Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the British Council Building Young People’s Resilience to Violent Extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, published on 12 December 2017, what are their priorities for preventing and countering violent extremism.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an office holder of the All-Party Group on the British Council. I was a member of a sub-committee of the all-party group which worked under the able chair, David Warburton MP, on putting together a report with my colleagues, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson and Lady Suttie, and, for a period, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, all of whom are in their places. Together we forged a degree of consensus after receiving a great deal of evidence from witnesses, to whom we are grateful. Our report, which was published last year and formally earlier this year, I hope is a contribution to a debate which will continue to be of considerable importance not only for the United Kingdom but for our allies and partners across the MENA region. That work was ably supported by Siobhan Foster Perkins and Zafran Iqbal, who was at the British Council at the time. Without their support we would not have been able to put together our recommendations and conclusions.
Two weeks ago, 8 million children across the Middle East and North Africa sat their end-of-year school exams. Many will have done so after overcoming significant challenges—displacement, poverty, child labour, poor school transportation, overcrowding, lack of teachers and facilities and low-quality education. One in five of all children across the region live in conflict-affected countries. Those children do not only deserve our admiration but consideration of the role we can play to help them grow up in a safe, stable and prosperous region where they can realise their ambitions.
It might be only a tiny proportion of these young people who become violent as a result of being radicalised, but their violent behaviour has an impact on the wider age group across the whole of the region. The all-party group sub-committee therefore considered the best ways of improving resilience among young people to overcome this and whether our government policy needs to be reviewed. I am pleased that the Minister will be responding to this debate. He commands a great deal of respect not only from myself but across all parts of the House.
Nearly a third of the region’s population is aged between 15 and 29, with a further third aged below that. This demographic momentum, therefore, will last for at least two decades. The phenomenon of some young people using violence as an extension of their extreme views may also now be a long-term issue that requires long-term solutions, given the scale of violent conflict affecting the area. The sub-committee found that there was a need for new thinking. However, often the debate has not been helped by casual terminology. While we found a lack of consensus around definitions and language, we settled on the broad descriptions used by the United Nations on countering violent extremism by focusing on the so-called pull factors of the individual and preventing violent extremism by focusing on the so-called push factors of the wider community. However, even that division is too simplistic. We considered carefully whether we have the correct balance between CVE and PVE. We found that without undermining the security considerations of CVE, once extremism has exhibited itself, the balance should rest upon the priority being on PVE to reduce the risk factors in an individual’s capacity and the society’s ability to reduce vulnerability to violent extremism.
Those risk factors within the society fall within three broad areas—economic, civic and social. The economic factors in the region are stark. Research by UNICEF shows that in 11 League of Arab States countries, the under-18 population stands at approximately 118 million, or 6% of the world’s child population. Of those 118 million, 82 million—70%—live in acute or moderate poverty. There is no evidence to make a direct link between poverty and violent extremism. Nevertheless, countries afflicted by conflict and with such acute economic difficulties often present fertile ground where extreme ideology, and those who use it as a tool, can develop. A further complexity is that we know through research that the majority of the most extreme violent young people have educational qualifications. Simply looking at access to education will therefore not be so revealing. Rather, witnesses told the committee that the type and quality of education available to young people in the region was of the greatest importance.
The risk factors associated with the civic sphere are plain to see for anyone visiting the region. Too many young people see their respective Governments as unresponsive, unrepresentative, corrupt and distant. A body of research presented to the sub-committee suggests that this is likely to be a major continuing factor of risk in the region. The state capture of non-state actors is also very present. Social risk factors often receive the most publicity. The simplistic, often verging on the Islamophobic, characterisation of religious radicalism belies complex and multifaceted issues concerning young peoples’ beliefs, identities and loyalties. Work in Tunisia by the peacebuilding charity Search for Common Ground, which we met over there, shows clearly that young people in the region are not a homogeneous group and that drivers for radicalisation are often localised and differ from one community to another.
Given this highly complex set of circumstances in a deeply troubled region, we found that focusing on upstream activity—in other words, on the building of greater strength and capacity in communities and societies, and on the individual herself or himself—is a more effective route to follow than countering it once it has materialised. It is not, however, the straightforward route. The UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism states that,
“there is no authoritative statistical data on the pathways towards individual radicalization”.
However, we learned of clear evidence of programmes delivered by the British Council itself or by UK-based or international NGOs where interventions to reduce the risk factors for individuals and the community have worked and are continuing to work. I want to put on record my admiration for DfID’s staff and others within the charity sector who are doing sterling work.
The sub-committee made a number of recommendations which we believe would help build on this work, informed by our witnesses and the evidence we received. Our principal conclusion was that there needed to be scaled-up activity in preventing violent extremism along with better co-ordination of effort by both donor and recipient Governments as well as the international NGO community. This reflects our view that while there are many complexities and cross-overs between the push and pull factors in addressing violent extremism, we believe that the principal focus on investing in building the resilience of communities and the individuals living in them is the most effective way to build the capabilities of young people and the stability of their community, so that they reject the proponents of violent extremism and the ideology which they promote. They can also recover more quickly from violent extremism when it manifests itself in the community or their country.
I cannot do justice to the 28 conclusions and recommendations in the report, nor will I try to rattle them all off for the benefit of the Committee, but I know that neither will the Minister be able to respond in detail to them all today. I wish to highlight some which I feel are important, and I am sure that colleagues will highlight those that they consider to be the most important to them. First, relating to the risk factors within the economic and education systems in the region, we found a need for much greater co-ordination among its education ministries on data, statistics, skills gaps and curriculum reform. We believe that an annual MENA education forum, supported by the British Council and the Government, would have merit.
We also saw many examples of excellent programmes to support young people, but there has been insufficient consideration of how they can be scaled up. That is not easy but it is necessary. In the civic space, we saw that the benefits would be much greater collaboration between NGOs and Governments on the roll-out and use of participation programmes, and we suggested consideration of a MENA-wide national citizen service. In the social sphere, we recommended that more work should be done to identify individual risk communities within countries and to share this data.
A recommendation to our Government is that they should set out a clear UK strategy for and approach to preventing violent extremism and offer more clarity on what programmes they fund and why. To address what we found to be the continuing lack of an evidence base on effectiveness, we called for donors to invest more effort into ensuring that programmes are evidence-based and carefully evaluated, with their impact being properly judged, and to publish the lessons learned for future programming.
We argued for much more work on the violent extremism theory of change and seeking consensus based on a much greater level of sharing good practice. To help bring this about, we called for a violent extremism community of practice, and I am delighted that the British Council has accepted this recommendation and will be convening it soon. I hope that the Government will offer their full support. This could be extremely valuable and, I believe, is the first of its kind. We also recommended that the Government should encourage other Governments in the region to commit to a whole-government response rather than the agenda being led by the security or interior ministries. Finally, we believe that all of this could be enhanced by the UK promoting a PVE charter which would show consistency of language and a consensus on the effectiveness of interventions, and would work in parallel with the UN.
I returned from the region at lunchtime today. Every time I visit the area I see small pockets of hope in a deeply troubled region. Those 8 million children who sat their exams will be just as anxious as our children will be later in the summer when they get their results. What our kids take for granted in this country, we should make every effort to ensure that children in the MENA region can also take for granted: a safe, open and tolerant society in which their ambitions can be fulfilled.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for securing today’s debate and so ably introducing it. As he said, like him, I was a member of the inquiry into building young people’s resilience to violent extremism in MENA, and I thank the British Council for setting up the inquiry and those who worked on it.
The rise of extremism in recent years has been shocking in terms of both what has happened in the Middle East and the attacks that have taken place in Europe. Daesh and its intention to establish a caliphate had a devastating effect in the Middle East, with its brutal, barbaric acts traumatising local populations. In some places, as with the Yazidi and Christian populations, its operations could be described as genocide. Sadly, it is not the only actor in the Middle East committing such crimes and, in this global, interconnected world, what happens in another country runs the risk of affecting us all.
This is a subject that we need to keep high on the agenda. Although Daesh appears to have been defeated, we should not be lulled into considering that it has been overcome. While many are in prison in Iraq, many thousands of fighters streamed out of Raqqa, apparently just allowed to go, and we are already seeing the effects in places such as Afghanistan.
Without doubt, Daesh’s message was targeting young people, described to me by one journalist as being an enticing message of “glory, God and gold”, drawing people from many countries, including those from Europe and the UK. While considering how to address this in other countries, we also need to consider how to address it domestically.
The inquiry took a hard and fundamental look at why some young people had been attracted to these causes. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, highlighted, we identified three areas of risk factors: economic, civic and social. In many countries from which the young were recruited, there was a lack of opportunity and employment, corruption and weak government, and the young felt marginalised.
We live in a time when there are more refugees and IDPs than at any other time since World War II. I am sure that others here, like me, have visited refugee camps. It is a sobering experience. People have fled with nothing, and those with nothing have nothing to lose. These places are breeding grounds for radicalisation. But the majority of refugees and IDPs are not in camps; they are hidden among the population, hard to identify, hard to reach and thus hard to help. Many of them will be refugees and IDPs for years, either because of conflict in the country, because their homes have been destroyed or because they are stuck with no means of return.
As we have heard, youth is not a homogeneous group. The political urgency for Governments to respond to the threat of global terrorism is at times in danger of producing unnuanced, counterproductive policy responses. It is suggested that systematically addressing exclusion is one of the best means to prevent violent extremism.
We must not forget the particular challenges that women and girls face in contexts of violent extremism, because of the exacerbation of pre-existing inequalities and exclusion from decision-making. I declare an interest and draw attention to the latest report of GAPS—Gender Action for Peace and Security—Prioritise Peace: Challenging Approaches to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism from a Women, Peace and Security Perspective. Addressing underlying drivers of violent conflict from a gender perspective is essential to building the resilience of young people. Cultural and educational programmes can engage young people in at-risk communities and make a difference to addressing the underlying economic, civil and social risk factors. I am pleased that following the inquiry the British Council is expanding and improving its resilience programming to new countries in the Middle East and north Africa, especially in the areas of soft skills and entrepreneurship. What support are Her Majesty’s Government providing to the British Council in this expansion?
Time is short, so I will touch briefly on communication. Daesh recruited very effectively on social media. What messages do we, as a society, put out? Are we welcoming, open-minded and inclusive? Do we counter the alluring messages of the young by pointing out the advantages of living in an open, democratic country? What image do they get of us when reading our press?
It is easy to focus on the negative, but Gareth Evans’s quote in the report reminds us that for every case of extremism there are innumerably more cases of people from different cultures and backgrounds living harmoniously together. We need to celebrate, foster and speak up about this inclusivity: it is a strong narrative that counteracts the divisive messages of the few. Once again, therefore, I give enormous thanks to the British Council for setting up this inquiry. We should be fantastically proud of the work that they do around the world.
My Lords, I confess to being wary of the practice of certain commercial groups that provide secretarial help for busy parliamentarians, with a view to ensuring that the resulting report contains conclusions and recommendations that accord with their interests and image. This report is decisively not in that category. The British Council strives successfully to promote the public interest by soft power initiatives, and has an excellent track record in MENA. I therefore congratulate my fellow parliamentarians who produced this valuable report, which is both a helpful source of information and a stimulus to all who work in the field.
All our European partners wrestle with the same problem of addressing young people. President Macron’s initiative, announced yesterday, on national service for 16 year-olds in France, may be seen in the same context. The starting point is surely that there is no simple or short-term answer to violent extremism, and it is useful not just to examine the message and the messenger but to go upstream and look at the overall environment—and, yes, to examine the effectiveness of these initiatives.
The choice of Morocco and Tunisia to examine is interesting: both emerged positively from the Arab spring—almost alone, save Jordan—with reformist Governments and relatively democratic constitutions. It is puzzling, however, that both Morocco and Tunisia send a disproportionate number of recruits to Daesh in Iraq and Syria and to terrorist groups in Europe. I was saddened to read in the report that, in spite of so many positive factors, the majority of young people interviewed in Morocco wanted to leave their country for better opportunities, and not to return to contribute to their country’s future.
I make a few observations on the report, in a constructive spirit. Others have covered the same ground as this report with broadly similar conclusions. I think particularly of the five UNDP reports on Arab human development published between 2002 and 2009, which are still valid, particularly on the role of women. The group might also have consulted our parliamentary colleague, Liam Byrne MP, who has written persuasively on the subject.
The authors might also have asked why some countries, or parts of countries, are more prone to violent extremism. It cannot just be a booming youth population, since the whole of Nigeria would then suffer, not just the north. It cannot just be socioeconomic problems, as in many ways Zimbabwe, for example, fares less well than MENA countries but does not have the same extremism. This suggests a religious link, which, perhaps because of the sensitivities involved, the authors chose to exclude from their remit. Surely we need trusted, local religious leaders on board. I note that Morocco, for example, has set up a centre for training moderate local imams.
Much of the same ground has already been covered by international organisations. The authors acknowledge the 2016 UN plan of action, but not the work of the European Union and the Council of Europe. There must surely be an exchange of best practice and a co-ordination of efforts across civil society to prevent an insular approach to this problem. In March this year, after publication of the report, a relevant major symposium was hosted by Birmingham University and that initiative is worth examining. Investment in human rights, the rule of law and democracy are among the soft power tools with which the British Council has already made a positive impact, together with the work of the arts, sport and technical and language training.
Finally, young people need to be listened to if they are to be valued. The upstream work set out in the report is wholly relevant to our national interest. If we do not go to them, they will come to us, including in destructive ways.
My Lord, I too would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed on securing this extremely important debate. If I may say so, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, illustrates the amount of thinking that needs to be done on this subject. It affects this country, as well as beyond. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the APPG for the British Council. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register in relation to my work in the MENA region, as well as to my visits to the region in the context of this inquiry.
Like my noble friend Lord Purvis, I should like to thank David Warburton MP, who so eagerly chaired the inquiry and to pay particular tribute to Siobhan Foster-Perkins and Zafran Iqbal from the British Council—who are present this afternoon—for their work in tirelessly steering this inquiry towards its conclusions, and for doing so much of the spadework in producing the excellent report we are discussing.
At the beginning of this British Council APPG inquiry, we spent quite a lot of time analysing the nature and causes of violent extremism. The reasons are multiple and complex. Although unemployment and poverty can be major factors, there have also been examples of perpetrators coming from fairly middle-class backgrounds. Indeed, the causes often have as much to do with issues of identity and psychology—often relating to a background of trauma and mental illness—as they do with economic impoverishment or religious fanaticism.
One of the core findings of the inquiry, as other noble Lords have said, is that an effective approach to tackling violent extremism should pay particular attention to programmes and interventions that tackle the underlying causes of radicalisation at source. In other words, prevention is better than cure and interventions to build resilience in potentially vulnerable communities are a much more effective approach.
The APPG report makes several specific recommendations on targeting economic, civic and social factors. Given the time constraints this afternoon, I shall concentrate my remarks on the importance of education and educational reform. It is perhaps a paradox that in the extremely well-educated populations of north Africa, unemployment is particularly high among the graduate population. That alienation can become particularly dangerous in a highly educated, but seemingly underappreciated section of society.
I remember speaking to a young Tunisian university lecturer at the British Council’s annual Hammamet conference, who explained to me his frustration that there was such a mismatch between the education system provided and the skills currently required for his country to move forwards. Research shows that critical thinking and the development of soft skills can play a pivotal role in building resilience to violent extremism. Projects such as the British Council’s Young Arab Voices programme, which does so much to assist young people in their English language skills, while simultaneously developing their critical thinking and debating skills, are the kind of low-cost, positive initiative that can make a serious difference on the ground.
Increasing funding for young leadership programmes, such as the excellent Chevening scholarships, allows young people from the region to benefit. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to the report’s conclusion on increasing the intake of Chevening scholars from the MENA region.
Can the Minister say in his concluding remarks whether the Government support the conclusion in the report that the British Council should be supported by the Government to play a stronger role in education reform in the region—not least through additional funding for specific work of this type, working closely with the Ministries of Education in the region?
In my remaining remarks I will say a few words about anticipating future areas of recruitment for violent extremism, rather than, as so often sadly happens, reacting post fact to where the recruiters have already done their work. We know it is not a coincidence that countries with high levels of conflict and large numbers of displaced people and refugees, as well as the refugee camps themselves—like the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, I have also visited these refugee camps in Jordan—can be fertile recruiting grounds for violent extremism. What measures are the Government taking right now in Iraq and Syria, as well as in the camps situated in neighbouring Jordan and Turkey, to support young people and to provide training and skills development for alternative pathways? Finally, what plans do the Government have to enhance British Council and other programmes in regions such as central Asia, where support now to help to develop young people’s skills, as well as for educational reform, could have such a beneficial impact?
My Lords, I follow all other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for initiating the debate and thanking him and his colleagues for all the hard work that went into this most valuable report. I declare an interest as an adviser and participant in an outfit called the European Foundation for Democracy, which is based in Belgium. It was instrumental in being set up by a now deceased friend of mine, Anne-Marie Lizin, a Belgian politician who, 30 years ago, was in north Africa promoting the very values we are trying to promote today. Part of that is that a European approach is needed to what is largely a European problem. It is not just a British problem. The European Foundation for Democracy believes very much in having a cross-cultural, cross-country approach.
I and the foundation welcome the report. We acknowledge that fundamental religious ideological beliefs are among the pull factors that encourage radicalisation of young people in this region, but we could have somewhat stronger recommendations on cultural and educational interventions that could be tailored alongside those in the report to help us to tackle the problem.
Although economic, civic and social factors play a role in violent radicalisation and recruitment processes, we should not forget the significant role played by ideology. Religious leaders and groups play a significant role in those communities. Their interpretation of religion is a key factor in driving people towards taking radical or moderate positions. Research shows that prominent jihadis come from the background of non-violent Islamism, the former exploiting grievances that are not necessarily legitimate as they can promote a utopian, sharia-based state approach that goes against the principles of the rule of law and fundamental rights. In such cases, rather than addressing the grievances and compromising on them, we should be promoting alternative narratives. For instance, I draw attention to the first draft of the Tunisian constitution, which mentions the complementarity of women with men, but after consultation and debate this was changed to the equality between men and women. That was done within that society as a result of debate about the way the different genders should be viewed, all within an Islamist viewpoint. It is possible.
We share the aim of devising programmes to strengthen democratic accountability and good governance and to promote debate and dialogue. To implement those, we should recognise and be ready to counter the ideologies that act against such values. The report rightly focuses on prevention. To do that, we cannot focus only on violent extremism. We also need to take a step back and look at non-violent, extremist ideologies. How is it that among the millions of poor and marginalised individuals from all over the world, some—quite a small minority—decided to embrace violence? We need to try to tease out the ideological triggers so that many people who personally believe in extremist ideology do not then carry that forward into violent action.
I have already mentioned to the Minister that I wrote to him on 13 June, asking whether he would meet representatives from the European Foundation for Democracy to explore how we can all work better together towards our common goal of a peaceful and prosperous community of equal citizens and well-adjusted families in a tolerant UK, Europe and world. I hope that he will agree to such a meeting, because I finish where I started, by saying that this is a European problem. We have much to learn also from each other and I hope that we will do that in combating this difficulty, which faces so many of us.
My Lords, my entry in the Lords’ register notes a number of engagements that would have an impact on this topic. I mention my role as vice-president of UNICEF UK and its role in supporting children and young people throughout this region. I deeply regret not being able to continue as a member of the committee throughout the inquiry, but I am delighted to see the report and the recommendations not only published but welcomed so widely over recent months.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on securing this debate and also for his comprehensive and passionate introduction, which I will try not to duplicate in any way because he says these things far better than I ever could. However, I associate myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, about the role of women and girls and the need to have that dimension central to any strategy to try to prevent the growth of and actions resulting from violent extremism.
In the past couple of years or so, I have spent time in communities in Mombasa, Kenya where young people were being radicalised and recruited by al-Shabaab to go to Somalia and where programmes were diverting them from that cause, as well as more positively into productive, economic activity; in schools and prisons in northern Nigeria where similar attempts by Boko Haram and others were being countered by positive economic, social and cultural initiatives; in the IDP and refugee camps in Iraq—the issue of internally displaced persons there should resonate with us, as politics and conflict associated with identity clashes have resulted in the mass movement of people inside countries without the international support that refugees have—and, most recently, in Gambia following a visit to Sicily last summer, where I discovered that the third highest country of origin for the young people going on the boats across the Mediterranean was Gambia—such a small country—which I went to in February. I spoke to young people there about why they start off on that horrific journey: up through north Africa, to the hell that exists in the camps in Libya, and then the boats across the Mediterranean before they are then mostly—at least culturally—rejected in Europe as they arrive.
I wanted to bring to this debate a number of things that come from that experience. The first—I believe this very strongly—is that no one is born a terrorist or born a violent extremist. You cannot bomb or, through violent means, attack the ideas or grievances that have led people into that course of action, whether it is inadvertently or deliberately. The idea that we can in some way go to war against these young people and force them to change their minds and ideas by getting rid of their grievances through violent means ourselves is just wrong. We have to understand that we have to inspire and engage these young people if we are to change the course of action that they have adopted as a way of life.
My second point is that when I was a teacher I had a head teacher who used to tell the kids every year in the opening school assembly about stickability—that was his key word. He wanted them, whatever their level of ability or interest, to stick at it all year—to have stickability. I think we need more stickability in our international programmes in this area. I do not believe that one, two or even three-year programmes change the lives of adolescents. Donors across the piece, whether they are working in schools or prisons or trying to deal with the movement of young people across west and east Africa through north Africa to Europe, need to have more consistency and a more long-term approach to really make a difference.
My third and final point relates to peace building. When these countries go through a democratic transition, that is, yes, a moment of hope but also one of extreme vulnerability. Working with those young people to inspire and engage them is important but the international community also needs to work with Governments, institutions and organisations so that they are more stable, more open, more tolerant and more able to deal with the divisions in their societies. Our support internationally for these transitions to more democratic societies is not yet good enough and needs further attention.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Purvis for bringing us this topic today and the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group for producing this thoughtful and extensive report. I pay tribute to all that the British Council does around the world. I am currently hoping that we can encourage the British Council back into Angola, but here we are looking further north, at the Middle East and north Africa.
A number of years ago, DfID shifted its focus to the poorer sub-Saharan African countries, but we now see the importance of investment in what the EU terms our near neighbourhood. What happens in the MENA region is important in itself but also has a direct effect on Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, emphasised. Discontent, conflict and poverty in the region have been driving migration into Europe. Violence in the region has spilled over into our continent.
Yet, as others have said, there was great optimism and excitement when the Arab spring swept through the region. Regimes that seemed completely entrenched were suddenly overthrown. That enthusiasm for what might have seemed possible turned sour as those who rose up, divided and inexperienced as they were, were not well placed to take advantage of the overthrow of dictatorial regimes. It enabled others to take their place and made regimes very wary of similar movements. That can be clearly seen in Egypt; Libya descended into bloody chaos; and Saudi Arabia clamped down on dissent. Some positive developments can be seen in some countries, including Tunisia and Morocco, but things are very fragile, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, noted.
It is excellent that the British Council has sought to engage across these countries. Young people, better educated than their parents, with expectations that their lives would be different and with the information they could now glean from social media—something that had contributed to the rapid spread of the Arab spring—have often found that their opportunities are in fact extremely limited. Unemployment was and remains unacceptably high and, in such circumstances, discontent and disconnect are fostered.
The report emphasises that violent extremism needs to be tackled upstream. This is surely compelling, although it poses huge challenges, since only the thorough-going social, political and economic reform of these countries would be likely to achieve this. The economic challenges of the demographic youth bulge, high youth unemployment and the serious education and skills deficits to which the report points are difficult to tackle without huge investment. Tinkering around the edges will not do this. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is surely right about long-term engagement—what he calls stickability. I note the need for research into the wider causes of extremism and how best to tackle them. Can the Minister fill us in on both the UK and the EU’s financial contribution to north Africa? I am not asking for the rest of the Middle East to be added in, as the huge investment into Syria and the Palestinian Territories will obscure what investment is going into north Africa.
The report concludes that fostering the economic growth of the region, encouraging investment and improving the jobs market are vital. So, too, is investing in education and skills, including for women and girls, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, rightly noted. The report emphasises the importance of higher education for the already educated Syrian refugees. Can the noble Lord comment on what is being done in regard to this group?
Clearly, corruption and injustice not only undermine young people’s view of their countries and their futures but make it difficult to encourage inward investment. Can the noble Lord tell us where the MENA countries are in the ease-of-doing-business tables—maybe the ones particularly across north Africa?
As we know from the United Kingdom—for example, as we seek to tackle destructive knife crime—systematic engagement is vital. Even so, young people do not necessarily calibrate things as we might expect. Getting them safely to their mid-20s helps. Serious engagement on identity politics and ideology, as my noble friend Lady Suttie emphasised, is clearly vital. It is not a simple economic matter. I was very glad to receive from the British Council its full response to the report. It is clearly well placed to play a key role here and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for introducing this debate. I also thank all his colleagues on the British Council APPG for an excellent report highlighting the critical role of soft power in preventing and countering violent extremism in the Middle East and north Africa. The report makes a powerful case for tackling extremism overseas at its source by confronting the fundamental factors that increase people’s susceptibility to extremist ideology: economic problems, civic problems and social factors.
In an earlier debate on Sudan—not many noble Lords present would have had the opportunity to hear it, but the Minister did—I stressed that it is important to support civil society. It is critical to sustaining meaningful peace and dialogue for the future. I will do the same in a later debate—the one immediately following this one—because democracy is not limited to parliamentarians. Civil society, including trade unions, women’s groups and faith groups, is often the most important defender of human rights. It is the abuses of human rights that often catapult people into extremist behaviour.
In Sudan, UK aid has funded a £1 million British Council project to strengthen,
“cultural and educational development by building skills and capacity”.
As we have heard in this debate, the effect of promoting projects that build skills and support economic growth, encourage civic behaviour and strengthen community ties among young people can significantly counteract the underlying environment in which extremism is currently able to flourish.
I totally agree with the report’s conclusions that all our organisations carrying out this range of work, including the British Council, should collaborate to build a joint base of evidence of its impact to determine which interventions work best in which contexts. I certainly agree that the UK Government should work with the British Council to scale up its cultural, educational and civil society programmes in the region and I hope that the Minister will respond to the questions in that regard.
I have just a couple of questions to raise. In particular, I want to focus on the £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, used by the Government to finance programmes in areas of conflict and instability. Concerns have been raised by groups such as Reprieve, as well as the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, about the unpublished spending of the fund. According to both, some CSSF programmes could have led to human rights abuses, which in turn might spur extremism. Will the Minister undertake to provide greater transparency on the fund and perhaps ensure that we utilise it to promote exactly those programmes which we have been talking about and which are encouraged in the APPG report?
The other element that the APPG report has highlighted is climate change. Both CAFOD and the ODI have reported about the level of spending in developing countries on fossil fuels. What steps are the Government taking to ensure investment in sustainable renewable energy, particularly by DfID and the CDC? I am pleased to see the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, here. I hope that in the next debate he will pick up these points.
The use of education as a tool to tackle extremism is well established and is discussed heavily in the APPG report. The Global Partnership for Education has provided grants totalling $8.4 billion since 2003. Unfortunately, the UK’s recent pledge to the GPE was lower than expected and attracted criticism from a number of development charities. I hope that the Minister recognises—I am that sure he does, bearing in mind what he said in the previous debate—the role that education plays in tackling extremism. I hope that he will respond more positively on the need to back up such programmes abroad and to give more backing to the GPE.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for tabling this debate, for his valuable contributions in the production of this report and for the role he plays within the scope of international development and foreign affairs. I welcome our exchanges during Commonwealth Week. I also pay tribute to the helpful work of the sub-committee of the All-Parliamentary Group for the British Council, whose report we are debating today. I add my sincere thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in this excellent debate for their insightful contributions. While I have limited time, I shall seek to cover most of the issues, and on anything that I am not able to cover I will write to noble Lords.
Let me set out the Government’s approach to countering violent extremism. Everyone normally declares an interest before they begin, and mine is a ministerial interest. I was the first Minister for Countering Extremism appointed under the Cameron Administration in the Home Office. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, talked about it being a European challenge; I contextualise it as a global challenge. That means that we have to work on global solutions.
While the threat from Islamic extremism receives a great deal of attention, the challenge also remains from extremism of other types. The rise of the extreme right that we have seen not only in this country but elsewhere, particularly in Europe, is also extremely troubling—and, yes, it also influences young minds. We must not lose focus on that. It is therefore right that the Government’s approach seeks to tackle all forms of extremism in all its ugly guises. This poisonous ideology uses narratives which often seek to divide societies, communities, faiths and people. It causes hatred among communities but often appeals to the most vulnerable young people in society.
The United Kingdom Government take a comprehensive approach to countering extremism. As noble Lords know, our priorities include preventing extremism at its source. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, in particular, will be pleased to know that we stand with and work with all our international partners and, importantly, civil society. An all-of-society response is required to meet this challenge.
Noble Lords will also be aware that on 4 June the Government launched their revised Contest strategy, which follows a fundamental review of all aspects of counterterrorism and its drivers. Violent extremism leads to terrorism and often, vulnerable minds are influenced to commit these heinous acts and crimes. We have an all-of-government approach, whether it is through the Home Office or ourselves—I am the Minister responsible for countering violent extremism, and for PV and counterterrorism internationally. We work hand in glove with our partners in the Home Office and across the Department of International Development. You can see how much we work in tandem. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, has joined us for this debate as well.
At this point, I want to quote the DfID Secretary. In a speech in April, when she talked about the Government’s approach, she said that,
“we will go further as part of cross-government efforts to directly tackle national security threats such as conflict, terrorism, violent extremism and organised crime. We will create new country-level programming targeted at specific communities and locations vulnerable to extremism”.
The Government are taking that joined-up approach in tackling this important issue. We share the view expressed by the APPG sub-committee in its report that it is vital to focus on the underlying causes of extremism. We need to tackle those causes, which often lead to young people resorting to violence.
Overseas, a key part of the work of the British Government is supporting projects that are designed to build young people’s resilience to extremism. Let me assure all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that we will continue to strengthen our close work with the British Council to create opportunities, build trust and provide positive pathways for young people to play a positive role in their communities—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. Too often, the emphasis is on negatives. We should also turn the lens to the positive changes that take place. In Syria, the FCO has supported the British Council’s Active Citizens programme—I am sure that my noble friend Lady Hodgson will be pleased to learn that—which gives young people the tools to make a positive difference in the marginalised communities in which they live. It includes the development in Syria of networks of young leaders, who will maintain peace between different communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the evidence base when we act in this regard. Let me assure noble Lords that the Government draw on the latest evidence in the design and implementation of the programme. Indeed, DfID specifically looks at that evidence base for initiated programmes. On CVE, we are looking at understanding and addressing the context for specific drivers of violent extremism; that is being shared across government.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about the CSSF and its funding and transparency. I am sure he will acknowledge that where the Government see that these funds have been used in a manner that is not conducive to the resilience we want to build in communities—for example, in Syria, where we are lending support to organisations such as the White Helmets in helping to build resilience and human rights accountability—we will suspend that funding and carry out a fully comprehensive investigation.
In Morocco, we have also supported young people in marginalised communities to become active community members. As a result of our work, we have seen real progress in neighbourhood associations, empowering young people and encouraging them to build bonds of friendship—not just through what one would term “traditional channels”. We must look for broader solutions, whether through the arts, theatre, or—let us not forget, as the World Cup is under way—sport.
What are the drivers of radicalisation? I want to give a personal reflection. I grew up as a young Muslim, going to a church school and learning about different communities—some of all faiths, some of none. In meeting this challenge, we often pose ourselves the obvious question of why today’s generation is impacted on when other generations—such as our parents’ generation, if I were to personalise it—did not struggle with this. The challenge starts in the home, but so does the solution. We must also seek to improve capacities, not just in UK homes but internationally, to help parents to be part of the solution. They cannot be excluded from this.
As articulated so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, this requires a one-community solution. That means bringing in communities and faith leaders, not leaving them marginalised, and making them feel that they do not just have a buy-in to the process but are intrinsic to it. That is why, as noble Lords will know—again, the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, will know this in the context of Syria and Iraq—we launched national action plans with other countries that focus on the issues of gender equality. Excellent work is being done across government on the women, peace and security agenda, where the MoD, DfID and the Foreign Office come together to build resilience, communities and opportunities in such countries. It is part and parcel of rolling out better solutions to tackling and countering violent extremism—indeed, preventing it. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, so aptly put it, it is about identifying those communities and the young people themselves. I was with the noble Lord in Gambia, where we saw how young people must be intrinsic to building the solutions. I assure noble Lords that our commitment to that is absolutely 100%
I turn to other countries. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson asked about specific programmes. In Tunisia, we are working to improve the economic prospects of young people in a number of ways. We are funding an initiative to support young entrepreneurs by providing training and mentoring, to help them succeed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, employment must be part of the solution. We are also supporting a pilot project aimed at preventing the problem of young Tunisians dropping out of school early, and at re-integrating those who already have. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned that 100,000 young Tunisians are impacted in this way each year. We must focus on helping their early learning. I have three children of my own. Children are receptive; their minds are like a sponge. However, I also echo the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who spoke about coercion in the way we teach young children. The approach, tone and method through which young children are taught are equally important.
In Lebanon, we are supporting improvements in education for refugee children, to build their resilience against extremism. In the light of our findings about the link between conflict and radicalisation, in Jordan we have been supporting a Mercy Corps project to teach conflict management techniques in 30 communities where Jordanians and Syrians live together. This reduces the risk of intercommunity tensions and marginalisation. We are also working internationally. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about a PVE charter. I would welcome a further discussion with him in that regard, but I assure him that we are working closely with the UN Secretary-General’s initiatives on PVE and extremism. There may be an opportunity to see how we can tie this together.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about UK and EU financial contributions. The Strengthening Resilience in MENA programme represents about €3.3 million over 2015 to 2017, but I will write specifically to my noble friend and the noble Baroness about that. We also have a very successful project in Tunisia, a three-year programme funded by the cross-government North Africa Good Governance Fund, which is one of the alternative pathways that the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, mentioned. I totally align myself with the sentiments she expressed about the Young Arab Voices programme. In the interests of time, I will write to the noble Baroness about specific support to the British Council in areas such as central Asia.
I have received my noble friend Lord Balfe’s letter. We will be responding accordingly and I look forward to discussing his proposals in more detail. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the Government are investing quite specifically in programmes addressing countering extremism in Iraq and Syria, and our project work is well known.
In conclusion, I concur totally with the sentiments of noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, knows my view on this: education is central to everything we do, but it is not just about educating young people. What is important is what we teach them, how the education is delivered and who delivers it. I thank all members of the all-party group for their excellent report and look forward to working with them on this international challenge, which requires an international solution. I remain ever optimistic; together we can defeat the scourge of extremism as it besets us.