Dear Mr. Smyth,
Thank you for your letter of 20 July following up my written answer on 14 July on finance for international terrorism.
You ask what work has been done so far in this area. In Northern Ireland we have made major efforts to develop an overall strategy to combat paramilitary financing operations. This has entailed forging closer links between all Government Departments and Agencies—whether based in Northern Ireland or Great Britain—as well as the security forces, primarily the RUC. Further significant extension of this process is expected shortly through the formation of a purpose-designed, administrative, anti-racketeering body.
On the ground, the RUC has reorganised and substantially strengthened its own anti-racketeering squad in the past year. A major review has now taken place within the Northern Ireland Department to examine the best ways in which the possibility of paramilitary abuse in government contract letting may be further reduced. Government grants to outside groups have also for some time been subject to close scrutiny by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that they are not applied to groups under paramilitary influence. I know the legislative proposals being worked up by the Home [end p1] Secretary are being drafted in close consultation with the NIO.
I understand that in all these initiatives the views of the RUC have been taken fully and directly into account. Indeed, information from the RUC has played a vital role in providing factual back-up for what we have undertaken. I am therefore puzzled that you should consider best use has not been made of RUC and security force information. Neither I nor Tom King have been aware of any complaints to this effect from the Chief Constable or other members of the force; on the contrary their views have been valued and, as I say, have been of material assistance.
You will understand that I cannot say a great deal about our plans to enable confiscation in anticipation of the Queen's Speech but our intention is to broaden and strengthen the existing offences in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. They will apply to certain categories of international terrorism as well as to Northern Irish terrorism; the definition of the prohibited conduct will be expanded so that it will more clearly cover the sort of activities and transactions carried on by banks and other financial institutions and accountants and other financial advisers. Facilitation of the retention or control of terrorist funds will also be an offence. On conviction of one of these offences it is proposed that the court may order the confiscation of any money or other property which the convicted person had intended would be used in connection with terrorism.
Linked with the new offence will be new powers of investigation modelled broadly on those in the Drug Trafficking Offence Act 1986, to enable the police to carry out investigations into suspect funds.
I hope this will reassure you that we are taking the question of terrorist financing extremely seriously, and are taking positive steps to tackle the problem. In doing so [end p2] best use has been made of all the information available to us. Yours sincerely Margaret Thatcher.