Nick Thomas-Symonds MP: Labour secures independent review of the Prevent Strategy
Shadow Minister for Security Nick Thomas-Symonds MP says it is only by ensuring that this scrutiny of Prevent is robust and transparent that we can fully rebuild trust.
Labour’s approach to counter-terror legislation is based strong powers and strong safeguards, to ensure that those who perpetrate atrocities are brought to justice, but also to ensure that effective measures are in place to discourage people from falling in to a life of violence and hatred in the first place.
Prevent is one of the four pillars of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy; the other three being protect, pursue and prepare. Prevent’s main focus is helping those who are at risk of being drawn into extremism and safeguarding them from being radicalised. We should do all we can to divert people from terrorist ideology in the first place. But we have to find the very best way of doing this. Thus, Labour pledged in its 2017 manifesto to: “review the Prevent programme with a view to assessing both its effectiveness and its potential to alienate minority communities”. Labour Members of Parliament, including myself, were elected on this manifesto pledge during the 2017 General Election: 19 months later this review has been secured from Ministers.
The Government introduced the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2019 into the House back in June 2018: such a Bill was needed to keep pace with technology, and Labour has supported the aims of the Bill whilst working to improve it. The Bill was also an opportunity to discuss Prevent, and it was always an aim of the Shadow Home Affairs Team, working with colleagues in the House of Lords, to secure an independent review. The final amendment accepted by the Government, passed in the Lords, was for arrangements to be made within six months for “an independent review and report on the Government strategy for supporting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.”
As Shadow Security Minister, I have seen some of the fine work carried out by the Prevent programme around the country, diverting people away from extremism to fulfilling lives. Indeed, the quality of some schemes in analysing fake news, and language that provokes a particular type of reaction, that I have seen, has been first-class. But we also have to be honest that the overall aims of any such programme must be clear and not conflict. Intelligence-gathering, safeguarding and community cohesion have not always sat easily together. Moreover, if welfare and communities are to be at the centre of Prevent, then our local services must be given the appropriate resources to make that a reality. We cannot both argue that youth clubs and other community facilities are crucial whilst austerity continually pares them back. There is a wider point here, too: like any flagship Government policy, it should be regularly reviewed – this is an essential part of good governance, regularly considering and improving policy.
We should also accept that not all communities believe in the programme. To have any chance of tackling that, a fully independent review is crucial to ensuring that all sections of our society can believe in a strategy that facilitates the diversion of people from lives of extremism. Therefore, we will be engaging with the Government to ensure that this review is wide-ranging and fully independent. It is only by ensuring that this scrutiny of Prevent is robust and transparent that we can fully rebuild trust.