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Mr. Grieve: Our consideration begins with clause 1, which provides the offence of the encouragement of terrorism. Specifically, it seeks to widen the scope of incitement by moving from direct incitement to commit a criminal offence to indirect incitement. Conservative Members believe that a change in the law can properly take place to allow indirect incitement to become a criminal offence, and that proposition may attract universal support.
The issue that we must consider this afternoon is how the Government have chosen to draft clause 1. There are two areas of concern: first, the intent that is required for
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an offence to be committed; and secondly, whether the glorification of terrorism should form a separate and discrete part of an incitement charge.
I find clause 1 almost impossible to read and understand. I do not know where the Government found their draftsman, but if ever there were an unintelligible document, it is clause 1, which is extremely convoluted. It moves from an offence based on a person's knowledge or belief to an offence based on "reasonable grounds for believing". The offence is committed if
"members of the public to whom the statement is or is to be published are likely to understand it as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences."
The Minister must clarify what the Government are trying to achievethe explanatory notes are no help whatever. Do the Government want the offence to be committed by specific intent, which is common ground, and can it be committed by recklessness? By my reading of clause 1, it can also be committed negligently. If my reading of the provision is incorrect, I should be grateful if the Minister would indicate as much at the earliest possible opportunity. My reading of the provision is that it is much wider than an ordinary recklessness test, because it combines the fact of a person's committing the offence only on the basis of having "reasonable grounds for believing" with the fact that members of the public need merely be "likely" to understand that incitement was the intended consequence. That combination, which I could describe as the double whammy of clause 1, goes much further than I would consider suitable and proper.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Part of the problem in this breathtakingly badly drafted clause is that the Government do not specify to which members of the public it refers; it is a catch-all. Is not it readily imaginable that people who might take offence are people who are obviously uninitiated, peculiarly excitable, or in some other way lacking a level head? That is a very low threshold on which to bring about the instigation of criminal proceedings.
Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The clause is indeed unclear as regards members of the public. We must bear it in mind that the Government are saying that the individual who is making his comment of encouragement of terrorism should be mindful of every possible range of public opinion. I do not necessarily disagree with that, but it then reverses the onus back to saying that we have to be jolly careful not to criminalise what may merely be a negligent statement. Heaven knows we have enough examples of Ministers standing up in this House and accidentally saying things that they subsequently have cause to regret.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con):
As a relatively new reader of the details of the Bill, it seems to me that the distinction is between intent and effect. My hon. Friend may wish to consider a situation in which one person has a highly malicious intent to incite people and to celebrate terrorism but whose style of doing so is
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so objectionable to the ordinary person that it is counterproductive because it revolts them, as against another person who makes ill-judged comments about the political situation in the middle east that might be construed as encouraging people to have recourse to terrorism. Which of those two, if either, is covered by the Bill, and is it principled to draw a distinction between them?
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