Extremism — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:02 pm on 22nd February 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative 3:02 pm, 22nd February 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they intend to combat the threat of extremism among Muslims in Britain.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

The Government are committed to tackling all forms of extremism. CONTEST presents our strategy to reduce the risk from international terrorism. The Prevent strand aims to stop people from becoming or supporting violent extremists.

The international terrorist threat is mainly from al-Qaeda and AQ-influenced groups, which primarily seek to recruit vulnerable individuals from Muslim communities. Muslim communities, though not the sole focus, remain a priority for Prevent support.

Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister think that the recent permission given for a hard-line Muslim priest-Yahya Ibrahim, banned in America-to come to Britain to speak in a number of British universities might just be adding to the extreme concern expressed by the State Department in America, and have led to the House of Commons Select Committee to describe our approach to the al-Qaeda programme as "lethargic"?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Baroness touches on a very sensitive point: who we deal with, who we talk to, and who we allow to come into the country. There are very specific rules about who we can stop coming in and, in the assessment of the Home Secretary, the particular individual talked about did not meet the cut-off level for not being allowed in. We are always dealing with some organisations which, one could argue, are on the cusp of these things. It is vital that we engage with them because sometimes they can make a genuine difference in stopping violent extremism, though they might have views that we abhor.

This is a very difficult balance. We have done a lot over the past two and a half years. I think that we have got better at this, and that we have got a better understanding. We have made some mistakes, but we have learnt from those and we are much better at it now. As far as the Americans go, they are really impressed with our Prevent strategy. They did not have a similar strategy, and they see it as a very good example. They have some views about how they would adjust it, and we are in very close dialogue. But we are doing the right thing, and it is very important that we have done that.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

Surely a major cause of Muslim extremism is the failure of our Government and other members of the quartet to stop the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, over many years I have travelled to the Middle East in various guises, whether as Chief of Defence Intelligence, First Sea Lord, commander of a battle group or whatever, and now of course as a Minister. This is a significant and important issue, and there is no doubt that it poisons a lot of other issues. The British Government are clear on our views on it. The noble Lord is right that a resolution of the affairs in the Middle East would make a huge difference to extremism; it would change it fundamentally.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, does the Minister accept that a large number of people from the Muslim community are law-abiding citizens and that it would be wrong to generalise about or stereotype that community with regard to terrorism? The Minister said that the strategy was about prevention, but has he carried out an assessment of the impact of the cutbacks in Foreign Office expenditure in Pakistan and how they are affecting the radicalisation process over there?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right-Prevent is not about stigmatising any communities at all. There is no doubt that the vast majority of Muslims oppose violent extremism; only a tiny minority are violent extremists. That is why we have close liaison with a number of people from all faiths and communities within the Prevent strategy.

With regard to funding, we have spent £240 million on Prevent over the past two years, a level of spending that had not been there before, within this country at community level and above. Foreign Office spending on Prevent is at about £80 million over the past three years. That is a lot of money, and it is more than has ever been spent. There have been constraints on some of that but overall it has still increased, and it is an important part of the whole package.

I am proud of our Prevent package. We had not really talked about these issues until about two and a half years ago; we had certainly not done very much. We were all culpable, in that in the 1990s we did not understand this pernicious radicalisation of tiny numbers of people in our midst-we just had not spotted it. That was an error. We picked it up in our CONTEST strategy and we pointed it out. We now understand it to a degree; we are still learning, but we are doing a lot of good things to try to counter it.

Noble Lords:

Bishop!

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Convenor of the Lords Spiritual

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the unintended consequences of the Prevent strategy has been at times to reduce trusting relations between Muslims and those of other faith communities in some of our cities? Does he agree that programmes designed to build up those trusting relations, like Leicester City Council's mainstreaming moderation agenda, are a more productive way forward?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises a valid point. I see these programmes as being complementary-they all work together. Things like our Channel programme do a huge amount in identifying and pulling out those who are vulnerable and working with local communities. The vast majority of our Muslim community understand this and are becoming linked in to the Prevent agenda. I am not pretending that we have got everything right; this is a difficult and sensitive area, and we are working hard and learning lessons all the time. These things all work together, though, and all of them are needed.