New offences to target cash for terrorism

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Indy Politics
THREE NEW offences to tackle the funds used for terrorist attacks are to be introduced by the summer in amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, Kenneth Clarke announced last night.

The Home Secretary made the announcement when he clashed with Tony Blair, Labour spokesman on home affairs, over Labour's vote against renewal of the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism Act. The vote to renew was carried by 329 votes to 202.

In a move to extend to terrorists the laws applied to money earned from drug-trafficking, it would be an offence to possess or use funds for terrorist activities; for bank clerks and others not to disclose assets believed to be used for terrorism; and to tip off those believed to be involved in terrorism that their assets were being investigated. They would carry penalties of 5 to 14 years' imprisonment.

Amid stormy exchanges, the Home Secretary rejected an appeal by Mr Blair for talks to re-establish, for the first time in 10 years, the bipartisan approach over the Act. Mr Clarke said Mr Blair had laid down two unacceptable conditions for the talks: that a judge, not the Home Secretary, should review requests for suspected terrorists to be detained for more than four days; and for exclusion orders to be scrapped.

But Mr Blair accused the Home Secretary of rejecting the talks for 'crude propaganda' reasons: 'Crime has doubled and they are losing the debate on law and order,' he said.

Opening the annual debate, Mr Clarke said that Mr Blair's offer of talks to find a consensus was 'an attempt to sound reasonable' while still opposing the two most important provisions in the renewal order - exclusion orders and extended detention of terrorist suspects. 'He is unintentionally . . . giving great encouragement to the Provisional IRA and others who find these powers so damaging to them,' he said.

Though a Labour government introduced the Act in 1974, following the Birmingham pub bombings, the party has opposed its renewal since 1983, arguing that parts are counterproductive and a breach of civil liberties.

Mr Clarke said that he had made only two new exclusion orders in 1992, taking the total number barred from entering Britain from Northern Ireland to 81 at the end of the year. He said that he used the power when he was satisfied that a person is involved in terrorism. 'I am quite convinced that it has a substantial effect in frustrating and disrupting the activities of terrorist organisations.'

The second controversial aspect is the Home Secretary's power to grant an extension order enabling the police to hold a terrorist suspect for up to seven days. Labour argue that the decision to detain beyond 48 hours should be taken by a judge, not a politician. Mr Clarke said he had only granted 17 extensions last year - the lowest since 1984. Ten of the detentions lasted four days - the maximum period without judicial review, permitted under the European Convention on Human Rights. Without the power to detain, a person could 'walk free' after four days, and then the police would find from forensic science tests that it was the right man.

But Mr Blair dismissed the scenario as 'absolute nonsense'. The evidence for extended detention would be presented to a judge in the same way as it was presented to the Home Secretary. As a result of the decision being taken by a politician, the IRA had been handed 'a massive propaganda weapon', which they used, and Britain's reputation abroad was attacked as transgressors of human rights, he said.

Labour's Gerald Kaufman said that, in the last 19 years, 7,192 people had been detained under the PTA. Of these, precisely six had been convicted of crimes with sentences of more than five years, four of whom were the Maguire family, who had been wrongly convicted. 'The people for whom this legislation was rushed through Parliament, namely the Birmingham pub bombers, are still at large after 19 years.'

Mr Clarke said that Mr Kaufman had 'misunderstood' the Act. 'It is to prevent them committing it in the first place - not to wait until the bomb goes off'.