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Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): We still have a realistic case in Northern Ireland. A significant section of the community no doubt will hold commemorations to glorify the actions of the men of 1916. Clearly, that has a resonance with what is going on in our streets and towns in Northern Ireland today. Equally, others will celebrate the work of Carson and his volunteers, who defied Parliament and the Government. No doubt, that will have a resonance among many people in the streets and towns of Northern Ireland as well. The only defence that the Government have is that the DPP might not take a case to court in those circumstances. That is hardly a safe way for us to proceed, is it?
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Of course, the commemorations of the Easter rising that are due to take place next year, sanctioned by the Irish Government, are undoubtedly a glorification of the actions of people who were regarded at the time as terrorist and, indeed, treated as terrorists during the rising by a large section of the Irish population. That is a simple truth. Subsequently, partly because of the folly of the British Government, those involved were turned into heroes, but that is not how they were viewed when the rising occurred. That absolutely epitomises the nature of the problem that we face.
The Government's response has tended to be that we need not worry because the DPP or the Attorney-General will deal with this problem in his selective application of the law, but that is not good enough. Glorification as an offence has no place in our law. I do not want to take up the House's time tonightthis issue has been rehearsed beforebut the simple and easy solution is for Parliament and hon. Members collectively, and in no spirit of hostility to the Government, to say that we understand the origin of the idea that they have proposed but that, in truth, we do not care for it.
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If the Government are not willingI think that they are notvoluntarily to get rid of subsection (2) and the other subsections derived from it, we must do the job. That requires a vote, which is what amendment No. 3 is all about. I hope that the House, which has shown its independence today, will simply say that, of course we support the offence of indirect incitement to terrorism, but this glorification notion is a muddle. It will not help to prosecute those who need to be prosecuted. It will cause endless bother and send out a slightly tacky signal about how Parliament and the Government view individuals who express opinions in a sense about past events. We can deal with clerics, British National party leaders and others who may wish to invoke terrorism, violence or whatever they wish to do quite easily by keeping the Bill while deleting subsection (2) and the related subsections. That is why I commend amendment No. 3 to the House.
Mr. Heath: I entirely concur with the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). There is no place for the offence on our statute book. I do not see the point of it, and that is not because I lack any vigour on fighting terrorism. I simply do not believe that it is a useful addition to the offences available to the police and prosecuting authorities to reduce the likelihood of terrorism.
Let us make no bones about this. The provision is clearly a vestigial remnant of an idea that must have sounded good on the day on which it was put forward by the Prime Minister, but that has been expunged elsewhere. The fragment of the Prime Minister's idea remains in the Bill, but I hope that we will clear it up today, which is why we have put our names to amendment No. 3.
The offence might have looked appropriate in 17th century legislation because it is the sort of thing that Parliament passed at that time. Parliament could afford a little imprecision in its terms in those days because it knew that it had a compliant judiciary that could be relied on to do the Executive's bidding. I can imagine some of my ancestors being prosecuted for glorification. They were transported as slaves after the rebellion in 1685. We had a wonderful judicial system in those days, as defendants were advised not to plead their innocence before the court because that would waste the court's time. We have moved on a long way since then.
The provision is drafted in such imprecise terms that it undermines the Government's rational case behind other measures in the Bill. Its chilling effect is that it has the capacity to worry a great many people who will never be prosecuted under the Bill. We have considered such an effect when we have dealt with other legislation. The fact that it might be possible to bring a perverse prosecution under the Bill could mean that people would think it better not to say what they had intended to say. However, that would lead to the serious curtailment of our free speech.
The Government have provided for other offences in the Bill. We have just debated the encouragement of terrorism. I have already said that I would prefer that activity to be termed as incitement because encouragement is a loose term. However, the concept of
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encouragement is a million times better than the strange offence of glorification. Labour Back Benchers made many valid contributions when we last discussed the matter and pointed out the dangers of the imprecision that was inherent in the measure.
I hope that the Government will be prepared to think again even at this late stage. I do not think that those in the other place who are well versed in lawcertainly better versed than I amwill wear it for a moment. The provision will be struck out there, but as I have said on many occasions, it would be preferable for the elected House to do its job. Ministers claim to be looking for consensus on the Bill, but they know that there is a general consensus on the proper requirement to deal with people who incite terrorism in this country. They should listen to others and acknowledge that the provision will not achieve what they want.
We have heard fanciful and hyperbolic examples of what could be caught by the offence. Although they are useful for illustrative purposes, I do not think that anyone seriously assumes that the Attorney-General would prosecute anyone for the flimsy reasons that have been adduced as behaviour that could be caught by the offence. Of course, such prosecutions would not be brought. When we are legislating in the House, particularly when we introduce new offences that curtail the power of free speech, which some of us hold dear, we must be extremely careful and precise. We should know what is intended in the measures, and if we use hyperbole to illustrate our case we should do so with the intention of bringing the House to its senses so that it can understand the consequences of ill-considered legislation.
My hon. Friends and I have tabled amendments Nos. 31 and 30, which deal with the use of the word "glorification" in clause 21. I urge the Government to reconsider its inclusion, because we have terms to proscribe organisations under the Terrorism Act 2000. Only a few weeks ago, the Minister submitted to the House a further list of organisations that should be proscribed under that Act. The House agreed with her, albeit with concerns about one organisation. Generally, however, it was happy to accede to her view that those organisations should be proscribed under that legislation. If she is going to extend the terms of proscription to include the vague concept of glorification, a vast number of organisations around the world could be caught. Some of those organisations may have had a presence in this country, but that will not be the case for many of them, as we learned from the order that was laid before the House only a few weeks ago.
If we widen the scope of proscription, there will be intense diplomatic pressure on the Government to proscribe many organisations of which we know little. Another country's Government, for example, may say, "We have a problem with a certain organisation, which spends all its time saying what a wonderful thing it was that the statue of our President was blown up last week. That is entirely unacceptable. If Her Majesty's Government are serious about terrorism, when will you take the necessary steps to proscribe that organisation?"
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If we wish to maintain a good diplomatic relationship with that country, the pressure on the Home Secretary to accede to that request will be very strong indeed.
Mr. Gummer : Is there not an important reason why this is not just a passing thing that can be ignored? The difficulty with effectively buying prosecution in this way is that we create circumstances in which political decisions appear to be made. Of course, that is not the case, but that is how it appears to other countries when they see that one organisation is subject to the law, but another is not. That is very dangerous: not only does it bring pressure to bear on the Government but it makes people feel hard done by if their organisation is dealt with in that way, while another is not.
Mr. Heath: The right hon. Gentleman is right, and the provision will prejudice British interests in future. People whom we call terrorists today may be freedom fighters tomorrow and the Government the day after. The measure therefore puts the country in the difficult position of receiving requests that we cannot possibly fulfil in the interests of justice, but with which diplomatic pressure and the immediate national interest will urge us to comply. That puts the Home Secretary in a difficult position for the sake of a definition that is not worth the candle. If terrorist and other organisations are covered by the wide definition of support for terrorist activities in the Terrorism Act 2000, it is right that we should proscribe their activities in this country. However, we do not need the flimsy excuse of glorification to extend those provisions, because the House has shown that it is prepared to act responsibly when presented with information by the Government, even when, for reasons of security and the need to protect the provenance of the information, it cannot be given the full facts. The House has been prepared to take on trust the advice of this very Minister in extending the provisions of the Terrorism Act. That trust may be strained if we accept the provision, as the grounds for proscription would then be that much weaker. That worries me because it is a serious step that the Government are taking in these instances, and we wish to protect the strength of the arguments behind it.
For those reasons, we will support the hon. Member for Beaconsfield if he chooses to press his amendment this evening, but I hope the Government will pre-empt that by saying that they will reconsider the clause and do the job that at earlier stages they implied that they might do, and look again at clause 21, which is unnecessarily widened by the provision.
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