UK government strategy for preventing terrorism
The Committee’s inquiry
Chapter 4 The Prevent Strategy
The Prevent Review
40. The revised Prevent Strategy was published in June 2011. It has three objectives: challenging the ideology that supports terrorism and those who promote it; protecting vulnerable people; and supporting sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation. Witnesses tended to broadly welcome the outcome of the Prevent Review, favouring the clearer split between counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation work; the separation out of activity between the Home Office, focusing on violent extremism and the Department for Communities and Local Government, focusing on non-violent extremism; and the fact that more care would be taken to ensure that funding was not given to groups that opposed British values. Nevertheless, some reservations about the strategy were raised and some regarding its implementation. We explore each of these below.
41. On the whole, witnesses supported the outcome of the Prevent Review. We too welcome many aspects of the new Strategy, which appears to address some of the major criticisms levelled at its predecessors.
Targeting resources proportionate to the threat
42. As previously stated, the revised Prevent Strategy is designed to address all forms of terrorism, whereas the original focus of the strategy dealt only with Islamist terrorism and therefore almost exclusively focused on Muslim communities. Resources are to be allocated proportionate to the threat. To a certain extent Prevent has already begun to address other threats; for example, 8% of those referred to the Government’s Channel programme as being potentially vulnerable to violent extremism were referred owing to concerns around right-wing violent extremism. However, some witnesses, and a number of participants in our conference, disputed whether the Strategy and in particular its implementation accurately reflected the threat, arguing in particular that the threat from extreme right-wing terrorism is played down by the authorities.
43. The Government does not publish a threat level for any non-Al Qa’ida or Northern Ireland-related forms of terrorism. There is some disagreement as to whether there is a “terrorist” threat from the extreme right-wing. In its most recent EU terrorist threat assessment, Europol stated that:
Some incidents that occurred in 2010 could be classified as right-wing extremism. These raised public order concerns, but have not in any way endangered the political, constitutional, economic or social structures of any of the Member States.
However, concern about extreme right-wing terrorism grew in 2011 following the killing of 77 people in two terrorist attacks in Norway in July 2011 by Anders Breivik, whose extreme right-wing views were linked to Islamophobia.
44. The Community Security Trust and Board of Deputies of British Jews jointly argued, in relation to the 17 right-wing extremists currently serving prison sentences for acts of terrorism, that their plots “involved the use of military explosives, biological warfare and firearms, indicating a capability not hitherto used by Islamist terrorism in the UK.” Mike Whine, their representative, added in oral evidence that “one should not belittle the far right’s capacity to engage in really serious terrorism and, if you look within Europe generally, then there have been even more serious cases.” Dr Goodwin suggested the focus on Muslim communities in the delivery of Prevent had left a “noticeable gap”:
I think even though far right parties and movements like the EDL are not overtly violent in their ambitions to the same extent that Al Qa’ida-inspired groups are, I would make a case that this movement contains the potential for violence. It gives its followers a specific set of narratives that under certain conditions validate the use of violence.
45. Dr Goodwin further warned of the need to pay closer attention to the interplay between different forms of extremism and take more seriously:
The potential for a spiral of violence between different forms of extremism. What I mean by that is something that we have not seen since Northern Ireland, which is the potential for far right extremisms to enact violence or confrontation against, for example, an AQ-inspired group, to bomb a mosque or something of that nature and then for that action to be retaliated. It wouldn’t really take too long for a spiral of violence to emerge.
This was reiterated by Professor Nigel Copsey, of Teesside University, at our conference.
46. A view was expressed by some of those giving evidence to us, and those to whom we spoke less formally, that the revised Prevent Strategy only pays lip service to the threat from extreme far-right terrorism. We accept that Prevent resources should be allocated proportionately to the terrorist threat, and that to an extent we must rely upon the intelligence and security services to make this judgement. However, we received persuasive evidence about the potential threat from extreme far-right terrorism. The ease of travel and communications between countries in Europe and the growth of far-right organisations, which appear to have good communications with like-minded groups within Europe, suggest that the current lack of firm evidence should not be a reason for neglecting this area of risk. The Prevent Strategy should outline more clearly the actions to be taken to tackle far right radicalisation as well as explicitly acknowledge the potential interplay between different forms of violent extremism, and the potential for measures directed at far-right extremism to have a consequential effect on Islamist extremism, and vice versa.
Supporting sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation
47. The Government argued in the Prevent Strategy that:
We accept that universities and colleges of further education will need guidance, information and best practice to address these issues … But we are concerned that some universities and colleges have failed to engage in Prevent.
Professor Neumann agreed that “universities have been a little bit complacent … in the past”. Universities UK acknowledged that “universities can and should do more” and drew our attention to the recommendations contained within their 2011 report, Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities, which have sought to redress this. Professor Petts told us:
We are all very aware that, in an environment where we have a very large cohort of young, potentially vulnerable people, there is a threat, and we are very alert to that threat. We are acutely aware of our responsibility to those young people …
What this report has done is refocus institutions’ minds on how we deliver practically freedom of speech in an environment that is safe and fair to all people.
48. On the basis of a survey undertaken by Universities UK, Professor Petts considered that “the vast majority of institutions” have “signed up wholeheartedly” to the Prevent Strategy. He gave some examples from his own institution, the University of Westminster:
We have a detailed process in place and we check all organisations that wish to become engaged with our students, and we draw a line. To give you an example, I believe that we are one of the few universities in the country where, in the last year, we actually said no on one occasion, and we engaged with an organisation on another occasion to change the programme of events to ensure that our students were not exposed to radical extremism …
In my own institution, we have a team of four individuals who are responsible for ensuring that we have the right protocols in place, that staff are aware of those protocols and that students are aware of those protocols through the student charter, which explains to students their responsibilities to each other and the staff’s responsibilities to them.
Universities UK contended that “selective media reporting and reliance on an evidence base that frequently ignores the positive work universities have undertaken in addressing this issue … has resulted in universities being disproportionately targeted in the broader debate.”
49. However, some university and student representatives also expressed broader concerns about the role they were expected to play. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies stated that it was:
Gravely concerned over the impact the revised strategy will have on freedom of expression on campuses across the UK. All higher education stakeholders … are obliged by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights to allow the expression of opinions as long as they do not compromise public safety.
The National Union of Students (NUS) expressed the view of many students with whom we met in arguing that “universities are one of the only places where [extremist] views and opinions can be challenged effectively in open forums and debates.” At our conference, Dr Richard Hall cited Cardinal Newman’s description of universities as places of “collision of mind with mind”. However, a case study undertaken at City University by the Quilliam Foundation found that, where students and academics had tried to challenge the activities and views of the Islamic society, they were subject to intimidation.
50. The NUS has produced guidance for student unions which seeks to provide information and advice on their legal implications as charities, the safety and welfare implications of visiting speakers and how to manage associated risks of external speakers speaking or presenting at events organised by the union. However, NUS representative Pete Mercer was concerned that support from the NUS was the only form of guidance available to students but that the Union were not experts on extremism. More generally:
Our conversations with staff in institutions and the HE sector indicate that they are unclear about what is expected of them.
It is NUS’ view that the government should provide clearer guidance for the sector on what role they expect institutions to play in the delivery of Prevent.
51. We accept that some universities may have been complacent about their role, and, while we agree in principle that universities are ideal places to confront extremist ideology, we are not convinced that extremists on campus are always subject to equal and robust challenge. We recommend that the Government issue clearer guidance to universities about their expected role in Prevent, following consultation with university and student representative bodies. We would hope that college authorities and student bodies will recognise that individuals or groups expressing hatred against any particular race or nationality is simply not acceptable on a British campus, and certainly needs to be challenged immediately.
52. We further recommend that, a designated contact point with relevant expertise within Government is provided to student unions and university administrators to assist them in making difficult decisions about speakers on campus.
Secretary of State for the Home Department, Cm 8092
Introduction to Chapter 7, a new Prevent strategy
The new Prevent strategy will be based around the guiding principles outlined in chapter 6. They represent a significant departure from the previous strategy:
• The aim of Prevent should be to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
• Prevent should address all forms of terrorism, but continue to prioritise according to the risks to
our national security. Its principal focus will therefore remain terrorism associated with Al Qa’ida
and related groups.
• Prevent needs to deal with extremism where terrorism draws on extremist ideas; and where people who are extremists are being drawn towards terrorism-related activity.
• Prevent will depend on wider Government programmes to strengthen integration and should be carefully coordinated with them. Other than in exceptional circumstances, Prevent should not fund these programmes and should be distinct from them.
• Prevent will remain one part of our counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. The relationship between Prevent and what we call Pursue (such as work to investigate and disrupt terrorist activity) must be very carefully managed. Prevent is not a means for spying or for other covert activity.
• We intend that agencies and Departments work to a common set of objectives in this area. But we look to local authorities and communities to consider how those objectives can best be implemented: they will have the expertise and the understanding of local context which in this as in many other policy areas is vital.
• Funding for local authority projects will be precisely targeted and dedicated to ensure it is used for the purposes for which it is intended. But central Government should not seek to micromanage decisions about local delivery which are properly the responsibility of local partners.
• Funding will not be provided to extremist organisations.
• It will not be part of this strategy to use extremists to deal with the risk from radicalisation.40 Prevent Strategy
• Public funding for Prevent must be rigorously prioritised at home and overseas. The balance of investment within domestic Prevent work and between that work and Prevent overseas needs to be regularly assessed. All our Prevent programmes need to be relevant to Prevent objectives.
• The evaluation of Prevent work is critical and must significantly improve. Data collection must be more rigorous.
7.2 Within this overall framework the new Prevent strategy will have three objectives. It will:
• respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it;
• prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and,
• work with a wide range of sectors and institutions (including education, faith, health and criminal justice) where there are risks of radicalisation which we need to address.
7.3 We believe that these objectives reflect our understanding of the radicalisation process and the factors which are important to it.
7.4 We also regard the internet as vital to Prevent work, not just because we need to more effectively disrupt terrorist use of the internet, but because of the range of opportunities it provides to challenge terrorist ideology. How we use the internet and how it is being used in the radicalisation process are issues which appear throughout this document. A section below also considers the internet as a sector in its own right and looks at the work that we are doing with the internet industry itself to address radicalisation and terrorism online.
7.5 In the terms of reference for this review, the Home Secretary directed that Prevent should be proportionate and focused. We regard this as particularly important because of the view that the last Prevent strategy was disproportionate – in particular, that it stigmatised communities, suggested that they were collectively at risk of radicalisation and implied terrorism was a problem specific to Muslim communities.
7.6 We judge that the strategy we outline here is proportionate to the threat we face. It recognises that the vast majority of people of all faiths in this country reject terrorism without any qualification. The purpose of Prevent is not to convince the majority of people that terrorism is wrong – they need no convincing. Rather, the purpose is to enlist the support of people in our country to reach the much smaller minority who may be drawn into terrorism, often through extremist views.
7.7 The strategy will not allocate resources according to a crude calculation of Muslim population density. It will allocate resources on the basis of risk, an assessment in turn informed not by numbers of people of any faith but by the activity we have seen by terrorist organisations and terrorist sympathisers. This is a fundamental reorientation of our Prevent work. The strategy implies no judgment on particular communities: it reflects a judgment on the groups which intend to cause us harm.
7.8 At present, the greatest threat we face remains that from Al Qa’ida and like-minded groups. That has to be the focus on our Prevent work. But the new strategy will apply to all terrorist threats we face, including in particular the threat from extreme right-wing terrorism. Although this strategy does not directly apply in Northern Ireland, many of the principles can be applied to Northern Ireland-related terrorism.
7.9 In contrast to the previous Prevent strategy, the revised strategy will therefore be more focused, more rigorous and consequently more effective.
7.10 The following three sections consider in more detail the three key objectives of the new Preventstrategy. They describe the challenges we face, assess work to date and explain our future priorities.