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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge): Statistics are not split between urban and rural areas. However, some 295,000 new places for 540,000 children have been created in England since May 1997, which, taking turnover into account, still adds new places for 350,000 children. A number of initiatives will particularly benefit children in rural areas; for instance, our expansion of nursery education, our new neighbourhood nursery scheme and our start-up funding for child minders.
Mr. Bradley: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and welcome the 1,300 new out-of-school and pre-school places provided last year and this year in Telford and the Wrekin. However, I voice my concern at the lack of statistical breakdown between rural and urban communities. There are special difficulties in rural areas: a scarcity of registered child minders; additional difficulties of distance because of travel and transport, and their cost, between home, child minders--where they exist--and employment. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that those difficulties should not be allowed to undermine the success of the new deal and other Government initiatives? Can she give me some assurance that she will consider special measures to ensure that women, especially in rural communities, receive the same opportunities as women in urban communities?
Ms Hodge: I accept entirely my hon. Friend's comments about the specific problems facing rural communities. That is why we have done two things. We have introduced the start-up grant for child minders, who play an especially important role; by 2004, we hope to have places for 145,000 more children through child minders. Universal nursery education for three and four-year-olds will also have an impact on children in rural areas. However, I shall continue to explore new ways to ensure that we meet the needs of children and families in rural areas.
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): As the Minister is a notable former Chairman of the Education Sub- Committee, will she take note of the recommendation in today's report of the Select Committee on Education and Employment that no child minder should be allowed to smack any child or to smoke in the presence of a child in their care? That recommendation received support from both sides of the House.
Instead of deciding the issue on the strength of a private opinion poll--as the hon. Lady, before Christmas, declared that she would do--will she allow the House to debate it and to make a decision on the strength of a free vote?
On smacking and smoking, the issue is not whether a parent or child minder should be permitted to smack or smoke; it is whether the matter should be determined by the state or by parents in the privacy of their own home in negotiation with the child minder. Parents' rights take precedence over those of other people--including Members of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman should think about how we would implement a law forbidding smacking and smoking in the privacy of the home. If he were to think about the implications of that in a court, he would realise that it would be wholly unenforceable and impracticable; it would be a denial of parents' rights. The right of parents to influence children is uppermost in our mind.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): The Government are doing a great deal to promote and support the European year of languages. We have appointed the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT) to manage the UK's contribution to the year. It has produced a broad and inclusive programme of opportunities for people of all ages to participate in a wide range of events. Many of these are aimed specifically at schools. They are set out in a comprehensive publication entitled "Languages for Life--the UK programme", which is available from the centre.
Mr. Wicks: My hon. Friend will never be too old; he grows more enthusiastic with age. However, I certainly take the point, and that is why one in five of our primary schools, on a voluntary basis, are teaching languages. The internet and e-mail enable more and more of our schoolchildren and our schools to twin with other children and schools elsewhere in Europe to make all of this possible.
Until about 4 o'clock, there will be a debate on "Teacher Supply and Standards in Education", followed by a debate entitled "The Government's Failure to Maintain an adequate Police Force". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
The House will also wish to know that on Monday 29 January, there will be a debate relating to Members of the European Parliament and the audit of expenditure by EP political groups in European Standing Committee B.
European Standing Committee C--Relevant European Union documents: (a) COM (99) 644: The Helsinki Report on Sport; (b) COM (99) 643: Doping in Sport; (c) Unnumbered EM dated 23 November 2000: Declaration on Sport; Relevant European Scrutiny committee reports: HC 23-viii, HC 23-xiii and HC 23-xxxi (1999-2000).
European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Union documents: (a) 9712/00, Statute for Members of the European Parliament; (b) 9560/00, Audit of expenditure by EP political groups. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee reports: HC 23-xxvii and HC 23-xxix (1999-2000) and HC 28-ii (2000-01).]
Mrs. Browning: I thank the right hon. Lady for announcing the business, but I regret that the Government have not listened to the Opposition's requests about the Committee stage of the Hunting Bill, the first part of which will be taken on the Floor of the House. That debate will still be restricted to one day, which we consider to be entirely inadequate.
The Leader of the House did not mention Tuesday 23 January. I assume, therefore, that there is a vacant slot, and perhaps she might be receptive to some of our suggestions about the business that may be taken on that day. At the last business questions before the House rose for the Christmas recess, I raised with her the increasing concern, both in the House and outside, about Equitable Life and the role played in the past three years, first by the Treasury and subsequently by the Financial Services Authority. There is a widespread belief that the supervisory role of those authorities was not carried out properly. In the circumstances, we believe that that merits a debate on the Floor of the House so that all hon. Members can make their representations.
Another matter is still pending from the Christmas recess. Members noticed with interest the Deputy Prime Minister's activities during the recess, especially his presence at Leeds station. Leeds station is, of course, a mainline station for this country. At the time, the Deputy Prime Minister was categoric that the problems there would be resolved, but there are still no mainline services from Leeds. Will a debate on that matter be held in Government time, because it obviously affects not only those who live in the Leeds area, but those who wish to use that line, both north and south?
Given the very worrying job losses in manufacturing, especially in Wales, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have the traditional St. David's day debate on the Floor of the House on 1 March? As that happens to be a Thursday, it would not be difficult to accommodate that request if she was minded to do so.
Will the Government also consider holding a debate on early years education? The Leader of the House will be aware that 1,000 playgroups closed last year and that 1,500 pre-schools have closed since new Labour came to office. The Pre-School Learning Alliance anticipates that another 1,700 will close as a result of the Government's policies, so it would be appropriate for the Government to allocate sufficient time for hon. Members to debate that on the Floor of the House.
Will the right hon. Lady consider very carefully the consequences of the way in which business is now taken in respect of programme motions and Programming Sub-Committees? I attended the first Programming Sub-Committee, which met this week to consider the programme for the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. The Chairman suspended the Committee for 15 minutes for the Clerk and others to take advice about the proceedings and how the Committee's business should be conducted. I draw to the right hon. Lady's attention the fact that no minutes are
During this week's business, Mr. Speaker, you ruled that such Committees would be subject to Select Committee rules. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to consider seriously the fact that those proceedings are the product of the Modernisation Committee, which she chairs. She will know that those proceedings and the proposal that she brought to House did not have the support of the official Opposition. Those proposals having been introduced by the Leader of the House, who has responsibility for the whole House, I must ask her to sort out the mess that has been created and to return such proceedings to the Floor of the House so that we can all make our views known.