My Lords, your Lordships will want to be aware that on
The threat level in the UK, which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, remains at severe. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning. While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we are determined to do all that we can to minimise the threat to the UK and our interests abroad, and to disrupt those who would engage in it. We recognise that terrorism is a global threat that is best tackled in partnership, so it is also important that we demonstrate our support for other members of the international community in their efforts to tackle terrorism whenever and wherever it occurs.
Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist organisations and those who support them. The order before the House today would amend Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to extend the existing proscription of Hezbollah to cover the group in its entirety. It would also add two further groups to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations. The first is Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin or JNIM. This would include its aliases Nusrat al-Islam and Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen, or NIM, and its media arm az-Zallaqa. The second group is Ansaroul Islam, including its alias Ansaroul Islam Lil Irchad Wal Jihad.
This is the 23rd proscription order under the 2000 Act. Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if he believes it is concerned in terrorism. If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise his discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise this discretion, and these include: the nature and scale of the organisation’s activity; the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
The effect of proscription is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK, specifically as a result of a number of criminal offences applying to activity in support of it. It is a criminal offence for a person to be a member of a proscribed organisation, to invite, provide or recklessly express support for it, or to arrange a meeting in support of it. It is also an offence to wear or display in public, or to publish images of, clothing or articles such as flags in circumstances which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 recently updated these powers, adding the publication of images offence and extending extraterritorial jurisdiction, so that UK nationals and residents can be prosecuted in the UK courts for certain proscription offences committed overseas. This will ensure that we can take action where, for example, a foreign fighter located with a terrorist group in another country reaches back to individuals in the UK via the internet, seeking to build support for that organisation.
Proscription sends a strong message to deter fundraising and recruitment for proscribed organisations. The assets of a proscribed organisation can also become subject to seizure as terrorist assets. Proscription can also support other disruptions of terrorist activity—for example, the use of immigration powers such as exclusion from the UK, in a case where the excluded individual is linked to a proscribed organisation and their presence in the UK would not be in the public interest.
Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary will exercise the power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence. This includes information taken from both open sources and sensitive intelligence, as well as advice that reflects consultation across Government, with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as relevant Whitehall departments. The cross-government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in this decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of each case but, given the impact that the power can have, it is appropriate that proscriptions must be approved by both Houses before they can come into force.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Hezbollah in its entirety, JNIM and Ansaroul Islam are currently concerned in terrorism. Noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot comment on specific intelligence. However, I can provide a summary of each group’s activities in turn. First, this order extends the proscription of Hezbollah’s military wing to cover the group in its entirety.
I am sure noble Lords are aware that Hezbollah was established during the Lebanese civil war, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is committed to armed resistance to the State of Israel, and aims to seize all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israel. It supports terrorism in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and has a lengthy history of involvement in terrorism elsewhere in the world including in Europe. Currently it is most active in Syria where, since 2012, it has helped to prolong the brutal conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people. In 2016, Hezbollah helped besiege Aleppo, stopping humanitarian aid reaching parts of the city for six months and putting thousands at risk of mass starvation. Its actions continue to destabilise the fragile Middle East.
Hezbollah, as a political entity in Lebanon, has won votes in legitimate elections and forms part of the Lebanese Government. It also has the largest non-state military force in the country. Successive UK Governments 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. In 2008, the 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 and by our EU partners under the EU asset freezing regime. The US, Canada, the Netherlands and many partners in the region already designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.
There have long been calls in this country to proscribe the whole of the group, and it has been argued that the distinction between the political and military wings is an artificial one. Indeed, the group itself has laughed off the suggestion that there is such a distinction. The Government have continued to call on Hezbollah to end its status as an armed group, in line with our commitment to strengthening Lebanon’s stability, security and prosperity. However, it has not listened, and indeed its behaviour has escalated.
In the light of Hezbollah’s increasingly destabilising behaviour in the region over recent years and the links between its political and military wings, we have concluded that the distinction between the two is now untenable. We assess that the group in its entirety is concerned in terrorism, and we now believe that it is right to proscribe the entire organisation.
The second group that this order proscribes is Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, also known as Nusrat al-Islam and Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen. This includes its media arm, az-Zallaqa. JNIM, as it is called, was established in March 2017 as a federation of al-Qaeda-aligned groups in Mali, including the AQ-Maghreb Sahel branch, Ansar al-Dine, the Macina Liberation Front and al-Murabitun. JNIM’s area of operations includes northern and central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger. JNIM aims to eradicate state and western presence from these areas and to institute governance in accordance with a strict Salafist interpretation of sharia law.
The group has been responsible for attacks on western interests in the region and across wider west Africa, as well as the kidnap of western nationals for ransom. It is also designated by the US and the UN. JNIM attacks are typically claimed via az-Zallaqa, the group’s media foundation. Examples of attacks include, on
The final group to be proscribed, Ansaroul Islam, is also known as Ansaroul Islam Lil Irchad Wal Jihad. Its overarching aim is to establish dominance over the historic Fulani kingdom of Djelgoodji, situated in northern Burkina Faso and central Mali, and to implement its own strict interpretation of sharia. The group announced its existence on
In conclusion, it is right that we proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety, and that we add these two further groups—JNIM and Ansaroul Islam, as well as their aliases—to the list of proscribed organisations. Subject to the agreement of this House and the House of Commons, the order will come into force tomorrow. I beg to move.
One of the few joys of being in the Opposition is that, unlike the Minister, I do not have to repeat the names of organisations and locations. I thank the Minister for her explanation of the purpose and meaning of this order. It was discussed in the Commons on Tuesday, following which it was approved without a Division. We did not oppose it, and that will be our position today in your Lordships’ House.
Ever since the Terrorism Act 2000, no proscription order brought forward by any Government has been opposed by the official Opposition, and that is not about to change. Seventy-four international terrorist organisations are now proscribed under the Act. As the Minister said, it is intended that this order will come into effect tomorrow. The Minister referred to the organisations and groupings that will be proscribed under the order. Two have been established in the last two years or so, and carry out their attacks and atrocities in specific areas of Africa. The third is Hezbollah, which has been around for rather longer, nearly 40 years. The then Labour Government proscribed Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation in 2001, and its whole military apparatus, including the Jihad Council, was proscribed in 2008.
In her letter of
“Hezbollah, as a political entity in Lebanon has won votes in legitimate elections, and forms part of the Lebanese Government. It has the largest non-state military force in the country”.
The effect of this order is to proscribe the political as well as the military wing of Hezbollah, and thus proscribe the organisation in its entirety.
I have a few questions to raise with the Government about the order, and about what has led to it being brought forward today. Just 13 months ago, in a Commons debate, the Security Minister was resisting arguments for proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety—resisting what the Government are seeking to do through this order today.
The Security Minister—he is still the Security Minister—said in that debate:
“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 … 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 … the view of every country. Australia, New Zealand and the EU take a different view”.
He went on, just 13 months ago, to say 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”.—[
Do the Government still subscribe to the comments I have just quoted, made by the Security Minister just 13 months ago? What has changed over the last 13 months to lead the Government to adopt the approach they now propose in relation to the political wing of Hezbollah, which we will not be opposing, but which the Government were arguing against in January of last year?
In the debate in the Commons on Tuesday, the Home Secretary said:
“I can say that Hezbollah has been reported in many open sources as being linked to or claiming responsibility for many atrocities. These include a suicide bomb attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish community centre in 1994 that left 85 people dead and hundreds injured. The bloodshed came just two years after an attack on the Israeli embassy in that same city, which killed 29 people. Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war since 2012 continues to prolong the conflict and the brutal repression of the Syrian people. In 2016, it helped besiege Aleppo, stopping humanitarian aid reaching parts of the city for six months, putting thousands at risk of mass starvation. Its actions continue to destabilise the fragile middle east”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/19; col. 283.]
I am sure nobody would wish to do anything other than condemn the specific acts referred to by the Home Secretary last Tuesday, but the point is that all those acts he referred to were known about when the Security Minister was arguing, 13 months ago, against proscribing the political wing as well as the military wing of Hezbollah. Again, what has happened over the last 13 months to lead to the Government changing their stance?
In her letter to me of
“Hezbollah itself has publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings”.
I think, though, that I am right in saying that that was known at the time of the debate in the Commons in January of last year, when the Security Minister was arguing against proscribing the political as well as the military wing of Hezbollah.
At the end of the debate in the Commons last Tuesday, in response to questions about why the Government had changed their stance, the Home Secretary said:
“I will give four reasons”.
It would be helpful if the Minister could repeat those four reasons, since it seemed to me that he gave only two. He said:
“First, there is secret intelligence. I think the House will understand why we cannot share it … there has been a step change in the activity of Hezbollah, particularly in Syria”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/19; col. 304.]
The second, I think, was that the proscription review group had expressed the view that Hezbollah in its entirety met the definition of a terrorist organisation in the 2000 Act. Does that mean the proscription review group was not of that view at the time of the debate in January 2018, when the Security Minister argued against the course of action the Government are now proposing—namely, that the political as well as the military wing of Hezbollah should be proscribed? If so, what is it, at least in general terms, that has led the proscription review group to change its view of 13 months ago?
The Home Secretary also said that both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have looked again at the work they do in Lebanon. They are clear that they can continue that work and support the legitimate Government of Lebanon and its people. What exactly does that mean in practice? One of the Conservative contributors to the debate on this order in the Commons on Tuesday said that he thought Hezbollah provided,
“13 out of the 68 Members of Parliament in the governing coalition”.
That Conservative contributor went on to say that there were,
“important development objectives, particularly in the south of Lebanon where Hezbollah has the core of its support from the poorer Shi’a communities in the Lebanon”.—[
If the FCO and DfID think that they can continue their work in Lebanon—and the Minister for Security laid some stress in the debate 13 months ago on how the stronger the state of Lebanon is, the weaker Hezbollah will be—does it mean that they will be having, or continuing to have, contact with members of the political wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon, even though this order proscribes Hezbollah in its entirety, including its political wing?
One change since the debate in January 2018 is not a new Minister of Security, but a new Home Secretary. Maybe that is an important, though not decisive, reason behind the change in the Government’s stance. This order will be passed by your Lordships’ House, and I stress again that we are not opposing it, but I would like some answers on the record from the Government to the questions I have asked and the points I have made, because I do not think the questions addressed in the letter of
If somebody is demonstrating on the streets of London and there is only one flag—there are not separate flags for the military and political wings of Hezbollah—I understand that it might be difficult to prosecute them when half the organisation is proscribed and the other half is not. But the questions remains, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said: what has changed since January last year when the Government supported the political wing of Hezbollah being kept separate? Indeed, the Minister talked about how important it is that we support the international effort to tackle terrorism. While the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel all designate the whole of Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, as the noble Lord said, the European Union and Australia designate only the military wing as terrorist. What has happened?
Our other concerns are around changes that have happened very recently under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which we opposed. It extends the existing offence of supporting a proscribed organisation to include recklessly expressing support for it, rather than intentionally inviting support, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. It also extends extraterritorial jurisdiction for these offences, so British citizens and residents who express support for Hezbollah, wear clothing related to it or wave its flags in other countries can be prosecuted in the UK. This raises a serious concern: someone who does something supportive of the political wing of Hezbollah—including recklessly expressing support for it—in a country where it is not proscribed, such as in Australia, or Lebanon itself, could still be prosecuted in the UK.
In the debate on the then Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich—former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation—said that he was concerned that, while he was in post,
“at least 14 of the 74 organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 … are not concerned in terrorism and therefore do not meet the minimum statutory condition for proscription”.—[
The Minister will recall the debate, when concern was expressed that organisations were being proscribed for political reasons rather than because they fulfilled the statutory requirements for being proscribed.
Of course, one can speculate about what has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about a change of Home Secretary. He may not welcome my commenting that political capital has been made from the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, having previously been a supporter of Hezbollah. Of course, the Labour Party is facing considerable issues regarding anti-Semitism, and the concerns of the Jewish community about Hezbollah are well known. But I am sure that these have nothing to do with the timing of the whole of Hezbollah being proscribed on this occasion.
We have serious concerns about the whole process, which we expressed in debates on the then Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill. However, like the formal Opposition, we will not oppose this order; we simply wish to place on the record our concerns about the process.
It is welcome but belated that this order should be passed. While we have listened to the reservations expressed by the Labour Party and the Lib Dems, it remains the fact, as I am sure they will agree, that if more has come out about a situation, and maybe we were misled or not given the full facts a while ago, it is right to take that step now.
Imagine, if you can, an organisation that marched through London and actively promoted an ideology that—forgive my words—black people should be killed and their lands restored to colonialist oppressors. You would have no doubt or hesitation about banning it. Well, a group called National Action did just that, and it was recently banned—so this is not a new move. That organisation said that non-whites and “sub-humans”—which it implied was the right word—should not be tolerated.
The Mayor of London supports this ban. We should be tough on terrorism and the causes of terrorism. There is no division between the political and military wings of Hezbollah. In fact, little stickers saying “We are the political wing” have been put on the flags carried by these people as they march, precisely in order to exploit that. They have said, “Each of us is a combat soldier. The story of ‘military wing’ and ‘political wing’ is the work of the British”.
The right to peaceful protest, which we uphold, does not extend to the violent and the threatening and the racist. Countries with which we have close relations, including Canada, Holland, France, New Zealand and even Bahrain, all ban Hezbollah. This of course will not stop the necessary co-operation with the Lebanon Government.
The organisation that I hope we will ban today fights for Assad. This is not just a Jewish issue, as has been implied. The beliefs that this organisation expresses are a harbinger of what is to come if you are western. The anti-Semitism is the tip of the iceberg. The organisation expresses a group of beliefs that everything western is wrong, everything white is wrong, everything that might be stigmatised as colonialist is wrong, and war must be fought to bring everyone to heel.
Hezbollah has said:
“Until Israel ceases to exist and the last Jew in the world has been eliminated,” it will continue to fight. It has said:
“If Jews all gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide”.
We cannot possibly go along with allowing such an organisation to march through London.
Hezbollah is a partner to Iran, for which cause it engages in money laundering, arms sales and drugs smuggling. It is implicated in the Yemen disaster. It has prolonged the Syrian conflict. It has carried out attacks all over Europe. Classifying Hezbollah as “terrorist” would stop it using our banks to transfer money around the world. What it does fits precisely Section 3(5) of the Terrorism Act 2000. It has been involved in Iranian-directed bombings that have killed more than 1,000 UK and US servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. What has changed in the last year is increasing revelation of this and increasing fear. It is by no means a partisan move. I hope that this House will wholeheartedly support the Motion.
My Lords, I strongly support the Government on this order.
There can be little doubt that Hezbollah has completely taken over control of Lebanon. It is certainly in the Parliament but it is also in the military—it is everywhere—and Lebanon and its Government can do little without Hezbollah. The deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah, Naim Qassem, has repeatedly said that the political and the military wings are as one—they are not distinct. There is little doubt too that Hezbollah is funded and supported by Iran and represents an outpost of that country, with its Shia expansionist policies, and that those policies are not only anti-Israel and anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic; wherever Jews exist, one just needs to see the sorts of terrorist attacks Hezbollah has made on Jewish installations around the world. It is not just Jews—they have attacked and killed British troops in Syria, as well as the poor Syrians.
It is not only Israel that has worries in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are all extremely worried about Hezbollah’s activities, and we have a good example in Yemen, where it has a role too. Its interests have nothing to do with the plight of Palestinians. They are just pawns in their game, and if a peaceful resolution and a two-state solution eventually emerge, which we would all like to see, it will not stop Iran and Hezbollah in their anti-Semitic activities.
Against this background, it is impossible to believe that the so-called political wing of Hezbollah was unaware of what goes on. How can the political wing not be pulling the strings with Iran to produce 150,000 or more missiles and rockets in southern Lebanon, and digging six tunnels under the border with Israel? How can that possibly be thought of as a purely defensive action? Both wings are as one, both should be proscribed, and I hope we agree.
I refer the House to my registered interests. I commend the Government on this important decision—it is the right one, and long overdue.
What has changed? Of course, I do not speak for the Government themselves. That question was asked by the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen during the debate in the other place on Tuesday, and today in your Lordships’ House. However, those asking the question were all seeking an answer from the Government about the behaviour of Hezbollah. What had it done—what terror atrocities had it masterminded to change the Government’s position and proscribe it in full?
Hezbollah has always been consistent and has not changed at all. It does not recognise the artificial exercise of a division between the military and political; it never has. When Members ask what has changed, they seem to want to discover a smoking gun. It is apparent that some would have preferred to continue to separate the so-called two distinct parts of Hezbollah, appeasing Hezbollah as if it was our friend. Very few of us would call Hezbollah our friend.
Over the years, the main reason given for this ludicrous position was to maintain our relationship with and support for the Lebanese Government and to be able to continue to provide the necessary aid to Lebanon, because, as has been said, Hezbollah had members elected to the Lebanese Government. That was the reason given, but I assert that it was an excuse to do nothing, not a reason. Many other countries that have proscribed Hezbollah in full have connections with and work with the Lebanese Government without any problem whatever. It was an excuse, not a reason.
As an aside, my response to Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon is very clear and was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg. It does indeed play a significant role in Lebanon: it has 150,000 rockets and missiles embedded in south Lebanon, facing Israel.
There is a simple and clear answer to the question, “What has changed?” In my view, the change is as refreshing as it is important. The change is in the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary. We have Ministers of integrity, with the courage to ask questions and seek explanations on advice they receive.
Sometimes, policy can drift and we can find ourselves in a time warp where policy remains unchanged as if we are in a fantasy land, rather than facing up to reality. Our policy on proscribing Hezbollah was in such a time warp, until the change was made by Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Gavin Williamson. They should be praised for making this important change. This legislation is important as it shows the rest of the world that the UK is a safe country to do business with and supports the global economy by mitigating terrorist risks. In our constant fight against terror, they have ensured that our Government are in the right place. This gives me great hope for Britain’s future post Brexit as a world leader in a turbulent and dangerous world.
My Lords, although I agree in principle with the order proscribing Hezbollah for precisely the reason that the noble Lord just spelled out—Hezbollah does not make a distinction between the political and military arms of its organisation—I should like to insert a tiny protection for freedom of expression. I think it is true to say that once one proscribes the political arm of any organisation, one tends to relegate the debate to more violent areas rather than encourage those disagreements to be discussed around the table.
I will cite one small example: a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in the early 1980s or late 1970s. It concerned a small town outside Chicago, Illinois called Skokie, in which lived a number of people who were Holocaust survivors. A neo-Nazi group decided that it wanted to demonstrate in that town, which was of course highly offensive and provocative. The ACLU took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the march should go ahead simply because it was entirely possible for those survivors of the Holocaust to avoid the march by closing their curtains, shutting their doors, going away for the day or whatever it might be. The reasoning behind that was that if one were to prevent the march going ahead, it might well force the marchers, rather than staging a political demonstration, to become more violent.
I say this because we must be mindful in this day and age that there are enormous and horrendous threats to free speech. We ignore them at our peril.
There is no division of Hezbollah. Nasrallah has explicitly said time and again, “We do not have a military wing and a political wing”. He must get quite frustrated with the British Government for not understanding that, but he keeps repeating it. It is true; Hezbollah is one. Due to my professional past, I am the last person to criticise the Foreign Office but I feel that it is to blame for our Government not taking the correct, logical and obvious position of proscribing the whole of Hezbollah. I can see that an ambassador in Lebanon might find it difficult if the Government with whom he is trying to co-operate include terrorists.
We seem to have paid a very high price in not proscribing Hezbollah for so many years out of diplomatic convenience. There is no doubt about it: you can have perfectly normal relations with the Lebanese Government without the problem of Hezbollah being in the Government and being proscribed. The heavy price referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, included Hezbollah flags flying on the streets of London time and again in 2017 and 2018 during demonstrations. They flew under the excuse that they were for the political, not the proscribed, wing. That is unacceptable on our part.
Hezbollah is not just anti-Israel. It is deeply anti-Semitic and makes no pretence about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, quoted Nasrallah as saying that it is very useful if all the Jews gather in Israel because then Hezbollah does not have to go round the world looking for Jews to kill. His deputy has also said that God imprinted blasphemy on the Jews’ hearts. That is an extreme anti-Semitic point, even for some of the anti-Semites we know about in Britain. We must accept that it is an unacceptable, nasty, anti-Semitic, dangerous terrorist organisation that threatens all our democracies, not just those in the Middle East. It is high time that it was proscribed and I congratulate the Government on doing so.
I also agree that the decision to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety has logic and merit. It not only commits terrorist acts; as the noble Baroness just said, it wants to destroy not only Israel but Jews. It is wholly anti-Semitic. Like the Home Secretary, I was at last night’s Community Security Trust dinner, where everyone was aware of the rising incidence of anti-Semitic hate crime. That is a huge concern for not only the Jewish community but all of us.
Treating the two wings of Hezbollah as distinct has always been artificial. Noble Lords have described Hezbollah’s boldness and consistency in declaring itself one single entity. That raises the question of timing. I agree with my noble friend Lord Paddick and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the Government owe us a rather better explanation than we have had so far.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, said that it was due to the change of personnel. If I recall his precise words, he said that the present Home Secretary, Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary all have integrity. Does that imply that the Conservative Secretaries of the past nine years did not have integrity? That is quite a strange argument. After all, all those posts have been filled by the same party for the past nine years. It is true that just 13 months ago the Security Minister said:
“Hezbollah is anti-Semitic and wishes the destruction of … Israel”, but he resisted the argument that the political and military wings of Hezbollah were indivisible, joined at the hip and centrally led. He said:
“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 … and intelligence services”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/18; cols. 507-8.]
It is therefore fair to ask how that advice has changed.
To me, it would be a viable argument to say that it is because of the rising incidence of anti-Semitic hate crime against people and property, such as the destruction of headstones in cemeteries. Appalling things are going on both against the person and against property. In that context, it is totally unacceptable that the Metropolitan Police is unable to take action against demonstrators proclaiming their support for Hezbollah, waving the flag and putting stickers on it saying, “We are the political wing so you cannot touch us”. I would be interested to hear the argument from the Government: “It is unacceptable that on the streets of London fear should be put into the Jewish community and all of us who want to see decency and an absence of prejudice and discrimination”. But we have not heard that argument from the Government and they are being coy by not telling us what has changed. So, if I have to fall back on the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, that it is because of a change of personnel, that raises interesting questions about the attitude of the holders of those offices over the past nine years.
Lastly, I want to ask how Brexit is going to affect European co-operation in counterterrorism and things such as asset freezing. Every form of Brexit will damage that co-operation, but a no-deal Brexit will damage it even more. We are to have a mega-SI from the Home Office shortly. I attended the briefing meeting kindly held by the Minister on Tuesday. However, although we have been hearing discussions about whether or not no deal is being ruled out, I have just seen a clip of the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, who this morning is still protesting that she has total support for a no-deal Brexit. That would have a catastrophic effect on our co-operation across the European Union in exchanging vital data, working with Europol, extradition and the exchange of evidence to bring people to trial, and a whole range of counterterrorism co-operation, as well as the freezing of assets. How is the Government’s attitude to Brexit—any kind of Brexit, let alone a no-deal Brexit, which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House of Commons are refusing to rule out absolutely—consistent with an apparent stance of wanting to do everything in our power to counter terrorist organisations? That really does not quite add up.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Labour Friends of Israel and the chair of the APPG for Kurds in Iran. I have also recently been to Syria, to the Kurdish side, to witness its fight against Daesh, or ISIS. Last year, I mentioned in the House the terrible betrayal of the Kurds that the Government have participated in, in acquiescing to the Turkish demand to invade and occupy Afrin.
I have huge respect for all who have spoken, but I dispute the claim by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, that Hezbollah has not changed. There has been a remarkable journey over the last 20 years: it has joined the political and democratic process; it is the largest single party in Lebanon and got 300,000 votes, which is 100,000 more than any other party; and it has played a key role in brokering a broad-based coalition Government there. It has not been mentioned today, but Hezbollah played a significant role in restoring the synagogue in Beirut. Unfortunately, the number of Jews in Beirut is smaller than the number of Peers here, but none the less it has restored the synagogue to pristine condition, and that is something we should hear.
I found it very odd to hear the Minister say that Hezbollah was prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people. I say to the Minister that it is Daesh, or ISIS, that is prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people. It is a remarkable thing to describe a group that resisted Daesh and fought against ISIS—our principal enemy and genuinely a terrorist organisation—as prolonging that suffering. In a small way, we should all feel some gratitude for that. We can all understand in our historical consciousness—beginning with the Israeli invasion in 1982 and the occupation that lasted for somewhere between 12 and 18 years—why there might be some resistance to that and some feeling that it was wrong. Hezbollah essentially began as Khomeini’s shock troops in the Bekaa valley and the Jabal Amel, but it transferred its allegiance from Khomeini and Khamenei to Sistani in Najaf. There has been a very significant shift in its religious allegiances.
Palmerston said that our interests are eternal and our allies are temporary. I subscribe to that view of foreign policy. In Iraq, as well as in Lebanon, the Arab Shia have tried to underwrite some form of democratic Government. They are to be distinguished very much from Iran, which is Persian. Our Foreign Office used to have an understanding of that but has somehow lost it; it should retain some historical understanding. We should develop some form of independent foreign policy that does not just follow the United States, which is extremely pro-Saudi and pro-Sunni, and therefore hostile to Hezbollah.
We need to recognise that Hezbollah has made this journey towards democracy and towards preserving the territorial integrity of the Lebanese state. As the Minister mentioned, Hezbollah represents the Shia community—but not just the Shia community; it also has votes from the Sunni community and from the Christians. I am not suggesting to the House that Hezbollah is like the Lib Dems; it is obviously more successful and slightly more significant than that. I do not doubt that there are very bad people in its midst, but it is a political party that represents the largest plurality in Lebanese politics and has committed itself to democracy and pluralism in its deeds. We should always look at the deeds rather than focus exclusively on incendiary words. I ask the House to reflect that maybe it would be foolish to block conversation and possible negotiation with Hezbollah.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s response this week in joining our allies America, together with Canada and the Netherlands, in proscribing Hezbollah. That sends a strong message that the UK Government totally abhor terrorism in any form. Classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation will significantly constrain its ability to operate in Britain, and severely erode its ability to raise funds here, use British banks—as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, alluded to earlier—and to transfer funds around the globe. Finally, it is right to judge Hezbollah by the totality of its actions.
My Lords, I want to say a word about Africa, because, interesting as this debate on Hezbollah has been, the order also concerns west Africa. The Minister tiptoed very skilfully through the acronyms, so I thought I would take a minute to ask her a question. I used to know towns such as Timbuktu and Bamako in Mali quite well when I visited on behalf of Christian Aid.
I imagine that the motivation for proscribing these organisations is simple—relations of Daesh are living there and the world is a small place, especially as far as terrorism goes, and it crosses frontiers. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to Brexit. I do not want to go that far but I am particularly interested in whether the order is shared with our fellow European members. As the Minister well knows, we are part of a joint mission. British troops are involved. Sometimes there are casualties and it is much nearer to home than we realise. I know that the joint mission will go ahead after Brexit, but I would be grateful to hear whether this is part of joint thinking, unlike with Hezbollah, where there have been differences.
My Lords, I want to put on record my deep appreciation to my noble friend Lord Rosser for the speech that he made at the beginning of this debate. It was penetrating and analytical, and it is absolutely essential to the cause to which we all subscribe that he gets a full and explicit reply from the Government. I have been a Defence Minister and a Foreign Office Minister, and I totally understand that when we operate in this kind of context there are things that have to be confidential. But that makes it doubly important to be as explicit and transparent as we can possibly be in the support of the case that we pursue. If there have been, in a short period of time, the changes that have been described in this debate, it is absolutely, inescapably obvious that we have to give a very good account for why this has happened.
One good thing about this debate is that it has aired the issues a little more widely. It would be totally naive to imagine that the issue of anti-Semitism is simply about Jewish people. I personally believe that the total unacceptability of anti-Semitism is because it is about people. But not to understand that it has sinister—I use that word quite deliberately—implications would be very naive. It is obviously about other political objectives as well. To refuse to face that fact will not help at all.
The one crucial point that I want to make is this. I know that I have made it before, but I will go on making it until my dying day. We are ultimately in a battle for hearts and minds. It is in the sphere of hearts and minds that we will build lasting security, not by administrative arrangements or containment operations. It is by winning people’s conviction, understanding and appreciation of why the values about which we like to talk in this House are so indispensable to the future of humanity. That is the issue: hearts and minds.
That is why, when we are introducing anti-terrorism legislation, it is terribly important that all the time right in the forefront of the minds of those charged with the responsibility of coming to a conclusion are the words and thoughts: what are our values? What will be the down cost of this? What will play into the hands of extremists, as they exploit genuine anxieties and doubts amongst young people but not only young people? That is the issue that must not be ignored. What is the counterproductivity of what is being proposed?
It is a very difficult balance and a very difficult decision, but I urge that we always keep that concern about counterproductivity very much in mind in our deliberations.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, whom I have known and admired for a good few years. I am delighted to say that he has lost none of his firebrand qualities. He articulated what the Labour Front Bench and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench were saying in shades of blancmange—as a kind of procedural thing, that somehow we have to make sure the procedures are right. I kind of understand that, when the issue is very difficult and you would like to say “Let’s ban them” but you do not want to do that, you hide behind a load of procedures.
Essentially, this is a subjective decision for the Minister to make. The Minister receives advice, weighs that advice and has to come to a conclusion. There will be no magic moment at which the Minister says, “This is the advice that has changed”. If noble Lords on the Opposition Benches do not like this order, they should vote against it. They should not say that they will not oppose it but that they think in their hearts that they should oppose it, or that they would like to oppose it but it would look bad with some members of their party. It is important to decide on the issue.
Much has been said about my honourable friend the Security Minister, whom I have known for a good few years. In a brief gap in the proceedings of this House, I took the opportunity to go into the Gallery of another place and watch the proceedings. Having had the opportunity to watch the Minister in his previous speech, when I watched him on the Front Bench his body language looked much more relaxed on this occasion than it did on the previous one. I have no doubt that this is the right decision. I argued with my party, and I pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for coming to this decision.
If the House will allow me, I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Polak, who has been a champion of this over a number of years and has kept this issue in the minds of both Houses of Parliament. He deserves considerable credit for arriving at this decision.
The strange thing is that the difference between the military wing and the political wing is an entirely separate western construction. It does not exist in the minds of Hezbollah. We know that those who chair the grand jihad council and the Shia council are one and the same people. They do not see any distinction. It has been a convenient device for us to talk to them. The Minister made an immensely important point: Hezbollah is not just against Israel; it is against the Jewish people.
We heard the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, quoting Hassan Nasrallah; perhaps for reasons of delicacy she did not read out the quotation in full. I will do so:
“The Jews are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment … If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide”.
That is pretty unambiguous.
It is not a question of saying that, if we help the political wing, we will somehow help the military wing; they are the same person. The military wing does not decide to go around bombing various people and trying to organise the deaths of British soldiers or citizens elsewhere, while the political wing discusses the price of tickets at the theatre in Lebanon; they are one and the same people, and we need to recognise that.
We also need to recognise one other thing. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, commented very reasonably on this and made an interesting pitch, perhaps offering her services as a spin doctor to No. 10. The point is that our population—and our British Jewish citizens—need to feel safe; it is about their ability to go out without facing these flags of hate or the chanting, about feeling safe in the United Kingdom. It is important to set down the message that this country will have no place for anti-Semitism. You cannot have that view if you allow an organisation like this to move freely.
We must also remember that the issue is not just about security concerns; a substantial part of this organisation is funded by the smuggling of drugs. It is a main player in the trafficking of drugs throughout the world. We have seen arrests in France and in the United States. It is not a single part of our community only that is affected, but the whole community. Our streets will be perhaps just that little bit safer by removing from this organisation a convenience that, frankly, we should never have granted it.
My Lords, I would like to congratulate the Government—my right honourable friends in the Home Office and Foreign Office, my noble friend the Minister and her department—for this decision and for bringing forward this legislation. I am delighted that the Opposition is not opposing it, but I must express disappointment that it is not actually in support.
Hezbollah is a radical Shia Islamist terror group backed by Iran, which seeks to impose its totalitarian ideology, with violence, on other Muslims. It wants to drive out western influences from the Muslim world. The organisation itself says, as we have heard from many noble Lords in this debate, that there is no distinction between its military and its political wings. It poses a threat not only to Israel and Jews—and I declare an interest—but to other citizens in the Middle East, of all religions, as well as here in Europe and elsewhere in the West. It has also been established, as my noble friend Lord Pickles rightly said, that Hezbollah is involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, and trafficks large amounts of cocaine through Europe and the US, as was uncovered in 2016 by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Europol and Eurojust.
So I hope the Minister will agree that proscription will help to restrict Hezbollah’s ability to undertake such criminal activities in our own country, which pose huge threats to British citizens, and that banning the entirety of Hezbollah, as well as Ansaroul Islam and JNIM in the Sahel region of Africa, further demonstrates this Government’s determination to stand up against terrorism and groups dedicated to opposing our western civilisation, values and way of life.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I start with Brexit, which for once is irrelevant to this debate. Matters of national security and intelligence-sharing were in place between states before the EU ever existed, and I know they will continue after it.
One of the major questions asked was: why now? Why did we resist proscription 13 months ago and what has changed? Proscription is a very significant step to take and, as my noble friend Lord Pickles says, it is a decision by the Home Secretary. We keep our response to terrorism under review and it is entirely appropriate that we take all available opportunities to strengthen the UK’s response to both domestic and international threats. Proscribing organisations is just part of that response.
The UK has continued to call on Hezbollah to end its armed status. It has not listened and in fact, contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, says, its behaviour has escalated. The links between the senior leaders of the political and military wings and the group’s destabilising role in the region mean that the distinction between the wings is now simply untenable, as noble Lords have said. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, said, Hezbollah has itself publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings. To answer noble Lords’ point, the UK has had a no-contact policy with any part of the organisation for a number of years.
There might well be. As a member of a proscribed organisation, they may well have great difficulty in getting into this country. I will come to the point about democratic elections shortly. We now assess that the group in its entirety is concerned in terrorism, although I know that noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on the Front Bench, will understand that I cannot go into the details of current intelligence.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked if this action was to stop the intimidation of Jews—for example, by the flying of flags on London streets on al-Quds Day. Actually, it is not; the Government keep our response to terrorism under review, and we believe that now is the time to proscribe the entire organisation due to its increasingly destabilising behaviour over recent years. As for what happens on the next al-Quds Day, clearly the order will provide the police with an additional tool—it will be a criminal offence for a person to display a Hezbollah flag in circumstances that arouse reasonable suspicion that they are a member or supporter of Hezbollah—but the operational approach taken to the management of such public demonstrations will of course be a matter for the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Glasman, made a point about Hezbollah now having democratic seats in the Government. I acknowledged that in my opening statement. I could provide a long reel of its historical activity, but more recently it was involved in the siege of eastern Aleppo and, therefore, was partly responsible for preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the city’s approximately 275,000 people between
We remain steadfast in our commitment to Lebanon’s stability, security and prosperity, and we will continue to work with the Lebanese Government. Much of that may seem to contradict what I have just said, but it is important to state these things. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the impact of DfID delivery in Lebanon as a result of proscription. We absolutely remain committed to the stability of Lebanon. It is important to say that DfID does not provide any direct assistance to Hezbollah, or to any of the ministries or the institutions that it leads. We ended support to Hezbollah-majority municipalities following the elections in May 2016. DfID requires all its partners to abide by strict UK counterterrorism legislation, and we recently undertook a comprehensive review of all UK government programmes in Lebanon to ensure that we were compliant. As a result of this process, we have strengthened some of our checks and controls, and the majority of our programmes in Lebanon will be unaffected.
I have said that there has been a policy of no contact with any part of Hezbollah since 2010. The proscription clearly will not change that but, in any event, it is not illegal to hold a meeting with a proscribed organisation that is benign or for a legitimate purpose. It is only attending or organising a meeting intended to support or further the activities of the organisation that, as noble Lords would expect, is unlawful.
A number of noble Lords asked about the proscription review group. It is a cross-government group that supports the Home Secretary in his or her decision-making. It makes recommendations and provides advice to the Home Secretary on issues relating to the implementation of the proscription regime, including the case for proscription, name-change orders and consideration of deproscription applications. Membership of that group may vary in accordance with what is being decided, but noble Lords understand that.
The noble Baroness asked about FCO influence on a proscription decision. Clearly the decision-making process of the proscription review group will bring together relevant departments and agencies to come together a collective recommendation.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked if the proscription review group has changed its assessment of Hezbollah’s involvement in terrorism. The Government are clear that Hezbollah has had a long-standing involvement in terrorism. Proscription is a two-stage test; if an organisation is concerned in terrorism, the Home Secretary has discretion to proscribe it. As I have said, we have continued to call on Hezbollah to disarm, but it has continued its destabilising activities in the region. The Home Secretary has now decided to exercise his discretion to proscribe the entire organisation, which we are clear is involved in terrorism.
I thought I would comment on the remarks of my noble friend Lord Pickles, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who I do not think is in her place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, as what they said about the intentions of Hezbollah was very powerful. The comments about gathering in Israel so as effectively to get them all at once are disgusting and have no place in our society. Hezbollah do not just want to destroy Israel; it wants to destroy all Jews, and we have to do something about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, made a point about free speech. We are very lucky that we have free speech in this country, and we recognise that proscription will have an impact on it. However, although inviting support for any proscribed group is unlawful, the Government fully support the right of community groups or anyone in the UK to debate and discuss issues pertinent to them and the right to protest, as long as those activities are within the law. We have a long tradition of freedom of speech and assembly, and we will not restrict anyone’s freedom of speech as long as they act within the law and do not promote hatred and division.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about points that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, had made about deproscription reviews being an affront to the rule of law. I reiterate that organisations are proscribed because they are concerned with terrorism. We think that we exercise the proscription power proportionately, but we consider it right to take a cautious approach when considering removing groups from the list of proscribed terrorist organisations. We have made it clear, as I did during the passage of the counter-terrorism Bill, that the Government will seriously consider any information that casts doubt on any proscription, including in the absence of an application.
I conclude by referring to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, about informing other EU countries of the proscription and encouraging them to engage in similar action. We consult member states that have a direct interest in whatever group is at issue. We inform them of the proscription and a parliamentary agreement is secured in this House and the other place. We always consider whether to pursue EU listings of the groups concerned, although obviously different processes and tests apply.
I am sure the noble Lord will understand that I cannot talk about intelligence discussions with other states at the Dispatch Box. Of course, we have very close security ties with France. We have assisted it when it has had terrorist attacks, and I have no doubt that discussions with France will be ongoing.