My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is unjust to expose a person to prosecution for supporting a proscribed organisation when that organisation does not meet the statutory condition for proscription. That condition is being “concerned in terrorism”, a phrase defined in the Terrorism Act 2000 and elucidated by the Court of Appeal in the PMOI case—the only case on deproscription to have reached a final judgment. The Bill does not seek to amend that condition. Yet precisely such an injustice exists today and will be worsened by the Bill, and in particular by Clauses 1 and 2, which extend the substantive reach of the proscription offences, and by Clause 6, which extends their geographical reach.
No sensible person would deny that the likes of al-Qaeda, Daesh or indeed National Action, three of whose adherents were convicted this morning, are concerned in terrorism. However, our ever-lengthening list of terrorist groups features quite a few that, to put it bluntly, simply should not be there. In June 2013, as independent reviewer, I reported publicly that a preliminary analysis by the Home Office itself had identified 14 groups, some of them already removed from equivalent lists in other countries, that no longer met—or appeared no longer to meet—the statutory test.
Some of them had not done so before the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force. To the 14 should no doubt be added some Northern Irish groups. I cited the example of the women’s group, Cumann na mBan—any involvement in violence far in the past and its centenary celebrations recently attended by the Irish President—in debate on Amendment 32.
Confronted with this evidence and recognising that there was no track record of deproscription by the Home Office, even in those rare cases when someone was brave enough to ask for it, the then Home Secretary, the current Prime Minister, came up with a principled solution: a programme of deproscription to be completed during the first part of 2014 and to be informed by the internal reviews that were, at the time, still conducted every year, and which a High Court judge had described as,
“certainly a practice that the Secretary of State should continue to adopt”.
But principles were not enough. The solution failed, despite the best efforts of the Home Office, because proscription of international organisations, particularly separatist organisations, is seen in some quarters as a cost-free way to please foreign Governments—although I suggest that it could not be described as cost free for members of the relevant communities in the UK, who are liable to find themselves under enhanced suspicion when an organisation claiming to represent their community is deemed to be a terrorist group. I reported also on that.
Furthermore, in Northern Ireland, where, as far as I know, there has never been a system of annual review, the non-statutory solution was never even attempted. Embarrassed by its failure, the Home Office discontinued even its former practice of annual review, because it was apparent that reviews determining that the statutory condition was not met were simply never acted on.
This sorry state of affairs persists today. I described it in my final report of December 2016—I am sorry if the phrase is strong, but it is the strongest phrase I ever used in six years as independent reviewer—as an,
“affront to the rule of law”.
Fortunately, there is a solution—and by no means a radical one. The amendment would reinstate the internal reviews that the Home Office always used to operate and extend them to Northern Ireland. By placing the Home Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary under a statutory duty to publish and act on the conclusions of their reviews, it would allow them to resist those who, for reasons of foreign policy or because the topic is simply too difficult, would frustrate the clear application of the law.
The amendment will do nothing to endanger us. On the contrary, it will preserve us from the unfortunate tendency, born of misplaced expedience, to use anti-terrorism powers in circumstances where Parliament itself has decided that they should not apply. I beg to move.