Amendment to the Motion

Part of Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill - Second Reading (and remaining stages) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 24th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative 6:00 pm, 24th February 2020

My Lords, it is always an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I welcome this Bill, which honours a promise made by the Justice Secretary on 3 February.

The situation is very serious. Terror attacks are unlike any other criminality and require specific legislation, possibly with new offences and punishments—which, I gather, may be forthcoming, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, indicated. Those who have perpetrated such attacks, and might do so again, deserve the full force of the state as it does everything in its power to protect citizens against violent extremists.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, might be surprised to hear that I agree with much—well, some—of what she said. She is indeed astonished. I will raise some issues relating to what is happening inside prisons that has led to the position we find ourselves in, with—albeit a relatively small number of—potentially highly dangerous people.

Clearly, the Government have taken considerable and important steps since the Acheson review, as the Minister himself correctly noted, in July 2019. Likewise, the Healthy Identity Intervention programme is welcome, but it is voluntary, small-scale and clearly easy to game.

Prisons can provide near-perfect conditions for radical, religiously framed ideologies to flourish, but they can also be incubators of peaceful change and transformation—a positive thought that I want to develop. The answer is not just policies but people. Frequently, the key will be the prison imam, and it is the training of these people I want to touch on, as I have been looking at this area for some four years with the assistance of Dr Mustafa Mohamed and latterly Mr Mohamed Amersi, both well-known interfaith leaders.

Radicalisation in prisons, an issue that has been mentioned in this debate, was addressed last April by the distinguished academic, research professor Dr Azeem Ibrahim, who pointed out in his paper that substantial investment is needed to provide expert training for imams and chaplains on how radicalisation works with vulnerable inmates, and how to respond to and deconstruct their destructive ideologies and attitudes.

He suggested that we need an infrastructure of qualified experts, such as theological intervention providers, to assist those imams who simply do not have the right training—they are not trained to be welfare officers and counterterrorism experts as well as spiritual advisers. A programme of rehabilitation can include, for example, providing ideological challenges to extremist ideology, improving educational and vocational training, or offering volunteering work. But, as Dr Ibrahim points out, it needs to be overseen by a single trusted mentor who can build a relationship of trust and be relied on to guide a person in the right direction. An advisory board has been suggested, therefore, comprising UK and international Islamic scholars, to advise Her Majesty’s Government and the Prison Service on tackling extremism in this way. Such people exist and are available and willing to help.

Noble Lords may wonder why I am speaking on this issue. Some four years ago my friend Dr Mustafa Mohamed and I were discussing the issue of imam training in the UK, as I explained to him how the training of rabbis had developed in the UK. The Jewish community recognised the need for rabbis to be trained in British culture. It proved to be a prescient decision, as there was a massive destruction of many—if not most—learning centres in Europe by the Nazis. This led to us working up a paper to see if we could achieve apprenticeship status for those seeking to become imams, and indeed for other clerics. Sadly, the initiative ran into difficulties, despite constructive meetings with Sir Oliver Letwin, then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the Cabinet Office—and indeed with some folk from Number 10.

Now, however, seems the time to re-energise these ideas, as we face the consequences of a failure to control radicalisation in prisons. It is of course an international problem. In the Netherlands, three programmes for Muslim chaplains were set up in universities in 2005-06, but in 2013, sadly, two announced their closure. As recently as 18 February—a week ago—President Macron announced measures to tighten controls on foreign financing of mosques and said, “We will train imams in France, so they learn our language and the laws of the Republic.”

In conclusion, faith training is difficult. There are conflicting demands, such as a government requirement for mixed classes, which clashes with some ideologies. But, as Mohamed Amersi of the Faith in Leadership foundation has pointed out, there would be substantial advantages if programmes of Muslim faith leadership training were validated in accordance with national qualifications. At the same time, we need to recognise the need to expand existing courses and programmes for Muslim chaplains in Islamic pastoral care and counselling.

As this Bill passes into legislation, will the Minister agree to facilitate a meeting with the Government for the aforementioned Muslim thought leaders, to address the problems that have led to the need for this Bill?