Motion to Approve
My Lords, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—LIFG—was established in the early 1990s and aimed to replace the Gaddafi regime with a hard-line Islamist theocracy. The group mounted a terrorist campaign inside Libya in the mid-1990s, including a 1996 attempt to assassinate Muammur Gaddafi, before becoming part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement in the 2000s.
In 2008, the group formally merged with al-Qaeda. The LIFG has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK since October 2005. That decision was taken after extensive consideration and in light of a full assessment of available information, and was approved by Parliament. It is clear that the LIFG was concerned in terrorism at that time.
However, the group announced that it was disbanding in 2010. Some of its former members continued to be involved in terrorism, aligned to other groups, or have been involved in fighting since the 2011 Libyan revolution. Some are now involved in more moderate pursuits, such as mainstream Libyan politics or everyday occupations. The LIFG is now assessed to be defunct and no longer exists.
Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 the Home Secretary has the power to remove an organisation from the list of proscribed organisations if she believes it no longer meets the statutory test for proscription. Having reviewed the information available about the current activities of the LIFG, after careful consideration the Home Secretary has concluded that there is now not sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that the LIFG is currently concerned in terrorism, as defined by Section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Accordingly, the Home Secretary has brought this order before the House and, if approved, this means that being a member of, or providing support to, this organisation will cease to be a criminal offence on the day that the order comes into force. The decision to deproscribe the LIFG was taken after extensive consideration and in light of a full assessment of available information.
As noble Lords will appreciate, it would not be appropriate for us to discuss any specific intelligence that informed the decision-making process. The Government do not condone any terrorist activity. Deproscription of a proscribed group should not be interpreted as condoning any previous activities of this group.
The British Government have always been clear that the LIFG was a brutal terrorist organisation when it existed. Groups that do not meet the threshold for proscription are not free to spread hatred, fund terrorist activity and incite violence as they please. The police have comprehensive powers to take action against individuals under criminal law. We are determined to detect and disrupt all terrorist threats, whether homegrown or international. Proscription is but one tool in the considerable armoury at the disposal of the Government, the police and the Security Service to disrupt terrorist activity.
The Government continue to exercise the proscription power in a proportionate manner in accordance with the law. We recognise that proscription potentially interferes with an individual’s rights—in particular, the rights protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of expression and freedom of association—and so should be exercised only where absolutely necessary. A decision to deproscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the case, and it is appropriate that it must be approved by both Houses. If agreed, the order will come into force the day after the debate in the other place. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the order, but I am a little confused. The Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the order states that in January 2019 an application was made to the Secretary of State for the deproscription of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—the LIFG. It also says:
“The Proscription Review Group (PRG), a cross-Government group … makes recommendations and provides advice … on the implementation of the proscription regime including the case for proscription and consideration of deproscription applications … The PRG”,
as the Minister has just said,
“has assessed that the group is now defunct and no longer exists”.
What is not clear to me, even after what the Minister has said, is who made the application for the deproscription.
We discussed the proscription of terrorist organisations at length during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill in December last year. We learned that very few organisations have applied to be deproscribed, not least because it is very expensive. In one case that was referred to during that debate, apparently it cost £300,000 to secure deproscription. Presumably in this case the application was not made by the LIFG, a defunct organisation that no longer exists.
During the debate on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, attempted to reinstate and put on a statutory basis an annual review of the activities of proscribed organisations—something that apparently had happened routinely until four or five years ago—and the deproscription of those lacking a statutory basis for continued listing. Have the Government adopted the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, at least to the extent that they are now reviewing proscribed organisations to establish whether they meet the statutory requirement for proscription? If so, during that debate the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, also said that at least 14 of the 74 organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000, not including 14 Northern Ireland groups, are not concerned in terrorism and therefore do not meet the minimum statutory condition for proscription. If there has been a government review resulting in the proposed deproscription of this organisation, when will the other organisations to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred be deproscribed? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has largely raised all the points that I was going to refer to, so I will not detain the House for long. However, I was surprised about the application and just want to ask about a couple of further points.
First, what happens if this group, which we are told is defunct and no longer exists, reappears? Secondly, are any frozen assets held in the UK at present and, if so, will it be possible for them to be unfrozen and for people to get their hands on them? I would be very interested in hearing the answers to those two points and those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. With that, I will not detain the House further.
I thank both noble Lords for their questions. To the best of my knowledge, who made the application for deproscription is not in the public domain. The law states that applications can be made by proscribed organisations or an individual affected by the group being proscribed.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about cost. The cost of an initial application is only the cost of making an application. I think that the noble Lord is referring to the cost of an appeal. He also talked about the annual review. It was not put in the final Act brought before Parliament, but the Home Secretary keeps consideration under regular review. I am sorry to say that we do not comment on which organisations are being considered for asset freezes.