Today I Contributed to a debate on the Implementation of Prevent, calling for more Transparency and accountability.
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