Tuesday 19th March 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. I will commit to replying in writing on how many of those groups the department has engaged with. The Minister, my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook, is responsible for that engagement with those faith groups so I will ensure that we collate the information and write to the noble Baroness.

If anybody uses inappropriate language it should be condemned and called out immediately. I personally would feel comfortable doing that. However, I will confirm that anybody who is an elected representative will not be on the list.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I will make two points. First, I think there was an overlap between some of the work that the Intelligence and Security Committee has been doing about foreign interference in British politics and the dangers this is trying to address. We all know that internal politics in Pakistan spills over into British cities, with Tehreek and others. There are close links between some of our communities and political parties in Pakistan; we need to watch that. I have done all my politics in West Yorkshire, and I am certainly concerned at the extent to which the growth of Hindu nationalism within India may also spill over into British communities. We certainly need to be very concerned about that; we have seen one or two instances already.

I am even more concerned about the extent to which the rise of extremely well-funded anti-democratic right-wing groups within the United States might spill over into this country, with money from those right-wing organisations trying to influence British politics. We have just seen a former leader of the Conservative Party attending a very right-wing conference in Washington, standing with people whose loyalty to democratic principles is extremely doubtful, and not being sent into suspension by the Conservative Party. That worries me considerably, and we all need to think about it. On a cross-party basis, we need to think about how we conduct our democratic debate.

That leads to my second point, which is that if one looks at opinion surveys, one sees that we face a public in Britain who are now more disillusioned with our parliamentary democracy than we have seen in our lifetimes. That breeds extremism, particularly among those who are unskilled or unemployed, or who have done badly in school. That is not entirely new; in the first election I fought, in Huddersfield in 1970, I had a National Front candidate against me, and it made for a very nasty campaign on occasions. We are well aware that unless we as democratic politicians make sure that we mind our language as we compete with each other in the forthcoming election, and do something to improve the quality of our democracy and encourage greater participation in it—membership of all political parties has gone down over the last 20 years—we will leave the bed out of which extremism grows there for it to grow. That is a problem which, before and after the election, all of us in all parties need to address.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I acknowledge the noble Lord’s comments and recognise many of them. For me, there is no boundary as to where this goes. If somebody is practising extremism that matches the definition—that it is founded in “violence, hatred or intolerance” and poses that threat to our “rights or freedoms”, or our liberal democratic positions that uphold them—they need to be called out. It does not matter whether they are far left or far right, or another other colour or description you would give in between. DLUHC has worked with the Home Office and other government departments, including arm’s-length bodies, agencies and practitioners confronting extremism in our country, as part of this review, so anybody who has had any role in doing this has come together to try to get this definition across the line and to now support the strategy, which will be made public in the next few weeks.

Everyone has a right to freedom of expression. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that we will always protect in this country, but obviously there are limitations to that if it does damage to others. The definition does not single out single subjects as inherently extremist, but calls for that careful assessment of evidence in relation to any individual organisation or group. In each case, the question is whether they are taking action to advance or promote that ideology with the “violence, hatred or intolerance” in mind. It is very specific, but it is likely to cover a broad swathe from all different parts of the spectrum. I reassure the noble Lord that the expert group will look at this in detail, and will apply the same metrics across the board.