What steps her Department is taking to promote inter-faith forums as a means of tackling religious extremism.
Inter-faith initiatives play a key role in tackling and isolating violent extremist activity. My Department supports the Inter Faith Network, which represents the collective voice of all main faith communities and helps regional and local bodies to contribute to community cohesion. The work of community groups is at the heart of our response to the challenge that we face from violent extremism.
I am aware of the good work done in Portsmouth with Portsmouth Interfaith Forum in building networks in hard to reach communities across the faiths, largely due to a full-time inter-faith co-ordinator. However, because of the vagaries of the faith communities capacity-building funding, what is funded in year 1 cannot be funded in year 2, so the work looks as though it may go to waste. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look into the matter for me?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she is doing in championing the needs of her constituents. Clearly, I am not familiar with the particular programme that she mentions, although I am happy to look into that. She is right to draw attention to the work that inter-faith activity can do. The Department has invested £5 million this year, and the same last year, in that work. We are also working extremely closely with the Office of the Third Sector. In its review of voluntary sector activity, including faith communities, we are thinking about how we can ensure the sustainability of funding going forward, which I know is of huge interest to those involved in the field.
Has the Secretary of State filled the post of director general, equality, in her Department, a post that is supposed to be in charge of leading the tackling extremism together strategy? If she has, why did it take over a year and a half, and thousands of pounds worth of advertising, to fill that space?
Yes, we have. The reason we went through a search process was because the community cohesion element of the work that was with the Home Office came to the new Department for Communities and Local Government. It is right that it has done so, because now we are able to think about equalities in the round, taking account of the views of faith groups as we take account of the views of other equalities groups. That give us a huge opportunity, going forward, to think through how we make this country and this society a fairer and better place for people to live. We have a candidate of fantastic calibre in that job to take that work forward.
I welcome all the good work that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Women and Equality are doing on the equality agenda. On inter-faith activity, does my right hon. Friend agree that getting young people together in those forums is particularly important? Bridging the divide at an early age is crucial to tackling it later. What does she see as the role of the new commission in trying to achieve her stated ambition to make sure that the work is continued?
My right hon. Friend is right to say that involving young people in inter-faith work and in joint and shared activity is vital to our future. Evidence shows that young people are particularly prone to the messages from violent extremists. If we are to ensure that they have the defences that they need and that communities are resilient to the threat posed by violent extremists, we need to engage as many young people as possible. The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, to which my right hon. Friend referred, will have a particular role in making sure that people of all ages and across all faiths are able to have their voices heard. In the Muslim community especially, and also at local authority level, we face a challenge as a Government to make sure that the voices of young people and women are heard in the debate—voices that have for too long been neglected.