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Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

"Glorifying" terrorism passed with barely a whimper.

That makes 3 bad laws in 3 days. I suppose the depression will properly kick in shortly.

MPs today voted to create a new offence of "glorifying" terrorism, overturning opposition from both the House of Lords, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

It will come as a welcome relief for both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who had both publicly backed the new offence this week.

Despite predictions of a Labour rebellion MPs voted 315 to 277, a government majority of 38, to resinstate the offence, which peers removed from the terror bill last year.

Following the victory for the government, Mr Blair's told TV reporters it was a "very clear signal of strength", and his official spokesman said the PM expected the Lords to now back down in the battle over the clause.

He said the new law sent the message that "we have free speech in this country, but don't abuse it".

In a last-minute plea to MPs in the lunchtime PMQs, Mr Blair said failing to create the "glorification offence" would have sent out a "massive counter-productive signal" in the wake of the London bombings and last week's demonstrations by some Muslims.

A total of 17 Labour MPs - not enough to overturn the government's 64 strong majority - voted with the Conservatives and Lib Dems against the measure, fearing that the law was drafted too broadly and could catch supporters of so-called freedom fighters or the commemoration of historical rebellions and revolutions.

A very clear signal of strength? About what? That this government is committed to bit by bit eroding freedom of speech? We have free speech, but we'd better not abuse it. For instance, complaining about this law within a mile of parliament without permission will most likely see you arrested. Feel like celebrating the Easter Rising? How about saying Mugabe should be overthrown by force, or that North Korean dissidents should resort to violence against the state? Well, thank the government because you may well now be breaking the law. What really has motivated this law has been tabloid pressure to take action against these imams and clerics which they are so obsessed with - despite Abu Hamza being convicted just last week under existing laws. The other justification is the demonstration by about 100 extremists who carried placards (all likely written by the same person) which incited murder. What are the chances that once this bill has been given royal assent that some of those protestors will be arrested under this new law - despite there being perfectly good ones which can be used against them. We should really save our condemnation for Charles Clarke though - who seems to like all home secretaries have finally lost the plot.

But Mr Clarke urged MPs to back the government, accusing Conservative and Lib Dem peers of "gratuitously" trying to weaken the weapons available to the authorities in the fight against terror.

"The government is not seeking to pitch any battle whatsoever," he told Today. "The Lords quite gratuitously decided to weaken the proposals that came out of the Commons."

The wording produced by the Lords would grant "impunity" to protesters who brandished placards in London calling for the beheading of those responsible for cartoons of Muhammad, he claimed.

He added: "There are a number of individuals and organisations who seek to glorify terrorism, to promote terrorism, to create an atmosphere in which young men such as those involved in the July 7 bombings decide to become terrorists themselves.

"They do it by preaching, by glorifying, by claiming that terrorism is a noble and holy activity. It seems to the government that we should try to inhibit their intent to do that.

"We need to find the strongest form of legislation to be able to do it."

Mr Clarke said his critics in the human rights community were "lawyers with a vested interest in a particular area".

Quite gratuitously? The Lords amendment still covered oral incitement, it just removed both written and visual statements. Was the in-depth and lengthy debate in the Lords gratuitous? The Lords seems to be the only hope left to some of us that this government is not piece by piece removing safeguards we have enjoyed for decades. That it is unelected but still does this is even more commendable. The amendment would not have given impunity to those protestors at all - they can still definitely be arrested for breach of the peace, incitement to murder and other offences. That we needed this new act to arrest them is pure fiction. Clarke only wishes to highlight the most extreme aspects of what this legislation will cover, namely those old evil imams that incite hatred against their own country of residence. This is of course the same government that refuses to make phone-tap evidence admissible in courts, because it might expose the shady ways of our intelligence services. Would that not send a strong signal?

Then there's the biggest slur on "human rights" lawyers. Does the fact they have a "vested interest" matter? May this law not actually give them more work? In that case, why would they oppose it, as so many are? Clarke knows he can get away with such overt attacks on those who would rather protect freedom of speech as they are often the main target for the ever outraged tabloids and commentators. Cherie Blair is the most high profile example.

I might be entirely wrong on this. It may turn out that no one who supports reasonable causes, such as those mentioned above will be caught under this legislation. What doesn't inspire me with confidence though is the way that the police abuse nearly every new power they are given, as they have Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Still, 3 days and 3 illiberal measures have all been introduced by a so-called left of centre party, with the centrist and centre-right parties opposing them on 2 of those acts. The sad thing for Labour is that I very much doubt that this is going to save them from suffering an annihilation on local elections day, and if those elections were being decided by the events this week, they will thoroughly deserve it.

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Never mind saving them from an annihilation, I think/hope these sort of acts can only encourage one... If the public are interested in their freedom of course.

Also, if Human Rights lawyers had a vested interest, it'd be to encourage this sort of law as they could take it to court & get it done under the HRA, i.e. they get more work out of it! Their opposition shows they think the Act's unworkable, as well as being complete bollocks

Just to be clear, I meant that if they think this will save them from local elections defeat, I think they're very much mistaken. Thanks for the comments.

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