Prevent in London

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

How successfully is the Government’s Prevent scheme operating in London to identify and deradicalise potential violent extremists?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Terrorism remains a significant threat to our society, as the tragic murder of Sir David Amess MP and the explosion outside the Liverpool Women’s Hospital this week have shown. The pandemic left people more isolated and spending increased amounts of time online, and extremists have used this opportunity to spread their hateful ideologies to those vulnerable to radicalisation. It is more critical than ever that our national counterterrorism strategy includes a fit-for-purpose plan to identify and assist those vulnerable to radicalisation, as well as those who have already been indoctrinated.

My Countering Violent Extremism Programme delivered the most comprehensive engagement and review exercise in this policy area ever, including a full and frank assessment of Prevent. It found that Prevent has done some good work, no doubt saving lives, but it also found significant shortcomings. Referrals from friends, family and community members in particular are low, resulting in missed opportunities to intervene. Sadly, we have also seen instances where individuals previously referred to Prevent alongside those known to have held violent extremist views in prison, go on to commit acts of terrorism. The programme’s final report set out that it was time for a rethink to make Prevent more effective.

Some improvements have been made since then, such as the introduction of the ACT Early campaign but more needs to be done. I welcomed the Government’s decision in January 2019 to deliver an independent review of Prevent, and I look forward to reading the recommendations and the Government’s response. However, this review has been dogged with problems and is well behind schedule.

I have invested more than any other mayor in this area, including delivering £1.4 million in funding through my Shared Endeavour Fund for grassroots civil society projects that counter hate, extremism and radicalisation across the capital. I will continue to do what I can in London to strengthen our communities against extremism, as I know that Assembly Member Unmesh Desai is doing as well.

Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor, for that detailed answer. Mr Mayor, as we know, anyone can make a referral to the Prevent programme, including social media companies, if they wish to. However, I recently received data, about which the MPS spoke at yesterday’s Police and Crime Committee and confirmed my understanding, showing that no referrals to the Prevent programme in London have ever been made by a social media company.

Considering the type of extremist content that social media companies monitor and remove from their sites, what more could they be doing to keep us safe? Do you think it would help if there was a duty on these companies to make referrals to the Prevent programme?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you for your question and thank you for raising a really important issue. Look, let us just park and accept that social media, generally speaking, is a great thing. We all use it, and we can see the benefits of social media to our society and so forth. However, self-regulation is clearly not working. It is not working.

The Online Safety Bill is an opportunity to address some of the concerns we have. There is an issue - we do not have time to go into it now - with a legal duty and we need to weigh up the pros and cons and to make sure that it worked. I am hoping that the combination of the Online Safety Bill and the independent review addresses some of the points you have raised, which are really important points.

What I am quite clear about is social media companies are not doing enough to address some of the propaganda and hate messages that are on their platforms. They need to do more to take action against the users who exploit their technology to spread hate and disinformation. Also, they have to change their algorithms and how they reward bad behaviour, which is what they are doing, which clearly cannot be right.

Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Thank you. I have two more minutes left and so I have to ask you this question, Mr Mayor, in the light of recent events in the cricketing world. Sport plays a big role, as I am sure you will agree, in bringing communities together and promoting community cohesion, which is so important in terms of the issues we are talking about here.

You referred to the Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq earlier in response to a question from Assembly Member Russell. Will you join me in condemning the inaction of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club in particular, and other cricket clubs that we now know of and counties, in tackling the deep-rooted issues of institutional racism, and welcome any moves to establish initiatives similar to that in football - Kick Racism Out of Football is what I am thinking of here - as advocated by the Chair of the Commons Select Committee that took evidence from Azeem Rafiq? It was something that moved us all so much. It was such powerful testimony from him.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Yes. Look, it was uncomfortable to watch what was said, but I recognised a lot of what was said and a lot of it did not surprise me. I was reflecting on why I stopped playing cricket with certain teams and then in my later years played for Asian-only teams. It is an important issue that that has been highlighted that we have to think about.

The best way to prevent radicalisation is for us to mix and mingle more. Sport unites. What sport does is it brings people together of different backgrounds, different races, and different religions. Some of my best friends I have met through sport. However, if it is the case that the way sport is conducted, run and regulated leads to people not feeling comfortable or welcome in a mixed environment with different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and different religions so that they are joining mono-ethnic, mono-religious teams, that cannot be good. That is a breeding ground for those who want to divide communities and have a propaganda of hate. That is why many of us were triggered by what was said because, as brave as he was, we recognised it.

Lord Patel [of Bradford OBE] - who is a friend and I declare an interest - has now taken over at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and has a tough but important job to do because many of us love cricket, love playing cricket and love watching cricket, and we love the fact that our world champion team had Muslims in it. It is a source of pride that Moeen [Ali] and Adil [Rashid] were in the England team that won the World Cup, but it cannot be right that Adil Rashid’s experiences are not dissimilar from some of those we heard this week. He is an England World Cup champion, all right, and that is why it is a problem. We have to kick it out of all sports. We have to kick it out of cricket. We have to kick it out of society.

I want to commend what Azeem Rafiq did this week. I want to commend him for his bravery over the last few years. He probably had a fantastic career that was wasted because of racism. The book should be thrown at all those responsible. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has questions to answer as well, and I am hoping action is taken.

Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor. I have two other questions, but I will put those two in writing.