Bishop of Durham speaks during debate on Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill

On 13th January 2015, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke during the Second Reading debate of the Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. In his remarks, the Bishop praised the collaborative working between the Department for Communities and Local Government and local community projects aimed at community cohesion and the prevention of radicalisation. He noted that prevention was most effective when tackled at the long-term grass-roots level. He urged caution over the implementation of parts of the legislation that deal with placing obligations on public institutions, at the risk of creating climates of fear and suspicion within these institutions.

14.06.10 Bishop of Durham 5The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I share with every other reasonable person a horror of the evil actions and effects of terrorism, grief for the suffering caused by terrorist acts and a heartfelt concern for those whose lives are lost or wounded through it. Events in Paris last week clearly illustrated this to us all. However, those events also highlight the need to ensure that we keep a global awareness and perspective, as the fresh Boko Haram attacks in Baga and its surrounding villages last Friday show us. Here, around 2,000 were killed. As we consider counterterrorism and security here in our land, we must stay aware of the global nature of the issues.

In every true place of worship, among people of all faiths, the horror of evil and the grief at loss of life and suffering for friends, families and communities are felt and articulated in lament, confession and intercession, day by day and week by week. As we consider the latest set of government moves to strengthen the laws which guard our people against terrorist acts, we have to hold our nerve in our convictions about liberty, equality and fraternity, and look steadily at the changes being proposed. These matters are too serious for us to polarise or politicise issues beyond what is justified in legitimate debate.

I shall not address the elements of the Bill in exhaustive detail. Others have far greater expertise in each of the areas concerned. However, I want to make some points about the Bill’s provisions in their own terms. As I do so, I believe that it is important to step back and see the proposed changes in the context of broader trends in how we live, govern ourselves and seek to ensure the security of our people.

I begin where local churches begin: trying, under God, to be agents of reconciliation; building communities marked by trust, mutual respect and care, and not by fear and suspicion. In many places, faith communities are coming together to build understanding and break down prejudice and stereotypes. Yesterday, in response to events in Paris, in my previous diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, faith leaders from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other communities enacted a day of fasting as a sign of mutual commitment and dependence on God in seeking peace for all. They stood in solidarity with one another. In my current diocese of Durham, where the numbers of adherents to faiths other than Christianity are relatively small, work is continually done by the faith communities in places such as Sunderland, Gateshead, South Shields, Stockton and Darlington to build strong community relationships. The Near Neighbours programme nationally has had a significant impact on every place in which it is run.

This groundswell of community building is, and is seen by faith groups as, the most powerful force against radicalisation, especially among young people, on whom so much of the sense of risk tends to be focused. The Department for Communities and Local Government is doing some excellent work supporting local initiatives in this field. Groups with wider knowledge than local churches, such as the Quilliam Foundation, emphasise that this type of work in the community is vital to the Prevent Strategy.

I welcome therefore the increased resourcing of Home Office-driven work through the Channel programme to identify and intervene in the lives of people at particular risk of radicalisation. Nevertheless, the resources going in that direction seem to be much greater than those going towards the community work that is so fundamental to long-term prevention, and that does not carry the risks of fuelling narratives of persecution and heroic resistance. Countering radical terrorism is a long-term grass-roots matter. Long-term support for good community development will reap the best long-term rewards. This is not so much a matter of draining the swamp by immediate legislation as tilling the ground.

In this context, the placing of a statutory duty on a range of specified authorities to prevent people being drawn into terrorism is a significant step. Some have mocked the idea of nursery staff being obliged to report any signs of extremism in a family. I do not share the mockery, as terrorist behaviour is abusive behaviour. Nevertheless, the placing of such an obligation adds to the risks of creating a culture of suspicion and the sense that every citizen is expected to be on the look-out to report on their neighbour rather than build good relationships with them. Great care needs to be taken not to overburden schools or erode their capacity to build diversity and trust among pupils, staff and parents. Some of us are already less than comfortable about the way in which a wider range of citizens is coming under analogous duties in relation, for example, to immigration status.

The Home Office has helpfully launched a consultation on the draft guidance, which it has published, and faith groups will be looking carefully at those proposed guidelines. Just as there must be concern for the young child in that context, so too there must be concern for those separated from a parent made to move under a TPIM. Breaking up a family, as could occur, could create longer-term harm even, at one extreme, sowing the seeds of the next generation of terrorists in young children. Great care needs to be taken with any form of what amounts to internal exile that leaves children wondering what has happened to their parent.

On the matter of temporary exclusion orders, I acknowledge the need to have some kind of handle on the return to this country of people who may have been fighting in other countries. I share with many others the concern that there is currently no check by any court or some other judicial means on the decisions made by the Home Secretary. These are grave decisions, as they come as near as the Government think international law will allow to rendering people temporarily stateless. I strongly believe that some form of judicial review and appeal is needed. I share the overall concern of the Law Society about the judiciary’s lack of ability to scrutinise decisions on a number of matters in the Bill. I hope that serious consideration will be given to correcting this omission in Committee.

Across a number of its clauses, including those which I have mentioned and the communications data provisions, the Bill engages the question of the balance between security and privacy. It contains a number of new safeguards to ensure that the balance does not tip too far in favour of security at all costs. I welcome this determination to keep the balance healthy. A senior police officer said recently,

“My job is obviously to help keep people safe. To get that balance between security and privacy is parliament’s job”.

I do not think that that is the whole story. Parliament, even in its most careful and precise formulations of law, cannot remove from any authority the need to strive for a mature and well informed understanding of how to draw appropriate boundaries between security and privacy based on the law as it stands. A member of the Church of England can speak only with humility about keeping people safe. It is a journey that we are making in other contexts.

In conclusion, I refer to part of the very helpful reflection of the Reverend Dr Sam Wells, rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields, on Radio 4 last Friday. He reflected on liberty, equality and fraternity. Having reflected on liberty and equality, he then said that fraternity,

“names the challenge of our times: what happens when our identities and opinions take us to very different places? Fraternity is the reconciled diversity that Christians call the kingdom of God … The issue isn’t straining to uphold liberty … The real challenge isn’t how to live: it’s how to live together”.

I offer these comments of general principle with the concern that we are not paying adequate attention to the issue of fraternity and community building, but I also offer them with the promise of the prayer and support of people of faith up and down the country as Parliament wrestles with what are deeply grave responsibilities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates): …Many literary allusions were made in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, referred to Karl Popper, and I was grateful that he struggled with the relevant text as that made me feel less guilty. We have also had references to Joseph Conrad, Voltaire, Henry James and others. Noble Lords have struggled with the texts of philosophers in trying to get the right balance between privacy and security. That issue was helpfully touched on by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who said that it is not how we live but how we live together that matters, and that we need to be careful about taking away security and civil liberties…

(via Parliament.uk)