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Clause 21 is very anti-historyso much so that it seems that Parliament is trying to strike a blow against the past. Most of the countries that we hold in high esteem have a myth about their creation and celebrate,
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for instance, a glorious revolution or the overthrow of a colonial power. Their histories are often held up as examples of how direct and positive action can bring about change for the better.
Holding up as such an example, even the progress to liberal democracy, if that involved acts covered by the terms of the Bill, would be deemed fundamentally unlawful. However, that is often the truth behind many modern societies.
We reason by cases, and the United States is worth considering in that connection. President Bush, like all his predecessors, is almost obliged to esteem the actions of those who rose against Britain's sovereignty in America's internal affairs. Another example is Italy's revolt against the Austrians. Garibaldi sought the emancipation, in one sense, of the south of Italy, and was treated as a national hero when he arrived here: all of London turned out to celebrate the courageous acts of one of the great 19th century figures.
I know that the Home Secretary will say that all that happened a long time ago. In the historical analysis that he presented on Second Reading, he said that he considered progress to be ineluctable. We know that it is not; what we think of as progress can turn out to be regress, and it is possible that that is what is happening in certain central Asian states today.
The notion of glorification as presented in the Bill goes against the principles of liberal democracy that the Home Secretary is endeavouring to protect. In his endeavours, he contradicts something that is profoundly important to our society.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Clause 21 explains that the notion of a glorifying statement includes "a communication without words". Would a person therefore be caught for wearing the wrong lapel badge? Could someone end up in jail for wearing the wrong T-shirt?
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I have reservations about the wording of clause 21, and much sympathy with what has been said already in that connection. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to assure me later that I have misread the clause, but my interpretation is that, for example, a UK citizen singing rebel songs with the Clancy Brothers in a New York bar could be arrested on returning to this country.
Furthermore, my reading of the clause suggests that a record company distributing records by groups such as the Clancy Brothers could become a proscribed organisation. In the same way, the distributors of Neil Jordan's film "Michael Collins", which came out five or six years ago and which I suspect most hon. Members will have seen, could become a proscribed organisation in the UK. That is because it could be reasonably expected that some people living in Ireland's 32 counties might start emulating the activities with which Michael Collins was associated in the period between 1919 and 1921. Those activities included blowing up British forces and, on occasion and by accident, civilians.
Mr. Grieve: I am very grateful to all those who have participated in this short debate, which has highlighted some of my anxieties about the clause. My party accepts that a problem exists in connection with organisations in this country that regularly glorify acts of terrorism currently taking place around the world, and that that problem must be addressed. As so often, however, there is a difficulty with how the clause is worded.
In its present form, clause 21 is a catch-all provision. It could be used to proscribe any organisation that glorifies any past act of terrorism. When I was at university, many left-wing organisations gloried in all sorts of activities that took place in the past. An example of that might be the peasants revolt, whose acts of terrorism were especiallyand regrettablytargeted against lawyers.
If a group is founded that calls itself the John Bull society, for instance, or the Wat Tyler club, its aim might be to promote radical political change. Such organisations might well draw inspiration from figures from the past who committed acts of violence, but the result is that they would be liable to be caught by clause 21. The Minister will no doubt fall back on the old mantra and say, "It's all right, the DPP will know how to distinguish between various groups," but that will not be good enough.
If the Government want to go down this road, they must produce a coherent argument that makes it clear what they are aiming at. They must narrow the definition sufficiently to allow the Committee as a whole to agree about the groups that would be caught. Otherwise, the Bill will create an absurdity, with endless challenges when attempts are made to proscribe organisations.
Without that narrower definition, there will be allegations of unfairness. Other organisations will be brought into the argument, and it will be contended that all sorts of bodies celebrate past violence. The Government should focus attention on the clause's use of the expression
I accept that the matter is not an easy one but, if it turns out to be impossible to produce coherent grounds for proscription, that would be a good reason for saying that we should not have the clause at all.
I do not intend to force a vote at the end of this debate, as I support the Government's underlying intention with the clause. I believe that Ministers will consider the other, linked issues relating to glorification between now and next Wednesday, when the Bill returns on Report. I hope that they will reassure the House then that there is a form of words that meets the Government's intended target. Otherwise, the Government should not be aiming at a target at all, regrettable though it might be that that would allow some organisations to glorify terrorism. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide us with some reassurance that the Government will go away and consider that.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
We have had a useful discussion, but one aspect that needs to be emphasised is an echo of yesterday's discussion on clause 1. It is a fact that it is possible for an individual, as well as an organisation, to fall foul of the provision merely because of a perception
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on somebody else's part. We should criminalise the intent of the individual or organisation, not the way in which somebody else might see their actions. Many organisations that try to highlight issues in connection with places such as Palestine or Kashmir will have to tread an exceptionally fine line, and it should not be the business of the House to proscribe their activities simply because somebody else may feel that they have crossed that line.
Paul Goggins: As I predicted earlier, some of the discussion on this clause has reflected our earlier considerations in Committee. I can tell the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), his hon. Friends and, indeed, all hon. Members, that the Home Secretary continues to listen very carefully to all the discussions that take place during the Committee stage of this Billand rightly so; that is the purpose of a Committee stage.
Paul Goggins: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give me a second, because I was about to come to the point that he raised? He asked me for specific examples, and some of our discussions have related not to the specific issue that we are discussing here, which is proscription, but to the conduct of individual people. With individual people, it would be for the courts to determine whether glorification had actually taken place in a specific case. Now, however, we are discussing glorification by an organisation to an extent that requires it to be proscribed.
The clause extends the existing definition in the Terrorism Act 2000. My recollection is that no one in the House objected to the powers taken in 2000 to proscribe organisations promoting terrorism. However, clause 21 implies that the Government have had a difficultythat they have wanted to proscribe an organisation but because what it was doing was glorifying past terrorism, they were unable to do so. The Minister may be able to cite some particular organisation, or at least to describe anonymously some problem that has arisen involving an organisation that ought to have been proscribed, but as its activities were based on glorification of martyrs, past causes, freedom fighters or whatever, in some other part of the world, it could not be proscribed. I am not aware of the Government having been prevented from using their powers in such circumstances. Can the Minister let us know what provoked this measure, and why it is necessary to extend the definition? What are the organisations that now get through a loophole that will be closed by the strange introduction of the concept of "glorifying" as a particularly worrying action?
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