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Volume 559: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2013

On 18 February, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister told European Union Foreign Ministers that the Bulgarian Government took it as a justified assumption that two members of Hezbollah’s military wing had been involved in the terrorist attack in Burgas last July. Since then we have received representations from the United States and Israel about Hezbollah’s activity, and we have called on our European partners to respond robustly to terrorist actions on European soil.

I warmly welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said. This was a terrorist attack which cost the lives of six people, tourists innocently going about their business. Is it not high time the European Union acted against Hezbollah and banned it in its entirety? Otherwise, will not the EU be left looking a little bit casual, if not shoddy, in its approach to terrorism?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are clear about this. The United Kingdom proscribed Hezbollah’s external security organisation back in 2001, and extended that proscription to the military wing in 2008. We are now discussing the issue in the European Union, and we would like to see the EU follow what we have done. We are engaged in active discussion with EU countries. Some are supportive of this, some are awaiting evidence from Bulgaria before making a decision, and some have other concerns. We are seeking to persuade them that those concerns are not warranted, and that the European Union should take a decisive position.

24. The recent murder of Israeli tourists, together with a Bulgarian national, in Bulgaria is just the latest in a string of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah, from Argentina in 1994 to Cyprus and Turkey in 2011. Just what will it take for Europe to act against this terrorist organisation? (145898)

As the hon. Lady will gather, that is what we are discussing in the European Union. My Bulgarian colleague briefed us on the matter at the last meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, and we are now having the discussions that I just described. As I say, some countries wish to look at the evidence in more detail, and some have other concerns about the impact on relations with Lebanon. However, I made it clear on my recent visit to Lebanon that we supported the Lebanese authorities’ statement that they would co-operate fully with the investigation and that there is no need for any decision we make about Hezbollah to have a damaging impact on Lebanon’s stability.

Hezbollah makes no distinction between its military activities and its political activities, so why does the EU feel the need to make such a distinction before it reaches a view about sanctions against Hezbollah?

The United Kingdom made that distinction and we believe that those wings are organisationally distinct, even if they both come under the same overall leadership. It is important to recognise that Hezbollah’s political wing is and will remain an important part of Lebanon’s political scene, and we have to be able to act in the interests of the stability of Lebanon. We do not believe that an EU consensus could be arrived at on the designation of the whole of Hezbollah.

I have listened carefully to the answers offered by the Foreign Secretary, and on this matter I sense that there is genuine cross-party agreement across the House. He says that active discussions are under way with European partners on the proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing, but that some countries are looking at further evidence. Given the terms of the report published by the Bulgarians on 5 February and the discussions that the Bulgarian Minister has had with other European colleagues, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what further discussions he is going to have, particularly with the French and with others? What assurance would they need in order to be able to match the action that, with our support, the British Government have taken?

Of course, we are in active discussion with other European partners, including France. As I say, some are immediately supportive of designation, as we are, but some want to look in more detail at the evidence, although plenty of evidence is available. Some have concerns about the impact on the stability of Lebanon—concerns that I think are unfounded—on EU relations with Lebanon or on European troops serving in the UN mission in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon. So there are a variety of reasons for this, which I do not agree with, and it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with them either. I shall, thus, quote the strong cross-party support in this House in the Government’s further discussions about this issue.