Terrorist Asset-Freezing Bill

My Lords, I welcome the Bill as there is a general consensus that greater measures are needed to assist in the fight against global terrorism. Terrorism is one of the greatest threats that we face in the 21st century. This legislation will make an important contribution to our national security by helping to ensure that funds are not used to perpetrate terrorist activities. I also welcome the Government’s strategic defence and security review, as stated in the coalition agreement. We have a duty to our citizens and Armed Forces to shoulder the collective task of formulating a robust security strategy for an increasingly dangerous world. I am confident that this legislation will contribute to achieving this goal.

In overcoming the threat of terrorism, we need clear understanding and constant vigilance. I congratulate the Government on the recent announcement of a successful conclusion to negotiations between the European Union and the United States Treasury on the exchange of information on terrorist finance tracking. One part of frustrating the evil intentions of those who inflict terrorism across the world is to starve them of resources-and this lies at the core of the Bill.

It is timely that we should be considering our approach to the terrorist threat just a few weeks after the fifth anniversary of the 7/7 suicide bombing attacks in London, which resulted in the deaths of 52 people. Thankfully, there has been no other major successful terrorist assault in this country since that day. That has not been because the threat has dissipated, and we should not allow complacency to creep into our considerations.

We should not allow a debate to take place on terrorism-and counterterrorism-without spending a moment reflecting on some of the issues that cause terrorism: alienation, grievance, demonisation, a sense of injustice, whether real or perceived, exclusion and political issues. We cannot expect to overcome the terrorist threat without acknowledging the role that these factors play in motivating the disaffected to move towards violence and terrorist atrocities. We need to examine and find remedies relating to the root causes of extremism and terrorism. Community cohesion and counterterrorism are not the same thing and they should not be confused. They are complementary and there are links. We must therefore regard the two issues in the appropriate manner.

Similarly, we need to recognise that the threat from terrorists arises from a multitude of different areas and groups. Those who are radicalised with terrorist sympathies are not restricted to one particular group, religion or region. At this stage, I should like to follow up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, said and make the point that nearly all Muslims are law-abiding and good citizens who are against any form of extremism and terrorism. However, I appreciate that there is a problem with a tiny minority of people who do not follow the true principles of Islam. Islam forbids any form of suicide bombing. It is, indeed, a religion of peace. For example, when we greet each other, we say “As salaam alaikum”, which means “The peace of God be upon you”. As a Peer, I have a coat of arms, and on it I have two doves because I want to give the message that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.

Clause 1 of the Bill defines individuals who have been labelled “designated persons” by the Treasury. This clause is also of extreme importance in ensuring that we fulfil our obligations in implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. This provision ensures that asset-freezing measures are applied to groups and individuals who engage in or financially support terrorist activities.

Designated persons can be defined only by competent authorities. However, I feel it is important that all competent authorities in United Nations member states act in harmony to make sure that the necessary procedures are followed to combat terrorism on a global basis. It is important to achieve a degree of consistency in tackling cross-border terrorism. I should be grateful if the Minister could advise your Lordships’ House whether bodies in addition to the Treasury will gain status as competent authorities in the near future for the purposes of this legislation.

Clause 2 covers the Treasury’s power to designate persons. This includes instances when the Treasury has reasonable grounds to suspect an individual or group of engaging in terrorist activities. I am concerned by this requirement, as Resolution 1373 expressly states that the assets of those who commit, or attempt to commit, acts of terrorism should be frozen. The resolution does not extend to those whom competent authorities suspect of terrorist activity. Therefore, the burden of proof is not satisfied under this clause.

Furthermore, we must be mindful that whatever we enact could not be construed as a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that all individuals are entitled to respect for their family and private life in accordance with the law.

Our criminal justice system is based on the principle that individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Any attempt to interfere with this principle would be to the detriment of our society. Even if a person is proven innocent, there may be a possibility that the person will be branded a terrorist. This could be damaging to a person’s future prospects. Is there any scope for awarding compensation to those who have had their assets frozen prior to acquittal?

Clause 4 states that a designation issued by the Treasury expires within one year unless renewed. The clause gives the Treasury authority to renew a designation at any time before it expires if there are reasonable grounds for doing so. I fear that this clause may encounter the same difficulties as Clause 2. The clause states that a designation may be renewed more than once. However, there is no specification as to how many times a designation can be renewed. I would welcome greater clarification as to the powers of the Treasury concerning the duration. If these powers are wrongly used by those in authority, it could have long-lasting and devastating consequences for individuals and the integrity of this department.

Clause 20 makes reference to the need for co-operation with internal and international investigations. I strongly support this clause; it is in our best interests to work with our European and wider partners to achieve this aim. Foreign policy and national security are intertwined and should be treated as such.

The success of our foreign policy will work to promote our national interests and security both at home and abroad. The question of national security covers a multitude of areas, which is why a narrow approach to this issue has a limited chance of success. Co-operation with our neighbours in the European Union, our partners in the Commonwealth, transatlantic allies and other international organisations is vital to ensuring that we successfully combat terrorism. This threat is not just limited to one continent and therefore requires a multilateral solution. Counterterrorism is dependent on international co-operation, and a vigilance to identify the emerging and constantly altering threats to our security.

I welcome Clauses 33 and 34 as they clearly define the meaning of “funds”, “economic resources” and “financial services”. These are key terms for the purposes of the prohibition stated in Clauses 8 and 9. These two clauses make it an offence for funds and financial services to be made available to designated persons.

At this stage, I would like to declare an interest as I am the chairman of an organisation which provides insurances and financial services. I feel that companies which offer financial services as stated in this clause should be given the appropriate assistance in understanding the requirements of this legislation.

I would be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House as to whether any guidance and information will be made available to companies which provide financial services. I wholeheartedly endorse the principles that these measures are seeking to embody in law. We need to maintain our defences and be vigilant in tackling the threat posed by terrorism. We should be robust in seeking to prevent those who cause actual terrorism drawing on the resources that they need to inflict the injury of their design.

I am, however, of the opinion that we must ensure that the provisions of the Bill do not compromise the human rights of law-abiding citizens. This country has a proud history of promoting democratic values around the world and in our local communities. Although we are in a heightened state of security in terms of domestic and external threats, legislation must not be allowed to compromise our civil liberties. It is important to strike a balance to ensure that no ethnic or social group feels as though it is the constant target of discrimination. We must co-operate internationally and focus on marginalising those who idolise or endorse terrorism. We are bound to ensure that we approach the matter in a proportionate, measured and effective manner. It is only through detailed scrutiny that this House can content itself that the Bill meets those tests.

Updated: 03/08/2010 — 9:55 AM