We are also alarmed about the speed at which the Bill is being introduced. Rushed laws are very often ill-thought out, or otherwise poorly scrutinised, and we will continue to strongly oppose the Bill whilst calling for a thorough assessment into the legality of its proposals.
The Bill proposes a number of new measures that build upon decades of previous ‘anti-extremism’ legislation that has served to legitimise mass surveillance and erode the civil liberties of people in the UK. We recognise that the timing of the Bill has coincided with a number of tragic global events which have brought these issues to the fore - but this makes it all the more critical the issues are considered with care and the Bill is not seen as capitalising on this situation.
The expansion of the ‘PREVENT’ and ‘Channel’ initiatives under the proposals concern us gravely. Placing a vague statutory responsibility on universities to ‘prevent people being drawn into terrorism’, and giving the Government undefined powers to order that ‘extremist’ speakers be banned risks further developing a culture of suspicion and surveillance on campuses, whilst also potentially conflicting with institutions’ duties to promote freedom of speech, by making them overly risk-averse and unwilling to engage in important topics of discussion.
The direct impact which this Bill will have on education should be the subject of forensic scrutiny. Any expectation by the state for academic staff to be involved in monitoring their students is deeply worrying, and could have a chilling effect on relations between staff and students. We fundamentally believe that universities and colleges are places for education, not surveillance.
Rather than winning the support of minority communities, this Bill could serve to isolate many students who already feel that the only avenue through which the Government will engage them is ‘anti-radicalisation’ initiatives, resulting in further alienation and disaffection. The intemperate language often used by politicians when discussing issues around faith, belief and ‘extremism’ is hugely unhelpful and has in the past reinforced stereotypes that have had a strongly negative impact on some of our most vulnerable communities and members.
The ‘anti-extremism’ agenda now needs a thorough reassessment, not further expansion.
We call for the Bill to be stopped with immediate effect, and we support an enquiry into the legality of the proposals under the Equality Act 2010 and the Education Act No. 2 1986.
We are as always committed to working with institutions and maintaining dialogue with them and safeguarding against the Bill causing divisions. We will be working with partners and stakeholders both within the education sector and beyond to ensure civil liberties are not curtailed by this Bill and to counter and oppose it along with the damaging rhetoric that surrounds it.