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Anti-terrorism Policy

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, in pursuit of their anti-terrorism policy, to conduct an inquiry into the accuracy of the Religion of Peace website; and whether they will publish the results of any such inquiry.

My Lords, the Government do not currently plan to conduct an inquiry into the accuracy of the website. UK legislation values free speech and enables people who wish to engage in debate to do so, regardless of whether others agree with the views being expressed. However, freedom of speech cannot be used as a reason to break the law or to spread intolerance and hate.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I fear it shows that the Government still have their head in the sand about the realities of Islamism. Does the Minister accept that we can say what we like about any other religion but our freedom of speech is curtailed when we try just to talk about Islam and are promptly accused of Islamophobia? Secondly, do the Government think that they are really doing enough to encourage and support our brave Muslims who do not agree with the Islam revealed by the Religion of Peace website, and who want to follow a reformed version, at peace with the rest of us? Would not the proposed inquiry contribute much to their cause?

My Lords, as I said, we do not intend to institute an inquiry into this website. If he so wishes, the noble Lord can refer the website to the counterterrorism referral unit that looks at websites that might contravene counterterrorism legislation, to have it taken down. But freedom of speech is not an excuse to break the law or to stir up hatred. It is right that hate speech is not acceptable in this country.

My Lords, it is interesting to hear once again the House talk about Islam; we seem to do nothing but talk about Islam, especially the noble Lord. Does the Minister accept that, at a time when households up and down the country, and indeed around the world, are concerned about their lives and livelihoods, it is unusual for this House to be discussing a website whose main role appears to be division and hate, when what we should be doing in this House is showing leadership by demonstrating community and tolerance? Are the Minister and the Home Office concerned that a number of people who write for this website have been excluded from entering the United Kingdom because they are considered as not being conducive to the public good?

To answer my noble friend’s last question first, I had a brief look at the website, and it does not look like the sort of website that I would want to derive any information from. She is absolutely right in what she said about showing leadership at this time. One thing I saw on the news the other day was Muslims in, I think, Leeds, making up bags of food for older people who could not get out of their homes. On her point about those concerned with their livelihoods, we know in times of difficulty where our friends are.

In September last year, the head of counterterrorism said that far-right extremism was the fastest growing terror threat in the UK. Do the Government agree that that is the case? What action are the Government taking to address this situation, including reviewing Prevent, part of their terrorism prevention programme?

I most wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord’s first point: far-right extremism is indeed on the increase at a rate that we did not think possible some years ago. In fact, it makes up 50% of referrals to Prevent. Prevent is currently being reviewed, but I think it provides a valuable tool for safeguarding very vulnerable people from the far right and any other type of extremism.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have seen an unprecedented convergence of anti-Semitic attacks, Islamophobic attacks and racist attacks? Never before in our history have we seen these three forms of race hatred all converge; that is what makes it particularly threatening. Does she also agree that the many UKIP and Brexit Party members who have been accused of Islamophobia should stand condemned?

Without calling out any particular party, anybody who engages in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any other type of hatred should be condemned. It is up to all political parties to show leadership to this end. The noble Lord is absolutely right that there is an almost perfect storm of far-right and Islamist-type extremism, whose messages are similar but opposite in tone. It provides a perfect melting pot, as he says.

My Lords, if no other noble Lord wishes to enjoy this Question, I wonder if I might ask another. Does the Minister agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said recently that we will never defeat Islamism if we do not understand Islam?

There is something in that question, around theological learning and teaching in this country, which can be derived from several parts of the world, each having their own interpretation of Islam. I totally agree with the point that we need more experts in the field of Islam, particularly in prisons and other places where ignorance can proliferate the wrong teaching.