Guidance for public bodies on their duties under the Prevent programme were laid before Parliament on 12 March. Once the Prevent Duty Guidance is approved by the UK Parliament, public bodies will have a legal obligation to comply with it under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015. Two separate guidance documents have been laid before Parliament - on for England and Wales, and the other for Scotland. The guidance applies to local authorities, the NHS, schools, further education and universities.
Prevent is the name of a controversial government programme said by the government to be aimed at preventing people being drawn towards terrorism. It has been in place since 2007, but the new legislation means that it will for the first time have legal force. The change may be particularly strongly felt in Scotland, where Prevent has so far been much less vigorously applied than in England and Wales.
Under the terms of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, Scottish Ministers must be consulted over regulations relating to authorities in Scotland. The Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland bears the logos of both the UK and Scottish Governments. Regretably, it contains text that is blatantly Islamophobic, going well beyond the tacit islamophobia that is embedded in the rest of Britain's anti-terrorism legislation.
It says (paragraph 7):
"Islamist extremists regard Western intervention in Muslim-majority countries as a ‘war with Islam’, creating a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’."
The statement also appears in the guidance for England and Wales. Its effect is to create a discriminatory obligation on public bodies to restrict the views expressed by Muslim anti-war campaigners to a degree that would make anti-war activism amongst Muslims nearly impossible.
There has been no debate about Prevent in the Scottish Parliament, though Prevent will reach well beyond the sphere of counter-terrorism policy reserved to Westminster.
It seems that the Prevent Duty Guidance is nevertheless a little less bad than it might have been, thanks to objections raised by the Lib Dems. According to the Daily Telegraph, this led to one of the worst Cabinet rows in the Coalition's five-year rule.
Lib Dem objections are said to have centered on a requirement for universities to vet visiting speakers. The Prevent Duty Guidance laid before Parliament, both for Scotland and for England and Wales, leaves this issue to be resolved at a future date. It says (paragraph 105 of the guidance for England and Wales; paragraph 79 of the guidance for England and Wales):
"There will be further guidance issued on the management of external speakers and events, including on the interaction of the Prevent duty with universities’ existing duties to secure freedom of speech and have regard to the importance of academic freedom."
Commenting on the role played by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in blocking a more draconian approach, Massoud Shadjareh, Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said: "We are pleased that that the Lib-Dems have taken a stand against the juggernaut of anti-terror legislation that scapegoat the whole Muslim community and we hope they will continue to ensure that no more of these oppressive laws are rushed through during the remaining few weeks of this Parliament."
Please sign the SACC Open Letter to the Scottish Government on Prevent.