Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Jun 2008 : Column 88WH—continued

25 Jun 2008 : Column 89WH

On Channel, we need some answers to the questions that my hon. Friend tabled in March, including, among others, those about how individuals’ interests will be protected against loose gossip and grudge settling. We heard about the vulnerability of those in prisons and universities, and in particular about a virtual caliphate. Will the Minister tell us how many prosecutions—this is on the enforcement side—of extremist website uploaders or providers have actually taken place?

Finally, from my hon. Friend’s contribution, we need to know much more about the Government’s response to preventing violent extremism in education institutions and mosques. How can the moderate side of Islam, if I can put it that way, be disseminated more simply and effectively? My hon. Friend made a point about more intelligent and moderate discourse in our universities and gave the example of how we might be able to fund an institute of British Islam that would provide a bridge between modern western democratic tradition and the moderate Islamic tradition, and how that could be encouraged in practical terms and made stronger by Her Majesty’s Government, because it will not happen on its own.

I would like to flag up a question on the Prevent strategy that has not been raised. It is about measurement. Obviously, the strategy is well intentioned, but widely reported in newspaper articles in autumn 2006 were comments allegedly from the then head of MI5 that there were 1,200 people who posed a terrorist risk to the state. By November 2007, it was being reported that the figure had grown to around 2,000, and there was a warning that the number of potential terrorists living in this country could run up to about 4,000. If those figures are correct, it does not seem that the Prevent strategy to challenge the growth of radicalisation is being terribly effective. Could the Minister comment on those numbers?

On the Pursue strategy, I have one simple question about intercept evidence. There is, of course, some limited use of such evidence in control order and deportation cases, but the Opposition have prosecuted a strong argument that its use in court would reduce the pressure for longer pre-charge detention in terrorist cases. Can the Minister rapidly give us the Department’s latest thinking on our proposal on intercept evidence? Where are we on that?

I would like to close by touching on another counter-terrorism issue that I believe is important to the public. Are the Government doing enough to deny entry to those whose presence in this country is not in any way conducive to the public good because of their extremist views and preaching of violence? I have in mind what looked like dithering by the Government at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 over al-Qaradawi entering the country and the failure in 2007 to stop al-Moussawi from visiting the UK and attending a speaking tour at the beginning of 2008. The Government are unable to get a strong message across to the British public that they will act effectively and decisively to stop such people coming across our borders. We need to hear more about that. Those cases are symbolic. When extremists preaching violence and hatred come into our country, the question the man and woman on the street will ask is why the Government are not doing something about it.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 90WH

For all those reasons, we have had a terrific debate. The contributions have been based on a great deal of experience. There were proper contributions from the Opposition but we did not hear anything from Labour Members, which was surprising and disappointing. We have put many questions to the Minister in a spirit of consensus, and I know that he will do his best to answer them.

10.46 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who normally deals with these matters. Unfortunately for the purpose of this debate, he is giving evidence to a House of Lords Committee on the impact of surveillance and data protection. I hope that those who spoke will understand that his absence is not meant as disrespect to anyone. Clearly, this is an extremely important issue.

I sincerely and very much agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) who commented, as did the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake)—the three of us are speaking from Front-Bench positions for our respective parties—on the quality of the debate. I reassure hon. Members that although this is not my area of responsibility, I have been extremely interested in the points that have been made and will ensure that my right hon. Friend reflects on the debate. I will personally discuss with him some of the issues that have been raised. I also agree with the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington who said that often in Westminster Hall we discuss issues and sometimes—not always, but sometimes—get to the core of the issue.

In saying that, I particularly praise the excellent contribution of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman). I know how much he works in his constituency on these matters. As he pointed out, he has a significant Muslim community in his constituency. He should be given a great deal of credit for the way in which he tries to learn from that experience and not only represent his own constituents but put matters into the national context and try to influence the debate nationally. As he made clear in his remarks, he has to influence the national debate to serve his own constituents. I agree with his colleagues that it was an excellent contribution, and he is to be congratulated on it.

I hope that hon. Members will allow me to make a few general points before I come to some of the specific questions. I have about 600 notes on important points. I will endeavour to deal with some of them in the time that I have left, but, as I promised the hon. Gentleman outside this debate, I will write to him on points that I do not manage to cover. If he agrees, it may be helpful if I provide copies of that information to other Members who contributed to the debate—I hope that that will meet with their satisfaction—and, perhaps, to you, Mrs. Dean, as the Chairman of our proceedings.

Unfortunately, the threat to the UK from international terrorism remains serious and sustained, and the current level is severe. The police, Security Service and intelligence agencies continue to work hard to protect the British people from terrorist attack, and we are grateful to them.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 91WH

The numbers of terrorist cases coming before the courts give an indication of the scale and nature of the threat that we are facing. In 2007, 36 people were convicted in 14 significant terrorism cases, with 21 of those individuals pleading guilty. So far this year, 31 people have been convicted in nine significant terrorist cases. Of those 31, 11 individuals have pleaded guilty. Over the next 18 months, terrorism cases will come before the courts on all but a few days. Faced with that serious and evolving threat, it is the Government’s responsibility to protect the public and our national security, always seeking to find the right balance between individual freedom and collective security. As the Home Secretary said recently, there is no contradiction between pursuing our counter-terrorism objectives and defending our freedoms and civil liberties.

Terrorism is an assault on everyone’s civil liberties, whatever community we are from, and an assault on our democracy and our values. Our response, therefore, must continue to be based on these values and liberties, as the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) said, and must ardently be pursued through our democratic framework—primarily, our criminal justice system.

Since 2003, the Government’s counter-terrorism response has been governed by the Contest strategy, which aims to

Both of those aspects are important. The Contest counter-terrorist strategy, for which the Home Secretary is responsible, is divided into four strands: Pursue, which is about stopping terrorist attacks; Protect, which is about strengthening our protection against attack; Prepare, which is to do with mitigating the impact of attacks; and Prevent, which means stopping people becoming involved with or supporting violent extremism.

A major area of work since 2007 has been the refreshing of our Prevent strategy. The new Prevent delivery plan, launched by the Home Secretary with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government on 3 June this year, has five key objectives: first, undermining extremist ideology and supporting mainstream voices; secondly, disrupting those who promote violent extremism and strengthening vulnerable institutions; thirdly, supporting individuals who are vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists and creating mechanisms for supporting them; fourthly, increasing the resilience of communities to engage with and resist violent extremists; and fifthly, effectively addressing grievances, whether real or perceived.

This morning’s debate is important, as a number of hon. Members have said, because it gives us the opportunity to look at the Prevent side, as the hon. Member for Wycombe did in his speech, rather than debating some of the other aspects, as we have done over the past few weeks, important though that is.

I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Wycombe made. I hope that other hon. Members will bear with me while I try to answer some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. The function of the mosque is crucial. We need to support mainstream Islamic opinion. I support some of his ideas, which are consistent with some points that the Government are making about working with Muslim scholars on these issues. As he said, we are looking to establish a United Kingdom board of Islamic scholars and to work with them to see what we can do to combat violent extremism.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 92WH

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to support communities. The Government have, as he knows, committed £45 million over the next three years through the Preventing Violent Extremism programme, the money being given through the DCLG. However, let us be clear that this is difficult territory. If we are to win the battle for hearts and minds, there will have to be robust debate and engagement. Of course, we have to ensure that we do not inadvertently support or fund the wrong people, individuals or groups.

We have a robust procedure. We try to ensure that the police are involved in determining where money goes—whether to individuals or groups—but let us be clear that to win this debate we have to support mainstream Islamic opinion and we must be confident that we can win the battle for hearts and minds. As the hon. Member for New Forest, East said, we have to show the distortion of the truth of the Islamic faith and we need to expose that. Judgments are involved in doing that, so we need to try to ensure that robust procedures are in place and the best judgments are made.

On the success of the strategy, this year we have agreed for the first time a public service agreement, led by the office for security and counter-terrorism in the Home Office and submitted to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury on 3 April. The reporting period began on 1 April, including measurements, targets and metrics for all strands in the prevent strategy. That should help us. Again, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made that point. We have a specific PSA target.

In answer to a question asked by the hon. Members for Wycombe, for Bury St. Edmunds and for Carshalton and Wallington, the Home Office is the lead Department and the Home Secretary is the lead Minister. The director general of the office for security and counter-terrorism within the Home Office is the senior responsible official. I hope that that clarifies things.

I assure hon. Members that parliamentary questions will be answered much more quickly. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has apologised to the hon. Member for Wycombe about that.

Work is being done in prisons. Some £6 million has been provided this year for a programme to prevent radicalisation and manage risk in prisons. We are looking to expand that programme into probation. That is important. All prison chaplains are vetted and trained, regardless of their faiths. Again, we are trying to take measures in that regard.

I think that the hon. Member for Wycombe mentioned national indicator 35 on building resilience to violent extremism in communities. He will know that local area agreement negotiations about whether local authorities include NI35 are ongoing. The indication so far is that a substantial number of authorities are taking up NI35 and we are encouraged by that.

The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about the Channel project. We are trying to ensure that, when we try to identify at-risk individuals, we involve not only the police, but all the agencies, including the faith organisations, local people and all types of community organisations. The whole purpose of that project, as he knows, is to try to prevent individuals from slipping into extremism—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mrs. Dean. I have just received
25 Jun 2008 : Column 93WH
a message about staying five minutes longer and it has rather thrown me. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The answer is yes.

On a point of order, Mrs. Dean. Does that mean that I speak for five minutes more?

Mrs. Janet Dean (in the Chair): No, Minister. You should wind up as usual on the hour at 11 am, but we could need you to be here for five minutes afterwards.

Mr. Coaker: Hon. Members can see why I was a little confused by the note I received.

The Channel project is about trying to support individuals locally and trying to involve everybody in doing that.

Are we countering al-Qaeda’s single narrative? Yes. The research, information and communications unit was established last year to do exactly that: to tarnish the al-Qaeda brand and ensure that we challenge its distorted world view and distortions of Islam. I agree with the points that hon. Members made about the need to ensure that we tackle extremism in universities. The police are involved in discussions with universities. Although we are not compromising academic freedom and freedom of speech, we should recognise the responsibilities that all of us have to tackle extremism.

Hon. Members asked about sharing good practice in respect of counter-terrorism work. We have established the police counter-terrorism board, which sets the strategic direction for police counter-terrorism work nationally and provides a forum for sharing good practice.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East made an important point. We agree that terrorism is un-Islamic: the Home Secretary said so in a speech to the Smith Institute on 3 June, describing it as “anti-Islamic”. That is why Muslims across the world, including in the UK, reject terrorism and violent extremism.

Lord West of Spithead has conducted a review of the critical national infrastructure and his recommendations are being taken forward.

I thank all hon. Members for the quality of the debate and will write to them about various points that have not been covered. I thank everyone for an important contribution to all these matters.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 94WH

Planning and Housing Estimates

11 am

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): I am pleased that the Minister was able to rush hotfoot into the Chamber just in time. It would have been a pleasure if the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) had joined us in this debate, but I know that he has other matters to get on with.

I was pleased to secure this debate, which is important for my constituents. Other parts of the country may have an interest in how the Government’s macro-housing targets impinge on the microclimate of their areas and the related planning issues. My purpose is to relate the Government’s macro-housing targets to the reality and challenges of meeting local housing needs in our communities. The background is, as Matthew Arnold said, that it is the desire of a centralised state to render its dominion homogenous.

My concern about the Government’s approach is that although I understand that at the macro level there will be a demand, following Kate Barker’s review and assessment, for 2 million properties to be built by 2016 and 3 million by 2020, the problem is that when one applies that national macro figure to the micro level, I fear that the consequences will be counter-productive for the Government’s intention, which is to address specific housing needs throughout the country, and particularly in local areas such as mine.

It may sound counter-intuitive to argue that the best way of meeting local housing needs in many areas is to control the development of housing to a far greater extent than the Government intend, but I shall try to explain why that is so in an area such as west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The target for Cornwall is for almost 70,000 properties to be built during the planned period to 2026 within the regional spatial strategy, and that figure is incorporated into the local plans for each district in Cornwall and for Cornwall as a whole.

There are some key questions. First, are there lessons to be learned from Cornwall where high levels of housing growth have not resulted in an improved climate for local families in housing need, or from the Isles of Scilly where a different planning approach has been adopted, as I shall explain later? Secondly, is it appropriate to use the blunt instrument of externally imposed high housing targets, especially in a dysfunctional market? In Cornwall, it operates to reward those who see homes as an investment, or who are fortunate enough to be able to buy more homes than they need, but sends a message to local families who are most in need that they have no right to be living there, and if they do they must expect to endure extortionate rents, poor conditions and tremendous insecurity. Thirdly, are the high house-building rates part of the solution or part of the problem of resolving the extreme, extensive, serious and long-standing housing needs of local families in places such as my constituency?

Next Section Index Home Page