Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I understand the object of the amendment. I am not sure that it is necessary because the Secretary of State's powers are already covered.

I want to make a point that was mentioned in a previous debate; that is, that we are in a murky area when we focus upon acts of terrorism (as defined in the Bill) committed outside this country. One need only think of the ANC during the years of apartheid. Some of my best friends may be regarded as having been guilty of terrorism when they were struggling against the dictatorship of apartheid and found it necessary, with ideological or political motives, to engage in acts which fall within this definition.

I pity the Secretary of State who, at some future date, may have to decide whether or not to add a foreign body, perhaps regarded as freedom fighters by some and terrorists by others, to the list. I can see that, even if we do not accept this amendment, there will be that kind of pressure on future Home Secretaries. I say simply that we are getting into murky waters, though that may be inevitable when one has a Terrorism Bill with extra-territorial scope.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, one does not need to go back in the past to the activities of the ANC to recognise where the difficulties mentioned by my noble friend arise. An example that occurs to me is the Sudan People's Liberation Army. We have dealings at an unofficial level with the SPLA. It is part of the process intended to lead to peace in Sudan between the government and the opposition, which has been

20 Jun 2000 : Column 169

demanding self-determination in the south. We have a certain amount of sympathy with those in the south who do not wish to be ruled by a fundamentalist and fanatical regime in Khartoum. Therefore we would not like to see such an organisation proscribed.

I should like to know more about the way in which the powers are to be exercised. I can think of other organisations which we would like to have considered by the Secretary of State which are involved in acts of terrorism overseas with which we do not sympathise and where, in this country, the organisation is involved in fund-raising and the soliciting of support of a political kind. An example I gave at an earlier stage was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Everybody knows that they collect money in this country. They have an organisation which explicitly claims to be a branch of the LTTE in London. They go round Tamil businesses asking for protection money. They make threats saying that people must subscribe to their cause. Obviously if we taxed them directly about it, they would say that they were collecting the money for the victims of war. One would have to go behind the collections to see what route the money took to produce the flow of weapons which undoubtedly sustains the conflict in northern Sri Lanka.

So there are circumstances where it could be argued that the powers could be used to proscribe an organisation, and that we would be fulfilling our duty to combat international terrorism in that way. But there are other cases where the power should not be exercised because of the political situation in the country where acts which could fall within the definition of this Bill might be committed. I am therefore not entirely happy about leaving a power of this kind in the hands of a Home Secretary who can say in any specific case whether or not an organisation should be proscribed. He would have been given no guidelines by Parliament; in fact, he would have a perfectly free hand as to how proscription was to be carried out.

Obviously, if it was the present Home Secretary, one would be quite happy as to the way in which the power would be exercised. But he will not be there for ever. This legislation will still be on the statute book when an entirely different government come into power. We do not legislate for the exercise of power by the people who are in office at the moment; we have to imagine that at some future date a far more authoritarian government might come into power who would have no sympathy with liberation movements overseas. That is why, to make the power as broad as it is in this Bill and not to place any restrictions on the exercise of it by the Secretary of State would be rather dangerous.

4 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in the two instances he has given. As often happens, it is a question of one man's terrorist being another's freedom fighter. Nevertheless, I hope that some way will be found to recognise that we might have to take such action on new splinter groups of the IRA in the Republic of

20 Jun 2000 : Column 170

Ireland, which is another country. It is a problem which needs to be addressed. I agree entirely with the noble Lord on the other instances that he has given.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, we are worrying about the question of definition. Like the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I was brought up to believe that the English language is the richest language in the world. If we cannot define something, no one else can.

Historically, there has been a strange change in the world. At one time we had enemies which were countries and military mights. Suddenly, those enemies were replaced with words ending in "ism"--fundamentalism, communism, terrorism. It would be very helpful to me if someone could define the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

If one analyses the history of the Commonwealth, one finds that a very large proportion of the Commonwealth entered into a period of what may be defined as "terrorism", when the military were sent in to stabilise a situation, the key terrorist or freedom fighter was arrested, locked up for a while, let out, in democratic elections became head of state, and then appeared on the Commonwealth Christmas card.

For those of us who have come across the Baader-Meinhof, the Brigate Rosse, the Shining Path, it is a matter of definition, but we seem always to end up with the word "fundamentalism". We seem to be seeking an enemy, but we need a definition. The definition used to be available through the Foreign Office. It was able to tell us the countries in which acceptable or unacceptable organisations existed. I am afraid that in British political history we have been as duplicitous as everyone else. One day someone is a terrorist, the next day he is an ally. It is the difference in definition of "freedom fighters" and "terrorism" which causes me concern.

If it is not possible to incorporate it in the Bill, perhaps the Minister would be kind enough, if I write to him, to list the world organisations which the Government currently regard as terrorist and those which they currently regard as freedom fighters.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I am not sure that we would necessarily want to receive such a letter. As your Lordships are well aware and as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has pointed out, this Bill provides for the first time the power to proscribe organisations concerned in terrorism other than that connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. Throughout the whole process of this Bill your Lordships have quite rightly taken a very detailed interest in this proposal and have sought to examine in detail the Government's intentions in relation to its use.

I do not believe that anyone has been more assiduous in this endeavour than the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Not only did he raise this issue in Committee on 16th May (Official Report, cols. 250-253) but he has also asked a series of detailed parliamentary Questions on the subject, which my noble friend Lord Bassam answered on 5th June

20 Jun 2000 : Column 171

(Official Report, WA cols. 121-122). My noble friend has again highlighted the issue by proposing this amendment today.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we have said, first, that, we are considering which organisations concerned in international terrorism should be added to Schedule 2 and, secondly, that final decisions as to the content of the first order adding international terrorist organisations to Schedule 2 will not be made until the power to make the order is in force. That is because we need to take full account of the circumstances obtaining at that stage--in particular the security assessment.

I am happy to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that, in exercising his powers to proscribe organisations, the Secretary of State will, of course, take account of all relevant information, including information available to him about organisations engaging in terrorist activities, as defined in this Bill, in countries other than the United Kingdom. I cannot go further than that. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment is that the Secretary of State will be obliged to consider every organisation throughout the world, which nobody would necessarily consider to be sensible. It is important, however, that I should give a reassurance about including information available to him concerning organisations engaging in terrorist activities in countries other than the United Kingdom.

With regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, we recognise that these are, in his description, "murky waters". We fully support people's right to peaceful protest, where there may be an oppressive regime at home. At the same time, however, we cannot allow the United Kingdom to be a safe haven for terrorists. In this respect, balance is very important.

We have provided a number of safeguards, one of which is that the Attorney-General's consent would be required to prosecute any international cases. We fully recognise the sensitive issues which arise in relation to international cases. We agree that everyone has his own views on who should and should not be proscribed. The Secretary of State will have to consider cases very carefully. His order will have to be approved by an affirmative resolution procedure before anyone is proscribed.

In the light of the reassurances that I have given, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page