Committee (3rd Day)

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

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Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 28th January 2015

My Lords, first, I apologise to the Committee that I have not spoken before. However, I was present at Second Reading for the majority of the opening speeches, and I was present in the Chamber for much of the Committee stage on Monday, as I am today. I should like to speak briefly in support of the two amendments in the names of my noble friends, and I very much support what my noble friend Lady Warsi has just said.

I wonder whether, when he responds, the Minister could shed some light on why early years education has been included at all. I do not think that anyone has mentioned it yet, but I find the inclusion of early years education here very puzzling. Are we really looking for signs of radicalisation among nursery school children? I do not think that we have had a proper explanation of this and I would welcome one from the Minister.

There is a danger of alienating British Muslims in what is being proposed in relation to further education and university establishments. British Muslims are very well represented in universities, with some 50% now attending higher education. Is targeting universities and placing Prevent in the setting of a statutory duty really the right way to go about supporting the education and aspirations of young British Muslims who are keen to move on in their lives and careers and to integrate, or does it risk alienating whole communities, as has been mentioned by noble Lords around the Chamber? I have real concerns about that. There is also a danger in drawing conclusions about things that are said in universities. We all know that things are said in all sorts of wild situations—there can be debates on all sorts of subjects—but can that be equated automatically with radicalisation? Are we clear what we mean by that?

It is worth going back to something that I consider to be very important. The Minister has said on a number of occasions that the best way of tackling radicalisation and potential terrorism is by engaging with the British Muslim communities and other communities, working with them on an equal footing at the grass-roots level and not by employing a top-down approach. I fear that some of what is being proposed risks alienating people and driving them away, rather than encouraging them to engage in the way that we would want. To date, we have not had any evidence of any consultation or of how Prevent has worked historically. Those of us who have been involved in working with communities in the UK know how much in previous years—under this Government and the previous Government—the Prevent agenda polarised communities. It became a byword for the state spying on communities, not engaging with them, as my noble friend Lady Warsi has just said. It could be counterproductive. We need more evidence of engagement and consultation. We need to know how these so-called panels are going to work and whether they will be inclusive—not top-down and government led but community-led panels that will produce results.

I would appreciate it if my noble friend could respond to some of these points because they are at the heart of what we are trying to get to. If we cannot and will not engage but we go for the top-down approach—which may look very good in the headlines—will it work in practice? Will it achieve what we want it to achieve in terms of preventing terrorism?