rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 2 July be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the international terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and its interests abroad, and to our international partners, remains severe and sustained. The Government are determined to do all they can to minimise the threat, including using proscription to prevent terrorist organisations from operating in the United Kingdom by inviting support, raising funds or otherwise furthering their objectives.
The purpose of the order, if this House and the other place so approve, is to add to the list of 45 international terrorist organisations that are already proscribed. We propose to do so by substituting the existing proscription of the Hezbollah External Security Organisation with a new listing covering its entire military wing. This is the seventh proscription order made under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. This is achieved by adding the organisation to Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which lists the proscribed terrorist organisations. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it: commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.
The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, she may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. When considering whether to exercise this discretion, a number of factors are taken into account, which were first announced to Parliament in 2001. They are: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription is a tough but necessary power, and its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the United Kingdom. The consequence of proscription is that specific criminal offences apply in relation to a proscribed organisation. These include membership of the organisation, the provision of various forms of support, including organising or addressing a meeting, and wearing or displaying an article indicating membership of the organisation. Further criminal offences exist in relation to fundraising and various uses of money and property for the purposes of terrorism.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information on it. This includes open-source material as well as intelligence material, legal advice and advice reflecting consultations across government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is also right that both Houses must consider the case for proscribing new organisations.
The Hezbollah External Security Organisation, a unit of the military wing, was proscribed in 2001 because of its involvement in terrorism outside Lebanon. We now have evidence that further parts of the organisation are directly concerned in terrorism, and this is why the entire military wing, including the External Security Organisation, is specified in this order. I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that I am limited in what I can say about the evidence in support of this belief, as much of it is intelligence material and of a sensitive nature. I can, however, say unequivocally that Hezbollah’s military wing is providing active support to Shia militant groups in Iraq, including Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), which has been responsible for attacks on both Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. This includes providing training in the use of deadly, explosively formed projectiles used in roadside bombs.
Although I am unable to go into the detail of the evidence, I can inform noble Lords that Hezbollah’s support for insurgent groups in Iraq was confirmed when coalition forces captured a senior Hezbollah operative, Ali Musa Daqduq, in Iraq on 20 March 2007. Daqduq is a Lebanese national who served for 24 years in Hezbollah. In 2005, he was directed by senior Lebanese Hezbollah military commanders to train Shia groups in Iraq. Hezbollah’s military wing is also providing support to Palestinian rejectionist groups in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing will contribute to making the United Kingdom a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters. It will signal our condemnation of the support that Hezbollah provides to those who attack British and other coalition forces in Iraq, as well as Iraqi civilians. It will support our international partners in disrupting terrorist activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, and it will also send a strong message that the United Kingdom is not willing to tolerate terrorism either here or anywhere else in the world.
Noble Lords will be aware that, alongside its military operations, Hezbollah performs a legitimate political, social and humanitarian role in Lebanon. Proscription is not targeted at, and will not affect, these legitimate activities, but it sends a clear message that we condemn Hezbollah’s violence and support for terrorism. We continue to call on Hezbollah to end terrorist activity, abandon its status as an armed group and participate in the democratic process on the same terms as other Lebanese political parties.
As a final point, I have already said that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of this, there is an appeal mechanism in the legislation. Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be deproscribed. If this is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, POAC, a special tribunal which reviews whether the Home Secretary has properly exercised her powers to refuse to deproscribe the organisation. POAC is able to consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions, and a special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission.
Given the evidence of the military wing of Hezbollah’s direct support for terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories, it is right that we extend the existing proscription of the External Security Organisation to cover Hezbollah’s entire military wing. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the order laid before the House on 2 July be approved. 25th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord West of Spithead.)
My Lords, Part 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000 contains a procedure for proscribing organisations that the Secretary of State believes to be “concerned in terrorism”. As the Minister stated, this covers any organisation which,
“commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism, or is otherwise concerned in terrorism”.
The list of proscribed organisations is set out in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. The Secretary of State has the power, by order, to add to, remove or amend a name on the list.
Sections 11 and 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 create a wide range of offences dealing with membership or professed membership of proscribed organisations, the promotion of them and meetings in support of them. Moreover, the grounds for proscription have been widened by the recent Terrorism Act 2006. Under Section 21 of that Act, organisations which “glorify” the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism can also be proscribed.
On 2 July, the Government laid before Parliament this order seeking to proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah in its entirety, including the jihad council and all units reporting to it. If the order is approved by Parliament, it will be a criminal offence to belong to, fundraise and encourage support for the military wing of the organisation.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the order states inter alia:
“Hizballah is actively involved in terrorist related activities. These activities include, but are not limited to, the provision of training and logistical and financial support to terrorist groups in Iraq and Palestine. The military wing of Hizballah is involved in supporting Shia insurgent groups in Iraq to carry out attacks, including against Coalition forces”.
During Prime Minister’s Questions on 2 July, the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister told the House:
“To help bring about more general peace in the Middle East, we have been considering what we can do. We have today laid an order before Parliament extending proscription to cover Hezbollah’s entire military wing, solely on the grounds of new evidence of its involvement in terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories. Proscription will not affect Hezbollah’s legitimate political and social wings, but we continue to call on Hezbollah to end its status as an armed group, to participate in the Lebanese democratic process, and to do so on the same terms as other political parties”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/08; col. 860.]
The Government have emphasised that this order will not affect Hezbollah’s political, social and humanitarian activities. Introducing the order, the Home Office Minister, the right honourable Tony McNulty, said that proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing would not affect the legitimate political, social and humanitarian role Hezbollah plays in the Lebanon but would send out a clear message that the Government condemn Hezbollah’s violence and support for terrorism.
With respect to that observation, can the Minister explain how this distinction will work in practice? Can the group be simultaneously legitimate and a terrorist organisation? This suggests two entirely separate wings of Hezbollah that operate independently from each other. Is the Minister confident that this is really the case? In particular, to what extent does Sheikh Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s recognised leader and in overall charge of Hezbollah’s military activities, have control over Hezbollah politicians within the Lebanese Cabinet?
Will the United Kingdom seek the proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing by the European Union? Does the Minister not agree that if the United Kingdom designation is to have any real effect, it needs to be extended to the Union as a whole?
Does the Minister not agree that this move to ban the military wing must be linked to steps to achieve the group’s disarmament, without which it will remain an unacceptable threat to Israel and to the security of the region?
What evidence does the Minister have of Hezbollah’s fundraising activities in the United Kingdom, and if none, what measures are being taken to identify such activity? The Government’s measure falls short of proscribing the whole organisation. Will that not increase the risk of fundraising, supposedly for political and humanitarian purposes, being diverted to Hezbollah’s military activities?
In announcing the decision to proscribe the whole military wing of Hezbollah, the Prime Minister said the move was based,
“solely on the grounds of new evidence of its involvement in terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/08; col. 860.]
Does the reference to terrorism in Iraq include any specific threat to United Kingdom personnel?
The proposed policy towards Hezbollah contrasts with the Government’s approach towards the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdish PKK, both of which are fully proscribed. The right answer, surely, is for the order to impose a complete ban on Hezbollah in the United Kingdom; otherwise, it will continue to be able to raise funds which, and recruit members who, can then be diverted for terrorist purposes.
My Lords, we on these Benches support this order, although we would certainly not join with the Conservatives in supporting a complete ban on Hezbollah in the United Kingdom. We have spent many years, all of us involved in United Kingdom politics, accepting the rather artificial distinction between Sinn Fein as a political movement and the Irish Republican Army as a military operation. We recognised at the time that it was important to maintain that there was a distinction, even though that distinction was never entirely clear.
We all accept that the threat from terrorist organisations in the United Kingdom and elsewhere is real but that, as an open and democratic country, political movements operating in and outside Britain have legitimate functions to fulfil and, furthermore, in our very diverse society, that charitable activities in the United Kingdom to support suffering in other countries are legitimate. I do much of my politics in Yorkshire and I am conscious that the issue of charitable activities to support humanitarian projects in other countries can on occasions be quite controversial. Nevertheless, we have to maintain those clear distinctions. We also recognise that one man’s terrorist activity outside Britain is another person’s armed resistance.
One of the questions one has to ask about the proscription of the political wing of Hezbollah is whether this is primarily about Iraq or the Palestinian territories. As the Minister is well aware, my party has never supported the full weight of western intervention in Iraq. Armed resistance in Iraq is not always necessarily legitimate. Hezbollah is now a political actor in the Lebanon and a member of the Government—not entirely an attractive member of that Government, but we all have to deal with movements of which we disapprove. Hamas, similarly, is a very unattractive body in many ways but a necessary partner in negotiating to move away from the Israel/Palestine conflict. Many of us intensely disliked negotiating with Sinn Fein but, again, recognised that it was necessary.
I ask the Minister how the additional criteria come in. The specific threat posed to the UK seems thin. As I understand it, Hezbollah does not intend under any circumstances to operate within the United Kingdom. We are talking about activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Iraq. It is probably difficult for the Minister to outline the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK, but, as I understand from the order, this is not itself a major issue. The two primary justifications among the additional criteria are: the specific threat posed to British nationals overseas—by which we mean British troops still in Iraq so long as they are there—and the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism. Some of us wish to distinguish between the British definition of the fight against terrorism and the Bush Administration’s definition of it, and are not sure that the Government should always support 100 per cent the latter. However, would the Minister confirm that the need to support international partners is one of the major motivations for this order?
My Lords, I am somewhat puzzled by the timing of the order introduced by Her Majesty’s Government. As someone who is concerned about the use of terrorism in various parts of the world, I have viewed with interest and encouragement, albeit with some impatience, the moves by Hezbollah towards the democratic process.
Some years ago, I was asked to start meetings with Hezbollah on the development of a peace process in the Middle East and specifically how it could address the question of its weapons, which at that stage was a major international issue for it. I had a series of meetings with it at that time. There are a few requirements when dealing with weapons and the decommissioning of weapons. First, there is an alternative political process for dealing with difference and political disagreement. Secondly, those who are being invited to decommission must not feel that they are under a threat that requires them to retain their weapons. Thirdly, there should be a mechanism for them to do this.
The great difficulty that arose in those conversations was the increasingly obvious move that led eventually to the south Lebanon war. There was no prospect of persuading people to deal with their weapons if they felt that they might be invaded, and indeed when there was clear evidence that they had been invaded. The question of dealing with the weapons has therefore had to be postponed. The question of a peace process in the Middle East is fraught and difficult. Nevertheless, there have been a number of interesting developments in the last little while, almost none of them involving the United Kingdom or the United States. I am thinking of the discussions involving Syria and Israel, assisted by Turkey; the discussions between Israel and Hamas, facilitated by Egypt; and the recent agreement, facilitated by the Germans, for Hezbollah to hand over the two IDF soldiers and, in return, for Hezbollah operatives to be returned.
In all these situations, it is clear that negotiations are possible. Indeed, there have already been some negotiations. As I say, there has been an indication in the past few days that Israel is prepared to enter into talks with Hezbollah and with those in Hezbollah who have military responsibility, and with Hamas using the interlocutors of Egypt. It is therefore a puzzling time to send the message, whatever the legalities of the thing—other noble Lords have already questioned the clarity of the order in this regard—not so much that we are hostile to terrorism, because frankly there is nothing new there, but that we are hostile to and do not welcome the opportunity to win people over to the democratic process and encourage them in that regard, and that we want simply to appear antagonistic to them and all that they stand for.
I am puzzled to know how a political development of that kind assists those of us who are trying to persuade people in Hezbollah that there are alternative ways of dealing with difference and political difficulty. The West in general, of which we are a part, is eager to facilitate that, but at the point at which there are moves towards discussion of these very issues, there seems on every occasion to be some kind of military or security development that sends the message that such discussion is not very welcome. That is absolutely how it is perceived. When there are talks about decommissioning weapons, next there is a war that makes that impossible, and when people start to become involved in the democratic process by being elected, in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah, the message is not, “Now we can start to engage you and persuade you to go the full way in committing yourself to democracy”, but, “We have to isolate the whole community that has voted for you”, because we do not particularly welcome the result of their election.
The timing is puzzling, and I would be interested to hear the Minister say how he believes the order will facilitate the political process to persuade people to give up military force and instead follow a fully democratic path, and whether this development makes life more difficult practically, legally and politically for those of us who do not believe that there is a military solution to the difficulties in the Middle East. There is a military role, but there is no military solution to any of them. How will the order facilitate moves toward political dialogue and political exchange, and how far do Her Majesty’s Government feel that a development of this kind and at this time makes a difference to terrorism and in any way facilitates political progress?
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on a different issue in which the Minister was involved. The PMOI, after a long and complicated legal process in the British courts, was cleared of being a terrorist organisation. I recall the Minister making a statement about this in this House. He, and certainly the Minister in another place, indicated that the consequence of the case would be a change of attitude in the European Union Council of Ministers. This has not happened, and I would like to know why and what attitude the British took.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this considered debate on the proposals, and I appreciate the views expressed by colleagues in this House on the wider concerns that are affected by the order. There have been some thoughtful and helpful interventions, and I will try to deal with them.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, articulated very clearly our reason for going down this route. He asked how confident one might be about differentiating between the different parts of Hezbollah, particularly in collecting money and moving it. I agree that this is extremely difficult. The police and the Charity Commission will have to look at the arrangements that cover money flowing out of the country. Generally, it is incumbent on the person who gives money to something to check exactly whom it is going to, but I accept that this is difficult. The police and the Charity Commission will have to look very carefully at this, which is not easy to do. Will we ask the EU to proscribe this? We will take this to the EU and see how that goes with the committee that reviews this.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell-Johnston, asked why our position on the PMOI has not changed. I will touch on this in the context of the EU. The EU addressed this, but I am afraid that some of the other nations in the EU did not feel the same way as we did. Therefore, the issue is slightly in limbo at the moment and is still on the EU’s list. I am not sure how this will go forward, but that is where it stands at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, talked about disarmament. We would like to link this to disarmament, but it is extremely difficult to do so. Again, we will have to see how this can be done. It is not easy, but it is extremely important that we show that we differentiate between these two things. The issues that made us change our mind and review all this have been going on for many months, and we have had to have a lot of discussions with a lot of people, sift all the intelligence and look at all the evidence. The end result was that we were very clear that this was having an impact on our troops in Iraq. There was also the issue of the Palestinian territories. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked whether we could differentiate between the two. The answer is no. The threat to coalition forces, which inevitably include our own troops, is very great. We have lost 136 of our people there, and it is very important that we show that this is totally unacceptable not only so far as terrorism is concerned but unacceptable full stop. We have reached that position, which is the reason for the timing of the order.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, asked about the timing of the order. He has great experience of conflict resolution, and we all think very highly of it. He knows a lot about it, and he made some very important points. I touched on the issue of disarmament. It is absolutely true that it is almost impossible to get anyone to disarm if they feel that they will be attacked, and that is quite understandable. One has to get beyond that before anything can be done. In an ideal world, the timing, as with so many things in this area, might not be quite like this. As I said, however, there is a very real threat to our people—136 have been killed, many of them by these very clever improvised explosive devices. We know now that Hezbollah is linked to this as terrorists. We had to move on this to give a signal.
Is this absolutely the best moment to do that? It is important to show that we understand the good things that Hezbollah is doing within Lebanon. Our ambassador in Lebanon has talked to the various people involved there. We think that it would be wonderful if Hezbollah became a proper political party. It is rather important to show that we differentiate between the two. That is why the timing might seem a little strange. I am afraid that it takes a long time for these things to flow through and to do all the checks. We have arrived at that stage now. There is no nefarious plan. It has not been done as a clever move to send a particular message. I agree that it might not be the best moment, but it is important to make it absolutely clear that we are unwilling to let terrorists act in the way that they do, particularly when they injure and kill our people who are operating in Iraq. A number of speakers have rehearsed the possibility of going further than we have. I believe that there is a difference between the two wings, and have already touched on the issue of how easy it is to differentiate them in the UK. It is difficult to do that, but we should try because it is important.
I hope that I have touched on most of the points raised. If I have not, I will, if I may, write to noble Lords afterwards. As I said, this is an issue of great importance. A number of noble Lords asked whether the threat from this group is specifically within the UK. I have to say that it is not; it is within Iraq and the Occupied Territories. The threat is not to the UK but to our interests abroad and to those who are serving us abroad. It is therefore important that we do this. It will contribute to our efforts to make the United Kingdom a hostile environment to those who support terrorism. It will send a clear message of our condemnation of Hezbollah’s support for terrorism while at the same time showing it that there is a way forward by becoming a proper member of the community and doing all the good things that it does in supporting its own community. As such, I commend this instrument to the House.
On Question, Motion agreed to.