The Coalition government’s fast-tracked Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is now at report stage in the Commons and will soon proceed to its third reading. Rightly, human rights implications have been raised from all sides of the House, such as the lack of clarity in defining ‘reasonable suspicion’ when considering the seizure of travel documents or the serious matter of revoking the passport of a British citizen while overseas.

However some key aspects have not been sufficiently probed, and we call on you to be vigilant to its further implications: making the Home Office/ACPO Channel referral programme statutory, giving officials the discretion to assess whether an individual is ‘vulnerable to be drawn to terrorism’; placing statutory terrorism prevention duties on university lecturers and school teachers and a variety of public authorities including NHS Trusts; and, from recent reports, it appears that there will be an onus on nurseries and early years childcare providers to be alert to extremist inclinations! What impact analysis has there been in the education sector, where teachers seek to build a trusted environment in which to motivate and inspire and cultivate critical thinking?

CT legislation thus far has given latitude for subjective application and difficult-to-challenge powers to officialdom. The climate of oversight and control is widening; our financial institutions, for example, now have compliance officers with past careers in the police and even US Homeland Security. Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, recently said that the battle against extremism could lead to a drift towards a police state in which officers are turned into ‘thought police’.  The British Muslim community is bearing the brunt of this securitisation.

During the Trojan Horse controversy, which was about state schools with predominantly Muslim children, too often OFSTED inspectors’ reports contained judgemental phrases such as ‘governance is not good enough’ or ‘[governors] have little understanding of the quality of teaching’. The inspectors conflated religious and social conservatism as extremism. Muslim charities too have been disproportionately subject to investigation on the basis of hear-say, with bank accounts frozen, only to be cleared but at a cost to their reputation.

Many of us involved in doorstep work promoting voter registration in good time for the General Election are sensing alienation and anxiety. We are asked how the Chair of the Charity Commission William Shawcross can be trusted as a regulator when he was formerly associated with neo-con networks that demonise Muslims? We are asked how the former head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch is both a board member of the Charity Commission and also called on to investigate Birmingham schools? The Bill will weaken trust within communities. Despotic regimes overseas with whom we have intelligence-sharing agreements will be emboldened to prompt ‘investigations’ more to do with silencing political opposition than tackling criminality. Note the pressure already placed by the UAE on Islamic Relief Worldwide, The Cordoba Foundation and the Muslim Association of Britain – all respected members of British civil society.

Please challenge this Bill’s schedules that draw public authorities further into a CT role.  The hopes of many, Muslim and non-Muslims, in a fair Britain depend on you. We do not wish to see our values of transparency and democracy contaminated – not in this eighth centenary year of the Magna Carta!

From concerned British citizens

6th January 2015