Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Polak during the 2017-2019 Parliament

Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2019

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Polak
Thursday 28th February 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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I refer the House to my registered interests. I commend the Government on this important decision—it is the right one, and long overdue.

On 22 June 2017, after the al-Quds rally, where those yellow flags with the AK-47 were on the streets of London, I said in your Lordships’ House that separating Hezbollah into its military and political wings is an untenable and artificial exercise. The US, Canada, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council designate Hezbollah in its entirety—what do we know better than them? I asked whether it was not time that the UK demonstrated its commitment to combating extremism by joining our allies in proscribing Hezbollah in its entirety. I also wrote to the Home Secretary in those terms at the time. Some noble Lords talked about Australia; I noted in the press only today that the Australian Foreign Minister in London was interested in following what we are trying to do here today.

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.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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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.