Category: Counterterrorism

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

My Lords, to effectively tackle terrorism we must use a combination of radicalisation prevention, rehabilitation and punishment. This Bill is not balanced: it places too much reliance on punishment. We must effectively address the root causes and implement real solutions to deal with the problems of radicalisation, extremism and terrorism.

To stop radicalisation and terrorism we must not merely apply stronger punishments. I am actively involved in the issues of radicalisation and terrorism, having prepared two reports on the subject and spoken about it in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere. I have also been very effective in dealing with the issues in the community. To deal with these problems we need input and participation in the form of new partnerships involving the Government, the police, local authorities, prisons and members of the community at all levels. We need a holistic approach—that is what may work. Unfortunately, a tiny minority of Muslims have been radicalised and committed terrorist acts. These Muslims go against the peaceful principles of Islam.

I recently asked a Question in the House about the lack of diversity in the justice system, and I have written to my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Greenhalgh asking for their support for an in-depth study of Muslims in prison. I have not yet received a reply, so I ask my noble friend Lady Williams to comment on my request, and on the points I made about radicalisation, in her response.

I refer now to the important matter of the Prevent strategy. I repeat what I said in this House in November 2018:

“The Prevent strategy has caused concerns and raised objections. Some critics of the strategy have said that there is racial profiling, excessive spying and the removal of basic civil liberties from innocent individuals.”—[Official Report, 12/11/18; col. 1737.]

It is imperative that a suitable person is appointed to review the strategy and, importantly, that that person’s ?terms of reference must be reconsidered and be appropriate. The terms should, for example, include full consultations with communities.

Furthermore, it is important that a new date for the review, which must be adhered to, is fixed; otherwise, the matter may be kicked into the long grass. I ask the Minister to comment on this point and what I have said about the Prevent strategy.

I will now refer briefly to some of the Bill’s provisions. Due to constraints of time, I do not have a great deal to say. I am concerned about the Bill’s blanket approach to stopping release at the two-thirds point of the custodial sentence for certain offences and removing any early releases for the offences. Preventing the possibility of early release in this way will have unintended consequences, especially for those who were radicalised when vulnerable and have genuinely reformed in prison. Assuming that this is never the case is unfair and may undermine the chance for effective reform. Instead, I suggest we continue to implement the TORER Act 2020, as this considers individual circumstances. We cannot generalise when it comes to rights.

I am also concerned about how the Bill approaches the increasing severity of non-terrorist sentences considered to have a terrorist connection. In a climate of intolerance, it is possible that members of BAME communities would receive harsher sentences. Unfortunately, this is already happening, and I have said so previously in your Lordships’ House.

I want to express my worry about expanding the list of offences that can result in a sentence for offenders of particular concern. It begs the question of how an offender of particular concern will be determined. The sentence may be open to misinterpretation and bias, particularly if sentencing occurs in the wake of an unpleasant incident.

Finally, I express my disquiet about lowering the standard of proof for TPIMs and removing the two-year limits, which can cause problems. This, again, is open to greater interpretation, and the power to indefinitely impose conditions could undermine civil liberties by increasing surveillance. In conclusion, this is an important Bill, and we need to look carefully at its provisions.

 

The following was noted by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: 

It was made by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who went on to make the important point that there needs to be full resourcing of deradicalisation programmes, as they are very resource heavy.

 

Baroness Williams of Trafford responded with: 

I also say to my noble friend Lord Sheikh that I will respond to his letter as soon as I possibly can; I apologise to him.

 

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill

My Lords, I will talk about the Prevent strategy in greater detail when we discuss Amendment 57. At this stage, I would like to say that there is disquiet among Muslims regarding the application of the Prevent strategy and it is felt that a review is necessary.

The Home Office should gather and publish figures to see whether the strategy is disproportionately affecting any particular ethnic group or religion. I understand ?that the Government publish data on the age, gender and region of residence of those referred under the Prevent programme, together with the type of concerns raised. It is important that there is complete transparency and people are given all the appropriate information, including details regarding ethnicity and religion. This will enable us not only to have a complete understanding of all the issues but to take appropriate remedial action. As regards Muslims, we need to involve members and leaders of the community, the mosques, the imams, Muslim centres and the media. We can then make arrangements for all the people to get involved and provide the necessary guidance and support.

Islam is indeed a religion of peace and forbids any form of suicidal act or terrorism. We need to explain to people who are misled about the true principles of Islam, once we have examined the total extent of the problem. I therefore support the amendment.

My Lords, I want to make some comments relating to the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. There are more than 3 million Muslims in the country, who have come here from different parts of the world. The population is youthful in comparison with other communities. Muslims have done well in every walk of life and contributed to the advancement and well-being of the country. Nearly all of them are law-abiding people, but unfortunately a tiny minority has caused problems. They have been radicalised and committed terrorist acts.

What those misguided persons are doing and have done is totally un-Islamic. They have misunderstood our glorious religion and what they have done is not in accordance with Islamic principles. In the Holy Koran it is written: “Whoever kills an innocent person it is though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life it is as though he has saved all mankind”. It is therefore imperative that we guide such people and tell them about the true principles of Islam. The Muslim community has a role to play in this regard, and I shall expand on this point later.

I have been actively involved in combating radicalisation among the community. In this regard, I prepared a report setting out the various problems and suggesting my recommendations. It was sent to the Prime Minister and a number of Muslim centres and mosques. In addition, I have had numerous meetings and conversations with members and leaders of the community, imams, teachers, parents and the media.?

I want to emphasise that I support the Prevent strategy in principle but it is necessary for a review to be undertaken. I therefore support the amendment. To deal with issues concerning radicalisation, we need input and participation from local authorities, the police, schools, prisons and members of the community at all levels. I am trying to raise awareness that the onus is on the Muslim community to be honest and to realise that there are problems among a tiny minority and that it is therefore necessary to take positive action to remedy the issues. This means that a holistic approach must be taken by the community in conjunction with others. The involvement of the community is imperative. We must secure its co-operation to make the Prevent strategy work without problems.

I have travelled to various parts of the country and talked to leaders of mosques, imams, heads of community centres and members of the communities. The Prevent strategy has caused concerns and raised objections. Some critics of the strategy have said that there is racial profiling, excessive spying and the removal of basic civil liberties from innocent individuals.

It has also been mentioned to me that Prevent is perhaps a toxic brand. Not everyone in the community is convinced that the strategy is right, and the concept is difficult to sell to them. It has also been said that only self-appointed community leaders have been involved rather than members of groups which represent the community. The community therefore feels that it needs to be a part of the strategy in whatever form it may be constructed.

I said earlier that Islam is a religion of peace and that any form of terrorism is unacceptable in it. It is therefore imperative that Muslim leaders and imams guide people who may have been misled and are confused about Islamic values. The community therefore has a role to play.

At one of its annual conferences, the National Union of Teachers asked the Government to withdraw the Prevent strategy with regard to schools and colleges and to develop an alternative scheme to safeguard children and identify risks posed to young people. Teachers have said that the strategy causes, “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom”.

It has also been mentioned that Prevent is affecting education and undermining trust between teachers and pupils. It appears that about 65% of a total of some 5,000 Prevent referrals are Muslims. Muslims have a one-in-500 chance of being referred, hence the chances are 40 times greater than for someone who is not a Muslim. Furthermore, a very small number of referrals are acted on. These figures indicate that there is perhaps over-referral of Muslims, which needs to be looked into thoroughly. I have been made aware of some unpleasant incidents in schools where it was proven that Muslim children had been picked on for no good reason. This has led to anguish and anger. School authorities may have acted in good faith, but their actions were wrong. It appears that the total cost of the Prevent strategy is more than £40 million. One needs to examine whether the money is spent effectively and we are getting proper value for our expenditure. The amount spent ?may be excessive and perhaps lucrative for some people. Furthermore, it is important that we apply suitable criteria before an organisation receives a contract for undertaking the work. We should ensure that proper checks and balances are applied to organisations granted contracts. My Lords, I will talk about the Prevent strategy in greater detail when we discuss Amendment 57. At this stage, I would like to say that there is disquiet among Muslims regarding the application of the Prevent strategy and it is felt that a review is necessary.

It appears that the total cost of the Prevent strategy is more than £40 million. One needs to examine whether the money is spent effectively and we are getting proper value for our expenditure. The amount spent ?may be excessive and perhaps lucrative for some people. Furthermore, it is important that we apply suitable criteria before an organisation receives a contract for undertaking the work. We should ensure that proper checks and balances are applied to organisations granted contracts.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

I have been listening with great care to what the noble Lord has said—he obviously has great knowledge. Can he give the Committee some examples, first, of Prevent projects which have given rise specifically to the kinds of mistrust and poor reputation that he has referred to; and, secondly, of Prevent projects which have been, as he describes them, a waste of money?

Lord Sheikh

These comments have been made to me in general. What I am trying to say to your Lordships’ House is what I have been told. When I go up and down the country and talk to people, I find disquiet and unhappiness about the strategy, so I feel that we need to undertake a review of it.

There is to some extent a lack of transparency about the strategy which has led to mistrust and is affecting its effectiveness.

I have identified a number of issues which are relevant and believe that there are good reasons for an independent review to be undertaken. The review must be a thorough examination and it must be undertaken after discussions with everyone involved, including relevant organisations and members of the community. The review must arrive at a conclusion which I hope will have the agreement of everyone, as much as possible. I end by emphasising, as I said at the outset, that I agree with the strategy in principle but it needs to be reviewed and an alternative must be found after appropriate consultation and discussion.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Counterterrorism

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to recent comments by the Quilliam Foundation, which receives funding from the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, on collecting data on members of the Muslim community.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): We completely disagree with the remarks made by the Quilliam Foundation and have written to it to make this clear. Neither on this nor on any other issue does Quilliam speak for the Government.

Counterterrorism

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they ensure that the “pursue” and “prevent” strands of their counterterrorist strategy stay separate in order not to collect unnecessarily data and personal information on Muslim citizens.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): The Government’s counterterrorism strategy, CONTEST, highlighted the importance of managing the connection between “pursue” and “prevent”.

Ensuring that the mutually supportive elements of the two strands are complementary and do not undermine one another requires effective information sharing. We expect the police and their partners to act on the risk they assess from the information available to them. This will determine whether a “prevent” or “pursue” response is more appropriate and which partner or agency should act to protect the public from harm. It is for the police to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if an identified risk should be considered for “pursue” action.

This does not entail the collection of unnecessary data and personal information on Muslim citizens. Information is gathered and shared by the police and local partners only when it is necessary, proportionate and lawful to do so.