Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am grateful to be called to speak in this highly important debate on proposals that, if they were accepted without change, would threaten the very civil liberties that every Briton expects. I shall begin by making it clear that I   believe that there is no excuse for terrorism. Terrorism is evil. Terrorists take the lives of innocent men, women and children. Terrorists maim and injure innocent men, women and children. There must never be any excuse for them and, when caught, they must face the severest punishment. There must be a war on terrorism so that we can continue to live in a free society without fear. We must be tough on terrorism. We must punish those who threaten the order of democracy and freedom in this country by undertaking terrorist activities. And if I   thought for one minute that these clauses would reduce terrorism, I would vote for them—but I do not.

The question is whether the provisions would reduce terrorism or encourage it. In my opinion, an offence of encouragement and glorification of terrorism would encourage terrorism rather than reduce it. The provisions add nothing to the existing law that is in place to deal with terrorist suspects. These additions to the current terrorism legislation would do little or nothing that cannot be achieved by existing laws.

The proposed offence of encouragement and glorification of terrorism would restrict the freedom of speech that we have in this country. Moreover, this offence would further disillusion those people who are targets for terrorist propaganda—those groups in our communities who feel that they have been denied the opportunity of free speech on this issue. That could encourage them to support, rather than prevent them from supporting or even committing acts of terrorism.

If someone glorifies terrorism in any way, they could be charged under the current offence of incitement to commit an existing terrorist offence or—perhaps better—their comments could be exposed and dealt with freely in our society, which allows for argument and debate. What we as a country need to do is expose those people who glorify terrorism, and then present our arguments to them through the television, radio, newspapers, the internet and even in the local pub. Line by line, we should expose why their views on terrorism are wrong, flawed and evil. It is free speech, argument and leadership that win people over. It is regimes such as Stalin's, Hitler's and Saddam Hussein's that think that people can be won over by denying free speech. If Governments restrict people over what they can say, they tread a dangerous path indeed.

We have been here before. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), who appeared to be a spokesman for the IRA—undoubtedly terrorists—had his free speech restricted. We all remember the ridiculous occasions when he appeared on television with his voice dubbed by an actor because of the restrictions imposed by a previous Government. When
 
2 Nov 2005 : Column 860
 
we finally heard the real voice of the hon. Gentleman, it was less eloquent than that of the actor. But those restrictions succeeded only in giving credence to the IRA. Had we instead argued the case against his views, we would have exposed the   IRA and not acted as a recruiting sergeant. Why have we not learnt from that episode? Trying to silence people in such circumstances does not work. It allows extreme minority arguments to grow out of proportion, and it plays into the hands of terrorists.

I would have preferred it if some practical solutions to   the problems of countering terrorism had been included in the Bill. We have heard much talk about counter-terrorism methods through the law, but what exactly has been done in practice to improve security on the tube since 7 July?

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Eric Forth): Order. This is a wide set of amendments, but the hon. Gentleman is going even wider. Will he please bring his attention back to the amendments?

Mr. Bone: I was just trying to say that there are better ways to approach the issue than to attack the freedom of every person in this country to say what they feel. I do not understand how banning the glorification of terrorism will prevent terrorism. It plays into the hands of the people who want to do such things. That is an Alice-in-Wonderland approach—completely the wrong way round.

The provisions should be rejected for three reasons. First, they are unnecessary; there are laws already in place, so why create new ones? Secondly, they restrict the individual's freedom of speech. The third reason—to my mind, the main one—is the great danger that the provisions will encourage rather than reduce terrorism.

2.30 pm

Several hon. Members rose—

The Temporary Chairman: Order. Before I call the next speaker, it might help the Committee if I say that the winding-up speeches are likely to start at around five minutes past 3. Several hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye; they should bear the time constraints in mind when they speak. I call Mr. Llwyd.

Mr. Llwyd: I am obliged to you, Mr. Forth.

I rise to speak to amendments Nos. 62 and 63, both of which stand in my name and the names of my colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party. Picking up the remark made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) that we do not need new legislation, I shall go through the existing legislation.

By virtue of section 4 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, it is already an offence to

Under section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861, it is already an offence to counsel or procure any   other person to commit any indictable offence. Under the common law it is an offence to solicit or incite
 
2 Nov 2005 : Column 861
 
another person to commit any indictable offence. Under section 59 of the Terrorism Act 2000, it is an offence to incite

Under section 1A of the Criminal Law Act 1977, it is an offence to conspire with others to commit offences outside the United Kingdom. Under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000, it is an offence to invite support for a proscribed terrorist organisation.

Taking into account that raft of existing legislation, my firm belief is that we do not need new legislation. It would be far better to enforce the current law properly. The knee-jerk reaction of the present Government is always to create a new offence.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the points made by other hon. Members in relation to George Orwell, Uzbekistan and Burma are not relevant to the debate because powers already exist?

Mr. Llwyd: I believe that, under existing legislation, inviting support for a proscribed terrorist organisation is an offence, as is conspiring with others to commit offences outside the United Kingdom and inciting another person to commit an act of terrorism wholly or partly outside the UK.

John Mann: This an important point. A host of speakers have suggested that the Bill will create a new problem by widening the remit, but the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the powers already exist. Is the hon. Gentleman countering the point made by those other speakers?

Mr. Llwyd: The problem with the Bill is that it widens the remit and lowers the threshold of proof. "Conspire", "incite", "solicit" and "invite" are legally definable words, with specific intent attached. In clause 1, however, we have a mish-mash whereby someone could find him or herself in prison for seven years for negligently having supported some form of terrorism in the past. The National Library of Wales is extremely concerned about scholars there writing about acts of alleged terrorism in days gone by, because those treatises and scholarly works may well be caught up in this ridiculous, uncalled for Bill.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Labour Members fail to understand the Opposition parties' view that the clauses are dangerous, and is not his point that they are also unnecessary?

Mr. Llwyd: They are unnecessary, but if we are to have them, for heaven's sake, let us have a proper legal basis for the offence. We should adopt the traditional route of mens rea—a guilty mind. At the very least, there should be the intent to commit an offence, rather than stumbling into it. On that point, I pray in aid of my amendments, which would introduce a requirement of intent and replace "are likely to" with "will", a letter of   support from the Law Society of Scotland, which came to me via my good friend the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). The hon. Member for Banff
 
2 Nov 2005 : Column 862
 
and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) asked why there is a difference between clause 1, which refers to what members of the public "will" understand, and other clauses, which refer to what they are "likely to" understand. I have not heard his question answered by a Government Member.

All the amendments in the group row in the same direction. My hon. Friends and I do not intend to press   our amendments, because their purport is covered by other amendments, not least the ones tabled by the hon.   and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews).

We have been drawn into the Bill—I shall not say dishonestly, because that would be unparliamentary, but let me say that we have been drawn into it slowly but surely by the Home Secretary. On 20 July, he said:

That is, more or less, where the argument has focused today. On 6 October, in relation to amended draft clauses for the Bill, the Home Secretary stated that

The requirement that a person can be guilty of encouraging terrorism only when they intend to encourage further acts of terror is also found in article 5 of the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism, which requires signatories to criminalise

The explanatory notes state that clause 1

but as drafted, the clause contains no such requirement on the prosecution to prove that the accused intended to incite or encourage further acts of terrorism. Under the clause, it is sufficient that a defendant merely had "reasonable grounds" to believe that another member of the public, however unreasonable that hypothetical person may be, might understand his or her words as a direct or indirect encouragement to prepare, commit or even instigate an act of terrorism.

I am saddened by the fact that we are debating the Bill today. Such a Bill does nothing for Parliament. Only a few months ago, Parliament sought to criminalise Brian Haw, the protester who sits outside Parliament—and a right dog's breakfast Parliament made of that. Given the curtailing of every debate in this place, it is no wonder that we have been making rotten law. Rotten law is one thing, but a law that might criminalise and imprison a person for seven years for saying, without thinking about committing or intending to commit an offence, something that might be offensive is more than rotten: it is undesirable and insidious, as well. I am embarrassed by the whole process and I do not think that we would have slipped into this sort of debate 10 years ago.

The Government want to act tough. Every time, they react by creating a new offence. Earlier today in Prime Minister's questions, I referred to 700 criminal offences that have been introduced—seven per month, or almost
 
2 Nov 2005 : Column 863
 
two a week. That is ridiculous, and of all the new offences, the ones set out in the first clauses of this Bill will be the worst. If the hon. and learned Member for Medway presses his amendment, I hope that many hon.   Members on both sides of the Committee will vote in favour of it, because he is absolutely right. We should appreciate the fact that he speaks from experience and vote accordingly.


Next Section IndexHome Page