[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered implementation of the Prevent Strategy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir David. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this important issue. The statutory Prevent duty introduced in 2015 has given rise to increasing levels of concern in different parts of our communities and of the House. There is now a level of disquiet, which it would be wrong to ignore, about how the Prevent duty is working in practice and its impact on community cohesion.
The Prevent duty requires those in a position of trust, such as teachers or doctors, to report people who they perceive might be a risk—
I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend so early, but I am afraid that she has repeated the same line she said at the beginning of the debate on her private Member’s Bill on Friday. There is no requirement to report; there is a requirement to put in place safeguards and risk assessment for children. She may look at the guidance, at paragraphs 67 and 68 on page 11. It does not include a requirement to report. I ask her to change that line, because it is part of peddling a myth of what Prevent is about.
I thank the Minister for correcting me on that point. I am opening a debate on issues of concern to many people, and I would not want to fall inadvertently into any traps of myth-peddling.
The people referred to Prevent are those perceived to be at risk of being drawn into terrorism and those deemed possibly to be susceptible to extremism, including non-violent extremism. Today I want to highlight the difficulties that the Prevent duty is creating. I want to set out why, despite individual examples of good practice, Prevent as a concept or strategy to draw people away from terrorism is not working. I also want to draw attention to the way such concerns are being dismissed, rather than listened to, and the way those who express them are being depicted as seeking to undermine Prevent or even our security.
All of us come to this place with the objective of giving a voice to those who are not being listened to or heard, and of campaigning on something we have seen to be wrong or not working—we want to put it right and highlight where it is happening. That is what I am seeking to do in this debate.
The greatest difficulty with Prevent is that it is driving a wedge between authority and the community. The problem lies in the way the communities most affected by Prevent experience and perceive the strategy. For all its good intentions, if it is perceived by those it affects as punitive or intrusive, it will not be productive or have the desired effect.
I am listening with interest to the point my hon. Friend is making, which reflects the evidence that the Women and Equalities Committee gathered for our report on challenges that Muslim people face in the workplace. Has she had a chance to look at that report, which backs up some of her points?
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. Absolutely, Select Committees such as the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have looked at all of this in some detail, so in preparing for the debate I read the reports of her Committee and those others. The reports reflect several recurring themes, such as how communities perceive Prevent and what they feel about the way it is being operated. That is incredibly important. If the strategy is to succeed and make us safer, people have to consent to it; they have to buy into it and accept that it is helpful, not intrusive or punitive. If we do not deal with the perception and how people are experiencing Prevent, it will not work.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and is to be commended for bringing this matter before the House. She is saying that communities need to be at the heart of any Prevent strategy. Prevent must not be seen as Whitehall imposing its views on communities, whatever those communities are. The strategy must work in tandem and engage with them in order to find a solution to the problems of terrorism.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am delighted that he made that point, and that he made it so eloquently, because he has helped to articulate my argument.
Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, Prevent moved from being a co-operative and voluntary action by the community to being a statutory duty, and therein lies the problem. A failure to meet a statutory duty can have negative consequences, for example for teachers in schools. Ofsted assesses whether the duty has been met and delivers a grading for the achievement of compliance with it. The grading will be reduced if a school has not complied with the duty. As a school governor, I have seen the incentive to make referrals under Prevent. If we do not make them, we might feel that we will get into trouble, or that there will be a negative impact on the school or a teacher’s career.
That approach has led to an exponential increase in the number of referrals since Prevent became a statutory duty. One child a week under the age of 10 is being reported to Prevent—I use the word “reported”, but perhaps I should use “referred” instead.
My hon. Friend is making some good points about concerns in certain communities, particularly the Muslim community. Does she accept that one issue is that of miscommunication? My understanding is that Prevent is not only about the Muslim community, which seems to be the focus for a lot of the discussion; it is also about the real danger from right-wing extremist groups. Prevent is focused on training people to understand that as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have not so far mentioned, and I think I will not mention at any point, the Muslim community specifically. However, I will mention some use of Prevent to tackle the far right, which is a good point and one we should all take on board.
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue, to which I will devote a whole section of my speech. I have concerns about the conflation of safeguarding and counter-extremism measures, which I will come to in due course.
The Government naturally have a duty to protect the public, and they are seeking to discharge that duty through the Prevent strategy. We all want to see extremism tackled, and the intention of Prevent is, in theory, to stop young people being drawn into terrorism and to protect them from extremist views that might render them more susceptible to radicalisation. We get into more difficult territory, however, when we start to tackle belief, ideas and the expression of political and religious views. The whole issue then becomes a great deal more complicated. We could find ourselves in a situation in which the Government decide which views are too extreme and debate can be shut down, so that issues that are better discussed and challenged openly are driven underground.
That is all before anyone has even done anything, Prevent is operating in a pre-crime space, which sounds positively Orwellian. That is at the heart of some of the concerns being expressed about the Prevent duty. Our schools need to be places where young people can discuss any issue at all and develop the ability to see extremist ideologies for what they are. We need to help young people develop the resilience to challenge those ideologies, and if we expose them to only the views that the Government find acceptable, we deny them the opportunity to challenge alternative views and fail to equip them with the ability to think critically and learn how to exercise judgment.
The hon. Lady talks about children. Is she aware of a recent case in Bedfordshire where a school called the police because a seven-year-old child had been given a plastic gun as a present? Neither of the child’s parents was an observant anything; the father was a lapsed Muslim and the mother was a Hindu. If Prevent has reached the stage where people call the police on seven-year-old children, something is wrong.
I agree. I am aware of that case, and there have been many similar cases. That is a real concern, because it puts teachers in the position of having to take action that they might feel is inappropriate, because they do not want to damage their school’s credibility and its Ofsted reports. We are suddenly in a cycle where people say, “Let’s report people just in case.” The Minister will say that Prevent is a protective and safeguarding measure. We must be very careful not to use words to describe what is happening that do not necessarily reflect reality.
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). The case that the hon. Lady raised was not a Prevent case; it was not referred to Prevent and it did not involve Prevent officers, either council officers or police officers. It had nothing to do with Prevent. The Guardian sought to report it as if it was a Prevent case, but it did not bother checking the facts. Therein lies part of the issue; people are happy to report things that might have taken place in another part of the education environment and had nothing to do with Prevent.
Order. I will call the first of the three Front Benchers at 3.30 pm. Several Back Benchers want to speak, and there will be little enough time for them to do so, so I say to the Front Benchers: hold your horses until you get the opportunity to make a speech.
I thank the Minister for his intervention. What is important about what he said is that although the incident was not referred under the Prevent mechanism, the same actions were taken. The teachers concerned would have been trained in Prevent and alert to this whole issue. Although they did not formally trigger the Prevent mechanism, they still called the police about an issue that might otherwise have been to do with extremism. It is important to bear that in mind.
From what I have seen, when schools look for signs of extremism, they do not really know what they are looking for. They often come up with suggestions for things that might be grounds for referral that have no possible connection at all to extremism. I have sat in governors’ meetings where teachers who want to comply have openly discussed scenarios such as a child coming into school and saying that he has been on a Fathers 4 Justice march or a march to protest against badger culls. To me, Prevent is certainly not intended to tackle that. There is no indication that that type of activity would lead to extremist or terrorist behaviour. It is greatly concerning that people are sitting around in schools thinking, “What possible scenarios can we come up with?”
More and more public sector workers are being trained in how to report under the Prevent duty, but that does not make me feel any more comfortable. I believe that some 600,000 people are now trained to refer people under Prevent for the purposes of re-education and religious guidance. That does not give me confidence at all; it actually makes me feel more concerned. We should not, as a matter of course, have people sitting and waiting to spot signs when, if there had been grounds to report them, their own good judgment may have kicked in and enabled some less intrusive, less authoritarian approach to be taken to deal with the issue.
My hon. Friend might be aware that I am one of those public sector workers when I am not working as an MP. May I reassure her that a lot of work on Prevent goes on, particularly in psychiatry, and we use clinical judgment in exercising our duties? Referrals are rarely made to Prevent through mental health services unless there is a reason for doing so. Referrals are usually made due to the exploitation of an individual by other people, and it is those people who end up being referred and engaged in the Prevent process, not the individual themselves.
My hon. Friend makes a good point.
Children and young people will always test boundaries, and playground banter and bragging must not be seen as potentially sinister things where children must be watched. That breeds fear, suspicion and mistrust, which concerns me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) raised safeguarding. I want to challenge the way that Prevent is packaged as a safeguarding measure. In effect, we are told, “Prevent must be a good thing, because it is intended to keep us safe.” It is depicted as offering support and advice to ensure that susceptibility to radicalisation is diminished. It is a real concern that that is how the Government perceive Prevent, because that perception is out of step with how Prevent is interpreted and perceived by those affected by it. In the context of Prevent, safeguarding is often about forcible state intervention in the private life of an individual when no crime has been committed, and that is inevitably experienced in a negative way.
It is important to understand that families subjected to safeguarding measures will, in any event, experience them as frightening, shaming and stigmatising. Someone in a position of trust—whether a teacher or a doctor—is used to gather and share data, often about young children, without consent, investigations are conducted and the police are involved. That process is anything but supportive and helpful; it destroys trust. A less heavy-handed approach would be far more constructive. Calling that approach safeguarding, and conflating counter-extremism measures and safeguarding, is quite dangerous.
I, too, was one of those public sector workers before being elected. The difficulty is that counter-terrorism is the extreme end of what the Prevent strategy tries to deal with. The other measures—those to do with child safeguarding—are often part and parcel of the journey to countering terrorism and the problems that are experienced in families who are becoming radicalised. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies) knows well that criminal activity is very much part of terrorism. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Telford will talk about those links, which are rightly made.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I reiterate that we should not present Prevent as simply supportive and helpful; we must be more aware of the way it is perceived by the people to whom it is delivered. If we do not try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who experience it, Prevent will not achieve what we want it to achieve. It is all very well for the Government to say, “Well, we know best, we want the best and we are well intentioned. We want to support and protect people.” Actually, if we call the police, share data and stigmatise people, we will alienate them. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury may not agree that that can happen, but I urge the Minister to try to anticipate how he might feel if his children were subjected to a safeguarding procedure. That process is intimidating and frightening, and there is no doubt that people feel ostracised and alienated by it, however well intended it is.
That brings me quite neatly to the way the Government are responding to the concerns that have been raised by Members of several parties in this House and in the Lords, and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, David Anderson QC and many others. We must listen to people when they raise concerns. It is not enough just to say, “Well, it’s well intended and there are good examples of it working well in practice for individual cases.” This is a much bigger issue of principle; it is about whether our communities will be safer or less safe as a result of Prevent. It is about whether communities feel stigmatised, alienated or marginalised. If people are saying that is how they feel, there is a duty on the Government to listen and not just bat their concerns away by saying, “Well, they don’t understand the level of terrorist threat,” “They are seeking to undermine Prevent,” or “They are doing something that is destructive of our efforts to keep society safe.”
I ask the Minister to listen and to understand that the state can be oppressive and authoritarian when it intervenes and interferes in the lives of individuals. People who are concerned about Prevent should not be dismissed as failing to understand or for not being a criminal barrister or having the right knowledge of such things. That is how they feel, and I urge the Government to listen to that. I do not believe the narrative that people are somehow motivated to undermine Prevent. They are just raising concerns, and it would help community cohesion if there was an overt attempt to hear those concerns and not just plough on regardless.
The terror threat is real and we must take all measures to reduce it. I do not underestimate the difficult job that the Minister and his Department have in doing that—I fully support him in his efforts—but the statutory Prevent duty is not the way to do it. It is too blunt an instrument.
I ask the Minister to consider the Select Committee reports we have talked about and to reflect on their recommendations. Some incredibly important work—research done and evidence taken—has been done on that and it would be helpful if all of that was taken on board. I ask him in particular to consider the views of David Anderson QC and the evidence he gave to those inquiries. He had been out in the communities, talking to the people affected, and his specific recommendation was that there should be an independent review of the Prevent duty. I gently ask the Minister to give that further consideration.
The Government have said in response to concerns that they intend to strengthen Prevent. I urge the Minister to consider whether the desired outcome would be more achievable if we were to use more emotional intelligence and consent, in a collaborative, community-led way at the grassroots, rather than the muscle of continued forced state intervention, which is what is implied by strengthening Prevent, even if that is not the intention.
Our safety and security is too important. We must get this right. It is therefore essential that we reflect on all these issues. I am grateful to the Minister for coming here today and for all the contributions that have been made.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing it. I will start with one of her first points: that those who question the use of Prevent are accused of not being concerned with people’s safety. Let me give an example. When the 7 July incident took place near the bus stops in Euston, it happened in an area to which I normally used to travel to go to my chambers in the Temple—it just happened that that day I was out of the country. I therefore think I am well aware of the possible threats to security that people face. When I am accused of not being concerned about people’s security, I find that incredibly insulting because, but for the grace of God, I could have been in that incident.
The Minister intervened on the hon. Lady and said that Prevent is not about reporting but about putting safeguards in place. However, that is effectively reporting. When a person thinks there is someone of concern and they start the safeguarding process, they call on the local authority, social services and various other people—that is effectively nothing but reporting.
The Government have a duty to protect our country, but the rules, laws, programmes and provisions we put in place must be effective. There is no point in having a knee-jerk reaction to a problem and saying, “We will have Prevent. We will put it on a statutory basis, and somehow all the problems of radicalisation will go away”, without realising whether the policy is effective.
Countless studies have been carried out. In October last year I hosted an event for the Open Society Justice Initiative, which had spoken to 80 different sets of experts in the field and many families who had been affected by Prevent. It showed that 80% of the people affected had been referred wrongly—that is 80% of children and families affected completely unnecessarily. The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, QC, said:
“Prevent has become a more significant source of grievance in affected communities than the police and ministerial powers that are exercised under the Pursue strand of the Contest strategy”.
Again, someone has looked at terrorism legislation and thinks that Prevent is wrong. Unless and until we get the community on board, we will not be able to effect any real changes. All Prevent does is stigmatise people.
Prevent was brought in by the Labour Government, but it was rolled out on a voluntary basis. I have to say I was not keen on it then, but at least it was voluntary. Now it is statutory, which means that doctors, nurses, hospitals and teachers can get into trouble if they do not report something that the Government think they should have done. That puts so much pressure on professionals. They are being asked to make disclosures and breach confidentiality, and families and everyone else are being put under stress for something that is not achieving anything.
Apologies for coming into the debate late, Sir David. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing it. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) agree that professionals—teachers, clinicians and so on—would say they already have professional standards that meet the need, and that the additional duty does not add anything?
I absolutely agree. Dr Clare Gerada, who spoke at the presentation I held last year, said exactly the same thing: they already have duties to look after vulnerable people. By making Prevent statutory, we are pressurising them, which could lead to them being affected if, for example, they feel that somebody should not be referred in a particular case.
All I hear is that the people who are being affected are annoyed by it, and they are getting upset. It is not achieving anything because the communities we need to have on board are not. It is therefore a waste of time, money and resources.
If we want to deal with radicalisation, whether far-right radicalisation or any other fundamentalism, there are ways of doing that. However, we should not use this method, which criminalises people. For example, in schools we could have classes taught to everyone, not to particular groups, about the dangers of the internet. We do not talk enough about the amount of online grooming, pornography on websites, how many young people are being bullied in schools and how much sex texting is going on. All those things are part of safeguarding. We should invest in classes in junior and secondary schools where all the children get together and are taught about all the dangers they could face, so that they can discuss and deal with them together. That would mean we could prevent them from facing such issues, whether far-right, sexual or whatever. We should not do that in the way that has happened since the Prevent programme was rolled out.
I want to make two final points. All of these measures come from the fact that there are security issues. However, we must remember one thing. I know we are talking about the far right, but we must remember that while the measures all came out of so-called Islamic terrorism, 99% of the people who have died as a result of Daesh, al-Qaeda and other such groups have been Muslims, whether in the middle east or the UK. Far-right extremism has killed Muslims in Canada, USA, Norway, the UK and other countries. Yes, there is an issue with people having right-wing or fundamentalist views, and we need to challenge those views, but Prevent is not the way to do so.
We say that Prevent is about British values. I am not making a joke of this, but the President of the USA, through what he has said and his Executive orders, has contravened every single fundamental British value. When he comes to the UK, he should be put in the Prevent programme, along with his adviser, Steve Bannon, who is a right-wing fascist and white supremacist. Both should be put in the Prevent programme when they come to the UK.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a small contribution to the debate under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue.
It is my belief that Prevent is making a positive difference. The Government are working in partnership with local communities and grassroots organisations to challenge poisonous extremist narratives and safeguard our young people and society. The battle against terrorist recruiters must be fought on several fronts, including online as well as in our communities. Much of the work being done in the UK is world leading, including the first counter-terrorism internet referral unit dedicated to taking down hundreds of pieces of extremist and terrorist content that are referred to it every day, which has now been replicated internationally. However, extremism cannot be defeated by the Government and law enforcement alone: it is vital that everyone plays their part.
The importance of the Prevent strategy was made clear in the other place in 2016. I draw attention to Channel, which is one part of the broader Prevent agenda. It is an intensive, one-to-one mentoring programme that challenges violent views through the de-programming and rewiring of an individual. About 7,500 referrals were made to Prevent in 2015-16—around 20 a day. Of those referred to the scheme, which was set up in 2005 in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, one in 10 were deemed to be vulnerable to terrorism and were referred to Channel, while a quarter were found to be vulnerable but not at risk of involvement in terrorism.
Baroness Williams of Trafford has noted that
“since 2012 over 1,000 people have received support through Channel, the voluntary and confidential programme which provides support for people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. The vast majority of those people went on to leave the programme with no further terrorist-related concerns.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 December 2016; Vol. 777, c. 1544.]
That shows the important work that Channel and Prevent are undertaking. Every time a person receives support and turns their back on the hatred of extremism is a life saved, a family with renewed hope and a community that is brought closer together, not dragged further apart. Each person who is aided is a story of the struggle to battle extremism, but with each person we move a step closer to defeating the poison of radicalisation and those who would seek to drive us apart.
I understand what my hon. Friend says but, at the end of the day, it is a set of guidelines that we would be floundering without. I accept what she says to a certain extent, but that guidance has so far proven to be of great advantage.
As I was saying, those lives saved shine a light on the positive difference Prevent makes to safeguarding people, particularly children, from the risks of radicalisation—which I think further addresses my hon. Friend’s point. Indeed, Simon Cole, who is the chief constable of Leicestershire and the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead on Prevent, said the scheme is “fundamental” to fighting terrorism. It is clear from intelligence sources, police on the ground and those in the communities that Prevent plays a crucial role in combating terrorism and extreme ideologies.
Furthermore, Prevent protects our young people, who are the future of our society, from the poison of hatred and vitriol from whatever ideology or extremist element it comes from. Indeed, schools play a vital role in protecting pupils from those risks, and it is right and important that these issues are discussed in an open and trusting environment.
I agree that it is a question of trust, and of communities understanding the principle behind Prevent. The Government certainly have a big part to play in that, and I think we all share a responsibility for that.
It is the essence of our values that we can discuss the risks of a certain ideology or way of thinking in an open and trusting environment that allows full examination of the issue—not behind closed doors or simply ignoring it in the hope that the problem goes away, because it simply never does. If we are to have a healthy society, the most significant and meaningful thing we can do is to ensure that our children grow up with the key values of tolerance, respect for other cultures, creeds and races, a healthy respect for the rule of law and an inquisitive attitude towards those who wield power.
We must therefore continue to support the vital programmes that challenge those ideologies and individuals that seek to undermine our society, and the foundations on which it is built, with poisonous and extremist narratives. That is why I am particularly pleased that Prevent focuses on all forms of terrorism, including the particularly dangerous and disgusting ideology of the extreme right, as I have mentioned, and not only on one community.
I know that the Home Affairs Committee and others have expressed concerns that Prevent is perhaps not quite as community-led as it should be and is treated with suspicion by some. It is not unusual that schemes and programmes are treated with suspicion by certain communities at first; perhaps we must all work a bit harder at it. I witnessed that at first hand while working with communities on numerous issues during my time with the police service. It takes time to build trust and rapport with local communities, but I know the Government and those delivering Prevent work tirelessly to address certain perceptions and beliefs, and that they are more aware than anybody of the importance of working in partnership with communities and grassroots organisations.
We must not forget that the Government cannot do everything alone; communities and individuals need to step forward. We all need to step forward and play our part in fighting extremism and its root causes wherever we find them without fear or favour. Radicalisation devastates the lives of individuals, their families and communities. Prevent does not target anyone—it is about safeguarding those at risk, plain and simple. Prevent is, and must be, fundamentally rooted in and led by communities. Those delivering Prevent travel the length and breadth of the country to engage with community leaders, civil society groups, local authorities and frontline workers.
We must support this vital work to ensure that we safeguard those who are at risk of the terrible toxicity of radicalisation, and to persuade them of a different outlook based on tolerance and respect for other cultures, of which I spoke earlier. With each person, this scheme helps our society to become healthier, which is why I am, and will continue to be, a strong supporter of the scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. She made a thoughtful speech that I agreed with and supported for the most part.
I do not think anybody here doubts that the Government should have a plan and should act to prevent citizens and residents from falling into terrorism. The Government’s good intentions are not in doubt, and I would go as far as to say that some good initiatives are carried out under the Prevent strategy. However, as the hon. Lady said in opening the debate, we must get this right, and we must get the overall strategy right. The way the Government have gone about the strategy’s implementation seems to have caused confusion and alienation, and risks being significantly counter-productive. I agree that there should be a review, including of the statutory duty, and I say that based on the evidence that the Home Affairs Committee received. Other colleagues present today will also talk about that inquiry. From what we heard, there is little doubt that trust in Prevent is at rock bottom in some of our communities. As part of our inquiry, in Bradford we met around 70 young people aged between 16 and 25 representing Muslim communities in Bradford, Leeds and Dewsbury. It was a fantastic initiative from the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), brilliantly organised by the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah).
The message from the young people was pretty clear and damning. They felt picked upon and stigmatised. Many had felt restricted in what they could say and do for fear of attracting attention. They certainly did not feel engaged with or involved positively in Prevent; it was quite the opposite.
My hon. Friend has stolen the thunder from the end of my speech: I will come on to that shortly.
Going back to the young people in Bradford, as far as I could glean, their almost unanimous view was that Prevent was irretrievable. Their views were pretty consistent with a lot of what we heard in oral evidence at formal hearings and in the written submissions that we received as well. With that evidence as a background, even on its own terms the Government’s Prevent strategy seems to be falling short. When we look at the 2011 strategy, what was apparently intended sometimes seems to bear little resemblance to what has happened in practice. The strategy pointed out that:
“Prevent depends on a successful integration strategy...the Government will not securitise its integration strategy. This has been a mistake in the past.”
In the eyes of so many of our witnesses, securitisation is exactly what has happened at the expense of broader integration.
The strategy also stated:
“The Government’s commitment to localism will support the Prevent strategy. Communities and local authorities have a key part in this strategy. But as a national security issue, Prevent needs to be developed in very close conjunction with central Departments.”
Again, for many of those giving evidence to the Committee, the emphasis had been much more on central departmental control than it was on empowering communities. That is why our Committee concluded:
“Rather than being seen as the community-led approach Prevent was supposed to be, it is perceived to be a top-down ‘Big Brother’ security operation.”
So there is a need, as the Committee concluded, to build
“a real partnership between community groups and the state.”
Before I finish I want to touch briefly on the position in Scotland. National security and
“special powers for dealing with terrorism”
are reserved under the Scotland Act 1998—but not “extremism”. Many of the key agencies for countering extremism such as education, police, communities and so on are devolved. From that we have a rather different set of guidance documents issued under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 on a joint Scottish and UK Government basis. It is worth comparing those documents—how they work and what works best—because there are always things to learn from each jurisdiction. It will not surprise hon. Members that I am going to stick up for the Scottish version. It is interesting how most of the five or so chapters are the same. However, chapter C in the version for Scotland is entitled “A collaborative approach to the Prevent duty”, whereas the guidance for England and Wales has a chapter entitled, “A risk-based approach to the Prevent duty”. Although good chunks of that chapter overlap, that difference in emphasis is important: collaboration instead of securitisation.
Furthermore, when we look at the 2011 UK-wide Prevent strategy, that document notes:
“The approach to Prevent in Scotland has always made a distinction between preventing terrorism and community cohesion and integration. In Scotland, Prevent has been more closely aligned to those areas of policy that promote community safety, tackle crime and reduce violence...These first principles of Prevent have influenced delivery in Scotland and this has necessarily involved a different style and emphasis.”
Although not scientific—to answer my hon. Friend’s question—those differences in emphasis and implementation were reflected in another visit undertaken as part of the Home Affairs inquiry when the right hon. Member for Leicester East and I visited Shawlands Academy in Glasgow. It is fair to say that that is the most ethnically and religiously diverse school in Scotland. We discussed with senior pupils and staff issues relating to extremism and terrorism. The pupils were all aware of Prevent, but it did not inhibit their discussions or generally have a negative impact on their lives. The teachers did not feel under pressure or that their relationships with pupils had been undermined. Overall, it seemed Prevent was less in your face for those young people than it had been for the young people in Bradford.
It is essential that we look more closely at those features and see what lessons can be learnt. For that, as Sir David Anderson and the hon. Member for Telford have said, we need a review.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing this debate.
I recognise that there are concerns about Prevent, and I have heard those concerns from a range of different people. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee and as someone with an interest in this area, I have taken the time to speak to Muslim groups with the Committee, and to members of the Muslim community, police officers and teachers. I have not spoken to any far right extremists yet, but I am sure we will get some in to the Home Affairs Committee in due course.
There are two polar opposite views. Prevent is viewed as a vital tool in the fight against terrorism and absolutely essential, or it is said to be discredited because it targets Muslims and places unfair obligations on the public sector. It is important to note that Prevent is just one of the four elements of the Contest counter-extremism strategy that aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism or extremism. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) about success, it is difficult to measure success when there is no counterfactual, but I am sure that the Minister will tell us about the success that the Prevent programme has had, because I have heard that from some of Britain’s most senior police officers.
It is important to start by asking what we would do tomorrow if we cancelled the Prevent programme today. I asked one of the most senior counter-terrorism officers in the country about this and he was very open-minded. He said, “If we do not like Prevent and we get rid of it, what do we replace it with?” We would surely want a system for identifying people such as the poor young girls from east London—the people who have committed no criminal offence but suddenly slide into radicalism and attempt to go off to somewhere such as Syria. We need a means of identifying them and preventing them from going.
That is right, but that is certainly not an argument for getting rid of Prevent. There are countless other cases in which the Prevent duty would result in issues being picked up. That is why there have been 1,000 voluntary referrals to Channel, where people have been channelled away from any risks. That is what the Contest strategy does.
This hypothetical was tested when the Home Affairs Committee went on a trip to the USA. Two members of the Committee who went on the trip are in the Chamber today. We asked the Americans what they did about domestic counter-terrorism prevention and whether they had a Prevent type of programme. The answer was no, they did not have such a programme. They recognised that that was a gap in their toolkit and they were actually looking at the British system, although the Committee members did point out some of the deficiencies and gave them some advice. Of course, the trip took place under the Obama regime before Donald Trump became President. If only President Trump were focusing on domestic terrorism, which is where the threat actually comes from, rather than banning people coming from seven countries with currently no risk of terrorism on American soil. However, the Americans are looking at a strategy because they do not have a system like Prevent on their soil at the moment.
I will turn to the two main objections. The first is that Prevent targets Muslims. It is right that 70% of those who have been directed to Channel for voluntary referrals have been Muslims and 15% have been far right extremists who are not Muslims. That fact does not mean that the Muslim community is being targeted, but I understand why members of the Muslim community, including the young people we met on the trip organised by the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), felt that way. It is right that the Government should do more to publicise the cases of far right extremists who have been dealt with under the policy, because the people we spoke to on that trip simply were not aware of them, even though the cases were well publicised.
Equally, we have to guard against the reality that some groups such as Cage, a disgraceful organisation that gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, would make sustained efforts to undermine any replacement of the Prevent programme, just as they have done with Prevent. They have spoken out, criticised and been involved in threats against Muslim groups who stand up and support Prevent or elements of Prevent. They do that because they do not even accept that a problem exists that needs tackling by something such as Prevent in the first place.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. Does he agree that one of the successes of the Prevent programme has been—for example, in the health service—raising awareness of people who may be vulnerable? People with mental illness are particularly susceptible to adverse influences and potentially susceptible to extremists of all different types exploiting them. The programme has also helped to encourage partnership working between the NHS and the police, because there is often strong clinical judgment exerted and used in such cases.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. That brings me to the second main criticism of Prevent—that it puts undue pressure on teachers, doctors and social workers. It is true that they are not policemen and are already under huge pressure—I know that teachers are, because my mother was one—because of all sorts of duties of the kind, besides their core one of teaching. However, they are the people with day-to-day contact with young people and they have the opportunity to notice what others, including the police, may not. That is why they have similar duties to report child abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and the like. We rely on them to pick up things that others might miss or parents would not report.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that teachers are among those who have regular contact with young people, and it should be part of professional practice to notice when children’s behaviour changes—such as becoming withdrawn or difficult. However, teachers and parents in my constituency tell me that the way the Prevent duty on professionals is perceived is breaking down trust between families, parents and schools. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that must be addressed if the programme is to work effectively?
That certainly must be addressed, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) that the Prevent duty has led to much greater awareness among professionals of what to look for and how to help. We need a way to pick up the signs of radicalisation before it is too late and innocent lives are devastated by being drawn into the ideologies in question. Prevent, the current system, certainly has issues that need to be worked through, and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) raises a good point. There is a need for constant updating, but equally, if we were to replace Prevent it could only be with a similar duty. Whatever we replaced it with would come under sustained attack, and it is our duty in the House to stand up for the Government’s efforts as well as to scrutinise and criticise them as we are doing.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. It is interesting to follow two colleagues from the Home Affairs Committee; we took a lot of evidence on the subject last year and produced a report. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) will also give his version of events.
Headlines about Prevent have included “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent”; “Oxford University vice-chancellor says Prevent strategy ‘wrong-headed’”; “Instead of fighting terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear”; and “Human rights group condemns Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy”. It is not a matter of one newspaper article getting things wrong. They are not reports from the Daily Mail, otherwise known as the “Daily Fail”, about radicalisation and the Prevent strategy going wrong. They are reports derived from academics. People have written to the Home Secretary or the Government expressing concern about how the strategy is implemented.
Some 60% of my constituents are of black and minority ethnic heritage, and the majority are Muslims, but we have not got things as wrong in Bradford West as they are nationally. We have a better middle ground, and some really good conversations are happening. However, the overall consensus among Muslim communities nationally is that Prevent stigmatises them. I accept the view of the hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies) that it is successful, but only in part. I accept that there are instances in which Prevent has prevented radicalisation. For every article against it, there is always one for it. However, it must be acknowledged that its implementation has created a “them and us” situation between the Government and the Muslim community. That is a fact. I can give a list as long as my arm of incidents in which people say they have been stigmatised.
Research evidence shows that Prevent has had a particularly acute effect on children. An average of one child under 10 is referred every day. I accept that the referrals are voluntary, but as for four-year olds being involved, I am the mother of a five-year-old, and when he has a tantrum or a paddy it is very extreme, but that does not mean he is on the slippery slope to extremism. Children are children. Yes, we have different ways of running our households, but religious conservatism does not result in extremism. We need to make that point, and it must be acknowledged in the House.
Although I am a critic of the implementation of Prevent, it is clear to me that we need a prevention strategy. When the Home Secretary appeared before the Home Affairs Committee on the previous occasion—not yesterday—she said that we needed to talk Prevent up. Unfortunately I cannot commit to talking it up when it fails to acknowledge the “them and us” that its implementation has created between the Muslim community and the Government. The architect of Prevent, Sir David Omand, observed that the “key issue” was whether most people in the community accepted Prevent “as protective of their rights”. He said:
“If the community sees it as a problem, then you have a problem.”
The Muslim community sees Prevent as a problem.
No one, including the Muslim community, is saying we do not need a Prevent strategy. We absolutely do; we must provide safeguards. I do not know what my now nearly teenage daughter will be doing in her bedroom; the way people are radicalised in the majority of cases is online. However, we need to educate people, including parents, and put safeguarding measures in place.
More than 80% of Channel referrals end in no further action. What does that say about them? The majority of the children referred happen to be Muslim. I met a young boy from Luton who was campaigning on issues to do with Palestine and Gaza. He was referred to Channel just because he was passionate about those issues. We have damped down debate in universities and colleges, where people dare not use the word “terrorism”. A GP I know said in the roundtable referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), “When my child comes home, every day he sees terrorism on the TV”—whether it is the Paris attack, Tunisia or anywhere else in the world, such as Quebec recently. She said, “I dare not have the conversation with him in case he goes back and discusses it in school. If someone does not know how to respond to my child, he might be on the next referral to Channel.” Those are real concerns; they are not made up. I accept that there are organisations that would have issues no matter what the strategy was replaced by, but the young people of Bradford gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee and said there is a “them and us” situation, and we must respond to that.
I ask the Minister whether the Government will publish their internal review of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy. Will they accept the advice in the independent review of terrorism legislation by David Anderson, QC, and establish an independent inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the Prevent strategy? By the Government’s own figures 80% of referrals to the Channel programme between 2007 and 2014 were set aside. Will they publish comprehensive data disaggregated by age, gender, location, ethnicity, type of referring authority and type of extremism of the people who have been referred to the Prevent programme, and the outcomes? Without such transparency the Muslim community will rightly continue to view Prevent through a lens of suspicion.
Thank you, Sir David. May I start by congratulating you warmly on your knighthood and the House authorities on their efficiency in changing your nameplate so quickly? I will be very brief. I can say quite honestly that I agree with every single speech given this afternoon, not because it was a bit like all our yesterdays—the Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a former member, did an inquiry into counter-terrorism—but because each came with particular knowledge of this area. Passion has been shown because we want to keep our country secure, protect our children and ensure that the Government’s strategy works.
The hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) deserves special praise for bringing this matter before the House. We really need more than an hour and a half to discuss it. She says that we need a strategy, but the problem with the strategy we have at the moment is that the people we need to work with feel they are on the outside. The issue is one of trust.
I want briefly to say three things. First, as the hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies) said, my local chief constable, Simon Cole, who is the national Prevent lead for the National Police Chiefs Council, has said that Prevent is fundamental to the success of our strategy against terrorism. We want the strategy to work, and we have to ensure that it works. We have to ensure that communities are involved with it, and it has to be a partnership. That means listening to what the young people in Bradford said, acknowledging what we found in Glasgow when we went up there and listening to the questions from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) to his local university vice-chancellor when he came before our Select Committee. It is important that we work with communities.
Secondly, our Committee suggested that we should change the name of Prevent and call it Engage, because Prevent sounds very harsh. We need to rebrand this mechanism, so that we can engage with communities. Otherwise, they feel that Whitehall is imposing a certain course of action on them. Finally, the internet was the most important form of radicalisation that we discovered during our inquiry. Unless we tackle that, and unless the internet companies are prepared to work with Government, we will not deal with this issue.
There are problems. The Government should acknowledge them and work to ensure that they are dealt with, but more than anything, the message from this House must be, “Please work with communities. Put them at the forefront of our fight against terrorism.”
Thank you, Sir David. I did have quite a lot to say on this subject, but I will try to be as brief as possible. Please bear with me for a few minutes at least.
First, I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and made some very valuable points. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), in particular, made a powerful point at the outset of her speech: nobody here is saying that we do not want our streets to be safe. We absolutely want our streets to be safe and to defeat the poison of radicalisation, but we must ask what the best way of doing that is, and the best way is having a strategy that works.
We have heard from hon. Members that the Prevent strategy, in its current format, is not as effective as it could be because there is massive mistrust of it, in particular among the Muslim community. We have heard evidence of that from young people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). We have heard how 70% of those who end up in the process belong to that community. It is clear that in its current format, the Prevent strategy is perceived as unfair and is stigmatising communities.
We need a complete rethink of the Prevent strategy. We need a strategy that is as effective as possible, that engages Muslim youth and communities and that comes without stories—although some may be fabricated—of cameras, spying and young children being placed in these programmes. I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to reflect on the genuine concerns that the Muslim community in particular has, which I am sure other communities share. We need an overhaul of the whole Prevent strategy to recognise those concerns.
I offer you belated congratulations, Sir David, on your knighthood. I am conscious that we are short on time and that everyone is keen to hear what the Minister has to say, so I will whizz through some of the points that I have found interesting in today’s debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate, to the obvious agitation of the Government Front Benchers, which in my view makes it even more commendable. She was right to mention at the outset that the strategy appears to be driving a wedge between authority and community. She said that perception is very important—a point that other Members have corroborated. Perception may be everything in this instance. I have heard her talk before about her personal experience as a governor of a school. She made the point that there is peer pressure and that people are incentivised and cajoled to make referrals. That is a very dangerous situation.
I was struck by some of the comments of the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), particularly about the accusation that if someone criticises Prevent, they somehow do not care about safety. She made that point well with reference to what happened on 7/7. In response to an intervention on her about the strategy not achieving anything, I will say this: evidence is one thing, but how many communities and people do we marginalise to stop one kid being radicalised? I think that was the point she was making.
The hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies), who brings a wealth of experience as a former member of the police force, was right to say that this is about taking time to build relationships. Perhaps that is where Prevent has gone wrong; we have put the cart before the horse, and we should have built those relationships before we started asking this community or any community to put people through the referral process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), on whom I made an untimely intervention, was right to recognise that everyone wants to prevent terrorism. That is common ground, and it should be noted by the Minister. My hon. Friend gave a more than adequate summary of the position in Scotland, so he has saved me from detailing that.
I did not agree with much of what the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) said, but there was one point I agreed with. Everybody wants to prevent terrorism, and he asked a valid question: what would we replace Prevent with? Clearly the perception is that things are not working and that something needs to be done, but it is not wise to leave a vacuum.
The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) corroborated the point about perception. If we are going to prevent communities—I do not single out any particular one—from being radicalised, perception is everything. That is an important point. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who of course brings a wealth of knowledge as he led the Select Committee inquiry on this issue, pinpointed trust. That is key. The people we need to influence feel that they are on the outside. I was interested in his idea of rebranding Prevent as Engage. I do not know whether that would work, but I certainly agree with the principle that this is more about engagement than sniping on kids and marginalising them.
Some hon. Members alluded to the distinction between non-violent extremism and violent extremism. I am from the west coast of Scotland. Scotland has a history, unfortunately, of sectarianism. In Scotland, if you ask someone which school they go to, it has nothing to do with education. If you ask someone which team they support, it has nothing to do with football. We understand these dynamics. Perhaps that is why we have a more wide-ranging approach to this issue. We recognise that various communities are susceptible to radicalisation and do not try to single out any particular one.
You are looking at me keenly, Sir David, so I will wind up. In Scotland, this is a reserved matter, with the roll-out of Prevent being undertaken by the Scottish Parliament. We put engagement and fostering relations with communities at the heart of what we do, which involves simple things like discussions with people before they are put in the referral process and engagement with various communities to ensure that they are on board. If we foster that relationship, perhaps communities will come to us with information before we have to start knocking on doors. If the referral process were from the bottom up, it would work a lot better and would not marginalise the very people who we need to help us prevent terrorism.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on initiating this important debate. I think that the Muslim community can take some reassurance from the fact that MPs of all parties and from all parts of the country are scrutinising how the Prevent strategy works in practice.
Clearly, the first duty of Government is to protect the citizen. As hon. Friends have said, it is nonsense to say that those of us who are asking questions about Prevent are somehow careless of the threat of terrorism. I remember the 1996 IRA bomb at Canary Wharf—I was standing in my kitchen in Hackney when I heard it go off. Do not tell those of us in our great cities, who have sometimes had very close engagement with the after-effects of terrorism, that we do not take it seriously. Of course the Government have to have a counter-terrorism strategy. I have met people from the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command and been very impressed by much of their work.
However, what President Trump shows us is that there is such a thing as an effective counter-terrorism strategy, but there are also ineffective and counterproductive counter-terrorism strategies. It is now very clear to everybody that banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries, plus green card holders, plus Syrian refugees, from coming into the US has been wholly counterproductive and unsuccessful.
And we have the support of the Home Secretary. Only yesterday she said that the ban was a gift to the propagandists who support ISIL. I am sure that my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary will find lots on which to disagree with the Home Secretary, but they are on the same side on this issue.
Exactly. There is such a thing as an anti- terrorism strategy that is misconceived, counterproductive and does not actually make people any safer.
Let me quickly return to the question of the police being called because a child in a Bedfordshire school had a plastic gun. The Minister claims that had nothing to do with Prevent. All I can say to him is that the Central Bedfordshire Council local education authority admitted that the teachers were attempting to act in accordance with the Government’s Prevent guidance, and they admitted that they would not have called the police if a white child had received a toy gun.
Let me quote the child’s mother, who is probably closer to the situation than the Minister. She said:
“To this day, I cannot fathom why a teacher who has known my family for years would suspect terrorist activities based upon a plastic toy gun. Our only distinguishing feature is the colour of our skin. I was utterly humiliated by this experience—but more importantly my sons were confused and terrified. They had to move schools, lost important friendships and…lost trust in their teachers. They will carry the scars of this experience for some time yet.”
The sole reason why they were singled out was the Prevent programme. An anti-terrorism programme that has that kind of result with innocent families and mothers and children is clearly at risk of being wholly counterproductive.
As other hon. Members have said, the report from the Open Society Justice Initiative analyses the effect of the Prevent strategy on the education system and the NHS. It states that the effect is to erode trust, because it is draconian and therefore counterproductive.
There is a long line of reports critical of the Government’s failing strategy. The National Union of Teachers has mounted a sustained criticism of Prevent and passed a motion opposing it outright, as has the National Union of Students. Other teaching unions—the University and College Union and NASUWT—have also opposed it. Liberty has made strong criticisms. Organisation after organisation is calling for either reform of Prevent or certainly review. None of these organisations has any sympathies with terrorism, or acts as an apologist for it; their members and supporters are the potential victims of any terrorist incidents that are committed here.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has again called for a review, arguing, as so many hon. Friends have argued this afternoon, that Prevent has the potential to drive a wedge between the authorities and entire communities. It is clearly targeted at one community. The Government’s own report, “The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism: Annual Report for 2015”, stated that 70% of referrals were linked to “Islamist-related extremism”. As hon. Members have said, with a power and an authenticity that I can only hope to match, that is having an alienating effect on a whole community. It worries me that Ministers will not recognise that fact, and I believe that the alienating effect is made worse by some aspects of the Casey review.
Of course the Government have a duty to protect the right to life of all their citizens. That includes, but is not confined to, terrorism. The problem with the Prevent strategy is that it seems to be failing in its stated objective; it is not necessarily preventing the growth of terrorism, because it seems to be counterproductive. It tramples on hard-won rights and demonises whole communities. As the hon. Member for Telford pointed out, it tends towards criminalising ideas, towards saying what people should be allowed to think, which is contrary to British values.
Even with the widespread concern on the ground about Prevent, more than 400 children under 10 have in the past four years been referred to the police’s Channel programme, which is part of Prevent—400 children under 10. Families are terrified that their children will be taken from them, guilty of engaging in playground games, play-acting or childish bragging. The National Police Chiefs Council says that 80% of all referrals require no action at all.
Anti-terrorism is a serious issue, and effective anti-terrorism is always intelligence-led. That must be fully supported and resourced. Prevent is the opposite of an intelligence-led policy. Any counter-terrorism strategy that depends on sending the police to interview seven-year-old children who happen to have a plastic gun is misconceived. It is my view, and that of Opposition Members generally, that it is time for a major review of Prevent and a fundamental rethink by the Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. I am a father of three. I am a Lancashire MP, representing many diverse communities in my constituency, and in our communities there are threats from both far-right and Islamic extremism. I am therefore well aware of some of the issues that we face on the ground in trying to keep all of our young people safe in today’s world.
However, I do not accuse people who question or criticise Prevent of being anti-security or trying to put at risk the society in which we live. I recognise that people have a right to question Prevent, and I recognise the issues that have been raised today. I have to say that I could not agree more with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who put it perfectly well, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) also made the point that we have to strike a delicate balance. The balance is between safety and security and our obligations to society; some of the very extreme threats and individuals who try to peddle that to our young people or people who are vulnerable to exploitation; and ensuring that policing is done by consent and that the relationship between the community and the Government is indeed collaborative and that they are working together for the best.
Of course we could fine-tune Prevent and do more to engage, build that trust and work with communities. I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford that I am very happy to take her to a Prevent provider, or to meet either a provider or some of the local authorities to do that. I make that offer to all colleagues in the Chamber, to ensure that we start down the road of ensuring that people understand both sides of the argument.
One of the most moving things for me was speaking to a number of community groups involved in delivering Prevent. It is sometimes quite hard to argue with their point of view. When one meets people whose children have been saved from going to Syria to fight for Daesh, it is quite hard to say to them that the Prevent strategy does not help, that it has not helped to protect their children or even saved their lives.
As the Minister for Security, I have the privilege of knowing about many of the successes. We do not often advertise the successes, because we want people to move on with their lives. I am thinking of the 15-year-old in Lancashire who was radicalised by the far right and whose headteacher put him in touch with Prevent. He is now not only out of the specialist school he was in, but in mainstream further education, enjoying the prospect of a good life. I cannot advertise who those individuals are or put their names on a leaflet for everyone to see, because we want them to progress further in life.
The classic example is the difference between the three Bethnal Green girls and the two young men from Brent. The two young men from Brent had strong relationships with the local police and the leader of the council and were able to come back when they got to Istanbul, whereas we lost the three young girls from Bethnal Green. The key to this is building up that trust and those relationships between the police and the community.
I could not agree more. It also means that unfortunately we often know about the failures rather than the successes. The right hon. Gentleman knows from his long period as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee that in the world of policing and security it is nearly always the failures that we hear about when there is an intelligence breakdown or someone slips under the radar. As someone who started in counter-terrorism as a young man in his early 20s, I can tell Members that something always gets through the net. One failure does not justify the scrapping of Prevent. I think that is important.
We all have a duty to do more to make sure that we challenge some of the perceptions that are peddled about Prevent, and to better investigate the stories that are sometimes put in the media. It was also in Lancashire that a child was reported apparently—according to the media—for saying, “I live in a terrorist house.” The child actually said, “I live in a terrorist house and my uncle beats me.” That story is never reported. The referral was a safeguarding referral about abuse of the child, but that was not good enough for some of the media, who chose to leave those details out and report in a lazy manner. We all have a duty to investigate and explore not only those local authorities that deliver Prevent, but the communities—
I cannot give way; I must press on as I have only seven or eight minutes.
One of the first things I did as Security Minister, because I come from Lancashire, was to travel the country. My challenge to Contest is that it must not start and stop in central London. It must not be about the big metropolitan centres; it must be about the whole of the United Kingdom. I have been to the north-east, the north-west and around the whole country to meet more people, and I will continue to do so.
It is important that we start to pick up transparency in Prevent. One of the ways to challenge those perceptions is to get more statistics out where we can. We are going to do that and I have asked my officials to collate and publish many of the stats that the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) raised in her questions, because that is one of the best ways to counter the perceptions.
As Security Minister, I have responsibility for countering not only terrorism, but serious organised crime and child sexual exploitation. At the heart of all those—I am afraid I could not disagree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Telford—is safeguarding. What I see across that whole remit is people using the same methods to groom young men and vulnerable people into a course of violent extremism, gangs, crime or sexual exploitation. If we care about the safeguarding of vulnerable young people, Prevent is just one of those strains for delivering that safeguarding. Contrary to what is often reported, safeguarding is delivered not from my office in Whitehall but through the local authorities and the combined safeguarding officers. I met my hon. Friend’s Prevent officer in Telford at the beginning of this week; he is the councillor who deals with safeguarding across the piece, not just in Prevent, which is often how it is delivered. Of course we would like to see Prevent delivered more widely—not only from the police but across the board—which would be a right step in keeping communities on side.
We should challenge some of the main criticisms. There is the issue that there is no trust in Prevent. I recognise that in some communities there is a stigma attached to Prevent and that people do not necessarily trust parts of it, but in other communities some people do. It is partly about the relationship between the victims, or the people who have perhaps been diverted from a more extreme course. I have to say that in the speeches from the hon. Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) there was an element of, “Locally we are delivering some success, but nationally we are worried about it,” or, “In other parts of the community we represent, it does not always work.” Of course we have to ensure that we rebuild that trust, and transparency will go some way towards doing that.
It is not the case that there is a special category for reporting children to Prevent, as opposed to normal safeguarding. Let me put this in perspective. Every year there are 621,000 child safety referrals to authorities. Prevent, which is not included in that figure, is less than 1% of it, if compared alongside it. There are safeguarding referrals from teachers, and from all the duties that doctors and teachers hold for safeguarding our children—they have a plethora of duties that are either implied or statutory—so we need to put that into perspective.
I have referred to the accusation that Prevent is not working. There are case studies and champions of Prevent. It is not the case that everyone is against Prevent and no one is for it. I met a mother of two children who did not go to Syria. She is delighted, funnily enough, that her children were successfully referred through the Prevent programme. People forget that Channel is a voluntary process. Regretfully, not everyone takes up some of the offers and some go on to do much worse things. However, Channel is voluntary and Big Brother does not force people into it. Some people have tried to imply that, but it is simply not the case.
In 2015, 150 people were prevented from going to Syria. That is a lot of people’s lives that have been saved. Many more people have been diverted from the path of throwing their life away through either violent terrorism and extremism or crime, gangs and the other areas that those same groomers often exploit—the methods they use are the same.
Many hon. Members raised the issue of internet safety and the hon. Member for Bolton South East made the point about education. We do teach cyber-safety in schools; my children had a lesson in cyber-safety at their primary school. We do teach the discourse between political beliefs and religious beliefs. I went to see a school’s Prevent officer in action in Walthamstow, teaching many girls in east London.
Everyone would agree that there is nothing wrong with running programmes and working with young people, but one of the problems is the statutory obligation on teachers, schools and doctors, which means there may well face penalties if they do not deal with things. What we are saying is that it is the statutory obligation—the almost criminalising part—that is wrong. Why can it not be voluntary?
I have listened to the hon. Lady’s valid points, but statutory duties are writ large through the relationship between the state, children and the community. They are writ large in schools and in the medical profession. We all have a statutory duty. If I was a teacher and a child came to me and reported that they were being interfered with or sexually exploited and I did not report it, I would be in breach of a teaching council duty. We all have a duty and that does not make it wrong. What makes it wrong is for us to fail to safeguard our children or take action to prevent them from being radicalised.
There is this idea that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater by scrapping Prevent. I hear what all Members have said today about those perceptions and making sure we reinforce trust and work with communities to ensure that it is collaborative. That is absolutely important and the direction we must travel in to keep it going. On the idea that Prevent is actually having a massive negative effect, I ask colleagues to look across the channel to Germany, France, Belgium and Holland, where they do not have a Prevent strategy anything like ours. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) rightly pointed out, in America they have almost no Prevent strategy. Why are they now scrabbling to engage with their communities and ensure that they keep back the flow of terrorist attacks? This country, under Labour, started a process; we invested in a Prevent strategy to work with our communities and to safeguard children and vulnerable people.
I absolutely agree that we can always do more, and I am committed, as Security Minister, to doing so. It is not always the Security Minister who must do that; local police forces must recruit the right policemen in the right places to do the right jobs. Ultimately, Prevent is working. I can only tell hon. Members the successes, but we have saved lives, we are preventing the far right from rising in other parts of the country, and we are making sure that young people have a future. That is why I back Prevent. I am passionate about it and I am happy to take colleagues to go and meet providers and hear about it at first hand. It is not the disaster that it is painted to be. The misperceptions that are peddled, often by an irresponsible media, only add fuel to the fire, rather than working with us to ensure we protect people in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered implementation of the Prevent Strategy.