[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair] — Counter-Terror Strategy
Paul Goodman (Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government; Wycombe, Conservative)
It is a pleasure, Mrs. Dean, to see you in the Chair. I am delighted to be able to open this debate on the Government's counter-terror strategy. It will give the House as a whole the chance to range widely over that strategy and to explore the four strands of Contest, the title that the Government have given the strategy.
I shall be relatively narrow in my focus. I want to examine the Prevent strand of Contest. Parliament is rightly spending a great deal of time on aspects of what could be called the supply side of violent extremism—in other words, the problems caused by people who come off the conveyor belt to terrorism and commit acts of violence. I intend to focus on the demand side—on preventing people from getting on that conveyor belt in the first place. Surely we can agree that although it is sometimes necessary to pre-empt or punish terrorists, it is far better to prevent those vulnerable people exploited by al-Qaeda and the like from being drawn into terrorism and extremism.
Some Members will know that I have a special interest in these matters, as I am the Conservative Member with the largest number and proportion of Muslim constituents. However, it is important to emphasise that violent extremism is not the monopoly of a single ethnic or religious group. By way of illustration, I recall an act of violent extremism carried out in Britain in 1999—the atrocious bombing of the "Admiral Duncan" pub by David Copeland, a neo-Nazi, that killed three people and wounded about 70. Only yesterday, a man described as a neo-Nazi sympathiser was convicted in Leeds for offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.
I want this morning to consider the strategy's past, to ask the Minister some questions about the present, and to make some suggestions on how the strategy might evolve in future. However, I begin by honouring some of the anti-violent extremism work that I have seen being undertaken by local authorities. I am thinking not only of projects carried out in my local authority area of Wycombe but of work undertaken in Dudley by Mohammed Afzal and his colleagues to help teach local imams better English; in Bedford among young people by Father Jay Macleod; by the Sultan Bahu Trust in Birmingham and the West London Alliance of local councils; in Hendon and in many other places. Later, I shall probe the Preventing Violent Extremism project as a whole, but the dedication, commitment and effectiveness of those who work on some projects is beyond doubt.
I turn to the Prevent strategy's past. Since 7/7, it appears to have fallen into three phases. The first began in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity, when the Government set up the Preventing Extremism Together working groups, which were convened in July 2005 and required to report by mid-September. By any standards, that was a tight timetable, and it caused some unease. The Government appear to have relied a great deal during that stage on established and often controversial organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain.
Critics argued that that first phase lasted a mere two weeks. On
Parts of the plan, including the proposed closure of some mosques, were never implemented. However, Blair's sense of restlessness with old contacts and old partners endured. It will not have been eased by the publication in September that year of a damning report on Contest by the Prime Minister's delivery unit. It found:
"The strategy is immature. Forward planning is disjointed or has yet to occur. Accountability for delivery is weak."
"Activity is not connected or coherent"—
and here is the rub—
"Who's in charge?"
It also stated:
"We measure meetings and reports, not real world impact."
Blair's spirit of impatience culminated in October of the following year in the launch of the Preventing Violent Extremism programme, to which I have already referred. The then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ruth Kelly, called for new voices to combat extremism, and criticised the Muslim Council of Britain for its boycott of Holocaust memorial day—a point on which she, I and others agreed in the past, and a position that the MCB has now reversed, which is an extremely welcome decision.
As for the Preventing Extremism Together working groups, there is still controversy over how many of their 27 recommendations the Government have implemented. What is certain is that the Government did not implement one of the main ones—a public enquiry into 7/7. One year after that terrible event, there seems to have been a mood of disillusion among many associated with the working groups. One member of the Government, Mr. Khan, is on record as saying:
"I worry that the Government might become the Duke of York—marching all these talented British Muslims up the hill of consultation and dialogue, only to march them down again as very little appears to have changed".
During this second phase, the Department for Communities and Local Government seems to have been the lead Department, and the Preventing Violent Extremism programme was the Government's flagship scheme.
The launch last month of the Government's new strategy document entitled "Preventing Violent Extremism: a Strategy for Delivery" seems to mark the transition to a third phase. In this phase, the Home Office, and schemes that concentrate help directly on vulnerable young people, such as the relatively new Channel project, appear to assume a new importance. I say "appear" because it is hard to know. After all these changes of gear—and in some instances, changes of direction—there is still a lack of clarity about the strategy, almost three years on from 7/7.
Mention of the Home Office brings me, of course, to the Minister. I am sorry that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, Mr. McNulty, is unable to respond to the debate due to other parliamentary engagements. This may be the right point to ask his understudy, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Coaker, a few questions. I appreciate that he may not have time to respond to all of them during the debate. Indeed, I doubt that he will, so I would be grateful if he confirmed that he or his colleagues will be happy to respond in writing.
First, can we assume from the Minister's presence that the Home Office is now the lead Department with responsibility for the Government's counter-terror strategy? Moving on, will the Government publish details of how they propose to assess the success or otherwise of the strategy as a whole? In particular, will they publish details of how they propose to assess its success in relation to the Prevent strand—especially in winning the hearts and minds of young Muslims? On what basis does the Minister disagree with the poll conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, published last weekend, which found that
"Increasing numbers of young Muslim people...might be willing to support violent terrorism to articulate their disillusionment and disengagement"?
On the Preventing Violent Extremism programme, the Minister will have read reports that a number of local councils of different political persuasions are refusing to sign up to an indicator called IN35, as a priority indicator. IN35 measures resilience to so-called violent extremism. Those local authorities argue that the indicator, used as a priority indicator, in effect obliges them to act beyond their competence as an arm of the police or of the security services. Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that no Minister or Department has asked local councils to instruct or request refuse collection workers to root through bins for incriminating material? Will he tell the House how many councils are presently refusing to sign up to IN35 as a priority indicator? Why did the DCLG ring-fence the scheme's funding in the first year, un-ring-fence it for the second year, and is apparently considering ring-fencing it again during the third year?
I turn to the Minister's Department and the Channel project. I understand the importance of projects that seek to concentrate help on vulnerable young people directly. However, the programme's outlines, as reported in the media, raise some serious questions. How are these young people to be identified and by whom? How will any information held about them be shared? If such information is held and shared, what safeguards will be put in place to ensure privacy and confidentiality? How, to put it plainly, will young people be protected against being mistakenly identified as potential violent extremists, at serious possible cost to their prospects, safety and standing in the community?
Lee Scott (Ilford North, Conservative)
Does my hon. Friend agree that another problem is that malicious allegations could be made? In certain circumstances, such allegations would be quite difficult to disprove and could lead to innocent people being victimised.
Paul Goodman (Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government; Wycombe, Conservative)
I agree completely. I am concerned that if the membership of the bodies that we are talking about is quite widely drawn, as it properly should be in some senses, there might not be sufficient safeguards against malicious allegations and gossip finding their way on to written records, with very damaging consequences.
Bob Spink (Castle Point, UKIP)
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's cerebral and analytical approach, which is quite refreshing. There are differences between terrorism in this country and in some other countries, and although we tend to home-grow our terrorists, rather than import them, terrorists in America, for instance, tend to come from outside to commit their acts of terrorism. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Government should do more research into what causes those differences? If we understood the mechanisms behind the problem, we might be able to tackle it better.
Paul Goodman (Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government; Wycombe, Conservative)
I do believe that and I will come to precisely that point when I finish the rather analytical series of questions that I am firing at the Minister. My last question in this context is simply this: when will the series of parliamentary questions that I tabled on the Channel project as long ago as March be answered?
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that young people are particularly vulnerable in prisons and universities. There is evidently a serious problem in prisons, where hardened, violent extremists clearly attempt to recruit Muslim and non-Muslim criminals who are searching for identity, purpose and meaning in their lives. Such prisoners are unlikely always to give time to the prison imams. What concrete steps are the Government taking to prevent prisons from effectively becoming universities of extremism, as the H-blocks did in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s?
On universities, I can do no better than quote my hon. Friend Michael Gove, who asked in a debate last year:
"Why is it that the Government's adviser on the teaching of Islam in higher and further education, Dr. Ataullah Siddiqui, is linked with the Islamic Foundation and the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, both of which are institutions that were set up by the Jamaat-e-Islami party, an explicitly Islamist organisation, and its supporters? In other words, why is the man who is charged with checking extremism on Britain's campuses in fact linked with a body that was set up by a separatist Islamist organisation?"—[Hansard, Westminster Hall, 17 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 43WH.]
As regards websites, the Minister will have seen the recent report "Virtual Caliphate" by the Centre for Social Cohesion. How many prosecutions of extremist websites have taken place? What is the Government's general approach to the matter?
On the police, how do the Government intend to ensure that the Pursue strand, which is largely the property of police anti-terrorism branches, does not undermine or overwhelm the Prevent strand, which is largely the property of local police? How will the two be co-ordinated?
I want now to turn from those detailed questions to the bigger picture. On the Prevent strand, there are two views of what the Government's strategy should be. The first holds that they should build a broad coalition against violent extremism—in effect, violent extremism in Britain—and, therefore, against al-Qaeda and other violent groups, such as elements on the neo-Nazi fringe. The second view holds that they should build a broad coalition against extremism per se, on the ground that extremism is the root from which violent extremism grows. According to this view, British National party hatred of black, Asian and gay people today becomes the attack on the "Admiral Duncan" pub tomorrow. Similarly, detestation of the kuffar, or non-Muslim, today—a view that is fired by a narrow, exclusivist, hate-filled reading of Islam's sacred texts, and which is looked on with horror by mainstream Muslims—can become the 7/7 terror attack of tomorrow.
How can extremism be defined? Admittedly, that is a difficult task, but page 60 of the Government's strategy document gives an indication by listing some of the engagement criteria for organisations. However, the criteria are rather vague and should be clarified. One definer of extremism might be support for attacks on our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. Another might be campaigning for the establishment of separate sharia jurisdictions under British law. Yet another might be the incitement of violence against women, gay people or non-Muslims.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron has left no doubt about his view. He has called for the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the barring from Britain of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi—a lead that the Government eventually followed. He has also called for us to prevent public money and support from flowing to bodies such as the Cordoba Foundation and the Muslim Brotherhood. My noble Friend Baroness Neville-Jones made a similar critique in her report "Uniting the Country". My noble Friend Baroness Warsi noted that partnership arrangements with special interest groups are wrong, partly because
"some such groups often hold ambiguous views on cohesion and integration."
What is the Government's view? I ask that because the Muslim Brotherhood appears to be making a push for influence and acceptance and because Ministers are sending out mixed messages. For example, I recently questioned the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the Floor of the House. She said:
"The local authority in Tower Hamlets"—
I was raising a particular case—
"was going to engage with the Cordoba Foundation; it decided not to, and that was absolutely the right decision."—[Hansard, 20 May 2008; Vol. 476, c. 156.]
However, she knows that one of the leading lights of the Cordoba Foundation—Anas Altikriti is the gentleman I have in mind—has never denied being a leading light in the Muslim Association of Britain, which has itself never denied being, in effect, the British wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. When questioned only a few moments before condemning the Cordoba Foundation in the quotation that I have just cited, however, the Secretary of State failed to comment on the presence of the MAB on the mosques and imams advisory committee. What is going on here? Are organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood suitable partners, or not?
If not, should Ministers not be looking closely at Campusalam? The Campusalam initiative was specifically established to combat extremism on campus. Yet at least one speaker at its first event had close links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Campusalam comes from the stable of the Lokahi Foundation, which has received roughly £450,000 from the Government and a similar amount from the Greater London authority. The foundation's director, Professor Gwen Griffith-Dickson, has complained that, under present policy,
"'Sufi' groups are the ones who enjoy the rights of the first born while the 'Islamists' are thrown out without an inheritance."
I agree, as I am sure the Minister does, that groups should not be offered assistance on a sectarian basis—the professor is right about that. However, is she really saying that Government or taxpayers' money should be given to groups that, for example, support attacks on our troops abroad or that want, as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt does, to bar women and Christians from the Egyptian Cabinet?
There are also serious questions for sections of the police. The decision by West Midlands police to refer Channel 4's "Dispatches" programme "Undercover Mosque" to Ofcom was a public scandal. Let us consider what happened. A television programme filmed a speaker—Abu Usamah—who said, inter alia:
"We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of kufr".
He then added, "we hate the kuffaar"—as if there was any doubt. He continued:
"Allah has created the woman, even if she gets a Phd, deficient. Her intellect is incomplete, deficient. She may be suffering from hormones that will make her emotional. It takes two witnesses of a woman to equal the one witness of the man."
He also said:
"Do you practise homosexuality with men? Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain."
Yet West Midlands police took action against Channel 4, rather than Abu Usamah, by referring it to Ofcom. That was despite the fact that the same police force had concluded that there was
"insufficient evidence that racial hatred had been stirred up"
by the programme and that none of the 82 letters and e-mails that had been received expressing concern about the programme met the criteria that define a complaint to Ofcom.
This egregious decision cost the taxpayer some £14,000 in costs and £100,000 in damages. I should be grateful to know whether the Home Office has had any communication with West Midlands police about that matter. The House will note that in response to my freedom of information request for documentation about the controversy, the freedom of information unit of the West Midlands police has
"not yet reached a decision on where the balance of the public interest lies in respect of the provision of the requested information".
I turn now from the present big picture, to the big picture in the future. If violent extremism is to be prevented, finding agreement about its causes will surely help, as Bob Spink indicated. Different people give different explanations. To some, the cause is poverty and discrimination. To others, it is foreign policy. To others still, it is generational tensions between older people who came to Britain, often from the Indian subcontinent, and their younger, British-born children and grandchildren. To others still, it is the separatist ideology of al-Qaeda and other movements, which distorts the Islamic concept of jihad and seeks the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. I believe that all those factors play a part and it would be wrong to exclude any of them. Some people of course go further and argue that Islam itself is the cause of terror and extremism, and an obstacle to integration and cohesion. My view is precisely the opposite. There is not too much mainstream Islam in Britain today: rather, in relation to the problems that we are exploring, there is often too little. I believe that building further support for mainstream Islam within our Muslim communities is a key part of defeating terror and extremism and advancing integration and cohesion. I shall explain why.
As my Muslim friends and contacts point out—and I should, on a cautionary note, say that I am of course not a Muslim myself, so I speak with some hesitation on such matters—a key institution in preventing extremism and building moderation is the mosque. However, in many mosques the language of worship and of the Friday khutbah hails from the subcontinent or elsewhere abroad. Often, younger people and women have little place in the institutional life of the mosque. Children, meanwhile, are taught to recite the Koran, but not necessarily to understand its meaning and explore wider Islamic teaching, history, spirituality and culture.
There are of course many exceptions. I am thinking of the Karima al-Marwaziyya Foundation in my constituency, in which young people participate actively, and which is linked to Wycombe Islamic mission; but my friends and contacts ask, if some young people have dropped out of the mosque, perhaps because it does not meet all their needs, are not they especially vulnerable to al-Qaeda and others who distort the sacred texts of Islam for their own fanatical purposes? They go on to say that al-Qaeda's attention is concentrated at least as much on Muslims as on non-Muslims, and that one of its strategic aims is to groom young Muslims for extremism and terrorism, and thereby to undermine mainstream Muslim leadership in Britain and elsewhere.
Philip Hollobone (Kettering, Conservative)
Is not one of the fundamental problems that, for whatever reason, lots of Muslims just do not feel British? There are other communities in this country—for example, a well-established Sikh community in Kettering—who feel extremely British, with no hatred at all towards the British state. Yet the extremism in some Muslim communities extends to hatred of the British state, even though many of those Muslims have been here for many years. Why is that?
Paul Goodman (Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government; Wycombe, Conservative)
I would probably have to have written a doctoral thesis to give my hon. Friend a full answer; but I referred earlier to the many factors that account for that lack of identification with Britishness. Building support for and identification with Britishness generally is something for public institutions such as schools, and is a matter of, for example, what the Government do about national holidays. I do not have time to explore that aspect of the issue this morning. I want to return to the function of the mosque in building resilience against violent extremism; perhaps at some future date my hon. Friend and I and others will get the chance to debate the issue that he has raised.
I do not of course have the time to explore all the contributory factors to extremism and the obstacles to integration and cohesion that I cited a few moments ago. I do, however, want to float a few ideas, largely in relation to helping further to build the capacity of Islamic religious institutions, precisely in order to forestall the extremist drive to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of Muslims and the ownership of Islam itself. The Government's main means of assisting the Islamic religious institutions remains the Preventing Violent Extremism scheme. We have to recognise that it is extremely problematic to target taxpayers' money at one religious community. Some non-Muslims, and in my experience particularly some black church groups, say for that reason that the scheme is unfair. At the same time, some Muslims, particularly many young Muslims, say that the branding of the scheme is offensive. Why, they argue, are they uniquely singled out? Furthermore, there is no evidence as yet that the programme as a whole is preventing violent extremism, despite the admirable schemes to which I referred in my introductory remarks.
In our view, Ministers should allow local councils more discretion in the use of the fund for other community cohesion purposes. Since the targeting of taxpayers' money at one religious group is always problematic, should not Ministers be looking more closely at utilising the energy, flair and dynamism of the private, independent and voluntary sectors? After all, there must be, on the one hand, many rich, charitably inclined, mainstream Muslim potential donors; and there are certainly, on the other hand, many mosques seeking to improve their capacity. It is surely not beyond the wit of Government to link one to the other. Can Ministers further encourage their contacts to donate to suitable charities or foundations, which would in turn grant funds to, say, a mosque seeking to pay a well qualified, English-speaking Imam the kind of salary that would not only attract him to the job but keep him in it; or to an education project that brings pupils from different schools and religions together; or to a madrassah curriculum for children that seeks, as some now do, to demonstrate an Islamic basis for our common way of life?
Moving on, extremists are clearly adept at constructing a grand narrative of conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims by the manipulation of Islamic texts, and at running bookshops on site or online with books, tapes, DVDs, films and lectures that hammer out simple and repetitious propaganda messages of confrontation, hatred and anger. Is there more that Ministers can do to encourage mainstream Islamic publishers to offer clear, simple and Islam-based material, in plain English, that rebuts extremist claims and that advances the case for shared values and our common democracy? Can they also encourage, in relation to the grand narrative itself, the many mainstream Islamic scholars in our universities and elsewhere to help construct a counter-narrative of modern British Islam that would marry Islamic teaching and western democracy and give shape and force to that more simple material? I believe that some scholars are in fact already helping to construct that counter-narrative in their everyday scholarly work. However, there must be more that Ministers can do give such a project impetus. I have previously floated the idea of a privately funded institute of British Islam. I am interested to see that the Government's strategy document refers on page 4 to
"the establishment of a board of leading Muslim scholars",
which seems to be a thought along much the same lines.
The terror threat is clearly serious, the scope of counter-terror is clearly vast, and I do not have time to explore all the issues involved, such as the "prestige gap" arising from the relative economic underdevelopment of many Muslim majority countries. In conclusion, however, there is perhaps more reason—I say that, again, with some hesitation—to be optimistic about the long-term prospects in Britain than there was in the wake of 7/7. I do not propose to make judgments about all the issues arising from the Ramadan controversy, the defection of Maajid Nawaz from Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ed Husain's "The Islamist", and the emergence of such relatively new groups as Muslims for Secular Democracy, the City Circle and the Quilliam Foundation. However, those developments are all unquestionable indications that contemporary debate within British Islam is lively, and that the overwhelming majority of British people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are united against terror and extremism. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Ben Wallace (Shadow Minister, Scotland; Lancaster and Wyre, Conservative)
It has been a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman give us a lesson on the Prevent arm of the Contest strategy. It is always a challenge for someone such as me to pick through all the many groups that the Muslim community either takes some learning from or is in dispute with, so I will look back at Hansard and use his speech as a reference.
I shall not prolong my speech; I simply want to raise some of my concerns about the Government's counter-terrorism strategy and some of the issues that have presented themselves to me over the last three years as I have made contact and visited certain locations involved in it. It is right to remind the Chamber that the Contest strategy consists of Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. We have heard my hon. Friend speak eloquently about the elements of Prevent.
To follow on from that, I have some concerns about the Prevent strategy and how we are funding some initiatives from the centre. In counter-terrorism, it is easy to focus on areas where we are vulnerable to attack rather than the areas of growth of the terrorists. For example, large amounts of the money earmarked for the expansion of the counter-terrorism branch functions of Prevent go to Manchester rather than to Lancashire, where my constituency is. Anyone who looks at the mapping of the Muslim communities in the north-west will see that that is the wrong way round. I recognise that Manchester has a bigger population, but prevention may need to occur a long way off from the point or place of attack, as was all too obvious on 7/7.
We need to show a strong lead in the universities. I was horrified about 18 months ago when university lecturers refused to participate in the Government's much-needed and welcome call to map and keep an eye on students and the activities of some radical groups on campus. It is incredibly important that they play a role. It is not politics—Marxist, old-fashioned 1960s anti-state politics. It is important, and it is the role of a good teacher or lecturer to have concern for their class. That is all that the Government were asking them to participate in. I hope that they reconsider.
I want to focus more on the Pursue strand, highlighting some of the challenges. I have no real problem with the Government's efforts in that area. I think that the regional hubs have been a success. It is not a new model, of course; it goes back to the tasking and co-ordinating groups in Northern Ireland. The hubs have helped to eliminate the traditional budgetary arguments and fighting over territory, and have ensured that tasks are carried out with priority, no matter who is effectively in the lead. That is a success, and I hope that it grows and gets the results that we should all expect from it.
One of the real challenges for the special branch departments in each police force—I think that they have been renamed counter-terrorism branches—is the huge amount of intelligence that they now have to map on communities. Before 2001, there was effectively no mapping of those communities and individuals or ranking of individuals by how much of a threat they were or were likely to be, or perhaps by whether they would play a role in radicalisation.
When I first took over an intelligence cell in Northern Ireland, we had 20 years of intelligence stacked up in computers and files. Some of it, I must say as an aside, was incredibly dodgy, probably because it was based on internment, but nevertheless the communities were well mapped and it was easy to move in, take over the role and hand over.
Bob Spink (Castle Point, UKIP)
The hon. Gentleman mentions 2001. Will he acknowledge that the Government have been successful in their policy in that since 2001 they have disrupted 12 major terrorist plots? They are achieving at least some success in their activities.
Ben Wallace (Shadow Minister, Scotland; Lancaster and Wyre, Conservative)
I have not come to criticise the Government; I am trying to highlight the challenges that they face. What is important is that the process does not result in fragmented forces.
Each force and each special branch or counter-terrorism office will do some things differently, and it is important that we are quick off the mark in spreading best practice throughout those offices and among police officers to ensure that we do not end up, as we often do with IT systems, with every branch and police force having its own technology, people losing the thread and people slipping through the net. That point is important and not to be underestimated, because it is how we can allow for a long legacy in counter-terrorism. If we rush or ignore it—I know of some police forces that are not giving it the priority that they should—we will reap the whirlwind.
There is still work to be done on the interface between the security services and our police officers. More and more, our police officers and forces are becoming the executive extension of the security services. When the security services want something done—searches, arrests or surveillance—they go to their local branch and use the police.
We may be moving piece by piece towards having an FBI, and I make no secret of the fact that I sometimes think that that might be a better model, but we should keep an eye on that interface and never forget that the security services are not an executive body but an intelligence analysis body. We must ensure consistency.
The Government should always be on the lookout for new offences. I find it amazing that people are known of in this country whose job is to recruit young men to go and fight abroad in Islamic jihads around the globe. What came out in the inquiry after 7/7 was the fact that some people were discarded not because they were not terrorist threats, but because they were not recruiting in relation to Britain. I remember that one individual had been involved in recruiting people to go and train in camps. Surely that should be an offence in this country. We should be considering ways to cut off the activities of such individuals.
I still have concerns about some of the other strands, such as Protect. I am not sure that we have done enough in our infrastructure—for example, radios in the London underground and detection of the use of chemicals in certain vulnerable zones. Four or five years ago, the United States had already bought detection for the New York subway—off the shelf, from a British company—and had funded a lot of work on detecting suicide bombers. We are not there yet, and we should be at the forefront, given our experiences. We must keep an eye on that. It perhaps needs better examination by one of the Select Committees involved.
It is easy to forget lessons learned. There is a saying in the armed forces that generals delight in writing books about lessons learned. Of course, writing books about lessons unlearned would be physically impossible, as there is so much material and history. Time and again, Ministers say, "This is not the IRA. This is al-Qaeda. It's a new terrorism," almost as though that sometimes excuses the lessons that we have learned, but there are plenty of similarities.
The two are not the same. I do not pretend that their aims are the same or that some of the individuals are the same, but vulnerabilities in counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency are fixed principles that do not change through history. People are vulnerable, whether they are religious fanatics or not. They might be loners, need money or be jealous. Those are all things—the same things—that attract people to being recruited as informers and they do not change. When the state gets its balance wrong and takes shortcuts on terrorism, as with the 42 days, it can damage the resources that have been so good in the past.
We should not forget that the IRA used to have more anger than capability. It was good at being angry in the '50s, '60s and early '70s; it was not very good at terrorism. The first time IRA members fired an RPG-7, they fired it from inside a Mini, managing to kill themselves and miss the target. They could not make explosives. Then they stopped, went to university and developed their engineering skills. They changed anger into skills and the IRA became a very effective terrorist organisation.
At the moment, some members of the radical Islamic groups out there make better angry mullahs than fighters, but it will not be long before they change, learn from other terrorist organisations and return to our streets with equipment that works, rather than does not work. We must not forget the lessons we have learned, nor think that, because those people are new terrorists, they do not have the same vulnerabilities. All terrorists survive in their communities. If the community does not want them—if it disagrees, wants to expose them and wants them out—and if the Government are prepared to recognise legitimate grievances, if there are any, and to take the right steps, perhaps towards making people feel more British or more involved, we can begin the proper process of counter-terrorism.
There are, however, no shortcuts in counter-terrorism. Another counter-terrorism Bill is passing through Parliament—I was on the Committee—but the Government appear to be playing into the hands of the tabloid media by suggesting that such shortcuts can be found and that terrorism can always be stopped. In reality, however, we must be more resilient, because we will not always prevent the plots and people will not always survive—terrorist attacks will kill people. Despite the best efforts of our security services and the police force, some terrorists will slip through the net. We will just have to live with that.
That is what the people of Northern Ireland did for 25 years. We must not ratchet up the tabloid-type media hype that says, "Let's dive in there and lock everyone up; let's have internment and 42 days; let's take away people's rights and alienate more people, rather than solve some of the problems." As MPs and community leaders, we have a duty to send out the message that we must recognise the fact that this is a long-term problem that cannot be solved overnight by Downing street summits.
The report "Preventing Extremism Together"—I think that the "Together" has been dropped as people argue over which Department should take the lead—took three months to produce its initiatives. We cannot do that; we cannot have gimmicks; we must invest for the long term. The Government have done predominantly the right thing with Pursue and are getting there with Prevent, but let us not undo all that work with shortcuts in counter-terrorism.
Julian Lewis (Shadow Minister, Defence; New Forest East, Conservative)
By a happy process of self-selection, the three elements of any successful counter-terrorism strategy have been encapsulated by the first three speakers—the deep-thinking intellectual, the counter-terrorist soldier and the counter-subversion propagandist.
Julian Lewis (Shadow Minister, Defence; New Forest East, Conservative)
Wait for it! My hon. Friend Mr. Goodman is the deep-thinking intellectual, my hon. Friend Mr. Wallace is the counter-terrorist soldier and I have the much humbler and more disreputable role of counter-subversion propagandist. However, I am happy to follow on from the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre, who said that there are plenty of similarities between the current threat and former threats—that is the main theme that I shall develop.
Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe—I am tempted to call him my hon. and learned Friend, even though he is not a barrister—I had a welcome sense of déjà vu when he spoke about the background to and the depth of concern in the Muslim community about the radicalisation process. I had that sense of déjà vu because I was reminded of probably the most intelligent academic I have ever met—a lady called Dr. Françoise Thom, who is a senior lecturer at the Sorbonne. In the days of the Soviet Union, she was a very prominent Sovietologist, and it was a real pleasure to listen to her talking about Marxism and debating communism with Marxists and communists, because she knew far more about the doctrines than the militants who professed to follow them. The same might well apply to my hon. Friend.
I put this proposal to the House: the battleground with which we are concerned is the community, the technique used by our enemies is ju-jitsu and the currency of the conflict is ideology. I want to say a word or two about each of those strands. First, the message that the battleground is the community came through loud and clear in the first two speeches. In this conflict, we have the same situation as we had in previous conflicts with militants—namely, in a given community where an attempt is being made to stir up subversion or even insurgency, there is a militant minority and a moderate majority. If we ever reach the point of thinking that we do not have a moderate majority in the Muslim community in this country, we have already lost the battle.
I am sometimes rather worried by some of the messages that we get from people who are well qualified to talk about the issues because they have lived them. In particular, I recall a meeting in the House at which a very brave lady called Ayaan Hirsi Ali addressed MPs who were interested in the subject of her experiences with Islam. Of course, after all that she has suffered—she was persecuted and received death threats in the Netherlands, where she spent much of her life, although she now leads an existence that she well deserves in the relative safety of the United States—it is not surprising that she takes a very jaundiced view of the religion into which she was born.
Nevertheless, I was seriously worried by Ayaan Hirsi Ali's main message, which seemed to be that the logical consequence of being a Muslim is to be a fundamentalist extremist. I do not accept that any more than I accept that the logical consequence of being Jewish or a Christian is to be a violent extremist. Yet we need only roll back time a few hundred years to see "Christians" burning heretics at the stake, usually because of some relatively obscure doctrinal difference of interpretation of the religion of the day. I believe that there are continuities here, which we ignore at our peril. The main continuity is that this is a classic case of fanatics and militants trying to hijack moderate majorities.
I ask those who are old enough to cast their mind back and remember what they read about the Third Reich and what some of us, at any rate, experienced during the cold war. Essentially, there is a continuity: Nazism was about the superiority of one race, Marxism and communism were about the superiority of one class, and what is called Islamism—I shall address that terminology in a moment—is about the superiority of one religion. Essentially, however, they have one thing in common, which is that the fanatic at the top of those respective movements possessed the one holy grail and the one true doctrine, and that anybody who stands against that, or even criticises it, deserves to be exterminated without mercy.
That continuity has traditionally been met by mobilising the silent majority—an overworked, but nevertheless accurate term—against the militant minority to isolate those people from the majority and so that they can be spat out and neutralised.
I said that the technique—the second strand—is ju-jitsu. The militant minority use that technique to try to polarise as much of the majority on its side as possible, so that when the minority does outrageous things, it does so not only to hurt the wider non-Muslim community, but to try to make that community hate the Muslim community. We fall into that very trap when we overreact to militant outrages by taking it out on the moderate majority and the people in the Muslim community who have nothing to do with those outrages.
How many members are there of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom today? At the very least, there are 1.6 million—that is the figure that I often hear, and it may well be larger—yet the number who have been engaged in outrages, either carried out or all those that have been frustrated, on which we congratulate the police and the security services, is 0.000001 of 1 per cent. of the community. If that statistic does not suggest that engaging in outrages is in part a desperate attempt to try to make us overreact against the moderate majority, thus making those people feel more resentful and therefore more vulnerable to recruitment, I do not know what does.
The third strand—the currency—is ideology. Indeed, the battleground on which the day must be won has to be a counter-ideological offensive, which is where the work of the counter-propagandist comes in. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe referred to some of the organisations that are beginning to speak out, at last, in favour of moderate interpretations of the Muslim faith, showing that those people who seek to promote what is called violent extremism are distorting that faith.
There is nothing so valuable in an ideological struggle as people from the target community speaking out against and denouncing, from their direct knowledge of the issues at stake, the misinterpretations by the militants. Who was more effective against communism than the disillusioned Marxists who broke with it and realised its fundamental evil? I pay tribute to those people who were involved in militant so-called Islamic or Islamist groups but who have turned against them.
One aspect of fighting that battle is that we have to be very careful and, indeed, selective about the language that we use to describe it. I sometimes give as an example the attempt that has been made to distinguish between Islamic and Islamist ideology. It is a worthy attempt to try to draw a distinction and say, "When we are talking about Islamism or Islamist extremism, we are not really getting at you, the moderate majority of Islamic Muslim people." Frankly, that is to make a distinction without a difference. Instead, I ask people to think of the following imaginary parallel.
Let us turn the clock back to when there was an upsurge of terrorism in Palestine directed against the British Army by organisations such as the Stern gang. If the Government of the day had made a great effort to denounce what they called "Jewish terrorism", referring to those attacks on British servicemen in Palestine, which was still under mandate, members of the Jewish community in Britain would have felt somewhat defensive, even though they almost overwhelmingly did not support the attacks on UK servicemen.
Would it have made much difference if the Government of the day had said, "Okay, we'll take care of this by calling it not Jewish extremism or Jewish militancy or Jewish violence, but Jewist violence."? It would not have been terribly reassuring to the Jewish community in Britain in those days or in that context. Similarly, it is not terribly reassuring to the moderate Muslim community in Britain today to be told that the issue is all about Islamism or Islamist extremism.
I have suggested that we should put our mouth, as it were, where our belief is. Our belief is that such extremism is a distortion and a misinterpretation of the Muslim faith, and indeed, if it is, we ought to say so in the way that we describe it. I believe that the correct way to describe what is going on is un-Islamic extremism. I have suggested that in the past, and I have been quite gratified to see some of the reactions on the internet from various Muslim organisations. They can see that to call something un-Islamic, if that something is being done in an attempt to hijack the Muslim religion, is not in any way insulting to the moderate majority.
We are concerned about preventing an appeal from an extreme interpretation, or misinterpretation, of a great religion from going out to individuals who can be recruited, and who do not need to be recruited in anything other than small numbers, to carry out violent atrocities in this country in the hope of polarising the non-Muslim and Muslim communities.
One feature of the people who are recruited is that often they have terrifically low self-esteem and have made a mess of their lives. They are then targeted and given a purpose, a role to follow and a belief that, having been the dregs of society, the outcasts, the criminals or the drug takers, they can suddenly become holy warriors and experience a form of redemption by carrying out some act in the name of something larger than themselves. Totalitarians have played off the vulnerabilities of people with low self-esteem for generations. They did it as Nazis, they did it as communists and now they are doing it as un-Islamic extremists.
One role of the counter-propaganda campaign that we need to promote is setting out positive role models for Muslims in our society. We should be proud of the role that Muslims play in our society and make it absolutely clear that when moderate Muslims wish to stand up against militants, they will have the support of the entire spectrum of British society in that all-important struggle.
Tom Brake (Shadow Minister (London and the Olympics), Culture, Media & Sport; Carshalton and Wallington, Liberal Democrat)
Westminster Hall debates are often the antidote to the venom of Prime Minister's questions, and today's debate has been very successful. It has given Members an opportunity to set out their expertise and to bring to the debate their professional background. It is an all-party, consensual matter, so it is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Goodman, and I congratulate him on securing the debate.
I was interested in the reference that Dr. Lewis made to ju-jitsu. When I was living in Hackney about 20 years ago, I thought that I should take it up as a sport, but I very soon came to the conclusion that the person who was at greatest risk was me. I was more likely to get a broken arm or nose inflicted during training than to learn how to protect myself, and perhaps that is a lesson for those who seek to adopt such an approach.
To get to the meat of the matter, the Government's clear view, which we support, is that the principal current terrorist threat is from radicalised individuals who use a distorted and unrepresentative version of the un-Islamic—I mean of the Islamic faith. I made a Freudian slip there, but as was said, the threat is very un-Islamic and we should perhaps treat it that way, rather than describe it in another.
We also concur with the Government's view that the current threat from terrorism is serious and sustained. That is the reason why the monitor in Westminster Hall today shows that we are at a "severe" level in terms of the risk in Parliament. However, we need to look at whether the Government's Contest programme, which other hon. Members have referred to, is up to the task of addressing this issue. I must say that as I was reading my notes on the train this morning I thought that one aspect of tackling this issue that had perhaps not been covered was being a little more careful with secret documents on trains.
I would like to look at the four aspects of the Government's programme, focusing principally on the Prevent aspect, which is about tackling the radicalisation of individuals, both in the UK and elsewhere. It would perhaps have been appropriate for there to have been a little nod—only a little one—towards the role that foreign policy can play in preventing terrorism and radicalisation. However, foreign policy is not referred to in the "Preventing Violent Extremism: A Strategy for Delivery" document; it may be that there are references to it in other Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents.
The Prevent strategy is also about tackling disadvantage and supporting reform; deterring those who facilitate terrorism by changing the environment and engaging in the battle of ideas, which hon. Members have referred to on a number of occasions so far; and providing the resources to ensure that this strategy can be delivered.
It is worth highlighting that the "'Preventing Violent Extremism: A Strategy for Delivery" document advocates a support and prevention agenda, which is very much the "carrot" side of policy. However, the majority of the time that we spend in the House on this matter is much more about the "stick" side of policy—the 28 days versus 42 days argument, for example. So this debate is very welcome in focusing more on the "carrot" side, rather than on the very high-profile "stick" approach that we have seen in relation to the argument about 28 or 42 days.
The Prevent strategy also refers to societal or social exclusion and routes into radicalisation, but it talks almost exclusively about Muslim communities as separate, insular entities. Can the Minister confirm that that is not the case and that Islamophobia plays a part in radicalisation? If so, should the Prevent strategy not also address the views and beliefs of the wider community and their understanding of Islam?
I do not want to disrespect the very good community projects that are taking place, and clearly a lot of positive work is being done. Regrettably, however, that work does not seem to feed through into the national media in raising awareness of what is happening. That is not entirely the Government's fault; the media need to pick up on those issues, because it seems that they have not wanted to focus on them particularly. That is regrettable. Page 9 of the Government's document highlights the fact that
"communications are of critical importance, to ensure that the way in which we communicate counters, rather than fuels, the terrorist narrative."
We need to get those good news messages out into the media, so that people understand what is being done in a very positive way through these different community projects.
On prevention, the Government are rightly focusing on prison imams and how they can address radicalisation within the prison population. However, I hope that the Minister can say something about what is being done to identify individuals going into prison who may already be radical, and whether there is a way of addressing radicalisation through that route rather than trying, possibly after the event, to halt radicalisation through prison imams, as far as they can do so.
I will briefly move on to the Pursue strategy, which is about gathering intelligence and, of course, bringing terrorists to justice through prosecution—an issue that we discussed at great length during our deliberations on the Counter-Terrorism Bill. Some very positive measures will come through from that Bill regarding intercept evidence and post-charge questioning, which should assist in the process of bringing terrorists to justice.
There is a role for the seizing and freezing of assets, but we would all acknowledge that the amount of funding needed for home-grown terrorism is neither here nor there. The freezing of assets is not of great importance if we are talking about the purchase of large quantities of very cheap products, such as fertilisers, and the fact is that very little is needed to support that sort of network within the UK.
The Protect strand is about reducing the vulnerability of the UK and UK interests overseas to a terrorist attack, and specifically strengthening border security. I am sure that the Minister is aware of Lord Carlile's report, particularly what it has to say about general aviation, and the Association of Chief Police Officers' proposal for a border force. I understand that the latter issue will be addressed in the Green Paper on police reform, which I assume will come out this week; it is coming out in June, so if it is not available this week it will be early next week. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that when he responds.
I also ask the Minister to respond to what Lord Carlile had to say about general aviation. The Government have said in the Department for Transport response that they are looking at the potential threat from light aircraft, and that EU discussions are also under way. Can the Minister update us on the time scale for that EU review, so that we can see whether it will address this issue within an appropriate time frame? If he cannot update us now, perhaps he could do so in writing later.
I also hope that the Minister can give us some sort of reaction, if only his personal response, to the proposal from ACPO for a single border police force. I know that that issue will be covered in the Green Paper, but it would be interesting to hear whether he favours that idea and, if so, where he thinks the 3,000 staff for that force would come from and how it would ensure proper co-ordination with other forces and with the UK Border Agency.
In the Protect strand, protecting key utilities is one of the central roles. I hope that the Minister can say something about any discussions that have taken place with the utility companies since the most recent incident on
Finally, the Prepare strand shows that the Government are working hard on preparing for the consequences of a terrorist attack, ensuring that we train appropriately and know how to respond.
The Government, the police and the secret services are fighting a daily battle to stop those who would kill and maim our citizens. The different strands—Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare—are central to that battle. We support this programme but we hope that, as a critical friend, we can be in a position to improve it, and I hope that the Minister will accept my comments in that vein.
David Ruffley (Shadow Minister, Home Affairs; Bury St Edmunds, Conservative)
I am particularly pleased that this debate has been held. First, we have had the opportunity to listen to a magisterial analysis from my hon. Friend Mr. Goodman. The debate highlighted the fact that the Conservative party has an interest and a real professional understanding of this complex issue. My hon. Friend Mr. Wallace gave us a contribution that drew upon his professional experience and reminded us that there are no quick fixes; in this area, the work must be patient, careful and for the long term. The other distinctive contribution, which was based on a great deal of knowledge, came from my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis, who reminded us of the ways in which the terrorist threat must be analysed and dealt with. He also spoke eloquently about the nature of Islam.
I reiterate the request that if some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe cannot be answered by the Minister today, given that time is short, they be answered in writing. I would like to dwell on some of the things in my hon. Friend's speech that strike me as important.
First, do we now actually have a lead Department for counter-terrorism? Secondly, how will we as a country measure the success of the Prevent strategy? The Government are extremely keen to measure things across whole swathes of public policy, sometimes with complicated indicators and measurement standards. How will we measure the success of their Prevent strand?
On Channel, we need some answers to the questions that my hon. Friend tabled in March, including, among others, those about how individuals' interests will be protected against loose gossip and grudge settling. We heard about the vulnerability of those in prisons and universities, and in particular about a virtual caliphate. Will the Minister tell us how many prosecutions—this is on the enforcement side—of extremist website uploaders or providers have actually taken place?
Finally, from my hon. Friend's contribution, we need to know much more about the Government's response to preventing violent extremism in education institutions and mosques. How can the moderate side of Islam, if I can put it that way, be disseminated more simply and effectively? My hon. Friend made a point about more intelligent and moderate discourse in our universities and gave the example of how we might be able to fund an institute of British Islam that would provide a bridge between modern western democratic tradition and the moderate Islamic tradition, and how that could be encouraged in practical terms and made stronger by Her Majesty's Government, because it will not happen on its own.
I would like to flag up a question on the Prevent strategy that has not been raised. It is about measurement. Obviously, the strategy is well intentioned, but widely reported in newspaper articles in autumn 2006 were comments allegedly from the then head of MI5 that there were 1,200 people who posed a terrorist risk to the state. By November 2007, it was being reported that the figure had grown to around 2,000, and there was a warning that the number of potential terrorists living in this country could run up to about 4,000. If those figures are correct, it does not seem that the Prevent strategy to challenge the growth of radicalisation is being terribly effective. Could the Minister comment on those numbers?
On the Pursue strategy, I have one simple question about intercept evidence. There is, of course, some limited use of such evidence in control order and deportation cases, but the Opposition have prosecuted a strong argument that its use in court would reduce the pressure for longer pre-charge detention in terrorist cases. Can the Minister rapidly give us the Department's latest thinking on our proposal on intercept evidence? Where are we on that?
I would like to close by touching on another counter-terrorism issue that I believe is important to the public. Are the Government doing enough to deny entry to those whose presence in this country is not in any way conducive to the public good because of their extremist views and preaching of violence? I have in mind what looked like dithering by the Government at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 over al-Qaradawi entering the country and the failure in 2007 to stop al-Moussawi from visiting the UK and attending a speaking tour at the beginning of 2008. The Government are unable to get a strong message across to the British public that they will act effectively and decisively to stop such people coming across our borders. We need to hear more about that. Those cases are symbolic. When extremists preaching violence and hatred come into our country, the question the man and woman on the street will ask is why the Government are not doing something about it.
For all those reasons, we have had a terrific debate. The contributions have been based on a great deal of experience. There were proper contributions from the Opposition but we did not hear anything from Labour Members, which was surprising and disappointing. We have put many questions to the Minister in a spirit of consensus, and I know that he will do his best to answer them.
Vernon Coaker (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Gedling, Labour)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who normally deals with these matters. Unfortunately for the purpose of this debate, he is giving evidence to a House of Lords Committee on the impact of surveillance and data protection. I hope that those who spoke will understand that his absence is not meant as disrespect to anyone. Clearly, this is an extremely important issue.
I sincerely and very much agree with Mr. Ruffley who commented, as did Tom Brake—the three of us are speaking from Front-Bench positions for our respective parties—on the quality of the debate. I reassure hon. Members that although this is not my area of responsibility, I have been extremely interested in the points that have been made and will ensure that my right hon. Friend reflects on the debate. I will personally discuss with him some of the issues that have been raised. I also agree with the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington who said that often in Westminster Hall we discuss issues and sometimes—not always, but sometimes—get to the core of the issue.
In saying that, I particularly praise the excellent contribution of Mr. Goodman. I know how much he works in his constituency on these matters. As he pointed out, he has a significant Muslim community in his constituency. He should be given a great deal of credit for the way in which he tries to learn from that experience and not only represent his own constituents but put matters into the national context and try to influence the debate nationally. As he made clear in his remarks, he has to influence the national debate to serve his own constituents. I agree with his colleagues that it was an excellent contribution, and he is to be congratulated on it.
I hope that hon. Members will allow me to make a few general points before I come to some of the specific questions. I have about 600 notes on important points. I will endeavour to deal with some of them in the time that I have left, but, as I promised the hon. Gentleman outside this debate, I will write to him on points that I do not manage to cover. If he agrees, it may be helpful if I provide copies of that information to other Members who contributed to the debate—I hope that that will meet with their satisfaction—and, perhaps, to you, Mrs. Dean, as the Chairman of our proceedings.
Unfortunately, the threat to the UK from international terrorism remains serious and sustained, and the current level is severe. The police, Security Service and intelligence agencies continue to work hard to protect the British people from terrorist attack, and we are grateful to them.
The numbers of terrorist cases coming before the courts give an indication of the scale and nature of the threat that we are facing. In 2007, 36 people were convicted in 14 significant terrorism cases, with 21 of those individuals pleading guilty. So far this year, 31 people have been convicted in nine significant terrorist cases. Of those 31, 11 individuals have pleaded guilty. Over the next 18 months, terrorism cases will come before the courts on all but a few days. Faced with that serious and evolving threat, it is the Government's responsibility to protect the public and our national security, always seeking to find the right balance between individual freedom and collective security. As the Home Secretary said recently, there is no contradiction between pursuing our counter-terrorism objectives and defending our freedoms and civil liberties.
Terrorism is an assault on everyone's civil liberties, whatever community we are from, and an assault on our democracy and our values. Our response, therefore, must continue to be based on these values and liberties, as Dr. Lewis said, and must ardently be pursued through our democratic framework—primarily, our criminal justice system.
Since 2003, the Government's counter-terrorism response has been governed by the Contest strategy, which aims to
"reduce the risk from international terrorism, so that people can go about their daily lives freely and with confidence".
Both of those aspects are important. The Contest counter-terrorist strategy, for which the Home Secretary is responsible, is divided into four strands: Pursue, which is about stopping terrorist attacks; Protect, which is about strengthening our protection against attack; Prepare, which is to do with mitigating the impact of attacks; and Prevent, which means stopping people becoming involved with or supporting violent extremism.
A major area of work since 2007 has been the refreshing of our Prevent strategy. The new Prevent delivery plan, launched by the Home Secretary with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government on
This morning's debate is important, as a number of hon. Members have said, because it gives us the opportunity to look at the Prevent side, as the hon. Member for Wycombe did in his speech, rather than debating some of the other aspects, as we have done over the past few weeks, important though that is.
I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Wycombe made. I hope that other hon. Members will bear with me while I try to answer some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. The function of the mosque is crucial. We need to support mainstream Islamic opinion. I support some of his ideas, which are consistent with some points that the Government are making about working with Muslim scholars on these issues. As he said, we are looking to establish a United Kingdom board of Islamic scholars and to work with them to see what we can do to combat violent extremism.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to support communities. The Government have, as he knows, committed £45 million over the next three years through the Preventing Violent Extremism programme, the money being given through the DCLG. However, let us be clear that this is difficult territory. If we are to win the battle for hearts and minds, there will have to be robust debate and engagement. Of course, we have to ensure that we do not inadvertently support or fund the wrong people, individuals or groups.
We have a robust procedure. We try to ensure that the police are involved in determining where money goes—whether to individuals or groups—but let us be clear that to win this debate we have to support mainstream Islamic opinion and we must be confident that we can win the battle for hearts and minds. As the hon. Member for New Forest, East said, we have to show the distortion of the truth of the Islamic faith and we need to expose that. Judgments are involved in doing that, so we need to try to ensure that robust procedures are in place and the best judgments are made.
On the success of the strategy, this year we have agreed for the first time a public service agreement, led by the office for security and counter-terrorism in the Home Office and submitted to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury on
In answer to a question asked by the hon. Members for Wycombe, for Bury St. Edmunds and for Carshalton and Wallington, the Home Office is the lead Department and the Home Secretary is the lead Minister. The director general of the office for security and counter-terrorism within the Home Office is the senior responsible official. I hope that that clarifies things.
I assure hon. Members that parliamentary questions will be answered much more quickly. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has apologised to the hon. Member for Wycombe about that.
Work is being done in prisons. Some £6 million has been provided this year for a programme to prevent radicalisation and manage risk in prisons. We are looking to expand that programme into probation. That is important. All prison chaplains are vetted and trained, regardless of their faiths. Again, we are trying to take measures in that regard.
I think that the hon. Member for Wycombe mentioned national indicator 35 on building resilience to violent extremism in communities. He will know that local area agreement negotiations about whether local authorities include NI35 are ongoing. The indication so far is that a substantial number of authorities are taking up NI35 and we are encouraged by that.
The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about the Channel project. We are trying to ensure that, when we try to identify at-risk individuals, we involve not only the police, but all the agencies, including the faith organisations, local people and all types of community organisations. The whole purpose of that project, as he knows, is to try to prevent individuals from slipping into extremism—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mrs. Dean. I have just received a message about staying five minutes longer and it has rather thrown me. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The answer is yes.
On a point of order, Mrs. Dean. Does that mean that I speak for five minutes more?
Vernon Coaker (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Gedling, Labour)
Hon. Members can see why I was a little confused by the note I received.
The Channel project is about trying to support individuals locally and trying to involve everybody in doing that.
Are we countering al-Qaeda's single narrative? Yes. The research, information and communications unit was established last year to do exactly that: to tarnish the al-Qaeda brand and ensure that we challenge its distorted world view and distortions of Islam. I agree with the points that hon. Members made about the need to ensure that we tackle extremism in universities. The police are involved in discussions with universities. Although we are not compromising academic freedom and freedom of speech, we should recognise the responsibilities that all of us have to tackle extremism.
Hon. Members asked about sharing good practice in respect of counter-terrorism work. We have established the police counter-terrorism board, which sets the strategic direction for police counter-terrorism work nationally and provides a forum for sharing good practice.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East made an important point. We agree that terrorism is un-Islamic: the Home Secretary said so in a speech to the Smith Institute on
Lord West of Spithead has conducted a review of the critical national infrastructure and his recommendations are being taken forward.
I thank all hon. Members for the quality of the debate and will write to them about various points that have not been covered. I thank everyone for an important contribution to all these matters.