Clause 1 — Encouragement of terrorism

Part of Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon 7:30 pm, 9th November 2005

It is a privilege to follow my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. My objection to this clause is largely based on the fact that it is a pointless excrescence and a wholly unnecessary appendage. It resides in the Bill solely for the reason that the Government announced over the summer that they would criminalise glorification, and so had to leave some reference to glorification in the Bill.

It is clear on examining the relevant part of the clause that, in any event, it is used only as an example of the kind of conduct that the clause proscribes in an earlier part. It is an inclusive statement that simply points the way to the all-embracing umbrella section, which makes it an offence indirectly to encourage a terrorist act. As my right hon. Friend said, it is a pernicious and pointless appendage that has no place in legislation made by this House.

The common law has always been extremely careful to ensure that the proscription of speech is precise, carefully targeted and narrowly defined. That is why the common law has always proscribed the incitement of specific acts of violence. On examining the common law offence of incitement, one sees that the ingredients require that an accused person must—must—have incited a specific act identifiable and particularised by the Crown in the indictment. But the clause and this specific section of it simply enable the glorification of a type of conduct, with no need for a specific act to have been encouraged or incited.

The dangers have been dwelt on by Members in all parts of the House, but my right hon. Friend put his finger on a particularly important point. Among the many examples that Members have used, we have heard some that are fanciful and others that are more realistic. The glorification of some heroes of the past has been dismissed by Ministers as the product of fevered fantasy, but the truth is that a more subtle and insidious danger arises from this clause remaining in the Bill.

Let us suppose that a speech was made at Hyde park corner by an English nationalist who wished to sing the praises of Hereward the Wake. That it should even be thought that the glorification of the conduct of Hereward the Wake—who led an uprising, as I recall, against the Normans—could in any respect be in danger of being criminalised or made illegal by this Bill might attract from us smiles and a degree of risibility, and we would doubtless be right. The Director of Public Prosecutions would greet with consternation and dismay any lunatic who even proposed the idea that a speaker on Hyde park corner singing the praises of Hereward the Wake might invoke the penalty under this clause.

Let us suppose that the speaker on Hyde park corner was not white. Let us suppose that he was a Muslim, and that he was glorifying and praising not Hereward the Wake, but the actions of Saladin. Let us suppose that he was holding out for emulation the actions of Saladin in the wars that he fought against Christian civilisation for two or three decades or more. Let us consider the circumstances of the time and take into account the particular factors of the speaker's audience, which might include not only ordinary Londoners going about their business, but one or two Muslims, perhaps some of the Arab race and some who were susceptible to the message of waging a crusade against Christian civilisation. The speaker might notice them coming from the local mosque; he might see them gathering around his soapbox on the corner of Hyde park. I do not know whether there is, in fact, a mosque local to Hyde park, but let us suppose that there is one and that gathering around our speaker is a crowd of turbaned Arab and Muslim people.

Still, our Hyde park speaker continues to sing the praises of Saladin and begins to discern the murmuring and sussuration—[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"]—yes, sussuration and I shall be providing a few more soon. He senses the restiveness of his audience and begins to see that, although he has perfectly innocent intentions, his praise of Saladin—a great hero of the Arab race—is beginning to excite an intemperate reaction among his audience. Perhaps, we might say, a wise speaker would button his lip. A wise man would cease to speak at that point, climb down from his soapbox and immediately go silent. However, it would be too late, for he would already have committed a crime because he would have glorified in circumstances where he could see—[Interruption.] I notice that the Minister is looking at me in consternation, but for 23 years I have practised law in the criminal courts of this country, and let me tell her and Government Members that more stupid prosecutions have been brought than that—far more.