.

We have indicated that we intend to table amendments at Report stage to provide for Attorney-General consent in international cases, but we are not persuaded that the case has been made also to require his personal involvement in cases without that international dimension.

The fact that some cases under the PTA are currently subject to DPP consent--primarily Sections 16A and B concerning the possession of articles or information for terrorist purposes--indicates that the DPP will not be taking on an area of work with which he is entirely unfamiliar.

In the light of our undertaking to table the amendments I have described at Report stage, I trust that noble Lords will not seek to press their amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page