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Terrorism: Funding

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 3 June 1986

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2.51 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have made representations to the Governments of the Irish Republic or the United States of America concerning the sources of the resources which enabled the assassination of the late Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

My Lords, both the Governments of the Irish Republic and the United States are fully committed, as we are, to the fight against terrorism in all its forms. They fully shared our outrage at the murder of Lord Mountbatten. No formal representations were made to either Government.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that this distinguished officer, statesman, and humanitarian and his family were selected as targets by the IRA? It is almost unbelievable, if I understood the noble Minister aright, that no official representation has been made to either the Irish Government or the United States Government when practically all the world knows that the assassination required careful planning and financing, and the overwhelming probability is that the finances came from NORAID in the United States of America. Therefore, they must share the responsibility for aiding terrorists acting against British subjects.

My Lords, the view of the Government of the United States, and of course the other governments involved in this matter, is well known and has been made clear on a number of occasions. As for the position of NORAID, as the noble Lord will be aware, it apparently claims to be raising money only for the welfare of Republican prisoners and their families. However, eight members of NORAID and office holders have been convicted of gun running to the IRA in the United States since 1973.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that in the United States of America there is substantial ignorance of the realities of the Irish situation? Can he say what action Her Majesty's Government are taking to explain the true facts to the people of the United States? Secondly, will he confirm that during the last 15 years about 3 million dollars have been sent by NORAID to the IRA, or so it is understood? Can he say whether armaments have been sent over and above the amount of money sent by NORAID?

My Lords, I am not sure that I am in a position to comment on the detailed figures that the noble Lord has given, but like him I have read the reports and I dare say that there is a good deal of truth in them. But I am clear that the United States Government are doing everything they can to halt the illegal activities of these organisations, because I believe there is more than one.

In 1982 a United States court ruled that NORAID must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as an agent of the Provisional IRA, and it is now required to submit periodic financial returns. The United States authorities have taken active steps to prosecute those engaged in the export of arms to the terrorists. Indeed, on 20th May this year the FBI in Boston arrested eight people on gun running charges, though I do not yet know whether any of these suspects is connected with NORAID.

My Lords, in view of the facts he has given, can my noble friend say how much money has come from Libya? Is he aware that Colonel Gaddafi continues to claim that he is expending a great deal of effort in training IRA specialists, who then go back to commit their acts of terrorism in Ireland? Is it not a fact that ships have been intercepted with very heavy loads of armaments, bombs and explosives supplied through Libya from Russian sources? Can my noble friend give us some facts to balance what he has said to us about NORAID?

My Lords, I can confirm that there is clear evidence that Libya has provided the Provisional IRA with money and weapons, though I have no figures on the precise amounts. But my noble friend may be interested to know that the major find of arms at Sligo and Roscommon in the Irish Republic on the 26th January this year included rifles and ammunition from Libya.

My Lords, what do the Government think of the chances of the proposed legislation for extradition from America of alleged terrorists; what does the noble Lord think about the prospects of it going through in the near future? Will the Government bring all pressure to bear on the Administration and on Congress to have such legislation passed?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, that is now a matter for the United States Senate. The view of the United States Government, however, is clear. They have made it absolutely clear that they want to see the treaty approved. Indeed, the President of the United States recently made a broadcast to that effect.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that in regard to gun running and other IRA activities in the United States members of the FBI have been showing great courage and skill?

Yes, my Lords, it is certainly the case that they have been conducting many successful operations in this area.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that we are not getting at the root of the Question? Gun runners have been captured. People carrying explosives have been captured. What we cannot capture is the money that comes from America to finance all these operations. The President of the United States should not expect us not to be outraged in the way that he is outraged when an American is the subject of a terrorist attack. He cannot think that we have no right to be outraged when a Britisher is the subject of a terrorist attack. With regard to the arguments submitted against gun running and dragging in Libya, all the Question asks is whether it is not about time that we contributed towards stopping this appalling evil of terrorism by making representations to the United States of America and to the Irish Government along the lines that I have indicated.

My Lords, we are clear that the United States Government are doing everything in their power to stop the flow of illegal funds and arms across the Atlantic. But so far as the treaty is concerned, the President of the United States is no more empowered to direct the Senate than are the British Government to direct your Lordships' House.

My Lords, is the noble Lord surprised—perhaps he is not surprised—that in asking his Question the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, did not pay a handsome tribute to the President of the United States and his Administration for all that they are doing in this matter? Is he surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, does not seem to understand the United States Constitution, in which the Senate and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are the places where this Bill will either be passed or will founder? An article in The Times yesterday explained fully why certain Senators have reservations on passing the Bill. Would not the noble Lord agree that they are exactly the same reservations as might be voiced in our country if African nationalists were to find asylum here and the South African Government asked for them to be extradited?

My Lords, I am not sure that I should much assist your Lordships by drawing analogies of the kind that the noble Lord suggests. The position is that the United Kingdom has signed a treaty with the United States Government on this matter, and as the noble Lord will know, under the American Constitution treaties of that kind have to be approved by the Senate. It is that approval that we are now looking forward to.

My Lords, may I say that I understand the American Constitution very well indeed? I have many relatives who are United States citizens. Would the noble Lord not agree that the family of Lord Louis Mountbatten may not be experts on the American Constitution? Will he tell the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that those people who were killed outside Harrods may not particularly have known the American Constitution? What their relatives knew was something which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, probably does not know; they reached the frontiers of real understanding when their souls were smitten with grief.

My Lords, nobody more than I shares the thoughts behind the views of the noble Lord. But it is necessary to proceed in a more measured way. As I have said before, I am clear that the United States Government are doing everything in their power to get this treaty approved.

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree with my noble friend Lord Cledwyn that NORAID benefits mainly through the ignorance of the American public about what is happening in Ireland? Does he not agree that the British information service and our consulate-generals in America have a great role to play? Will he give a commitment that any cuts that he may be envisaging will not settle on the British information services in New York?

My Lords, there was one time in my life when, as a junior Minister in the Foreign Office, I had specific responsibility for the matter to which the noble Baroness refers. I can assure her that such matters engage Ministers' continuous attention.