I beg to move,
That this House believes that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation driven by an antisemitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel; notes that Hezbollah declares itself to be one organisation without distinguishable political or military wings; is concerned that the military wing of that organisation is proscribed, but its political wing is not; and calls on the Government to include Hezbollah in its entirety on the list of proscribed organisations.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is bringing this issue to the House. I do not know whether she is aware of this, but in December the Government held a debate on the extension of proscribed organisations. During that debate, the Minister for Security and Economic Crime told me that only the military organisation of Hezbollah was proscribed, but that Hezbollah supporters who engaged in terrorist activities in this country would be prosecuted.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that terrorist activities should not be the only grounds for prosecution, and that there should be prosecutions for incitement to hatred, incitement to anti-Semitism and other crimes that are being committed on the streets of London? As the Mayor of London has said, Hezbollah should be banned in its entirety.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for that intervention, which I take as 100% support for the motion.
I am the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, an organisation that has campaigned for many years on the issue that we are addressing. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation, driven by anti-Semitic ideology, which seeks the destruction of Israel. It has wreaked death and destruction throughout the middle east, aiding and abetting the Assad regime’s butchery in Syria and helping to drive Iran’s expansionism throughout the region. It makes no distinction between its political and military wings, and nor should the British Government.
In 2010, the Obama Administration labelled Hezbollah
“the most technically capable terrorist group in the world”.
Over the past three decades, it has been implicated in a string of deadly attacks against Israeli, Jewish and western targets in the middle east and far beyond. Its operatives have been arrested for plotting or carrying out attacks across the globe, in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. The litany of death and violence widely attributed to Hezbollah includes the 1983 murder in Beirut of 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers; the 1986 wave of bombings against Jewish communal targets in Paris, in which 13 people died; the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 people died; the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Jewish mutual association, which led to the deaths of 85 people; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in which 19 US servicemen lost their lives and nearly 500 people were injured; and the 2012 attack on a bus of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, in which six people were murdered and for which two people finally went on trial last week.
Such terrorist acts are promoted, glorified and encouraged by the Hezbollah leadership. Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has, for instance, praised suicide bombings—or “martyrdom operations”, as he prefers to describe them—as
“legitimate, honourable, legal, humanitarian and ethical actions”
saying that “those who love death” will triumph over those who fear it.
The right hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that the 1,000 or so people who marched in London under the Hezbollah flag subscribe to the very agenda that she has described? There is no difference between the military and political wings of Hezbollah, as it continually acknowledges. The only recognition of a difference is in UK policy; it does not exist in reality. It is time for that policy to change.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and thank him for that intervention. He is completely right to say that there is no distinction and we need to be clear about that.
Hezbollah’s actions are driven by a deep-seated, intractable and vicious hatred of Jews. The House does not need to take my word for it; Hezbollah’s leaders have proudly boasted of their anti-Semitism:
“If they all gather in Israel,”
“it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
Nor is Nasrallah a lone voice. Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, has said that
“the history of Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are people who are evil in their ideas”.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she agree that, as well as being anti-Semitic, Hezbollah has assassinated and murdered Christians? As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) has said, any distinction between a military part and a political part of Hezbollah is entirely without meaning.
I have no difficulty agreeing with my hon. Friend on that point. Hezbollah has killed probably more Muslims than anybody else, as well as Christians, Jews and others.
Hezbollah’s leaders and its media peddle classic anti-Semitic tropes and lies. They refer to Jews in the basest of terms, labelling them “apes and pigs”, and suggesting that
“you will find no one more miserly or greedy than they are”.
Hezbollah’s leaders and media make spurious claims about Jewish conspiracies and world domination, and they deny the Holocaust, suggesting that
“the Jews invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities”.
Hezbollah’s hatred of Jews is a noxious mix, which, in the words of one writer, fuses
“Arab nationalist-based anti-Zionism, anti-Jewish rhetoric from the Koran, and, most disturbingly, the antique anti-Semitic beliefs and conspiracy theories of European fascism”.
I just want to highlight the backers of Hezbollah, the Iranians, who provide training and weapons, including rockets. While the Iranians’ malevolent influence continues throughout the middle east, they are jeopardising the prospects for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis and posing a strategic threat to the very state of Israel.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point with which I absolutely agree. I will come to it a little later.
Hezbollah is a menace throughout the middle east, but Israel is its principal target. That is no secret. In its founding manifesto in 1985, in which it also pledged its loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and urged the establishment of an Islamic regime, Hezbollah says of Israel:
“Our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated… We recognise no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”
This is no mere rhetorical sabre-rattling; Hezbollah vehemently opposed the Oslo peace process and has fought any normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab countries. On numerous occasions—most notably in 1993, 1996 and 2006—it has sought to provoke conflict with Israel, and the consequences have been disastrous and devastating for the peoples of both Israel and Lebanon.
In 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped and murdered Israeli soldiers on the country’s northern border and proceeded to launch Katyusha rockets to indiscriminately pound the Jewish state. The resulting conflict led to large numbers of civilian casualties and the evacuation of several hundred thousand people. In defiance of UN resolution 1701, which brought the conflict to an end, Hezbollah has spent the last decade restocking its arsenal and rebuilding its forces in Lebanon. It has trebled the size of its fighting force from 17,000 to 45,000 men. It has launched an arms procurement programme, amassing short, medium and long-range missiles and rockets, drones, precision-guided projectiles, anti-tank weaponry and ballistic missiles. It now has an estimated 120,000 to 140,000 rockets and missiles—an arsenal larger than that of many states.
That Hezbollah has been allowed to replenish and then expand its armoury in this manner represents a terrible failure on the part of the international community, a breaking of the assurances provided to Israel and a betrayal of the people of Lebanon and Israel. The implications are truly horrifying. Andrew Exum, an expert on the region and President Obama’s former deputy assistant secretary of defence for middle east policy, wrote recently:
“I shudder to think what the next conflict will look like.”
Hezbollah has no qualms about such a war. It does not care about the loss of thousands of civilian lives—of Israelis, Lebanese, Jews, Muslims and Christians—that its aggression will lead to.
Quite deliberately, Hezbollah has embedded its forces and weaponry in towns and villages, turning the people of southern Lebanon into human shields. Quite deliberately, it will, as it has done in the past, target civilian population centres in Israel, even vowing, in the words of Nasrallah, that there will be “no red lines” in any future conflict—he underlined the pledge with threats to attack the Dimona nuclear reactor and the ammonia storage facility in Haifa. Quite deliberately, it will seek to draw in other regional actors. Its capacity may be many times greater than those of other terrorist groups, but its aim—to instil terror by inflicting mass civilian casualties—is the same as that of those who wage attacks on targets big and small throughout the world, and of those who attacked London Bridge, the Manchester arena and this House only last year.
Hezbollah has not simply exported terror globally and wreaked havoc in Israel and Lebanon; its bloody fingerprints are all over the Syrian civil war, the most brutal conflict of this century. In 2016, it was estimated that more than a quarter of Hezbollah’s forces were engaged in fighting on behalf of the murderous Assad regime. It has not only contributed to the killing fields of Aleppo and Homs; it has helped to eliminate the non-extremist opposition to Assad, thus contributing to the ranks of Sunni jihadists and stirring sectarian hatred.
Hezbollah has indeed become Iran’s indispensable partner—the Blackwater of Iran, as some have labelled it—helping to promote and further Tehran’s expansionist agenda throughout the middle east, in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Such a vast enterprise cannot be run on the cheap, so in addition to the vast sums of weaponry and cash lavished on it by Iran, the party of God is now engaged in money laundering, arms sales and drugs smuggling. It works through informal networks and centrally run enterprises. The latter, one leading middle east expert told the US Congress last summer, were operating like “international organised criminal entities”.
Do not the various elements that my right hon. Friend is describing show the indivisible nature of Hezbollah? It does not have separate wings but is one criminal terrorist entity.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a distinction that Hezbollah not only does not recognise but denies.
As the House will be aware, the British Government have long held the view that Hezbollah’s military wing is involved in conducting and supporting terrorism. In 2001, the Hezbollah External Security Organisation was added to the list of proscribed organisations. In 2008, this proscription was extended by a reference to the
“military wing of Hezbollah, including the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it (including the Hezbollah External Security Organisation)”.
Hezbollah’s political wing, however, is not proscribed, even though this distinction is not one that Hezbollah itself has ever recognised.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case and we are grateful to her for bringing this to the House. Does she not agree that it should make both the Government Front-Bench team and our Opposition Front-Bench team deeply uneasy that they are effectively in an alliance in refusing to recognise the bogus distinction between the so-called military wing and the rest?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I am hoping that both Front-Bench teams will take note of my speech and come forward with policy decisions that support proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety.
Is the right hon. Lady aware of the ComRes poll showing that 81% of the public want Hezbollah proscribed in its entirety, and does she agree—I see that there are some very honourable Members on the Opposition Benches—that the Labour Front-Bench team has got this wrong and should agree with the motion, not oppose it?
Obviously—unless the Labour Front-Bench team is agreeing with my position—we have a difference of opinion, but I am calling on the Government to change their position. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but his point would have far more weight and power if he addressed it to his own Front-Bench team, as they are in a position to lead on this but are not doing so.
It is so great to see you back in your seat, Mr Deputy Speaker. I high-tailed it from my office in Norman Shaw South when I saw the right hon. Lady on the television screen and was absolutely inspired by the passion with which she is speaking. She is a friend of Israel, and I am a friend of Israel, but does she agree that you do not have to be a friend of Israel to believe that Hezbollah, in its entirety, is a terrorist organisation? You can be a friend of Syria, a friend of Lebanon or a friend of the entire middle east, but you should want Hezbollah, in its entirety, to be banned.
Well said—I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation and it should be banned in its entirety—whoever you are a friend of—if you are not a friend of the terrorists. I would add one other thing: it is not just for Jews to fight anti-Semitism, and this is an anti-Semitic organisation; it is for all of us to stand up on that issue.
The distinction is not one that Hezbollah has ever recognised; in fact, it has consistently and explicitly refuted it. In 1985, its founding document stated clearly:
“As to our military power, nobody can imagine its dimensions because we do not have a military agency separate from the other parts of our body. Each of us is a combat soldier when the call of jihad demands it.”
It could not be clearer.
In 2009, Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy general secretary, made it clear that
“the same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel”.
It could not be clearer. He repeated this message three years later, declaring:
“We don't have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
Those are Hezbollah’s own words.
Also in 2013, Nasrallah himself ruled out any notion that the military and political wings were somehow different:
“However, jokingly I will say—though I disagree on such separation or division—that I suggest that our ministers in the upcoming Lebanese government be from the military wing of Hezbollah.”
He also mocked our Government’s division between the two, saying
“the story of military wing and political wing is the work of the British”.
That is what he said. It is a distinction that, with good reason, many other countries throughout the world do not recognise. Those that do not include the Netherlands, Canada, the US, the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council.
The right hon. Lady’s passion and clarity on this issue are absolutely right. I agree that it is incumbent on the Government in principle—I hope those in the Opposition Front-Bench team would follow—to change the policy. Is it not absolutely possible to work with the Government of Lebanon—a Government with whom we are extremely friendly and whom we are assisting to defend herself against the predations of ISIS, initially, and now of other factions in Syria? Is it not absolutely possible to assist our legitimate and welcome allies in Lebanon against those things, yet still call out this terrorist group for what it is, for the violence it is committing in Syria and for the destruction it is carrying out in northern Israel and all around the region?
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is right. Those Governments that do proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety do talk to the Lebanese Government. If Hezbollah wishes to change its views on Israel—to not obliterate it—and to signal that it will give up its arms, I am sure that, whether it is proscribed or not, that would be the right road to take if it wished to take part in any peace negotiations, which it clearly does not.
Many Members of this House do not recognise the false distinction between the military and the political wing, as is evident today. Last summer, marchers at the al-Quds day parade in London displayed Hezbollah flags, causing great offence to many, especially in the Jewish community. Once again, they were exploiting the utterly bogus separation that the Government choose to make.
I pay tribute to Jewish communal organisations, such as the Community Security Trust, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, which have tirelessly campaigned on the issue of Hezbollah proscription. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), as well as the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) and the Mayor of London, for their efforts to persuade the Government to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety.
I note not only the Government’s unwillingness to do so but their inability to explain or justify why they will not act. I understand that, in conflict situations, it is sometimes necessary to keep open channels of communication to facilitate dialogue and to encourage those who are engaged in violence to abandon the bomb and the bullet for the ballot box. However, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that this is Hezbollah’s intention. In both its rhetoric and its actions, this leopard shows no sign of changing its spots.
Nor do I accept the notion, which Ministers have previously advanced, that banning Hezbollah’s political wing might somehow—the Chair of the Select Committee touched on this—impede our ties with Lebanon, where Hezbollah exercises not just military but political power. Proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety does not appear to have hampered relations between Lebanon and any of the countries we have already referred to. I am deeply concerned that this Government are simply not taking the threat posed by Hezbollah seriously. Only last week, I was informed by the Home Office that it does not collect data on the numbers of Hezbollah members or supporters in the UK, a practice that is followed by other European countries, such as Germany.
The Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation which
“(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism,
(b) prepares for terrorism,
(c) promotes or encourages terrorism,”
including the unlawful glorification of terrorism, or
“(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”
As I have demonstrated, Hezbollah, the leaders of which assert that it is unified and indivisible, more than fulfils those criteria. Even if a distinction between the political and military wings could be drawn, the words of the former in promoting, encouraging and glorifying terrorism surely meet the Government’s criteria for proscription.
After last June’s terrorist attack at London Bridge, the Prime Minister said
“there is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.”
I agree. Hezbollah is an organisation that is driven by a hatred of Jews, that promotes and encourages terrorism and that calls for the destruction of the middle east’s only democracy—a key British ally in the region. However, as long as the Government do not proscribe Hezbollah’s so-called political wing, the tolerance will continue.
Order. I suggest an informal time limit of around 10 minutes to 12 minutes.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), because she made an exceptionally powerful speech on an issue that matters to so many of us. I refer the House to an entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests regarding a visit to Israel that I undertook in February. I thank the many constituents who have contacted me about this important debate today to make their views clear: they want to see Hezbollah banned in its entirety. Mr Deputy Speaker, it is wonderful to see you back in the Chair, even for a debate on a matter as sad and as serious as this.
As the right hon. Lady stated in her speech and as many others stated in their interventions, the distinction currently made in our law between Hezbollah’s political and military wings is artificial. Hezbollah is a single operation, and that has been stated by its leadership on numerous occasions. For example, its deputy leader, Naim Qassem, has said that Hezbollah has
“one leadership and one administration”.
Hezbollah’s political leaders have a long history of personal involvement in the group’s terrorist and criminal activities. For example, its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, is believed to have taken part in hostage taking, plane hijacking and violent attacks on rivals.
Hezbollah presents a clear danger to the security of our country. The decision to proscribe parts of the organisation was prompted by the 2012 attack on a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria but, as we have heard his afternoon, the list of its crimes and atrocities is long and includes the notorious truck bomb in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured many others. It was the deadliest terrorist outrage in Argentina’s history. Just a few years ago, when a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus was found guilty of planning to attack Israelis, he said he was
“collecting information about the Jews”
and that that was what his organisation was doing everywhere in the world. We should be under no illusion: Hezbollah poses a serious threat to the citizens of this country and to our neighbours across Europe, and we should proscribe it in all its forms.
In taking that step, the Government would have considerable support both from this House and from the public. Yesterday, the Jewish News published details of a wide-ranging ComRes representative poll that it commissioned. Of some 2,000 people questioned, 44% would support the political wing being designated a terrorist group, compared with just 10% who were opposed. With 46% answering “don’t know”, that means that 81% of those expressing a view backed the designation of the whole of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
We should be in no doubt about whether the question we are debating today matters in a real, practical way. By limiting proscription to the so-called military wing, we are undermining the ability of the police to protect us from the danger posed by this group. The fact that some parts of Hezbollah are not proscribed limits the ability of law enforcement agencies to seize funds using asset freezing and forfeiture powers. Classifying the whole organisation as a terrorist group would significantly constrain its ability to raise funds and would stop it using UK banks to transfer money around the world.
I emphasise that terrorism is not the only type of unlawful activity in which Hezbollah is involved. Just a few weeks ago, the French authorities referred a 15-member Hezbollah cell to a criminal court on money laundering charges. In October 2015, the US and French authorities arrested two individuals from Hezbollah, one in Atlanta and one in Paris, who were caught laundering drugs proceeds and seeking to purchase weapons and cocaine. According to court documents, they used “Hezbollah-connected associates” to provide security for narcotics shipments. One of those associates was located in the UK and apparently laundered £30,000 for a US Drug Enforcement Administration undercover agent who was posing as a narcotics trafficker.
The partial proscription of Hezbollah has not deterred the group from engaging in criminal conduct on British soil. Moreover, the Community Security Trust reports that Hezbollah has been heavily involved in the drugs trade in South America. In February 2016, the DEA uncovered a massive Hezbollah money laundering and drug trafficking scheme. In the view of the DEA, Hezbollah enjoys established business relationships with the South American drug cartels and is responsible for trafficking large quantities of cocaine into Europe and the US.
Proscribing an organisation is a serious step. It is right that the law sets out clear criteria that must be satisfied before a Minister can take such a decision. There can be no doubt that the parts of Hezbollah that are overtly terrorist and military fall squarely within the definition in section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000, the relevant legislation. In my view, there is a very strong case to say that the criteria of subsection (5) are also satisfied in relation to the political wing of Hezbollah. The political leaders of the organisation have promoted and encouraged the group’s terrorist activities, as the right hon. Member for Enfield North so powerfully explained. Hezbollah defines itself as one single organisation, which is how it should be treated by our legal system.
Quite frankly, the annual al-Quds Day march is a scandal. It is not acceptable that people can fly the Hezbollah flag on the streets of London and get away with it simply by adding a post-it note claiming the support shown is for the political wing, not the military aspect of the organisation. This has to stop. As the campaign emails that arrived in our inboxes point out, this is an embarrassment. They are laughing at us.
In considering whether to proscribe an organisation, Home Office guidance states that the Home Secretary should take into account factors including
“the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism”.
It is time we followed the lead set by countries such as the USA, Canada and the Netherlands, which have implemented full proscription.
Hezbollah has been carrying out murderous attacks in countries across the world for more than 30 years. The organisation is heavily implicated in crime and money laundering, as well as being a deeply malevolent presence in the Syrian war. It is a violent, anti-Semitic organisation, and its main ambition is the complete destruction of the state of Israel. We should ban it, all of it, now.
It is absolutely fantastic to see you back in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on her speech, and I agree with every word. The speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) was superb, absolutely brilliant, and she should be commended for it.
I thank all the people of Dudley who have written to tell me that they think Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation, that they think it should be banned in its entirety and that waving its flag is an incitement to terrorism and violence. As we have heard, the organisation has carried out terrorist attacks and racist murders in the middle east, in Europe and across the world. Its stated aim is the destruction of Israel, but it does not limit its attacks to people in Israel; it targets Jewish people anywhere and everywhere.
It is not true to claim that there is a political wing and a military wing. As has been said, Hezbollah itself does not make this distinction, and the supposed distinction undermines the fight against terrorism. That is why the United States, France, the Gulf Co-operation Council, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel have all proscribed Hezbollah in full, and why I cannot understand why our Government have not been prepared to do the same. I very much hope that that stance will change as a result of the debate this afternoon.
We have heard in the past that proscribing Hezbollah might somehow destabilise Lebanon and the wider region, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that by engaging in this pretence and indulging a terrorist organisation we are destabilising the many moderates in Lebanon who are determined to marginalise the terrorists, marginalise the extremists and marginalise Hezbollah?
The hon. Gentleman is right about that. It is a point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North made when she opened the debate and that was made eloquently by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
It is unacceptable to see Hezbollah’s flag waved on the streets of Britain, and it is disgusting to hear the virulently racist abuse and racist chants that accompany it. So I agree with many of the comments that have been made today, but I want to focus on three particular issues.
First I want to talk about Hezbollah’s role in the middle east and its impact on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. We have debated that many times in this House, but we should be under absolutely no illusion about the difficult issues that will need to be confronted in the negotiations—borders, land swaps, the status of Jerusalem, settlements and so on. Let us be really honest about this; none of those issues remotely interest Hezbollah. It is not interested in the compromises that all sides will need to make to bring about a two-state solution. Its sole interest is the destruction of Israel. Hezbollah has made that absolutely clear. It declared in 1992 that the war is on
“until Israel ceases to exist and the last Jew in the world has been eliminated. Israel is completely evil and must be erased from the face of the Earth.”
That is why, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah’s response was not peace but the murder and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and an avalanche of rocket attacks just six years later. It is why, today, Hezbollah, thanks to its Iranian paymasters, threatens Israel by pointing 120,000 to 140,000 rockets at the country.
In October, Hassan Nasrallah, in just one of the Hezbollah leader’s many threats, urged Jews to flee Israel before it is devastated by war. Last February, he warned that there would be “no red lines” in any future conflict between the terror group and Israel. In April, he boasted of his organisation’s preparedness for war, and in June he spoke of the “hundreds of thousands” of Shi’a fighters from across the middle east who would rush to Hezbollah’s side when it next takes the fight to the Jewish state.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent case, as he always does. Does he agree that it is also important to keep reminding people of the role that Hezbollah has played in training the Houthi rebels, who are causing such terrible carnage, destruction and death in Yemen?
In Lebanon and Israel, in Syria and Yemen, Hezbollah is causing carnage. That is its stated aim.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as others have said, one of the best ways of defeating Hezbollah is to encourage and assist a stable, functioning Lebanese state?
That is correct, and the point was made eloquently by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier. The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) goes to the middle east a lot; he knows a lot of people there. He is an expert on the region and what he says is worth listening to. I hope that Ministers will be listening to the advice that they have just been given.
Analysts warn that the next conflict between Israel and Hezbollah
“will likely be the most destructive Arab-Israel war yet.”
Israel’s military believes that, in a future conflict, Hezbollah will be able to launch 1,500 rockets and missiles a day. Israel has increased its defensive capabilities, but Hezbollah is likely to target military facilities, important infrastructure and civilian population centres.
In the past, Nasrallah has threatened that Hezbollah will attack an ammonia storage facility in Haifa and a nuclear reactor at Dimona. The week before last, I was in Haifa, which is just over 20 miles from the border with Lebanon and is the site of Israel’s oil refinery, making it one of Hezbollah’s main targets. Imagine the carnage, devastation and civilians deaths that could result in a future conflict when Hezbollah start to rain down missiles on Haifa from just a few miles away, as it has done in the past.
Sadly, Israel’s experience in southern Lebanon was repeated in Gaza. Israel signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority on movement and access to Gaza, which gave the Palestinians control over their borders for the first time in history, allowed imports and exports, and approved the construction of a seaport and discussions on an airport. Israel pulled out of Gaza but, just as in Lebanon, an Islamist movement, a terrorist organisation, a powerful armed militia—this time Hamas, also equipped by Iran and just as committed to Israel’s destruction as Hezbollah—launched a coup, banned elections, drove out Fatah, threw fellow Palestinians from the rooftops, summarily executed people outside mosques after Friday prayers and declared themselves the new rulers of Gaza, saying that they would use the strip as a base to destroy Israel. The unilateral withdrawal of 8,500 Israelis from Gaza was met not by peace but, after Hamas’s brutal takeover, by rockets and attack tunnels. When we look at the experience in Lebanon and in Gaza, we can understand why, whether or not people in this Chamber like it, the Israelis are very reticent about pulling out of the west bank.
As we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), the Iranian proxy Hezbollah poses a significant threat to security and stability in the middle east—explicitly the whole middle east, not just Israel. My second point is that Hezbollah has played a particularly pernicious and powerful role in the internal affairs of Lebanon. Its armed forces have been described as more effective than Lebanon’s army and its military power is occasionally used to pressurise the Lebanese Government, allowing Iran to exercise influence in the country. Once seen as a state within a state, Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon threatens to draw Israel’s northern neighbour, and its army, into any future conflict.
My third point is that, as we have heard, Hezbollah’s so-called resistance against Israel is influenced by its deeply anti-Semitic ideology. The group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has said that if Jews
“all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
He has also suggested:
“God imprinted blasphemy on the Jews’ hearts.”
Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Qassem, has said that
“the history of Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are a people who are evil in their ideas.”
The late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Hezbollah’s most influential figures, peddled anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews. He declared:
“The Jews want to be a world superpower…the Jews will work on the basis that Jewish interests are above all world interests.”
I have criticised the Government for not proscribing Hezbollah, but I also wish to address some remarks to my party. In 2009, at a meeting of the so-called Stop the War Coalition, which must be the worst or most inappropriately named organisation in British politics, the leader of the Labour party said that he had invited “friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah to an event in Parliament. Later, when asked why he had called them friends, he said:
“I use it in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk.”
He also said:
“There is not going to be a peace process unless there is talks involving Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas”.
First, who would describe a racist, fascistic and terrorist organisation like Hezbollah as friends? Social democrats—indeed, all democrats—should always be crystal clear about how they describe totalitarian movements and Governments, whether that is Hezbollah or, for instance, the Iranian dictatorship that backs Hezbollah.
Secondly, the statements by the leaders of Hezbollah make it very clear that they have absolutely no interest in the negotiations and compromises that could lead to peace. The idea that Hezbollah is a partner for peace is utterly misguided. Its contribution to the Oslo peace process was to threaten to murder Jewish tourists and businessmen visiting Arab countries that normalised their relations with Israel. Even if we were to set all that to one side, I do not think that the leadership of our party has shown the same interest in speaking to the Israelis. Invitations to meet the leaders of Labour’s own sister party, who have repeatedly invited our leader to visit Israel and talk to them about their plans to bring the conflict to an end, have not been accepted.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is enormously difficult and complex.There are no easy answers. If there were, they would have been found by now. However, some elements are clearer than others, and the case of Hezbollah is one of them. This is an anti-Semitic, racist terror group—acting at the behest of Iran—which wishes to drive Jews from the middle east and murder Jews around the world. Hezbollah is part of the problem; it will never be part of the solution. That is why this House and our Government should agree today to proscribe it in its entirety.
May I say, too, how very pleased I am, Mr Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair today? I congratulate the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) on her opening speech and on securing this important debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating it. I should declare an interest as chair of the Council for Arab-British Understanding.
There is no doubt that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation. Indeed, it is one of the largest, most powerful, most vicious and most dangerous terrorist organisations in the world. Although it is, ostensibly, a political party, and one of the key political players in Lebanon, it also overtly and rigidly adheres to the Shi’ite revolutionary agenda of Iran. Its emergence in 1982 in the wake of the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon was directly attributable to the intervention of Iran. The influence of Iran was made clear in Hezbollah’s manifesto, dated 1985, which stated:
“We are the sons of the umma—the party of God, the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran.”
Hezbollah, in truth, is an Iranian proxy, closely associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, like Iran, it considers the United States and Israel its principal enemies. Early in its existence, Hezbollah pledged allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini, and since Khomeini’s death in 1989 it has continued allegiance to his successor, Ali Khamenei.
Central to the ideology of Hezbollah is the concept of resistance, chiefly to the United States and Israel, and resistance is Hezbollah code for terrorist activity. Indeed, the history of Hezbollah has been one of one terrorist act after another. In April 1983, very shortly after its formation, it carried out a suicide attack on the United States embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. Six months later, there was another suicide bombing—of the US Marines barracks in Beirut—which killed 241. US nationals have been repeatedly targeted by Hezbollah, and, indeed, Hezbollah was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist organisation until the 9/11 attacks on New York city.
Israel and Israeli interests have also been the repeated targets of Hezbollah terrorism. After Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah carried out numerous cross-border incursions, culminating in an attack in July 2006 that killed eight Israeli soldiers. In the conflict that followed, Hezbollah fired thousands of Iranian-supplied rockets into Israeli territory, killing 39 civilians and 120 soldiers.
Hezbollah has also planned and executed many other terrorist attacks outside the region, including on the European continent. Two Hezbollah operatives are being tried in their absence for the 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli citizens at Burgas airport in Bulgaria. Such actions are seen as part of the “resistance” to Israel that is one of Hezbollah’s avowed objectives. Many of the attacks have been on non-Israeli Jewish people and Jewish interests—the right hon. Member for Enfield North catalogued those attacks extensively.
Quite understandably and properly, Hezbollah’s activities have led to it being designated a terrorist organisation in many parts of the world. In 1996, Israel listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, followed by the United States in 1997. It has also been proscribed by Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, France and Bahrain. In March 2016, the Gulf Co-operation Council designated it a terrorist organisation, stressing its status as a proxy for Iran in regional conflicts, including with the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. The secretary general of the GCC, Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, commented:
“The GCC states consider Hezbollah militias’ practices in the Council’s states and their terrorist and subversive acts being carried out in Syria, Yemen and Iraq contradict moral and humanitarian values and principles and international law and pose a threat to Arab national security.”
Very recently, in November last year, most of the Arab League’s 22 members condemned Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, stating that it was supporting terrorist groups across the middle east by supplying them with weapons, including ballistic missiles.
The United Kingdom’s position on Hezbollah has been somewhat more nuanced. In 2001, the UK proscribed Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation under the Terrorism Act 2000. That proscription was extended to the military wing, including the Jihad Council, in 2008 as a consequence of Hezbollah’s targeting of British soldiers in Iraq. The UK was also instrumental in persuading the European Union to designate the military wing a terrorist entity in 2013.
However, the British Government have consistently been reluctant to extend the proscription to the entirety of Hezbollah. In an explanatory memorandum to the European Scrutiny Committee in August 2013, the then Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), stated that although the UK does not engage with Hezbollah’s political wing, some EU member states do engage with it as a political party in Lebanon and therefore had concerns over the effect of EU designation on that engagement. He explained that by distinguishing between Hezbollah’s political and military wings, the designation would not prevent those member states that have contacts with Hezbollah’s political representatives from maintaining such contact.
The Minister stated in the same memorandum that the military wing of Hezbollah was separate from the political wing, which included Ministers, Members of Parliament and other representatives, and was overseen by a political council. I suggest that such a distinction is completely illusory. The fact is that Hezbollah itself denies that there is any distinction to be drawn between its military and political wings.
My right hon. Friend is making a persuasive speech. Does he agree that it would be as absurd to suggest that one could distinguish between the British Government and the British armed forces, and that somehow one could declare the British armed forces to be an enemy without declaring the British Government to be one? The armed forces of Hezbollah are under the control and direction of the political arm of Hezbollah, and therefore they must be treated as one.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who is entirely right. More to the point, Hezbollah itself agrees with him, because in 2000 its deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, declared:
“Hezbollah’s Secretary-General is the head of the Shura Council and also the head of the Jihad Council, and this means that we have one leadership with one administration.”
In 2012, Qassem said:
“We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other. Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
So Hezbollah is, in reality, a single entity, and it is ludicrous to suggest that it is not.
As a single entity, Hezbollah is a threat to the entire world. British interests, not least, are affected by it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) gave a catalogue of the extent to which Hezbollah carries out activities that are directly threatening British interests, and is also carrying out crimes on the streets of Britain. At an unarguably less dangerous but nevertheless highly offensive level, Hezbollah protesters routinely display Hezbollah flags on the streets of London at events such as al-Quds day, disingenuously labelling them flags of the political wing of Hezbollah, rather than its military wing.
It is very clear that the partial ban is not having the desired effect, or much effect at all. The Government have contended that banning the organisation in its totality might destabilise the political order in Lebanon. I would suggest, however, that the greatest destabilising influence in Lebanon is Hezbollah itself. Even as we debate today, four Hezbollah members are being tried before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in connection with the murder of the late Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah forces have supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The organisation continues to conduct terrorist attacks against Israeli interests.
While I understand the Government’s concerns and anxieties, I suggest that partial proscription has not had the effect either of curbing Hezbollah’s terrorist activities or of clearing Hezbollah from the United Kingdom. Hezbollah is on our streets, defiantly waving its flags and thumbing its nose at the British Government. I consequently urge the Government to reconsider their stance and to conclude that Hezbollah—a dangerous, aggressive terrorist organisation that is a threat to regional stability and to the security of this country—should be proscribed in its entirety.
It is a great privilege to follow so many excellent contributions from all parts of the House. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) for securing this extremely important debate and for her very powerful opening speech.
Hezbollah is a radical Shi’a Islamist terrorist organisation founded in Iran soon after the 1979 revolution. It is an anti-Semitic organisation that carries out acts of international terrorism. It should be proscribed in its entirety. Instead, the UK accepts the spurious distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings, banning the military wing but permitting the so-called political wing to operate. As hon. Members have pointed out, Hezbollah itself does not accept this distinction. In 2012, its deputy secretary General, Naim Qassem, said very explicitly:
“We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other.”
The evidence that Hezbollah engages in terrorism and engenders hate is overwhelming. Hezbollah was behind the bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, killing 85 people. It has murdered people—Jews, Christians, Muslims and others—in places such as Nigeria, Thailand, Bulgaria and Cyprus. It is complicit with the murderous Assad regime in Syria. Operating with Assad and Iran, it is part of the “axis of resistance” that seeks to confront Sunni power, western influence and Israel. It is a malign influence.
Hezbollah specifically promotes anti-Semitism. Al-Manar, Hezbollah TV, was the first media outlet to make the false claim that 4,000 Jews or Israelis did not go to work in the World Trade Centre on 9/11, allegedly on the basis of advice from Mossad. This lie has now become a widespread anti-Semitic libel. Hezbollah’s message incites violence. Esther Webman, who has studied Hezbollah’s anti-Semitic motifs, has concluded that Hezbollah’s brand of anti-Semitism is typical of contemporary violent Islamist groups. She describes it as
“combining traditional Islamic perceptions with Western anti-Semitic terminology and motifs to express its opposition to Zionism. Zionism, in turn, is equated not only with the State of Israel but also with imperialism and with Western arrogance.”
This issue has very serious implications for us in the UK. At the annual al-Quds march in London last June, Hezbollah’s green and yellow flag—the same flag displayed in military operations—was put on show. The purpose of the march and of al-Quds day itself is to agitate for violent resistance and the destruction of the state of Israel. At the centre of the flag, the largest Arabic word in green reads “Hezbollah”, out of which emerges a globe with an upraised arm grasping an assault rifle. The letter A of Allah is linked to the upraised arm grasping the assault rifle, signifying the ideological legitimisation of Hezbollah’s armed resistance as being divinely sanctioned. That message is clear, menacing and extremely powerful. The menacing chants at the march on the streets of London this year included the heinous cry:
“Zionists/ISIS are the same.
Only difference is the name.”
The hon. Lady is making a very powerful speech. It is also worth pointing out that the march was led by the director of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, who, during his speech, blamed the Grenfell Tower tragedy on the Zionists. As we all know, the word “Zionists” is a euphemism for Jews. The whole enterprise was just entirely bonkers, as well as being anti-Semitic.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I will refer to the Grenfell Tower disaster in a moment.
All this is inciting violence, hatred and division on the streets of the UK. This is happening as anti-Semitic offences in this country reach record levels, as shown in the recent Community Security Trust report. There are many other disturbing recent examples of incitement to hatred, and I will now mention the important point raised by the hon. Gentleman. Tahra Ahmed, a volunteer running a network helping the survivors of the Grenfell fire tragedy has claimed that the 71 people who perished were
“burnt…in a Jewish sacrifice”.
That is horrendous—horrendous incitement to hatred.
On the march at that al-Quds event, some marchers held flags with small stickers attached to them stating:
“I support the political wing of Hezbollah”.
This was designed to give the marchers protection against any legal challenge—pretending that the political wing of Hezbollah is somehow a separate entity. This is a farce. The flags indicate military might, and their display incites hatred on our streets and division in our communities.
I recently went to see the Metropolitan police to express my great concern about expressions of hatred on our streets, specifically in relation to the al-Quds march, but also in relation to other recent events. I asked the police why they were not taking any action against this incitement to hatred. It was clear from the discussions that ensued that a key factor in the police’s failure to act was that Hezbollah’s political wing is not illegal, and neither is displaying the flag.
I, too, have met the Metropolitan police, including Pat Gallan, who informed me that the Met had a Queen’s counsel opinion stating that they are not able to take any action, for the reason the hon. Lady outlined. Pat Gallan did not feel that it was appropriate for me to read the opinion, but a legal opinion is simply that—just an opinion.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point that should be pursued. My discussions with the Metropolitan police made it clear that its decisions on how to deal with individual incidents are to do with the legal situation at the time, the need for freedom of expression and the police’s interpretation of how those two aspects interact. Opinions are important, but so is incitement on our streets.
It is time for change. The fallacy that Hezbollah has two separate sections should be exposed. Under UK law, only the so-called military wing of Hezbollah is listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation. Evidence from abroad and on our streets in the UK is clear that Hezbollah is a single, terrorist, anti-Semitic entity. It is guilty of mass murder abroad, it promotes terrorism and discord across the middle east, and now it is importing anti-Semitism and anti-western hatred on to the streets of London, sowing discord and division in our communities.
I call for Hezbollah to be banned in its entirety. I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench are listening hard to the contributions from Labour Members, but the Government are responsible for what happens and I ask the Minister to take action.
I apologise for ducking out of the debate earlier. I wanted to sign the book commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, and I recommend that other Members take the opportunity to do so before it closes in about half an hour.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) on securing this debate. Hezbollah claims to be the party of God, but it is simply a genocidal, anti-Semitic terror group based in Lebanon that seeks the destruction of Israel and the extermination of all Jews worldwide. The organisation is well known, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) reminded us of the terror attack that took place in 1994, with the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) reminded us of the comment by the leader of the Labour party who infamously described Hezbollah as his “friends”. Well, they are no friends of mine.
Hezbollah is a creation of Iran. It is one of Iran’s most important and powerful international terrorist proxies, and it gives it extensive access to the Arab world. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of pounds for Hezbollah’s weapons and technology, and salaries for tens of thousands of fighters. In June 2006, Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, confirmed that he was
“open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
Before leaving office in December 2016, former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, reportedly had concerns about Nasrallah’s remarks and stated that Iran’s supply of weapons to Hezbollah violates a long-standing arms embargo against the country.
With Iran’s support, Hezbollah fighters have been deeply engaged in supporting the regime of Iranian ally, President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and gaining battle experience, probably in preparation for their next attempt at conflict with Israel. Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly threatened Israel with war, warning that Hezbollah is ready to strike anywhere in Israel with “no limits”. Iran has established rocket factories in Lebanon under Hezbollah’s full control, which together with military provisions and other weaponry are located throughout civilian villages in southern Lebanon. As the hon. Member for Dudley North reminded us, the terror group now has up to 150,000 rockets capable of striking the whole of Israel.
Last week, I presented a petition to the House on behalf of 896 people in my constituency who are calling on the Government to proscribe the political, as well as the military, arm of the Hezbollah organisation under the Terrorism Act 2000. The Government currently distinguish between Hezbollah’s so-called political wing, and its military wing, even though the group itself does not.
I have attended the al-Quds march on many occasions, and most recently I went last year with former MP Michael McCann, who spoke at the event. We witnessed the yellow flags of Hezbollah, which feature a large green assault rifle, being waved with impunity on our streets. Despite the countless representations made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Metropolitan police and Ministers have failed to take any action.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission, which organises the march, has provided guidance on its website for participants, advising that although flags of illegal organisations could not be waved at the event, demonstrators could bring a Hezbollah flag to show support for its political wing. I take some credit for that being on the website because two years ago I called on the Met to ban the march. I received abuse, but also correspondence from the so-called Islamic Human Rights Commission, which told me that it had never had any illegal flags—it was, of course, referring to those of Daesh, not Hezbollah. Subsequently, it has advised people that they should put a post-it note on their flags to say that they are supporting Hezbollah’s political wing, not its military wing.
The Home Secretary has recently explained the position on offences in respect of displaying flags:
“For an offence to be committed, the context and manner in which the flag is displayed must demonstrate that it is specifically in support of the proscribed military wing of the group.”
Taking that into account, flags flown at the march featured the disclaimers that I have mentioned, even though we have been reminded that the organisation itself does not recognise any difference between the two wings.
Hezbollah is appalling and I would very much like to see it banned. Only one argument might say that it should not be: the security services might be—we will never know this—advising the Minister that it is better to keep it where we can see it rather than send it underground. That might be the only argument against a ban.
I am not in favour of banning things, I have to say. But the hurt, resentment, agitation and general disruption that this annual march causes—not only to the Metropolitan police, but to the people of London—should in itself lead to its being banned. This year, I called again on the Metropolitan police not to allow the march to go ahead. Infuriatingly, days after the Grenfell Tower fire, with the police massively stretched by the tragedy, the organisers insisted on going ahead with the march even though the Met did not have the resources to police it. That was reprehensible on the part of the IHRC.
This year, the march was led by a director of the IHRC, Nazim Ali, who in a speech, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) mentioned, blamed the Grenfell fire tragedy on
“the Zionist supporters of the Tory Party”.
He also accused the Israel Defence Forces of being a
“terrorist organisation that murdered Palestinians, Jews and British soldiers.”
Participants in the rally called for the destruction of Israel and waved slogans, including one stating “We are all Hezbollah”. Shockingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the Leader of the Opposition has spoken at the annual event in the past. I take this opportunity to call on him not to do so again in future.
As we have heard, senior Hezbollah officials have repeatedly said that Hezbollah is a single entity, proudly stating that “resistance” is their “priority”, and even publicly mocking the UK and other European countries for distinguishing between the two wings.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech, which I agree with. I should just say that in response to the al-Quds march and the resulting complaints and offence, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has asked for Hezbollah to be proscribed.
The right hon. Lady has made a really good point, and I want to respond; I am grateful that she took my intervention earlier. She is absolutely right—there is an issue with not only Labour Front Benchers but Government Front Benchers. I certainly hope that they hear what I am saying today. This is not about one party or another. I do not seek to make this a party political issue, but when I see the shadow Home Secretary rolling her eyes at some of the comments made by Labour Back Benchers, that makes me think that her heart is not really in this issue and that she is not as concerned as many Government Members—or, indeed, many Opposition Members.
According to Home Office guidance,
“Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism, and it is proportionate to do. For the purposes of the Act, this means that the organisation: 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”.
It is worth reiterating that senior Hezbollah officials have openly and repeatedly stated that no substantive separation exists between so-called “political” and “military” wings. Given that fact, I believe that Hezbollah meets the criteria for full proscription under the Terrorism Act.
It is not just the Jewish community in this country who are distressed by Hezbollah’s overt presence in the UK; it also distresses those of us who deplore terrorism and hate all kinds of bigotry and those of us who want this country to be a welcoming and safe place for our many diverse communities.
A number of Members are unable to be here today because they have returned to their constituencies. No doubt they will be attending this weekend’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations. However, we must not underestimate the strength of feeling among the British public in favour of rooting out anti-Semitism and hatred wherever it occurs. Anti-Semitism is rising throughout Europe, and as we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday, we must be the ones to say, “Enough is enough.” It is in the best interests of us all to proscribe Hezbollah in full.
Let us demonstrate our commitment to tackling extremism by finally putting aside the mistaken belief that Hezbollah has a political wing. It quite simply does not exist. My constituents think we should not wait any longer before admitting that, and so do I.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) for securing this important debate. It has been excellent.
I think that it incredibly important for the Home Secretary to take a clear look at Hezbollah, its activities and the positions that it takes. As we know, it is involved in a number of terrorist activities and has made clear its desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, but the main concern that I wish to raise today concerns its anti-Semitic language. Let me take a moment to read out some of the comments made by leaders of Hezbollah to emphasise how shocking they are.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has been quoted as saying—I read this out with deep discomfort—
“the Jews…are a cancer which is liable to spread…at any moment.”
He has also said:
“If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
Such views are expressed not just by Nasrallah, but by his deputy. Naim Qassem has been quoted as saying:
“The history of Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are a people who are evil in their ideas.”
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that those comments are utterly deplorable and should be challenged at every opportunity. Such language should not be allowed to continue, because it feeds into a terrorist ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel, but also of the wider Jewish people. We have heard it in the past, and we stood up against it then. We should stand up against it now as well, because the use of such language in our society should not be tolerated, whether it is used here or elsewhere in the world. There is absolutely no place for it.
What is especially pertinent when we recommit ourselves to standing up to this hate-filled language is that, as we speak, many people are gathering near Parliament Square to remember the holocaust at the Holocaust Memorial Day service. I was torn today: I wanted to take part in both events, but I chose to come to the House and make my speech. Only a week ago, colleagues stood here in the Chamber and movingly marked that auspicious day.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is the power of words. The aim is to explore how language was used in the past and is used in the present. It reminds us never to be complacent. Right now, an organisation that calls for the annihilation of one of our allies and a whole ethnic population is lawfully allowed to be supported in this country, and last year, as we have heard, its flags were flown on the streets of our capital. Hatred should not go unchallenged, wherever it may raise its ugly head.
The British Government must stand strong with resolve and say, “Enough is enough, and we will not stand for their hatred and terrorist activity.” We can all agree that Hezbollah is a dangerous organisation that commits terrorist crimes across the world in the name of its warped view of Islam and that repeatedly vocalises hate-filled language towards a group that it wishes to exterminate. There is no room for its deep-seated hatred—none at all. Therefore, in response to this debate, I hope the Home Secretary—although not present—will ensure that she listens in full to the concerns raised from across the House today.
It is always a pleasure to speak in this House, but especially on this issue. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and all other Members who have spoken. If I may pick out one Member, the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) set the scene very well for us all. When she asked me to accompany her to the Backbench Business Committee to request this debate, I was happy to do so, as I wanted to take part in the debate. As someone who has lived through a terrorist conflict and who bears the emotional and political scars that other—some very gallant—Members have, this topic is of great interest to me.
The first question we must ask ourselves is, what is the first duty of Government? As clearly outlined by every Member who has spoken, the first duty of any Government is to protect the public. Are we protecting the public? Can we do better? Yes, we can. Protection cannot, of course, be guaranteed; there will always be those determined to break through or get around whatever security measures our Government have put in place. But it is the Government’s job to do what they can to ensure that in a free society people can go about their lives facing the smallest possible risk of crime or terrorist attack. The debate is taking place because there has been a failure to provide that protection.
On 4 June 2017, the day after the London bridge terror attack in which eight people were killed and 48 injured, the Prime Minister—my Prime Minister, everyone’s Prime Minister—stood in Downing Street and said:
“While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is—to be frank—far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.
So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out—across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism”.
On 22 June, the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), following a statement on terrorism, called on the Home Secretary to ban Hezbollah. To support his request he gave a first-hand account of what he cited as a celebration of the terror group Hezbollah that he witnessed on 18 June at an Al-Quds rally in central London. He explained in some detail how people were walking down the streets of this city waving the flag of the genocidal terror group Hezbollah—that is what it is—while simultaneously mocking the British laws that allowed them to do so. He described how frustrating that was. There can surely be no greater and more blatant illustration of the Prime Minister’s view that we are far too tolerant of extremists. That shows why this debate is important.
It is also important to remember the context. In 2017, a year marred by terror attacks in Manchester and London, our Government allowed that march to take place. I question why that was allowed.
In response to the hon. Member for Newark, the Home Secretary agreed to come back and discuss the matter with him and if necessary to come back to this House. I understand that there has been a chasm of silence since then, which concerns me. As with many issues, there may be a belief that, if we let matters sit and cool, sometimes people do not demand firm action to be taken. This is not one of those times and the Home Secretary’s commitment must be actioned.
I thank the right hon. Member for Enfield North and the colleagues who backed the call for this debate. We can have a full discussion today and we will hopefully have action. We look to the Minister. The call for action is coming from Members in all parts of the House.
Let me make it clear that this is not a campaign to satisfy a handful of MPs; it goes much wider than that. In a campaign organised by the Israel Britain Alliance and its numerous partners, more than 10,000 people have written to their MPs to register their concerns about the Government’s delusion that Hezbollah is two separate organisations and to highlight the Government’s dereliction of their first duty to protect the public. For the record, the publicly available evidence that Hezbollah is a single organisation with a single command structure has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt. In addition, the Government’s own assessment of Hezbollah’s capability renders their stance untenable and demands the protection that the evidence points to.
I am concerned that we are not being given the full story about the need that is said to be there; it has been said that there may be some evidential base out there. We want to see that in the open. The Government are also aware of the Hezbollah sleepers and they are watching them as well. Let us make it clear to those who think they are not being watched that they are indeed being watched and we know who they are. As I said, I am concerned that we are not being given the full story. Only three days ago, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), the Minister said:
“The military and political activities of Hizballah are distinct, though links exist between the senior leaders of the political and military wings. The UK proscribed Hizballah’s External Security Organisation in March 2001 and in 2008 the proscription was extended to Hizballah’s military apparatus.”
My concern is that, by dragging our feet over taking the necessary action, we are placing the British people in grave danger. It is our responsibility to look after them.
Please do not think that I support Hezbollah. All I say is that there might be some reason that we cannot know about—that even I, who have been in military intelligence, cannot know about—for not banning the political wing of Hezbollah in this country. It might be something very important, and it might be that the decision has been made to protect us from a much more difficult situation. I do not know.
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his intervention, but let us make the position clear today: we want the proscription of Hezbollah. That is the thrust of this debate. That is what we are about. There are not two wings in Hezbollah.
I should like to clarify this point. Most members of the armed forces cannot comment on these issues, but very senior members of our armed forces who are no longer actively serving have made it clear that they think that this is a false division, and that Hezbollah should be proscribed in its entirety. I agree with them, although I understand that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is not saying that he supports Hezbollah.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention. In a moment, I will give the House an example of an ex-soldier who has knowledge of the situation and whose position will become clear. Perhaps then, everyone in the Chamber will understand why we need and want this proscription.
Hezbollah leaders have openly stated that there is no separation between its component parts. The group in its entirety meets the criteria for full proscription under the Terrorism Act 2000. Its leaders have repeatedly encouraged terrorism and supported jihad and martyrdom. Hezbollah has been responsible for attacks on Jewish people across the globe, yet last year, as the hon. Member for Newark witnessed, people with Hezbollah flags marched down Oxford Street celebrating al-Quds day with complete disregard and with the AK-47 on their flags. If that is not provocative and illegal, I would like to know what is. Along with the flags and banners that day, we had all the associated inflammatory rhetoric because the purpose of the demonstration was to agitate for violent resistance and the destruction of the state of Israel under the euphemism of “liberating al-Quds”—Jerusalem. The context was militaristic, not political.
The domestic consequence of the current Government policy that the Minister will repeat in due course is a fabricated division that allows public support for a terrorist organisation and anti-Semitism to flourish freely on our streets. These actions are detrimental to social cohesion and damaging to community relations, and that is why Hezbollah must be banned. Many Members across the Chamber have made it clear that we have taken a stance against anti-Semitism. The Government have taken a stance against it, but there are others who need to be stronger when it comes to taking that stance, and we encourage them to do so.
Colonel Richard Kemp, to whom I referred a moment ago, is the former head of the international terrorism team at the Cabinet Office. I hope that we can all respect the fact that his credentials are impeccable as he explains his view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s position. He says:
“The Foreign Office deludes itself that by appeasing Hezbollah it can influence the organisation. And that it will do its killing elsewhere. Instead this gives legitimacy to Hezbollah. Piling appeasement on appeasement, Britain and the rest of the EU hope to mollify Iran, the biggest state supporter of terrorism. They know designating Hezbollah would enrage the ayatollahs.”
The hon. Gentleman is right to quote Richard Kemp. I refer him to Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, who has made exactly the same point. I am not calling into question the motives of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) or asking why he said what he did; I am just saying that Richard Kemp and Lord Dannatt both make the opposite point. I think that, if such intelligence existed, they would be aware of it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and for putting on record that extra evidential basis. The Foreign Office position appears to be creating two delusions: first, that Hezbollah is not a single organisation and, secondly, that it will do its killing elsewhere. Colonel Richard Kemp’s column in The Times devastates another Foreign Office fable, namely, that we are not in danger. He says:
“During the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hezbollah was involved in Iranian-directed bombings that killed well over 1,000 British and US servicemen. Despite this, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe Hezbollah can freely raise funds for terrorism. Its supporters flaunt their assault rifle-emblazoned flags on our streets. They maintain sleeper cells in this country: planning, preparing and lying in wait for orders to attack.”
I commend our security forces for their good work, which everyone in this House endorses and supports. Our intelligence services are the best in the world and we are very happy to have them.
When we hear such things, we say to ourselves, “What damning testimony there is.” I see you looking at me, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am coming to the end of my speech. Those in the Foreign Office who seek to appease, and who are fearful of offending the ayatollahs, are allowing people on our streets to celebrate an organisation that has been complicit in the killing of British soldiers. We have a responsibility to look after, nurture and care for our soldiers and their families, and the situation cannot be allowed to continue. It is past time that the Government did the right thing and banned Hezbollah. Members may ask what that will achieve. Let me quote Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, on that question:
“The sources of our funding would dry up, and the sources of moral, political, and material support would be destroyed.”
If we are looking for a good reason to proscribe Hezbollah, that has to be one.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a consequence of the Iranian nuclear deal is that money is going from Iran directly to Hezbollah and other terrorist proxies in the middle east?
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I commend him for his contributions in this House, and he has been a stalwart supporter on this matter. During debates on the Iran nuclear deal, he and I said the same thing on opposite sides of the House, and it was good to have that consensus. Many others joined us.
We need to proscribe Hezbollah for the very reason that I have outlined: its sources of funding will dry up, and its moral, political and material support will be destroyed.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that extending proscription in the way that pretty much every Member has called for is important if we are to ensure that Hezbollah cannot use the banking system in this country to further its evil ends?
If we starve Hezbollah of its funds, we will take away the blood that it needs to exist. It is important that we do that. Proscribing Hezbollah and removing all its resources—the bones in its system—is one way to achieve what we want. I believe that the British people will happily accept the proscription of Hezbollah.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that although we require the complete proscription of Hezbollah as an organisation, we should never lose sight of the fact that it is a proxy for the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps, which is causing so much havoc and distress throughout the middle east and beyond?
I fully endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. It is clear to me and, I think, everyone in the House that the Iranian national guard has such control that its influence and encouragement extend to Hezbollah. Where do we find it in the world? It is everywhere where there is contention, murder and conflict. That is the frustration we have.
Putting the public at risk and changing the odds in favour of terror suspects and against those who protect us is, at best, grossly complacent and, at worst, disastrous for public security. In memory of the British victims of Hezbollah, this terror group, this scum of the earth, should be banned from this day forth.
This has been a passionate but thoughtful debate, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) and her colleagues on bringing it to the House.
Members have repeatedly made it clear that Hezbollah in its broadest sense has engaged in atrocious terrorist activity. They have highlighted attacks in the middle east and beyond. In 2012 in Bulgaria, a bus of Israeli tourists was blown up. In Buenos Aires in the 1994, the bombing of the Israeli embassy was followed by the detonation of explosives outside the Argentinian-Israeli Mutual Association. Plots and activities have extended to Thailand, Nigeria, Cyprus and many other countries. Those arguing in favour of the motion have made a powerful case for full proscription. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and others have highlighted the knock-on consequences of sticking only with partial proscription for law enforcement here, including the seizing of financial assets.
Is there any possible counter-argument? In supporting partial proscription, the Home Office under the previous Labour Government pointed to the
“legitimate political, social and humanitarian role Hizballah plays in Lebanon”,
while in a debate just before Christmas, when this issue was raised, the Security Minister pointed out that Hezbollah formed part of the Government of Lebanon. That has meant that much of this debate has focused on whether Hezbollah is just one organisation and whether it is realistic to divide it into political, military and terrorist parts, as some countries do, including the UK—but not just the UK—for the purposes of proscription. In the December debate, the Minister himself said:
“If…the non-military wing is viewed as not separate…we will review the situation, use the law and take the required steps.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 1018.]
Members have argued today that these are false and unreal distinctions, pointing even to the rhetoric of Hezbollah itself and arguing that there is a unified decision-making power in the Consultative Council.
The next question is: does it matter that there is a degree of unity at the top, if there are clearly distinct branches that can be separated? It is only fair to record that different countries have taken different approaches to that question. For the Netherlands, as we have heard, it did matter and was conclusive. In its annual report in 2004, its general intelligence and security services stated:
“It can also be concluded that Hezbollah’s political and terrorist wings are controlled by one co-ordinating council. This means that there is indeed a link between these parts of the organisation. The Netherlands has changed its policy and no longer makes a distinction between the political and terrorist Hezbollah branches”.
In fairness, not all countries take that approach. It is not, for example, the approach taken in Australia, where what it refers to as the External Security Organisation of Hezbollah is listed as a terrorist organisation but not Hezbollah as a whole. In the statement explaining their decision, the Australian Government do not seek to argue that they are very distinct organisations. They describe on one hand a
“pragmatic political organisation with deep roots in Lebanese society”
“maintain a social welfare network that encompasses education and health services”,
but at the same time include what they describe as “a branch”—the ESO—responsible for
“the planning, coordination and execution of terrorist attacks against Hizballah’s enemies outside of Lebanon”.
Despite the fact that the Australian Government take the view that the ESO is a branch of a bigger organisation, they simply chose to proscribe the branch rather than the whole organisation. So different Governments can come to different views.
As some hon. Members have pointed out, it is relevant to note that under the 2000 Act, the Home Secretary has powers but not a duty to proscribe organisations—it is a “may”, not a “must”. As some have alluded to, one wonders whether there are other considerations at play here, including a desire to keep certain diplomatic channels open and concerns about maintaining stability in Lebanon. In the past, the President of Lebanon has asked the EU and its member countries not to proscribe Hezbollah, describing it as an essential component of Lebanese society. However, in response, the right hon. Member for Enfield North fairly points out that countries that do proscribe the whole group continue to play a diplomatic role in the country—things do not have to end there. So I do not envy the Minister the task he has or the decisions he has to make.
One problem I have raised before in debates on the proscription of terrorist organisations is that the information hon. Members have at their disposal is, I suspect, but a drop in the ocean compared with what is available to the Minister making the decision, and I think that was essentially the point the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) alluded to in his intervention. I wonder whether there may be a role for the Intelligence and Security Committee in scrutinising such decisions and in advising Members more generally.
In conclusion, I congratulate hon. Members on bringing about this debate and on posing serious and difficult questions to the Government. I am sympathetic to the case they make, and I await the Minister’s response with interest, because it is fair to say that, so far, there has not been a coherent counter-argument.
First, I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the application led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) and for allowing these important issues to be brought forward. While nobody in the House would deny the right to peaceful protest, we should of course debate in the House when offence and distress are caused by public displays, and we should also debate these important issues of proscription. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for their contributions to the debate.
I want to deal with the issue of the displaying of Hezbollah flags, which, at least in the short term, is what led to this debate. Let me say at the outset that Labour Members unequivocally condemn support for violence and acts of terrorism, the likes of which have been described in the Chamber today. We are grateful to the police and to our security services for the work they do daily in keeping us all safe.
Many Members have spoken about the current position regarding proscription. It is of course correct that, in March 2001, the Hezbollah External Security Organisation —part of the military wing—was proscribed. In July 2008, that was extended to the whole military wing, including the Jihad Council. The then Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty—a former Member of this House—said in the House on 15 July 2008 that the proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing would not affect the role it played in Lebanon, but it would send out
“a clear message that we condemn Hezbollah’s violence and support for terrorism.” —[Official Report, 15 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 195.]
It is, of course, the case today that Hezbollah forms part of the Parliament and the Government of Lebanon.
More recently, in December of last year, the Security Minister said: “Those organisations”—this includes Hezbollah—
“are not proscribed in their entirety. Their military wings are proscribed, but as Hezbollah forms part of the Government in Lebanon…the proscription applies only to the military wing.”—[Official Report, 19 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 1008.]
It is for the Government to keep under review the organisations they proscribe. These are always careful decisions, and clearly, in difficult and volatile situations, there has to be a balance between making absolutely clear our abhorrence at the use of violence to achieve political ends and, at the same time, seeking to facilitate and encourage solutions to conflict through participation in the democratic process.
It is for the Government, on the information they have before them—not all of which, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) pointed out, may be in the public domain—to be vigilant in keeping the list of proscribed organisations under review. The statutory test is under the Terrorism Act 2000, and of course, as the Opposition, we will hold the Government to account on their application of the test, as we did just before Christmas in relation to a number of other organisations. I ask the Minister today for the assurance he has previously given that the situation is always kept under review.
I want to turn to the current position on proscription, but I want first to make an aside, if I may, because it is important. An internal document containing the position of those on the Labour Front Bench got into the public domain today. While colleagues may or may not disagree with it, there is an issue, in that the front of the document contains the work email address of a member of my staff. Before I came into the Chamber today, he had already received an email, as if he personally was responsible for the position of the entire Labour Front Bench, which clearly is not the case. I ask the organisations that are displaying that document on the internet and elsewhere to remove the work email address of my member of staff, so that he does not receive any more emails. It is for us in this House, not our staff, to take responsibility for our positions, and our staff do an excellent job for us.
For the displaying of a Hezbollah flag to be an offence under section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000—I was interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) about that—it is correct that it has to be in support of the proscribed elements of the group. However, that does not mean that nothing can be done. I have not read the QC’s advice to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I would be interested in a dialogue with either the Metropolitan police or other police forces from around the country on this matter. Law enforcement agencies on the ground judge the context and circumstances in which the flag is flown, but that of course relates to the 2000 Act. There are other, wider criminal offences in respect of public order, displays that cause harassment, alarm and distress, and incitement, all of which can be enforced on the streets of our country.
My hon. Friend is completely right to say that his member of staff’s email address should not be displayed on the internet. I imagine that he is referring to the brief.
My hon. Friend is completely right about that, but I am concerned about some of its contents. Given that he has mentioned the document, why does it not mention Hezbollah’s anti-Semitism? Why does it suggest that Hezbollah could be a partner for peace when it is absolutely clear that it has no interest at all in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
I will make two points to my hon. Friend. First, when briefings are prepared, they tend to focus on the narrow issue of the debate, but let me be clear that we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. Secondly, with regard to peace going forward, we have to be careful about closing off diplomatic channels. For example, I was interested to read the comments made by former Prime Minister Tony Blair about Hamas only a few months ago. He was talking about the boycott of Hamas after the Palestinian elections of 2006 and said:
“In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull”
“into a dialogue and shifted their positions. I think that’s where I would be in retrospect.”
While I do not for a moment underplay the terrible violent acts, we should be careful about our maintenance of engagement in these difficult conflicts around the world.
Can the hon. Gentleman give an example of when not proscribing the whole of Hezbollah has in any way facilitated a move towards peace—just one example?
To ask about what would have happened had the whole organisation been proscribed is clearly counterfactual. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is entirely hypothetical.
Hezbollah is a violent, genocidal terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel, and I challenge the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to support the calls that have come from both sides of the House today to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety.
Nobody supports terrible, violent, barbaric acts; we simply look at the situation as it is and try to strike a balance. I have already set out—[Interruption.] I will deal with the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) in a moment. I have already set out that I would be happy to speak to police forces around the country about using the powers that they have at the moment.
The Opposition absolutely condemn the violence, and we continue to support the proscription of the military wing of Hezbollah, which has been the Government’s position. We believe that engagement with the Government and Parliament of Lebanon is important for the wider middle east peace process, and we should be careful about damaging that engagement, but it is of course a question of balance.
It was, of course, a Labour Government in 2008 who drew the distinction between the military and political wings of Hezbollah. Everyone who has spoken in this debate today regards that as nonsense and fiction. What is the position of the Labour Front-Bench team?
I have heard a number of speakers make the point about the links. I simply observe that their activities are distinct—the activities of violence, which we absolutely condemn, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, engagement with the democratic process. Labour Members have supported the balance that the Government are striking, which is not to say that I am not sensitive to the views I have heard from both sides of the Chamber. I respect those views.
When analysing the difficult and important matters of proscription, the balance as it stands, which we support, is proscription of the military wing. That should not at this stage be extended to the political wing, for the reasons I have set out.
I congratulate hon. and right hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), on securing this debate and raising this important issue.
The Government are proud to be a friend of Israel, and we are proud to support working with Israel. No Conservative Member, and no one in this House, supports the use of terrorism or violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and I have often been on the wrong side of terrorist attacks. I have first-hand experience of violence, intimidation and terrorism, and no one more than me wants to see people who use violence to progress their beliefs being stopped, prosecuted and put away, or driven out of this country at the bare minimum.
Perhaps I should start by reassuring hon. Members that the Government are determined to do all we can to minimise the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom and to our interests and friends abroad, and to disrupt those who engage in terrorism. Proscription is an important, but not the only, part of the Government’s strategy to disrupt the activities of terrorist groups and those who provide support to them.
As many Members have said today, Hezbollah was established during the Lebanese civil war and in the aftermath of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 1982. From the outset, resistance to Israel has been an important part of Hezbollah’s agenda. However, Hezbollah also represents Lebanon’s Shi’a community and, over time, has gained significant support from that community. Hezbollah provides social and political functions in Lebanon. As a major political group and the largest non-state military force in the country, Hezbollah clearly plays an important role in Lebanon.
The UK Government have long held the view that elements of Hezbollah have been involved in conducting and supporting terrorism and, as a result, proscribed Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation in 2001. Not only did I listen but I heeded many of the comments made today about Hezbollah’s statements and beliefs, which are outrageous, disgusting and should be condemned at every opportunity. Hezbollah is anti-Semitic and wishes the destruction of our ally and friend, the state of Israel. We support none of that.
In 2008, in recognition of more such activity, proscription was extended to include the whole of Hezbollah’s military apparatus, namely the Jihad Council and all the units reporting to it. Hezbollah’s military wing is also designated in the UK under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010. Funds or economic resources owned, held or controlled by Hezbollah’s military wing in the UK therefore can be, and will be, frozen. In July 2012, the EU designated Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organisation under the EU asset freezing regime.
Although the proscription of Hezbollah in its entirety is kept under review, our current position maintains a balance. I have heard from many Members today that Hezbollah’s military and political wings are indivisible, joined at the hip and centrally led. That is not, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) pointed out, the view of every country. Australia, New Zealand and the EU take a different view. I pledge to the House that we constantly monitor these groups and individuals involved in them. We constantly review the use of proscription as a means to take action where we see fit.
I wish to reassure hon. Members. It has sort of been implied that Ministers pick who to proscribe off the top of their head and that we ignore our security services, the police and the military. Colonel Richard Kemp is often quoted. Ministers do not make up proscription decisions over a cup of coffee. We make them on the recommendations submitted to us by our law enforcement agencies, security services here and intelligence services overseas, and we make a judgment.
My right hon. Friend says that it is not the view of every country and every security service that Hezbollah is indivisible. Is not his difficulty that it is Hezbollah’s own view that it is indivisible, and considers itself a single organisation?
My right hon. Friend makes a valid point, but he must recognise that it is difficult to separate Hezbollah from the state of Lebanon. Hezbollah is in the Parliament and the Government, and that represents a different challenge from that which we find with many other terrorist groups.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), dealt eloquently with the point about Hezbollah being a single organisation. As the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) has said, Hezbollah’s political affairs official, Ammar Moussawi, stated:
“Everyone is aware of the fact that Hezbollah is one body and one entity. Its military and political wings are unified.”
That is what they are saying; it is not what we are saying. That is the point that the Government should consider.
With all due respect, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee. I visited Lebanon in June last year to meet the Government, the Lebanese armed forces and other agencies, including the United Nations, to discuss the future of Lebanon and the United Kingdom assistance to it. I disagree with that view about engaging with the Lebanese Government and what barriers could or could not be removed to that.
I have a simple question: does the Minister believe that the United States has any difficulty engaging in dialogue with Lebanon, given that it has taken the view, as the House has clearly done today, that both parts of Hezbollah are one and the same—that there is no division?
The United States finds it harder to engage with Lebanon than does the United Kingdom. I visited the United States embassy when I was in Beirut and spent time at the memorial to the US Marines killed there. The United States does not take these things lightly. It does what it can in Lebanon to secure it as a strong state. It has proscribed Hezbollah in its entirety for some time. As we heard from Opposition Members, that has not prevented Hezbollah from growing exponentially—it has not been a silver bullet and it has not stopped Hezbollah behaving as it has. That is why I made the point earlier that proscription is only one tool in dealing with terrorism, hatred and incitement.
Will the Minister give way?
No. I should press on before giving way.
The Government do not condone any terrorist activity and we continue to press Hezbollah to end its status as an armed group and to participate in the Lebanese democratic process on the same terms as other political parties. As hon. Members will be aware, groups that are not included on lists of proscribed organisations are not free to spread hate, fund terrorist activity or incite violence as they please. Not being proscribed does not mean that groups can do lots of things that we would view as illegal.
Let me cut through the rhetoric and ask a simple question: what does the Minister think is the motivation of British nationals flying the flag of a foreign political organisation whose stated aims are to kill every Jew and to annihilate the state of Israel?
I am not going to speak on behalf of protestors walking down Oxford Street whom I have never met. I listened to the points my hon. Friend made earlier about frustrations with the police taking action, and what I will say is that the police already have comprehensive powers to take action against individuals under criminal law, regardless of whether an organisation is proscribed. The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) also made that point from the Opposition Front Bench.
Whether it is part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986, or part 3 itself, which is about racial hatred, that Act gives police the powers to prosecute people. It is perfectly possible for someone to stand up with a national flag and incite hatred or religious hatred, and to then find themselves prosecuted for and convicted of a criminal offence. Not proscribing Hezbollah in no way prevents the police or the Crown Prosecution Service from taking action against that type of incitement. I certainly hope that the CPS and the police listen to the concerns expressed by Members today—I shall certainly raise those concerns when I next see them.
I heard the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) that not proscribing Hezbollah somehow hinders our police; it absolutely does not. Those people might be involved in drug dealing or money laundering. I was previously Minister for Security; I am now Minister for Security and Economic Crime. There is a plethora of offences on the statute book and powers that we can use to weaken Hezbollah and prevent it from doing things that are illegal either in the criminal space or in ways that go against our national security. This does not hinder the police in the way being alluded to, which is that without the proscription of the other half, this country will somehow be unable to protect its citizens and its interests from Hezbollah’s actions.
I am reminded of the analogy of the Siamese twins. The two twins are the Hezbollah of politics and the Hezbollah of armed insurrection and guerrilla warfare. The blood that flows through one flows through the other. We are suggesting to the Minister, very gently—perhaps very forcefully—that we need Hezbollah to be proscribed because by doing so we will take away their money and resources and their moral and political livelihood. If we do that, we can stop the killing. That has to be the way forward.
With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, we take action against Hezbollah and non-Hezbollah actors where they are involved in criminality and when the intelligence or evidence is provided for us to be able to take action, and we do so across a whole range of issues. It is not the case that because the political wing is not proscribed, we sit back and do nothing about it. We do everything we can when evidence is presented. The worrying thing about the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) is that people have presented evidence to the police, or sat down with them and told them about some of those statements about Grenfell Tower, but no action has been taken. I think that everyone in the House would urge the CPS and the police to use the range of powers at their disposal to take action and not tolerate such horrendous statements and incitements.
I gave examples of hate speech on our streets, but it appears that the police are reluctant or unable to take any action against it. Does the Minister not agree that that is appalling? Also, does he not agree that had Hezbollah been proscribed, the people on that march waving flags would simply not have been allowed to go ahead with their hate speech and incitement?
On the hon. Lady’s first point, it is not acceptable if the police or CPS do not take action when there are offences that would allow them to do so. It is not always that they are not able; it may be a choice that they have made, either because of resources—we can debate that—or perhaps because they have found that, for the public good, they could do something about it later. I stood on the Falls Road for many months of my life watching paramilitary flags go past. When I was a soldier on those streets, we had the power to do something, but, perhaps for the good of the public order, the view was that we should not do anything about it. I do not know about the individual motives of the people on the march the hon. Lady mentions or of the police on that day, but it is not the case that they do not have the power to do something. This House has given them the powers, year on year, over many decades, to take action.
I think that we all feel, especially in this social media age, in which we are often inundated by hate and intimidation, whether on Twitter or in emails, that there is a broader debate about how we can deal with and prosecute hate and extremism in this country. Unfortunately, from my point of view it seems to be on an upward rather than downward curve among some groups of people in society.
Political parties of all colours need to send very strong messages to supporters, allies or over-excited individuals who seek to take our parties’ names and use them alongside hatred, anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobic comment. All that is unacceptable. We should not forget though that we need to encourage our police and CPS to take action and to set an example with regard to some of these plans. As I have said, the Government continue to exercise proscription power in a proportionate manner in accordance with the law, and we will continue to monitor groups and people of concern.
Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power to the Home Secretary to proscribe the organisation if she believes that it is concerned in terrorism. The Act specifies that
“an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in an act of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism, or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.”
If the test is met, the Secretary of State must then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. In considering whether to exercise this discretion, she is also guided by the nature and scale of the 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.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her powers to proscribe only after a thorough review of the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. For an individual to be proscribed, the police and Crown Prosecution Service must have evidence to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt that the context and manner for which the flag is displayed, for example, aroused reasonable suspicion that the individual is specifically a member, or a supporter, of that proscribed group and elements of a wider group.
Peaceful protest is a vital part of our democratic society. It is a long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views, however uncomfortable or repugnant those can be to the majority of us, but they must do so within the law. There is of course a balance to be struck. Protesters’ rights need to be balanced with the rights of others to go about their business without fear of intimidation or serious disruption to the community. Rights to peaceful protest do not extend to violent or threatening behaviour, and the police have powers to deal with as many such acts, as I have said.
The management of protest is of course a matter left to the police. As I said earlier, the investigation and prosecution of all criminal offences is a matter for the CPS and the police. I will happily push to the organisations —the police and the CPS—the messages that I have heard from the House today to make sure that they step up their efforts in this area.
I thank the Minister for giving way again. The Government have their reasons—I cannot understand them, but they have their reasons—for not wanting to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety. Will he not accept that maintaining this pretence that there is a division between the two branches of Hezbollah reflects very badly on this place and very badly on the Government? It looks like weakness and it is embarrassing.
I hear what my hon. Friend is saying. There are lots of reasons, but perhaps I can offer the House one reason. Members may not agree with it, but it is one that I felt at first hand when I was in Lebanon on behalf of the Government. We believe that the best way to weaken Hezbollah in the region and further afield is to have a strong state of Lebanon. The stronger the state of Lebanon, which represents multi-faith groups, has a democracy and Speakers of Parliament and recognises the individual religious minorities in the country, the weaker Hezbollah will be. It is not in our interests to have a weak, fractured Lebanon.
We should not forget that Hezbollah’s birth and strengths started in the civil war of Lebanon, when Lebanese were killing Lebanese, Druze were killing Muslims, and Muslims were killing Christians. We think that the way to ensure that Hezbollah is contained and persuaded to follow the course of peace—I listened to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) who may or may not believe this and many of us may agree with him—is to have a strong state of Lebanon. That is in our interests.
The British Government assist with aid, help to train the Lebanese army, so that it can defend the state, and encourage Ministers of all faiths in that Government who believe in Lebanon, rather than in a non-military actor or an overburdened group of one minority or another. That is one logical reason why I believe we have to take some of these difficult decisions and find a balance.
When one visits Lebanon and meets the Ministers struggling to survive in a rough neighbourhood, trying to build a nation state and living with a shadow over their shoulder, as we have discussed, one realises that their best defence is a strong and capable state of Lebanon, with all its safeguards and its constitution. They would be worse off, the region would be worse off and we would be worse off if that state was weakened by a fractious civil war.
That is all very well about Lebanon, but my concern is the constituents of Hendon, when they cannot go into central London and the police are overstretched, when they are spat at and called Nazis and when people are vile and anti-Semitic towards them. My concern is the people of Hendon—the people of this country.
I have listened to my hon. Friend. First, the people of this country will not be better off with an even more fractious, divided and murderous middle east. Secondly, he will know that many of the things he has just mentioned are already criminal offences and can be prosecuted.
Then why aren’t they?
Well, as I said earlier, that is a matter for the police, if people are spitting and inciting hatred. In this country, we have operational independence between Ministers and the police. We can talk about whether we are giving them the right resources—we regularly do across the Dispatch Boxes—but fundamentally what will protect my hon. Friend’s constituents, whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, is for Parliament to give our law enforcement and security organisations powers and to fund them, so that they can use those powers to keep us safe by dealing with the threat based on intelligence, as we receive it, and ensuring that we deradicalise people who might be attracted to hate.
If my hon. Friend’s constituents are being abused, that is not a failure of the Government; it is a question to ask the police. We will help him ensure that the police deal with that, but I have to say that it is not because of the partial proscription or de-proscription of Hezbollah. He must understand—I am sure that he does—that a stable middle east is the best way to provide long-term peace for Europe and the United Kingdom. We do not want an unstable middle east at all.
I have listened to the debate and heed the very valid points that have been made by Members on both sides of the House. My commitment as Security Minister is to continue to keep groups such as Hezbollah under review. We will continue to talk to our friends and allies in the region and around the world, but we will fundamentally focus on what we need to do to keep the United Kingdom safe, for the short and long term. I will certainly do my best to encourage the police, other political parties and all our supporters and friends to ensure that hate is not tolerated, no matter who it is aimed at.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for accompanying me to the Committee to apply for it. For contributing today, I thank the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and the hon. Member for Strangford. Their powerful contributions have been much appreciated.
I draw attention to the fact that not a single Back-Bench Member who has spoken or intervened today has opposed the motion, which I think speaks volumes about where the House is on the matter. The public agree with us. As the hon. Member for Hendon said, a ComRes poll reported today shows that 81% of the public also believe that Hezbollah should be proscribed in its entirety.
The SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), said that he is sympathetic to the motion. We welcome that sympathy and hope that it will turn into something a little more forceful policy-wise.
I very much hope to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who speaks from the Labour Front Bench, that proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety is the right thing to do. I hope to have further discussions with him on this. However, I appreciate the tone that he took in the debate.
The havoc, death and destruction that Hezbollah has caused in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Israel—indeed, across the middle east—as well as in Nigeria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Argentina, Thailand and other places have been outlined today, to our horror. What about the streets of London? The CST has made it clear that the domestic consequences of the artificial division with regard to Hezbollah has consequences here: a policy is pursued that allows public support for a terrorist and anti-Semitic organisation.
The argument the Minister made is a little tortuous. The US, Canada and others proscribe Hezbollah and still manage to talk to it. No peace has been forthcoming from Hezbollah, despite not proscribing it. We are giving moral, political and social authority to Hezbollah by not proscribing it in its entirety. Hezbollah itself does not agree with the Government. The Government should look again at their position. Keeping this under review is not adequate. They are wrong.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House believes that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation driven by an antisemitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel; notes that Hezbollah declares itself to be one organisation without distinguishable political or military wings; is concerned that the military wing of that organisation is proscribed, but its political wing is not; and calls on the Government to include Hezbollah in its entirety on the list of proscribed organisations.