Look out, law abiding folk: UK’s Counter-Extremism Bill slithers into view

Might as well just abolish 'innocent until proven guilty'

The UK’s National Security Council is meeting today to discuss the new Counter-Extremism Bill, with prime minister David Cameron seemingly determined to target those spouting extremist rhetoric - even when no criminal offence has been committed.

"For too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone,” Cameron said in a government press release.

The PM will set out his intention to “prioritise new legislation to make it much harder for people to promote dangerous extremist views in our communities”, the release continued.

Chaired by the PM, the council will discuss the bill, which is set to be included in the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on 27 May.

The bill follows on from the recommendations of the Extremism Taskforce, delivered in December 2013, and is described as part of a wider package of legislative measures announced in the Home Secretary's speech in March.

Described as "putting British values at the heart of the new government’s approach to tackling extremism", the bill is intended to introduce:

  • Banning Orders for extremist organisations who seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but fall short of proscription
  • Extremism Disruption Orders to restrict people who seek to radicalise young people
  • Powers to close premises where extremists seek to influence others
  • Strengthening of the powers of the Charity Commission to root out charities who misappropriate funds towards extremism and terrorism
  • Further immigration restrictions on extremists
  • A strengthened role for Ofcom to take action against channels which broadcast extremist content

The Register contacted both Ofcom and the Charity Commission to ask what current powers and activities both regulators use to combat extremism.

Ofcom told us that it already has "strict rules in place forbidding the broadcast of hate speech and material that incites crime or leads to disorder. This is a matter we take extremely seriously and when broadcasters break our rules we take robust enforcement action, which can range from fines to revoking licences."

Ofcom has issued fines to three services aimed at the Muslim community for broadcasting of material that was likely to encourage or incite crime, including hate speech. Two of these fines were issued in 2011 and one in 2012.

For its part, the Charity Commission is concerned about the abuse of charities "by those with extremist and radicalising views who encourage or condone terrorism and terrorist ideology — whether by social media, the production of literature, or through charity venues or events."

A spokesperson additionally informed The Register: "We have actively contributed to the development of the government’s extremism strategy, alongside many other government departments and stakeholders and will continue contribute to the Extremism Task Force on the implementation of the strategy".

The PM will tell the National Security Council that:

This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation, and bring our country together.

That means actively promoting certain values [including]: Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe in these things. And it means confronting head-on the poisonous Islamist extremist ideology.

Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed.

Responding to the announcement, Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, claimed that "extreme views are best defeated by free speech. There is a strong public interest in winning the argument and exposing extremists and bigots for what they are, not making heroes of them by driving them underground, where they will continue to thrive in the darker corners of the internet." ®

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