The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart):
A consultation paper setting out the Government's proposals to restructure the probation service was published on 20 October. We intend to legislate to implement those proposals, which will help to drive up performance and contribute to the reduction of reoffending.
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Jim Cousins: I am grateful for that reply. The Government have rightly set the probation service some tough targets, which have been met. Indeed, new services have been developed to deal with numeracy, literacy and the mental health and well-being of the people who use the service. May I, therefore, urge my hon. Friend not to break up the service, and not to hold out the threat of privatisation with the prospect of loss of identity and a complete free for all about who the employers might be in the future?
Fiona Mactaggart: I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the success to date of the national probation service, which has achieved a lot in helping us to reduce reoffending. I share, too, his congratulations to the service, but it knows, as a service that has gone through change and stepped up to the challenges of change, that we can do better, and our proposals to create contestability and to involve a range of providers for probation services will enable us to do that more effectively in future.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What evidence is there that the introduction of a mixed economy in the delivery of probation services will in any way enhance public protection or reduce reoffending?
Fiona Mactaggart: The experience of contestability in the Prison Service has shown us that we can improve provision in terms of not only resources but also, for example, the decency agenda. As Her Majesty's inspectors have pointed out, the private Prison Service has done a lot to improve our prison services.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): In recent times, the Home Office has proposed market testing and possible privatisation not just for the probation service but also for the Forensic Science Service and various young offender institutions. In a mature and constructive way, may I ask my hon. Friend whether any aspect of the management and apprehension of offenders has such a strong public service element that it would be inappropriate for market testing and possible privatisation?
Fiona Mactaggart: I believe that the state has to take responsibility for those services and that we need to ensure that they are delivered in a way that reflects a public service ethos. That does not require every person who delivers every part of them to be employed by a public authority.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke):
Combating extremism is a job for the whole Government working in partnership with all faith communities. Over the summer, Ministers from all Departments met representatives of faith communities throughout the country to discuss the best means of proceeding.
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During the summer, we established with the Muslim community a series of working groups to support communities' ability to challenge extremism themselves. Those "preventing extremism together" groups have developed a broad range of practical proposals, and many of them will be taken forward by community representatives, with Home Office support, in the coming months.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his reply, but he will be aware that among those who have been advising the Government on combating extremism are Mr. Ahmad Thomson, Mr. Khurshid Ahmad and Mr. Mockbul Ali. They have asserted respectively that Hitler was financed by Zionist financiers and that Muslims are obliged to want an Islamic state. One of them, Mr. Mukbar Ali, described the Muslim Brotherhood, the godfather organisation of Hamas, as reformist, progressive and liberal. Does the Home Secretary believe that people who hold those views are the right individuals to help us build the inclusive, tolerant, multi-faith society that everyone on the Conservative Benches wants to see?
Mr. Clarke: I do not accept the descriptions that the hon. Gentleman has given, but I shall certainly look at them carefully. This is a major issue for the way in which we engage with the mainstream Muslim community following the events of July, and it is very important that we have the widest possible range of engagement. That does not mean tolerating and accepting views of the type that he describesI abhor them just as strongly as he doesbut it does mean that we must have a very full debate, particularly relating to young people from the Muslim community, to ensure that we can contest the extremism in the most effective way.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary accept that dealing with extremists is not just a problem to be resolved in the United Kingdom? When the Foreign Affairs Committee goes to countries ranging from Morocco and Libya to Saudi Arabia, one of the things that they are most concerned about is access to websites and CDs. Will he therefore work with his colleagues in other countries to deal with those websites and combat those ideas?
Mr. Clarke: I very strongly agree with my hon. Friend. She may be interested to know that, just last Friday, the European Union Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers concluded a set of proposals on contesting radicalisation recruitment for precisely the reasons that she gives. When I led an EU delegation to Washington, we had very specific discussions with the Americans on exactly the same basis. She is entirely correct.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
(Con): In the summer after 7/7, both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary made it clear that central to policy would be to achieve the expulsion from this country of a small number of extremist imams and others who are doing so much to stir up hatreda statement that was welcomed by quite a number of moderate Muslim figures. Can the Home Secretary confirm to the House that no one has yet been expelled under that heading? Will he tell the House how many proceedings against such individuals have been started?
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Mr. Clarke: I shall not set out the details of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, which he asks publicly in the House today, but I will say that we have successfully taken action against individuals who have been settled in this country. However, I acknowledgethis is the truth in his pointthat it is a very difficult process to deport people from this country to countries where they may not be able to live or where it is thought that they cannot live safely. That is a central issue for us in that approach.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the persons described by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in no way represent the majority of our constituents who are Muslims? In fact, they would be disowned by them. They do not represent them in any way.
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is 100 per cent. correct. That is certainly the case. What is most important in all this is to work with the mainstream Muslim community to isolate extremism, and that is exactly what we are seeking to do.
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman refers to leaks, but he is leaking the wrong criticism that has been made. Leaving that aside for a moment, the fact is that we have a highly structured and effective campaign to deal with the issue. We are focused not only on dealing with extremism in the way that was suggested by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in asking about the relations with the whole Muslim community and the intensification of our democracy, which is centrally important, but on dealing with the explicit terrorist and extremist threat, which is what the report to which he refers was about. We have made a number of significant attempts to achieve a far more effective situation.