Some thoughts on ‘Prevent’

The Prime Minister is currently in the Chamber giving a statement on the EU Council, Ukraine, ISIS and Gaza. Some had called for parliament to be recalled over the summer to discuss the latter two topics, but it didn’t happen. There’s no mechanism for MPs to force a recall of parliament, it’s entirely in the Government’s hands. Or rather, it’s up the Government to request a recall and then it’s up to the Speaker whether it’s granted. I’m not sure whether the Speaker can act unilaterally in recalling parliament too – maybe he can.

I’d have been happy to come back for a debate, as I did last year for the Syria vote (although last year though I had to fly back from South Africa, where I was due to speak at a conference; this year it would have only meant a train journey from Bristol!)

With hindsight the Labour-led moves then to stop the Government backing military intervention – which ultimately led to the US refraining from intervention too – looks to be even more important that I thought at the time. I voted against intervention as I don’t think the Government had thought through what it was meant to achieve, or which opposition groups we could end up supporting/ arming, or what the exit strategy would be. As I listen to the Prime Minister’s statement now, it seems that he is focused on domestic security issues, dealing with a possible terrorist threat associated with those returning from fighting with Islamic State and counter-radicalisation measures.

Of course I’m concerned that we tackle this, and I’m pleased to see the Prime Minister say that the Prevent programme will be put on a statutory footing, having previously cut the funding substantially, from £17m to £3m as Yvette Cooper has highlighted: http://www.yvettecooper.com/britain_can_do_more_to_halt_extremists

I’m also concerned however that the horror at the activities of ISIS, and repugnance at what they stand for, does not spill over into Islamophobic sentiment in our communities. (As indeed, condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza must not be used to justify anti-Semitism). Bristol has a good track record on community cohesion and we need to do all we can to maintain that.

Shortly after I was first elected in 2005 the July 7th bombings happened. The Government drew together a group of young people in Bristol to talk through some of the issues. The young people were drawn from a wide cross-section of faith communities: Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Christian, Hindu, even Buddhist. And therein, I felt, was the problem. The multi-faith voice can be a strong one, and exert a powerful influence, but if we’re serious about community cohesion we need to reach out far beyond those who can be found within the embrace of organised religion. I hope that the revised Prevent program will do this.

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