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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): 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.
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
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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.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): 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?
Mr. McNulty: 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.
Mr. Ancram: 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.
Mr. McNulty: 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
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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 20 March 2007.
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 the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (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.
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again. Has he consulted his French colleagues on the proscription of Hezbollah? They have invited members of Hezbollah to Paris for talks.
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Mr. McNulty: 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—
(Mr. Ancram indicated dissent).
Mr. McNulty: 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.