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Prevent Strategy

Volume 783: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Prevent strand of CONTEST is part of a counterterrorism strategy or counterextremism strategy.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I also welcome the Government’s statement that they intend to tackle all forms of extremism. Does my noble friend agree that, to tackle hate crime effectively, we must define those acts, words, conduct and attitudes that we consider to be extreme? Therefore, what is the Government’s working definition of Islamophobia? When, if at all, do they intend to agree and publish a definition of far-right extremism?

I thank my noble friend for that question. On Islamophobia, the Government are absolutely clear that hatred and intolerance on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity have absolutely no place in our society. Our hate crime action plan sets out our commitment to defeating all forms of hatred. Generally, the Government’s counterextremism strategy defines extremism as,

“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”.

This applies to all forms of extremism, including the far and extreme right wing.

Of course, the Prevent strategy to counteract extremism and acts likely to incite extremism applies across the board and to the whole community. Recently, some of our national media have carried a news story about alleged cultural impositions on a Christian child in the care of Muslim foster parents— a story that was subsequently revealed, following court proceedings, to be inaccurate in significant aspects, as well as being accompanied by a contentious mocked-up photograph. The way the story was presented and headlined was hardly designed to lower the temperature as far as attitudes about extremism are concerned. How exactly does the Prevent strategy apply to misleading reporting of such stories in our national media?

My Lords, it is extremely unhelpful and can be divisive when such stories hit the media. With regard to how that might fit into Prevent, the Prevent programme is fundamentally about supporting vulnerable individuals and safeguarding them from being drawn into terrorism. It is safeguarding in a similar way to how we would safeguard people from drug abuse or physical and sexual abuse. I will not comment on individual cases, but that would be the clear distinction between the two.

My Lords, can the Minister remind the House why the Government refuse to allow an independent review of Prevent, as recommended by the former reviewer of terrorism legislation, and why they refuse to publish their own review? At the moment, we have criticism of Prevent which the Government say is without foundation, but that assertion is in itself without foundation.

My Lords, we are absolutely clear that Prevent is working. Since 2010, 280,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed from the internet. A thousand people have received support through the Channel programme. In addition, we have absolute evidence of delivery of Prevent working across sectors. We have 850,000 frontline staff, including NHS staff and teachers, trained in spotting signs of radicalisation, so we are happy that Prevent is actually working.

My Lords, are the Government aware that, by defining Muslims as the real focus of Prevent, Prevent has an incentive to be an agent provocateur—to actually find Muslims who are defined as other and as potential terrorists? This in itself creates a sense of otherisation which alienates many law-abiding Muslims and makes them feel as if they are defined as the enemy within.

My Lords, we need to be absolutely clear that Prevent is in no way targeting Muslims. Prevent is aiming to safeguard people who are actually vulnerable to radicalisation, so it is a mechanism to protect people and not to target them. I think it is incumbent upon all of us to try not to make that connection.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of the arrest of four serving members of the British armed services belonging to a neo-Nazi terror group. Could the Minister assure the House that there will be adequate measures taken to make sure that there are no extremists serving in the armed services?

My Lords, the Government take all the steps possible to make sure that there are not extremists serving in the Armed Forces. Clearly, some people hide those sentiments and the events of yesterday were clear to see. Just as we are tackling Islamist extremism, so we must tackle the far right.

My Lords, is my noble friend’s Question not in danger of making a distinction where there is actually little difference? In the case of political Islam, which she referred to, is this not rather well represented in both cases by the Muslim Brotherhood, which seems to me to be rather like Sinn Fein was to the IRA?

My Lords, there clearly is a distinction between people who hold extremist views and promote those views to others, and those who actually go on to commit acts of terrorism. That is why we make a distinction between the two, with the former group being tackled on all sides by some of the programmes and engagement that we have with communities throughout this country.