» Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Glorification of Terror

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that the Prime Minister had wanted Parliament to send a clear signal of its determination to counter terrorism and send a clear signal not only to the courts and the police but also to those who would try to incite or encourage terrorism either directly or indirectly. The Prime Minister believed that the vote this afternoon had sent that very clear signal, not just of the Government’s but also the country’s determination to do everything it could to counter terrorism. He also recognised that at the start of this week people, quite rightly, were saying that Parliament had to make some difficult decisions this week. It had to make difficult decisions on ID cards, it had to try to resolve the issue of smoking and make a difficult decision on terrorism. He believed that Parliament had made those necessary hard decisions and made them in the right way. This was evidence of a parliamentary democracy working at its best.

Put to the PMOS that there had been criticism from all sides about the Government hyping up the differences with the opposition’s position, the PMOS said that the essential difference had been on the House of Lords amendment which described what could be prosecuted and the Government’s amendment which defined it. That difference came to a crunch on the issue of the placards. The effect of the House of Lords amendment would have been to not allow action to be taken against those who glorified terrorism on a placard. The Government’s bill meant that you could. The definition of when you could take action against people who associated themselves with existing terrorist groups was much too narrow under the House of Lords amendment. The Government amendment made it easier. The removal of the term "glorification" would have considerably diluted the message that you were sending to the courts. This was what the legal assessment had said.

Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the media reports suggesting his authority could have been in question if the results had been different, the PMOS said the Prime Minister had been focused on the substance of this week. He believed that ID cards were the right thing to do. He recognised that there was a difficult decision to take on smoking, where public opinion had and was changing. He also recognised there was a real issue to decide on glorification. In each of those cases he believed that Parliament had made the right decision. This was about facing up to and taking difficult decisions and Parliament had just shown it would and could do that.

Asked whether prior to this legislation if there had not been legislation to take action on placards of incitement at protests and if the police had previously not had the tools to tackle it, the PMOS said that he would not comment on cases that were currently under consideration but he would make some general distinctions. There was a distinction to be made between direct incitement to people to carry out acts of terrorism and encouraging people to carry out acts of terrorism. There was also a problem of proving intent of direct incitement where people denied that their intention had been to incite people. This was why you needed the term glorification. It actually accurately described what someone was doing if for example someone praised the 7/7 bombers. They may be able to argue that they were not directly encouraging people to become a suicide bomber but in effect they were indirectly encouraging people. This was what the bill addressed.

Asked if there was any specific action the Government would take on proscribed groups who glorified terror, and secondly what was the response to the suggestion that the Government had not only played up the difference with the opposition but also the chance of losing the vote, the PMOS said that he could not get into pre-empting what might happen against specific groups, but the bill was clear what actions were there. In terms of hyping the atmosphere the PMOS pointed out that the government was not responsible for how the media coverage looked. We had sought to discuss the substance of the bill and win the argument. Equally, however these had been genuinely difficult issues that parliament had had to vote on and we had recognised that. He, himself, had not detected any sense of complacency or any sense of feeling that the result was a foregone conclusion during the week.

Asked if the Prime Minister now felt ready to fight the good fight on the education bill, the PMOS said first of all we should all pause and reflect on the significance of this week’s decisions before we got on to the other vote which was not due till the middle of March. It was important, today, to recognise the significance of this vote on terrorism, the vote on ID cards and that the issue on smoking had been resolved. The Prime Minister would be fully involved in making the arguments on education but that was for another day.

Asked to summarise the Prime Minister’s mood this evening, the PMOS said the Prime Minister was pleased that three quite difficult decisions had been taken in the right way and also that the House on the particular issue of glorification had today sent the strongest possible signal of its view. No one could dispute that this was a clear signal and that it was a very important message sent from Parliament. The Prime Minister himself, as people had seen at PMQs, was not afraid to put forward the argument and he believed that essentially on ID cards and glorification that the Government had put forward and won those arguments. The House as a whole had collectively come to a very clear-cut decision on smoking which was important when you had such a contentious decision.

Asked what message this sent to the House of Lords, the PMOS repeated that the House of Commons had sent a very clear signal to one and all of its view and no one could dispute that this had been a clear signal. This issue had been well debated in the House and during PMQs and everyone understood it and no one could doubt the clear signal sent.

Asked what the Prime Minister’s view was on the leader of the opposition who had left his wife’s side to come and vote against glorification, the PMOS said that was a matter for the leader of the opposition and he did not get into party political matters. The Prime Minister had said that the legislation should not be diluted in any way and he had set out at PMQs why he believed the bill as it came from the House of Lords was diluted.

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

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