The House of Lords voted for a third time yesterday (28 Febriary 2006) to remove the notorious "glorification" clause from the Terrorism Bill. If the government persists with this ill-considered legislation there will have to be another vote in the House of Commons.
Blair will no doubt present this as a struggle against the arrogance of the upper house. But he has so far been quite shameless in trying to force his legislation through the Commons.
The government says that it is not "acceptable that people should be allowed to make statements which glorify terrorism." This sounds like common sense. The trouble is that 20 pages after the "glorification" clause, the Bill explains what its words actually mean. It says that "terrorism" means "new terrorism" - the wide new definition created by the Terrorism Act 2000 - and "the public" means any public in the world. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, terrorism includes "serious" damage to property and risks to public health and safety.
In a report published on 5 December 2005, Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights said that any new offences like the "glorification" offence need to be decoupled from the broad definition of "terrorism" in the Terrorism Act 2000. The government has never seriously addressed this recommendation.
Blair has tried to bully his backbenchers into supporting the measure by saying that it was in the Labour manifesto at the last election. But of the handful of voters who knew of that manifesto commitment, almost none will have realised what the legislation actually means. After the last Commons debate, respected media commentators continued to misrepresent the legislation. A Radio 4 interviewer canvassing opinion amongst Muslim members of the public told his interviewees that the clause made it an offence to encourage people to bomb and kill. Existing laws against incitement to murder do this; the proposed new law does something quite different.
The United Nations General Assemby, in a resolution condemning terrorism that it passed in December 1987, said:"nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right ...particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation or other forms of colonial domination, nor, in accordance with the principles of the Charter and in conformity with the above-mentioned Declaration, the right of these peoples to struggle to this end and to seek and receive support"
- Resolution 42/140, passed 7 December 1987 - 153 votes in favour, 2 (the US and Israel) against, 1 abstention (Honduras).
If the "glorification" clause in the Terorism Bill become law, it will be a criminal offence to speak in Britain in support of people exercising the rights spelled out in UN General Assembly Resolution 42/140. It's the most serious attack yet on our freedom of expression.