Committee (3rd Day)

Part of Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 28 January 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Warsi Baroness Warsi Conservative 4:15, 28 January 2015

My Lords, I will speak to both these amendments, although it may well be that much of what I have to say relates to amendments that will follow. However, I have some general points that will also relate to the debates we are going to have later today.

When the Government bring forward something on a statutory basis, there are two very clear questions that we need to ask: is it absolutely needed, and are we sure that what we are implementing works? The concern that I have in relation to the former of those questions—and I am sure that it will be dealt with in future amendments—is whether we are absolutely clear that it is necessary to introduce Prevent on a statutory basis into the various statutory bodies that we are speaking of in this Bill, including nurseries, schools and universities.

However, I want to focus more on whether we are sure that what we are implementing is working at present. There have been concerns about the Prevent and counter-radicalisation programme for a number of years. There has been a view that it is being done badly, and reports going back as far as five or six years, from 2009 onwards, have consistently argued that the quality of Prevent work is questionable. Indeed, in some cases it has been said that the Prevent work itself has further alienated communities rather than deradicalised them. In those circumstances, it is important for a full review of Prevent to be done before we place it on a statutory footing.

The second concern in relation to Prevent is that, up to now, it has been ideologically rather than evidence based, and the basis on which Prevent work is done has been much questioned. There have been reports from the intelligence service’s behavioural science unit as to whether the linear theory of ideology leading to extremism and then violent extremism can actually be supported. It is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, is not in his seat today, because I think he would have been able to shed more light on that.

The third issue is definition, which has already been referred to today. What definition of extremism are we working to? A definition has now been provided in the guidance, which has been labelled the Prevent definition, but noble Lords may be aware that there are a number of definitions of extremism currently in government working documents. For example, the definition in the extremism task force paper after the tragic killing of Drummer Lee Rigby is different to that in the Prevent guidelines. It is incredibly dangerous to be stepping into the realms of a statutory basis for a Prevent programme that is going to rely on a definition of extremism that is not entirely defined and clear within all government departments, considering that many of the these statutory bodies will be accountable to different government departments.

My final point is that one of the challenges in relation to Prevent, and indeed in relation to what we are trying to do through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, is how far British Muslim communities are on board. How far are they taking ownership of this work and how far do they feel that this work is genuinely being done to tackle radical violent extremists? Noble Lords may be aware that there was a sliding scale within government to define how far somebody was beyond the pale. If you were so extremist, we would not speak to you; if you were slightly more extremist, we would not take you as partners; if you were slightly more extremist than that, we would not fund your organisations. Nowhere is that made public. Nowhere are we aware what that would look like. Now we are talking not just about groups, organisations and individuals whom we do not engage with or take as partners or fund, but individuals who are not going to be allowed to speak, for example, on any university campus. It is important that we make sure that a proper consultation takes place with the British Muslim communities as to how this will work in practice.

The reason why I raise this is that, as noble Lords may be aware, at the weekend I wrote an opinion piece about what I described as a policy of disengagement— not just by this Government but by the previous

Government—with British Muslim communities. More and more individuals and organisations have been defined as beyond the pale and are no longer engaged with. My concern is that a programme, which clearly requires the support of the communities within which it will mainly be operating, is being put in place without clear engagement or consultation with those very communities. The programme will be working in an ever closing space and without a very clear evidence base. For that reason, I have concerns.