Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved. —[Mr. David.]
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I apologise hugely if I detained the House for any time. I had to hang around for about an hour and a half, but, naturally, when the debate was called it was the one time that I had popped out. None the less, to business.
The international terrorist threat to the UK, our interests abroad and our international partners remains severe and sustained. The Government are determined to do all we can to minimise the threat, including using proscription to prevent terrorist organisations from operating in the UK by inviting support, raising funds or otherwise furthering their objectives. The purpose of the order, if the House and the other place so approve, is to add to the list of 45 international terrorist organisations that are already proscribed. We propose to do so by substituting the proscription of the Hezbollah External Security Organisation with a new listing covering its entire military wing. This is the seventh proscription order made under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Section 3 of the 2000 Act provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. That is achieved by adding the organisation to schedule 2 to the Act, which lists the proscribed terrorist organisations. The Act specifies that an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism, including the unlawful glorification of terrorism; or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.
The Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation only if she believes it is concerned in terrorism. If that test is met, she may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. When considering whether to exercise that discretion, a number of factors are taken into account that were first announced to Parliament in 2001: the nature and scale of an organisation's activities, the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas, the organisation's presence in the United Kingdom and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
Proscription is a tough but necessary power and its effect is that the proscribed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. The consequence of proscription is that specific criminal offences apply to a proscribed organisation. They include: membership of the organisation; the provision of various forms of support, including organising or addressing a meeting; and wearing or displaying an article that indicates membership of the organisation. Further criminal offences exist in relation to fundraising and various uses of money and property for the purposes of terrorism.
Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe an organisation only after thoroughly reviewing all the available relevant information on the organisation, which includes open source material as well as intelligence material, legal advice and advice that reflects consultations across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Decisions on proscription are taken with great care by the Home Secretary, and it is right that both Houses must consider the case for proscribing new organisations.
The Hezbollah External Security Organisation, a unit of the military wing, was proscribed in 2001 because of its involvement in terrorism outside Lebanon. We now have evidence that further parts of the organisation are directly concerned in terrorism, which is why the entire military wing, including the External Security Organisation, is specified in the order. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that I am limited in what I can say about the evidence in support of that belief, as much of it is intelligence material and of a sensitive nature.
To their great relief and even joy, the people of Lebanon finally have a Government of national unity again. Hezbollah is part of that Government, so what contribution to that peace process does the Minister think that he is making by proscribing parts of that organisation at this time?
As far as I am aware, no one who is involved in the other parts of Hezbollah and who is part of that welcome new Government has anything to do with the External Security Organisation or any other aspect of the military wing of Hezbollah. We welcome the advent of the new Government, and at the start of these proceedings, I was very careful to read out the criteria under which we proscribe organisations. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that Hezbollah has definitive political, social and humanitarian wings that perform entirely legitimate functions in Lebanon. That is why they are not part of this order. However, given all the information that we have to hand, as well as the advice that we have received and the discussions that we have had, it is right and proper in the context of the criteria set out in the Terrorism Act 2000 that we proscribe the entire military wing and not just the External Security Organisation. We will continue to maintain the distinction between that wing and the humanitarian, social and political parts of Hezbollah.
I thank the Minister for giving way again. It is important that we get our distinctions correct. How does he define the military wing of Hezbollah? It is a movement that sometimes finds itself involved in terrorism or violence, but at other times is involved in politics.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman takes a great interest in these matters and will know that there are distinct parts of Hezbollah. That is the information that we have. We proscribed the External Security Organisation in 2001, but we now want to proscribe the broader military wing. People involved in aspects of Hezbollah activities that, according to the criteria of the Terrorism Act 2000, are found to support or act as a supplicant to the entire military wing will be dealt with under the offences that I have outlined.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an entirely reasonable point, and it is a consideration that the Government have to take into account. However, the criteria are clear, as are the offences that follow on from them. The evidence that we have is also clear and, in that context, it is right and proper that I bring this order before the House. However, I can say unequivocally that Hezbollah's military wing is providing active support to Shi'a militant groups in Iraq, including Jaysh al-Mahdi, which has been responsible for attacks on both Iraqi civilians and coalition forces. That includes providing training in the use of the deadly explosively formed projectiles used in roadside bombs. Although, as I have said before and for obvious reasons, I am unable to go into the full detail of the evidence, I can inform hon. Members that Hezbollah's support for insurgent groups in Iraq was confirmed when coalition forces captured a senior operative, Ali Musa Daqduq, in Iraq on
Daqduq is a Lebanese national who served for 24 years in Hezbollah. In 2005, he was directed by senior Lebanese Hezbollah military commanders to train Shi'a groups in Iraq. Hezbollah's military wing is also providing support to Palestinian rejectionist groups in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The proscription of Hezbollah's military wing will contribute to making the UK a hostile environment for terrorists and their supporters. It will signal our condemnation of the support that Hezbollah provides to those who attack British and other coalition forces in Iraq, as well as Iraqi civilians. It will support our international partners in disrupting terrorist activity in the occupied Palestinian territories. It will also send a strong message that the UK is not willing to tolerate terrorism, either here or anywhere else in the world.
I return to the point made by Mr. Ancram. The House will be aware that, alongside its military operations, Hezbollah performs legitimate political, social and humanitarian roles in Lebanon. Proscription is not targeted at, and will not affect, those legitimate activities, but it sends a clear message that we condemn Hezbollah's violence and support for terrorism. We continue to call on Hezbollah to end terrorist activity, abandon its status as an armed group and participate in the democratic process on the same terms as all other Lebanese political parties.
I have said already that the Government recognise that proscription is a tough power that can have a wide-ranging impact. Because of that, there is an appeal mechanism in the legislation. Any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by the proscription of an organisation, can apply to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be de-proscribed. If that request is refused the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a special tribunal that reviews whether the Home Secretary has properly exercised her powers to refuse to de-proscribe an organisation. The POAC can consider the sensitive material that often underpins proscription decisions and a special advocate can be appointed to represent the interests of the applicant in closed sessions of the commission.
With respect, I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that my French colleagues have not invited members of Hezbollah's military wing to talks of any description whatsoever—
The right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, but there is a clear distinction—not least on Hezbollah's own terms—between that organisation's social, political and humanitarian wings, and its military wing. That is very clear.
Given the evidence of the military wing of Hezbollah's direct support for terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories, I believe that it is right that we continue to proscribe the External Security Organisation and that we extend the existing proscription to cover Hezbollah's entire military wing.
I commend the order to the House.
Under part 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Secretary of State has the power to proscribe any organisation that commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.
Proscription is a very tough power. Any organisation that is on the list of proscribed organisations is outlawed in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, or encourage support for, a proscribed organisation. It is a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or to wear clothing or to carry articles in public that arouse reasonable suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. Proscription also means that the financial assets of the organisation become terrorist property and can be subject to freezing and seizure.
For those reasons, Parliament obviously must take very seriously its role in scrutinising those organisations to be put on a proscribed list. The failure to proscribe an organisation concerned with terrorism could allow it to gain a foothold in the UK, in particular to recruit and raise funds. That would undermine our national security, and I join the Minister in reiterating the Opposition's strong belief that we need tough anti-terrorist laws. That view is only confirmed when we think of the anniversary of 7/7 and the havoc wrought in this country's capital city on that day. Nor must we forget the fear felt by many people in this country when they read news reports of the attempted atrocity in the Haymarket some months ago. Terrorism is a perpetual threat in this country, and Her Majesty's Opposition are strong in their belief that tough laws will be required to protect the public. I know that that is the view of Her Majesty's Government.
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the draconian implications of proscription. Does he agree that the ability given to organisations to challenge their inclusion in the list is vague? Should there not be much more clarity about how that can be challenged?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman but, to be honest, that is not something that I have reflected on in depth. I do not propose to explore that issue or ventilate my thoughts on it in this debate, but it is certainly an interesting question, and I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to it.
As I was about to say, failure to proscribe an organisation that turns out to be violent and to have terrorist intent could threaten British citizens on our soil, but equally, proscribing an organisation mistakenly or inappropriately could tie up significant resources. The resources available to our security services are, of course, finite, and must be targeted properly. It is important to make that point. This is an important order, and Her Majesty's Opposition will not oppose it tonight. However, we need to understand the Minister's precise rationale for bringing it forward. I put my questions to him in a spirit of honest intellectual inquiry, but I repeat that Conservative Members do not oppose the order.
It might be useful to recap some of Hezbollah's history, and to say how it comes about that we are debating the proscription of the whole of its military wing in this country. Hezbollah is a political and military organisation. The group was first formed in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The group's military wing, The Islamic Resistance, is believed to have between 500 and 600 full-time fighters—some estimates put the number considerably higher—and to be able to call on many more thousands of reserves. During the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Hezbollah showed that it is armed with rockets that can reach into northern Israel.
Hezbollah is known or suspected to have been involved in anti-western and anti-Israeli terrorist attacks, including the suicide truck bombings of the US embassy and the marines' barracks in Beirut in 1983, the bombing of the US embassy annexe in Beirut in September 1984, and the attacks on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992 and on an Israeli cultural centre in that same country in 1994. In 2000, Hezbollah operatives captured three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped an Israeli non-combatant. Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre recently suggested that Hezbollah has a new, additional presence in Iraq, and on
I turn briefly to this Government's history of proscribing parts of Hezbollah's military wing. In March 2001, the Hezbollah External Security Organisation, part of the broader military wing of Hezbollah, was added to the list of proscribed organisations under the Terrorism Act 2000. The order before us, which was laid before Parliament on
The reason why I am asking questions is that although we might debate the issues in the House in isolation from what is happening in the middle east, Israel and Hezbollah are currently negotiating a very complicated prisoner exchange. Both sides are having to deal with people who find it very uncomfortable to deal with each other. Does my hon. Friend believe that the order will make that negotiation easier or more difficult?
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that. I will not venture to give an expert view on foreign affairs, a subject that I am not accredited to speak on; I am no expert. It might interest him to know that I was in Damascus during the Whitsun recess with Members from both sides of the House, and heard about the delicate, vital negotiations to which he refers, and which we hope will lead to peace. I venture no view on whether the order will make peace more or less likely, but I hope that he will give us his views on the subject.
With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to ask the Minister some questions that might assist my right hon. and learned Friend to understand what lies behind the order, and exactly why the Government seek an extension to ban the entire military wing at this particular time, and in this particular way. So that the Minister does not misinterpret what I say—not that he ever does that, although some people think that he misinterprets what I say on a range of security and policing issues—I repeat that we do not oppose the order, so he must not take my questions as an indication of scepticism about the intent of Her Majesty's Government. We Opposition Members are merely trying to understand why the order is being brought forward now, and what the evidence is for doing so.
When the Prime Minister announced the decision to proscribe the whole military wing of Hezbollah, he gave us some clues to the Government's thinking. On
"solely on the grounds of new evidence of its"— that is, Hezbollah's—
"involvement in terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories."
I should be grateful if the Minister expanded on what the evidence is to which the Prime Minister referred and said when that new evidence came to light. Does the reference to terrorism in Iraq include any specific threat to, for instance, UK personnel there? Is there any specific evidence of a threat to the United Kingdom, or to UK interests elsewhere?
The Prime Minister went on to say:
"Proscription will not affect Hezbollah's legitimate political and social wings" —[ Hansard, 2 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 860.]
Will the Minister explain exactly how that distinction will work in practice, if the order is agreed and implemented? Will he tell us something about what the political and social wings are, and how the objectives of the political and social wings differ from those of the military wing? The Prime Minister's remarks imply separate wings of Hezbollah that operate independently of one another.
To what extent does Sheikh Nasrallah's contact with, or control over, Hezbollah politicians in Lebanon figure in what the Government are trying to achieve with the proscription order? I ask because other organisations proscribed by this Government, or by Governments prior to 1997, such as the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdish PKK, had both political and military wings. In those two cases, Her Majesty's Government decided to proscribe the whole organisation—that is, both the political and the military parts. On what basis did the Government decide to proscribe, in this order, just the military wing of Hezbollah? That is an interesting question, given that they went the whole hog in relation to the Tamils and the Kurdish organisation to which I referred.
I am happy to intervene. The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of points that I hope to raise if I catch Madam Deputy Speaker's eye. The fact is that, previously, proscription has affected not just a part of an organisation, but the whole organisation, and also any groups that may be from the same area. For example, the British Tamils Forum, which is not a supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and does not campaign for it, is affected by the decision that the Government have taken on proscription, so the hon. Gentleman is right to raise those points, and I agree with him.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to engage in too much high-flown metaphysical analysis, because we are not here to do that. However, I hope that the Minister will address his point, which was also mine—that is, how, in the context of the order, do the Government define the political and social wing of the organisation and how do they define its military wing? That is an important practical, rather than metaphysical, distinction that the order draws for us, whether we like it or not. The order is about separating out Hezbollah's military wing in its entirety from its political and social wing. As an honest seeker after truth, I am not clear about how the Government have come to make that distinction. I am sure that the Minister has a good answer; he is well briefed and an intelligent man. If he could enlighten us, we Conservatives would be grateful.
My next point follows on from that issue. Will the Minister share with us the evidence in his possession about Hezbollah's fundraising activities in the United Kingdom? Are the Government and their agencies taking any steps to identify any such activity? As the order falls short of proscribing the whole organisation—political, social and military—has the Minister considered whether there is a risk of the fundraising for political purposes, which will be legal even if the order goes through, being diverted to Hezbollah's military activities? I am thinking about the political wing of Hezbollah, a non-proscribed organisation, raising funds quite legitimately after the order has gone through but passing money to the military wing, which will be proscribed by the order. It seems an obvious point, so what thoughts does the Minister have on it? What consideration has been given to the possibility of people getting around the proscription order?
I also note that, in April, the Minister for the Middle East stated in a written parliamentary answer:
"The UK's policy on contacts with Hezbollah's political wing is based on our assessment of their behaviour and our judgment of whether such contacts would encourage them to move away from violence and play a constructive role in Lebanese politics."—[ Hansard, 24 April 2008; Vol. 474, c. 2196W.]
That Minister also said that the UK had had no contact with Hezbollah during the 12 months preceding his reply. Will this Minister confirm whether the Government have had any contact with Hezbollah since April this year, when that written question was answered? Will the Government's position on contact be affected in any way by the decision today to proscribe the military wing? That point follows up what my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Ancram said.
Furthermore, will the Minister enlighten us on whether the Government are seeking a Europe-wide proscription of Hezbollah's military wing? Is there support for such a move in the Government? In particular, is the Minister aware of any discussions that the Government have had, are having or are likely to have in the short term with French officials about how the French presidency of the EU could achieve an EU-wide proscription of Hezbollah's military wing in its entirety?
Will the move to ban the military wing be linked to any specific steps to achieve the group's disarmament? What is the Government's assessment of the UN Secretary-General's statement that Hezbollah's military wing is rearming, and allegedly——the information comes from no more than a report widely available in the media—smuggling arms across the Syrian-Lebanese border? I do not know whether that is true, but it is what the UN Secretary-General thinks. What is the Government's assessment?
I shall not detain the House much longer, but my questions need to be answered because people listening to this debate will want to understand the precise rationale behind why the order is being put forward at this time and what the evidence is, particularly with regard to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes said about delicate negotiations, occurring outside this country, on a peaceful solution for the Palestinians in the middle east.
My questions are intended to tease out the Government's thinking so that we all understand the basis on which they are acting. I look forward to the answers to my questions. I should like to conclude by putting on the record that, in another place, my noble Friend Baroness Neville-Jones has said that we believe that there is a case for a complete ban on Hezbollah—not only its military, but its political wing—in the UK. Has the Minister considered my noble Friend's comments, and will he keep them under consideration?
When we debated this issue in 2001, I recall advocating that the then ban on Hezbollah—on the external security organisation, as it then was—did not go far enough, and that, as has just been suggested, we had to proscribe Hezbollah entirely, in all its shapes and forms.
Obviously, I welcome the extension that my right hon. Friend the Minister is proposing today, as it would include the entire military wing of Hezbollah. However, its political and social wings will not be proscribed and that does not reflect the true operational structure of the organisation. As has been said in interventions, other organisations such as the LTTE and the PKK have been banned in their entirety because of the difficulty of separating out their respective forms of activity. That applies in the same way, if not more so, in relation to Hezbollah. The Hezbollah founding manifesto of 1985 makes it clear that the organisation operates under one common command structure and shares the same goals:
"No one can imagine the importance of our military potential as our military apparatus is not separate from our overall social fabric. Each of us is a fighting soldier."
A whole series of other quotes make the same point. Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah, said:
"We are a political party whose top priority is resistance. We believe that our political endeavours are combined with our resistance operations, which cannot be separated from our political activity."
Mohammed Fannish, a member of the political bureau of Hezbollah, made a similar statement:
"Efforts are made to tempt the Hezbollah in order to hold it back. The objective is not to impair its political role; rather its military wing only. But I can say that no differentiation is to be made between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah."
I am sure that I could give more examples; there is a whole series of them to show that Hezbollah is a unified organisation as far as its command and operations are concerned. To try to draw a distinction between its social, political and military activities is, in my view, to draw a false distinction—a point that I made back in 2001.
Obviously, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister has introduced the order to extend the proscription to all aspects of Hezbollah's military wing. He has made a good case in showing the mounting evidence that the military wing has been providing active support to terrorists in Iraq, including in training in the use of improvised explosive devices. He has also shown evidence that the organisation has been supporting Palestinian terrorist groups in the west bank and Gaza, and organisations such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The case in relation to the military wing is absolutely clear, but we must not try to draw a false distinction. The Shura council, the organisation's executive board, is in command of Hezbollah's military and terrorist operations and its social and political activities. Hezbollah operates social programmes in Lebanon, for example, but those are used to rally support among the sections of the population who depend on Hezbollah handouts because of inadequate state provision in those parts of the world.
As was hinted at by Mr. Ruffley, funds raised by Hezbollah for such social programmes are often diverted into other parts of the organisation, including its military branches, to help to fund terrorist attacks. That should not come as a surprise to any of us, because that is the nature of terrorist organisations, whether in relation to the PKK, the LTTE or the Irish terrorism that we saw in the 1970s. People went around rattling the tins for the prisoners or whoever it happened to be, but we all knew where it was going to end up. As we have proscribed Hamas in its entirety, we should follow suit in the case of Hezbollah, despite the fact that it also provides these social functions and fields candidates for political office, as in the 2006 Palestinian elections. We would not be isolated in that. The United States, Canada and the Netherlands have proscribed Hezbollah in its entirety, as has Israel, but that has not prevented the sensitive negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah on prisoner exchange.
The arrangements in Lebanon have significantly strengthened Hezbollah's political hand in that part of the world. It has made a successful demand for a veto of cabinet decisions and makes use of its weapons arsenal—another demand that has been met. That goes against UN Security Council resolution 1701, which called for the disarmament of the group in the wake of the Lebanon war of a couple of years ago. The new political agreement that has been brokered in Lebanon allows Hezbollah to retain arms as long as they are not used to resolve internal political conflicts in Lebanon. Well, we will believe that if we see it. Although the Lebanese Government may no longer be a target, Hezbollah can continue to build its weapons arsenal for use against Israel in future. The Israeli security cabinet heard that Hezbollah now has an arsenal of some 40,000 rockets ready to be fired at Israel, which is three times more than two years ago at the start of the second Lebanon war.
There is a strong case for the proscription order that we are being asked to approve. I only regret that my right hon. Friend the Minister has not bitten the bullet, as it were, and gone far enough by outlawing the organisation in its entirety, as we have with Hamas and other terrorist organisations that profess to have a separate political wing but in practice are all one. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation through and through and should be proscribed in its entirety.
On the same day that this order to proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah was published, the Prime Minister told the House that it was solely on the grounds of new evidence of its involvement in terrorism in Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territories. Of course, we all utterly condemn the violent and terrorist activities that are conducted by Hezbollah. I say to the Minister at the outset that Liberal Democrat Members are in broad agreement with the Government's decision to introduce the order. However, I would like to pose a few questions to probe their motivation in doing this and get a little more information so that the House can come to a clear decision.
It would be helpful to have more of an outline of why this change in legislation has come about now. What specific activities undertaken by Hezbollah have prompted it? I appreciate the sensitive nature of the issue, but it would be advisable for the House to have the maximum information possible. I think that the Minister said—I hope that he will confirm and clarify this—that some of the intelligence had been confirmed following the apprehension of a senior individual on
While the activities of terrorist organisations must of course be condemned, the Government cannot entirely escape criticism for their role in creating conditions in which terrorism can thrive. Is it not the case that Hezbollah's activities in Iraq stem partly from a fatal lack of planning for the post-Saddam Hussein situation? Iraq has become a magnet for fundamentalists, and the implications of that failure of planning are still unfolding across the entire region.
Several right hon. and hon. Members raised the issue of definitions. I, for one, welcome the Minister's assurance that the political, social and humanitarian activities will be unaffected, but defining those will prove very difficult, and I would welcome clarification from him as to how that would work in practice. Hezbollah is a highly opaque organisation. It cannot even have bank accounts in its own name, so its finances run through sister organisations funnelling money to a central structure, where it then reaches the military, political and other arms. Finding any conclusive proof that financial support given to Hezbollah from a UK donor has paid for arms rather than social projects will be an incredibly difficult exercise. Last week, a lawsuit was filed in the US district court in Manhattan by Israeli victims of rocket attacks who are seeking $100 million-worth of damages from five Lebanese banks that they accuse of helping to fund Hezbollah during the 2006 war. At that time, horrified by the pictures of the humanitarian problems on our screens, many people gave donations to the relief effort for legitimate charitable purposes and out of a genuine desire to help the people of Lebanon. That case raises problems about how any individuals or institutions that provided financial backing to Hezbollah would be dealt with under similar circumstances in future. Contributors to genuine charitable causes should not be at risk of prosecution for supporting a terrorist organisation. I hope that the Minister can expand a bit further on how the question of definition will be resolved.
The hon. Lady is right to address the consequences of proscription. No matter how bad this organisation is, others who support general, charitable causes will be caught within the overall net of what is proposed. Does she agree that there is a general lack of clarity on the issue of proscription and on what other organisations, perhaps not associated with this one, are involved with in supporting the general cause of peace in the middle east?
The right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience in these matters through his chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee. My point is that greater clarity is required about Hezbollah and its different arms, partly so that innocent people are not caught out unfairly by the legislation. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention, but I would welcome some clarification as to how they propose to get round these difficulties.
Under the existing terrorism legislation, there have been no prosecutions of Hezbollah-connected militants in this country. Is that a sign that that legislation has been so successful that we should not worry too much, or was the previous definition proving to be unhelpfully narrow as regards securing prosecutions, while this order is expected to give the Government the extra tools that they need to bring to justice people who should have been dealt with previously? Have there been any Hezbollah supporters in this country who should have been prosecuted but have escaped as a result of the different definition?
In the international context, it would be helpful to hear the views of our EU partners. Mr. Dismore listed various countries that have proscribed Hezbollah. Are we in step with our international partner countries on this issue, and are they making similar changes to their terror lists on an EU or a UN basis? I look forward to the Minister addressing some of those points, but give broad support to the order.
Jo Swinson, like Mr. Ruffley, raised important points concerning the whole question of proscription and its implications. It is right that Parliament should scrutinise such important decisions. Even though this order will quite rightly go through the House unchallenged tonight, it is the scrutiny that Parliament gives to such orders and legislation that is so vital.
Following the aftermath of what happened in New York and what happened in London just a few years ago, there is tendency to rush to make decisions and for Parliament to reflect on the consequences afterwards. I do not think that the Government have done that in this case, and I fully support what the Minister said about the organisation in question. In many cases, those of us who are not experts in this field—although I chair the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I do not regard myself as an expert on this matter—do not possess the kind of information and security intelligence that the Minister has. I accept what he says, therefore, and I take it on faith. It is a quiet Tuesday evening, there are not huge numbers of Members in the House, and the order will go through unchallenged by a vote, but the danger is that we will make a decision and look at the implications afterwards.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds was right to talk about the draconian effects of proscription. As we can tell from the word itself, proscription cannot be anything other than the most serious judgment on the activities of a particular group. My hon. Friend Mr. Dismore, who follows these matters more closely than I do because of his great constituency interests, is able to reel off information about Hezbollah, which I certainly did not know, concerning who sits on its councils and what they do. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire picked up the information that the organisation does not even have bank accounts, but transfers its money between various sister organisations. All of that adds to the weight of knowledge that we, as parliamentarians, have.
My problem is not with the order, but with the implications that will become apparent long after it has been passed. The Minister knows about the issue of proscription, because I have raised it with him, and its effect on law-abiding citizens of this country who do not support the terrorist activities of organisations abroad, but believe in the wider cause. The example of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was raised, quite rightly, by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. I have about 10,000 members of the Tamil community, and many Muslims, in my constituency, who would be very interested in what Hezbollah is doing in the middle east. I have many constituents who are concerned about the peace process. The problem for law-abiding British citizens who support the general cause, but do not support terrorist organisations, is what happens if they attempt to hold meetings or events that in some way deal with what is happening in the countries concerned, and Sri Lanka is an obvious example.
I have been to events organised by the Tamils Forum, with the approval of the Metropolitan police, and subsequently, I received almost hysterical communications from the Sri Lankan high commissioner about my attendance at what Sri Lanka regards as terrorist events. Of course they were not; we do not support terrorism. But they are events that concern members of the British Tamil community, who will be affected by the general nature of proscription. That is why clarity is so vital when we are affecting the rights of British citizens. I am surprised to some extent by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, who is the chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. He is always very eager to talk about human rights, but should remember from his former profession as a lawyer that it is important to preserve the rights of individuals who are not supporters of such organisations, but somehow get caught in the wider net thrown around them because they attend or give at a charitable event, as the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire mentioned.
On Saturday, Mr. Davey, who leads for the Liberal Democrats on foreign affairs, Mr. Pelling, who was a Conservative MP but is now independent, my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, who is a member of the Government, my hon. Friend Ms Butler and the former Prime Minister of Kosovo were all at a meeting in Mitcham, attended by 40,000 members of the Tamil community, to talk about the situation in Sri Lanka. Mr. Scott, was not present, but had a letter read out at the event. The LTTE is a proscribed organisation, but the Tamil organisation is not. Police officers were there filming what was going on. I went up to a number of them, just to reassure them that nothing was out of order. The problem with orders of this kind is that they have implications far beyond what the Government intend—implications that affect law-abiding British citizens.
The last time I attended such an event, I was told by the Metropolitan police that those in every organisation had to sign a piece of paper, invented just before the meeting, confirming that they would not carry out various activities there. I said, "How can you just produce this piece of paper? These are law-abiding British citizens. In my 21 years in Parliament, I have never heard of British citizens attending a meeting being made to sign pieces of paper about what will happen there in advance of it happening." My office was told by the police officer that this was now standard practice in view of the proscription that had been decided by Parliament. I did not know that; it was news to me that such forms had to be produced.
In passing the order tonight, we need to understand what will happen to people who do not support the organisation in question, and who do not believe that terrorism is a means of getting justice in the middle east, but are caught up in the wider net described by other hon. Members—apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, who wants the Government to go even further. Other people are genuinely concerned about these issues. At the moment, there are 900,000 people of Arab origin living in the United Kingdom—individuals and extended families. Some have indefinite leave to remain, and some are British citizens. Many take part in different organisational activities to do with the middle east, and are concerned about what happens there. Where is the demarcation line for those people?
My second point was just made to me, outside the Chamber, by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. I told him that I would be mentioning him in my speech, and he reminded me that the Government's original order to proscribe 25 organisations was unamendable. No Member could amend that list, so we could not raise concerns about the implications of the order for law-abiding constituents who did not support terrorism. They want to support the Government in all that they do, as in the excellent work they have done in the past 11 years in trying to suppress terrorism. We could not amend that order, however, and there has never been an opportunity for us to do so. Of course, in future, the Committee of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon or the Home Affairs Committee might look at the matter of proscription. However, as things stand, unless an order of this kind is brought before the House, there is no way in which we can scrutinise what the Government are doing in this area or offer fresh information about the implications that such actions have for law-abiding citizens.
My next point is about challenging proscription. I raised it with the Opposition spokesperson and he rightly said that he wished to concentrate on other matters in his speech, but I hope that the House will consider the subject in future. When an organisation wishes to challenge proscription—the Government have recently lost a case in the courts; an order was passed a few weeks ago when the Government had to come to the House and implement the court's decision—there is no hard and fast, robust way in which to do that. I know that because a meeting was held with the former Home Secretary during which members of the Tamil community asked what they could do so that a distinction could be made between those who wished to pursue terrorist ends and those, like those members of the community, who did not, but wanted to speak about the genuine carnage and violence that is happening in parts of Sri Lanka and to return to the negotiating table, which was so vital to the progress of peace in that troubled and beautiful island. The then Home Secretary said that there were no procedures, rules or guidelines. All that an organisation had to do was write to the Home Secretary and that would trigger a look at proscription. If the request was turned down, people could go to court and there could be a judicial review, which is exactly what happened in the case of the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran.
Of course, we will go along with what is suggested tonight, because the Minister has presented us with persuasive arguments, as he always does when he introduces such measures. We are always willing to support the Government on such issues because they are so serious and the Government have much more information than we do. However, given that we are entering new territory and that the Government have been challenged in the courts and lost, at great expense to the taxpayer, may not we have some regulations or rules, or some sort of robust scheme whereby organisations can appropriately challenge the Government's decision without having to await such a discussion or an order such as the one that we are considering? May we have a mechanism whereby organisations can challenge and place evidence before the Government? I hope that the Minister will address that when he responds to the debate. What other way is there, other than writing to the Home Secretary and, when she says that the proscription cannot be lifted—I would be amazed if she wrote back and said yes to any of the organisations that she or her predecessors have proscribed—going to court? The recent case went through the High Court to the Court of Appeal and eventually to the highest court in the land. Do we have to do that every single time a Government decision is challenged?
I urge my right hon. Friend, in balancing out what we are doing today, to consider a more robust scheme, which will enable us to make progress. If we do not, hysteria will grow about organisations and individuals such as members of the Tamil community. It is wrong to stigmatise a whole community, as some in the Sri Lankan Government have done. I welcome the Tamil community's actions in the past few years in politicising themselves and lobbying Members of Parliament. Tomorrow, that community has an exhibition in the House about what happens in Sri Lanka. That is the way for people to pursue their legitimate political grievances—through parliamentary democracy.
I ask the Minister: please consider a more robust scheme that is fair to our citizens. We are talking not about people abroad, but about those who live here—British citizens or those with indefinite leave to remain—who pay taxes and vote for people such as the Minister, me and Opposition Members. Let us treat them with respect and ensure that we have a robust scheme, which enables people to challenge what they regard as an unfair law.
With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the genuine and sincere comments that hon. Members have made. Many contributions have gone beyond the narrow confines of the order, but it might be appropriate and of use to the House if I, with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, addressed those broader issues.
I understand what my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz says about organisations that are loosely associated, or not at all associated, with proscribed organisations, but have an interest in broader political issues. However, I part company with him on the notion that there is anything but clarity in the 2000 Act about de-proscribing. Let me briefly describe our experience with the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. A collective—if I may use that phrase—of Members of this House and the House of Lords took the case for de-proscription to the Home Secretary. I understand that anyone is free to do that, but in the case that I am considering, it was a significant group of Members of this House and the other place. The Home Secretary, in her wisdom, said—I still believe rightly—that we would not de-proscribe. The principals involved then rightly took the matter to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, not straight to a court of law. The commission, in its wisdom, said that the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran should be de-proscribed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary then took the case to the courts and lost. In the narrowest terms, the process is clear.
There are problems with organisations that are loosely associated, or not at all associated, with the principal proscribed organisations, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East mentioned. The law deals with some, but others are in a greyer area. My right hon. Friend knows that the second form of proscription undergoes a different parliamentary process and involves laying an order, which is subject to the negative resolution procedure. That happens when the organisation that we wish to proscribe is an adjunct to the original proscribed organisation, which might be described as the precursor. For example, the PKK was proscribed and Kongra-Gel was seen as simply another element of the same terrorist organisation. The latter was proscribed through negative rather than affirmative order, because we could establish evidential connections.
I am not clear about my right hon. Friend's comments about the case of the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran. Obviously, de-proscription is almost as important as proscription when people feel that they are subject to an unfair restriction. Is my right hon. Friend saying that, to get an organisation de-proscribed, Members of this House and the House of Lords must approach the Home Secretary? I did not envisage that when I read the vague rules that currently exist on de-proscription.
Absolutely not. In the first instance, anyone who objects to proscription can write to the Home Secretary asking for an organisation to be de-proscribed. I made the point about the PMOI because it is the most recent, if not the only, case of de-proscription that was not done by Government but because a group of Members of this House and peers took up the cudgels for it. However, there is no parliamentary process whereby Members of Parliament and peers have to do that. An organisation or anyone who feels that they have been affected by an organisation's proscription may apply in writing to the Secretary of State for the organisation to be de-proscribed. That happened in the case of the PMOI.
As I said, if the Secretary of State refuses the application, the applicant may appeal to POAC. When hearing an appeal, the commission consists of a panel of three members, at least one of whom holds or has held high judicial office. POAC sits in public, save when considering material whose disclosure is contrary to the public interest. The closed session with special advocates enables POAC to consider material that would be the subject of public interest immunity in ordinary High Court proceedings. The special advocate sees the sensitive material and can make submissions upon it. It is perfectly right and proper that the de-proscription process should be as clear as the proscription process, which is the subject of today's order.
It is fair to dwell momentarily on my right hon. Friend's broader point, which I take, about community, political and other organisations that clearly do not support terrorism, but which are interested in the same areas of politics. That is a grey area; that is entirely clear. However, I simply say in passing that it must be incumbent on individuals who choose to get involved with either charities or political organisations to make it clear, on their own terms, that they do not support in any way, shape or form any organisation, proscribed or otherwise, that has terrorist intent. It cannot be that everyone is absolved from that responsibility, which should be upon us all.
My right hon. Friend will know from his constituency of Harrow, East, which has a large and diverse community, how important it is to get the message across. We are talking about a core responsibility of Government, so what engagement is or has been proposed with those community groups that may be loosely associated with any of the organisations that I have mentioned—for example, Hezbollah, those who support the middle east peace process, or those in the Tamil community who support peace in Sri Lanka—to get that message across, rather than leaving it to community members to work out that they cannot be involved in such activities? I described how difficult it was when such organisations tried to arrange meetings, because they are not au fait with the various minutiae of the law.
I take my right hon. Friend's point, but I repeat: there is at least a degree of responsibility on those organisations to ensure that they are au fait with the law and that they are not intent on supporting organisations that have a terrorist bent, whether proscribed or otherwise.
On the wider issue of engagement, the Government act in the normal fashion, through the engagement of the Foreign Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government with a range of communities, as well as through the Home Office and other parts of the Government, which take those opportunities to tell people, if appropriate, about the Government's prevailing view of particular organisations, especially proscribed ones. That happens regularly. On the specific threat that we face from violent extremism, my right hon. Friend will know, too, that there are a range of issues—principally involving DCLG, but also involving the police, under our broad prevent agenda—on which we are doing precisely that kind of work, albeit in a more sustained and focused way, particularly in respect of the Islamist or jihadist threat that we face.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about organisations being able to show that they are distinct from proscribed organisations. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz used the example of the Tamil community. The reports that I heard of the event that he attended were very worrying indeed. It may sound very innocent that children had their faces painted as tigers, but more importantly, I heard reports of banners and posters being put up that supported the LTTE operation. My right hon. Friend ought to be aware that there are significant differences in the Tamil community over the LTTE. My constituency party secretary is a Tamil, but her brother was murdered by the LTTE in Sri Lanka before she came here as a refugee.
I fear that I will tempt your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I go into too much detail about the byways and highways of one particular organisation. Having said that, I am about to talk about another organisation that is nothing to do with the order, either. However, I crave your indulgence, because hon. Members have raised it.
My hon. Friend is factually inaccurate about the United Kingdom. We have not banned Hamas in its entirety; we have banned, as we are doing this evening, only the military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, not the whole thing, for the same reason. However, my hon. Friend is quite right that in some contexts at least—certainly at the EU level—the entire organisation is effectively banned, through asset freezing and other dimensions. It is important, too, that, on the broader issue of finance, which hon. Members have raised, we deal with organisations at either UN or EU level, or via the proscribed list, through asset freezing, where possible and if identified, and by notifying all financial and banking institutions, not least in respect of their dealings with charities, that they are under an obligation to refer to us any suspicious activities involving the movement of funds that may or may not be destined for organisations on the proscribed list.
Jo Swinson is entirely right to say that that is not easy. There are often myriad accounts, addresses and organisations, but in the normal course of things, it is our job—the job of the authorities—to try to chase the money, to see whether it gets to any proscribed organisations and then to deal with it in the appropriate fashion. However, the task is not straightforward. A proscription order is not a magic wand that makes things any easier. The Charity Commission is clear what its responsibilities are in that regard, as are the financial and other regulatory authorities, but the hon. Lady made an entirely fair point.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire raised an important point, which goes back to something that my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore said. I will not go into detail about the meeting at the weekend, but there were also some young children with lions painted on their faces, too—I saw one. But anyway, let us put that to one side. If someone gives some money in good faith to a charitable cause associated with peace in the middle east and, to take the example that the hon. Lady gave, it ends up, through myriad transactions, somewhere that was not intended by the person who originally gave it, surely that person should in no way be held responsible.
That is right, and that is reflected in the law, but the key phrase is "in good faith". Where the organisation—the charity or whatever else—is clearly directly associated with a proscribed organisation or where it is well established that the organisation is a front, or even where it is proscribed itself, the responsibility is on individuals to establish, effectively, the bona fides of that organisation. However, if someone gives a contribution in good faith, it is not for the authorities, some 24 iterations or otherwise down the line, if we follow the money, to ensure that the original donor is pursued. That is not the purpose of the law at all.
On the general point about the distinction between military and other wings, the order is carefully drawn, in referring to recognised elements of the organisation. That is why the order calls for replacing, for the reasons that I have outlined, the words "Hizballah External Security Organisation" with:
"The military wing of Hizballah, including the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it (including the Hizballah External Security Organisation)."
As far as we are aware from the evidence that we have and from the substantive points made by experts, both legal and otherwise, the Hezbollah External Security Organisation, which was proscribed, and the military wing of Hezbollah, including the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it, are recognised elements of the organisation, and it is right and proper to ban them.
Mr. Ancram, who is no longer in his place, was quite right to ask in terms, as did other hon. Members, not only why we should ban just the military wing and not the whole organisation—that is a perfectly fair point, which I hope I am addressing—but why, given what is happening in the middle east, not least in Lebanon, we are proscribing it at all. Those are both fair points, and I hope that I have addressed them.
We recognise that the political wing of Hezbollah and the political organisation provide a social and humanitarian function in Lebanon. To an established extent, they make positive contributions to Lebanon and other places. In keeping with a whole range of United Nations Security Council resolutions, they provide a positive function in Lebanon and other parts of the middle east. It is to be hoped that the strength of those social and political wings would obviate the need for the military wing to do anything in the first place. We cannot reach a position in which the United Kingdom and others call on Hezbollah to disarm and participate in Lebanese politics as a democratic and peaceful political party—in line with UN Security Council resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701—and then somehow put obstructions in its way to prevent it from doing so.
I believe that there is a fine balance between the military and other elements of Hezbollah but, in this instance at least, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon is misguided in seeking to ban the whole organisation. I do not think that it is sufficient to say that anything to do with Hezbollah is terrorist, period. We recognise that there is sharp distinction between the two parts.
Colleagues have asked me to go into much more depth about the evidence. I am a fair person—I think—and I have tried to outline as much evidence as I could in my opening speech. Were there substantially more evidence for me to share with the House, I would have done so. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire asked why we were introducing the measure now, when the key piece of information that I was able to relay concerned March 2007. I would simply say that we do not take these decisions lightly, and we have to take careful consideration of all the available evidence. I can assure her, however, that the decision is not related to recent events in Lebanon, and certainly not to the coincidence that happened on
There is a wide range of international positions on Hezbollah. As I have said, some countries, including the USA, Canada, and the Netherlands, proscribe the entire organisation. Australia proscribes the External Security Organisation only, while others, such as France, do not proscribe any part of the organisation at all. As I said earlier, I cannot go into any more detail on the evidence. The ability of organisation so proscribed to be de-proscribed involves a clear and fair process, although I will take on board the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East about wider community groups. I repeat, however, that responsible individuals have responsibilities that go beyond simply endorsing the view of an organisation. With that, I happily commend the order to the House.
Question put and agreed to.