Communities and local government select committee says Prevent programme has 'stigmatised and alienated' British Muslims.
An independent investigation should be held into allegations that a government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to "spy" on them, a committee of MPs will say today.
The programme, called Prevent, has been dogged by controversy and is criticised on several fronts in a report published today by the communities
and local government select committee, which says the programme has "stigmatised and alienated" British Muslims.
Last October the Guardian revealed Prevent was being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of terrorist involvement. The article was denounced as "wilfully misleading" by Alan Johnson
, the home secretary.
Phyllis Starkey, the committee chair, said: "Many witnesses made plain they believe Prevent has been used to 'spy' on Muslim communities.
"The misuse of terms such as 'intelligence gathering' amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust. Information required to manage Prevent has been confused with intelligence gathering undertaken by the police to combat crime and surveillance used by the security services to actively pursue terrorism suspects."
The committee report does not back the government's unequivocal denunciation of the reports of spying and concludes: "We cannot ignore the volume of evidence we have seen and heard which demonstrates a continuing lack of trust of the programme amongst those delivering and receiving services. Based on the evidence we have received, it is not possible for us to take a view. If the government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made."
The all-party report says the government should stop trying to "engineer" a so-called moderate form of Islam
and pay more attention to other factors leading to violent extremism, including foreign policy, the higher than average poverty rates faced by Muslims and alienation.
The £140m Prevent programme involves the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Home Office.
"We see a very important role for CLG in continuing such work and acknowledge its contribution to the aims of Prevent. However, we believe that this work can be successful only if untainted by the negative association with a counter-terrorism agenda," the MPs conclude.
The report also says the programme should not just focus on Muslims, but tackle rightwing extremism as well.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We do not think an independent investigation is necessary or appropriate given the lack of evidence to support any allegations found by the inquiry we conducted.
"We welcome the committee's report in particular the recognition that a targeted Prevent programme is necessary. However, we are disappointed that the report does not reflect the measures put in place during the last year to address criticism of Prevent."
Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary, said: "It is clear that too much money has been wasted on unfocused and irrelevant projects which have created confusion and increased the risk of alienating the very communities it ought to engage."
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The Prevent programme alienates and marginalises Muslim communities, and exacerbates racist bias and ignorant views."
"Everyone wants to combat radical Islamism but that should not mean gathering and keeping intelligence on innocent people.
The Conservatives spokesperson for Local Government and Communities, Caroline Spelman, highlighted part of the report which said the Prevent programme had wasted money: "It's clear that that too much money has been wasted on unfocussed and irrelevant projects which have created confusion and increased the risk of alienating the very communities it ought to engage.
"We need a complete review of the Prevent strategy "
Prevent was branded as the "biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times" by Liberty, the civil liberties
Reacting to the MPs report, Corinna Ferguson of Liberty said: "Every modern society needs a strong civil society and some kind of intelligence infrastructure. But when you blur the two, you sow the seeds of alienation and disunity. The lives of others are not to be needlessly intruded on by those in positions of trust. First they undermined fair trials; then they turned a blind eye to torture. Now Whitehall securocrats score yet another own goal in the War on Terror"
Muslims pray at a mosque in east London. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images