Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Labour, Oldham West and Royton 4:22 pm, 26th October 2005

It is always a great pleasure to follow Mr. Shepherd, and I agree with a great deal of what he said.

As expected, the Home Secretary offered a very robust defence of the Bill. No one doubts that it was the Government's duty, and his in particular, to take all appropriate steps to protect the population against terrorism, especially in the light of 7 July, but any Bill designed to achieve that purpose must be tested against several criteria.

First—and this question was rightly posed by the hon. Gentleman for Aldridge-Brownhills—is the Bill a necessary addition to the existing corpus of law to prevent acts of terrorism in the UK? Last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions told the Joint Committee on Human Rights that there was

"an enormous amount of legislation that can be used in the fight against terrorism."

Indeed, the common law of incitement and the Terrorism Act 2000 already provide very considerable scope for prosecution. For example, the Bill's new offence of encouragement of terrorism has been justified on the grounds that it is intended to criminalise incitement to murder, yet acts of incitement to murder or terrorism are already punishable by life imprisonment. In fact, I suspect that any difficulty in bringing prosecutions at the present time is much more likely to arise from the self-imposed ban on admissibility of intercept evidence, which in my view should be lifted, than from the absence of a prosecutable offence. Therefore, it is not clear that the Bill passes the first test.

The second test is whether the Bill is drafted tightly enough to catch those against whom it is allegedly directed and not those who may unintentionally be trapped by loose drafting? It is certainly to be welcomed that, after considerable concern has been expressed, the original proposal about glorification of terrorism has been dropped. But encouragement of terrorism is still drawn extremely broadly. In particular, as others have said, it allows acts to be criminalised without the need for intention by the person committing the offence. That is wrong and we must return to that next week.

Moreover—almost everyone has mentioned this—the definition of terrorism under clause 1 is so wide that, contrary to what I think the Home Secretary was saying, it would criminalise calls to overthrow oppressive regimes where democratic means do not exist. In my reading of the definition, it would have caught those supporting the African National Congress and its methods in the fight against the apartheid regime. It would also have caught those calling for action involving, for example, violence against property, even if not violence against the person, against such regimes as North Korea, or Burma—that has been mentioned—or Ceausescu's regime in Romania, and would have criminalised those who called for action against the Nazi regime in Germany.