COUNTER-TERRORISM AND SECURITY BILL – COMMITTEE STAGE – 16 December 2014
Dr Julian Lewis: I rise to support the thrust of the argument made by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). We have worked on these issues in tandem so many times that if they were put onto a DVD, we would be in danger of compiling a Box Set between us. However, by returning to the same subject again and again and often in the same terms in our campaign to get the Government to do more in this field, we are illustrating the principle that the Government ought to be applying when they do that – namely, if one is to win an argument about or involving ideology, it is not good enough to set out one’s stall a single time as though one were a university professor and to think that that is the end of the matter. One must keep the message coming over and over again until one gets one’s own way. We are saying that what is lacking in the machinery is the ability to consolidate and wage counter-propaganda warfare – I use that term in a non-pejorative sense – against this barbaric ideology, and we are talking about doing it in a way that will have an effect at a much earlier stage of the process than most of what is proposed in the Bill as it stands.
It is quite understandable, in the light of atrocities such as 9/11 at one end of the spectrum and what happened in that restaurant in Sydney in Australia at the other, that the Government’s first concern must be countering and impeding what in IRA terms used to be called the “men of violence”. I fully accept that as long as there is a totalitarian ideology at large in the world, in most societies, even democratic ones, there will always be a few people extreme enough, unbalanced enough, criminal enough or at a loss and vulnerable enough for indoctrination to subscribe to it. Even in this day and age, we can find supporters of Aryan theories of Nazism and supporters of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism, but the key point is that those supporters are absolutely isolated from the wider communities in which they live. We are not concerned about the ability to prevent, by persuasion or counter-indoctrination, every last person who is susceptible to becoming an extremist from becoming an extremist. We are talking about ensuring that that minority remains a minority and that their poison does not leach out into the wider community and, in particular, that the counter-measures taken by the state against what they are doing do not have the effect of radicalising the wider community.
Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is always very generous in these debates. Although I agree with almost everything he says, I have a small concern and perhaps he could talk me through some of it. He talks about “combating” extremism and ideology, but does he not think that the whole notion of combat and conflict was one of the things that got us into this trouble in the first place?
Dr Lewis: I disagree. When one is dealing with an intolerant ideology, one cannot simply say that one will, through some calm rationalisation, remove all the barbs, evil and poison. I am talking about what must be done to counter the pernicious ideology with which we are confronted.
Mr David Davis: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Dr Lewis: I had not quite finished, but of course I will.
Mr Davis: Although I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, I rather agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that we are sometimes very unwise in our choice of words. When we choose words such as “war on terror”, we give the other side the standing of soldiers when often we are dealing with criminal misfits. Should we not be more careful about our language?
Dr Lewis: Absolutely, and by using concepts such as “the war on terror” as part of our counter-propaganda campaign we may indeed be scoring an own goal. But in discussing techniques for what we are doing in this place, believe me, there are not a host of radicals hanging on every word we use in this debate about the machinery that we should set up. Once we have set up the machinery, we can then go into the niceties of which expressions we use and which we do not. But let us be frank; this is a battle of ideas. It is a battle between barbarism and civilisation. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire and others can shake their heads as much as they like but were I to make, for example, a similar argument against racist and Nazi exterminatory ideology, they would not blame me for couching the argument in the terms of a battle of ideas. It is a battle of ideas; the people who subscribe to this extreme doctrine have declared war on our civilised standards of democracy and tolerance.
I always mention – it is so appropriate and someone always forces me, or perhaps I should say, incentivises me to do so – what the late great Sir Karl Popper described as the Paradox of Tolerance in a free society. He defined it in the following terms: you should tolerate all but the intolerant because if you tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them. I make absolutely no concession to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire or indeed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). My right hon. Friend was talking about something slightly different – what we do when we are engaged in a battle of ideas – so I will give my right hon. Friend that get-out. But I make no concession to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire about using the phrase “a counter-propaganda battle”. That is exactly what it is. We used to wage it against Fascism and Nazism and against Communist ideology and extremism. This is the latest incarnation, albeit one that goes back to a time hundreds of years before those terrible and extreme ideologies came on the scene to terrorise mankind.
It is fully understandable that a Government’s first concern has to be with the end of the conveyor belt at which fully-formed terrorists spring into action, either on what they call a “spectacular” scale by killing hundreds or even thousands of people, or what we on the Intelligence and Security Committee prefer to call the self-starter end of the spectrum. We use that rather than the “lone wolf” appellation for reasons similar to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden. But whichever it is, by the time we reach that end of the conveyor belt nothing can be done. I venture to say that even the best counter-radicalisation and counter-extremism programme will not prevent some individuals from getting on that conveyor belt and travelling all the way to the end. The question is how we isolate them from the majority and prevent them from infecting the majority.
In the amendment, my opposite number – and friend – the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and I are trying to get something stronger in the Bill. For example, we are trying to add to clause 21 words about developing
“capacity to combat and reject the messages of extremism”
I am terribly sorry but the word “combat” is in there; I make no apology for it. The clause says that a
“specified authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”
I think having “due regard” is a pretty weak obligation and, as the right hon. Lady said, much of the focus here is on the obligations of various organisations and authorities covered by the Bill towards individuals who have already been identified as being vulnerable, at risk or on the path towards radicalisation. But we need to do something else. We need to try to create an atmosphere and a climate that is totally hostile to the propagation of the basic extreme ideology so that it becomes increasingly difficult to find anyone who is on that path to radicalisation because the whole concept of the ideology is anathema to society as a whole, or will be by the time we have finished.
Bob Stewart: I have been listening to my hon. Friend talk on the subject of ideology. One thing that crosses my mind is that some of these gentlemen may well have no ideology whatever, beyond the fact that they think that it is a good cause and they are a jihadi and are suddenly big men in their community. They can swank around and say “I’m a jihadi and I’m going off to fight.” After all, did not one of them have “Islam For Dummies” in his bag when he left?
Dr Lewis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and the insincerity of some of those who do these sort of things is an important issue. It is important because if we succeed in making adhesion to the ideology something that nobody in the community would want to touch with a bargepole, it makes it much more difficult for anyone motivated by the desire to say “Look at me: I’m this glamorous figure and I’m going on jihad”, particularly if they know that the rest of the community would respond with “What are you saying? Are you mad? Why do you think we should admire you for saying that you are signing up to this ideology?”
A related point common to all these totalitarianisms is this: it is interesting to note how often everybody else gets wrapped up with the historic inevitability of whatever extreme cause it is or the God-given duty to follow it, but funnily enough, it is the people at the top who always seem to end up having supreme power over everyone else. Is it not convenient if someone is a megalomaniac to have to hand an ideology that justifies doing whatever the person wants to do in a society in which civilisation has broken down? As the famous philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, life would be “nasty, brutish and short” in such circumstances.
In reality, these extreme ideologies allow psychopaths and megalomaniacs to get to the top and exercise untrammelled power – but not, of course, for themselves. No, they are doing it because God has laid down that society should be run this way. I feel that, over many hundreds of years, our civilisation has torn down this edifice of extremism, and most of us feel that we will be damned – I use the word almost literally – if we do not stand up to prevent it from being re-erected in the heart of our own society or other societies.
Mr Mike Hancock: I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not fall into the trap that his hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was leading him into – of believing that these young men and women who have gone to Syria were parading themselves around the community saying that they were on their way there. I do not think that any available information suggests that that is the case. In fact, it is the very opposite of the case.
Dr Lewis: Indeed, it is certainly true that, for obvious reasons, many of these journeys are undertaken in conditions of great secrecy. I cannot help interjecting one of my concerns – I have to be careful not to step into judicial areas and I make no reference to any particular recent case even though there might have just been one – which is about judges who take the view that they want to set exemplary and terribly harsh sentences on people who have come back when we do not know whether they have done anything while overseas other than commit the crime of going overseas to fight in the conflict. Handing out a sentence that would be commensurate with the sort of sentence someone would get in this country if they have committed manslaughter and taken a life, must be a huge discouragement to members in these communities – mothers, for example – to co-operate with the authorities when they are trying to get their sons back and when there is no reason to believe that their sons have any evil intent to carry out terrorism on their return. That is why we sometimes feel there is a need for greater co-ordination and that the issues should not be managed within just one Department. We should try to work out an integrated strategy.
Let me return to the point about counter-propaganda. I learned this lesson many years ago in an entirely different context – in fact, in several different contexts where time and again one would see extremist minorities hijacking moderate majorities and purporting to speak in their name. Where that sort of thing was going on repeatedly, it was almost like trench warfare or a battle of attrition. In those days, such battles would be carried out in the letters columns of the newspapers. A particular organisation or cause might get report after report in the media – and nobody would be answering. The way to deal with it then was to ensure that every report was followed by another report – or, alternatively, a critical letter in the press – so that eventually the radicalisers and the counter-radicalisers would be neutralised, and the wider community would say “We are sick of all this bickering – why don’t both of you just shut up and stop?”
We are not talking about some idealised situation in which we shall be able to let down our guard because there will never again be a small number of people who are willing to try to carry out terrorist acts at the end of the process. We are talking about a wider threat: the danger that, however effective we are in catching terrorists at the end of the conveyor belt that leads to their crimes, there will always be plenty more being fed onto the beginning of the conveyor belt by people who, shall we say, have a certain strategic grasp of what they are trying to achieve.
I thank the Committee for its patience in listening to my speech. As I said earlier, the sort of counter-campaigning that needs to be done on the issue of extremist ideology is, in a sense, demonstrated by the fact that we have to keep returning to this subject until the House gets sick of hearing from us, and the Government decide that the line of least resistance is to toughen up the legislation and create an agency that will be able to supervise, co-ordinate and resource the efforts of moderates in our Muslim community to ensure that their own communities are not hijacked by the barbarians.
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The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): ... Let me deal with amendments 30 and 31 to chapter 1 of part 5, which stand in the names of the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). I will listen carefully to their recommendations and contributions, because I know the passion they hold for this subject matter, the knowledge they have and their intent to ensure that the Government and society as a whole are doing the right thing when seeking to prevent terrorism and in confronting the narrative, and the perverted and twisted justification that may lie behind it ... In respect of the duties in the Bill, confronting extremism that can lead to terrorism is not some implicit aspect of this but absolutely intrinsic to the work. That was why we did not see the necessity of placing this matter in an explicit way in the Bill, because it is so intrinsic in meeting that obligation. We believe that that is adequately covered in the duty, but obviously I will continue to reflect on the clear message that the right hon. Lady has given on this. I recognise the sincerity and the manner in which she has advanced her amendment. I certainly recognise that extremism goes much wider than terrorism and includes behaviour that it would not be appropriate to target in counter-terrorism legislation or work, and that we must not consider that wide-ranging work solely through the lens of counter-terrorism. That is why the Home Secretary has announced that the Home Office is developing and leading a new extremism strategy across Government, recognising that it is not simply the Home Office that should be involved, as a number of different Departments also have roles and responsibilities. We plan to publish the new strategy in the spring. ...
Hazel Blears: I thank the Minister for his customary good manners, politeness and attention to detail on these issues. I have no doubt that he will consider in great depth the amendments that were tabled.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for supporting the amendments today, and I thank members of my own Front-Bench team for their attention to detail, helping to raise the profile of Prevent and Channel and countering radicalisation, which is so important to all of us not just in this country, but across the world.
I do not want to ruin the Minister’s Christmas, but he has given me a solemn undertaking that he will continue to consider the substance of our amendments. If, indeed, countering the ideology is intrinsic to all the Prevent work, I still cannot understand why there is a reluctance to make that commitment explicit in the Bill. I accept that it might not be implicit. I accept now that it is intrinsic. I would like the Minister to move just that one step forward from intrinsic to explicit, and if he was able to do that, I would be extremely grateful.
The Minister has also given us an undertaking that the guidance under clause 24 will be available for consideration on Report in this House. That is essential. I am delighted to have that commitment on the record today. On that basis I am happy to withdraw the amendment, reserving my right to come back on Report.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.