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Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is not only academics who might fall foul of the provisions of the Bill. Members of your Lordships' House or those of another place might be similarly affected if they undertook meetings for the same purposes.

When considering certain organisations which function only overseas, it must be remembered that those governments themselves engage in dialogue. For example, officials at the Foreign Office held a meeting to discuss Plan Colombia, a £1,600 million dollar programme being launched by the United States in an effort to assist the Colombian Government in combating terrorism and the trafficking of narcotics. One element of that effort is the need to deal with the FARC. That is an armed organisation which opposes the government and controls a large section of Colombian territory. Noble Lords may have seen the details of this in the review section of yesterday's Guardian. A two-page article reported on the so-called Farclandia which is controlled by these terrorists--for that is what they are according to the definition in the Bill. However, they are terrorists with whom the Colombian Government must deal. Over the past few years, President Pastrana has been trying hard to agree a formula of some kind whereby those terrorists can be drawn back into the political process.

Would it not be nonsensical, therefore, to declare that interested parties in this country would be unable to engage in such a process? According to the

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provisions of the Bill, it would be impossible to invite representatives of the FARC to come here and hold talks with a gathering of MPs or noble Lords to investigate how that peace process might operate and whether the United Kingdom would be able to play a part in it.

The subsection which my noble friend seeks to delete will inhibit the United Kingdom from playing any role in the solution of crises and internal armed conflicts in many other parts of the world.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I have been unable to take part in the proceedings on the Bill until now because of my committee work and because I have had to be out of the country.

I should like to express my welcome for government Amendment No. 12, as well as to support Amendment No. 11. In today's world, it is of key importance that we address the challenges of modern conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is all about talking, all about discussion and all about persuasion. Quite clearly, if we do not permit meetings to be held which may be set up in an effort to persuade those allied closely to proscribed organisations away from them, then we shall be heading up the wrong track, leading to even longer conflicts than is presently the case.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was the first to acknowledge that the Government have moved in this area. However, we cannot move quite as far as the noble Lord would like to take us. Having said that, we are of course impressed by the arguments that have been put from all sides of the House.

Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 13, which the noble Lord has intimated that he will not later move because he has accepted government Amendment No. 12. Both amendments seek to remove the offence of addressing a meeting which a person knows is to be addressed by,

    "a person who belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation".

We believe that this offence would help to deprive terrorist organisations of the oxygen of publicity, but we also recognise the concerns that have been raised both in this House and in another place, as well as elsewhere. We take those concerns seriously and have decided, after careful thought, to remove the offence from the Bill.

As regards the proposal contained in Amendment No. 11 tabled by the noble Lord, we do not see such a strong case--I am choosing my words carefully--for removing Clause 12(2)(b). We are of the view that the offence of arranging or managing a meeting, knowing that it is to be addressed by a person who belongs to or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation, is qualitatively different from the offence of "addressing" which we have now decided to drop.

The activity of "addressing" a meeting raises issues of freedom of speech in a rather more direct way than that of "arranging" a meeting. At the same time,

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"arranging" or "managing" requires a positive intention to help the speaker from the proscribed organisation in a way that "addressing" perhaps may not.

That would be the case even if the meeting is to be held predominantly for another purpose altogether. Even if it was known that a member of a proscribed organisation intended to speak on a subject unconnected with the organisation itself, we think that there is a possibility that such a meeting could be hijacked by the member of the proscribed organisation.

I hardly need to remind noble Lords that the point of proscription is to deprive terrorist organisations of any spurious legitimacy which they may claim. We believe that such organisations should not be given a platform. For that reason, people should not arrange or manage a meeting for them to address. We think that the offence should remain in place.

However, we have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out by way of his example. It is a difficult issue and the Government acknowledge that. We would say that Crown immunity would of course apply and that, perhaps more significantly in this field--it arises elsewhere in the Bill--consent must be given for a prosecution before such a prosecution can be put in train. That decision would lie either with the Director of Public Prosecutions or, as we shall debate later, with the Attorney-General. That is something of a safeguard in response to the example referred to by the noble Lord.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, that point was made by the Home Secretary in another place. He recognised the threat to free speech posed by this provision, but stated that the safeguard lay in the discretion to be given to the prosecuting authorities, who would exercise that discretion sensibly. Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. Since we are not dealing here with the oxygen of publicity in the sense of a public meeting, but rather a much smaller form of meeting, surely we run the danger of introducing a feeling of great uncertainty if it were simply left to a future discretionary decision on a very serious criminal offence?

Would it not be more sensible to achieve legal certainty and proportionality now by deleting this provision, thus ensuring that freedom of speech could not be chilled in a way that would clearly breach Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights? We cannot leave this to prosecutorial discretion because of that chilling effect. Can the Minister take that into account and think again on the matter?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I would say to the noble Lord that the oxygen of publicity--the phrase that is used so often--can apply as much to a small private meeting which "gets out", as it were, into the public world as to an orthodox public meeting.

However, we concede that there is a problem here. We do not want to go as far as saying that to call a public meeting and invite a member of a proscribed

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organisation should be lawful, but we should like to consider between now and Third Reading whether there is a way round the dilemma which has been set for us by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He talked about, for example, a meeting organised perhaps by HMG here between a terrorist group and a national government of another country, with the sole purpose of trying to bring them together. I think that was the example he gave. I hope he will understand that I cannot promise anything, but we should like to consider the point he has made.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, has it occurred to the noble Lord the Minister, as it did to me, that perhaps noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches should have proposed an amendment which is rather different from the one they have moved, which would delete the words,

    "a meeting of three or more persons"

and insert "public meeting", or some phrase to that effect. That seemed to be what lay behind much of their concern.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, could I ask the Minister to explain why we have no prohibition on talking to the press? Years ago we had such a prohibition on the IRA or other terrorists talking to the press. That was a public platform, and really in the case of this amendment it is very much less of a public platform than appearing on television. Therefore I would still like to see this amendment accepted, whereby such people should be allowed to talk to controlled audiences in the right circumstances.

Lord Bach: My Lords, obviously, anything that the noble Viscount says on these matters is taken very seriously by the Government, but I have to say that what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has suggested as a possible amendment is again something we should like to look at and see whether it could satisfy all parties here, together with the legitimate question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I hope that in the meantime he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am of course grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has said about the possible reconsideration of Clause 12(2)(c). We take the view that it is acceptable to come back with a more limited amendment. It could be argued that simply removing Clause 12(2)(c) would be too broad. Our intention will be that, to be on the safe side, we ourselves will draft a rather narrower amendment and bring it back for consideration on Third Reading, in case the Government think better of bringing back an amendment of their own. Taking that into account, in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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