(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, in the light of the recent terrorist attacks against the Muslim community of Christchurch, New Zealand, to make a statement on the Government’s strategy to tackle far-right violence and online extremism in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking her question, so that the Government can put on record their position on extreme right-wing, neo-Nazi and other types of violent terrorism. The Home Secretary would have liked to respond to the question personally, but he was visiting the Regent’s Park mosque with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government today to show support for British Muslims following last week’s horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch. The attack was a sickening act of terrorism which the Government condemn, as we do the incident reported in Utrecht today and the attack in Surrey on Saturday evening.
The Government take all forms of terrorism and extremism seriously. Our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, does not differentiate between what motivates the threat: it is designed to address all forms of terrorism whatever the ideology, whether Islamist, neo-Nazi, far-right or extreme left.
If we are to tackle terrorism in the long term, we must challenge those seeking to radicalise people. The Prevent policy is designed to safeguard our vulnerable citizens from being recruited or motivated into terrorism. That is why I always urge people to get behind the policy.
Our counter-terrorism strategy is agnostic to the threat: it is not relevant to us in what name terror strikes; it is the use of violence and hate that we seek to stop. Government and law enforcement will direct their funding wherever the threat emerges, and if we are to stay one step ahead as the threat changes so must the funding. We will continue to keep funding for protected security measures under review as that threat moves and will indeed consistently review it for places of worship and other areas that may be vulnerable.
Social media platforms should be ashamed that they have enabled a terrorist to livestream this evil massacre and spread this mantra of hate to the whole world. As the Home Secretary has made clear, enough is enough. We have been clear that tech companies need to act more quickly to remove terrorist content and ultimately prevent new content from being made available to users in the first place. This must be a wake-up call for them to do more. There can be no safe spaces for terrorists to promote and share their sick views. The online harm White Paper will be published imminently and will set out clear expectations for tech companies to keep users safe and what will happen if they fail to do so.
This Government take the growing threat of the extreme right wing extremely seriously, and I can assure the House and our Muslim communities that we will stand together to counter it wherever it manifests itself in our society.
Last week’s terrorist attacks on mosques in New Zealand killed 50 people and wounded a further 50 people. I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our most sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones as well as our solidarity with the people of New Zealand as they come to terms with this and legislate to prevent such incidents from happening again. We have also seen this morning that a terrorist attack took place in the Netherlands, and we offer our sincere condolences to the three people who died during it.
In Lewisham, we have five mosques; two of them are in my constituency, and I have been contacted about the very real concern. This type of racial hatred and violence, whether in the UK or elsewhere in the world, must not be tolerated. It brings with it such immense fear, worry and anxiety for our Muslim communities, for families, children and young people. This should not be happening to people in this country or other countries; this should not be how people live, and the Government need to demonstrate that everything is being considered and done to keep people safe from harm and to promote respect and acceptance of difference and others. Will the Minster therefore state how his Department will deal with social media offences, including the removal of extreme content, and protect free speech, while developing an efficient strategy to tackle hate speech online? Also will he confirm he will be increasing his commitment to financing mosque security?
The hon. Lady makes some very valid points. First, on the money to protect vulnerable places—whether places of worship, schools or large public areas where people might gather—we of course continue to fund that where the threat requires it. We will continue to review the places of worship fund. The last round of ’18-19 was not oversubscribed despite efforts to advertise it to a number of mosques and other places of worship. We will continue to build on that, and if there is more requirement for it we will certainly stand ready to do that, to make sure my constituents in Preston in their mosques and the hon. Lady’s constituents in theirs get the support they need. Every single police force has a national counter-terrorism security adviser whose job is to go out and advise businesses, communities and places of worship about what they can do to mitigate any threat, even if it is threat unseen, and how they can make sure the people who use their premises are kept safe, and I urge people to do that.
On top of that, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office publishes an online manual to help places of worship, specifically, with tailor-made areas. The Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary are absolutely determined to make sure that the threat of attacks such as what we have seen in New Zealand is headed off. There are different factors at play in the United Kingdom but nevertheless, as I said this morning, it is perfectly possible that this type of thing will happen here.
We are already seeing a growing threat from people moving into the extremist mindset of the extreme right wing and neo-Nazis, and that is the pool that terrorists of the future will recruit from. We must all get together—all of us—to make sure that we teach our children about tolerance and equality and that we understand that just because someone disagrees with us, they are not lesser people. If someone comes from a different religion, they are not lesser, and if they have a different colour, they are not lesser. Until we embrace that, extremism will grow. Doing that is the best way of heading off far-right and neo-Nazi extremism.
With my New Zealand passport in my left pocket, may I thank the House and the nation who, with a very few exceptions, were extremely sympathetic? That was spread throughout the media. Although in New Zealand the armed forces and sports teams, such as the All Blacks, are fearsome in the field, as a nation the people are known for their friendliness and acceptance of different races, colours, and religions. What is most disturbing is that even with such community integration, a case such as last week’s, which “could not happen in New Zealand”, did. The All Blacks I just mentioned are a positive example, as they are of different races, colours and religions but are brilliantly effective at playing as a team.
One positive point, as I am sure the Minister will agree, is that our gun laws are much tighter at the moment than at least those of New Zealand, if not those of all nations. Does he agree that our laws are sufficient, but the difficulty is the importation of illegal weapons? Will he go for that rather than changing our gun laws?
My hon. Friend, as a New Zealander and a Brit, makes a valid point about the strength of the New Zealand nation. He makes the correct observation that the gun laws in this country make it much harder for people to acquire weapons that could wreak mass murder very quickly, as we have seen following the use of semi-automatic assault rifles in places such as New Zealand and the United States. That does not mean that we should ever stop ensuring that when such threats present themselves we put all our resource and, if necessary, our legislation behind making the restrictions that are needed.
Although many people have considered such attacks, they have been unsuccessful in this country because they have simply not been able to get their hands on the type of weapon system that we saw being deployed in New Zealand. Our law enforcement agencies will continue to target both the legal acquisition of weapons by unsuitable people and illegal acquisitions through smuggling, so that we can ensure that our places are safer.
Mr Speaker, thank you for granting this urgent question, and it is a credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) that she applied for it. I join all Members in passing on condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in this heinous act of terror against people for no other reason than that they were Muslims. We send sympathies to the people of New Zealand, and to those affected by the incident in Surrey and the ongoing situation in Utrecht.
As the Leader of the Opposition has said, an attack on anyone at worship is an attack on all peoples of faith and non-believers too, as they go about their lawful, peaceful business. The harrowing live streaming of events in Christchurch, on the other side of the world, raises questions about the role of social media platforms in facilitating a growing extremism. Although a White Paper on online harm is of course welcome, does the Minister accept that asking online platforms to act is not enough and that we need a new regulator with strong powers to penalise them if they do not curb harmful content?
We must also ensure that our laws and policies are robust and up to date. Will the Minister clarify when the new Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation will be appointed and in post? Will he also confirm that lessons will be learned from both domestic and international experience in the forthcoming independent review of the Prevent programme?
I am not suggesting that any political perspective has a monopoly on virtue. Does the Minister agree that such vile acts of hatred show that we must all redouble our efforts to argue for a society of tolerance and respect?
The hon. Gentleman makes many points with which I agree. Tolerance, respect and the underpinning of the British values of democracy and the rule of law are vital in our society, and the more we teach our children about that and the more we clamp down on those who do not believe in that, the better a place we will be.
As for the hon. Gentleman’s questions about the to-be-appointed Prevent reviewer, I cannot speak for that person—
I will get to that, but the hon. Gentleman did mention the Prevent review. I want the person reviewing Prevent to be as free as possible to examine people’s views, perceptions and evidence, and I would like those who criticise Prevent the most to produce evidence rather than anecdotes. The Government will, of course, listen to whatever the review produces.
I turn to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Hopefully, the appointment will happen in a matter of days or weeks. We are at an advanced stage in the selection process. Like the hon. Gentleman, I would like an appointment as soon as possible, because no Government benefit without an Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
On new regulations regarding online harm, I know that Opposition Members will be impatient, but they will have to wait for the publication of the online harms White Paper. The document will obviously examine regulation versus voluntary action, but I have said on the record several times that a voluntary system is not enough and that regulation or other methods of encouragement should be explored.
I have also been clear that many online companies are hugely profitable and global, so whatever regulation we explore will have to be deliverable. That is why I met representatives of the G7 in Toronto last year to discuss what the G7 can do collectively; why the Home Secretary attended the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, as did his predecessor, to ensure that countries around the world can get to grips with the problem; and why the European Union is taking forward plans to seek regulations in certain areas, especially the time in which content should be taken down.
If we are to deal with the problem, we must take a layered international approach to regulation—otherwise, companies will simply move their servers to escape their obligations. It is one thing to deal with the big companies that have a nexus here, but there are many tiny companies spreading hate around the world that may have servers in jurisdictions that we cannot reach. That is why we need an international consensus to deal with the challenge.
The House will welcome the calm and purposeful way in which my right hon. Friend spoke this afternoon and in his broadcast round this morning. He was matched by the Opposition spokesman, who has shown that this is a task for the community. This is not just about other faiths, but the whole community, and we must stand with the Muslims as we stand with the Jews.
Will my right hon. Friend go on encouraging the Community Security Trust—the CST—to share with our mosques and Islamic societies the basic steps that people can take, within the law, to help to raise levels of confidence and security?
My hon. Friend makes the strongest point of all, which is that we will defeat this challenge through peer group pressure and by coming together to show what is unacceptable. The CST has already offered online material to help advise other places of worship in how to make themselves safe. But the fact is that our law enforcement cannot do this on their own. The current threat is from sudden violent extremists—people who, in minutes, can step outside their front door, grab a knife or car and wreak murder on our streets. That is not going to be spotted by a police officer on every corner, or a large intelligence service, without the support of the public, who can understand their neighbours and bring any worries they have to the attention of the correct authorities, to make sure we say, “This is not acceptable.”
No one who has ever visited New Zealand can fail to have been struck by not only the beauty of the country, but the warm welcome one gets from its diverse people, as the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has said. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I wish to condemn the terrible evil we saw in New Zealand last week, and to send our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved and injured.
In Scotland, our Muslim community are a valued part of our society, as they are across the whole of the United Kingdom, but we must always be aware of the particular threat posed to them from far-right extremists. I am sure the Minister will agree that Islamophobia must be combated and condemned wherever it raises its head. Does he also agree that politicians, journalists and those in the public eye should always be cautious never to cross the line on free speech and fair comment to risk stirring up the sort of hatred and “othering” that can feed into the narrative of the far right?
There have been a growing number of incidents across the UK in recent years, and it was good to hear the Minister on the radio this morning and this afternoon saying that he is alive to that threat and will put resources into tackling it. I noticed that on the radio this morning the Muslim Council of Britain was very concerned to ensure that its community should get the same sort of funding as the Jewish community has received to protect its places of worship against attack, and I was pleased to hear the Minister say on the radio that protective security tacks with the threat present. It seems that he does recognise the threat, but will he confirm that he will be meeting the MCB to discuss its requests and to look at directing funds where needed?
Finally, we have seen incidents where far-right extremists have tried to intimidate and silence Members of this House who have called them out for their hate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), in particular, has suffered at the hands of far-right extremists recently. I know that the Government have been very sympathetic about that, but does the Minister agree that all of us, across this House, must stand united with our colleagues against the threat from the far right?
The hon. and learned Lady makes some good points. On her point about Islamophobia, I have publicly spoken out for many years about the fact that Islamophobia exists. It exists across our communities, in all our political parties and in the communities we represent; it exists throughout Europe, not just in the UK, and we have to tackle it.
If you want a good lesson on how to tackle intolerance, Mr Speaker, I should say that one of the early successful policies of the SNP was on dealing with anti-sectarianism. The SNP recognised in Scotland that this starts with sectarianism and it grows into violent extremism. I have to commend the SNP for what it did all those years ago on that, taking strong steps, certainly among the football community, to stamp it out. That is why, in the end, we have to focus upstream. We must focus in the communities and say what is not acceptable. We must embrace policies such as Prevent to make sure that everyone realises that this is ultimately about safeguarding.
On the issue relating to the community trust, the hon. and learned Lady is right. We will direct our funds as the threat changes, and we are completely open to learning every day from the attacks and plots we see, either here or abroad. We shall direct this in that way. My colleagues in government regularly speak to a range of Muslim communities, and many of us in this House will speak to our own communities in our own constituencies.
We will sense the fear that there currently is in some of those communities as a response to the attack in New Zealand and that there was even before that, given the growing rise of Islamophobia, spread through the evils of some of these chatrooms on the internet. We must, all of us, say that that is not acceptable, and neither is intolerance aimed at other people in other discourse around the world, be it in respect of Unionism and nationalism, or Brexit and remain. Intolerance is where this starts as a small seed, and it grows into hate.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and I strongly agree that the tech companies need to do more to stop the spread of hate and incitement to violence. However, does he also recognise that the internet is a force for good and that many authoritarian countries—China and, now, particularly Russia—are attempting to impose censorship on it for their own repressive political purposes? Does he therefore agree that any measures we take need to be proportionate and targeted, and must not allow other countries, such as Russia, to claim somehow that they are acting for reasons similar to ours?
It is tempting to say that my right hon. Friend is asking the wrong person. As Security Minister, I see daily how paedophiles, organised crime, groomers and terrorist recruiters use the internet as not a force for good. As we speak, the internet is being used to undermine our own democracy.
My right hon. Friend makes a valid point that, in places where there is no democracy and no rule of law, the internet is sometimes people’s only hope to engage with free thought and the outside world. We have to be very careful about how we balance that but, nevertheless, we know these companies can remove extremist content very quickly when they put their minds to it.
There are certain areas on which we all agree. I cannot find anyone in the world who would support allowing child sexual exploitation images to exist on our internet. Violent extremism, beheading videos and bullying online cannot be acceptable in any society. We can all agree that a number of activities should not be allowed or available on the internet without someone taking responsibility for preventing the broadcast or spreading of it. All of us in this House have to try to navigate that fine line, and we will debate it when the online White Paper comes before us.
Will the Minister admit that the internet has allowed the formation of chatrooms such as 4chan and 8chan, online communities such as the “incels”—the involuntary celibates—who are misogynistic and who blame women for their lack of access to sex, and the bubbles in which both ISIS and, now, neo-Nazi, far-right white supremacist groups gather their followers? Does he acknowledge, and does he have a plan for dealing with, the grooming and the escalation of evil and violence that is growing in these unregulated spaces?
The hon. Lady makes the right point. Many characteristics are shared across the spectrum of violent extremism. Whether it is Islamist/Daesh/ISIL extremism or far-right extremism, they often use the same methods. They often appeal to the same type of people.
Both the Government and the Opposition Front Bench have been grappling with how to deal with safe spaces, either in the material world or, indeed, online. This concept of safe spaces either in failed states or on the internet, where these people are reinforcing their prejudices and joining up, is characteristic of the 21st century. It could be argued that 10 years ago people sat on their own in their bedroom and spoke to no one, but now they can speak to thousands. That is being used to seduce people, to groom people and to twist people.
We must start in our schools, which is why I am pleased that the state, local education authorities and primary schools have started to teach children about using the internet safely. Some of the big communications service providers, such as Google and Facebook, also go out to schools and teach young children about how to behave on the internet and what to be careful of.
The challenge is growing. Hopefully, the online White Paper will be a doorway we can all go through and will start a big debate about how to tackle this. But there is also the simple issue that we all have to think about what we, our children and our friends are looking at. We have to ask ourselves, “How are we going to stop it in this day and age?” How many people in this Chamber, at any one time, are on their telephone? An awful lot.
On Saturday morning, I met Muslim families from all over Essex who had come to Chelmsford to meet each other. I spoke to many leaders of the community, but also to young teenage girls and other younger members of the community, and it is clear that they are very fearful and worried. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that our Muslim constituents are our friends, neighbours and colleagues; that they are vital to British society today; and that we as parliamentarians and Government Members will do everything to stand by them and keep them safe?
British Muslims are part of Britain. That is it. They are no lesser than any one of us; we are all the same. We all share different politics and different views. We all have views of the north and the south—living in Lancashire, I have an entirely different view of the south, and my Muslim communities in Lancashire will have a different view of the south as well. We stand shoulder to shoulder. We are not going to let these people spread their hate and we will put in all the resource we need to put in to counter it. It is very much incumbent on us all, from all parties, to do it together, because if we do not do it together, the bad people will exploit that difference and make it worse.
On Friday night, hundreds of local residents in Walthamstow joined together in a vigil for the people of Christchurch. We heard from both our Muslim community and our New Zealand residents, and many were clear with me that they recognise that far-right extremism does not come along talking about Hitler and wearing jackboots; it comes from those people who slowly drip, online and offline, poison into our politics and discussions. It behoves us all in this place, therefore, to stand up to the people who lead that charge. What does the Minister intend to do, when he recognises this twisted mindset, to make sure that nobody in this place gives a platform and a veneer of respectability to people like Steve Bannon, Candace Owens and Fraser Anning? Let us say that they are not welcome here in this Chamber and here in this country.
That is an immature comment. The reality is that, when we talk about tolerance, we talk not about no-platforming or shutting up people with whom we disagree; we talk about a discourse in which we challenge people’s views, because only by challenging people’s views do we sometimes get to the heart of the argument and either come together or agree to disagree. If we shut people down or bully or ridicule people, we are leading down the path of intolerance. Personally, sometimes I find other people who are invited to this House unpalatable, but I do not think it is my place to shut people out of the heart of our democracy. The way we show them up is by challenging their assertions, proving them to be wrong and taking their arguments apart. That is the best way.
As the Minister is aware, I was a councillor in Tower Hamlets at a time when young schoolchildren were groomed to go to Syria and we had far-right marches going through the borough. It was clear from my time as a councillor just how important Prevent is for giving children the intellectual resilience to resist those kinds of radical, unpleasant and divisive messages. Unfortunately, we have seen too often that people try to spread misinformation about Prevent. Does the Minister share my concern that politicians should challenge that misinformation so that communities feel greater confidence in Prevent and feel confident enough to share the kind of critical information that stops people falling prey to radicalisation of this kind?
I feel that the best way for us to deal with Prevent is to publish the statistics about who is referred, how it works and what the outcomes are. No doubt when there is an independent review of Prevent it can examine all the evidence from both sides and take a view. The only observation I have about Prevent is this. I have listened to the critics, some of whom are my friends, over the past two and a half years, and when they explain, they often just explain the Prevent policy but worry about its name. It cannot just be about the name; it has to be about the substance as well. I see good results in Prevent. Over the past three years, I have seen hundreds of people who were really at risk of becoming terrorists being diverted from that path. I think those more than 700 people in the past three years contribute to our being a safer society.
I send, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, sincere condolences to the victims, their families and all the people of New Zealand. We stand in unity with them and with all our Muslim brothers and sisters across the world.
Will the Minister condemn without reservation Islamophobic language, whether used by individuals or in the media? The Liberal Democrats have looked at the proposed definition of Islamophobia from the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, and we think that it is a very good one and have adopted it. Will the Government do likewise?
I condemn Islamophobia. It is racism; it is like any other type of racism. We should not even subdivide it. It is what it is. It is racism, just as antisemitism is racism. I do not need to go beyond that. Anyone who is caught doing it should be called out and dealt with, whether that is in my political party or in any other political party. I have absolutely no qualms about that. They should be dealt with.
On the definition of Islamophobia, I read the all-party group report and I looked at its definition. It is an interesting and good starting point. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary chaired on, I think, 5 March, a roundtable with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and members of the Muslim community to discuss Islamophobia and what can be done on it. We will look at the definition and at what we can do to start on that process. But all of this comes back to this: if we over-define, if we start subdividing Islamophobia and antisemitism, we forget what this is really about, which is tolerance. It is really important that we accept that we are tolerant of people. That is what underlines extremism: where people choose not to be tolerant, they start to become extremists. When they think other people are lesser, that is where we are in trouble.
I express compassion and solidarity with all Muslims from New Zealand, across the world and in my constituency of Harlow. We have the wonderful Harlow Islamic Centre in my constituency. It is a small community, but a thriving one. In 2013, there was an arson attack on the Harlow Islamic Centre mosque. Will my right hon. Friend set out again what provision and support there is for the smaller mosques and thriving communities such as Harlow to ensure that these kinds of attacks do not happen?
First, in the Metropolitan police, there are counter-terrorism security advisers who will come out to any mosque, or any place, to help to advise on what steps can be taken to do that. The places of worship scheme, which has received £2.4 million over the past three years, can be applied for. The latest round was not fully subscribed. We will do all we can to advertise it and encourage it. Indeed, the Home Secretary and I have looked at different ways to remove the barriers to people applying to that scheme to make it as easy and as straightforward as possible. We hope to improve that even more. Like my right hon. Friend, I have some very small mosques in my constituency. They are just as vulnerable as some of the very big ones. We must make sure that protective security applies to us all.
May I add the DUP’s sympathies to all those who were killed and injured in New Zealand in that very vicious terrorist attack? Northern Ireland has experienced the unadulterated evil of people slaughtering worshippers in what should be a safe place—for example, in Gospel Hall in Darkley on 20 November 1983. In the face of evil, it is time for good people to stand with those who have been attacked. So can the Minister confirm what support has been offered to New Zealand in relation to policing, to forensic expertise and to counselling support for those victims who have lost loved ones?
My hon. Friend knows all too well the cost of terrorism and indeed, in the society in which he lives, the cost of division. We have offered to the New Zealand authorities any help they wish to have, either in the intelligence or the police space, and we will continue to do that, as we will with the Netherlands authorities following the attack today. Ultimately, we must make sure that, when it comes to saying what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, linking violence and politics is not acceptable. That is a good starting point. We must make it very clear across our political discourse that the first point is that that is never acceptable—it is never acceptable to invoke that and to say that people should be lynched. We should never ever invoke violence in the same breath as politics.
I feel that it is a matter of some regret that this urgent question has been framed as one of right-wing extremists, because there are also left-wing extremists; this is terrorism, pure and simple. I am proud that my first question in this House was to ask for the finances to provide security at Jewish schools in my Hendon constituency. Indeed, the Community Security Trust is based in Hendon and provides that security. Now we need to make the same call on behalf of Muslim schools and Islamic institutions in our constituencies. Will the Minister take that suggestion to the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and ask for resources to be made available to these communities, because any kind of extremism is not acceptable?
My hon. Friend is right. As I said in my statement, as the threat moves, we will tack with it. The Home Secretary’s first point of call is within the Department and then it is the Treasury. We are determined to make all our places of worship safe, and we will do what is necessary.
I too visited mosques and had contact with local Muslim leaders on Friday, and there was a palpable sense of fear. I praise South Wales police and our police and crime commissioner for responding so quickly. I was particularly disturbed to speak to young people who told me that they were watching the video of the horrific attacks in New Zealand. We have to do everything we can to prevent young people from having to see such horrific content. On that note, I have to push the Minister and the Home Secretary further. I do not doubt their sincerity in wanting to deal with these issues, but they say that we need to wait for the online harms White Paper. I have previously raised with both of them the issue of an organisation called Radio Aryan, which is available on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I have also raised this matter directly with the social media companies, and it is absolutely clear that they do not give a damn. That content is still online this morning. It advocates antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and white supremacy. Why is it still on there and what are the Government going to do to remove it?
As I said earlier, one of the reasons that some of these things remain online is that the servers of the companies are often abroad and out of our jurisdiction. We are seeking the powers to do something about that through the online harms White Paper. If these companies have a nexus in the UK, it gives us more power. If they do not, we have to look at other technical issues and see whether we can do this another way. The White Paper is imminent, and I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and any Member from across the House to discuss whether they think it is too soft or too hard, or what needs to be done to improve it.
The hon. Gentleman points out one of the real challenges. The United States’ first amendment protects freedom of speech. We often approach companies in America asking them to take down websites and so on, and we get a first amendment response—that is, that they are obliged to United States law and the first amendment. That is why we ultimately have to seek an international solution to go alongside whatever regulation we look at here.
I was particularly moved this afternoon to hear the Home Secretary using the Arabic words, “Bi-smi llāhi r-rahmāni r-rahīm”, meaning “In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful.” We are fundamentally talking about a compassion and a mercy that were not shown to a community—this time in New Zealand, but sometimes at home—and a justice that we now need to extend to members of our own community who feel that they do not have access to the same security as others. I welcome the views that will come forward from the Home Secretary and the Security Minister, and the work that they have done. We need to make sure that addressing these publishers—for that is what they are—who are putting up, or tolerating the publication of, online hate material is absolutely the first line of defence, not the last.
The communications service providers around the world need to get the message that we know that they seem to manage to do something when they really want to. We know that their algorithms are often designed to maximise viewing numbers and profits, rather than the safety of our constituents, and we need them to realise that we are on to that and are going to do something about it. Last year, Facebook took down 14.3 million pieces of content, 99% of which was done by automated tools. Before that, it took the Government to set up the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit—not the CSPs. That unit, on its own, managed to take down 300,000 pieces of content. If we can do it, those multi-billion-pound global corporations can invest more in artificial intelligence, and they can do so much quicker.
The UK Government currently chair the Commonwealth Heads of Government, of which New Zealand is a proud member. In passing on our condolences and our thanks for the excellent work of Jacinda Ardern, its Prime Minister, will the Minister agree to convene a discussion with the 53 nations about what we can do about Facebook and Twitter to collectively close down extremist content across the Commonwealth?
I was reassured by the Minister’s remarks about the work the Department is doing to help mosques and places of worship to fight hate crime, but could he confirm that that work extends to Scotland and outline what discussions he has had with the Scottish Government in this regard?
My understanding is that matters relating to places of worship are devolved to Scotland. However, I am always in contact with officials and ministerial counterparts in Scotland, and I will continue to discuss this with them. I am due a visit there very soon, and I will no doubt add that to the agenda.
Mass murder of innocents praying at their place of worship is one of the most abhorrent acts imaginable. We must urgently have conversations about the implications of words and actions, including those in the media. My constituents—those of all faiths and none—are fearful of attacks. Is the Minister of the opinion that the police have adequate resources to protect our mosques, other faith establishments and other sensitive sites, and will additional funding be made available to these places of worship so that worshippers there feel safe?
The hon. Lady will know, as I met her recently, that a number of colleagues across the House are feeling intimidated, bullied and threatened on a regular basis in our inboxes and in our letters, and often physically in person at our surgeries. That is something we have to deal with. What came across at a meeting we held recently was that there is not enough consistency in the police response, and police leaders are aware of that. Some colleagues in this House have a good police response; others have a wholly inadequate one. That extends to the places of worship where people sometimes feel that when they need help they do not get it. We have to improve the consistency. We also have to improve what the Crown Prosecution Service does in charging and dealing with those who are spreading hate and intimidating people. Again, this is all too random across the country, and that does not provide the reassurance that many Members, and our constituents, need.
Like many across the House, I spent time in mosques and with my community on Friday. Obviously, as you can imagine, this was a painful reminder of what happened in Batley and Spen only three years ago. At times like this, compassion is of course needed, but we also need a strategy that works. Dressed up as free speech, white nationalism is a threat to us all. Does the Minister agree that we need to demand more of our mainstream media than newspaper editors who thought it was fine to screen the live filming on Facebook, and the media barons and politicians who see difference as the enemy? We need more than thoughts and prayers when tackling hatred—we need action, so what discussions is he about to have with media moguls and newspaper editors?
The strategy for dealing with terrorism is the Contest strategy. If the hon. Lady reads that, she will realise that it is a well-polished strategy started under the previous Labour Government that is managing to have a successful counter-terrorism effect in the United Kingdom. With regard to the media, whether mainstream or fringe, it is absolutely the case, first, that they must not prioritise sensationalism over the facts. Secondly, all media have a responsibility to report accurate facts. The interpretation of those facts is obviously up to the free press and the media, but they must be careful and responsible about what they do. Like her, I have frustration that some media outlets sometimes actually end up being the biggest broadcaster of hate and terrorist content. They must be made to realise that. I am going to be telling them that over the next few weeks, going right to the top. I am not sure that my rank gets me to a mogul, but it will certainly get me to an editor.
I thank the Security Minister again for what he said following the appalling attack in New Zealand and what he said today following the events in this country and the Netherlands over the weekend. Further to the answers he has given to other Members, I want to say, in terms that I think my Muslim constituents would want me to use, that the kind of prejudice that slaughtered innocent people in Christchurch does not begin with a gunman mowing down people in their place of worship. It begins with unchecked prejudice in our workplaces, our schools and our communities, which is amplified in the pages of national mainstream media outlets that should know better. I am afraid it is also legitimised by people who purport to be mainstream politicians and aspire to the highest office who describe Muslim women as “bank robbers” and pillar boxes without any reaction.
On a day when HOPE not hate has called for action from the Conservative party to tackle Islamophobia within its ranks, when Baroness Warsi has again asked her own party to act and when my constituents are looking to the Government to act, they will have no confidence in this Government to tackle the prejudice they face unless they have confidence in the governing party to tackle racism within its own ranks. I say that with humility but great sincerity. Enough is enough. Condemnation in general is nothing compared with specific condemnation. When will the Minister’s party tackle the racists in its ranks, whether in this House or at the grassroots?
The hon. Gentleman is right; we need to show leadership. If we see racism or antisemitism in our ranks, we should deal with it. If we see Islamophobia in our ranks, we should deal with it; if I find it in my party association, those people should not be in the Tory party. I totally agree with everything he said. We have to be cautious about what we say and what we inspire, given our privileged places as political leaders in society. That goes for my friends, my colleagues and my opponents on the Opposition Benches.
We should also recognise that the next step in intolerance is linking violence to politics. The hon. Gentleman sits in a party whose shadow Chancellor talked about lynching my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) when she was in the Department for Work and Pensions, and whose shadow Chancellor regularly supported Irish nationalism that had a violent streak rather than a peaceful one. Let us see what his actions are when it comes to condemning Labour’s Front Bench.
I associate my party with the condemnation across the House of the appalling attack in New Zealand. That shows, if evidence were needed, that such attacks can happen in the most peaceable and unlikely of communities. Security is a reserved matter, though the Welsh Government have responsibility for economic, social and cultural matters to do with the faith community. Is the Minister confident that there is sufficiently deep co-operation between the Home Office and the Welsh Government to ensure that such attacks do not occur in rural and city communities in Wales?
All I can say is that we have very strong links with the Welsh Government and the police and counter-terrorism units in Wales. I have visited a number of sites. We speak regularly, including when it comes to conducting exercises across the United Kingdom so that we can practise our response, and I regularly see bulletins about what is going on in Cardiff and other parts of Wales. I am confident that the Welsh police do an outstanding job in dealing with this issue. Many Members in this House bring examples to me involving the far right. I am confident that they are doing a very good job, and I will continue to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that it is delivered.
Will the Security Minister assure communities in Lancashire of the Islamic faith, of any other faith or of no faith that everything is being done through the security and intelligence services and the police to monitor and deter potential attackers from targeting places of worship, including online activity and political campaigns aimed at Muslims and other minority faiths? This should not just be about tolerance, which means accepting something whether we like it or not, but be about mutual respect. Let us talk more about mutual respect, not just tolerating something even though we might not like it.
How we respond to that tolerance is about mutual respect: whether we disagree and disagree in a manner that accepts people as equals or whether we disagree and denigrate them for having a different view is about respect. The hon. Gentleman and I are neighbours in Lancashire, and we both represent a multicultural society that has worked very well together. I am determined to make sure that we work with Lancashire constabulary to deliver it, but I know that Preston City Council will help deliver some of the solutions as well, as indeed will he and I as civic leaders.
People in Wakefield stand together in solidarity with our Muslim community, the people of Christchurch and the victims here at home and in Utrecht today. May I say to the Minister that I think the grief felt by the relatives of those killed and seriously injured will have been immeasurably increased by the knowledge that those deaths and injuries were live-streamed and broadcast around the world? Does he agree with me that the days of the tech companies marking their own homework should be over, that we should be legislating in this country and in the EU to make sure that nobody profits from this type of streaming, and that any media company in this country that profited by seeing their ad revenues go up through hosting those videos on their sites should donate the increased profits and revenues to a fund for the victims and their families?
I, too, express my solidarity with the New Zealand people and our Muslim brothers and sisters. Although I am pleased with what the Minister has said about the regulation of social media platforms, may I remind him that we are seven years after Leveson, and that Leveson 2, which was meant to address that, was completely ignored by this Government? On the issue of prevention, I appreciate that there is a review of the Prevent programme, but what are the Government specifically going to do about socioeconomic inequalities, which are a known driver in developing distrust and alienation between different communities?
First, a good economy is certainly one of the ways we can try to make sure that people feel more empowered. We will differ about how to go about that between both sides of the House, but employment is a very good start point. When we mix and engage with people in our workplaces, we learn about people’s differences and, I hope, become stronger together. The Government have also funded—with £63 million, through the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary—the Building a Stronger Britain Together fund, which is working with 230 community groups up and down the country to make sure that we work together better, integrate better and understand each other better.
Last Friday, the Mayor of London and I attended the East London mosque for a vigil in solidarity with the victims of the terror attack in New Zealand. As we left, an anti-Muslim hate crime attack took place in my constituency, despite what had happened. Will the Minister look at how to take far-right activism, far-right groups and the threat more seriously? For years, we have campaigned for some of those groups to be proscribed, and the Government have fallen short. I ask him to take that much more seriously, to look at making online platforms responsible for the content of what they provide and to consider the German approach of fining online companies when hate crime material—online hate propaganda—is on those sites. Without making them responsible and making them pay for what they host, we are not going to be able to tackle this appalling level of hatred against Muslims and also against other minorities.
I do not, and neither do the police or the intelligence services I work with, in any way miss or fail to recognise the threat from the far right. It was this Government who first proscribed a far-right, neo-Nazi group—National Action—over 18 months ago. We did that, and we have subsequently taken action against a number of people and organisers. On hate crime, which is also one of the planks we need to take away from extremists, we have funded a £1.5 million action plan. We have asked the Law Commission to review the hate crime legislation to make sure it is fit for purpose. No doubt, the Law Commission will look at hate crime in the online space as well, and I hope it can feed into the online harms White Paper that is coming soon.
We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand, and across the world. My mother with my grandparents emigrated there in the 1950s, and only by virtue of lack of employment am I a Scot and not a Kiwi.
The attacks in Christchurch are surely a tipping point for action by social media companies and this Government. I take on board what the Minister says about collaboration and co-operation, but the Government have been dragging their heels on the White Paper. I understand that he needs to collaborate with countries across the world, but surely now is the time to show some leadership, step forward and have proper legislation and regulation. Not only should no family lose a loved one in such horrific circumstances, but they should not then find out that the brutal murder of their loved one was streamed online for 17 minutes and is still going around online now.
I hope that when the White Paper comes out that the hon. Lady is not disappointed. Given the way the internet is constructed, we have to make sure that regulation works. There is simply no point in putting out a load of regulation if everyone puts their servers somewhere like Cuba or North Korea and nothing can change. We have to make sure we have a technical solution alongside a regulatory solution.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) for securing this urgent question, and you for granting it, Mr Speaker. May I say how disappointed I am in the “whataboutery” response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting)? As a Muslim who has the largest Muslim constituency in the United Kingdom and who spent the weekend reassuring not only my constituents but my own Muslim family, I can tell the Minister how Islamophobia happens: it happens because it goes unchecked; it happens because people in politics have responsibilities that they do not meet. The Conservative party ran the most Islamophobic dog-whistle campaign against the Mayor of London, who happens to be Muslim. The party has yet to apologise for that campaign. Its former chair Baroness Warsi is crying out for an inquiry, as is the Conservative Muslim Forum. The Minister must check that his own house is in order before he can give me or my constituents any confidence that his party can safeguard the Muslim community.
I have long been a good friend of Baroness Warsi. I read her book and met with her, and indeed I encouraged her to apply to be the extremism commissioner at the time the post was advertised, because I thought she would bring a good measure of sense to dealing with some of those issues. Regrettably, she did not take up my invitation, but it would have been a good thing.
I am not making excuses for Islamophobia. Islamophobia exists. Islamophobia is racism. Islamophobia should be dealt with. If it happens in my party, we should deal with it and we should deal with it forthwith, and I am happy to do that wherever I see it. We should all make sure we deal with it. I totally agree with the hon. Lady: it is racism and where we see it we should stop it in its tracks.
There is an old expression, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Words, written and spoken, have consequences. Over the past 20 years we have seen the rise of anti-migrant sentiment, anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-black and minority ethnic community sentiment, not only in the United Kingdom, Europe and America, but in Australia. Politicians and media online, in print and in other forms, newspaper moguls and editors such as the owners of Fox News and Murdoch, the Daily Express, The Sun and others have consistently run lies about all those communities. It is not surprising that some people seeing this day in, day out, start to hate those communities. We have established writers and columnists in this country, such as Katie Hopkins, Rod Liddle and Melanie Phillips, encouraging all this. When will we seriously tackle the issue of what is in the media?
I still believe that the best way to challenge the ignorance and misinformation spread by the likes of Katie Hopkins is to call them out and challenge their argument. The best way to bring these people down and show them to be the Walter Mittys or the fake people they are is to put their arguments to the test, because time and again they fail. I read the online advice published by groups such as al-Qaeda; it is by made-up half-trained imams who do not know what they are talking about when they talk about Islam. I see the neo-Nazi and National Action stuff; it is written by pretty much imbeciles making two plus two equal 10. The best way to expose them to our young people is to challenge them, because when they are challenged in any forum they fall over at the first test. That is a good way to put them out of business for good.
May I say very gently to the Minister and to colleagues that as we have now been on this matter for one hour and two minutes, there is a premium on brevity, on this the occasion of the 574th urgent question during my time in the Chair? I never like to cut these questions off and I want to facilitate colleagues, but it would be helpful to have questions and pithy answers, rather than orations.
My city of Oxford saw some truly disgusting Islamophobic graffiti sprayed last weekend. The local police are dealing with it resolutely, but we all know that it comes on top of enormous pressures from knife crime and county lines. Senior police officers have said that they do not have sufficient resources. The Minister is right that this is not just about police resources, but surely that is part of it. Will he be asking for more?
May I send my condolences to the families of the deceased and injured in New Zealand and the Netherlands, and praise the actions of New Zealand’s Prime Minister? Will the Minister hold the internet companies and social media companies responsible in legislation? Will he ask the Home Secretary, who is not in the Chamber at the moment, whether he will meet me and imams from across the country to look at how we can protect our places of worship?
May I join hon. Members from across the House in condemning these horrific, sickening, cowardly terrorist attacks? Can we, as a House, unite today and pay tribute to the heartening response that has been demonstrated by people of faith and no faith up and down our country and more broadly, who have stood in solidarity and made it clear that those who seek to divide us will never ever succeed? This House wants to be very clear in sending that message today.
I want to emphasise the point that, tragically, far right and Islamophobic views are being tolerated and normalised more and more by those in the mainstream—those in power and responsibility, whether in the media, public life or public institutions. Frankly, that is feeding into the rise of the far right and Islamophobia. What concrete steps will the Minister take to address that and end all forms of racism, in particular Islamophobia?
When I see Islamophobia in the media, it breaks down into three reasons: laziness, because the journalist could not be bothered to find out about what they were writing about; ignorance, because they do not know anything about the religion, people or communities they are writing about; and naked racism or aggression. We can deal with two of those factors quite well.
We need to make sure that we educate people about different faiths in this country, so that they understand the differences within the faiths and across the faiths. We need to bring more people together to understand our different communities. That is why the £63 million for building strong communities is a good place to start. If we can remove the ignorance and teach tolerance and respect for each other, together we will make a difference. That is a strong message to send.
It is very clear that the Government are not doing enough to tackle this crime. The Home Office reported recently that religious hate crime rocketed by 40% across England and Wales in just one year. More than half of it is directed at Muslims. What are the Minister’s Government going to do now to tackle the rise in far-right attacks against British Muslims and other minority communities?
As I said to one of the hon. Gentleman’s honourable colleagues, we asked the Law Commission to review hate crime to make sure that the legislation is fit for the 21st century, and can deal with, for example, the online aspect and how things have changed. We will fund that with £1.5 million. We will also make sure that we tackle the ignorance that I talked about in communities; that is the first thing we need to do. At the same time, we need to deal with online harm to make sure that people stop spreading it. We have also funded work with groups such as Tell MAMA, so that people can report hate crime better, because by them reporting it and our getting better data, we will be able to do something about it.
I implore the Minister, as a member of the Government, to resist the temptation to in any way get into a “he said, she said” party political defence of racism at any level in our society. Does he agree that as political parties that lead, and aspire to lead, the country, we are all responsible for promoting tolerance, equality and being against racism in all its forms, wherever it may appear? As membership organisations, we have a responsibility to ensure that zero tolerance within our ranks means exactly that.
The Muslim community in Oldham is deeply concerned about the prospect of being targeted in further attacks. The drip, drip of the type of lower-level abuse that I see online creates a culture in which people think that they can go further and push it, that difference is okay, and that there should be even further division. The application deadline for the Government’s fund to protect places of worship closed in August last year. We know that there is an underspend in that budget. There is no reason why the Government cannot have a rolling fund in place, so that applicants do not have to wait until the Government are able to administer the application process. Please take the brake off that fund and give places of worship the protection that they need.
I put on record that I associate myself with the comments from the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who is an Antipodean as well, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for going to Finsbury Park mosque, one of my local mosques. I challenge the Minister to discuss with the Department for Education how we can help our schools, particularly in areas that are predominantly non-Muslim, to visit mosques, synagogues, Hindu temples and churches in these times when people do not necessarily get taught any religion at home. That way, we can promote awareness across the piece—not just in areas where we have a lot of Muslim constituents, but across all our communities—and this attitude cannot just pop up in a spirit of ignorance.
The hon. Lady is right. This starts off in ignorance and is then exploited. The situation is different in different constituencies. In my constituency, people visit different communities and mosques and places such as that. I would definitely urge other people to do that, but I am very happy to write to the Department for Education to make sure that we redouble our efforts and spread that good practice across the country.
My thoughts are with all those affected. Extremism is on the rise on the left and the right, but much of that is being harnessed in our prisons, where hardened extremists are housed alongside young offenders who may be impressionable and extremely risky. What dialogue is the Minister having across Departments on justice to ensure that the policy reaches across Departments, and that our prisons counter radicalisation and are places of rehabilitation?
In the last two years, we have worked with the Ministry of Justice to seek, where appropriate, segregation away from vulnerable people. We have redoubled our efforts on taking the Prevent programme into prisons, and have added a bit of compulsion around some offenders going into the Channel programme to make sure that they are challenged and hopefully diverted from that course. Like the hon. Lady, we totally recognise that that is effectively a captive audience, and that if we do not deal with the issue there, prisons will churn out new extremists.
I also associate myself with the condolences that have been expressed to the victims of the appalling atrocities over the past three days. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) in raising the importance of schools with the Minister. Will he also discuss with his colleagues in the Department for Education the problem of some parents choosing to withdraw their children from religious education classes, particularly when they think that the classes will be about Islam and Muslims? Will he discuss what can be done to make sure that parents understand the importance of their children being educated in all things?
I would be very happy to raise that with both Ofsted and schools. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said, ignorance is where this starts, and we must do everything we can to ensure that our children are educated about different faiths and religions.
In November, I was at St John’s Wood synagogue in solidarity after the Pittsburgh shootings, and on Friday, I was 500 yards away at the Regent’s Park mosque after the Christchurch atrocity. Over the last couple of months, these communities have felt a level of risk, a level of abuse and a rising level of hate crime that are unparalleled in modern times. Our local police were there in strength on Friday, but they are stretched, as the Minister has heard from others today. We have lost one third of our police. Our safer neighbourhood teams are on the frontline, embedded in communities and helping to respond to these challenges, but they are being decimated. Please will he listen to the call for support for safer neighbourhood teams to work with our religious communities?
The hon. Lady will know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been listening and has been making representations on that. At the last police funding settlement, we found enough money, plus the precept, to give the police more funding. The calls are being heard, and we will see what we can do.
Is it not time to talk to the general public about how extremism, both on and offline, is there to generate hate, conflict and division, and is sometimes funded, supported financially and generated by foreign states, terrorists and non-state actors, as well as political extremists? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that we are 77% more likely to forward and project forward something that disgusts or shocks us. Is it not time to talk to ordinary people about the importance of not sharing, but reporting and deleting?
The hon. Lady has made the incredibly wise observation that some of this funding, and some of the influences on extremism, are coming from outside this country. Some of it is deliberate, and is done by states and groups, and we should definitely explore what more we can do. One of the best ways to deal with it at this level is through transparency on where money comes from and where it is going. I have always campaigned for that, and we need more of it.
Social media may well have turbo-charged the far right’s ability to organise and communicate, but it also provides an opportunity to watch that. I know the Minister cannot give details, but can he give the House reassurance that the intelligence and security forces in this country have the capacity to monitor all known members of far-right organisations; that if necessary, that capacity will be increased; and that it will not be compromised through a lack of budget or resources?
As guided by the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, we will do whatever monitoring and investigation we need to, where that is proportionate and necessary, to head off any terrorism or violent extremism, wherever we see it, whatever its cause. The intelligence services and the police have the resource at the moment. One of the reasons why I am such a supporter of Prevent is that if we do not deal with the next generation and the potential pool that terrorism recruits from, we will not have the resource in years to come.