Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 5:30 pm, 12th November 2018

My Lords, I have attached my name to this amendment because it is an issue that goes to the heart of civil liberties in this country. The Prevent strategy is of great concern to me and to tens of thousands of others, particularly campaigners and those from ethnic minorities. As a Member of the London Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority, I visited Prevent projects and heard from local people and the practitioners themselves. I can assure noble Lords that there is mistrust, and even distrust, of Prevent in many places. One project I saw appeared to work well, but many did not.

A person is referred for political re-education through the Prevent strategy for opposition to so-called “fundamental British values”. I think it is the Government who are undermining fundamental British values and I should be referring them to Prevent. The Government are challenging informed debate and transparent government. They cannot continue to justify Prevent with their internal Home Office reviews; it is time to shine the light of public scrutiny on the whole process.

I must ask: why would the Government say no to this amendment? If the Prevent strategy is a success, if it does not discriminate against Muslims, ethnic minorities and campaigners of all sorts, and if it does not infringe too far our rights and freedoms, what is the problem with holding a proper review and what is there to hide? An independent review would surely prove the Government’s case and force all doubters, like me, to back down. The Government would be celebrating Prevent in all its glory, not trying to cover up the facts.

In the absence of reliable assessments of the Prevent strategy, we are forced to conclude the exact opposite. The fears expressed by the Muslim Council of Britain—that Muslims are being disproportionately targeted and are increasingly fearful of unjustified state intrusion in their lives—must therefore be accurate. The concerns of social workers, teachers and academics that they have been conscripted as oppressive counterterrorism officers must be taken seriously, and the idea that the Government are wasting money and scarce police resources on chasing people who pose absolutely no threat of harm must be assumed to be true.

The Prevent definition of “extremism” is,

“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”.

Such a broad and meaningless definition means that too many people are getting caught in a trap. I urge the Minister to adopt this amendment and prove to us sceptics that Prevent is operating lawfully and effectively. As is often said in support of the Government whenever they want to curtail our rights, “You have nothing to fear unless you have something to hide”. I therefore have to ask: what are the Government hiding?