Motion to Approve
My Lords, the Government are committed to protecting the people of this country, and tackling terrorism in all its forms is a critical part of that mission. As the House will be aware, following the tragic death of Sir David Amess last month and the explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital earlier this month, the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the threat level in the UK from “substantial” to “severe” on 15 November. A severe threat level means that an attack is highly likely. Terrorism poses a persistent and enduring risk to our way of life. Public protection is our number one priority, and we continue to work extremely closely with counterterrorism policing and intelligence and security agencies in this vital endeavour.
The Government’s position towards Hamas is well documented. Not only do we have a no-contact policy with the entirety of the group and currently proscribe the military wing; we also uphold the EU sanctions against Hamas in our new domestic regime in their entirety. The Government condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate and abhorrent rocket attacks and remain resolute in our commitment to Israel’s security. We continue to call upon Hamas permanently to end its incitement and rocket fire against Israel.
The threat posed by terrorist organisations varies depending on the group’s ideology, membership and ability to train members. Groups like Hamas focus on training their members in terrorism as well as preparing and committing terrible acts of violence against innocent members of the public. We have a duty to our allies as well as our own people to tackle groups that inspire and co-ordinate terror on the international stage. While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we will always do all we can to minimise the danger it poses and keep the public safe.
Some 78 terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to the dedication, courage and skill of counterterrorism policing and our security and intelligence services, most of these groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. Proscription is a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations, and I will explain the impact that it can have shortly.
We propose to amend the existing listing of Hamas-Izz, al-Din, al-Qassem brigades—I am sure that I pronounced those completely wrongly—or Hamas IDQ, in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to cover Hamas in its entirety. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism.
If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary considers a number of factors in considering whether to do so. The relevant discretionary factors for Hamas are the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities, the specific threat posed to British nationals overseas and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
The effect of proscription is to outlaw a listed organisation and ensure that it is unable to operate in the United Kingdom. Proscription is designed to degrade a group’s ability to operate through various means, including enabling prosecution for the various proscription offences; underpinning immigration-related disruptions, including excluding members of groups based overseas from the UK; making it possible to seize cash associated with the organisation; and sending a strong signal globally that a group is concerned in terrorism and has no legitimacy.
It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. The penalties for proscription offences are a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation. This includes open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case; it is appropriate that it must be approved in both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Hamas in its entirety is concerned in terrorism and that the discretionary factors support proscription. Although I cannot comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities. Hamas is a militant Islamist movement established in 1987, following the first Palestinian intifada. Its ideology is related to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, combined with Palestinian nationalism. Its main aims are to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation, the establishment of an Islamic state under sharia law and the destruction of Israel. Although Hamas no longer demands the destruction of Israel in its covenant, the group operates in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Hamas formally established Hamas IDQ in 1992; the IDQ was proscribed by the UK in March 2001.
At the time, it was determined that there was a distinction between the political and military wings of Hamas and that the only part of the organisation which was concerned in terrorism and should be proscribed was the military wing. Over the last 20 years, Hamas’s so-called military and political wings have grown closer, with any distinction between them now considered artificial. The Government’s assessment is that Hamas is a complex but single organisation made up of constituent parts, one of which includes Hamas IDQ. It is clear that these constituent parts are not wholly independent of Hamas’s so-called political wing; they take strategic direction from it. There is also movement of key individuals across the organisation and a shared ideology. It is clear that the current proscription listing of Hamas does not reflect its true structure. That is why this order has been laid.
The Home Secretary has a reasonable belief that Hamas in its entirety is concerned in terrorism. It is our assessment that the group prepares for, commits and participates in acts of terrorism. There is also evidence that the group promotes and encourages terrorism. Indiscriminate rocket or mortar attacks against Israeli targets are key examples of Hamas committing terrorism. During the May 2021 conflict, over 4,000 rockets were fired indiscriminately into Israel. Civilians, including two Israeli children, were killed as a result. The rocket attacks also targeted airports and maritime interests.
We also know that Hamas frequently uses incendiary balloons to launch attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. There was a spate of such attacks during June and July of this year, causing fires and resulting in serious damage to property. These attacks were likely carried out by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is already proscribed.
Only last summer, Hamas launched camps in Gaza which focused on training groups, including minors, to fight. In a press statement, Hamas described the aim of these camps as to “ignite the embers of jihad in the liberation generation, cultivate Islamic values, and prepare the expected victory army to liberate Palestine”. This vile indoctrination of young people into the organisation’s violent ideology shows how diametrically opposed it is to our country’s core values.
This is not a commentary on the ongoing tension in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, nor is the action that we are taking a departure from the Government’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process—I want to be very clear about that. We continue to support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. This decision is based on the Government’s assessment that Hamas, in its entirety, is concerned in terrorism and that proscription is a proportionate action to take, and nothing more. Having concluded that the distinction maintained in the list of proscribed organisations is artificial, it is right that we address it. Hamas, in its entirety, is a terrorist organisation. We must be clear on this to avoid conferring legitimacy on any element of the organisation.
It goes without saying that this Government do not provide any assistance to Hamas or the government structure in Gaza, which is made up of Hamas members. However, the proscription will not prevent aid reaching civilians in need. In Gaza, we have strong controls in place to monitor spending and ensure that aid sent into the region reaches its intended beneficiaries. I also want to stress that this action is aimed squarely at a terrorist group based abroad and does not target any part of the Palestinian diaspora or Muslim communities who contribute so much to our country. The Home Secretary and I are very clear that we will not tolerate hatred being directed towards any community. Hate crimes against any group or individual are utterly unacceptable, which is why the police and Crown Prosecution Service have robust powers to take action against perpetrators.
The enduring and wide-ranging nature of the threat from terrorism demands an agile approach and a comprehensive strategy. This includes confronting groups that participate in and prepare for acts of terrorism and that unlawfully glorify horrific terrorist acts. We must use every tool at our disposal to prevent them from stirring up hatred and division in our communities. We will never be cowed by those who hate the values that we hold dear. The safety and security of our public is our No. 1 priority. I therefore commend the order to the House.
The draft order amends Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 by changing the existing listing for—I will say—Hamas IDQ to cover Hamas in its entirety. I thank the Minister for her letter to me of 22 November on this proscription order. We agree with the proscription Motion and support the decision to proscribe Hamas in its entirety. The decision brings us into line with the European Union, the United States and Canada.
The Labour Government proscribed Hamas’s military wing in 2001 and made the assessment that there was at that time a meaningful distinction between the military and political wings. Having taken advice from the cross-government proscription review group, it is the Home Secretary’s assessment that this distinction is no longer meaningful. She has concluded that there is interconnectivity and co-operation between Hamas’s constituent parts and that Hamas’s constituent parts are not wholly independent of the so-called political wing of the organisation and take strategic direction from it. Hamas, the Government have said, is a complex but single terrorist organisation. As the Minister has said, the Government assess that Hamas commits and participates in terrorism, and the Minister has set out evidence for that conclusion.
The proscription also affects the ability to raise money and means significant restrictions on any activity here in the UK, but we need to remember that proscription is only one of the many measures available to us to tackle terrorism. In that regard, we express our thanks to our security services and emergency services for all the invaluable and effective work that they do in protecting us all.
I have a couple of points, one of which the Minister referred to in her opening contribution but I want to ask about it anyway because I want to be clear that it is not going to have any such impact. What assessment have the Government made of the impact that this proscription order will have on the prospect of securing a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine? What are the implications for future engagement with bodies including the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Palestinian Authority? What is the impact of the order on non-governmental organisations supporting Palestinian civilians in Gaza on humanitarian issues, and on British people who are there at the moment and their safety?
My second point is this. Normally the Government seek to keep the lid on the names of organisations about to be proscribed until the last minute, but this order and the naming of Hamas seem to have been made quite widely known since the end of last week. Was there a reason for this apparent change of approach in the case of this order involving Hamas?
My Lords, I admire the Minister’s stamina over this last day and a half.
I declare an interest in that I support peacebuilding charities active in the region, and I will touch on one of those areas in a while. I also state categorically that we need our country and our people safe, here at home or when they travel abroad. We also have a duty to work closely with our allies so that we have mutual security. Threats can be domestic or can originate at source in areas of tension where there is either failed governance or a lack of security. We therefore accept that it is the first duty of government to continuously review the list of proscribed organisations under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
I, too, noted that the Home Secretary chose to make a statement to the Heritage Foundation in America rather than the House of Commons in Britain about this specific measure. I do not think the Minister here would have done that; we take our responsibilities very seriously as far as updating Parliament is concerned. Ultimately, Parliament approves these measures and has an opportunity to scrutinise and consider them carefully.
Hamas’s military operations are founded on unacceptable premises and have a litany of innocent victims, including the awful recent violence that appalled us all, so eloquently described by President Herzog, who addressed many Members here in the Chamber today through the all-party group. He spoke to us very clearly on this issue on Monday, and I was very pleased to attend.
Hamas’s activities are contemptible and I condemn them. It is, as the Minister said, a de facto Administration. We have maintained the no-contact element and worked with our allies to secure that support for people in Gaza does not contradict any of the international approach by other allies who have proscribed both elements of the political and military wing together, which is different from our approach.
I respect also that it is an executive function to prepare proposals for proscription, supported, as has been said, by the proscription review group. But, given that this is the proscription of a political arm of an organisation, on the basis that it now cannot be distinguished from its military arm, it is a fair question to ask about the differences between today and June 2020, when the then Minister, Mr Brokenshire, answered a Parliamentary Question by saying:
“The political wing of Hamas is not proscribed as it is considered that there is a clear distinction between Hamas’s military and political wings”.
I thank the Minister today, as her speech had greater content as was given in the House of Commons. She outlined in clearer detail the view now taken with regard to the activities and structure of the political wing of Hamas, and I am grateful for that. However, I wanted to ask a question linked to what was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, with regard to whether there will be consequences of this action, and perhaps unintended consequences.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who is highly respected in this House for his former role and his current contributions, could not be here today, but we spoke in advance of this debate. Both of us have a shared interest in the peace-building work being carried out by British charities and organisations, which is complementary to humanitarian assistance. In many respects, if we are to see the humanitarian assistance be effective, there will be dialogue and movement away from violence to peace.
All who are present here are fully aware of the relationships between Hamas and Fatah; we are fully aware of the politics within the Palestinian structures, so we need not debate that. Where the UK has played a good part is where we have shared our experiences, through highly professional peace-building and dialogue bodies, of moving away from the Armalite and the ballot box approach. That is what Hamas has tried to do, but the Government believe they have failed to keep the distinction between the ballot box approach and the Armalite. If we are to move away from that, as we have seen movement away from it in the UK, I believe that the work of British bodies involved in peace-building and dialogue should continue.
In his report The Terrorism Acts in 2018, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall QC recommended that
“the Home Secretary should invite the Attorney General to consider the issue of prosecutorial guidance on overseas aid agencies and proscribed groups”.
The Government responded positively to that, and the Home Office subsequently issued an information note for operating within counterterrorism legislation. However, that information note does not necessarily provide legal reassurance. The Minister in the House of Commons indicated that those bodies working in this area should seek legal advice. However, the recommendation from the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation looked at prosecutorial guidelines to complement the positive work of the Home Office in the information note.
I wanted to ask the Minister, once she has rested—if she ever gets time to rest, which is probably unlikely—whether she would meet me, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and any other interested colleagues working in this area to explore ways in which this measure, which is designed to keep people safe, will also not inhibit UK-based organisations that are doing good work to try to make sure that the people in the region are also safe in the long term.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I am really pleased to see that we have a cross-party commitment to this issue, particularly to what is quite a long-standing wish by some to see this group proscribed.
I think both noble Lords would like me to reiterate the implications for the peace process and aid getting to certain areas. I said, and I reiterate, that this is not a commentary on the ongoing tensions in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the action we are taking is not a departure from the Government’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process. We absolutely support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. This is a decision based on our assessment that Hamas in its entirety is concerned in terrorism, as noble Lords have pointed out, and that this is a proportionate action to take.
On humanitarian assistance, it goes without saying that the Government do not provide any assistance to Hamas or the government structure in Gaza, which is made up of Hamas members, but this proscription will not prevent aid reaching civilians in need. I think that is a perfectly reasonable question to ask and demand to make. In Gaza, we have strong controls in place to monitor spending and to make sure that aid sent into the region reaches the intended beneficiaries. Again, this action is aimed squarely at a terrorist group.
I am very happy to meet the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Anderson, to discuss the issues they mentioned.
On the timing of the order, it was laid before the Home Secretary delivered her speech. I communicated with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in the way I usually do, which is to write to him just prior to any proscription debate in this House. I beg to move.
House adjourned at 6.42 pm.