Blair wins terror glorification vote

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair narrowly succeeded today in winning a crucial Commons vote on anti-terror laws after accusing the Opposition of trying to "dilute and weaken" them.

Despite a backbench rebellion, cutting the Government's majority to 38, MPs voted by 315 to 277 to overturn a Lords defeat striking out Government proposals outlawing glorification of terrorism.

The result - after three testing days for ministers with key votes on ID cards and smoking - will come as a huge relief for the Prime Minister.

Earlier, at a stormy question time, he warned that to take out references to 'glorification' in the Terrorism Bill would send out a "massively counter-productive signal".

Mr Blair said: "People outside will infer that we have decided to dilute our law at the very moment when we should be strengthening it and sending a united signal that we aren't going to tolerate those who glorify terrorism in our country."

William Hague, standing in for Tory leader David Cameron, branded the move "ineffective authoritarianism" and accused Mr Blair of "posturing" on the issue when he could have cross-party agreement.

"Wouldn't it be better to have a watertight law designed to catch the guilty, rather than a press release law designed to catch the headlines," he said, to Tory cheers.

When the issue was last debated in the Commons, during the committee stage of the Terrorism Bill, the Government's majority was cut to just one, as 31 Labour MPs rebelled.

Today the number of rebels was put at about 15 by one backbench source.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke rammed home the Government's message at the startof a 180-minute debate on the issue, insisting he was "not prepared tocompromise" on outlawing glorification of terrorism.

Mr Clarke said he wanted to send "a clear message to all those recruiting terrorists", adding that all MPs had a duty to protect the people they represent.

The measure to outlaw the glorification of terrorism as part of a wider offence of indirectly encouraging terrorism scraped through the Commons last year.

But the Lords replaced it with an offence of describing terrorism in a way that would encourage listeners to emulate it.

Mr Clarke said the Lords' proposal was too narrow and would not cover placards, publications or websites that glorified terror to encourage others.

"There are all too many people who may be influenced by those who glorify terrorism and conclude they have a duty of some kind to kill and injure innocent bystanders in the misguided belief that they are bound to do so by their faith," he warned.

"I believe it's our duty to those we represent to do everything we can to prevent this happening."

Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve accused ministers of simply closing their ears and eyes to the case put to them and warned: "The House is in danger of passing law that's unworkable.

"Glorification is not clear, precise or adequately defined. By plucking this concept out of the air, the Government is going to cause itself and the courts great difficulties.

"Glorification has no place and should have no place in our law. It is incapable of proper interpretation .... and risks criminalising those the Government does not intend to criminalise. It is, frankly, as a concept, rubbish."

Mr Grieve warned that Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who would be leading the 90th anniversary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising by Irish revolutionaries in April, could be caught under the legislation.

For the Liberal Democrats, Alistair Carmichael said his party was concerned about the "vagueness" of the term glorification.

He said: "The effect of heaping vagueness on vagueness is to enact bad law. I didn't come here to enact bad law."