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Mr. McNulty: I take that point, too. I cannot, however, tag an order subject to the negative procedure
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to one subject to the affirmative procedure. That simply cannot happen in our parliamentary procedures. The negative procedure deliberately addresses the issues raised by a number of hon. Members in relation to splinter groups and successor bodies, where a direct link can be made to the original parent body—for want of another phrase—rather than having the affirmative procedure every time there is another clear manifestation of the same group.

The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) asked what happens now and how we will take matters forward. As with other proscription orders, we will work with the police to ensure that all options are considered, including the use of non-proscription offences such as the dissemination of terrorist publications. With the Treasury, we are exploring, as we always do, all the options in terms of asset freezing and forfeiture. Incidentally, we do not believe that the two domestic groups, of themselves, have a whole lot of assets to go after. With the high-tech crime unit, we are exploring what we can do with internet service providers, certainly where groups are domestically based, about the continuing provision of what is now a website for an illegal organisation. Under law, I think that I am right that the ISP becomes directly involved if it persists in providing such a service for an illegal organisation. Clearly, that is more difficult in relation to a foreign-based website.

In terms of the broader points, which were entirely fairly raised, about keeping matters under review, there are two processes. There is the process by which the organisation can apply directly to the Home Secretary and subsequently to the appeals commission, to be de-proscribed. There is also a proscription working group bringing together No. 10, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the police agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office, which continually reviews all the organisations on the list, which are entirely moveable feasts.

With the greatest respect to the House, the one thing that I cannot do is treat proscription like some sort of Dutch auction, whereby we present a list to the House of those organisations about which we feel that we have sufficient evidence to go down the proscription route, and then indulge in discussions about a range of other organisations. The House has generously invited me to talk about why Hizb ut-Tahrir or any number of organisations are not on the list. As I said at the outset, this is not the definitive list for this year. The Government still have very serious concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir. We also have concerns about a range of other organisations, some of which have been mentioned by individual Members. On the evidential base that we have, I am simply putting to the House the four organisations listed on the order for proscription. I have not come here to discuss the next potential series of proscribed organisations, not least because of court proceedings that may follow should such organisations be proscribed in due course.

Mr. Hancock: The Minister was extraordinarily grateful in taking interventions—[Hon. Members: “Generous.”]. The Minister was generous. Can he explain how the head of the security services in this country, the Prime Minister, was able to say over a year ago that there was clear evidence for one particular
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organisation to be proscribed, and yet one year on we still have not proscribed it? If the Prime Minister had the evidence, surely the Minister had the evidence, and it should be before us this afternoon.

Mr. McNulty: I think that the hon. Gentleman made a Freudian slip initially—I am certainly not grateful for that intervention. I have just said that these are very serious matters, and proscription of organisations is very serious. I have not come here to speculate about whether any proscription order will come. On 5 August last year, the Prime Minister clearly mentioned three such organisations. I have come to the House with an order proscribing two of those. I have made it clear that the Government still have serious concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir, but that is not to speculate about whether a proscription is forthcoming. Given the nature of the measures, which are not taken lightly, I implore the House to concentrate on those that the Government feel confident enough to bring forward, rather than to dwell on—with no pun intended—the ifs and buts of other organisations that may be under review and may form the basis of subsequent proscription orders.

Given the broadly generous way in which the House has received the proscription of those four organisations, I will quit while I am ahead, and commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


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International Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Cawsey.]

2.37 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): These are grave and serious days for the international community.

Of all the difficult issues around the world, the situation in the middle east is of the greatest immediate concern. Many civilians have been killed. The crisis threatens all our hopes for wider peace and security in the region. Many thousands of British nationals and dual nationals have been caught up in the midst of this violence. Understandably, many are worried about their safety and anxious to leave, and I will say a little more about that, if I may, later.

I want to begin, however, by reminding us all of the course of recent events, because that context informs our decisions and approach to a situation that has its underlying roots in the events and decisions of past decades. A year or so ago, a period of at least comparative calm—I understand that it is called “tahdia”—was said to exist in Israel and Palestine. Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza, and although the calm was punctuated by continuing Qassam rocket attacks on Israel, overall levels of violence were significantly down. The new President of Palestine began to establish himself, and almost six months ago the Palestinian people gave a mandate to the representatives of Hamas. That led to demands and pressure from all sides for Hamas to adopt the Quartet’s three principles: to renounce violence, to recognise Israel, and to make a commitment to the road map.

At the beginning of last month, Prime Minister Olmert visited the United States and the United Kingdom. During our discussions and in his public statements, he made it clear that he would be prepared to work for a negotiated settlement with any genuine Palestinian partner for peace. A month ago, on 22 June in Jordan, President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert met for the first time in over a year. President Abbas had also just scheduled a meeting with Hamas Prime Minister Haniya.

Those were tentative but, I think, important signs of progress. However, Palestinian extremists began again to step up rocket attacks on Israel, and the Israelis to respond with artillery fire. Tragically—as the House will probably remember—a family of seven Palestinians was killed on a beach in Gaza. It was in that situation of substantially heightened tensions that Palestinian militants tunnelled into Israel, killed two soldiers and abducted a third. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that that was a deliberate attempt to destroy those first small signs of a move towards dialogue.

This was the deteriorating and already dangerous background against which Hezbollah chose to cross into Israel, kill eight Israeli soldiers and kidnap two more, deliberately pouring petrol on an already burning bonfire. I find it impossible to see that action as anything other than a calculated attempt by extremist forces massively to destabilise the region further, without the slightest regard for the potential impact of their actions on the people of Lebanon.

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Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I entirely agree with the points that my right hon. Friend has made. There can be no doubt that Hezbollah started the conflict. Does my right hon. Friend not agree, however, that Israel’s response—300 Lebanese civilians dead, 1,000 injured, a third of them children, and half a million people displaced—is utterly disproportionate?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is aware, I know, that from the outset we have urged on all parties that they should act proportionately, and that they should do everything possible to avoid civilian violence. I regret—as, I know, does my hon. Friend, along with, probably, the whole House—the killing and injuring of, in particular, civilians in Lebanon, in Gaza or in Israel itself. Our main objective must be to establish what can be done to ameliorate the situation.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary answer the question that she has just been asked? Does she believe that the action taken by the Israeli Government in Lebanon, which, initially, was understandable as a response to terrorism, is proportionate or disproportionate?

Margaret Beckett: I can only repeat what I have already said. From the beginning we have urged restraint on Israel, and we continue to do so. From the beginning we have urged Israel—which, of course, argues that it is trying to degrade Hezbollah’s ability to continue to attack it—not only to show restraint, but to take every care to avoid civilian casualties.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I have no illusions whatever about the Iranian-backed groups that are causing so much damage to Israel at the moment, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the strong possibility that the lack of forceful condemnation from the United States and Britain of what Israel is doing in retaliation—the number of casualties, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock); the children who are being bombed, killed and seriously injured—constitutes an encouragement to Israel to continue what it is doing?

Margaret Beckett: No. I say to my hon. Friend, and to those in all parts of the House who I know share some of his concerns, that no one—no one at all—is encouraging a continuation of the conflict, either on the Palestinian side, in Hezbollah, or in Israel. My hon. Friend may have noticed that the G8 statement called on all parties to try to create the conditions for a ceasefire. The European Union Foreign Ministers’ statement last Monday also called for a cessation of violence.

I can assure my hon. Friend that no one is encouraging a continuation of violence. What everyone is trying to do in their different ways—and people will disagree with some of the ways that are being chosen, whoever is doing it and whatever they are doing—is make an appallingly dangerous situation less dangerous.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): That really will not do as an explanation. Everyone understands that
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the United States has sent an implicit signal to Israel that she has a period in which to try to deal with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israel’s strategy in trying to do that is as we see it on our television screens, and as witnessed by the people of Lebanon.

Margaret Beckett: I do not accept that, although I understand the argument. I hear and I read and I am familiar—from before I became Foreign Secretary—with the fact that people impute all sorts of actions and motives to the Government of the United States, as they do, indeed, to our Government, whether in partnership or complicity with the US or on our own. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that, on the basis of many conversations, I know that everyone wishes to see the violence diminished and ceased. All kinds of ideas are floating around—I shall refer to one or two of them later—and all sorts of initiatives are being taken to find a way out of the situation for the parties engaged in it. However, one of simplest imaginable ideas—it has no complications and the detail does not have to be worked through—is for those who kidnapped the soldiers to release them.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Everything that my right hon. Friend says makes sense and I would not dissent from her analysis of the origins of the conflict, but is it not just a tiny bit shameful that, although we rightly condemn Hezbollah for what it has done, we can find nothing stronger than the word “regret” to describe the slaughter, misery and mayhem unleashed by Israel on a fragile country such as Lebanon?

Margaret Beckett: I hope that my hon. Friend will have noticed—I think that he will, because he is a fair-minded as well as highly intelligent man—that although I have stringently condemned Hezbollah for wantonly and without the smallest fig leaf of an excuse choosing to make an already bad situation infinitely worse, I have tried to be relatively proportionate in what I have said about all other players.

Several hon. Members rose—

Margaret Beckett: I have already given way four or five times and many Members want to speak. I propose to make further progress with my speech before giving way again; otherwise, I am mindful that the entire debate will run out of time even before I—let alone anyone else—have finished speaking.

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)—I know that he will accept my assurance, however much he disagrees with what I am doing or saying—that I am striving in every way I can to act effectively to bring about the position that he desires. I will continue to act in the way that I believe is most likely to be effective, which is not always the way that people would wish me to act.

As the whole House knows, Hezbollah does not act alone. Behind it and, I am afraid, lending it support and direction are Syria and Iran. Syria finances Hezbollah and facilitates the transfer of weapons, including thousands of missiles that appear to be supplied by Iran. Against that difficult and dangerous background, the focus of the international community
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must surely be on what action can be taken to bring about a durable ceasefire. First and foremost, while attempts are made to create the conditions for a ceasefire, the international community must strive to ease the suffering of civilian populations caught up in the fighting.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Recognising that Hezbollah arose out of the consequences of the invasion of Lebanon by the Israelis in 1982, is not my right hon. Friend concerned about what might arise this time, especially if we dilly-dally over a ceasefire and are slow to provide the conditions for Lebanon to get back on its feet?

Margaret Beckett: I can assure my hon. Friend that everyone is aware of the many and varied disasters that could follow from these events. There are all sorts of potential outcomes, hardly any of them good. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South a few moments ago—that the Government are trying to do everything that they can to improve the situation.

Several hon. Members rose—

Margaret Beckett: I am not giving way for the moment, as I have already said that I want to make some progress.

The European Union could play a particularly important role in humanitarian action, and I urged that on my colleagues at the General Affairs Council on Monday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has agreed to provide £2 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. His Department is also arranging for two humanitarian advisers and one reconstruction adviser to be sent to the region as soon as access becomes possible. The EU has also pledged €10 million in humanitarian assistance.

Secondly, we must continue to step up our diplomatic efforts. The UN Secretary- General’s special envoy to the region, Vijay Nambiar, will report back to the UN Security Council today. In addition, the EU’s high representative, Javier Solana, has visited the region twice and we hope that he will continue those efforts. Meanwhile, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been in repeated contact with Prime Minister Siniora and with Prime Minister Olmert, and both my right hon. Friend and I have been in contact with many others in the region and across the globe.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): When the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy reports to the UN later today, will the British Government support a call for an immediate ceasefire? People in this country see what is happening on their television screens and they want to see our Government taking a lead in the international community and doing everything that they can to stop the violence on all sides now, immediately and with no qualifications.

Margaret Beckett: I can assure my hon. Friend not only that we are taking a lead, but that we are doing
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everything we can to try to bring an end to the violence. With regard to our response to the special envoy’s report, my hon. Friend will have to forgive me if I wait to hear it before I respond.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Prime Minister, in his statement on the G8 summit, refused to say whether we would recall our ambassador from Damascus for discussions. Given the consensus that the Foreign Secretary clearly has with the Prime Minister that the Syrians are implicated with Hezbollah, why cannot we take that simple step?

Margaret Beckett: We could do that, and I understand and respect the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. However, I go back to my acid test, and I do not think that it would help. At present, we would rather have our ambassador in Damascus, able to convey our point of view.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that Hezbollah should be condemned for placing its munitions in densely populated areas, and does she agree that that is the main reason for the high level of civilian casualties as Israel tries to defend its population?

Margaret Beckett: I am well aware of both the assertion that that is part of the problem and the concern that such activities cause on all sides. I take entirely my hon. Friend’s position.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Many of us recall the admirably balanced statement made by the Minister for the Middle East on Monday when he said that

He also said:

Is that still the Government’s position, and, if so, will the Foreign Secretary say so out loud, otherwise, the great fear is that disproportionate action by Israel will invite exactly the same sort of response in future years by terrorists who wish to promote instability in the region?

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