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House of Lords

Thursday, 1st November 2001.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Terrorism and Treason Acts: Awareness

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is a treasonable act for British subjects to take up arms against either the forces of the global alliance against terrorism in general or the Anglo-American forces in particular.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it is totally unacceptable for British citizens, or those having or seeking permanent residence here, to take up arms against British soldiers and their allies. People should be aware that criminal sanctions will be applied, including the use of the Terrorism Act 2000 or the Treason Act 1351, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that extremely robust Answer. May I ask him to extend that to the question of the sanctions that will be taken against those who, like William Joyce, incite treason, as there seems to be some incitement to treason going on in this country today?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, in that kind of situation the sanctions would be exactly the same. The law has not changed. The prosecuting authorities--namely, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police--will take action if the evidence is there. But the law has not changed since the action against William Joyce.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not in the interests of this country to detain here people who wish us such ill will? Would we not be far better off assisting their exit from this country to go and join the Taliban on the clear understanding that they will never again be allowed back in here?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend a substantive answer. In this country, British citizens are free to come and go; they are not required to say where they are going and they are not required to say where they have been when they come back. However, when they do come back, officers at ports of entry are always on the look out for people whom we suspect may have committed criminal offences abroad.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if the need arises, will the noble Lord proscribe recruitment to and service with the Taliban?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, this issue has been raised before. It would not be practical or common sense to

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proscribe the Taliban in the way that we have proscribed 35 other organisations. The Taliban is a de facto government for all practical purposes. Nevertheless, we have a considerable dispute with it. The organisations the membership of which is a criminal offence are proscribed by law. To that extent the Taliban would not fit that. However, that does not mean that action would not be taken if British citizens go to fight against British soldiers and our allies.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, does the Minister agree that it might be wise to facilitate the departure of these so-called British citizens to Afghanistan and to let the Royal Marines and the SAS deal with the problem?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it might be useful for those British citizens who are thinking of going abroad for that purpose to have a chat with the many thousands of people from Afghanistan who are at the moment seeking refugee status in the United Kingdom. They could let them know what are the facts of life in Afghanistan. The idea that a British citizen would go abroad to fight for a government who deny women the right to work and the right to education is nothing short of a scandal--and that is using the most moderate language I dare use as a Minister.

Lord McNally: My Lords, would it not be wise for Ministers to follow the advice of Professor Sir Michael Howard, who suggests that as well as keeping our nerve at this time we keep our head? The concept of the enemy within is a very old one in conflicts. After all, our own Royal Family had to change its name during the First World War because of anti-German feeling. Would it not be better to concentrate not on these fringe and lunatic groups but, following the Home Secretary's initiative, on teaching citizenship and concepts of loyalty to the United Kingdom to our minority populations, and getting minority leadership involved in such a programme?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we do not believe that we have an enemy within in terms of listing a subject group. It is outrageous for people to write in those terms about various minorities in this country. They are not an enemy within. There are rotten apples in every group, and where people commit criminal offences, and where there is the evidence, it is the job of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to take the necessary action. It is the job of government--and of all of us--to educate civic society so that there is religious tolerance, freedom to worship and respect for human beings. Clearly there is none of that in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am a British Muslim and very proud to be so? Is he aware that there is a cemetery in Woking of Muslims who lost their lives during the Second World War? Is he aware that Muslim Pakistan supported our country during the Suez crisis against another Muslim

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country? Is he aware that Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia stood shoulder to shoulder with the United Kingdom during the Gulf crisis and during the previous crisis in Afghanistan, and are doing so even today?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend speaks volumes. As a Minister from the Dispatch Box, I cannot cap that. He makes exactly the point I inadequately attempted to make. There are no single doubt groups. People from all religions and all cultures have the rights and the tolerance of this country, and they have defended and come to the assistance of this country in times of need. That applies whether they are male, female, wear turbans, grow beards, whatever their colour or creed. We pay tribute to such people, who come from all walks of life, on a regular basis. For that reason alone it is wrong to compartmentalise people and to slur them in the way that they have been slurred in recent times. However, as I said, where people commit those kinds of offences, they will be rooted out and, where necessary, prosecuted.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, if British citizens or denizens went abroad, not actually bearing arms against this country's Armed Forces but being prepared to do so, could they be excluded from re-entry?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, if the person was a British citizen, the answer is probably no. It would depend on the degree of evidence. Incitement to commit an offence is a criminal offence--whether it be incitement to treason or other kinds of incitement. That can happen in this country or if people go abroad with the intention of doing so. If there is evidence that someone has committed an offence of incitement, action can be taken.

Baroness Strange: My Lords--

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords--

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Opposition Front Bench.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the Minister has rightly been cautious in his replies, although he has been very definite about some aspects of the issue. There is too much anecdotal evidence, but there are those, sadly, within our overall community who appear to be encouraging some young people--again within our overall community--to go abroad for purposes which we would all agree are improper. The noble Lord said that it is the function of the police and the legal authorities to root this out. What he has not said is whether those legal bodies are considering such action at the present time against any individual. Can

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the noble Lord enlighten the House on that issue? Members of the House would be encouraged to know that some action was likely to be taken.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord's question in the way that he would wish. The Crown Prosecution Service, the police and other qualified security forces are at work on this issue on the streets of Britain, as, indeed, are our people abroad. As far as I know, no one has been arrested. There is scant evidence to support the allegation that British citizens have left this country to take up arms against British forces. Evidence is in short supply--and evidence would be required for any prosecution.

Biological Weapons Convention

3.10 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they anticipate that the proposed protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, providing for effective investigation and enforcement, will be agreed.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the 24th session of the Biological Weapons Convention Ad Hoc Group, which took place in August this year, concluded without agreement on a protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. The United Kingdom is continuing to work with states parties to ensure that multilateral negotiations resume at an early stage following the fifth review conference of the convention in Geneva, which is due to take place between 19th November and 7th December.

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