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Extremism threat forces Birmingham council to toughen room hire policy

Extremism threat forces Birmingham council to toughen room hire policy

🕔11.Nov 2014

The threat of terrorism and religious extremism has forced Birmingham city council to update its policy on hiring rooms to the public for the first time in 22 years.

New guidelines for the use of rooms in the Council House and other buildings include a wide-ranging clause stating that bookings will not be accepted from persons or groups “representing the views of terrorism or extremism”.

It’s also proposed to restrict the use of rooms by political parties to activities linked to the operation of the city council, effectively preventing the staging of debates on purely national matters.

The proposed protocol in full reads: “The Council House is at the core of the democratic process in Birmingham and primarily provides a facility where members can conduct the business of the council.

“The council will however allow the hire of the council chamber and committee rooms to people and community groups, Birmingham businesses and organisations but will exercise its discretion in the acceptance of room booking hire.

“The council will not accept bookings that are in any way anti-democratic, neo fascist, discriminatory or represent the views of terrorism or extremism. The use of the rooms by political parties will be restricted to activities linked to the operation of the council.”

There is no attempt in the protocol, however, to define ‘extremism’ and it is not clear whether the term could be applied to far-right or far-left political groups. According to the Government’s Prevent strategy, extremism  is “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

The new rules will replace a protocol drawn up in 1992 which was primarily concerned with preventing members of the Unification Church from hiring rooms. A report to a meeting of the Council Business Management Committee later this month reminds councillors that the Unification Church established by Sung Myung Moon was a controversial sect better known as the Moonies.

The report says it is prudent because of the passage of time to update the room hiring rules and make it easier for council staff to determine the suitability of persons and organisations wishing to stage meetings.

The arrangements for room hire fees will remain the same. Commercial organisations pay the full rate, political and trade union meetings are free twice a month, and community and third sector groups can be given free rooms at the discretion of the council.

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