Health, Social Care and Security - Queens Speech Debate.
I thank the people of Bradford West for re-electing me and putting their faith in me by sending me back to the House. I want to echo the words of many of my colleagues over the last two weeks and pay tribute to all the victims affected by the horrible acts of violence we have seen. I also pay tribute to our emergency service personnel and the tremendous job they do for us on a daily basis.
In the Queen’s Speech last week we got the first glimpse of the Government’s proposal to have a commission on counter-extremism. Although we will all be interested to see the make-up of the commission and more about the proposal, I cannot help but feel that it may be a way for the Government to devolve responsibility for some of the more difficult decisions that need to be made and more difficult questions that need to be answered.
As we move further into the space of what the Government term “non-violent extremism”, I urge that any proposal ensures that the 15 points raised by David Anderson QC in his 2015 annual report are fully considered. They form a very sound basis on which to assess the reasonableness of such a move. Given that the Government are still falling short of finding a full and encompassing legal definition of extremism or hate speech, the further attachment of counter-terrorism policy to safeguarding, community cohesion, integration and thought is an area in which we should tread extremely carefully, with extreme sensitivity and great oversight.
As the Joint Committee on Human Rights said in the previous Parliament, we should legislate only where there is absolute need or a clear gap. However, I have concerns, as do many others, that we are still failing to learn the lessons of our current programmes. Community cohesion cannot be forced from the top down; we need to empower communities to find their own solutions, and Prevent has become toxic. We must protect against the alienation of those who should be most prominent in tackling extreme views. The issue is not just about engaging, but listening to and hearing their concerns: we need to treat them as motivated by our shared goal of a safer, more secure nation.
Here in the UK, Muslim communities have suffered a number of terror attacks and hate crimes: from the brutal murder of Mohammed Saleem and Mohsin Ahmed to the terror attack in Finsbury Park, and from petrol bombs thrown at many mosques to the verbal and physical assaults of Muslims—Muslim women in particular. Let us not pretend that Muslim communities do not share the same goals. Let us work together, incorporating the concerns of all, to build a stronger strategy to keep ourselves safe and secure. The Government still resist a new full and independent review into the successes and failures of the Prevent programme. I call on them to change that position.
We must recognise the need to protect police budgets. Further cuts are simply not sustainable. My region has lost nearly 20% of its police officers and, although the force may be recruiting now, it is still far short of where it once was. Crime is changing, but community policing is essential. It is how we build trust in police forces. Local knowledge is paramount to rooting out extremism. With this must come a renewed commitment to having representative police forces. With the police service only being 5.5% black and minority ethnic, it is still in no way reflective of the communities it serves, and that presents barriers to local engagement.
As the Government propose to introduce a digital charter, I encourage them to revisit the report by the Select Committee on Home Affairs at the end of the last Parliament. During those sessions, it became evident that the large social media companies had failed to tackle the issue of hate and extremist content on their platforms. The charter may be a welcome tool, but we must recognise that regulating online space will present exceptional challenges. The Government should tread extremely carefully, and with extreme sensitivity and great oversight.