My Lords, we should have pride in the achievements of the many excellent people who work locally in Prevent, and in the increased transparency that has been a notable feature of the past few years. I have in mind not only the helpful publication of statistics but recent initiatives such as the staging in the West Midlands of simulated Channel panel meetings through which outsiders have been brought in to witness the process of decision-making.
As the noble Lord, Lord West, has indicated, triumphalism about the successes of Prevent would be quite out of place. In its report last month, the Intelligence and Security Committee noted that the failure to pick up attack planning by the Parsons Green tube bomber, Ahmed Hassan, despite him having been an active Channel case, highlighted what the committee called,
“deep-rooted issues in the administration”,
of Prevent. Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu described Prevent in an interview this February, when he was senior national co-ordinator for counterterrorism, as “hugely controversial”. He went on to say:
“Prevent, at the moment, is owned by the Government, but I think it should be outside central government altogether ... Rather than the Government handing over a sum of money and then it becoming state-sponsored with accusations of demonising communities, it should be locally generated. We have gotten all of that messaging the wrong way around, it should be grassroots up”.
I mention this to encourage noble Lords to avoid complacency on this subject and because the Minister quite rightly expressed in Committee her strong respect for Mr Basu’s views. Perhaps it shows that the best of us are not monolithic in our views; with great respect to my noble friend Lord Carlile, that is true also of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, whose recent book is both nuanced and constructive in its approach.
The legitimate questions raised by Mr Basu could be multiplied: how should Prevent relate to other safeguarding mechanisms on the one hand and to the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy on the other? How robust are the mechanisms for measuring success? To what extent should concerns derived from Prevent contacts be shared with counterterrorism police and others? Decisions as to the future direction of Prevent are of course for Ministers. It was encouraging to hear from my noble friend Lord Carlile that the Prevent oversight board might be showing signs of renewed life. But independent review of the operation of Prevent by a security-cleared person, based on the widest possible engagement with those affected, could help to inform those decisions. It could also provide much-needed public reassurance about an initiative which is so hotly debated that it has been described as “5% of the budget and 85% of the conversation”.
As Mr Basu said in February:
“Government will not thank me for saying this, but an independent reviewer of Prevent … would be a healthy thing”.
I agree, and I hope your Lordships will too.