I am proud to be working with Liberty and Alf Dubbs in the Lords to put an amendment to the Higher Education Bill that would drop Prevent. This won’t stop lecturers doing their professional duty of safeguarding any students who might be at risk of being drawn towards violent ideologies, but it will end the dangerous Government imposition of authorised snooping on anyone having so-called ‘extreme’ ideas, even if those ‘extreme’ ideas are non-violent and part of the democratic debate. I do this as someone who was on the Met Police’s domestic extremism database for over 10 years, along with senior journalists and many non-violent campaigners. The government definition of ‘extremism’ is drawn deliberately broad so that it allows the authorities to target anyone they see as challenging the status quo.
Prevent is having the effect of censoring free speech and debate in higher education with student events cancelled and lecturers being expected to report on views that might be considered ‘extremist’.
While many institutions have worked hard to uphold a commitment to the free and vibrant exchange of ideas, they are fighting against the tide of law and policy. This battle is not always won. Some institutions have yielded to the pressure created by the statutory Prevent structure, seriously compromising freedom of expression and discriminating against Muslim students and associations in the process.
A lot of good work is done under the banner of Prevent and this work should continue but alongside the range of existing laws on hate speech and safeguarding people being drawn into terrorism. Prevent is both discredited and a huge danger to democratic freedoms. I hope that the Lords can pass this amendment and start the process of dismantling the Stasi-like structure that has free speech in its grip.