Sir Edward Leigh, "We will end up with a list of tens of thousands of law-abiding, non-extremist groups, and Ofsted inspectors will try to justify their existence by picking on the occasional conservative religious group and brand them non-compliant with British values", Hansard, Westminster Hall (20 Jan 2016)
On Wednesday there was a debate in the UK Parliament on the government's mad and poorly-thought-out proposals to introduce a nationwide registration scheme for any "out-of-school education setting" providing instruction to under-nineteen-year-olds for more than six hours in any week... to counter extremism, of course. After all, if you want to check on a few, you have to check on everybody, don't you? So let's just hope that the really obnoxious groups bother to register...
During the debate, Sir Edward Leigh—a Conservative MP who (according to the Wikipedia entry) "does not hesitate to vote against the leadership of his party where it conflicts with his own principles", and who secured the debate—made some remarkable comments worth repeating. The following is a selection from his statements as published in Hansard (the official record of parliamentary speeches):
This scheme for spotting jihadists is therefore going to impose state regulation on groups teaching arts, music and sport, activities in which jihadists are not particularly known to engage. Stalin used to persecute innocent groups of philatelists or Esperanto learners; is this a very British kind of Stalinism?
..Christian groups, are really worried. They are terrified because, for the first time, Ofsted will decide whether to bar someone or close down their youth work by assessing whether their teaching is “compatible with, and does not undermine, fundamental British values…” Does the Department [for Education] really have a right to decide what is desirable and undesirable teaching in churches?
..The whole thing is a ridiculous mess that will severely damage the big society… It is the children who will suffer, not us, Ofsted or the Government… all because of this bizarre, unfocused, ill-thought-out, politically correct imposition on our freedom.
..To top it all, the scheme will not make children any safer from extremism; it will just tie up thousands of non-jihadi groups in red tape. The idea that jihadists will take the time to register is incredibly naive. Islamist extremists regard our laws as a total irrelevance. If they have no conscience about teaching children that Jews and Christians are worse than dogs, does anyone seriously think they will have a conscience about registering with the local authority? Are they really going to put themselves on the radar for an inspection? If they beat up children for not memorising the Koran, do we really think they are going to put their hands up and say, “Here we are—come and inspect us”? If Ofsted turns up to assess them, does anybody think that they would use the occasion to show their ghastly videos?
This out-of-school setting scheme is a total and utter distraction. We will end up with a list of tens of thousands of law-abiding, non-extremist groups, and Ofsted inspectors will try to justify their existence by picking on the occasional conservative religious group and brand them non-compliant with British values. It is a typical case of politicians and civil servants wanting to look as if they are doing something, rather than actually doing something. If they actually want to do something, they need to knock together the heads of the police, social services departments, Ofsted and all those with existing powers to make them use those powers properly.