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Terror legislation could threaten free speech, say bishops after Queen’s Speech

Queen Elizabeth II delivers the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament (AP)

The bishops of England and Wales have said that counter-extremism legislation must be introduced with “careful consideration”, in order not to damage free speech or alienate minorities.

The statement from the bishops’ conference came after the Queen’s Speech, in which the government announced a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill.

The bill promises “a new civil order regime to restrict extremist activity, following consultation”.

It will include measures to ban some people from working with children because of their views – as paedophiles are currently banned.

A spokesman for the bishops’ conference said: “The forthcoming counter-extremism legislation must be produced with diligence and careful consideration. It is vital that measures to keep the public safe do not inadvertently curtail free speech or alienate communities.

“The best way in which to undermine extremist beliefs will always be through the promotion of effective integration.”

David Anderson QC, the government’s counter-terrorim watchdog, said of the new bill: “the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile, and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”

In March, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that the government’s counter-terrorism strategy ‘could go seriously wrong’ by alienating communities. He said the current definition of extremism was “far too embracing of the current social consensus”.

In further reaction to the Queen’s Speech, Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton welcomed the government’s proposed prison reforms, calling them “a remarkable opportunity to place reform and redemption at the heart of our prisons”.

Bishop Moth said that public safety could only be improved by helping prisoners to turn their lives around. He added that the Church could make “a strong practical contribution”.

The bishop has held meetings with the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, and says he is looking forward to working with him.

“Our chaplains work in every prison throughout England and Wales, and are often at the forefront of supporting prisoners in their rehabilitation,” said Bishop Moth.