The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
My Lords, the Government are committed to protecting the people of this country, and tackling terrorism in all its forms is a critical part of that mission. As the House will be aware, following the tragic death of Sir David Amess last month and the explosion outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital earlier this month, the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre raised the threat level in the UK from “substantial” to “severe” on 15 November. A severe threat level means that an attack is highly likely. Terrorism poses a persistent and enduring risk to our way of life. Public protection is our number one priority, and we continue to work extremely closely with counterterrorism policing and intelligence and security agencies in this vital endeavour.
The Government’s position towards Hamas is well documented. Not only do we have a no-contact policy with the entirety of the group and currently proscribe the military wing; we also uphold the EU sanctions against Hamas in our new domestic regime in their entirety. The Government condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate and abhorrent rocket attacks and remain resolute in our commitment to Israel’s security. We continue to call upon Hamas permanently to end its incitement and rocket fire against Israel.
The threat posed by terrorist organisations varies depending on the group’s ideology, membership and ability to train members. Groups like Hamas focus on training their members in terrorism as well as preparing and committing terrible acts of violence against innocent members of the public. We have a duty to our allies as well as our own people to tackle groups that inspire and co-ordinate terror on the international stage. While we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism, we will always do all we can to minimise the danger it poses and keep the public safe.
Some 78 terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to the dedication, courage and skill of counterterrorism policing and our security and intelligence services, most of these groups have never carried out a successful attack on UK soil. Proscription is a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations, and I will explain the impact that it can have shortly.
We propose to amend the existing listing of Hamas-Izz, al-Din, al-Qassem brigades—I am sure that I pronounced those completely wrongly—or Hamas IDQ, in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to cover Hamas in its entirety. Under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes it is currently concerned in terrorism.
If the statutory test is met, the Home Secretary may then exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation. The Home Secretary considers a number of factors in considering whether to do so. The relevant discretionary factors for Hamas are the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities, the specific threat posed to British nationals overseas and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism.
The effect of proscription is to outlaw a listed organisation and ensure that it is unable to operate in the United Kingdom. Proscription is designed to degrade a group’s ability to operate through various means, including enabling prosecution for the various proscription offences; underpinning immigration-related disruptions, including excluding members of groups based overseas from the UK; making it possible to seize cash associated with the organisation; and sending a strong signal globally that a group is concerned in terrorism and has no legitimacy.
It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. The penalties for proscription offences are a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
Given its wide-ranging impact, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available evidence on an organisation. This includes open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across government, including with intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-government proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process. The Home Secretary’s decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case; it is appropriate that it must be approved in both Houses.
Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that Hamas in its entirety is concerned in terrorism and that the discretionary factors support proscription. Although I cannot comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities. Hamas is a militant Islamist movement established in 1987, following the first Palestinian intifada. Its ideology is related to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, combined with Palestinian nationalism. Its main aims are to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation, the establishment of an Islamic state under sharia law and the destruction of Israel. Although Hamas no longer demands the destruction of Israel in its covenant, the group operates in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Hamas formally established Hamas IDQ in 1992; the IDQ was proscribed by the UK in March 2001.
At the time, it was determined that there was a distinction between the political and military wings of Hamas and that the only part of the organisation which was concerned in terrorism and should be proscribed was the military wing. Over the last 20 years, Hamas’s so-called military and political wings have grown closer, with any distinction between them now considered artificial. The Government’s assessment is that Hamas is a complex but single organisation made up of constituent parts, one of which includes Hamas IDQ. It is clear that these constituent parts are not wholly independent of Hamas’s so-called political wing; they take strategic direction from it. There is also movement of key individuals across the organisation and a shared ideology. It is clear that the current proscription listing of Hamas does not reflect its true structure. That is why this order has been laid.
The Home Secretary has a reasonable belief that Hamas in its entirety is concerned in terrorism. It is our assessment that the group prepares for, commits and participates in acts of terrorism. There is also evidence that the group promotes and encourages terrorism. Indiscriminate rocket or mortar attacks against Israeli targets are key examples of Hamas committing terrorism. During the May 2021 conflict, over 4,000 rockets were fired indiscriminately into Israel. Civilians, including two Israeli children, were killed as a result. The rocket attacks also targeted airports and maritime interests.
We also know that Hamas frequently uses incendiary balloons to launch attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. There was a spate of such attacks during June and July of this year, causing fires and resulting in serious damage to property. These attacks were likely carried out by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is already proscribed.
Only last summer, Hamas launched camps in Gaza which focused on training groups, including minors, to fight. In a press statement, Hamas described the aim of these camps as to “ignite the embers of jihad in the liberation generation, cultivate Islamic values, and prepare the expected victory army to liberate Palestine”. This vile indoctrination of young people into the organisation’s violent ideology shows how diametrically opposed it is to our country’s core values.
This is not a commentary on the ongoing tension in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, nor is the action that we are taking a departure from the Government’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process—I want to be very clear about that. We continue to support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. This decision is based on the Government’s assessment that Hamas, in its entirety, is concerned in terrorism and that proscription is a proportionate action to take, and nothing more. Having concluded that the distinction maintained in the list of proscribed organisations is artificial, it is right that we address it. Hamas, in its entirety, is a terrorist organisation. We must be clear on this to avoid conferring legitimacy on any element of the organisation.
It goes without saying that this Government do not provide any assistance to Hamas or the government structure in Gaza, which is made up of Hamas members. However, the proscription will not prevent aid reaching civilians in need. In Gaza, we have strong controls in place to monitor spending and ensure that aid sent into the region reaches its intended beneficiaries. I also want to stress that this action is aimed squarely at a terrorist group based abroad and does not target any part of the Palestinian diaspora or Muslim communities who contribute so much to our country. The Home Secretary and I are very clear that we will not tolerate hatred being directed towards any community. Hate crimes against any group or individual are utterly unacceptable, which is why the police and Crown Prosecution Service have robust powers to take action against perpetrators.
The enduring and wide-ranging nature of the threat from terrorism demands an agile approach and a comprehensive strategy. This includes confronting groups that participate in and prepare for acts of terrorism and that unlawfully glorify horrific terrorist acts. We must use every tool at our disposal to prevent them from stirring up hatred and division in our communities. We will never be cowed by those who hate the values that we hold dear. The safety and security of our public is our No. 1 priority. I therefore commend the order to the House.