Report (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 35th and 40th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Clause 19: Persons vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism
31: Clause 19, page 21, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (3) insert— “(3A) The Secretary of State must ensure the collection and annual release of statistics on—(a) the religion, and(b) the ethnicity,of identified individuals referred under subsection (2).””
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick and I tabled Amendment 31 because of the serious concerns expressed on all sides about the impact of the Prevent strategy on minority—particularly Muslim—communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has been among the most eloquent in putting that view to the House. This has emphasised the fact that Prevent risks becoming counterproductive rather than counterterrorist. It is really important for the House to consider that critique and to respond to it and make sure that the legislation does as well.
There are concerns from within some of those communities themselves. At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, spoke about that very eloquently. I have been approached by a number of organisations which work in the field of deradicalisation and minimising radical risks for those in minority communities; they have passed on their concerns as well. There are also concerns from the professional associations which represent some of those professionals who are required to be reporters and are drawn into the Prevent strategy. A senior clinician from my own area of Stockport has made the point that it undermines patients’ trust in the conversations they might have with their GP because they fear they might be reported. The professional teaching associations have some of the same concerns about the burden being placed on schools to deliver the Prevent strategy.
The fact is that there is a cost. It is our job to ask: is it worth it? Is the value worth the cost? We need to look at what measures Prevent is subject to. How is Prevent evaluated? How does anybody decide that it is effective? Can it be shown that unconscious bias is not present when people are selected for potential referral? In view of the debate we have just had, that question of unconscious bias might need to be nearer the top of our minds than we might otherwise have thought. Can the Minister really expect to get away with the argument that she deployed last time round that it was in part justified because there was a valuable by-catch, as it were, of other people who, although not being radicalised or in need of Channel support, in fact showed other, non-terrorist vulnerabilities? The question, then, is: how do we make Prevent more transparent? How can we make it so that, on the one hand, those who have fears and criticisms about it can be satisfied and, on the other, the Government can satisfy themselves that they are not in the same position that they were a few years ago about stop and search, where they actually did not know the answer to the criticism that was being levelled at police services?
All that having been said, we have tabled this amendment to make the case for better information. The reality is that 115 people, mostly young people, are referred into the system each week, and that of those 115 only six finish up with the need, or being assessed as having the need, for Channel support. The Minister said in reply previously that about one-third of the rest receive some other sort of support—arising from other, non-radicalisation concerns, as I understand it. The amendment would help the Government to answer the question, “What religious background and ethnicity have those six people; what is the ethnicity and religious background of the 35 who receive some other sort of intervention that is not terrorism-related; and what about the 70 or so who have been caught by accident?” I described the last group as the “duds” in the previous discussion. What is the ethnicity and religion of those different segments of the people who are called in as a result of the current Prevent programme? With those proportions to hand, we could rapidly see if the net was catching the right fish.
It is difficult to understand why the Government are resistant to such straightforward mechanisms, which would help to restore trust and to challenge the perceptions of minority communities that they are being unfairly targeted. It would also give the Government a good way of measuring whether Prevent was doing what they themselves believe it is. I hope the Minister will look favourably on Amendment 31. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the existence of the Prevent oversight board, which last met a few days ago. It has not been meeting as often as it should, but I heard the Home Secretary personally giving an undertaking that it would meet again in six months’ time. The board was established during the coalition Government, and was accepted by the coalition Government, in response to the review that I conducted —on behalf of the coalition Government—of the Prevent strand of counterterrorism policy. Its purpose was to do exactly the sorts of things set out in this amendment, which I regard as unnecessary.
Secondly, the noble Lord referred, in what I suppose was an argumentum ad maiorem, to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. I note with regret that she is not here in her place; indeed, as I recall, she has not been in her place for any part of the Committee or Report stages of the Bill. I draw his attention to the fact that she is not a unifying force in dealing with extremism and Prevent. She has accused the excellent new counter- extremism commissioner, Sara Khan, of being,
“neither connected to, nor listened to, nor respected by, nor trusted by, nor considered independent by most British Muslims—so”,
the extremism commission,
“has no ability to influence and affect change in its ‘target audience’”,
despite Ms Khan’s efforts to deal with the problem of attaining a range for a definition of extremism. I say to the noble Baroness, who I now see approaching the Chamber for the first time in these Committee and Report debates, that I regret that she takes a somewhat monolithic view of Islam in this country, whereas Islam is—if I can use my Welsh experience from being a Member of the other place—as diverse as Christianity in Wales, which is about as diverse as it comes.
With great respect to the noble Lord, if he is to criticise Prevent then he should be specific about which of its programmes he is criticising. I have spent a great deal of time watching Prevent; going to programmes in its field, listening to those who conduct them and talking to people in the communities in which they operate. I have observed that Prevent is, on the whole, regarded pretty positively, as achieving a great deal. Above all, it achieves the deradicalisation of children who might otherwise spend most of their lives in prison if they were to fulfil the ideation which led them into Prevent.
I know that there are figures, which I accept completely, showing that many—even the majority—of those who are referred into Prevent are not, in the end, shown to be appropriate for its programmes. But what do the police do? They stop people in the street; they arrest them; they question them in an aggressive way; and they are often wrong in their suspicions. Finding the people who commit offences involves talking to an awful lot of other people. Prevent actually does achieve considerable success in finding those young people who are being radicalised, often in private, in their rooms, over the internet—a very difficult area in which to operate.
It is unfair to criticise Prevent in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, did. It has been suggested that it could be replaced by something else, but that would look awfully like Prevent, whatever you called it. If you called it “Cuddles” it would still receive exactly the criticisms which are made of it as Prevent. It would achieve nothing. If we abandoned Prevent, then terrorist acts which we have been able to avoid as a result of that policy would happen. I admit I played a part in it, so I may be somewhat biased towards it. Noble Lords have been talking about bias this afternoon and I accept the accusation of apparent bias as a possibility. However, I believe that Prevent has demonstrated that it has been successful, since it was adopted by the Government in which the noble Lord was a Minister. If it had not been, why did they not abandon it before 2015?
My Lords, I have been involved in the Prevent programme since 2007. It is like the curate’s egg: some parts of it have been successful, some not. It is almost impossible to imagine that we would not have had such a programme. It was absolutely necessary to do it because, in the final analysis, terrorism is a generational thing and the only way to defeat it is by attacking those areas of belief and behaviour. It is, therefore, probably the most important strand, but we found it the most difficult one and there is no doubt that some areas of it failed and did not do well. We therefore need to improve it. The amendment is unnecessary because, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, if the Prevent oversight board is doing its job it should do these things. However, we need to look at how we can make Prevent better.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that Muslim communities in this country are extremely diverse. They come from many different countries and backgrounds. Within them, there are many points of view, theological opinions and so on. Having said that, I can give some indirect evidence on this matter. I am a trustee of an English charity which, for the last 12 to 13 years, has been working with Muslim communities up and down this country. It has helped them to build bridges with all levels of authority, from local authorities up to the Home Office. It has tried to give them greater self-confidence in dealing with authority. However, the evidence is that, over this period, the Prevent programme has made relationships much more difficult. I think that it is a question of perception. The existence of the programme and the way in which it has been administered have led many Muslims to feel that they are being discriminated against and that the weight of government is falling on them disproportionately.
Does the noble Lord agree that it would possibly be better to talk about this in the next amendment? This amendment is about transparency of data. If he wants to talk about it now, I am perfectly happy to hear what he has to say, but it is actually the subject of the next amendment.
My Lords, this issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in Committee and again today on Report. As he told the House previously, in 2016-17, 6,093 people were referred to the process, but only 6% of them were referred to a Channel programme. The ethnicity and religion of those who are referred are missing from the data. That omission denies the Minister, officials and others important and valuable data.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, was clear in Committee that the Government wholeheartedly agreed with the intent of the amendment, but she was not convinced that it was needed to achieve the intention. When she responds, will she update the House on the work that is being done by the Home Office chief statistician, who, we are told, is looking at this issue?
To conclude, I support the aims of the amendment. It will provide valuable information for the Government. It would be welcome if the Minister could update the House on whether what has been asked for could be done through other means.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. I will be happy to update the House on some of the work that is going on. The Government agree wholeheartedly with the principle that activities under the Prevent strategy are made as transparent as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, mentioned the Prevent oversight board. I am pleased to hear that it met just the other day. However, there is great interest in the operation of the Channel programme, and the publication of statistics on it has already added to that transparency, dispelled some of the myths which surrounded its operation, and provided useful substance to debates in this House. We have so far published data on referrals to Prevent, and the progress through the Channel system of those referrals, covering in detail 2015-16 and 2016-17 and, in lesser detail, the previous years from April 2012. The latest set of statistics, covering 2017-18, was published last week.
The published data covers the numbers at different stages of the process from initial referral, through discussion at Channel panel, to the provision of support. It includes, among other things, the type of extremism which led to the referral; the age, gender and regional location of the person referred, and the sector which made the referral. It also looks at how successful the programme is.
The data is still at a relatively early stage in its development and is therefore classed as experimental statistics. Feedback from users is very important as the dataset develops, and it is clear from noble Lords’ comments that additional categories of data, such as the religion and ethnicity of those who are referred—as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said—would be a welcome addition to the current set. As I indicated in Committee, working through the Home Office chief statistician, we would be happy to explore including this data in future publications. At this stage, that would depend on the quality and completeness of the data.
I mentioned in Committee that currently at least half of the records supplied to the Home Office do not include ethnicity or religion. The publication of such variables could therefore be misleading at this stage. There will clearly be more work which officials can do to ensure that this data is captured and recorded in an accurate and nationally consistent manner.
I return briefly to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in Committee. He was interested in whether referrals made by the police were more or less likely than others to end up being discussed on Channel panels and offered support. I promised at the time to look at the underlying data to see if such an analysis were possible, and I am happy to confirm what my noble friend Lady Barran said on that occasion—that this data already forms part of the published data set and can be found in accompanying tables available on the GOV.UK website.
On the understanding that the Home Office chief statistician is looking at the issue raised in this amendment, I hope the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw it.
I thank the Minister and other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I am glad that neither she nor I believe that Prevent is beyond improvement after the magic year of 2015, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, imputed to me. I am very grateful for her words of encouragement. The key issue here is the perception referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the widespread misapprehension, as the Government see it, by the minority community of what Prevent is and does. The best way to overcome that is to have more transparency and information. I welcome what the Minister has said today and therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 31 withdrawn.
32: Clause 19, page 22, line 2, at end insert—
“(8) The Secretary of State must, within the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, make arrangements for an independent review and report on the Government strategy for supporting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.(9) The report and any recommendations of the review under subsection (8) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within the period of 18 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.(10) The laying of the report and recommendations under subsection (9) must be accompanied by a statement by the Secretary of State responding to each recommendation made as part of the independent review.”
My Lords, this is an issue that we debated in Committee when an independent review of Prevent was called for. The Prevent programme introduced by the Labour Government in 2003 has undoubtedly done much valuable work. My moving of this amendment should in no way be seen as not recognising that fact. As when we last debated this issue, I pay tribute to all those who work to keep us safe, to divert people away from a life of terrorism and to support people who contribute positively to the community. We should all recognise the good work that has been done. I am not aware of any specific problems that give rise to concern, but that does not in itself negate the fact that it is good practice to review matters.
The amendment does not specify who should carry out the review. I would be happy for it to be placed under the remit of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. It seems preferable to do that rather than appoint another person to carry out the review. Prevent has not been the subject of an independent review; I very much believe that the programme would benefit from that sort of oversight.
Clearly, questions have been raised over the programme’s operation and effectiveness. Some are justified, but other criticisms have been stirred up deliberately to undermine the programme. I see my amendment calling for review not as seeking to undermine the good work that has been done but as a sound, sensible, careful look at an area of policy and a programme that deals with matters of the utmost concern to the country as a whole and to individual communities.
In addition to the review, my amendment calls for a report to be laid before Parliament within 18 months of the Bill becoming an Act, and for the Secretary of State to produce a statement to accompany the report. I beg to move.
My Lords, we should have pride in the achievements of the many excellent people who work locally in Prevent, and in the increased transparency that has been a notable feature of the past few years. I have in mind not only the helpful publication of statistics but recent initiatives such as the staging in the West Midlands of simulated Channel panel meetings through which outsiders have been brought in to witness the process of decision-making.
As the noble Lord, Lord West, has indicated, triumphalism about the successes of Prevent would be quite out of place. In its report last month, the Intelligence and Security Committee noted that the failure to pick up attack planning by the Parsons Green tube bomber, Ahmed Hassan, despite him having been an active Channel case, highlighted what the committee called,
“deep-rooted issues in the administration”,
of Prevent. Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu described Prevent in an interview this February, when he was senior national co-ordinator for counterterrorism, as “hugely controversial”. He went on to say:
“Prevent, at the moment, is owned by the Government, but I think it should be outside central government altogether ... Rather than the Government handing over a sum of money and then it becoming state-sponsored with accusations of demonising communities, it should be locally generated. We have gotten all of that messaging the wrong way around, it should be grassroots up”.
I mention this to encourage noble Lords to avoid complacency on this subject and because the Minister quite rightly expressed in Committee her strong respect for Mr Basu’s views. Perhaps it shows that the best of us are not monolithic in our views; with great respect to my noble friend Lord Carlile, that is true also of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, whose recent book is both nuanced and constructive in its approach.
The legitimate questions raised by Mr Basu could be multiplied: how should Prevent relate to other safeguarding mechanisms on the one hand and to the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy on the other? How robust are the mechanisms for measuring success? To what extent should concerns derived from Prevent contacts be shared with counterterrorism police and others? Decisions as to the future direction of Prevent are of course for Ministers. It was encouraging to hear from my noble friend Lord Carlile that the Prevent oversight board might be showing signs of renewed life. But independent review of the operation of Prevent by a security-cleared person, based on the widest possible engagement with those affected, could help to inform those decisions. It could also provide much-needed public reassurance about an initiative which is so hotly debated that it has been described as “5% of the budget and 85% of the conversation”.
As Mr Basu said in February:
“Government will not thank me for saying this, but an independent reviewer of Prevent … would be a healthy thing”.
I agree, and I hope your Lordships will too.
My Lords, I do not disagree with much of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Anderson. However, I have some concerns about a proliferation of independent reviewers. My suggestion to the Government is that, if there is to be an independent review of Prevent, it should be done by the new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation who I understand is about to be appointed. After all, Prevent is part of the four-strand counterterrorism policy; it seems logical that the independent reviewer should be able to consider all strands of that policy. My only reservation would be if there were serious national security implications of any such review. That said, all independent reviewers have had to be “subtle and nuanced”, to adopt a phrase from my noble friend, about national security issues. This has been taken into account in the production of all reviews.
Of course I accept that Prevent is not a perfect policy. All policies can be improved, particularly in counterterrorism. If it would give greater confidence to the public, or rather—as I suspect the public are not too worried about this—if it would give greater confidence to those who spend a lot of time in the Palace of Westminster and the couple of square miles around it, then I see no disadvantage in an independent review being carried out by somebody already vetted and expert on counterterrorism policy as a whole.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow two distinguished reviewers of counterterrorism legislation, who more or less agreed with each other. My first realisation of how pivotal the Prevent strand is came when I chaired a focus group with mothers who were concerned that their children were being lured into radicalised behaviour. They were pleading for there to be somewhere where their children, mainly male in that group, could be referred to be helped through the process and not end up as radicalised and potential terrorists. They had huge concerns that if they raised their fears about their sons with the police, the next thing that would happen is that their doors would be kicked in at four in the morning and the young person would be taken away and interrogated, and goodness only knows what would happen after that. Those mothers were also concerned about whether there were routes within their own communities for dealing with such cases and they felt quite strongly that there were none. They did not have a solution: they simply pleaded for something to be found to help them in that situation. That is one of the strongest cases that I have heard as to why this work is so important.
Having said that, there was a desire for alliteration to have four Ps when the Contest strategy was created and, in hindsight, that the Prevent strand was included was not entirely helpful. The core of Prevent is safeguarding. We have no qualms about safeguarding young people from sexual abuse, about safeguarding those who are vulnerable or have mental health issues, nor of finding ways to steer young people away from gang-related activities—we do not necessarily know how to do it but we know that it is a good thing to do—and we have no qualms about trying to steer people away from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs. Why should we have any qualms about steering young people—or indeed anyone—away from engagement in radicalisation and in terrorism? The problem has been that it is seen as too closely linked to the counterterrorism policy and the alliteration of the four Ps.
We should be quite clear that counterterrorism is important. It has to be addressed in this way and the Prevent programme has not always been as effective as it might have been in individual cases. Again, I remember 12 years ago—I cannot recall exactly when: I would have to check my diary—visiting two Prevent projects in London in adjacent London boroughs. They had similar mixes but took completely different approaches, for no obvious reason. In one, it appeared that if someone was referred to the programme, a large, burly police officer would go around and try to talk them out of it, which, frankly, will not produce the most effective results. There was an issue, particularly at the beginning and perhaps less so now, of quality control in the way in which some Prevent activities have been taking place.
We should also recognise that the fact that Prevent has such a difficult reputation is not entirely accidental. It is not entirely the consequence of that variability in the style but because some organisations and individuals have desperately tried to traduce it and make it appear more sinister than it is—for whatever reasons we can only speculate, but that is what has happened.
My noble friend’s amendment is important not necessarily because we will end up with something very different, but we need to look at those quality control issues, to establish that it is being done as well as possible, and we need to emphasise that the mission is safeguarding and protection of the individual rather than being part of the counterterrorism machinery which necessarily leads people to conviction and imprisonment.
My Lords, we are coming at this from slightly different directions, which is very healthy in a debate. My concern is twofold. Prevent sometimes has a corrosive impact on communities; I am also extremely concerned about its impact on civil liberties and the right to freedom of speech.
The principle of Prevent is good but it is a curate’s egg. If we did not have it, we would have to find something similar. Getting early intervention and helping people to avoid going down dangerous paths is an excellent idea, but there have been too many horror stories. I am sure noble Lords have heard many of them. There is a video on social media about an eight year-old boy who was quizzed by police about whether his father taught him about the Koran. He was terrified and could not understand. When the police asked a direct question—“What does your dad teach you?”—he responded, “Maths”.
Then was a Guardian report that a teenage anti-fracking campaigner had been referred to the Prevent strategy to check on whether they had been radicalised. In fact, the person had nothing to do with anti-fracking, but that description had been used to cover up the real group that had tried to influence him, so valid protests against fracking were linked with dangerous terrorism, which again is a real problem for civil liberties. A Green Party member in Doncaster had a friendly visit from the police citing Prevent because they had submitted online criticism of British foreign policy in the Middle East.
Those events are state intrusion into people’s thought processes and freedom of expression, and are deeply wrong. Therefore, an investigation or inquiry to see where Prevent has gone wrong and where it can be put right is the only way forward. I put the question to the Government in Committee and I ask it again now: what do they have to hide? If Prevent really is as fair and effective as the Government claim, a thorough, independent review would prove that point once and for all.
My Lords, it is interesting that eight years ago today, Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in Tunisia kicking off the Arab spring, which brought devastation to the whole of the Middle East and dramatically increased the number of terrorists. It is appropriate that we are discussing a counterterrorism Bill, because this is such an important issue.
I have some sympathy for my noble friend Lord Harris’s safeguarding comments. There is no doubt that the alliteration was very useful. I found the four Ps a useful reminder when talking to the media at the time, and there is no doubt that there is a strong element of safeguarding within the Prevent strategy. But as I have said, Prevent is a curate’s egg. Some bits have done very well and some bits have not. It has not hit the right places. There is no doubt that there has been traducing of it by some people, which is unfortunate, but of the four strands, the reality is that Prevent is probably the most important in the final analysis. I had the other three firmly under my control when I was in the Home Office, but not Prevent. It was separate, which is unfortunate because it is such an important strand. The way that I believe we will finally defeat terrorism is by getting this right.
Therefore, it is important that we review what is going on. I strongly support the amendment. It is absolutely appropriate that we have a review and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile; I am not quite sure how the review should be undertaken and by whom, but the Government should consider it. I am certain, however, that we should have a thorough review to look at this before we move forward.
My Lords, I support the amendment. We have rehearsed this issue at each stage of the Bill and I remind the House that a wide range of external organisations share the view that there should be a review. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and now from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that such a thing might add value. The Government have struggled to resist the reasoning put forward. The bottom line seems to be that the Government do not want a review and it is extremely difficult to penetrate why that might be when one looks at the advantages that flow from having one.
It is important to understand that activity is no guarantee of effectiveness. A lot of work goes on, but how effective is it? We heard evidence from the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Harris, that it is not uniformly good. Certainly, the impression of those who believe themselves to be the targets of Prevent is that it is not uniformly good. The Minister needs to answer in detail what the Government’s reservations are about any sort of review along the lines of the amendment.
I noted carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, had to say about the Prevent oversight board. He said that it had not met often enough. Providentially for his case, it had met in the last week, but he did not disclose how long before that it last met. If the next meeting is in six months and he thinks that is soon enough, I presume the gap was quite extensive.
I notice that my supposition was, to some extent, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who said of last week’s meeting that he was glad the Prevent oversight board was at last showing some signs of life. I hope I am not putting words into his mouth; I think that is what he said. Bearing in mind the qualified support that has come for the Prevent oversight board’s activity and effectiveness, I wonder whether the Government are really satisfied it is the right vehicle for a review, a substitute for a review or gives all the answers that a review would. It seems likely that that is not the case.
Other specific concerns have come to light since our previous debate. I have been approached by an outside organisation that, until this year, was a provider of Prevent projects to those who had been referred. It pointed out to me that it has now been superseded, at short notice in its opinion, by a private provider. It alleges that there is no effective procurement policy for those programmes. Far too often, it appears to depend on the knowledge and contacts of a Prevent co-ordinator, rather than a rigorous management process. I hope the Minister will be able, at least in principle, to give some reassurance on that. To help her in giving that reassurance, could she say something about the proportion of projects that are delivered through NGOs, the proportion delivered through private companies and the proportion delivered through local authorities or other public services directly? Have those proportions changed over the last four or five years, as my informant alleges? If there has been a change, was it cost-driven or based on an evaluation of whether particular projects were the wrong part of the curate’s egg, and were therefore dropped, or were too expensive for the results?
All of this raises the question of what results and criteria are being used in allocating, renewing or discontinuing such contracts. Surely evaluation is a key part of that; therefore, review of the process seems all the more necessary. I hope, for all the reasons that have been rehearsed, not least that one, that the Minister is able to accept this amendment today.
My Lords, Prevent is an important part of the Government’s anti-terrorism strategy. We have heard about a number of problems relating to it, which have been there for a while. I am persuaded that it is therefore sensible to review the policy and see whether it should be changed, replaced or whatever.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said he could not understand why the Government were resisting this idea. I can tell him exactly why. It is because the Home Office ploughs on regardless. Even when the tractor’s wheels are stuck in the mud, they go on spinning. That is why the Home Office needs constant help in knowing when things should be reviewed. I strongly suggest that my noble friend tears up the brief that says “Don’t review” and says, “Yes, we’ll look at it”.
My Lords, with the leave of the House—and I have spoken to both our Front Bench and the clerk—I will refer slightly to the last amendment, which does actually refer to the current amendment. I was in the Chamber when this amendment was called.
I want to put a couple of things on record—first, my views on Prevent. I have written about this extensively. I will not plug the book, but it is available on Amazon. In that book, I talk about Prevent in detail. I talk about how, when the policy was started in 2003 and first published in this iteration in 2006, I supported it. It was effectively an upstream intervention into areas where we felt we could intervene, predominantly with young people and British Muslims at that time, although we are increasingly dealing with far-right extremism now. We were predominantly intervening with young people who may be attracted into terrorism. How could anybody disagree with that principle?
In my book—and this is the issue that I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile—I work through the various iterations of Prevent. It has changed from what it was in 2003 to what it is now in 2018. It started as a policy specifically designed to be run as an internal discussion within communities of what could be considered to be extremist views. It was supposed to be a genuine, non-criminalised safe space and a battle of ideas—something I fundamentally supported—but it became a policy that was done not by the community but to the community. This is an issue I have consistently raised: what the policy became and the way it was then implemented; the level and quality of training, the material being used, the way it was implemented in different schools and differently across different communities. All of this—with 100 pages of citations if that helps the noble Lord—is detailed in the book, because it was important to say clearly that a principle of policy that I supported has, over time, become fundamentally flawed in its implementation and lost the trust of the communities we were trying to influence.
As a British Muslim parent whose children are likely to be vulnerable and to be approached by those who want to lead them astray, whether into extremism, terrorism or elsewhere, I would be the first in line to say this policy needs to be supported. But I do not want a policy on our books, which has statutory basis, which is badly implemented.
I read the noble Baroness’s book with great interest and I am glad to see that she is now taking part in our debate. Does she not agree that the iterations she describes in her book show the progress from a Prevent strategy run by the police to one now not run by the police? All the best examples of Prevent are run by NGOs, private sector groups or local authorities. The police are involved in Prevent only when there is evidence of an offence having been committed. Is that not real progress, which we ought to laud and welcome, in the changes to Prevent? I expect to agree with the noble Baroness on this point.
As the noble Lord is aware, I took part in the Bill’s Second Reading debate and made my views clear to the Minister and to many colleagues in the House, publicly and privately. My views on this are on record and, when we vote, I will make them clear.
As I have said, it is not so much a question of who delivers Prevent—the police or third-sector organisations —but that it is delivered so that the communities trust the policy. It is clear that, as it stands, British Muslim communities do not trust Prevent. Therefore, as somebody who supports the principles behind it, I feel it is appropriate and entirely right to have an independent review. We are not asking for Prevent to be forgone completely. Many Members of this House are saying we should keep the good bits.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that it is not that every part of the Muslim community has no trust in Prevent. I am not aware of that, and I have been involved in it for quite a long time. Certainly, there are sections which have real problems with it and that needs to be addressed, but there are also sections which are pleased that this work is being done. Does she agree that that is correct?
That is the point. When Prevent has been applied correctly and has been led by and with the community, it has made real progress. When you speak to practitioners on the ground—those who have ignored much of national policy; those who have ignored the rules on engagement and disengagement with British Muslim communities and have spoken to whom they want, when they want and how they want—you find that they have built really strong relationships which have allowed sections of the policy to be implemented properly.
Even if you speak to officers like Mr Neil Basu, who was referred to earlier, he himself will say that the biggest challenge for the police has been operating Prevent within a policy of disengagement with British Muslim communities whereby more and more individuals and organisations are simply seen as beyond the pale and are not engaged with. There is a challenge when large sections of the British Muslim community are disengaged and distrustful of a policy that will not be independently reviewed. I can tell my colleagues in government that if it were independently reviewed, it would enjoy more support and therefore would be more effective.
The noble Lord suggested that I believe that the British Muslim community is monolithic. I say to him as someone who is a Muslim and now 47 years of age that I am acutely aware that the British Muslim community is not monolithic. If he would care to read the first four pages of chapter one of my book, he will see that I explain that British Muslim communities are black and brown and Asian and Persian. They come from all over the world and have different theological beliefs and practices. They dress, eat and behave differently. He would then realise that I am a huge advocate of a diverse British Muslim community from many backgrounds. It is therefore wrong of him to attribute to me on the Floor of this House something which I have simply not said.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord West, has said, the Prevent programme is one of the core pillars of the strengthened Contest strategy which was published in June of this year. The strategy was developed taking into account views across the breadth of delivery. The Prevent programme serves as a key pillar in our response to the heightened terrorist threat we face now and in the coming years.
The programme is designed to safeguard and support those vulnerable to radicalisation, both on the far right and Islamist, as my noble friend Lady Warsi said. It is designed to stop them becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, we should have no qualms about doing so, just as we should safeguard them from sexual exploitation. That point is often forgotten but it is very pertinent. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, expressed her concern about freedom of speech and civil liberties, but terrorism is an infringement of civil liberties of the severest type. I am also sorry to disappoint my noble friend Lord Marlesford, but the Government remain firmly of the view that an independent review of Prevent of the kind envisaged in this amendment is not necessary at this time. Perhaps I may take a few moments to explain why.
As has been said, Prevent is a safeguarding programme that works. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has described how Prevent is the only show in town and the intention is to help those who are vulnerable and are being targeted and exploited by radicalisers. Sir Rob Wainwright, the former head of Europol, has described Prevent as the,
“best practice model in Europe”,
for tackling extremism.
In Committee I outlined how Prevent was not the beginnings of state surveillance, as it has been portrayed sometimes; rather, it is a locally driven programme that works with communities to deliver resilience-building activity and prevent some of the most vulnerable in our society becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, challenged a number of noble Lords to identify a specific local Prevent project which had given rise to concerns. It was very telling then, as it is now, that no noble Lord has yet identified such a project. The noble Lord talked about how private and public NGOs are now working on Prevent projects. Moreover, to answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, about the proportions being delivered by each, while I do not have the exact numbers, perhaps I may write to him.
While Prevent is successful at safeguarding individuals from becoming radicalised, it is not always well understood. I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord West, about promoting the safeguarding aspect of Prevent. It also supports partners to run a programme of engagement events with their communities. These events seek to engage members of the public and provide opportunities to hear at first hand from practitioners and community organisations about Prevent delivery, as well as acting as an open forum for discussion about its implementation. Further, Prevent does not target any one group, as is often said. It helps to address the growing and pernicious threat from the far right and to provide support for those referred due to concerns about Islamist extremism, among a range of other extremist beliefs. Indeed, the latest statistics, published just last week, show that of those individuals who received Channel support in 2017-18, near equal numbers were referred for concerns relating to far right extremism and to Islamist extremism.
On the positive impact of Prevent, I would remind the House of what Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Met police, said in June in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Everything the noble Baroness is saying supports the importance of Prevent, which I think all noble Lords would agree with. That is not really the issue. What we are saying is that, given that it is really important, does it not make sense to have a review to look at whether we can make it even better?
If the noble Lord will indulge me, I was about to explain how the Prevent programme is evolving and being scrutinised, including through Contest. Perhaps I may go back to the comments made by the Commissioner of the Met:
“There is an awful lot of very, very good work that has gone on under Prevent in relation to all forms of extremism, not forgetting extreme right-wing, which takes up a big part of it. There have been hundreds of people who have been turned away from violent extremism by their engagement with Channel and other aspects of Prevent, and that is all positive”.
Prevent is not about restricting debate or free speech, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, might suggest. On the contrary: as the Government have said previously, schools ought to be safe spaces in which children and young people can understand and discuss sensitive topics, including terrorism and extremist ideologies. An independent study of education professionals found that almost three-quarters of them believe that the Prevent duty has not stifled classroom discussions of extremism, intolerance and inequality.
Since it was launched in 2011, Prevent training has been completed more than 1.1 million times to enable front-line practitioners, including teachers, to recognise the signs of radicalisation so that they know what steps to take, including, where appropriate, how to make a referral to Channel. This has positively supported teachers in discussing the risks of radicalisation with those in their classes. To our knowledge, no event or speaker has ever been cancelled or banned as a result of the Prevent duty. It is about upskilling individuals, not curtailing them. The Government believe that it is imperative that young people learn how to challenge dangerous beliefs which are all too easily accessible online. Since February 2010, some 300,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed from the internet.
In addition to the examples of increased transparency that I outlined in Committee, which included the annual publication of Prevent and Channel data and increasing the number and geographical reach of community round tables, there is increased cross-party engagement, led by the security Minister. Also, as mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on 28 November the Home Secretary chaired the latest meeting of the Prevent oversight board, which brings together other Secretaries of State, operational partners and independent members to review delivery and to provide the strategic challenge noble Lords have talked about. I therefore understand the concerns of noble Lords.
I can. The previous meeting—and the noble Lord is making a fair point—took place 18 months previously. During that period, I for one requested meetings take place on a regular basis. At least two meetings were cancelled during that time, dates having been set and put in diaries. I happen to be a member of the Prevent oversight board, so I am aware of the calendar. One of the points made at the most recent meeting was that, if the board is to be effective, it must meet more frequently. One of the reasons why there was such a long delay—and the noble Baroness may confirm this—was because it had been established that the Prevent oversight board should be chaired by the Home Secretary. That has been a difficulty, but on the most recent occasion, if I remember rightly, the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor were present, along with a number of other Ministers.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and I think that is right. If this debate has done nothing else, it has probably given the impetus to ensure the oversight board meets more regularly, and I shall take that back.
There needs to be evidence of systemic failures to justify a review. I will take back the point about the oversight board meeting more often. Prevent should be subject to proper scrutiny, but I hope I have already outlined a number of mechanisms for this. It is also open to the Home Affairs Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into Prevent, should it wish to do so. Furthermore, the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 does offer the opportunity to undertake the normal pre-legislative review of the provisions in Part 5 of that Act, providing the legislative framework for Prevent.
I hope my explanation has provided some comfort to noble Lords. I suspect by the gathering crowds it has not.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but can the Minister also deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford? It was suggested that the Home Office contains officials who do not really focus on Prevent. Could she confirm there is a strong Prevent group within the Home Office, chaired by an experienced and competent person who does a great deal of conceptual thinking in this area and is open to discussion with any Member of your Lordships’ House who shows some understanding of this issue and cares to discuss it with him or his team, which is now frighteningly large?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate today, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. These are serious matters, and counterterrorism work in all its strands is important to keep us safe, and we support the Government to do that. It is also important that these things are looked at independently, and as I said in my opening contribution, I am happy for this review to be undertaken by the independent reviewer.
I note what the noble Baroness said about the amendment as drafted, but other than saying there should be a review, it is fairly open on how it takes place. I did not see why that caused the Government particular problems. I have listened carefully to all of the contributions, and to the response of the noble Baroness. Although I have great respect for her, I am not persuaded by her response, and so I wish to test the opinion of the House.
32A: After Clause 20, insert the following new Clause—
“Amendment to the criteria for proscription
For section 3(4) of the Terrorism Act 2000, substitute—“(4) The Secretary of State may exercise the power under subsection (3)(a) in respect of an organisation only if—(a) he or she is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that it is or has been concerned in terrorism; and(b) he or she reasonably believes that it is necessary, for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism, for the organisation to be proscribed.(4A) For the purpose of subsection (4), the public includes the public of a country other than the United Kingdom.””
My Lords, the amendments in this group have their origins in a fact admitted by the Government, published in more than one of my reports as Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and, I am afraid, mentioned more than once to your Lordships: at least 14 of the 74 organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000, not including the 14 Northern Irish groups, are not concerned in terrorism and therefore do not meet the minimum statutory condition for proscription.
The question is: what do we do about that mismatch between law and practice? The pertinence of that question is greatly increased by the fact that a major theme of the Bill is to widen the scope, both substantive and geographical, of the proscription offences—membership, inviting support and so on.
Amendment 32B was designed to apply the law we have, by providing for an annual review of the activities of proscribed organisations—as happened routinely until four years ago—and the de-proscription of those lacking a statutory basis for continued listing. That principled course was chosen by Theresa May, as Home Secretary in 2013, when the irregularity was brought to her attention. With Amendment 32B, action on the conclusion of such reviews would be required by statute and could not be defeated by Foreign Office policy priorities, as was the case on that occasion, and indeed previous ones, judging from my noble friend Lady Manningham-Buller’s speech in Committee.
Since that seemed not to be enough, I tabled Amendment 32A in an attempt to make things easier. This would allow organisations to be proscribed if they are or have been concerned in terrorism, so long as the Secretary of State reasonably believes it necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism.
That two-stage formulation is tried and tested. It was used in the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010 and the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011. It would allow the continued proscription of groups which have a powerful history and terrorist brand, but in respect of which ongoing terrorist activity cannot be demonstrated. This could be particularly useful in Northern Ireland, where groups that have laid down their arms do not satisfy the current test but, depending on the Secretary of State’s assessment, could satisfy the new one. More fundamentally, it would have the merit of ensuring that the Government’s actions in relation to proscription are in accordance with the law; currently, they are not. This would be a useful example to set the rest of us.
I convey to the House the apologies of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who has had to leave his place and I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, to which I have added my name. I really am intrigued to hear what the Minister will say about the fact raised by the noble Lord that at least 14 organisations still proscribed by the Government are not involved in terrorism and are therefore effectively proscribed illegally. The noble Lord’s amendments are designed to rectify that situation, requiring the Government to take action once a review has determined whether organisations currently proscribed should be proscribed or not.
It is not just a question of the organisations themselves; going back to previous measures in the Bill, anybody who supports these organisations could be convicted of a criminal offence, even though they are supporting an organisation that should not legally be proscribed. I am also very interested to hear from my colleagues on the Labour Front Bench why they would not support these amendments were the noble Lord to divide the House. We certainly would support him were he to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, the first thing to say is that organisations can apply to be de-proscribed; that should be on the record in this part of our debate. As I understand it, only one organisation has applied to be de-proscribed in recent years: the People’s Mujahedin of Iran. It was de-proscribed. The decision before the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, or POAC, was contested on appeal by—
I did not mean to interrupt the noble Lord mid-sentence but, on a point of information, the Minister may like to confirm that at least two other organisations have applied to be de-proscribed: the International Sikh Youth Federation and the Red Hand Commando in Northern Ireland. De-proscription of the International Sikh Youth Federation was achieved when the Home Secretary failed to defend the legal proceedings. I know nothing about the progress of the application from the Red Hand Commando and it would be helpful if the Minister could enlighten us.
I am very grateful to my noble friend, who is more up to date than I am. My understanding is that the only fully contested application was from the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, which won in front of POAC. The Government appealed and the Court of Appeal issued a judgment comprehensively disagreeing with the Government. The People’s Mujahedin of Iran—or the NCRI, which includes the PMOI—now functions openly throughout Europe, although its leader, Mrs Rajavi, is not allowed by the Home Office to enter the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord Pannick and I remember this to our cost, because we were involved in a Supreme Court case on that very subject.
There is a method of seeking de-proscription. It is expensive and quite clunky, it has to be accepted. Secondly, I absolutely agree with my noble friend that there may be some organisations that have almost no membership, which do not have the resources to apply for de-proscription, and which individuals would not wish to expose themselves as being interested in by applying for de-proscription on their behalf.
However, there is another point I wanted to mention. This is a very subtle matter, particularly in Northern Ireland. It is very difficult to read the minds of some former paramilitaries, both big and small. For all we know, they may have reasons for wishing to remain proscribed. My concern about Amendments 32A and 32B relates to the wording of proposed new subsection (6A)(d), which requires the Government to “publish each such decision”. Having been involved from time to time in the area we are talking about, I believe that would potentially raise compromises for national security and undermine the stability of Northern Ireland, if that part of the amendment was required. That said, the addition of the words,
“that it is or has been concerned in terrorism”,
in Amendment 32A, which I understand from my noble friend was tabled in the last fortnight or so, provides some welcome clarity. I will give way, and then I will continue briefly.
In my view, it is implicit in the publication of each such decision that decisions have to be reasonable and therefore subject to reasons. I would not want issues that might affect national security to be included. That is the point I am seeking to make.
I conclude by suggesting that the whole problem raised by Amendments 32A and 32B could be resolved if we were to hear from whichever Minister replies to the debate—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—that the Government accept the principles set out in these amendments and that there is a need for them to be more methodical than they have been in reviewing proscription, and undertake that Ministers will be more methodical and apply the principles broadly set out in these amendments, which in principle I see as unexceptionable.
My Lords, it might encourage my noble friends on the Front Bench to do as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has indicated. I find the principles behind the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, very attractive. No doubt some practical points need to be sorted out. I am much encouraged by the wording,
“it is or has been”,
in proposed new subsection (4)(a) in Amendment 32A. I fully take on board the concerns a Government might have relating to the publication of the reasons for making a decision under the review of proscription provisions in Amendment 32B. That said, there seems to be, at least as a matter of theory, a lot to commend the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I encourage the Government to see whether something can be crafted that will enable something similar to this to come on to the statute book, not least for the reasons of departmental policy squabbles that those of us who have been in government know so much about.
My Lords, this issue was also looked at in detail in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, raises an important issue concerning groups that have been added to the list of proscribed organisations and that have, to all intents and purposes, stopped engaging in the activity or activities that led to them being added to the list in the first place and the risk to individuals getting caught up in that.
I have listened carefully to the issues raised in that previous debate and in today’s debate and reflected on them, but I have come to the conclusion that I am not persuaded that the change proposed by these amendments is necessary or right at this time. The first duty of government is to protect the public. As we have heard, the 2000 Act already provides a mechanism for an organisation to seek deproscription: there is detailed in Section 4 and further in Section 5 an appeals process to the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission. Further, on a point of law, organisations can go to the Court of Appeal.
I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that there is a process already in place and further, on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made regarding Northern Ireland, I am not persuaded that these amendments are right today. That is not to say that the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, could not be considered to be introduced at some point in the future, but I am not convinced on the merits of the case at this time.
My Lords, these amendments return to an issue raised with some force by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in our earlier debates. I am conscious that I was unable to persuade him of my view that the well-intentioned amendment he tabled in Committee would not be in the public interest. I am grateful to him for the further amendment which he has tabled, which would operate in parallel to his original proposal for annual reviews, and which he has explained is intended to address some of the concerns the Government have with that proposal. On careful consideration, regretfully, I cannot agree that it does do so and the Government are not able to support it for reasons I will come to shortly.
Before I come to the detail of the amendments, I should be clear that the Government consider proscription to be a necessary power that plays an important role in protecting the public. Organisations are proscribed for a good reason: because they are terrorist in nature, and because it is in the public interest to prevent them being able to operate or to gain support in the UK. This plays an important role in protecting the public from potentially very dangerous organisations, as well as more generally in maintaining public confidence and, where relevant, supporting our international partners in the struggle against terrorism. The Government also consider that the power’s impact is proportionate to that purpose.
In forming this view I have in mind that, beyond restricting the ability of an individual to engage in the specific activities covered by the proscription offences relating to the particular organisation which has been proscribed, the power does not otherwise impact on their ability to conduct a normal day-to-day life. The impact of proscribing an organisation is not, therefore, overly intrusive or unavoidable from the individual’s perspective.
I do not say this to downplay the impact that proscription can none the less have on certain important rights, in particular those protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights—the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—and nor do I seek to dismiss the concerns raised in this House. There is no question that any such impact must be justified and proportionate in the context of the particular proscription. Rather, I simply and gently urge caution against the risk of overstating the degree of interference with individual rights that arises from an organisation being proscribed, or the inevitability of that interference.
However, I should make absolutely clear that the Government take seriously their responsibilities to ensure that the right organisations are proscribed. We continue to exercise the proscription power proportionately and have due regard to our responsibility to protect the public from terrorism. The Government’s long-standing approach to deproscription reflects this. We are clear that we will take a precautionary approach to lifting restrictions on a group that the Home Secretary or Northern Ireland Secretary has decided is concerned in terrorism on the basis of intelligence and advice from the police and intelligence services. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.
However, it is absolutely not the Government’s position that once a group has been proscribed that status is fixed for all time. Parliament has provided a clear statutory route for deproscription under Section 4 of the 2000 Act, which allows either a proscribed organisation or a person affected by its proscription to apply to the Secretary of State for it to be deproscribed. Where such an application is received, the Government will consider it carefully. Under this system, three groups have been deproscribed following applications.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked about the Red Hand Commando. I understand that an application for deproscription of this group has been received by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The progress of that application is obviously a matter for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The noble Lord will appreciate that I cannot discuss details of individual cases, but I am happy to provide a clear commitment that, if the Government become aware of fresh information that casts serious doubt on whether proscription remains appropriate for a given group, it will be given serious consideration irrespective of whether there has been an application for deproscription.
I firmly believe that this is the most appropriate and balanced way to deal with the question of deproscription. This approach avoids placing the public at risk, or causing alarm and distress to the public as a result of a premature decision to lift restrictions on organisations with a significant terrorist pedigree.
I have previously explained—but it is worth repeating—that experience has demonstrated that individuals and organisations with a terrorist mindset can disengage and then re-engage in terrorist activity, potentially without warning. Such individuals and groups will continue to pose a threat, and to be properly characterised as terrorist, during both their fallow and their active periods. It would not, therefore, be responsible for the Government to lift restrictions on the ability of such a group to operate in the UK unless we are confident that they have changed and no longer pose a threat.
Given this approach, I continue to have serious concerns about a requirement for annual reviews of all proscriptions, which Amendment 32B would introduce. While I appreciate the noble Lord’s intentions, I do not consider that his proposed solution in Amendment 32A in fact deals with these concerns.
If I may take the amendments out of turn, regarding Amendment 32B I simply do not agree that such a system of formal annual reviews is needed to prevent any injustice or any disproportionate interference with individual rights. I do not seek to argue against the noble Lord’s amendment primarily on the basis that it necessarily has an economic and operational cost attached to it, albeit that is quite properly a consideration.
The proposed system of reviews would be costly and burdensome to administrate, diverting investigative and intelligence resource away from current threats to public safety. The Government must continually take difficult decisions about how best to use the valuable resources of those tasked with keeping us safe from terrorism. It is far from clear that this would be of proportionate use when considered against the nature and comparatively limited extent of the interference with individual rights which I have set out.
I have a more fundamental concern. The approach proposed by the noble Lord would carry a high risk of leading to unintended and highly damaging outcomes which, if it resulted in groups being deproscribed prematurely, would not be in the public interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pointed out, this could have particularly difficult implications in the unique and sensitive context of Northern Ireland, given the political and security challenges faced in that part of the United Kingdom, and the historical significance in the Troubles and the peace process of certain proscribed organisations.
Without wanting to dive too deeply into hypothetical scenarios, it is conceivable that a proactive review of the proscription of such an organisation, without the organisation itself or any other person even having sought the review, could have a significant and unsettling impact on the political situation and the peace process, whether its outcome is a decision to reaffirm or to lift the proscription, and indeed, whatever legal test is applied to that decision. I say this without any particular organisation in mind, and without prejudicing the outcome of any review that might occur. I simply wish to express the risks we would be running if we were to go down this road. I hope noble Lords will agree we must be very careful when considering changes to the proscription regime in that context.
In considering Amendment 32B, we must be alive to the fact that paramilitary activity has a greater impact in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK. In this complex environment, proscription remains an essential tool in the wider strategic approach to tackling the continued and widespread existence and impact of paramilitary groups. Any change to that proscription regime would have a significant impact on wider efforts to tackle paramilitary activity currently being undertaken in Northern Ireland and supported by the UK Government through the Tackling Para- militarism programme. A decision to change the proscription regime in Northern Ireland could not and should not be taken in isolation from this initiative or without detailed prior consultation with the devolved Administration and security partners. As noble Lords will know, the Northern Ireland Assembly is not currently sitting, and there is currently no Northern Ireland Executive, so at present it is not possible to take views from devolved Ministers who have lead policy responsibility for tackling paramilitary activity.
I recognise that in general it is not a satisfactory proposition to say that we should sit on our hands until this situation resolves itself. But I would argue that, in this particular context, we cannot ignore the wider political ramifications of this amendment. Many of the concerning implications which I have described also arise in relation to proscription of international terrorist organisations, but they are particularly acute in relation to Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations.
Amendment 32B would change the legal test for proscription in three substantive ways. First, it would expand the existing test that the organisation is currently concerned with terrorism to include where it has previously been concerned with terrorism. Secondly, it would raise the statutory threshold from requiring the Secretary of State to reasonably believe this to requiring that he be satisfied on the balance of probabilities. Thirdly, it would introduce a necessity limb to the test, so that proscription would have to be necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public, whether in the UK or elsewhere, from a risk of terrorism.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has suggested that this will provide an answer to the concerns I have set out, because the new backward-looking aspect of the legal test would provide a clearer basis for the proscription of terrorist organisations which have historically been active but which are currently less so. I am grateful to him for his suggestion, and I appreciate the constructive spirit in which he has brought forward this amendment. But I have to say that, on careful consideration, I cannot agree that it addresses these risks and the impacts. I will explain why.
As I have said, the issue is not simply one of how best to deal with historically significant terrorist organisations which are currently in a fallow period, although that is part of it. Even if it were just that, then I fear that this amendment would not address the issue that the noble Lord intends it to. This is because the backward-looking aspect of the first stage of the test proposed by the noble Lord—the requirement that the organisation has been concerned in terrorism—would in effect be cancelled out to a large extent by the second limb of the test, which would require that it be necessary to proscribe the organisation for purposes connected with protecting the public from a risk of terrorism. Although the amendment does not spell this out, our analysis is that proscription could only be necessary if there is a risk to the public arising from present activity.
This puts us back to square one in relation to the category of organisations the noble Lord has indicated that his amendment is aimed at. That is, where there is extensive evidence that the organisation is terrorist in nature and is properly characterised in that way, and where it is clearly in the public interest for it to remain proscribed, but where there may not be extensive evidence of current terrorist activity.
A further concern is that the amendment would raise the statutory threshold, from requiring the Secretary of State to reasonably believe to being satisfied on the balance of probabilities. I am not persuaded of the need to raise the bar for making new proscriptions or that this would be in the public interest.
Setting this aside, the fundamental issue remains that we would still be making a significant change to the proscription regime, out of step with the relevant devolved authorities in Northern Ireland. And we would still be unnecessarily reviewing organisations in the Northern Ireland context, where to either affirm or revoke their proscription could potentially have significant political implications. Against the very real risk of unintended consequences in Northern Ireland, I would respectfully suggest that your Lordships should proceed with the utmost caution. The arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, do need to be balanced against the fact that these are very serious and unpleasant terrorist groups, which have been proscribed with good reason and which the Government are anxious to ensure are not able to pose a resurgent threat to the public.
I have set out the Government’s position at length on these issues. I have given a clear commitment today that the Government do not regard proscriptions as fixed, and that if the Government become aware of fresh information which casts serious doubt on whether proscription remains appropriate for a given group, this information will be given serious consideration. On that note, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Carlile, and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, for their interventions, and to the Minister for her response, although its content was disappointing. I will respond briefly to the principal points that she made.
The Minister undertook or indicated that, if it came to light through fresh information that a proscription was inappropriate, then it would be reviewed. She said a lot about balance, discretion and appropriateness, but this really is not the area we are in. We are in the area of a hard legal requirement only if an organisation is concerned in terrorism. Is there even any question of getting into that area of discretion, balance and appropriateness? What these amendments seek to address is the mismatch between what the law requires and what the Government do.
The Minister raised the prospect of organisations that might engage, disengage and then re-engage, and I am sympathetic to that. It is precisely the difficulty I was seeking to address with Amendment 32A. That is the one which, by making it a condition to be concerned or to have been concerned in terrorism, elides and removes that difficulty. I would think it was helpful in addressing the problem to which the Minister referred.
The Minister said that annual review is not needed to ensure justice. I say with great respect to her that the evidence during the past 15 years is that nothing else has a hope of ensuring justice. It is not enough to rely just on the ability to apply for deproscription, because, as we have all heard, very few organisations over those years have applied to be deproscribed and one can understand why. It is very expensive. The PMOI case to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred cost some £300,000—perhaps that is lawyers for you. Someone has to put their head above the parapet and say that they want to apply. Some organisations for their own reasons might not want to apply. In any event, what comfort is that to the individual who is disrupted or investigated by police for possibly being connected with a terrorist organisation and who would never have been the person who would have applied for deproscription?
The Minister insisted particularly on Northern Ireland, where, like my noble friend Lord Carlile, I have had the privilege of spending a good deal of time over recent years with the security services. Surely at the root of the Northern Ireland settlement is respect for the rule of law. Continuing to ignore the law, which is what the Government are doing and propose to continue to do, is no substitute for enforcing and, if necessary, changing it, as the amendments propose.
The injustice about the law as it applies is that it exposes people in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and, after Clause 6 becomes law, in other countries as well to a range of police and prosecutorial powers in relation to activities that Parliament never intended should be criminal. The names of the groups that do not meet the statutory condition for proscription are not known to me, and I very much doubt that a secret list of them has been provided to police or prosecutors in the United Kingdom or that such a list would be provided to police or prosecutors in other countries. In those circumstances, there can be no reassurance that the law will be properly applied in practice.
I would have liked to divide the House on these amendments, not least because they concern the whole insecure basis on which much of the Bill is constructed—I am thinking particularly of Clauses 1, 2 and 6—but having heard from the respective Front Benches, I suspect that that could be a futile exercise. I shall not press my amendments and hope that, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, have constructively suggested, they may find favour in another form or on another day.
Amendment 32A withdrawn.
Amendment 32B not moved.