Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 17th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour 5:30 pm, 17th December 2018

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow two distinguished reviewers of counterterrorism legislation, who more or less agreed with each other. My first realisation of how pivotal the Prevent strand is came when I chaired a focus group with mothers who were concerned that their children were being lured into radicalised behaviour. They were pleading for there to be somewhere where their children, mainly male in that group, could be referred to be helped through the process and not end up as radicalised and potential terrorists. They had huge concerns that if they raised their fears about their sons with the police, the next thing that would happen is that their doors would be kicked in at four in the morning and the young person would be taken away and interrogated, and goodness only knows what would happen after that. Those mothers were also concerned about whether there were routes within their own communities for dealing with such cases and they felt quite strongly that they were none. They did not have a solution: they simply pleaded for something to be found to help them in that situation. That is one of the strongest cases that I have heard as to why this work is so important.

Having said that, there was a desire for alliteration to have four Ps when the Contest strategy was created and, in hindsight, that the Prevent strand was included was not entirely helpful. The core of Prevent is safeguarding. We have no qualms about safeguarding young people from sexual abuse, about safeguarding those who are vulnerable or have mental health issues, nor of finding ways to steer young people away from gang-related activities—we do not necessarily know how to do it but we know that it is a good thing to do—and we have no qualms about trying to steer people away from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs. Why should we have any qualms about steering young people—or indeed anyone—away from engagement in radicalisation and in terrorism? The problem has been that it is seen as too closely linked to the counterterrorism policy and the alliteration of the four Ps.

We should be quite clear that counterterrorism is important. It has to be addressed in this way and the Prevent programme has not always been as effective as it might have been in individual cases. Again, I remember 12 years ago—I cannot recall exactly when: I would have to check my diary—visiting two Prevent projects in London in adjacent London boroughs. They had similar mixes but took completely different approaches, for no obvious reason. In one, it appeared that if someone was referred to the programme, a large, burly police officer would go around and try to talk them out of it, which, frankly, will not produce the most effective results. There was an issue, particularly at the beginning and perhaps less so now, of quality control in the way in which some Prevent activities have been taking place.

We should also recognise that the fact that Prevent has such a difficult reputation is not entirely accidental. It is not entirely the consequence of that variability in the style but because some organisations and individuals have desperately tried to traduce it and make it appear more sinister than it is—for whatever reasons we can only speculate, but that is what is happened.

My noble friend’s amendment is important not necessarily because we will end up with something very different, but we need to look at those quality control issues, to establish that it is being done as well as possible, and we need to emphasise that the mission is safeguarding and protection of the individual rather than being part of the counterterrorism machinery which necessarily leads people to conviction and imprisonment.