» Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Glorification of Terror

Asked if the Prime Minister was likely to use the phrase "it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing" during PMQs this afternoon, when asked about the forthcoming legislation on the glorification of terror, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that as he had said yesterday, the important thing was to focus on the substance of the issue. The substance of the issue was whether glorification gave you an additional weapon to counter terrorism. If you looked at the UN Security Council Resolution passed in September 2005, it spoke of the need to counter glorification as well as incitement. If you looked at the kinds of loop-holes which were exploited by defendants in such cases, it was clear that there was a loop-hole in terms of the glorification aspect. If you looked at how the Bill had been amended as it had come out of the House of Lords, glorification had been removed, it would not apply to what was written on placards, for instance praising the 7/7 bombers, and those kinds of issues. Also the amended Bill didn’t deal with those who associated themselves with terrorist groups. There were still problems with the Bill as it emerged from the House of Lords. To summarise the Prime Minister’s view, he believed that Parliament should be sending a clear signal to the courts, the Police, and to those who would in any way condone terrorism, that we did not believe that was acceptable. That was what it boiled down to. As the Home Secretary underlined this morning, this was a matter which was crucial for the entire Government, because we believed that there was a need to send a clear signal as a Government.

Asked if people praising 7/7 couldn’t be prosecuted under existing law, the PMOS said that the problem was that at the moment you had to be able to prove incitement. Proving incitement was difficult in the courts, because, as you would see from cases which had already taken place, you had to prove that people set out to deliberately incite others. There was therefore a weakness in the existing legislation that you had to try and plug. Put to him that even in the Government’s proposed Bill, it said that the glorification aspect had to include and element of incitement as well which would make it just as hard to prove in the courts as it ever was, the PMOS said that the legal assessment was that the law, as it has come out of the Lords, was too narrow. It covered what people listening might take as encouraging terrorism, but did not cover the written word. The key question was whether you gave the Police and the authorities all the scope that was reasonable to take action or you didn’t. The phraseology from the Bill was that people could "reasonably infer", which added substantially to the powers of the courts.

Asked if someone singing an Irish rebel song in South Amagh might be prosecuted under this legislation, the PMOS said that it was a simplistic point because the Bill actually said that that this only applied to existing terrorist operations, it did not refer to past groups. In the case of Irish groups, with the ceasefires in place, the peace process underway, and the IMC report, thankfully IRA terrorism was thankfully a thing of the past. Asked if someone was singing a song about Irish groups that hadn’t called a ceasefire, the PMOS said that he thought we were drifting into hypothetical heaped upon hypothetical. Put to him that the legislation did in fact seem to indicate that anyone glorifying previous acts of terror could be prosecuted, the PMOS said that the draft made it clear that only those who sought to encourage people to emulate terrorist acts in "existing circumstances" would be covered.

Asked if the Prime Minister shared Charles Clarke’s view that people opposing the Government on this issue were deliberately weakening the Government’s anti-terror legislation, rather trying to clarify, the PMOS said that people would speak for themselves. However the Prime Minister’s view was that Parliament should send as clear a signal as possible, and it should in no way dilute that signal. It was a fact that defendants were trying to exploit loopholes in the existing legislation, what we were trying to do was plug those loopholes. It was for others to say why it was in anybody’s interest to dilute the signal being sent by Parliament.

Asked if accepted that what the Government wanted and what the Peers wanted was only a narrow difference, the PMOS said that for the reasons he had already set out, the Government did not believe that the gap in definition was a small one, it was a real issue and that was the legal opinion that we had.

Asked for the Prime Minister’s response to Peter Oborne’s comments that the Government had hyped the actual threat of terrorism in the UK somewhat, particularly in respect of the threat to Manchester United and the Ricin arrests the PMOS said that that in terms of Manchester United issue, that was a matter of advice from the Police. He asked if Peter Oborne was seriously suggesting that the Government should ignore advice from the Police on a such a serious matter. In terms of the Ricin arrests, there were people prosecuted as a result of that case. On the general issue of whether we were fabricating the extent of such threats, well unfortunately 7/7 was all too real. Anyone who attended the two Cabinet briefings on the domestic terrorist threat and in terms of abroad came away with a very sobering realisation of the nature of the threat we faced and the reality of the fact that our counter-terrorist operation was having to operate on a day to day basis to counter real terrorist threats. People didn’t need to simply take our word for that, they could take the word of Lord Carlyle, the independent assessor who had spoken quite openly about the reality of the threat that we faced.

Asked about the implementation of the Prime Minister’s 12 point plan, the PMOS said that if journalists spoke to the Home Office they would find that progress was being made on each of the points of the 12 point plan.

Asked if we were likely to hear more about the 3 attempted terrorist attacks which had been foiled by the security services, which the Chancellor had spoken of, the PMOS said that, again going back to what Lord Carlyle has said, whilst there was of course a desire on one hand to explain the nature of the threat, on the other hand there was the problem of compromising ongoing operations. Also there was need not to over-alarm people. What we had said was that we would try and explain the nature of the threat as best we could without compromising operations and also if there was a specific threat we would of course make that public. It was a delicate balance and one which a lot of thought continued to go into. It was not one which had a simple solution.

Asked if someone supporting the democratically elected Hamas Government of Palestine might be considered to be glorifying terror since Hams was a terrorist organisation, the PMOS said that we were again drifting into hypothetical questions. Any prosecution would of course depend on what sentiments were expressed and how they were expressed. To clarify what glorification amounted to, it was about celebrating or praising terrorist actions, and therefore if you had placards which celebrated the 7/7 bombers, that was clearly glorification. Asked therefore if praising an organisation which had participated in terrorism was not glorification, the PMOS said that associating with a terrorist organisation was also covered. He was not going to get into talking into talking about hypothetical cases, it all depended on what was said and how it was said and so on.

Put to him that Abu Hamza had currently been successfully prosecuted using existing legislation, the PMOS stressed that Abu Hamza had only been caught after a prolonged investigation which eventually found evidence. In terms of what Abu Hamza had said in the street, it had not been possible to take action. Asked if other Imams might be prosecuted, the PMOS said that again those were cases which would have to be investigated. Incitement was a difficult thing to prove, that did not mean however that it was wrong to put incitement on the statute book. What you had to do was give the authorities a basket of tools which they could use and each time you refined the process to make that basket of tools as effective as possible. The question was whether you deliberately refused to give the authorities something like glorification or whether you chose to give them the best range of tools available.

Asked if it had been the Prime Minister who had personally intervened to have glorification in the Bill, the PMOS said that he was not aware of anything along those lines. Charles Clarke this morning could not have been clearer in his view that glorification was needed in the Bill.

Asked if a very narrow victory in the Commons might dilute the strength of the signal the Government were trying to send, the PMOS said that was a hypothetical question, and a signal was a signal and the clearer the better.

Put to him that the vote on this Bill was taking place on the day that 20 rescue workers from 7/7 were receiving medals at the Palace and the last vote on such an issue had taken place the day after the 7/7 memorial, and asked whether this was a co-incedence, the PMOS said that he wouldn’t dignify that with an answer.

Asked if we might not end up with a situation where perfectly innocent religious gatherings might have lunatics sitting at the back taking notes, wasting police time with trivial accusations, the PMOS said that what you had to do was recognise, first and foremost that we could not complain as a society if authorities did not take action against terrorism if we did not give them the powers to allow them to take action against terrorism. We could not have that double standard. Of course you had to use those powers sensibly but past experience showed that was possible.

Asked if the PM would vote, the PMOS said yes.

Briefing took place at 17:00 | Search for related news

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Post a public comment

(You must give an email address, but it will not be displayed to the public.)
(You may give your website, and it will be displayed to the public.)


This is not a way of contacting the Prime Minister. If you would like to contact the Prime Minister, go to the 10 Downing Street official site.

Privacy note: Shortly after posting, your name and comment will be displayed on the site. This means that people searching for your name on the Internet will be able to find and read your comment.

Downing Street Says...

The unofficial site which lets you comment on the UK Prime Minister's official briefings. About us...


February 2006
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Jan   Mar »

Supported by


Disruptive Proactivity

Recent Briefings



Syndicate (RSS/XML)



Contact Sam Smith.

This site is powered by WordPress. Theme by Jag Singh