Clause 1 — Encouragement of terrorism

Part of Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 7:15 pm, 9th November 2005

My hon. Friend has put his finger on the reason for my unhappiness with the word. He is right that, if ever there were a subject about which our language should be clinical and avoid overtones that might have the effect that he described, we are considering it. He is right to point out why it is so dangerous.

However, it is also dangerous for another reason. If glorification were some residuum of a law that was passed in 1734 and somebody suggested that it would be a good idea to get rid of it because it was no longer useful or might be used badly, the answer would be the same as the one the Minister has given in previous debates: it is perfectly safe because nobody could use it and there is always the gate of the Director of Public Prosecutions and others. That works if it applies to a provision that has been in desuetude for a long time. However, we are proposing a new provision. It would be difficult in 2006 to say that we did not mean legislation of 2005 to apply to a case. We could not claim that it was a jeu d'esprit or a little twiddle in an otherwise dull Bill. It would be hard to argue that. The intention to include it in such a serious measure is therefore genuinely problematic for the Government. Let me define the three specific problems.

First, the Government should not underestimate the extent to which the Director of Public Prosecutions can be perceived by those who do not understand the process as a political figure. We all have experience in our lifetimes of examples when, because the Director of Public Prosecutions has or has not allowed something, it has been suggested that Ministers have leaned on him. That is a mean, unpleasant and unfair suggestion but it should nevertheless be avoided rather than encouraged.

Secondly, the provision becomes an even greater danger if extra-territoriality—I am delicate in my references because of your earlier, proper restrictions, Mr. Deputy Speaker—turns out to apply to the extent that my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve suggests. Those who may wish to put pressure on the Government are even less likely to understand the independent position of the Director of Public Prosecutions if they are from countries where such an independent position does not exist. The example given by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke of the Russians and the Chechen rebels, or my own example of the Rwandan authorities and the Belgian priest, would in those circumstances become even more germane. The Government would be likely to have pressure brought to bear on them by people who were not going to take seriously the fact that this great independent figure, the Director of Public Prosecutions—so unknown anywhere else—was the gate that had prevented a prosecution from taking place.

Thirdly, I beg the Minister to recognise that this legislation as a whole has struck a very sharp note for many people among the ethnic minorities in this country. The Home Secretary was utterly right, in answering an earlier intervention, to point out the enormous support for law and order and the opposition to terrorism that we find among the Muslim community. Unfortunately, he was not answering the question that he had been asked. It was a very good answer to a question on that subject, but that was not the question that Mark Fisher had asked him. I am not going to stray from the subject of glorification, Mr. Deputy Speaker