I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Let me begin by echoing the comments that others have made. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and, indeed, all our colleagues who took part in the debate on the Homelessness Reduction Bill. It was an extremely enjoyable morning.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to present my Bill. It would remove primary schools and nurseries from the scope of the statutory Prevent duty, which requires teachers and others to scrutinise and report on the thoughts and ideas of children in their care and seek out signs of extremism. Although we have only a little time today, Members who take an interest in the important issues addressed in the Bill will be pleased to know that there will be more time to debate them next Wednesday in Westminster Hall.
The Prevent statutory duty was imposed by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 on nearly 600,000 public sector workers in the wake of a proliferation of terror attacks. In fact, the Bill’s Third Reading took place on the day of the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris on 7 January 2015. It was also taking place in the run-up to the 2015 general election. It would have been a brave politician to oppose those measures at that time. Had I been in this place then, I might well have taken the Government’s word for it that this was a good thing—a benign development to keep our children safe. However, we have now had an opportunity to see how the legislation operates in practice. We have the benefit of hindsight. It is time to evaluate the operation of the Prevent duty, and to determine whether it is working or whether unintended consequences are negating its underlying and worthy objectives.
Members of the Home Office Committee, of which I am a member, have spoken both to critics of Prevent and to its supporters in the police force. Has my hon. Friend spoken to Prevent co-ordinators and police officers in her own area to establish whether they support the continuation of these measures?
The Home Affairs Committee has done an excellent job and has produced an excellent report. If I had time, I would say more about it. I have indeed met Prevent co-ordinators, and I have seen examples of good work being done under the Act. However, I want to concentrate on the unintended consequences, and the impact on certain communities who perceive what could be seen as a benign state intervention as something to be feared. I think that the Government should take that on board.
Given that the hon. Lady has only a few minutes, I am genuinely sorry to intervene on her speech, but may I ask her a very simple question? Does she think that the Prevent strategy as a whole is now damaged, or does she think that there is still hope for it?
I know from my preparation for the debate that many members of all our communities are adamantly opposed to Prevent, and for good reason. I hope to say a little about some of the issues that have led them to that conclusion.
The Government naturally have a duty to protect the public, and it is a duty that they are prioritising with the utmost seriousness. Of course it is right to tackle extremism that leads to violence, but the issue becomes a little more delicate when it comes to the suppression of political or religious views that the Government perceive to be too conservative or too extreme. What they see as helpful and benign may seem authoritarian to a person who experiences the intervention, and it has the potential to undermine the very values that we all hold dear and seek to protect.
At its heart, this debate is about the sort of society we want to live in and to what extent we allow the very real terrorist threat we face to interfere with our fundamental freedoms. Since its introduction in 2015, there has been increasing disquiet about the implementation of the statutory duty and the impact upon community cohesion. These concerns have come from many different quarters and I have taken the time to meet with many of these groups—
The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).
Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March.