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Prevent Strategy

Volume 498: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

5. If he will assess the value for money of his Department's expenditure on the Prevent strand of its counter-terrorism strategy. (295129)

7. If he will assess the value for money of his Department's expenditure on the Prevent strand of its counter-terrorism strategy. (295131)

Prevent is an essential aspect of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy designed to safeguard our country and its citizens. The Prevent strategy aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism through a variety of initiatives focused on local communities. Delivery of the strategy, expenditure and impact, is monitored routinely to ensure value for money, and effectiveness.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but is not the great problem that there is no guarantee that that money is not finding its way into the hands of extremist groups? When is he going to have a proper audit of this expenditure to convince the House that it is going to the right place?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question about Prevent. I hope that he would accept, as should everyone in this House, that yes, we should have a strategy on pursuing terrorists, and yes, we should have a strategy on ensuring that we are prepared for terrorist attack, but that it would be strange indeed to have a strategy that did not concentrate on preventing young people, in particular, from being radicalised in the first place. Having developed the strategy, of course we have to ensure that the money is used effectively on behalf of the taxpayer and is not finding its way into the hands of extremists. There is absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever. This money is carefully audited, not just by us but by the Department for Communities and Local Government, on a continual basis.

In 2005, Tony Blair announced that Hizb ut-Tahrir would be banned, which we support, but that never came to pass. Further, the Government should put a total ban on Hezbollah. Can the Secretary of State tell us why Ministers have been so slow to take action against these extremist groups?

Going back in history, the hon. Gentleman will find that it was a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who let these people in in the first place. Secondly, we are a functioning democracy that is very careful about the organisations we proscribe, which should be those that particularly and specifically refer to the use of violence to meet their aims. That level has not been reached. Organisations across the country—and Members of Parliament, actually—would look askance if we used the legislation to proscribe organisations that should not be proscribed under its terms. It is absolutely right that we do not give a gift to these radical organisations by using the proscribing legislation unwisely.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the defining characteristics of today’s terrorism is the constant search for new methods of inflicting terror, and that in response, therefore, we have to try to harness together the innovative tendencies inside Government and across the private and academic sectors? May I commend, through him, the work of Charles Farr and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in identifying publicly, through the national security strategy and the science and technology strategy, the areas of research that they would like academia and the business community to pursue? Will my right hon. Friend continue to issue such guidance so that we can harness the whole community against terrorism?

My right hon. Friend played a very distinctive role in formulating the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. It was absolutely essential that we brought together the various strands from across the Government to concentrate on these issues, and Charles Farr is leading the operation magnificently. My right hon. Friend is right to point to an aspect that is not often referred to—the race against time to find new methods of technology to thwart the increasing ingenuity of those who seek to destroy our society.

When my right hon. Friend is monitoring the effectiveness of the Prevent programme, will he give his urgent attention to the need to push more resources into prisons, which are clearly a place where many young men are converted to violent ideologies? Will he also consider the criticism currently made of Prevent that it is spread far too widely in being aimed at an entire community with a particular religious belief instead of being focused on the people who are really the problem?

We are looking at prisons all the time; I work closely on that with my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I do not accept my hon. Friend’s second point. I am not saying that the Prevent strategy operates perfectly, but we can point to areas of the country where it has been extremely influential. It is not aimed at one particular group of people: it is aimed at helping Muslims within communities to argue effectively against those who seek to radicalise the whole community and at working with them to do that. Without that partnership, it would not work at all.

Does the Home Secretary agree that spying on innocent Muslims could destroy relationships within the community and between the community and the police? What steps has he taken to ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected and that surveillance under Prevent is proportional to the threat?

Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Prevent has absolutely nothing to do with spying on communities; spying on communities has absolutely nothing to do with Prevent, full stop. The article carried in one national newspaper, not picked up elsewhere, refers to two areas—Waltham Forest and Islington—which we are looking at very closely. We can find no evidence that there is any substance in those allegations.

I agree that if Prevent were used to spy on communities, it would be worthless. However, many people from those communities would come to this Dispatch Box and speak up for the policy if they could. Guidance, which is very strictly adhered to, ensures that there is the necessary proportionate response and that any use of Prevent is in accordance with the guidelines that we publish.

In 2007, the Government announced an increase of more than £100 million on Prevent and another £240 million on counter-terrorism policing, among an overall counter-terrorist, security and intelligence expenditure of £3.5 billion, which has rapidly increased. What are the Government doing to review the effectiveness of all that expenditure, as well as the Prevent programmes, some of which critics believe have been counter-productive?

We review the programme all the time, and various committees, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, call us to account. It is right that Opposition Front Benchers should also call us to account, but although many people attack Prevent as counter-productive, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who would be entitled on Privy Council terms to know exactly what is one under Prevent and the whole Contest counter-terrorism strategy, do not believe that.

Certainly Prevent would be counter-productive if the newspaper story that was carried in one national paper a couple of weeks ago were true. It is not—we can find no evidence of that. Misrepresenting Prevent and exaggerating issues under it is one thing, but we as calm and rational politicians should ensure that we keep to this important part of the strategy. Preventing young people from becoming radicalised is probably the most crucial part of our whole strategy.

Will the Home Secretary agree to meet me to discuss the Islington experience, since he has just referred to it in answer to a previous question? May I invite him to read the report produced by the Institute of Race Relations called “Spooked!—How not to prevent violent extremism”, by Arun Kundnani? It is an interesting report and will show him that other aspects of the Prevent agenda are effectively stigmatising an entire community.

The answer to the first question is yes—of course either I or a member of my ministerial team will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. Secondly, he points to one particular contribution to this debate, of which there are many. It is a valuable one, but it is not in isolation and many other reports have made points contrary to the ones in that report.