The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. We are committed to providing a strong, effective and appropriate security response to any terrorist threats to the UK. Since the shocking events in Paris, we have reviewed our security arrangements, stepped up protective security measures, including increasing patrols for vulnerable communities and sites to ensure effective security and safety. The police are confident that they remain flexible and able to respond to any increases in threat to protect all communities.
Does the Home Secretary share my view that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is a crucial element in the Government’s strategy to reduce the threat of attacks within the United Kingdom, as well as tackling the terrible problem of people leaving this country to take part in terrorist acts abroad?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill enhances our ability to deal with people across a range of aspects of the terrorist threat, enabling us temporarily to remove passports from people who are leaving the United Kingdom where it is thought they will be going to join terrorist groups to fight and potentially to train, while also taking action to ensure that those coming back who are a matter of concern will be able to come back only on our terms.
In her evidence in Parliament last week, Sally Evans, the mother of a convert, Thomas Evans, who is now fighting for al-Shabaab in Somalia, said she had received no support from the authorities in dealing with his fateful decision. Both she and her other son, Michael, have been traumatised by what has happened. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need to give more support to families such as the Evanses—but not just because it is the right thing to do, as it could also provide us with valuable information to prevent other young men from being radicalised in the way that Thomas Evans has been radicalised?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that many families up and down the country can find that a family member has gone to fight, whether it be in Syria or Iraq, possibly with ISIL or the al-Nusra front, or to al-Shabaab in the case he outlined. I pay tribute to the families that have spoken out about their experience and are using it to try to help ensure that more young people do not go to fight with terrorist groups as their family members have. It is also important to give support to families that go through this trauma, as it can often tear families apart.
22. On tackling extremism and terrorism, will the Government work according to the 2013 report on tackling extremism, which emphasised the need for freedom of expression and respect for faiths? If that is the case, does the Home Secretary agree that we need to be careful not to mock people’s faith, as this can lead to intolerance and play into the hands of extremists and terrorists?
I agree. Freedom of expression and speech is a fundamental British value, but if taken advantage of by extremists, it can cause fear and set communities against each other. It is absolutely right that we expect people to respect each other’s faiths. There are people of many faiths in this country, and we want to see respect for those different faiths. That is crucial. I think that we should speak out for our values against those who would sow the seeds of hatred, intolerance and prejudice.
Surely the best response to the events in Paris is a considered, proportionate response. We must do nothing that would further compromise our civil liberties or the freedoms that we enjoy in this democracy. Will the Home Secretary listen to the many voices that have expressed concern about her counter-terrorism Bill, and ensure that that we do nothing—nothing at all—to question further the civil liberties that we enjoy in this country?
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we wish to protect our civil liberties—the very freedoms that make our society what it is—and that we should respond proportionately to attacks when they happen, which is exactly what we do. I should point out to him, however, that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill was going through the House before the Paris attacks. It was introduced in response to the rising number of people who have been going to fight in Syria in particular, who may be training out there or fighting and then coming back, wishing to do us harm. I believe that the Bill contains important powers, but that those powers constitute a proportionate response to the threat that we face.
Since the appalling attacks in Paris, my Muslim constituents have been talking to me about the climate of suspicion and hostility in which some of them feel they are living. We also know that Jewish communities are feeling more victimised and fearful of anti-Semitic attacks. What can the Government do to promote and strengthen relationships among our many very valued communities? Of course the deradicalisation and Prevent programmes are important, but there is a very important positive programme to be promoted as well.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is important to promote that interfaith working, and the relationships between different communities. The Department for Communities and Local Government has undertaken a number of activities with the aim of doing exactly that: encouraging respect for different faiths and between communities, and a greater understanding between communities. That is very important work.
The Home Secretary cut spending on community Prevent projects from £17.4 million to £1 million. She cut the number of areas delivering Prevent from 92 to 21, and in one year just four local authorities received funding for Prevent projects. At the same time, the Department for Communities and Local Government has funded just eight local integration projects, none of which is aimed at Islamic fundamentalism. Will the Home Secretary explain why local Prevent and integration projects have been so neglected under this Government?
I must tell the hon. Lady that her analysis is wrong. This Government did make a difference to the Prevent programme when they came to office. We observed that, all too often, people were seeing the Labour Government’s integration work under Prevent through the prism of the Government’s spying on them, and of counter-terrorism, so we changed the way in which Prevent operated. The Home Office has not cut its funding for Prevent, and I am pleased to say that Prevent programmes have reached more than 50,000 people in this country.