I reported yesterday that Shadow Communities Minister Paul Goodman was being stonewalled over the details of funding for the "violent extremism pathfinder fund".
Mr Goodman and Alan Duncan (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons) both raised the issue at Business Questions today. Mr Duncan asked the Leader of the House of Commons (Harriet Harman):
"The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is obstructing the publication of details about where money has been spent on the preventing violent extremism pathfinder fund, even though the details were published for last year. Ministers are accountable to Parliament, especially on the spending of money. This appears to be unacceptable behaviour from the Secretary of State and brings her and this place into disrepute. Will the Leader of the House convey to the Secretary of State the displeasure of the House and seek a full apology from her along with the information to which hon. Members are fully entitled?"
Ms Harman replied:
"The hon. Gentleman talked about the accountability of the Department for Communities and Local Government for local spending. Obviously, the Department wants to answer parliamentary questions and be accountable for its spending. There is no attempt not to be open about what we regard a very important programme of ensuring that the police work for greater security. We also work with local communities to ensure that we prevent radicalism and extremism."
Mr Goodman later chipped in:
"I return to the preventing violent extremism pathfinder fund, which I raised yesterday on a point of order and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) raised today from the Front Bench. I have in my hands details of where every single penny from the fund went last year, which were placed in the Library. The Department for Communities and Local Government is refusing to place in the Library the equivalent details for this year. It must follow either, as was suggested to me yesterday by the Secretary of State’s private office, that the Department no longer holds details of the fund, in which case there is no guarantee that money is not falling into the hands of extremists and violent extremists, or that it is refusing to put the information in the Library, which is a discourtesy to Members in all parts of the House and involves withholding information that the public have a right to know. Will the Leader of the House use her good offices to get the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement from the Dispatch Box about the matter, which is of exceptional seriousness?
Ms Harman: There is no intention to withhold any information about public money being spent. We are proud of the Prevent programme, which is designed to combat extremism. I suggest that I write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and ask her to meet the hon. Gentleman in order to resolve the issue amicably. I look to hon. Members to support the idea that Government take a role and take responsibility—
Mr. Goodman: Where is the money going?
Mr. Speaker: Order. When the hon. Gentleman asks for a reply from the Leader of the House, he should calm down and listen. It may not be to his liking, but he must calm down.
Ms Harman: It is right that the Government should put into the hands of local authorities funds so that they can work with community groups in their area to help divert young people away from extremism and to support community organisations that are trying to tackle extremism. I deplore the idea that some sort of hue and cry is being set up to smear this important programme. If the Opposition want information, the Secretary of State will give them the relevant information and ask for their support for the programme in their areas."
This now looks like a scandal. The Government should publish the full details of where monies from the violent extremism pathfinder fund are going this year – immediately. Something is rotten, and we have a right to know what it is.
Perhaps much of the money has not been disbursed swiftly and is sitting in a bank account. That would be embarrassing. Or maybe it has been given to some unsavoury organisations. That would be worse.
Regardless, I for one want to know what’s going on.