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New Clause 5

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 15th May 2008.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 2:30 pm, 15th May 2008

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.