Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
With this it will be convenient to discuss
New clause 11—Proscribed organisations (No. 2)
(2) In subsection (5) after paragraph (d) insert—
“(e) has been involved in support or acts of terrorism and has not unequivocally renounced support of terrorism.”.’.
The Bill’s passage offers us an opportunity to look at other aspects of previous terrorism Acts, particularly the Terrorism Act 2000, in respect of proscribed organisations. The Minister will be aware that there has been some anxiety expressed in the House that, in the past, Ministers, including the last Prime Minister, indicated the necessity, or desirability at least, of proscribing certain organisations that were linked to terrorism, but having the told House that action would be taken, nothing has happened and it has gradually emerged that there are doubts about whether the organisations concerned fit the bill for proscription. In one case the arguments advanced in the Commons have centred around Hizb ut-Tahrir and its association with terrorism. The concerns expressed about that have not, however, led to it being banned.
It seems that when one considers the wording of the Terrorism Act 2000, it is at least arguable that it does not deal adequately with organisations that have in the past supported terrorism—and in some circumstances actively carried it out—but have successfully stepped to one side for the purpose of maintaining their public credibility and maintained a stark ambiguity as to their present status. For that reason, we thought it right for the purposes of stimulating debate to table two possible models for dealing with the problem, one of which would allow the proscription of an organisation that has been involved in support or acts of terrorism—new clause 5. Having tabled that, I was concerned about it because it seemed to me that it was capable of drawing the net too widely, particularly because it would, for example, catch organisations such as Sinn Fein which have undoubtedly supported terrorism in the past but have now unequivocally abandoned it.
The better model we might therefore choose to follow is that in new clause 11 which adds—this is my preferred model—to the words of new clause 5
“has been involved in support or acts of terrorism and has not unequivocally renounced support of terrorism”.
If we were to adopt such a model it seems that organisations that have, in many cases, a proven link with terrorism, but have not acquired an ambiguous status which often appears to be entirely deliberate, could, if necessary be put on the proscribed list by the Government.
I am aware that arguments are sometimes advanced that it is better not to proscribe organisations because it keeps them out in the open. There are some intelligence and policing advantages from doing so, but nevertheless we have a number of organisations, some of which are located in this country, with agendas that appear to be extremely closely associated with terrorism.
In seeking to put this forward, I do not in any way wish to suggest that it is not possible for organisations to change their spots. After all, the Government have just lost a case concerning an organisation linked to Iran. I have taken the view over the past two years that there was quite compelling evidence to suggest that it was no longer associated with terrorism at all, and it appears to have satisfied a court of that fact, although the Government remain unhappy about that and are appealing the matter. I shall not touch on that further; I simply put it forward as an illustration of one of the sorts of areas that we have to look at.
Leaving that particular example to one side, the amendment in new clause 11 would be neutral in that case. If an organisation can show that it has unequivocally renounced terrorism, is not actively supporting it, or carrying out acts of terrorism, there would be no grounds for its proscription. But if it could still be shown that they have displayed a continuing ambivalence when, in the past, they have either supported terrorism or perpetrated acts of terrorism themselves, it would provide the Government with an extra weapon by which it could, if necessary, bring a motion for proscription before the House of Commons.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield was right to say that new clause 5 was too widely drafted. However, perhaps some of the concerns we have about new clause 5 are equally applicable to new clause 11 in terms of an organisation being able to demonstrate that it
“has not unequivocally renounced support of terrorism”.
I do not know whether there is a legal definition for unequivocally renouncing something. I assume that there is not. Therefore to be able to demonstrate that, for example, the leading lights of an organisation have unequivocally renounced support for terrorism but individual members have not, just as with new clause 5, there are concerns about the drafting of that and how broad it is. Because of our concerns about being able to demonstrate how an organisation has unequivocally renounced support of terrorism, should the hon. and learned Gentleman be minded to press the matter to a vote, we will not be supporting him.
The purpose of this new clause is not only to stimulate debate and to listen to what the Minister has to say; it goes beyond that. I took the words “unequivocally renounced” because those were the words used in the context of the Northern Ireland peace process about the IRA and Sinn Fein. Although it can clearly always remain a subject of debate and polemic, there came a point where it became fairly apparent that there had been an unequivocal renunciation. That seemed to be as good a term as I was likely to find.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining that. He made a good choice. However, what is also illustrated is that in arriving at the point where it was agreed that Sinn Fein had unequivocally renounced support for terrorism, there were a large number of staging posts along the way where some argued that it had, and others that it had not. Because of the problems about agreeing where the point of unequivocal renunciation arises, we are not inclined to support the measure.
Does not the new clause have one great advantage? If, for example, the Government were minded to proscribe an organisation, and that organisation considered that it fell within the exemption as it had renounced terrorism, the process of proscription would enable that organisation to demonstrate that it had indeed renounced it. To that extent, it would be a helpful process.
From a sedentary position my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome says that it widens the scope rather than narrowing it.
It worries me that this widens the possibility of proscription. I rarely say that Ministers should be given the benefit of the doubt, but when they are in possession of the intelligence reports and the advice of the police agencies, they can make an assessment about whether an organisation is engaged in terrorism or is a supporter of it. The new clauses do not add anything other than encouraging the view that a national clamour through the press, or through MPs, can apply pressure on Ministers to proscribe an organisation that their intelligence tells them should not be proscribed.
I want to thank two Conservative members who approached me on this matter some time ago, asking whether this might be an appropriate occasion to explore it. I am grateful to them, particularly—without being invidious and naming names—to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyrewho spoke to me some time ago, and fair play to him. The only problem was timing—not his, but timing more generally.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield quite fairly pointed out that we have just had a recent judgment from the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission with regard to the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, on which we are appealing. As a result of both the Court of Appeal judgment, which we now have, and the original POAC judgment, we may seek to make some changes to the law on proscription in the Bill on Report. New clause 11, rather than new clause 5—as the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said—might be worthy of consideration. I agree with him that even if the wrong organisation is captured, were this to be part of such an amendment on Report, the process would be that organisation’s opportunity to renounce as fully as possible. [Interruption.] I know that we lost the appeal, I have worked that out. I was referring to reviewing the Court of Appeal judgment as well as POAC’s original judgment. I am painfully aware that we have lost. We are at an appropriate stage to review both elements of those documents and the entire architecture of the proscription legislation, and as part of that review process, I undertake to take the import of new clause 11 away and, if appropriate, to come back on Report with a conclusion to our deliberations on what is a very serious new clause. Again I am grateful that it has been tabled, but I should like it to be un-tabled.
I shall satisfy the Minister by un-tabling it, if that is the correct terminology, although I have some slight doubt about that. The Minister’s demotic adds richly to the proceedings of the Committee. This is an important issue. New clause 11 could well provide the basis of a formula that could be of considerable assistance to the Government in dealing with some organisations on the fringes of terrorism, in cases where there seems to be a considerable amount of evidence that they are fellow travellers with terrorism, even if they have found it convenient for their own purposes to step to one side and claim that their hands are clean. For those reasons, I very much hope that the Minister’s assurance is that the issue has not been lost sight of and can be returned to, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.