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Extremism Definition and Community Engagement

Volume 747: debated on Thursday 14 March 2024

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the next steps that we are taking in the Government’s strategy to counter extremism and to build greater national resilience and social cohesion.

The United Kingdom is a success story: a multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-faith democracy, stronger because of our diversity. However, our democracy and values of inclusivity and tolerance are under challenge from extremist groups that are radicalising our young people and driving greater polarisation within and between communities to further their own ends. In order to protect our democratic values and enhance social cohesion, it is important both to reinforce what we all have in common and to be clear and precise in identifying the dangers posed by extremism.

As our new definition makes clear, extremism can lead to the radicalisation of individuals, deny people their full rights and opportunities, suppress freedom of expression, incite hatred, weaken social cohesion and, ultimately, lead to acts of terrorism. Most extremist materials and activities are not illegal and do not meet the terrorism or the national security threshold. For example, Islamist and neo-Nazi groups in Britain are operating lawfully, but they advocate and work towards the replacement of democracy with an Islamist or Nazi society.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been working with local authorities, civil society and faith groups, especially in those areas where social cohesion is most under strain, to de-escalate tensions and to explore the most constructive support that we can offer. From our engagement we hear widespread unease about the safety and security of community organisations, political candidates and elected officials. Councillors have been threatened with violence; council meetings have been disrupted; council officers and elected members talk of walking a tightrope, terrified of inadvertently saying the wrong thing or offending one side or the other. Many choose to remain silent and to take no action, such is the chilling element of these extremist groups on our democracy.

It is gravely concerning that the conflict in the middle east is driving further polarisation. We have seen a terrible increase in antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crime, as well as a very significant increase in radicalisation. Troublingly, there is also evidence that some Islamists and extreme right-wing groups and others who seek to tear our society apart are working together to maximise the reach of their message and cause. That is why the work of civil society organisations such as the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA, as well as Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, the educational charity Solutions Not Sides and the Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine is so important. We have provided additional funding for the CST and Tell MAMA to counter antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred, and we will do more. We will shortly establish a new fund to provide additional, direct and tangible support for grassroots organisations, building bridges and fighting division. I commend those who are doing so much to counter prejudice.

Working in civil society, it is critical that we do not unwittingly, or through ignorance, fund or otherwise support organisations or individuals who are themselves extremist. In the past, it has unfortunately been the case that extremist groups and actors have sought to present themselves as moderate voices representative of majority or mainstream opinion. The Government have had a definition of extremism since 2011. It has helped inform our Prevent counter-terrorism work and was designed to assist the Government in engagement. But in a considerable number of cases organisations and individuals with views that are clearly extreme have nevertheless benefited from state engagement, endorsement and support, and furthermore have exploited that association to further their extremist agendas.

Among the most significant was Shakeel Begg, who was labelled an Islamist extremist by a judge. Mr Begg, an NHS chaplain and regular speaker at state schools, ran Lewisham Islamic Centre and was on both the Metropolitan police’s independent advisory group in Lewisham and Lewisham’s standing advisory committee on religious education. In 2016, Mr Begg sued the BBC when it described him, accurately, as an extremist. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, conducted his own scrupulous research, identifying many occasions when Mr Begg had advocated extreme positions, including promoting and encouraging religious violence, and by telling a Muslim audience that violence in support of Islam would constitute a man’s greatest deed. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave not only dismissed Mr Begg’s claim but drew specific attention to the danger of extremists exploiting sponsorship from state institutions. He outlined the need for an updated and more precise definition of extremism to guide engagement by Government and others.

We have since seen how figures of potential extremism concern have been able to work with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police, co-opt charities and benefit from public funding. We know from William Shawcross’s excellent independent review of Prevent, that such engagement has inadvertently provided a platform, funding or legitimacy for groups or individuals who oppose our shared values. This apparent legitimising of their views can lead extremists of all ideologies to be emboldened and to exert greater influence. That is why today my Department is publishing an updated, more precise and rigorous definition of extremism, alongside a set of cross-Government engagement principles for use when engaging with external groups. There is also detailed guidance on what the definition does and does not capture. We are also setting up a new counter-extremism centre of excellence in my Department, as a world-leading authority on best practice, data and research.

Our plans, drawn up in close collaboration with the Home Office, will enable the Government to express more clearly than ever before which groups fall within the extremism definition, point to the evidence, and explain the funding and engagement consequences. They will also support national efforts to counter the work of extremists who promote their ideologies both online and offline. The new definition will strengthen vital frontline counter-radicalisation work. The new centre of excellence will also help us to understand the role played by state actors and state-linked organisations in extremist activity that is taking place in our country. The wider knowledge of what constitutes extremist behaviour and who is behind it, will, I hope, help all of us to identify potential threats, and to take steps to challenge and marginalise them.

Critically, the rights that we enjoy in the United Kingdom extend to everyone. Freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief, the rule of law, democracy and equal rights—these are the cornerstones of our civilised society that Government and Parliament, on both sides of the House, strive always to uphold. To be clear, our definition will not affect gender-critical campaigners, those with conservative religious beliefs, trans activists, environmental protest groups, or those exercising their proper right to free speech. In drawing up the new definition, the Government have taken every possible precaution to strike a balance between protecting fundamental rights and safeguarding citizens. Our definition draws on the work of Dame Sara Khan, the Government’s independent reviewer of social cohesion, and Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, before his appointment to that post.

The proposed definition will hold that extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance that aims to: negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve those results. While the Government in no way intend to restrict freedom of expression, religion or belief, we cannot be in a position where, unwittingly or not, we sponsor, subsidise or support in any way organisations and individuals opposed to the freedoms that we hold dear.

Across the House, I am sure that we agree that organisations such as the British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative, who promote neo-Nazi ideology, argue for forced repatriation, a white ethno-state and the targeting of minority groups for intimidation, are precisely the type of groups about which we should be concerned and whose activities we will assess against the new definition. The activities of the extreme right wing are a growing worry. The targeting of both Muslim and Jewish communities and individuals by these groups is a profound concern requiring concerted action.

As with our definition of extremism, it is important that we be precise in our use of language when discussing Islamism. Islamism should never be confused with Islam. Islam is a great faith, a religion of peace that provides spiritual nourishment for millions, inspires countless acts of charity, and celebrates the virtues of generosity, compassion and kindness. Islamism is a totalitarian ideology that seeks to divide, calls for the establishment of an Islamic state governed by sharia law, and seeks the overthrow of liberal democratic principles. It has its roots in the thinking of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, Abul A’la al-Maududi, and the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. The Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, Hamas. Organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain, which is the British affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups such as CAGE and Mend, give rise to concern because of their Islamist orientation and views. We will be holding those and other organisations to account to assess whether they meet our definition of extremism, and will take action as appropriate.

There are, of course, further steps that we will take in the coming days and weeks to marginalise extremist groups, and to support and strengthen the communities where extremists are most active and spreading division. They will include responding to Dame Sara Khan’s forthcoming report on social cohesion and democratic resilience, and Lord Walney’s independent review of how to counter political violence and disruption. In this debate, we must never forget about the experiences of victims of extremism who are targeted by extremist groups and the severe and distressing impact that that has on their lives, and I am pleased that Dame Sara Khan will be addressing that in her forthcoming report.

As the Prime Minister has said, the time has come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison. The liberties that we hold dear, and indeed the democratic principles that we are all sent here to uphold, require us to counter and challenge the extremists who seek to intimidate, to coerce and to divide. We must be clear-eyed about the threat that we face, precise about where that threat comes from, and rigorous in defending our democracy. That means upholding freedom of expression, religion and belief when it is threatened, facing down harassment and hate, supporting the communities facing the greatest challenge from extremist activity, and ensuring that the House and the country are safe, free and united. I commend this statement to the House.

I start by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and for his briefing yesterday.

Hateful extremism threatens the safety of our communities and the unity of our country. Everyone, across the House, can agree that it is a serious problem which demands a serious response, so let me say from the outset that when it comes to our national security, when it comes to the threat of radicalisation and when it comes to the toxic scourge of Islamophobia, neo-Nazism, antisemitism or any other corrosive hatred, the whole House can and should work together. The way the Government do this work matters, and the language that we all use is important. I welcome the Secretary of State’s opening comment that it is our diversity, and our values, that make our country stronger.

The Secretary of State is right to raise concerns about the dangers facing our elected representatives. We must be free to represent the views of our constituents. We all have a responsibility to work to extinguish the flames of division, and never to fan them. While it may be part of the nature of our politics for passion sometimes to take centre stage, and while we may challenge and probe these plans today, if the Secretary of State wants to engage going forward, he has my word that we can do so in good faith.

I say challenge because I believe that the Secretary of State has made a mistake in the way in which this policy has been trailed in the last week. I am glad he has now come to the House to give clarification, but it is not right that we have spent the last few days poring over a possible new definition in the papers; it is not right that the Department has leaked the names of groups that may or may not be covered by this definition when, as he rightly says, this work should be based on due diligence; and it is not right that each stage of the recruitment of a new Islamophobia adviser has been mired in controversy. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he has now appointed an adviser?

On today’s announcement, we will scrutinise this new definition, and it will be crucial to see how it is applied in practice, but will the Secretary of State set out how the new centre of excellence will operate and how it will be resourced? How will this new definition work in practice? How exactly will it restrict the Government’s engagement? Will these restrictions relate only to Government engagement, or will they later be extended to other public bodies such as the police and universities?

Given this new definition, the public will rightly be alarmed by the idea that Ministers could have already met extremist groups. Can the Secretary of State shed some light on that? Renewed vigilance and diligence are welcome, particularly in the current climate, but if his own Department now needs to cut ties with extremist groups, that begs the question of why it was working with them in the first place. He said in his statement that the new definition

“will not affect gender-critical campaigners, those with conservative religious beliefs, trans activists, environmental protest groups, or those exercising their proper right to free speech.”

Can he explain which groups it will affect, and where the Government have chosen to draw the line?

This is not the first time that the Government have identified this risk or promised to act. As the Secretary of State mentioned, back at the beginning of 2011 the Conservative Home Secretary told the House:

“ If organisations do not support the values of democracy, human rights, equality before the law, participation in society…we will not work with them and we will not fund them.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 53.]

That prompts another question: why has it taken the Government 13 years to address this? The Secretary of State says that organisations that are clearly extreme have benefited from Government engagement, endorsement and support, and even suggests that those groups have exploited Government engagement. Can he understand how deeply concerning that is to hear? He must explain exactly how it has been allowed to happen.

We know there has been a huge surge in online extremism. Can the Secretary of State give assurances on how that will be dealt with? What action is he taking to work across Government to assess and confront online hate? We know that extremism does not exist in a vacuum, and we need political leadership on this, but a quality of good leadership is to empower others. The Secretary of State says that the Department has been working with faith groups, civil society and local councils, and I agree that they all have a crucial role to play in tackling extremism, but what form has that consultation taken, and will he publish its findings?

On the wider work that is now needed, will the Secretary of State set out whether it will be underpinned by a new cross-Government counter-extremism strategy, given that the last one is now nine years out of date? Will it include action to rebuild the resilience and cohesion of our communities? He mentioned new funding; how much will it be, how will it be allocated, and how will it interact with other funding streams, including those relating to multi-faith dialogue?

I also want to raise a point about hate crime, and how important it is to tackling extremism. We have seen an appalling surge in antisemitism and Islamophobia in recent months, and the previous strategy is now four years out of date. When will the Secretary of State have an updated hate crime action plan? Have Ministers abandoned plans to introduce a new hate crime strategy? Why are the anti-Muslim hatred working group and the antisemitism working group no longer meeting?

We need much stronger action to tackle the corrosive forms of hatred that devastate lives and corrode communities, but today’s statement does not go far enough. Regardless of how workable and effective the new definition and the centre for excellence may be, this announcement will not be enough.

Let me end by echoing the words of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who have warned that, against the backdrop of growing divisions, it is for political leaders to provide “a conciliatory tone” and to

“pursue policies that bring us together, not risk driving us apart.”

I look forward to working with the Secretary of State on this.

I am very grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for the constructive, detailed and consensual approach that she is taking to what are inevitably challenging and difficult issues. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to her and other Labour colleagues yesterday, and I look forward to working together in the future. I know it is the role of the Opposition to challenge, and I wholeheartedly welcome the constructive way in which that challenge has been issued today.

I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that the danger to elected representatives is growing, and my right hon. Friend the Security Minister has invested time, care and money to countering it. Passion, vigour and determination are all part of the meat of our politics, and nothing that we have said today should take away from our desire to see free speech exercised as energetically as possible.

The shadow Secretary of State mentioned the leaking of some information relating to our work on this issue. I deprecate that leaking, which is a fundamental challenge to the effective operation of government, and a leak inquiry has been commissioned in order to see how some of the information about today’s statement was shared. As a result of my having given the statement, however, there is an opportunity for all of us to scrutinise the detail.

The shadow Secretary of State asked how the centre of excellence will be staffed and funded. Impartial civil servants with training in this area will be supplemented in their work by studies by academics and academic bodies, and we will work with the existing expertise in the homeland security analysis and intelligence unit within the Home Office in order to ensure that all our work is rigorous. We will make sure that if a decision is made to list an organisation as extremist, we will show our working and the evidence that leads us to that conclusion, and the judgment that we have made will be there for everyone to see.

The shadow Secretary of State asked why the Government or arms of the state have unwittingly engaged with extremist organisations in the past. Although the previous definition of extremism was well intentioned and drawn up with care, it was perhaps insufficiently precise and insufficiently policed, so we thought it was appropriate to update it. This follows the Shakeel Begg case, William Shawcross’s independent review of Prevent, and other examples that were brought to the Government’s attention. Having been told by independent figures, the courts and William Shawcross that we needed to look again at our approach, the real sin would have been not to do so and to have stuck to a course that had led to mistakes in the past.

The shadow Secretary of State asked about the wider work on resilience. We will publish a more detailed action plan, which will include funding commitments to support organisations on the ground that build up a greater degree of community resilience, and I look forward to working with her and others in local government to achieve that valuable end.

I am glad to follow both Front Benchers, who have given a lead to the House.

It is interesting to consider whether it would have been right 90 years ago to identify as a threat Oswald Mosley’s approach, as well as the people who marched through the streets to intimidate others. More recently, when Kathleen Stock was at the University of Sussex, the students’ union and many others called her a dangerous extremist for writing a rather good book and having views that are now mainstream.

Filling the gap between what is not necessarily criminal but should be identified as wrong is important, and I hope the whole House can give support to today’s proposals.

I am very grateful to the Father of the House. There should, rightly, be a high bar on the use of criminal sanctions. We should always seek to encourage free speech, but he is quite right to draw attention to the freedom-restricting harassment that some people have engaged in. I completely endorse the point he makes about Kathleen Stock, who is a distinguished academic.

I wish Ramadan Mubarak to everybody who is marking this significant month in the Islamic calendar.

Friday is International Day to Combat Islamophobia, but Muslims are afraid to speak out, lest they be targeted for their beliefs or, indeed, labelled as extremists. The Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Jonathan Hall, has said that their proposal

“could undermine the UK’s reputation because it would not be seen as democratic.”

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said in a joint statement that the new definition

“risks disproportionately targeting Muslim communities, who are already experiencing rising levels of hate and abuse”,


“may vilify the wrong people”.

Zara Mohammed of the Muslim Council of Britain is concerned that the Government’s proposals are undemocratic, divisive and potentially illegal. The organisation is also concerned about the lack of engagement with some of the groups that the Secretary of State has talked about today. Were any of the Muslim groups that he specifically mentioned contacted, so that they knew that they would be mentioned in today’s statement?

There has been a desperately worrying increase in Islamophobia and antisemitism since 7 October, and it should concern us all that it is happening. We stand against extremism and the targeting of groups in our society, but extremism is on the rise, driven in no small part by the culture wars stoked by the Conservatives, their hangers-on and those who would call peace demonstrations hate marches. This week we have heard about the racism and misogyny expressed by someone who has funded the party of Government. Does the Secretary of State think that racism and misogyny meet his definition of extremism? Does he believe that Frank Hester’s statement about the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), in which he said that she makes him

“want to hate all black women”

and that she “should be shot”, would meet his definition of extremism? If he does, will his party return the £10 million, or will he donate it to a charity of her choosing?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points, and she is quite right to say that we need to be precise. As I stressed in my statement and now have the opportunity to stress again, we should not conflate the specific challenge from certain Islamist groups with the broader Muslim community. We need to be precise in order to draw that distinction, so that we are able to support organisations on the ground that seek to bring people together and to counter anti-Muslim hate and antisemitism. I thank her and her colleagues in the Scottish Government for the engagement that we undertook earlier this week through the Interministerial Standing Committee in order to share best practice about how to work with groups on the ground that are engaged in this vital counter-extremism work across the United Kingdom.

The hon. Lady refers to the comments made by a gentleman who is not a Member of this House, which were clearly racist and regrettable. Speaking as someone who was targeted by an extremist who was attempting to kill me, and who went on to murder a colleague and friend in this House, I take that sort of language incredibly seriously.

Surely the essential point here is that the Government are proposing not to ban any organisation, however extreme, from operating legally and within the law, but to identify organisations that should be barred from receiving funding or other support from the Government. They have not shared their proposals with the Intelligence and Security Committee, so any point that I make now is purely personal to me, but does the Secretary of State agree that in any democratic society people have a right to decide with which bodies they will or will not associate? That is why it is right that, since July 2021, Labour has banned no fewer than seven extreme-left organisations as incompatible with party membership, in accordance with values defined, quite properly, by its own national executive committee.

I thank my right hon. Friend, who has a distinguished record in this area. He is absolutely right. There is, appropriately, a very high threshold for the proscription of organisations, which Hizb ut-Tahrir recently met. We are not seeking to ban or restrict the operation of organisations in a free society; we are simply making it clear that it would be wrong for the Government to use taxpayers’ money or public endorsement in engagement with such organisations.

The Secretary of State said in his statement:

“Our definition draws on the work of Dame Sara Khan, the Government’s independent reviewer of social cohesion, and Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, before his appointment to that post.”.

In our report on the policing of protests, the Home Affairs Committee said:

“We find it surprising that the Government has not yet responded to the reports it commissioned from the Commission for Countering Extremism regarding hateful extremism, particularly the report ‘Operating with Impunity’ by Dame Sara Khan and Sir Mark Rowley. Sir John Saunders in his report in 2023 rightly said that the Home Office should respond as a matter of urgency.”

With this policy moving from the Home Office to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has the Secretary of State had any conversations with the Home Office about whether there will be a full response to Dame Sara Khan’s report? How will this new definition affect the policing of protests?

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee makes some very important points. I had the opportunity to meet Dame Sara and Sir Mark to discuss our work on this new definition and, of course, I have worked very closely with the Home Secretary and, particularly, the Security Minister on framing the definition.

As the right hon. Lady will be aware, work in this space is shared between my Department and the Home Office, which is responsible for security and for supporting the police. We are responsible for funding community organisations and encouraging a greater degree of social cohesion and resilience. There will be further responses to some of the recommendations in that report, and indeed in Lord Walney’s report and Dame Sara’s additional report, which is forthcoming. I hope that, alongside the Home Secretary, I will have the opportunity to share further detail in the weeks ahead.

I thank Dame Sara Khan, Sir Mark Rowley and Sir William Shawcross for all the work they have each done in this important area, including during my time as Home Secretary. I also thank the Secretary of State.

Although the proposals are non-statutory and will act as a guide for civil servants and Ministers, can the Secretary of State explain what evidential threshold will be applied by the new centre of excellence when compiling the list of organisations and guidance? How will this guidance be applied against the existing legal definitions of racism, incitement and intimidation that guide our security services and our police in upholding the rule of law?

During her time in the Home Office, my right hon. Friend initiated and took forward fantastic work to deal with extremism and intolerance. She is right that the definition does not impinge or alter the legal threshold for prosecution where people incite violence. Indeed, there are arguments for looking again at our laws to make sure that they are fit for purpose, but today’s definition is not about changing the criminal law; it is about setting a threshold. That threshold will be evidenced when we come forward with the list of organisations that we believe meet this bar, with evidence that everyone can see makes a compelling case that the ideology that spurs those organisations is extremist in nature.

The Secretary of State, in my view very unwisely, recently closed down the Inter Faith Network, which facilitates the kind of dialogue he praised in his statement. He closed it down on the grounds that one of its 22 trustees is connected with the Muslim Council of Britain. If an organisation unjustly finds itself on his proposed list, will it have the opportunity to appeal against its inclusion?

We have not closed down the Inter Faith Network. We ceased our funding, and the Inter Faith Network draws its funding from a variety of sources. We will apply appropriate due diligence and publish evidence. If anyone believes our judgment is wrong, as in any case where it is believed that the Government have acted unreasonably, the option of judicial review is always available.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Words matter, and I note in particular the aim to

“intentionally create a permissive environment”

to deal with the harms that he rightly identifies and that we all oppose. However, there are dangers in that wording. Will he issue guidance as to what it precisely means? The word “intentionally” is clearly important. Does he accept that, with the Government generally not engaging with the organisations that he rightly identifies, we should not inhibit the work of the security services and agencies, which have to engage with elements of these organisations in order to combat extremism at an individual level?

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point, because obviously our intelligence and security agencies, our law enforcement actors and sometimes those working abroad to keep us safe will have to deal with and engage unsavoury individuals. The definition does not cover that activity.

Let us be clear and call this what it is. It is not a serious and genuine attempt to address a very important issue. It is a further draconian attempt to continue the Tory agenda of culture wars. It is disappointing that countless civil liberties groups, and three former Home Secretaries, have warned the Secretary of State against politicising such an important issue, but it seems it has fallen on deaf ears.

If the Secretary of State is serious about addressing these issues, I ask him to condemn the extremist, vile and dangerous language used by some of his own Back Benchers and some of the Tory donors who are bankrolling his party.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I hope he will appreciate that both I and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) are determined not to politicise this matter but to make sure we can operate consensually. Of course there will be debate, challenge and differences of opinion and emphasis in what we seek to do, but it is a shared endeavour. Indeed, we have been working with independent figures such as Lord Walney to achieve consensus.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to make a party political point about my colleagues. I extend to him the same courtesy that I extend to every Member of this House by respecting his mandate and his voice, and not indulging in that sort of unfortunate personalisation.

My right hon. Friend has, for a very long time, been consistent and clear-eyed about the threats that we face, for which I applaud him. He has faced personal threats and responded with bravery and resilience, which we all admire.

First, I fear that the definition, though well intentioned, lands in no man’s land. It does not go far enough to tackle the real extremists, and it does not do enough to protect the non-extremists who are simply expressing contrarian views and who might find that this definition is used against them, perhaps not now but possibly in the future. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give to me and others who are concerned about that?

Secondly, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not the totality of our anti-extremism strategy, important though it is? We now have to take forward other areas, particularly on William Shawcross’s superb recommendations with respect to the Prevent programme, on revoking the visas of visitors who do not share our values—that appears to have stalled—and on ensuring that the police vigorously and fairly implement our existing laws so that everyone can have confidence that there is not, and will never be, two-tier policing in our country.

When my right hon. Friend held my current post, he took forward immensely valuable work to counter anti-Muslim hatred and antisemitism, and to support organisations fighting both. He asks whether this definition is enough on its own, and he is right that it is not, but it is a necessary step in responding to Sir William Shawcross’s independent review of Prevent, which makes it clear that the operation of Prevent is insufficiently rigorous because of the definition—that is no criticism of the professionals involved. The rigour of the definition needed to be updated, which is what we are doing.

My right hon. Friend expressed concern that this definition might be misused. The previous definition was looser, baggier and capable of many more interpretations than this much tighter definition, which is therefore much less likely to be misused. Of course the proof will be in how we set about using it and in the evidence we provide to back up any judgments we make.

This new definition will require careful scrutiny of its compliance with human rights such as the right to freedom of expression, religion and belief. In my role as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I am delighted that we will be taking forward that scrutiny next week. On a personal level, may I ask the Secretary of State to agree that Members of this House have a duty to be careful in their use of language and not to brand groups “extreme” or “hateful” simply because they disagree with them?

I want to give an example of that, because it is an important and topical one. My friends at LGB Alliance, a well-respected LGB rights charity, have been described by some Members of this House as a “hate group” simply because they raised hitherto unfashionable but now vindicated concerns about the prescription of puberty blockers. Will the Secretary of State join me in reminding Members of this House of their responsibility not to use their positions to stifle legitimate debate that makes an important contribution to our democracy?

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for her point. Again, I stress that this is about Government engagement. Although she or I might agree or disagree with an individual or group, we respect their right to free speech and free association. The points she makes about the LGB Alliance are well made. It is right that there should be debate on gender and sex questions, and I commend the Government for the steps they have taken to ban puberty blockers. Therefore, in this debate, it is right to have a degree of respect and concern for the different and heartfelt positions held by everyone. Her consistent championing of a particular position, though sometimes unpopular with others, is commendable and brave, and she represents the very best of her party.

I share, along with many other Members, some alarm at the emergence of this new definition, and I have two questions for the Secretary of State. The first is further to the point made by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms): is there really to be no appeal process in this branding of particular groups as unacceptable? I ask that not least because, as I am sure the Secretary of State will intend, putting them on a Government blacklist will have a chilling impact more widely on their place in society; from financial services to the media, who is likely to engage with them? At what stage in the process will those groups that he decides are worthy of examination be able to present evidence in their defence?

My second question is: if a Member of this House disagrees with the view of the Secretary of State or the Government, and decides to invite that group into the House or to be a member of that group, will the Government refuse to engage with the Member of Parliament?

Again, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and commend him on the work he did in the Home Office during his time there. He will have known that there was an already existing definition, with which there was an obligation on Government not to engage with certain groups. He will also know that while he was there Sir William Shawcross pointed out that that definition needed to be updated and those engagement principles reinforced. We are simply continuing the work that my right hon. Friend did so diligently and effectively while at the Home Office. Organisations such as the British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative, which I mentioned, are ones that I hope no Member of this House would want to deal with. Obviously, however, each individual must look to their own conscience about the organisations with which they engage. This is purely about Government; Parliament is, quite rightly, sovereign.

Following the point made by the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), I urge the Secretary of State to be cautious in all of this. Those of us who campaigned against apartheid in the 1970s were often condemned, and although the African National Congress was never banned in Britain, there were calls to ban it. Things change and history moves on; those who marched for peace in Ireland were condemned at the time, and later we had the Good Friday agreement. So I ask the Secretary of State: what is the status of this statement? Does it have legal force? Will it be an instruction to the police? Will it be an instruction to local authorities? Exactly how will it be implemented?

On pages 5 and 6 of the Secretary of State’s statement, he rightly makes the point that we have rights of religious assembly, free speech and organisation. It is important to state those, and they are all enshrined in the European convention on human rights. Will he assure us—because this is not mentioned anywhere in this document— that there is no plan by the Government or the Conservative party to withdraw from the European convention on human rights and therefore from the European Court of Human Rights? For all its failings and inefficiencies, the convention underpins human rights in a very important way.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the points he makes. His question gives me an opportunity to clarify that we will proceed with caution and that this definition governs only Government engagement and funding. Other autonomous organisations must and will make their own judgments; this is simply about what Government and their agencies do. He makes the point that people and organisations can change over time, and that is true. There are people who have been members of extremist organisations and have then changed their view and been invaluable in helping us to challenge the work of extremists: those who were formerly members of Islamist organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir have been valuable in countering that hate; and those people who were formerly members of neo-Nazi organisations have been invaluable in making sure that we can police their activities. Of course, it is always within the human heart to have the capacity to change and reform.

Of course, the first duty of any state is to protect its citizens and maintain national security. Many of us have different experiences of dealing with extremism. I served on the Home Affairs Committee for three years, dealing with extremism and radicalisation in that regard. As someone who comes from a Muslim faith, I get 1,000 pieces of hatred from the far right and the same from Islamist Daesh-inspired individuals. I have also had a death threat against me that is being investigated by Kent police, and other Members will have their own different experiences.

I say to the Secretary of State that this statement is being made today, after 16 months of our Government not having an independent adviser to tackle Islamophobia. This statement is also being made two weeks after the Government-funded body Tell MAMA published data showing that there had been 2,000 hate incidents or crimes against the Muslim community—we have not had a statement from the Government on that or on engagement with the Muslim community. People will be looking at today’s statement with that backdrop in mind.

I want the Secretary of State to provide me with clarification about the interpretation of the definition. Am I right to say that a Minister will make the determination as to whether something creates a “permissive environment” or is “intolerant”? I mean no disrespect to current or future Ministers, but giving Ministers that responsibility raises a real concern, because it then comes down to each Minister’s own judgment. We need to ensure that we have a thorough, independent and fair process, because we are all committed to our national security.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has endured the consequences of extremism himself and has been a very valuable voice for religious freedom for many years. He makes two important points. The first is about the need to be vigilant in dealing with anti-Muslim hatred. That is why my right hon. Friend the Security Minister announced more than £100 million of funding to better protect mosques, schools and other Muslim community centres—I commend that initiative. It is also why the Government continue to fund the excellent organisation Tell MAMA, whose founder I had the opportunity to meet again yesterday to discuss the approach that we are taking. My hon. Friend asks whether Ministers alone will make the judgment. Ministers will make that judgement, informed by impartial civil service advice and academic research.

For a number of years, I have been meeting and working with an organisation that in 2018 published its report “Our Shared British Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK”. I supported that report because it called for “equal integration for all”, for us to “break down barriers” and work towards tackling the challenges that hinder integration, and for us to “celebrate British diversity” and the success of our model of integration. It also reported on the role of faith organisations in integration, recognising that faith can support integration efforts.

That organisation is the Muslim Council of Britain. The Secretary of State deprecated the leaks around this report, but the informal spin and briefings that have taken place have dragged the name of the Muslim Council of Britain through the mud in recent days. He has not answered the question as to what appeal process there will be, aside from judicial review. Will organisations and individuals have access to legal aid for judicial review in challenging decisions made by the Secretary of State on this?

I think it was the Labour Government, when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, that raised concerns about some of the activities and views expressed by members of the Muslim Council of Britain. Any organisation about which concerns are raised is an organisation that we will be very careful in scrutinising before taking any steps. When we do take any steps—if we take any steps —the evidence will be clearly laid out.

I absolutely support my right hon. Friend’s aims in making the statement, in terms of protecting our democracy and protecting us from violence and the kind of terrorist threats we have seen over recent weeks, but I share the concerns that many hon. Members have raised. In separating the definition of extremism from actual violence and harm, and in using terms like “fundamental rights”, which do not have a definition in law, we risk criminalising or, at the very least, chilling the speech of people who have perfectly legitimate, harmless views.

To go back to the example of gender critical feminists, a gender critical feminist might be intolerant of the right of people to change their sex on their birth certificate. They might seek to undermine that right by seeking to repeal the Gender Recognition Act 2004, for example. They would be labelled extremists under these regulations, as I understand them. As to impartial civil servants deciding these things, I am afraid I do not think that is always the case. Certainly, I have seen civil servants wearing very unimpartial lanyards on this particular issue. I seek my right hon. Friend’s reassurance that not only will such groups not be labelled extremists now, but there will be protections so they will never be labelled that way in the future.

It is precisely because I share the concerns raised by my hon. Friend that we have made the definition tighter. I am sure she is aware of the existing wording of the 2011 definition, which has a far broader range of groups that could fall within its ambit. By being more narrow, precise and rigorous, we more effectively protect free speech. She referred to criminalising. Let us be clear that there is nothing in this definition that would lead to a ban. It is simply about saying which organisations Government should and should not engage with. I am sure she would agree with me that neo-Nazi organisations and Islamist organisations, of the kinds that I drew attention to, are the kinds of organisations the Government should not be engaging with. It is regrettable that in the past we have.

The Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism, Jonathan Hall, and the Government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, Lord Mann, have both criticised what they have learned of these outline proposals for a new non-statutory definition of extremism. Jonathan Hall points out that Hizb ut-Tahrir was proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000—quite rightly—for its reactions to the attacks of 7 October, and he said the proposals mark a shift

“away from people who are doing bad things, towards people who think bad things”.

Lord Mann points to the contradiction in banning some speakers from universities, having just passed a law to enshrine freedom of speech in universities, and he talks about “the politics of division” doing nothing to help the Jewish community. Will the Secretary of State reflect on the advice of the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism and their independent adviser on antisemitism?

I met them both in the preparation for the work we have done today. I think it was the case that the independent adviser on antisemitism, Lord Mann, whose work is outstanding, said on broadcasts today that he regarded this as an improvement on the existing definition. I am grateful for that support and for the hon. Gentleman’s question, which has given me the opportunity to relay that to the House.

I am worried about this. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that nothing in this statement will add to the increasing culture, in what should be a free country, of the intolerance of the right to offend? I might be offended if people make extreme attacks on Christianity, but they have an absolute right to do so. People have a right to criticise religious people or particular religions. Equally, Orthodox Jews, devout evangelical Christians with a particular view of the Bible and devout traditional Muslims have an absolute right to say what they believe in a free society, even if it is very unfashionable.

I could not agree more. It is the principle of Milton’s “Areopagitica” that governs my approach towards free speech: ideas should contend on the plain of argument and people should be able to discern good arguments from bad arguments.

All the statement does is to tighten the existing definition. The concerns that my right hon. Friend raises about definitions being used to marginalise speech existed with the previous definition, to an extent. Now, with this tighter definition, along with the fact that the Government will publish the reasons why they choose not to engage with a group, things will be clearer. As I say, this is purely about Government engagement and financing. I know that he, like me, would want to ensure that taxpayers’ money was stewarded wisely.

This tweet was liked by Sir Paul Marshall:

“Civil war is coming. There has never been a country that has remained peaceful with a sizeable Islamic presence…Once the Muslims get to 15-20% of the population the current cold civil war will turn hot.”

Many other incendiary tweets were liked or retweeted by Marshall, a substantial donor to both the Tory party and the Secretary of State personally, according to a recent investigation by HOPE not hate and “The News Agents”. How does the Secretary of State square his definition of extremism with accepting money from someone like Marshall?

I deprecate the personal attack on Sir Paul Marshall, who is a distinguished philanthropist and a supporter of Ark academies—state schools that have done so much, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, to improve the lives of disadvantaged children from a variety of minority backgrounds.

Last evening in the House of Commons, I attended the Big Iftar celebration of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims. One person after another said to me in private that they were fearful of an increasing mood of Islamophobia. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Friends have referred to the Tell MAMA statistics that show a 335% increase in anti-Muslim hatred since October.

I am worried about a slippery slope. I commend what the Secretary of State said about the statement just looking at community engagement, but can we be assured that this is not a slippery slope? Will it lead to a position across the criminal law, months and years ahead, where people feel that they are no longer able to speak their minds? As an example, two or three weeks ago I attended a rally in my own constituency in support of Gaza but, as we have seen in recent months, such attendance has almost been outlawed and people have been silenced. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that this statement will not be the commencement of a slippery slope? As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland, in an environment of terrorism, I know that it is easy to think that we are putting one person away, but to end up with 1,000 enemies behind them.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, whose experience not only in Northern Ireland, but working abroad to promote peace and inclusion, is to be commended. He is quite right. The Department that I lead funds Tell MAMA, which does such important work in highlighting and recording acts of anti-Muslim hatred. There has been a dreadful increase in such acts. We want to work with organisations on the ground to counter that hatred. As I mentioned, sadly some of the organisations that have been supported in the past have been extremist and have sought to intimidate British Muslims. That is why we need to be careful about those with whom we work, in order to present a united front against anti-Muslim hatred.

It is quite clear that there is a shared endeavour between the two Front Benches, but as questions have continued, it is clear that there is unease on the Back Benches on both sides of the House, and for very good reason. It is obviously true that this is part of the culture war wallpaper that is being created for the general election soon to come. It is not good enough to say that it does not seek to ban or jail anyone—try getting a bank account once you have been branded by Michael Gove as an extremist.

If we were debating extremism in the Oxford Union, as once we did in the Secretary of State’s salad days on another matter, we would all be talking about what is the definition. I remind the Secretary of State that a former Speaker of this House was wearing a “Hang Nelson Mandela” T-shirt when my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and I were seeking the overthrow of apartheid and being called divisive. This building is designed to show that politics is full of division, and sometimes those reviled as extremists turn out to have been right all along.

I congratulate the hon. Member on his election as Member of Parliament for Rochdale. As he rightly points out, we have known each other for several decades. During that time, I have always admired his oratorical skills and the passion with which he makes his case. There is nothing in this definition that any hon. Member should fear will inhibit them in making their case. While I passionately disagree with the hon. Gentleman on so many issues, he has the same rights as every other Member of this House and deserves to be listened to with respect as he makes his case.

By stating that a free society requires that the Muslim religion accommodates itself to the same level of scrutiny, criticism and even blasphemy that Christianity has become accustomed to, am I straying into the Secretary of State’s permissive environment? I am not an extremist, am I?

My right hon. Friend is many, many things: learned, wise, kind, a champion of the New Forest and a distinguished former educationalist. He is not an extremist, and I shall continue to admire the rigour with which he prosecutes his case.

I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton- under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) that Government Departments may have been engaging with extremists and racists in the past. The Secretary of State seems to indicate that engagement, or lack of engagement, is dependent on the definition. Is it not also dependent on the common sense of Ministers? If Ministers are willing to engage with extremists and racists, surely they should not be Ministers in the first place.

I absolutely take the hon. Member’s point. The key thing here is that sometimes there are organisations and individuals that seek to operate by presenting one face to one group and a different face to another. That is why we need due diligence. Mistakes have been made in the past. I think those mistakes were made in good faith and unwittingly, but as has been pointed out by Members from across this House, a number of people have expressed their concern about those past errors. That is why we need a tighter, more precise definition.

I commend the Government on what they are attempting to do to oppose and fight all forms of extremism and hatred in our country. Does the Secretary of State agree that what underpins Britain is our ancient liberties and freedoms, free speech and the rule of law, which uphold our democracy under the Crown? Does he believe, as I do, that we must defend all our British values and traditions? We must teach them in schools, and we must ensure that British values are the order of the day.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. In our schools and other institutions, we should make sure that people from every background are acquainted with our history and taught the very British habits of scepticism, questioning and sometimes raucous expressions of opposition to Governments and others. That spirit of democratic challenge is core to this country, and no one better exemplifies being able to speak out without fear or favour than my hon. Friend.

The press release attached to this statement, which refers to 7 October, seems to imply, deliberately or otherwise, that protests and other human responses to the horrors of the Hamas attacks on Israel and the bombardment of Gaza are extreme. In my diverse and shared Belfast South constituency, we are battling extremism at the moment, in the form of a rash of menacing and racist posters about foreigners and housing. It is my genuine belief that that rhetoric is being fanned by this Government—the Government of a party funded by a person who says that they hate all black women. It is worth mentioning that Northern Ireland Office Ministers met representatives of paramilitaries during their negotiations on the withdrawal agreement. This kind of politics and the departure from pluralism and tolerance are part of the reason why I and many others advocate for a new Ireland by exclusively peaceful and democratic means. That would of course undermine and change the constitution of the United Kingdom and its democracy. Can the Secretary of State confirm that people like me, who advocate for a new Ireland, are not extremists under the second part of his definition?

No, of course not. The Social Democratic and Labour party has a long and proud tradition of arguing for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to become a new state, and that has an impeccable political tradition. As she rightly points out, many people wish to protest about what is happening in the middle east. We may disagree about aspects of that conflict, but I hope we all share a sincere desire to bring peace to the middle east. We all deprecate the regrettable incidents of prejudice on the streets of South Belfast.

I welcome the clear statement today. It is right that we openly debate and tackle extremism in this place. At this time of tension and sensitivity, does the Secretary of State agree that politicians have a responsibility to dial down the rhetoric, that divisions must not be exploited for political gain, and that we all must work together across the House to achieve that?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. His distinguished career of public service even before he entered this House shows a commitment to working across divides to strengthen our democracy.

The Secretary of State spoke of sharing our workings about affected organisations. He did not share his workings after his abrupt decision to pull Government funding from the Inter Faith Network, causing that respected organisation to close. How does he explain the contradiction between his words and his recent actions?

A letter was published outlining the reasoning behind that, and the Government are only one of a number of funders of the Inter Faith Network.

I do not want to be accused of dialling up the rhetoric, but I must say that I and millions of people in this country are utterly fed up with these protests that have been taking place in our nation’s capital. Not every person who attends these protests is an extremist, and not every person who attends these protests is a radical, but many are, and they are going unchallenged. I have Jewish friends who will not go into their own capital because they do not feel safe, and it is weekend after weekend after weekend. When is something going to happen? All the public see is impotence. It is fuelling extremism, and it is linked to this debate. If the situation does not get any better, and we continue to see hate on our streets going unchallenged, is the Government prepared to strip responsibility for policing in London from the Mayor of London, and to give a far stronger steer to the Metropolitan police, who every weekend, from what I can see, are failing to stand up for our values, and for Jewish people, so that they feel safe?

My hon. Friend speaks passionately about this. I know from talking to Jewish friends that some of the statements and actions that accompany these marches cause them to feel a profound sense of fear. That has been well recorded not just by the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism, but by Members of this House, so I share his concern for the Jewish community.

I should say that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner takes his responsibilities very seriously. There have been a number of arrests alongside these marches, and individuals have been prosecuted for incitement and for hateful actions. In addition, my colleagues in the Home Office have commissioned a report from Baron Walney, John Woodcock as was, looking at how we give the police all the powers that they need. We will come forward in due course with a response to that report.

I am afraid that the statement has not assuaged the fears that so many have about what the Government are really up to here. Given recent events, on which the Secretary of State was remarkably silent in his statement, may I ask whether we should count as an extremist someone saying that an MP should be shot? Or are those who have donated £10 million to the Conservative party exempt from such definitions? Would the Tory party not be better off getting its own house in order, rather than making this clearly political intervention, which has more to do with the upcoming general election, and trying to silence the huge numbers of peaceful opponents of the Government’s Gaza policy, than it has with public safety?

As I mentioned earlier, speaking as someone who was the victim of a determined effort to kill me, and because the individual who was trying to kill me went on to kill a friend and colleague from this House, I take incredibly seriously threats of violence. I have long admired the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and I have no hesitation in stating that those comments were disgusting, but the intention in bringing forward this definition today is to make sure that the Government—we are talking about only the Government—work with organisations that are committed to peace and greater social cohesion. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Member will recognise that we can work together to deal with these hateful extremists, whose actions we both, I am sure, deprecate.

My right hon. Friend will understand that the people of Southend West will welcome his statement, and appreciate his commitment to tackling extremism, but they also know that the devil is not just in the detail, but in the enforcement. They have seen the antisemitic slogan “From the river to the sea” projected on to their Parliament—if such slogans are not already against the law, they certainly should be—and they have seen the police take insufficient action. On marches against the middle east war in Southend, we have seen dolls covered in white bandages, spattered with a red substance, and placards saying, “Anna Firth kills babies”. Clearly, both those things are, if not extreme, then very close to being within my right hon. Friend’s definition of extremism. Can he assure me and the House that we will ensure that the message about what is extremism and what is against the law gets through to the police, and that appropriate action is taken?

My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the fact that there have been occasions recently when people motivated to make a particular point have crossed the threshold. I know that the police take those transgressions incredibly seriously, as do the Security Minister and the Home Secretary.

Over the past week, as we have meandered towards this statement, much of the debate has been played out in the press; there have been definitions, and various organisations that could potentially be proscribed have been named. How can my constituents in Ilford South have any faith in the Secretary of State’s ability to decide who is, and who is not, an extremist? I ask because it has also been briefed that his preferred appointment as the anti-Muslim hatred adviser is Haras Rafiq, the former chief executive officer of the Quilliam Foundation, which worked with US anti-Muslim think-tanks and promoted the favourite theory of Nick Griffin, the great replacement theory—a conspiracy theory that is so debunked and extreme that it should be nowhere near the thinking of the Secretary of State. Yesterday, most damningly, Tommy Robinson, a far-right extremist—everyone in this House knows who he is—praised that appointment. How can my constituents have faith that the decisions the Secretary of State will make are not politicised?

I warmly welcome today’s statement, but we have to consider the fact that organisations are populated by individuals. Individuals who have hateful views may be expelled by those organisations, or may go off and form other organisations that will not be on the banned list. As the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) said, it is individuals who seek to radicalise young people, either from abroad or in the UK. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that foreign nationals who seek to radicalise our young people are prevented from doing so?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, related to that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). The Home Office is vigilant about who it allows to come here, and it conducts appropriate work to ensure that visas are not granted to people who are here to sow division and hate.

We know from the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, under the leadership of the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), and its report on extreme right-wing terrorism that a number of people are radicalised not simply by shadowy organisations on the dark web, but at least in part by the mainstream media. How does the Secretary of State see his statement and his definition of the creation of a permissive environment—I am thinking of calling judges “Enemies of the people”—intersecting with the mainstream media?

All of us have a responsibility to be vigilant about the dangers of extremism. I am grateful to many media outlets for shining a light on extremism, from the BBC to The Times. The hon. Gentleman mentions one particular newspaper headline. He may disagree with it or find it objectionable, but the most important thing to recognise is that a vigorous culture of free speech, sustained by a free and independent press, is a critical part of our democratic culture.