Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Paul Goodman made a point of order in the House of Commons this afternoon which is well worth a detailed look.
"Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you are aware, the preventing violent extremism pathfinder fund distributes more than £70 million of public money to local authorities. Last year, after a delay of some six months, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was persuaded to place in the Library details of how that fund was being spent for that year. Earlier this year, I wrote to the Secretary of State to ask her to place in the Library the corresponding details for this year. I received no reply. After a written question, I received a reply studiously ignoring the request I had made. This morning, I phoned the Secretary of State’s private office and was told that the Department may—I stress “may”—no longer holds these financial details for this year at all.
My point of order is as follows. Either the Department no longer holds the details of where a substantial tranche of £70 million-worth of public money is going, which is a scandal, or it is refusing to place in the Library details of where that money is going, which, frankly, is no less scandalous in relation to information that Members of this House and members of the public have the right to see. What can you do, Mr. Speaker, to assist Members of this House in obtaining access to information that they have a right to know?
Mr. Speaker: It is up to Ministers as to how they answer parliamentary questions. I will look into the matter the hon. Gentleman raises, and I will get back to him. I thank him for raising it.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to point out my concern, which I hope is shared by the House, that it seems easier to get information from the Government through freedom of information requests, which would work for my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), than through written questions. That is a very worrying development.
Mr. Speaker: It would certainly worry me. When parliamentarians seek information through parliamentary questions that is all-important and they should be a priority for any Minister."
Mr Goodman is right to be concerned. As recent events once again prove, extremism needs to be addressed as an urgent priority. Since 1997 Labour have made a habit of announcing hefty expenditure on all sorts of projects and then closer inspection has shown that all is not as it seemed.
I was due to speak at a debate (which has alas been cancelled) at the Oxford Union tonight, against the motion "This House Would do Anything for Charity". I would have made the obvious but essential point that not all charities are worthwhile, and that some do positive harm. So it is with Treasury expenditure. If large sums of money are indeed being splashed around in the name of preventing extremism, we need to know who is receiving the cash and what they stand for.
I am told that the Conservatives may press this matter further. I hope so, and I will be interested to see what they uncover.
Mr Goodman, Mr Luff and Mr Speaker all made the additional point that ministers should answer written questions properly. Since October I have been trawling through Hansard regularly, and this is certainly another real problem.