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Preventing Violent Extremism Programme

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

I have held regular meetings with a range of partners, including Muslim communities, the police, the Local Government Association, parliamentarians from both Houses and others with an interest in the preventing violent extremism programme. We are working closely with these partners at every level—local, national and international—to build the resilience of local communities so that they are able to stand up to the messages of extremism.

Can we be sure that, in pursuing her laudable aim of combating Islamic extremism and fundamentalism, the right hon. Lady conducts a very thorough audit of the Islamic bodies that participate in these schemes and receive Government recognition? Can she also say whether the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an extremist organisation, participates in any way in the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board or any of its contributing bodies?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is extremely important that, in allocating our funding to local authorities, we have a good degree of reassurance about the kind of projects funded. We are about to embark on a three-year programme involving £45 million for local authorities, so I am absolutely determined to ensure that we will fund projects that really help to build the resilience of local communities. The local police are closely involved with local authorities in making these funding decisions at local level. The Government offices are being strengthened to ensure that there is extra reassurance. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, despite the fact that this money is, in general, local government grant, I want to make absolutely sure that after 12 months we look at the situation again.

On the organisation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, I am extremely keen to ensure that we continue with our policy of engaging with the groups that are prepared to stand up and tackle and condemn extremism. That will be the continuing policy, and wherever people are not in that category, they are not groups with which we wish to collaborate in our endeavours to tackle extremism.

I am encouraged by that response. Will the Secretary of State confirm that part of the money allocated to this programme will be used to try to convey to young Muslim people the message of senior Muslim scholars that the use of violent extremism in political causes is essentially un-Islamic?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, and a key part of our strategy is to tackle the ideology perpetrated by extremists. It is absolutely vital that young people, and also women, have the ability, knowledge and skills to stand up and combat these messages. That is why we have an extensive programme of work with women. There is the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group, and I intend to have a similar group of young people who will be empowered to take on leadership roles and to play a much larger part in their communities. This is the point at which we move from small projects that reach a few people, to trying to get the message across not just to the Muslim community but to all our communities that it is the voice of the overriding, law-abiding majority that we must hear, and that we must tackle this ideology, which threatens our communities.

The Secretary of State will be aware of claims that the Muslim Association of Britain—one of the four founder members of MINAB, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) referred—is, in effect, the British arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Has she carried out an assessment of this claim and can she definitively say to the House that it is untrue?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the founding partners of MINAB are those organisations that have committed to having proper standards in their mosques, and to being part of our policy of standing up and condemning and tackling Muslim extremism. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that checks are carried out regarding all the organisations that we fund. There was some question recently—it was perhaps raised by the hon. Gentleman—about the Cordoba Foundation, in Tower Hamlets. That organisation was not funded under our preventing violent extremism programme. The local authority in Tower Hamlets was going to engage with the Cordoba Foundation; it decided not to, and that was absolutely the right decision. I can therefore give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that these checks are carried out, and I am determined that we will fund organisations that want to stand up and encourage the mainstream, moderate Muslim majority in this country to feel strong enough to rebut these messages of hate and extremism that threaten a minority of our community, but which nevertheless constitute a very serious and important threat.