New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: I am glad the Home Secretary just mentioned tackling the terrorists’ narrative. Does she have in mind in that respect not only taking down extremist postings on the internet, for example, but promoting a counter-narrative that exposes the fallacies of the terrorist narrative?

[The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I commend my hon. Friend because he has been resolute in promoting this aspect of dealing with terrorism for some time, and he is absolutely right that it is important to promote that counter-narrative, but I think it is also important to do something else: to take a further step back and look at the whole issue of extremism more generally. That is why we have been very clear, and the work of the Prime Minister’s extremism taskforce is very clear, that we need to introduce an extremism strategy, and the Home Office is currently leading on that. It will be a cross-Government piece of work, but the Home Office is leading on that and the strategy is being developed.]

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Dr Lewis: I applaud the constructive tone of the right hon. Lady’s [Yvette Cooper's] remarks so far. May I take her back to the intervention by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears)? Most of what is being discussed is still at community or even individual level, whereas we believe that something needs to be done at national level that is comparable to the efforts made to counter Nazism in the second world war and to counter communism during the cold war.

[Yvette Cooper: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that more needs to be done at the national level. The Bill introduces a statutory duty on a series of organisations to do more, and those organisations should certainly work in partnership to prevent people from being drawn into extremism and terrorist activity. Given the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) about some of the gaps, particularly in relation to the Department for Communities and Local Government, there is a question about whether the duty should in fact extend to that Department, rather than simply to local organisations across the country. ...]

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Dr Lewis: Some of us feel that a seamless counter-narrative needs to be presented, and that therefore it would be more appropriate to set up one of the MISC or GEN Committees, as I believe they are called. Several Departments – I can think of four or five – could then have overall control of a counter-narrative that has yet to be properly generated.

[Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman has worked very hard on this issue for some years. I believe that the status quo does not work, and I have every sympathy with his proposal, which would enable the different programmes to be delivered together.]

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[Martin Horwood: ... The House often responds to a challenge to security and public safety with legislation, but the response we need is often not a legislative one. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and other hon. Members talked about ideology. There is good evidence that many young people who go out to the middle east to take part in these battles are not really seduced by any sophisticated form – or even a perverted form – of Islamic ideology. In fact, they know very little about Islam at all. They are more seduced by attractive slick internet videos, social media and social pressures from within a peer group who have become alienated from their own communities. That is not about ideology, but a propaganda war that has to be fought. The best response to that is not always legislation. The best response may be to understand what mainstream society needs to feed back to communities and young people, and to understand why they are so alienated and why they are being seduced by these social media techniques.]

Dr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that these people are not steeped in the religion of Islam, and are receiving a perverted and simplistic message. Our side of the argument still needs to be put in a comparably efficient way.

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[Yasmin Qureshi: ... Governments and politicians can certainly do a lot more to furnish a counter-narrative. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, we should see on the internet a counter-narrative to the other narrative. That is very important. As the Home Secretary has said, many imams and scholars of Islam living in this country post on websites and blogs and clearly state that the stuff that ISIL and others are doing is completely un-Islamic. It is important for the Government and institutions to push what those people and scholars have written to the forefront of the media, so that the country at large and young people can be educated by it.]

Dr Lewis: That is precisely the sort of role I see the Government playing – not setting themselves up as Islamic scholars, but giving support to those authentic Islamic scholars who can speak with authority.

[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]