ANTI-TERROR legislation being planned by the UK Government has been condemned as Orwellian, draconian, repressive and a direct threat to freedom of speech.


Under the Home Office proposals, staff at pre-school nurseries would be required to monitor children for signs of radicalism. Speakers at universities would be vetted for any signs of extremist views that would support or encourage terrorism.

Colleges and universities would have to provide details to the authorities of who is due to speak at least two weeks before they are due to appear. It would enable background checks to be carried out to find out if they have promoted extremism.

They must also provide advance notice of the content, including an outline of the topics to be covered. It also suggests, where appropriate, universities should have protocols to pool information about speakers.

The plans are outlined in a consultative document which accompanies Home Secretary Theresa May's Counter Terrorism and Security Bill.

However, the proposals face a growing backlash. Scotland's children's commissioner Tam Baillie warned, if passed, they could split communities.

In a letter in today's Herald, Mr Baillie, Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, Maggie Simpson, who heads the Scottish Childminding Association, Jean Carwood-Edwards of the Scottish Pre-School Play Association said it could impact on how staff work with children.

They said: "Among many staff caring for and working with children, these duties would fall on, for example, the childminder of a three-year-old and the nursery teacher of a two-year-old.

They called on ministers to publish any evidence justifying the view that children attending Scottish childminders, nurseries, out of school clubs, schools, and other settings pose any threat of becoming radicalised.

"If, as we suspect, such evidence doesn't exist, the new duties seem wholly unnecessary", they say, adding that if any such radicalisation did arise Scottish laws and policy would already enable it to be addressed.

It added: "They will distance and alienate certain families and communities from services that are there to help them, not spy on them," the letter says."

Ms Brock said she believed the proposals contravened the United Nations convention on the rights of the Child, while placing service providers in an extremely invidious position.

She said that as well as councils, the NHS and prison services, the bill would apply to early years settings, schools, out of school clubs and holiday schemes for disabled children.

She added: "We suspect that the proposed duty is, in reality, aimed at parents and carers of children and young people, thus placing staff in services to be covered by the duty in the invidious position of being asked to observe and assess adults as well as children and young people."

Mazhar Khan of the Muslim Council of Scotland described the measures as "quite bizarre and frankly impractical."

He said "For the Government to push this draconian law through while preaching to Muslims the importance of freedom of speech, is quite bizarre."

He said it was also clearly impractical. Anyone could quite easily submit something very different to what they intended to say on the day.

"Any person suspected of being a potential hate preacher should be proscribed based on their history, not through these types of ridiculous methods, " he said.

The Free Church of Scotland was one of the first to highlight their concerns over the wider implications

Rev David Robertson, who becomes Free Church of Scotland Moderator in May and is a part-time Dundee University chaplain, described the plans as a "dangerous and repressive attack on freedom of speech and civil liberties.

"To require all visiting speakers to submit their talks a fortnight in advance so they can be vetted against political correctness is Big Brother Orwellian stuff."

He said if these requirements were introduced, a sermon for Christmas carol service in a university union would have to be scrutinised.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents higher education institutions north of the Border, said: "We believe there is a need for greater clarity around and scrutiny of the new powers this Bill would give to the Home Secretary and a need for further consideration of the statutory guidance that universities would be required to follow."

MPs and peers have already warned Ms May that the plans seriously restrict academic freedom of speech.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, chair of the UK Parliament's Joint Human Rights Commitee said earlier this month the plans were 'surely counter-productive'

The guidance document states: "Universities must take seriously their responsibility to exclude those promoting extremist views that support or are conducive to terrorism."

It continues: "We would expect the policies and procedures on speakers and events to include at least the following: Sufficient notice of booking (generally at least 14 days) to allow for checks to be made and cancellation to take place if necessary; Advance notice of the content of the event, including an outline of the topics to be discussed and sight of any presentations, footage to be broadcast etc."

The Home Office says such provisions are required to "ensure that poisonous, divisive ideologies are not allowed to spread, including through our universities."

A spokesman insisted: "There is no contradiction between promoting freedom of speech and safeguarding the interests and well-being of students, staff and the wider community. Universities UK already provides guidance to help institutions develop extremist speaker policies."

He added the measures would ensure the strategy was delivered to a consistent standard across the country.

"This is particularly important in areas where terrorism is of the most concern but we are clear that all areas need to understand the local threat and take action to address it."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We need to ensure that any new UK Government proposals fit with what is a separate and distinct Scottish legal system, respects the current devolution arrangements and are taken in the context of proper engagement and consultation with the public bodies who would be affected by these proposals in Scotland. "