Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 1:00 pm, 28th February 2019

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 7 July 2016 and the end of the siege in December 2016. During that time, the UN reported there was a risk of mass starvation—noble Lords will have seen the pictures on television—if that humanitarian aid did not reach eastern Aleppo. The subsequent evacuation from those areas of civilians and fighters was also hindered by Hezbollah. That is very recent.

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.