Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Sir Edward DaveyMP Main Page: Sir Edward Davey (Liberal Democrat - Kingston and Surbiton)
Department Debates - View all Sir Edward Davey's debates with the Home Office
(12 months ago)Commons Chamber
That is a good question, and my hon. Friend knows that we will keep under constant review the different terrorist organisations and groups, particularly ones we have proscribed some part of before, and we would look at both secret intelligence and there would be more open source information. For example, my hon. Friend asks what has changed: in terms of open source information it is evident that Hezbollah has got more involved in and drawn into the Syrian conflict, and is responsible for the death and injury of countless innocent civilians.
We will also look at advice from officials. There is a proscription group of officials made up from across Government Departments, not just from the Home Office, but including for example the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and we would listen to their excellent advice. They have made it very clear that Hezbollah is clearly a candidate for proscription because it meets all the tests set out in the Terrorism Act 2000.
The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is no. For a number of years, the UK Government have had a long-standing policy of no contact with Hezbollah and, in a way, that has made this decision more straightforward in terms of any potential impact on Lebanon. Our ties with the Lebanese Government and our support for Lebanon through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development are strong. There has been a need to ensure that those arrangements are compliant with this order, but they remain largely untouched and our relationship with the legitimate Government of Lebanon will remain.
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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support, but I will reserve my judgment on the Opposition. I will wait to hear the shadow Minister’s thoughts. However, some Members might already have seen a press release from the official Opposition which suggests that they are against the proscription of Hezbollah. I am sure that is actually not the case, and that the shadow Minister will tell us that that must be some kind of typo and that they are absolutely committed to fighting terrorism because they know that that is what the British people want. In that regard, it would be wise for the Opposition to note that ever since the Terrorism Act 2000, no proscription order that has been brought to this Dispatch Box by any Government, Labour or Conservative, has ever been opposed by the official Opposition. They have supported the banning of every organisation that has been suggested. If it actually turns out that the Labour party objects to the banning of Hezbollah, that will be a first in this Parliament, and the British people will judge that for themselves.
Secondly, the order will proscribe Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, which is also known at JNIM, its aliases Nusrat al-Islam and Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen and its media arm, known as az-Zallaqa. JNIM was established in March 2017 as a federation of al-Qaeda aligned groups in Mali. It aims to eradicate government and the western presence from the western Sahel region, including parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. In their place, it wants to impose a strict Salafist interpretation of sharia law. To that end, it attacks western interests across the region and kidnaps western nationals to raise ransom money. Three civilians and two military personnel were killed in a 2017 attack on a tourist hotspot in Mali. Az-Zallaqa then proudly announces the atrocities and claims responsibility. JNIM is already designated by the US and the UN, and I have no hesitation in doing the same.
Finally, the order will ban Ansaroul Islam and its alias Ansaroul Islam Lil Irchad Wal Jihad. The group wants to take control of the Fulani kingdom of Djelgoodji in Burkina Faso and Mali and to impose its own strict interpretation of sharia law. It announced its existence in 2016 by claiming responsibility for an attack on an army outpost in Burkina Faso that killed at least 12 soldiers. Its methods include attacks on police stations, schools and public officials. The predominantly Fulani organisation often target other ethnic groups, leading to mass displacement. Ansaroul Islam is already designated as a terror group by the US, and it is highly likely that it is supported by JNIM. Given its murderous actions, it is only right that we outlaw it in the UK.
As I mentioned earlier, we keep under review not just which organisations need to be proscribed, but which organisations may need to be removed. Organisations have been removed in the past, and organisations are not added every year, but we keep the matter constantly under review.
I have no doubt all three proscriptions are in the national interest. Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, I have the power to proscribe an organisation if I believe it is concerned in terrorism. Currently, 74 international terrorist organisations are proscribed under the Act, alongside 14 connected to Northern Ireland that are proscribed under separate legislation. I only exercise the power after thoroughly reviewing all the available evidence. I consult colleagues across Government, intelligence agencies and law enforcement, and the cross-Government proscription review group supports me in the decision-making process.
Once proscribed, an organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the UK. It becomes a criminal offence to be a member, to support it or to encourage the support of others. Proscription makes it harder for a banned group to fundraise and recruit, and its assets can become subject to seizure as terrorist property. Those linked to such groups may be excluded from the UK using immigration powers. Once a group is proscribed, it is also an offence to display its symbols in public and to brandish them on flags and clothes to indicate or encourage support. Earlier this month, Parliament passed the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which strengthens these powers by also making it an offence to publish an image of such an item and extends extra-territorial jurisdiction so that UK nationals and residents can be prosecuted in our courts for doing so overseas. This will help us further bear down on online propaganda and terrorist grooming, enabling us to act when a foreign fighter uses social media to reach back to the UK to build support for their terrorist organisation.
I take this opportunity to update the House on another order, which I laid yesterday. The order came into effect today and it outlaws aliases of two already proscribed organisations: Daesh and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation party. We will not allow these or any other groups to continue to operate merely by changing their name. Banning these aliases will leave those groups with nowhere left to hide.
I have outlined the terrorist threat posed by these groups. To ignore this would be to fail in our duty to protect our citizens and our allies. It can only be right that we add them to the list of proscribed organisations. The time has come to act, and I will not flinch from doing do. Subject to the agreement of this House and the other place, the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2019 will come into effect on Friday 1 March.
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May I unequivocally welcome today’s announcement from the Home Secretary? I pay tribute to all those in this House and beyond who have worked long and hard to achieve this result. I would like to thank the cross-party Back-Bench coalition that supported me in the debate I led on this topic in January 2018, despite opposition from both Government and Opposition Front Benchers. In particular, I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) for her sterling efforts to ensure proscription and end the annual travesty of the flags of an antisemitic terror group being paraded on the streets of London.
As the Community Security Trust rightly argued last year, the artificial division between Hezbollah’s so-called military and political wings, one that Hezbollah itself denies, was highly damaging to social cohesion and community relations. It is thus very disappointing, but I am afraid not surprising, to hear the words of the Opposition Front Bencher today. I hear that the Opposition are not opposing the order, but I really think they should be supporting it. However, I thank the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) for the listening ear he gave when we met after last year’s debate.
Today’s step is not simply a blow against terrorism and antisemitism; it furthers the cause of peace. Let us be clear that Hezbollah has no desire to be part of any meaningful dialogue or peace process in the middle east. Opposition Front Benchers do not need to take my word for it, because Hezbollah has repeatedly and consistently made its aims and intentions very clear. It vehemently opposed the Oslo peace process and has fought any normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab countries. In its founding manifesto in 1985, Hezbollah says of Israel:
“Our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognise no treaty with it, no cease-fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.”
On numerous occasions, most notably in 1993, 1996 and 2006, Hezbollah has sought to provoke conflicts with Israel, and it is readying itself for war once again. It now has an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 rockets and missiles—an arsenal larger than that of many states—and an army of 45,000 fighters. At the end of last year, in a further violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701, a number of cross-border terror tunnels were discovered. It is all part of Hezbollah’s plan of attack, called “Conquering the Galilee”, to launch assaults inside Israeli cities and towns, which Hassan Nasrallah publicly boasted about only last month.
It is not just the people of Israel to whom Hezbollah poses a direct threat; it is heavily implicated in the war crimes of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, having participated in battles in Aleppo and the killing of more than 1,000 civilians in the Ghouta district in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. It has destabilised Lebanon, bringing conflict to its people and murdering its political opponents, and it has conspired with its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps masters to attack western, Israeli and Jewish targets throughout the middle east, Europe and South America.
I know that this is not the direct responsibility of the Home Secretary, but I now urge the Government to do more to work with our allies and friends in the region to counter the pernicious influence of Iran, the barely hidden hand behind Hezbollah and the source of so much of the violence, sectarianism and terror that plagues the middle east.