46.Prevent is one of the four elements of CONTEST, the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. It aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It has three specific strategic objectives:
The Home Office says that it works with the police, local authorities, and a wide range of government departments and community organisations to deliver the Prevent strategy. The second Prevent objective is delivered through Channel, which was first piloted in 2007 and then rolled out across England and Wales in April 2012. The programme uses a multi-agency approach to protect vulnerable people by: identifying individuals at risk; assessing the nature and extent of that risk; and developing the most appropriate support plan for the individuals concerned.
47.The Prevent strategy has been subject to much criticism. The Muslim Council of Britain told us their perception of the strategy from community members was that it was not working and that there was a lot of suspicion around it. They cite one of the reasons for this to be a lack of engagement at the community level in which they work and network.
48.Baroness Warsi, a former Minister for Faith and Communities, criticised the strategy for lacking a community cohesion aspect. She told us that she felt quite frustrated by the lack of proper engagement by the Government and “the number of people the Government refuses to speak to”; she did not understand how somebody’s views could be changed without speaking to them. If there were individuals or organisations which the Government felt it was inappropriate to include in discussions about countering extremism, then that list needed to be “in the public domain”, along with the reasons for those organisations being on the list. She believed that some of the evidence on which the Government was basing its decisions not to engage with certain groups was “concerning”.
49.David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, agreed that wider engagement would be beneficial; otherwise there was a risk of ending up with a dialogue which only involved the Government and “people who think just like them”, and the mainstream “Muslim community talking to each other” but neither side really engaging with each other. He suggested to us that the Muslim community felt “under siege” and, though he did not agree there was any reason to believe Prevent was not well-motivated, there was a risk that some parts of the Muslim community saw Prevent as “a sort of spying programme” when it was already feeling pressurised. He has therefore called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy.
50.The young people we discussed these issues with in Bradford were clear that there was a breakdown in trust and Prevent was not working. A recent study has found that Muslim parents are so worried about a lack of support, and so mistrustful of the security services, that they are reluctant to report radicalisation. They feared “informing on their children might lead to other family members being arrested”. Haras Rafiq, Managing Director of think-tank Quilliam, said to us he believed it would not be easy to foster trust in the current environment, but that genuine dialogue with the communities—and engagement that was not carried out “through the lens of security and legislation”—would help. Another think-tank, Averroes, suggested to us that the Government’s Muslim Engagement Forum (MEF) should be open to a broader spectrum of organisations and its discussions more transparent.
51.Faith Matters, a not-for-profit organisation which also runs the Tell MAMA Islamophobia monitoring service, expressed concern that the strategy was “too strongly” controlled by central Government rather than local government, which meant that the “input of Muslim communities” was excluded. It was also concerned about the Home Office defining extremism “without sufficient consultation” leading to “a risk that the current strategy might define key partners as potential extremists due to their political stances”.
52.Some commentators believed that the lack of diversity at senior level in the security forces exacerbated the lack of trust in the wider Muslim community. Former Metropolitan Police Chief Superintendent Dal Babu said in March 2015 that the Prevent strategy was a “toxic brand” run by “mainly white officers with little understanding of Islam, gender or race”. He argued that a lack of Muslims amongst staff implementing Prevent was hampering efforts to stop vulnerable young people, particularly women, from travelling to Syria to join Daesh. Chief Constable Simon Cole, the national police lead for Prevent, said he did not recognise the concerns about these aspects of police involvement in Prevent but accepted that police forces working with Prevent should be transparent about what they do and why.
53.The proposed Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill provides an opportunity to address some of these issues. However, concerns have already been expressed about its possible impact. A multi-faith alliance of 26 organisations and individuals have raised concerns that the impact will be to alienate communities and undermine free speech rather than tackle extremism. This coalition includes the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, the Muslim Council of Britain and the former police lead for Prevent, Sir Peter Fahy. Critics are also concerned that, if people feel alienated, this could affect information gathering about possible terrorist threats as well as feed the extremist narrative about Muslims being picked upon.
54.Home Office officials are also reportedly struggling to find a definition of ‘extremist’ to be used in the Bill that will not immediately be challenged in court. A definition in the Government’s strategy which focuses on ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’ is believed to be regarded as too broad and could be legally challenged as constraining freedom of speech. The national police lead, Chief Constable Simon Cole, is also concerned that the plans may not be enforceable and risk turning police officers into “thought police”. He said “unless you can define what extremism is very clearly then it’s going to be really challenging to enforce.” Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty, was concerned that there had been too much anti-terrorism legislation over the past 12 years, some of which, in her view, had proved to be counter-productive.
55.The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”. We have heard calls for Prevent to be brought to an end (although notably not from Inspire or the families of those who had travelled to join Daesh). Even the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorist Legislation has recommended a review of Prevent, because of it becoming such a huge source of grievance. 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. Allaying these concerns and building trust will require full and wide engagement with all sections of the Muslim community, including at grassroots level—and not just with groups which already agree with the Government. The focus of the strategy should be around building a real partnership between community groups and the state. The concerns of parents about the lure of radicalisation, and their desire for support and advice, should be heeded. If stakeholders buy into such a strategy it can be successful, but unfortunately that is not what is currently happening.
56.The Government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal. This will help communities to understand what Prevent is seeking to achieve and help to avoid it being seen as threatening to their culture and religion. As our predecessors have said in previous reports, we also recommend that the Government abandons the now toxic name ‘Prevent’ for the strategy and renames it with the more inclusive title of ‘Engage’.
57.Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a duty on certain bodies (“specified authorities”) in the exercise of their functions, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. The list of specified authorities is set out in Schedule 6 to the Act. Guidance on the Prevent Duty was issued to these authorities under section 29 of the Act. The Act states that the authorities subject to the provisions must have regard to the Guidance when carrying out the Prevent Duty.
58.The specified authorities include local authorities, schools, prisons, police and health bodies. The Duty commenced on July 2015, except for specified authorities in the further and higher education sectors whose duty commenced in September 2015.
59.The Government has said it has worked with the sectors affected to ensure they are aware of their new responsibilities, are able to recognise the signs that someone may be being drawn into terrorism, and know how to access help and support.
60.The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of assembly, Maina Kiai, has warned that the strategy could end up promoting extremism by stigmatising and alienating segments of the population and affecting the discussion of terrorism. He said that he had been told that some families “are afraid of discussing the negative effects of terrorism in their own homes, fearing their children would talk about it at school and have their intentions misconstrued.”
61.Dr Sarah Marsden from Lancaster University was concerned that the duty to protect those at risk of radicalisation would stifle classroom debate and lead to an “overly cautious approach to referrals”. Raheel Mohammed from Maslaha, which works with schools, told us that teachers are concerned about not being able to create “safe spaces” within schools where different opinions could be voiced without fear, leading to a more restrictive school environment. Miqdaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, told us that the Prevent Duty had created “discriminatory practices” for young students at school. He cited the example of a Muslim student asking their physics teacher about nuclear fission, and then being referred to the counter-terrorism team. Young people who spoke to us at our youth forum in Bradford echoed these concerns about comments being misinterpreted and feeling stigmatised and unfairly under scrutiny. A recent media survey about Prevent among teachers found opinion was divided, with some believing that concerns about students were better managed by teachers rather than being passed on to the police, and others feeling it helped them to spot signs of vulnerability in a child so that they could assist in preventing them going down the path of potentially criminal activity.
62.The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) told us that, while they were “broadly supportive” of the Duty, they were concerned about a lack of sufficient “guidance, support and training for schools” to understand and implement it. NAHT reported that their members were finding it difficult to access training, and possibly having to source training on the open market. They believed that that would raise concerns about quality and appropriate accreditation.
63.We took evidence from Mark Keary, Principal, and Alison Brannick, former Deputy Principal, of the Bethnal Green Academy. This is the school attended by four young women who left the UK to travel to Syria to join Daesh, one in December 2014, followed by three more in February 2015. Mark Keary told us that the Prevent Duty focussed on the stereotype of an angry young man, but that the stereotypes needed to be updated to include the evolving nature of radicalisation, with young girls being groomed to travel to Syria. Alison Brannick agreed, adding that Prevent materials needed to move away from the stereotype that young people may be radicalised because they have been previously involved in criminality, and have that as a vulnerability. We believe that an additional concern is that the Prevent materials do not show sufficient understanding of the lure for young girls raised in conservative homes, with little freedom, who then choose to embrace their notion of faith and travel to a war zone.
64.Raheel Mohammed of Maslaha told us that teachers only receive about an hour’s training on the Prevent Duty. He believed that the training was not holistic and did not extend to the broader school environment. Rather than a check-list of vulnerabilities for teachers to keep an eye out for, he would suggest a programme about broadening schoolchildren’s understanding of the wider issues around terrorism and radicalisation.
65.Sara Khan, co-director of Inspire, also told us about some feedback that the training was short and there was no provision for further questions and answers. She said schools appeared to be confused about what constituted “socially conservative practices” and what were “extreme ones”. However both of Inspire’s co-directors, Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir, told us their overall experience from delivering training to staff had been very positive. Kalsoom Bashir told us that teachers had been reassured that the Duty is part of their safeguarding policies; and Home Office facilitators behind the training had promised to continually refresh the case studies.
66.Faith Matters is concerned about a lack of clarity about the guidance to schools around Prevent training. They wrote to us about uncertainty around whether local authorities were able to choose training providers that suited them or if the Home Office had an approved list of providers. They also felt there was very little oversight of the quality of training.
67.Ofsted’s recent report into how further education providers are complying with the Prevent Duty found that not all staff had received sufficient training, and there was a reliance on online training which was “often too superficial to help staff understand the nature of specific risks”. Training was found to be more effective when education providers had worked with external partners. The report also found that support from local authorities, Prevent coordinators and the police was inconsistent.
68.Professor Julius Weinberg, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, said that the Government was putting universities in an impossible position by expecting them to ban speakers for extremism without defining extremism in sufficiently clear terms. Megan Dunn, the then President of the National Union of Students, was concerned that the Prevent Duty required the risk of being drawn into terrorism to be completely mitigated. She said that: “while we are all working towards that aim, how can that possibly be proven?” She also believed that there had been a breakdown in trust and told us that black and Muslim students feel that they are more likely to be referred to Prevent because of the use of profiling.
69.The Prevent Duty has placed a responsibility on educational establishments and other public bodies which they are finding very hard to fulfil. We are concerned about a lack of sufficient and appropriate training in an area that is complex and unfamiliar to many education and other professionals, compounded by a lack of clarity about what is required of them. We recommend that the Home Office appoint an independent panel to reassess the Prevent training being provided to education and other professionals, to ensure they have the confidence to be able to deliver their Prevent Duty in the context of the environment in which they work, and the need to continue to deliver their primary function. The review team should include frontline staff and should aim to issue new guidance on delivering Prevent, including the provision of clear definitions of extremist behaviour; and to specify the length of training which professionals receive and when there should be follow-up training. Finally, the independent body should be asked to report on the advantages and disadvantages of placing the Prevent duty on a statutory basis and the range of institutions which are subject to the duty.
70.We have consistently heard strong criticisms about Prevent both from grass-roots organisations and from community members. The Government must do more to explain its approach to any new measures aimed at countering extremism in advance of them being implemented. There has been a great deal of counter-terrorism legislation over the past 12 years, some of which has been counter-productive, as the former Director of Liberty told us.
71.The Government plans to introduce a new Countering Extremism and Safeguarding Bill shortly. It is imperative that this does not turn out to be another Bill that fails to achieve its objectives. Concerns have already been expressed about the approach the Bill is expected to take, including from the former and current national police leads on Prevent (Sir Peter Fahy and Chief Constable Simon Cole of Leicestershire Police) and a multi-faith alliance of 26 organisations and individuals. The Home Office has itself acknowledged that finding meaningful definitions is proving problematic. The Government must ensure that the Bill includes a clear definition of what extremist behaviour is and a full explanation of what the Government is and is not seeking to achieve through its provisions. This information should be made available before the Bill receives detailed consideration in Parliament.
56 HM Government, , pp 3–5
57 Qq4, 17
58 Qq103, 111
61 David Anderson () para 13
62 “”, Independent, 11 July 2016
64 Averroes () para 39
65 Faith Matters () para 2
66 “”, The Guardian, 9 March 2015
67 Chief Constable Simon Cole QPM, Leicestershire Police () p 5
68 “”, The Guardian, 21 May 2016
69 “”, The Guardian, 24 May 2016
70 “, The Guardian, 3 May 2016
71 “”, The Guardian, 24 May 2016
72 Qq 957–958
73 HM Government, , p5
74 Home Office, , 23 March 2016
75 “Nation’s institutions step up effort to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, , 1 July 2015
76 “, The Guardian, 21 April 2016
77 Dr Sarah Marsden Lancaster University, () para 2.4
80 “”, The Guardian, 12 July 2016
81 National Association of Head Teachers () paras 3 and 6
84 Qq1128, 1131, 1136
86 Faith Matters () para 7
87 Ofsted, , July 2016, pp 4–6
88 Qq659–662 and “”, River Online, 16 March 2015
2 August 2016