Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cash: The Oxford English Dictionary definition is that the word "glorification" means the praise and worship of God. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be a grave danger that the courts will try and construe those words in the context of terrorism, which is what the debate hinges on? If terrorism and religion are conflated, would not the courts have to make a decision based on how praising and worshipping God are interpreted?

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend exposes why the use of the word "glorification" is so uniquely ridiculous, and makes clear how important it is to get this right. It is a delicate matter because it is so close to things that people feel very deeply. In a very delicate eye operation, for example, a tiny move can destroy the eye that was meant to be healed and therefore negate the whole purpose of the operation. The Home Secretary is capable of understanding and sensitivity, and that is why it is worth trying to pursue this matter.

My final point is a reinterpretation of my first. The matter is very delicate and so needs language that is different from that used to send political messages. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) noted, language has many purposes. All hon. Members have a range of different languages. If we used in the House the language that we used to speak to our children when they were young, we would sound pretty peculiar. Some hon. Members use language in the House that would sound better in a bar, while others use language that would sound better at the Bar. Most try to speak in a language suitable for debate.

It is part of your job, Madam Deputy Speaker, to make sure that in general we abide by language that is suitable for debate. There is no place in the world where people are more careful about the language that is used. Over many years, we have created circumstances that allow us to speak the truth, even if it is extremely hard, in a way that does not lead to brawling. We use the third person, and stand and sit far enough away from each other to make brawling difficult.

That is important because we recognise that free speech is difficult. It must be nurtured and protected very carefully. One protection is to make sure that we use the right word. Including in the Bill the word "glorify" would open the door to misunderstanding of what we are about. It would be bad enough if the ethnic communities misunderstood us, but that misunderstanding could reach many small groups in society for which belief in God is the key issue. The language that they use is important to them: they wish to know precisely where they stand, and it is up to this House to make sure that they do.

2.45 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): We have reached the stage in the debate when it is unlikely that minds will be changed. Some of us probably feel that it is more important to get on the record, so that our constituents and acquaintances know how and why we will vote this evening.
15 Feb 2006 : Column 1459

Many hon. Members consider the day they are first elected to be one of the proudest of their lives. They see that they are about to engage in the governance and future of the country as a whole, and deal with the most serious issues. One of those issues is the security of the country and of the constituents whom we represent.

Therefore, I resent the fact that this debate has moved away from a serious discussion of the issue in recent weeks, and that the threat from terrorism is used for political advantage rather than as a spur to drawing up appropriate legislation for our statute books. I am critical of all parties in that respect. I am upset—to say the least—to have discovered in the weekend press that Mr. Gould is polling on behalf of the Labour party to see how terrorism plays as an issue in the political debate. I resent the allegations from all sides that people who express a view on the matter can be accused of being soft on terrorism. No one in this Chamber is being soft on terrorism; we are simply trying to find the best way to confront and end it. I am also concerned by the ludicrous examples that some Opposition Members have used, as they trivialise the debate.

The debate on this amendment centres on the following questions. Is it necessary? Do the Government's proposals represent an appropriate alternative? Is the expression of those proposals appropriate, or could there be unforeseen consequences?

Many hon. Members have tried to consult as best they can on those questions. A group of us met Gareth Peirce, a lawyer who, as many will know, has been involved in terrorism cases for nearly 30 years. We first came across her when we asked her to engage in the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases. She should know whether enough statutes already exist to prosecute terrorists as she has already defended people accused of carrying out terrorist acts: some were innocent, others may well have been guilty.

Gareth Peirce's response was very concise. Why are we bringing in this Bill? The common law offence of incitement has been a crime for more than two centuries. Incitement to murder, which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), is contained in section 4 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which says that it is an offence to

Again, incitement to violence is covered by section 4(1) of the Public Order Act 1986, which states that it is a criminal offence to use

Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to invite support for proscribed terrorist organisations. Moreover, it is not as though all that legislation has not led to prosecutions, the most recent being the Hamza case.

My worry is based on my experience with legislation that is worded so broadly that it is ineffective and can be used to entrap the innocent. There are unforeseen consequences when we in this House legislate poorly. We should learn the lessons of the original prevention of terrorism legislation, which was used first of all against Irish republicans and which allowed the police and other authorities to undertake widespread sweeps of that community. Those sweeps caught up the innocent who
15 Feb 2006 : Column 1460
were then, in many instances, subject to miscarriages of justice. We make people vulnerable when we legislate unclearly and with such a breadth of impact as this legislation would have, and that is my worry.

Jeremy Corbyn : Does my hon. Friend agree that the effect of the prevention of terrorism Acts—and, indeed, the current proscribed lists—was often to choke off legitimate political debate and drive some people into the arms of extremists and others with bad intentions, whereas they should be brought into mainstream political discussion and debate?

John McDonnell: That is another of the unforeseen consequences of badly drafted legislation. The innocent may suffer and others may be mobilised. Protections are proposed, such as the use of discretion, and we have been given assurances on the Floor of the House about the way in which the legislation will be used. However, I remind the House of when we debated the most recent anti-terror legislation. We sought assurances at that stage from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who was then a junior Minister at the Home Office, on whether peaceful demonstrators would be caught by that legislation. We were assured that peaceful demonstrators would not be affected by it and would not be liable to arrest. Within eight weeks, peace campaigners demonstrating outside an arms fair in east London were arrested under that legislation despite the assurances given on the Floor of the House. The bizarre experiences at Labour party conference—not just of Walter Wolfgang but the 460 other people who were detained under the legislation—gave the lie to the assurances that were given.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr.   Prentice) made the point with regard to the Kashmiris and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) made it with regard to the Tamils. I have many Sikhs in my constituency, some of whom support the cause of Khalistan, and terrorist activity has been associated with that cause. Those constituents become vulnerable under this legislation on the issue of the interpretation of reckless behaviour because they will glorify the concept of Khalistan as a legitimate objective for people within the Punjab. They might be caught out by sweeps that bring the innocent before the courts, and an inaccurate interpretation of some of this legislation might leave them vulnerable.

The reason why some of us support the Lords amendment is that—despite opposing the concept in principle—it gives more certainty that the legislation will not be used in sweeps, to arrest the innocent or cause miscarriages of justice. It is for those practical reasons that I support the Lords amendment, not for any attempt to make political capital out of the issue, which I regret has been done so far. As a Londoner, I find it distasteful that the July bombings have been used to justify some of the measures in the legislation for party political purposes, rather than for their effect.

Next Section IndexHome Page