COUNTER-TERRORISM legislation will not work if it “provides a recruiting sergeant for those who wish us harm”, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, has warned.
Dr Walker made his maiden speech in the House of Lords by video-link, on Monday, during a debate on the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill. The Bill proposes longer prison sentences for convicted terrorists and would lower the standard of proof for Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM).
Dr Walker said that he felt “particularly called to speak” in the debate because of his experience in helping to lead the response to the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 (News, 26 May 2017). “When the authors of terrorism sought to divide us, we came closer together, linking arms across the diversity of our city and region, which is among our principal strengths.”
Dr Walker said that he supported the aspirations of the Bill and many of its measures. “Our first response to the threat of terrorism must be to improve the ways we prevent terrorist atrocities’ being planned and executed. Reducing the risk to the public from particular known individuals, especially those who already have convictions for offences linked to terrorism, has a vital role in preventing would-be terrorists from forming and carrying out their plans.”
He continued: “However, we will not defy terrorism through legislation that provides a recruiting sergeant for those who wish us harm. Long prison sentences, such as that properly handed out in the recent trial for the Manchester Arena attack, send a strong signal about our commitment to public protection.
“However, we must remember that they extend the isolation of prisoners from their families and the moderating influence of the wider community, while keeping them for longer in close proximity with those who might seek to increase or reinforce radicalisation. This is particularly a concern for the youngest offenders.”
Dr Walker also expressed reservations about the Bill’s proposal to reduce the level of proof required for sanctions such as TPIMs “to well below the balance of probability”. This might, he said, “give rise to a sense of injustice, one that stretches far beyond the individual to whom the sanction applies, undermining the support from across the community, which is our strongest weapon in the fight against radicalisation”.
He urged the Government to provide “clear evidence that the positive impacts of the proposals will outweigh the unintended negative ones”.
Dr Walker challenged members of the Lords “to ensure that the Bills we pass into law unite our society rather than divide it. If we apply a legal sanction that protects us from one individual — but at the price of radicalising three others — we will not control the threat.
“Terrorist ideology has its own replication number, every bit as deadly as coronavirus. Our challenge is to pass legislation that brings together the diverse voices of our land and carries confidence across the broad range of political, religious, and other communities with whom we share a common life.”
Earlier on Monday in the Lords, questions were put to the Government about a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? (News, 26 June).
The Archbishop of Canterbury asked: “While the issues of genocide are often ones of legal terminology, the situation in Nigeria is one of large-scale killing in many areas across all communities and for a wide variety of reasons, not all of which are religious. Would the Minister say how the very large numbers of UK passport-holders in Nigeria — most with dual citizenship and families here — are protected and informed of the situation? Would he also say what priority the establishment of reconciliation will get in the allocation of overseas aid in the new department?”
Lord Ahmad, a Minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, replied: “We are developing a new conflict, security, and justice programme, which aims to reduce levels of violence through the development of more effective conflict-management systems, working in conjunction with key partners on the ground. On the issue of British nationals, apart from the focus on conflict management, we continue to update travel advice to inform British nationals intending to travel to Nigeria, providing, in particular, specific travel advice for different states within Nigeria.”
Speaking in the Lords on Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, asked about the Chinese government’s “pattern of marked aggression” towards Taiwan.
Lord Ahmad replied: “Increasingly we have seen human rights issues where China is concerned. . . Our relationship with China is a strategic one, but that does not prevent us from calling out human rights abuses when they occur.”