Ministers questioned on Home Office oversight of the Prevent programme

22 January 2020

Diana Abbott asked an urgent question to the Home Secretary on the Home Office’s oversight of the police in their operation of the Prevent programme.

Recently it was reported that counter-terrorism police had included climate-change activist group Extinction Rebellion and the Ukrainian tryzub symbol on a list of extremist ideologies that it recommended be referred to the Government's counter-terrorism programme, Prevent.

Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary, asked the Secretary of State for the Home department to explain what oversight the Government has of Prevent.

Brandon Lewis: "operationally independent"

Brandon Lewis, Minister for Immigration, , and that he is committed to freedom of speech and peaceful protest. He stated that “counter-terrorism policing in this country is operationally independent”, but that the Home Office does carry oversight of the police on behalf of the Home Secretary.

Mr Lewis told the House that counter-terrorism police have stated they do not consider Extinction Rebellion as an extremist organisation, and that the guidance has been recalled and is now subject to review. He also apologised for "any offence caused" by the inclusion of the Ukrainian tryzub symbol.

He went on to say:

"The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of our just society and an indispensable channel of political and social expression."

Diane Abbott MP: "serious error of judgement"

The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, responded saying that the matter is not an error of judgement but a “serious error of judgement”.

She pointed out that in the guidance, organisations other than Extinction Rebellion are listed for frontline officers. This includes Green Peace, Stop the Badger Cull, Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and vegan activists.

Ms Abbott then requested a full list of organisations listed by Counter-terror police guidance and asked on "which basis" are they considered as an extremist group. She also asked who the new leader of the Prevent review is after the departure of Lord Carlile, and asked for assurance that the review will still report back in August.

She told MPs:

“In a democracy there is a fundamental right to disagreement and non-violent campaigning, and interfering or denying that right […] is a fundamental breach of the democratic contract between the government and the governed.”

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