HL Deb 12 March 2001 vol 623 cc512-3

2.52 p.m

Lord Eden of Winton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to assist the Government of Sri Lanka to bring an end to terrorist activity in that country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we remain fully committed to supporting Norway's efforts to help the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE end the tragic ethnic conflict through a peaceful, negotiated settlement. The Home Secretary recently included the LTTE in the list of foreign terrorist organisations intended for proscription under the Terrorism Act 2000. We look to the LTTE to renounce terrorism and to commit itself to the search for peace.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their decision to place the LTTE on the list of proscribed organisations. Will the Government press ahead as quickly as possible and hold the required debate so that the necessary order can come into effect without delay? Is it not clear that there is diminishing sympathy for the terrorist organisation in Sri Lanka? Therefore, will the Minister pledge Her Majesty's Government to do everything thing possible—perhaps with the assistance of other Commonwealth countries—to support the Sri Lankan Government in their efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement? That settlement might include some form of devolved administration to meet the legitimate interests of the Tamils.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his compliment in relation to the work that we have done. The Terrorism Act came into effect on 19th February of this year. I can reassure the noble Lord that the order will be debated on the Floor of the House of Commons at 10 p.m. tomorrow. In the week beginning 19th March it is hoped that the order will be debated in this House. That date will be confirmed. So the noble Lord will have his wish in that regard.

I can reassure the noble Lord that we will continue to do all we can to support the negotiated settlement. Norway is working hard and doing very well. It is incumbent upon us all to do everything we can to make sure that such efforts succeed.

Lord Naseby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that her announcement of the debate in the other place and the intended debate in this Chamber is greatly to be welcomed? But if the Act is to bite, as I suspect the Government, the Opposition parties, and the whole of this Parliament would wish, it has to be followed up by activity to ensure that the money taken under sufferance from people here who are Sri Lankans is stopped one way or the other. Are urgent discussions taking place to ensure that that extortion of money stops?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can reassure noble Lords that once the order is passed, the police and the prosecuting authorities will have an opportunity to act where they find that there is evidence to support such action. So we have a realistic expectation of the mechanism being in place that can be utilised to make sure that terrorist organisations such as the LTTE do not prosper on these shores.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that although the LTTE has an office in this country, which will have to cease activities once the order comes into effect, there are other organisations which collect money, ostensibly for charitable purposes? The first investigation of those bodies is left to the Charity Commissioners. Does the Minister think that, in the light of repeated demands by the Sri Lankan Government for action to be taken against front organisations, it is satisfactory to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Charity Commissioners?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the matter will not be solely in the hands of the Charity Commissioners. We shall have the legislation on the statute book which will enable the police to investigate and the prosecution authorities to prosecute if they deem that to be appropriate having found the evidence upon which to found those prosecutions. So we are looking at the matter with increasing particularity. We have a realistic prospect of creatively bringing about change.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the comments of Charles Clarke that the make-up of the list of proscribed organisations since the Terrorism Act was, not driven by foreign policy considerations"? In so far as that is true, at what level and to what extent did Home Office Ministers consult with their colleagues in the Foreign Office in relation to the decision to include the LTTE?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, your Lordships will not be surprised to know that although it may not have been driven by Foreign Office considerations, those considerations were properly taken into account. The fact that the LTTE is on the list is an indication that the Home Office took the matter fully into account.