updated 2/15/2006 9:49:07 PM ET 2006-02-16T02:49:07

British lawmakers voted Wednesday to ban glorifying terrorism, giving Prime Minister Tony Blair a badly needed victory on a measure he said was key to preventing future attacks.

The House of Commons approved the ban 315-277, sending it back to the House of Lords, which had struck down the term “glorification” earlier this year, saying it was dangerously vague.

The two chambers must reach agreement for the measure to become law.

Blair said the vote sent a “signal of strength” and would help authorities counter those who espouse violence.

“That signal of strength is vital in circumstances where the threat that we face is not just from the individual acts of terrorism but the people who celebrate it, who try and entice other people or recruit other people into doing it,” he said.

He said the bill would allow authorities to prosecute demonstrators such as those he said carried placards espousing violence during recent London protests against a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Needed victory for Blair
Blair suffered a major Commons defeat on security last year and needed the win on glorification to demonstrate he had reasserted control over rebels in his Labour Party.

Seventeen of the 353 Labour lawmakers in the House of Commons opposed the measure in Wednesday’s vote, a relatively small rebellion.

In November, lawmakers rejected his plan to allow terrorist suspects to be held for up to 90 days without charge.

British authorities have been taunted in recent years by clerics and other extremists who espouse militant views — including support for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States — and attract widespread publicity.

But critics said the ban on glorifying terrorism could threaten civil liberties.

In January, the House of Lords voted 270 to 144 to remove the word “glorification” from the government’s anti-terrorism bill and replace it with language that would outlaw describing terrorism in a way that encourages people to emulate it.

Power of a word
Blair argued that was not good enough. “If we take out the word ’glorification’ we are sending a massive counterproductive signal,” he said in his weekly House of Commons question session, hours before the vote. “It is a word that members of the public ... know and understand and juries would understand.”

A clear ban on glorification, he said, was “absolutely vital if we’re to defend this country successfully.”

The opposition Conservative Party was against Blair’s measure, saying it was poorly written and would accomplish little.

Conservative Dominic Grieve said the term glorification was too vague, “a concept hitherto unknown to our law and undefined.”

Civil liberties concerns
Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, said the measure could threaten civil liberties. “The law on glorification may well have unwelcome implications for freedom of speech, but it will do nothing to improve public safety,” he said.

The proposal was part of the government’s anti-terrorism bill, which was drafted after the bombings on London’s transit system in July that killed 52 people and four attackers.

The bill also would outlaw training in terrorist camps and encouraging acts of violence. Only the glorification provision and several other amendments were up for votes Wednesday, not the overall bill.

Blair argued the Lords’ approach on glorification was too weak and said it could be interpreted to apply only to spoken words, not written ones. Grieve said later that the language Blair believed restricted the ban to speech could easily be changed.

Control orders’
Opponents say the ban would be dangerous and unnecessary, pointing out that extremists such as the radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri have been convicted in Britain under existing laws against incitement to murder and racial hatred.

Blair suggested police could have stopped al-Masri sooner if a ban on glorifying terror had been in place.

Lawmakers also debated whether to renew contentious powers that allow some terrorist suspects to be imprisoned indefinitely under “control orders” — strict conditions that resemble house arrest. No vote was taken.

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