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The Temporary Chairman: Order. I intend to call the Minister to make her winding-up speech at about 3.10 pm. Three experienced Members are seeking to catch my eye. I shall say no more than that, and leave decisions to them.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I speak as the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, where two of the four outrages on 7 July took place. I am proud to represent a substantial number of the emergency personnel who worked so hard in desperate difficulties that day.
For me, as for everyone in the Chamber, it is not a question of whether we try to counter terrorism but of how best we try to do so. It is worth remembering that no mature democracy has ever been overthrown by terrorismnot a single one. The misguided individuals directly involved in terrorism may believe that they can achieve that, but the people behind them, who want to cause us to bring our institutions into disrepute, do not. One of our great claims is that, broadly speaking, we have an open society in which people can say what they think. Rightly, we have constraints on that, and incitement to violence by word of mouth or by written material is already an offence. There is therefore no need to introduce an additional clause. It is unnecessary, but if it were introduced it would be exploited by the people behind the terrorists, to illustrate that we are a set of canting hypocrites whose laws are not even-handed and involve double standards in their application.
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We must remember that if we want to make sure that we minimise the possible sympathisers with terrorists currently in our country, we must convince those people that they are full-blown British citizens with the same rights as everyone else, and that they are not likely to be discriminated against by the police, through the laws or in any other way. If we pass the clause as drafted, we will be doing just that and doing what the enemies of our decent standards want us to do.
As a member of the anti-apartheid movement all my adult life, I contributed money, organised meetings and went on marches. I am proud to say that when I was in South Africa a few years ago and somebody attempted to introduce me to a member of President Mandela's first Cabinet, they responded, "It's all rightI know Frank. I slept on his floor when I was in exile." I would have been caught by the new law. If I were caught by the law for supporting the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, it would be a very bad law.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The case has been made from all parts of the Committee that the glorification provision should be eliminated from the Bill. Little more needs to be said, save that what was left in the Bill if it were taken out would provide a reasonable basis on which prosecutions could take place. By keeping glorification in the Bill, we merely make the provisions of clause 1 indefensible.
There is another issue, which I touched on in relation to the Catholic martyrs of the 16th century. In the context of Islamic fundamentalism, there is the question of glorification, its relationship to martyrdom and the connection between Islam and politics. As Gandhi once said, those who do not understand the connection between religion and politics do not understand what religion is all about. In relation to the criminal law of terrorism, it is extremely dangerous for us to get into the difficulties inherent in mixing up the glorification of acts that are themselves connected with a religious view of life.
I refer to one or two cases in which the argument for removing the glorification provision is well made. In the trial of Tom Paine for publication of "Rights of Man" in 1792 and ever since then, English law has never penalised those who praised conduct that would be described as deplorable. Instead, we have convicted those whose language, by intention or foreseeable effect, leads to the commission of violence or disorder.
That principle was applied in the case of Rex v. Caunt in 1947 in a decision by Mr. Justice Birkett. In that case, the editor of a local Morecambe newspaper was prosecuted for seditious libel, alleged to have been committed when he published an anti-Semitic article after the public hanging in Palestine of two young British sergeants. In many respects the article was no less provocative than some of the broadcasts that we have heard recently on the BBC and other channels, but Mr. Justice Birkett advised the jury that they could not return a verdict of guilty on the ground that the editor's intention was to provoke merely hostility or ill-will between Jews and non-Jewsmore was required. Mr. Justice Birkett said that
I find myself in total agreement with the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). His criticisms of the Bill, and especially of the clause, are shared widely among hon. Members. I suspect that the Government will be alarmed by the fact that in this afternoon's debate not one voice has been raised in favour of the Government's position.
The right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) posed the right questions for the Committee to address: first, is the threshold of the Bill too low; secondly, is the definition of terrorism too broad; and, thirdly, will it prevent anybody from being drawn into terrorism? When we consider the amendments, we should address precisely those questions. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view, so I support the amendments tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
As for whether the threshold is too low, I say it is manifestly so. There ought to be the specific intent referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Medway. The glorification clause set out in subsection (2) should be struck out because it goes far, far too wide and would penalise many statements made by hon. Members over many years in many different circumstances.
I am well aware that we will address the second questionthe broadness of the definitionin some detail tomorrow. Suffice it to say that I find it extraordinary that we are not making allowance for acts that many people would characterise as those of freedom fighters. It is bizarre, as I observed to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), that it is legitimate for the Government to go to war against Iraq to procure regime change, yet if we had urged the citizens of Iraqas we did, incidentally, in the first Gulf warto rise up against the regime of Saddam Hussein, we would have been committing an offence under the Bill.
My final point addresses the last point made by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen: will the Bill prevent anybody from being drawn into terrorism? I believe not, because I think it will create martyrs. However, we must consider the proportionality of the response. If a catch-all provision of the kind contemplated in clause 1 and in particular in subsection (2) also renders unlawful many acts that in all conscience should never be treated as unlawful, even if it did prevent one person from being drawn into terrorism, it would be wrong.
Even if it is true, as I acknowledge, that the filter of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General is available in appropriate caseswhich will prevent prosecutions in the majority of
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cases, as I said beforenevertheless, the fear of prosecution will be a real check on free speech. Societies that undermine free speech are beginning to destroy the process by which they remain democratic. We go down that road at our peril.
Hazel Blears: I have listened carefully to all the contributions to this afternoon's debate, which has been fascinating, although we strayed into existential philosophy at one point. I will do my best to answer the serious points about the threshold, the requirements for offences and the safeguards to protect people from inappropriate prosecutions.
I want to discuss the framing of clause 1. In framing the Bill, we have been very conscious of our obligation to our partners in the Council of Europe. In order to ratify the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism, we must create an offence of incitement to terrorism, whether direct or indirect. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), have said that existing laws are sufficient because we have sufficient powers on the statute book to achieve our objective. There is an offence of directly inciting people to murder, but there is no offence of directly inciting people to terrorist acts. In other words, there is an offence of direct incitement to get someone to do a specific thing, but we do not have an indirect incitement offence, and in order to ratify the Council of Europe convention, we must introduce one.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) has said that he supports indirect incitement becoming a criminal offence. Opposition Members are clearly divided on the matter, as are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. Some hon. Members genuinely think that we should have on the statute book an offence of indirect incitement in accordance with our convention obligations and our international obligationsin those terms, it would be an offence of public provocation, and in terms of the UN Security Council resolution, it would be an offence of glorification. To those hon. Members who do not believe that we need an offence of indirect incitement, I say that the Government believe that such an offence is necessary. We will discuss glorification, but we must have an offence of indirect incitement.
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