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Return to Work

32. John Mann (Bassetlaw): What steps she is taking to make it easier for those mothers who want to return to work to do so. [33827]

The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government have introduced a range of measures, including the national child care strategy and the new deal for lone parents, to help mothers who want to return to work. The Employment Bill currently before Parliament includes further measures to enable more mothers to remain in the labour market.

John Mann: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. The fact that more people are in work than ever before is clear evidence of the sound economics and judgment of this Government. Will she consider the position of mothers in rural villages, and particularly issues such as the diversification of farms and access to broadband technology, to allow more mothers in rural villages to take up the opportunities that are becoming more widely available?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since 1997, the number of women in employment has increased by more than half a million, which is a tribute to the Government's sound economic policies. My hon. Friend is right about the particular difficulties faced by women in rural communities who want employment. The Small Business Service, through the farm business advisory service, is helping many women and men in farming communities to diversify into new areas of employment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Does the Minister accept that many mothers, whatever their age, who want to return to work want either part-time jobs or jobs with flexible hours? Does she accept also that, while we must safeguard the health of employees in the workplace and other matters, it is important that the Government do not impose on employers too much cost or regulation in respect of those who want part-time jobs?

Ms Hewitt: Of course a large number of women, and a significant minority of men, prefer to work less than full-time hours. We strongly encourage and support that. There is an increasing range of working hours in the public sector, especially in hospitals and the rest of the health service. I am proud of the fact that it was the Labour Government who introduced full-time rights for part-time workers and, with the national minimum wage, ensured that hundreds of thousands of very low-paid part-time women workers, who had been entirely neglected by the Conservative Government, now get a fair wage, as well as other help through the working families tax credit.

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Business of the House

12.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House give the business for the week beginning Monday 25 February?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The business of the House for the week following constituency week is as follows: Monday 25 February—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Homelessness Bill.

Motions relating to the Draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2002 and the Draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2002.

Tuesday 26 February—Progress on remaining stages of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

Wednesday 27 February—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

Thursday 28 February—Debate on Welsh Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 1 March—Debate on the achievements of the national lottery on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 4 March—Remaining stages of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Tuesday 5 March—Opposition Day. There will be a debate in the names of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. Subject to be announced.—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I am doing well with Wales in my statement so far.

Wednesday 6 March—Remaining stages of the Office of Communications Bill [Lords].

Thursday 7 March—Estimates [2nd Allotted Day].

There will be a debate on policy on environmental taxation followed by a debate on the deployment of Ministry of Defence resources in the war against terrorism.

At 7 o'clock the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 8 March—Debate on police on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 27 February 2002, there will be a debate relating to the Commission Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy in European Standing Committee A.

[Wednesday 27 February 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union documents: 7262/01, Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy; 7263/01, Report on the state of the resources and their expected development; 7377/01, Report on the economic and social situation of coastal regions; 7378/01, Report on the implementation of the Community system for fisheries and aquaculture over the period 1993-2000. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 28-xiii (2000-01).]

Mr. Forth: I wonder whether the Leader of the House listened to his wireless this morning, when he would have

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heard a reference to something called the performance and innovation unit's report on energy policy. The PIU is an important body that was set up to advise the Prime Minister, no less, and on this occasion to advise him on a matter vital to the nation's future, namely energy policy. Yet again it appears that the document or its contents were being liberally leaked on the wireless this morning, and I am told—although I can scarcely believe it—that it might even be available on something called a website at this very hour or thereabouts.

What is going on? Do I have to come to the Dispatch Box every single Thursday and give you, Mr. Speaker, and the House an example of the Government yet again gratuitously leaking vital documents before they come to the House? If the Leader of the House is going to tell me that we have been reduced to a website Parliament, that is simply not good enough. I want real live Ministers to come to the House of Commons and share with us what they are up to, not to leak things on mysterious electronic vehicles.

I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate, which may require a whole day, on the subject "What is a British company?" That is an extraordinarily simple question, but one that seems utterly to defeat the Prime Minister. Yesterday he said:

He was talking, of course, about the mysterious company LNM Holdings and the equally mysterious Mr. Mittal. He went on to say that the Government

that is a steel contract—

The Prime Minister could not have been clearer on that, but we need to know, and it may well take a debate to tease it out, whether, in his mind, a British company is one that is registered here, which this one appears not to be; one in which the majority of shareholders are British, which they appear not to be in this case; or one in which the majority of employees are British, which appears not to be the case here. What, then, is a British company? That question is important because the Prime Minister is writing letters in which he appears to be utterly confused as to what a British company is. That is a serious matter, because if the British Prime Minister does not know what a British company is and he is prepared to back companies against genuinely British companies, which has been the case here, the sooner we get to the bottom of it the better. If such a debate helped the Prime Minister to understand what a British company is, we would have done everybody a great favour.

I hope that the House and the Leader are aware of the Public Administration Committee's excellent report, published this very morning, on the important matter of the reform of the second Chamber. I hope that the Leader will give us an undertaking that we will have an early debate on the report, because it sets out the way ahead in a positive and helpful way and, not least, recommends the establishment of a Joint Committee, something for which the Opposition have been urging for some time. It also gives a timetable for realistic and responsible progress on the matter. I hope that we can hear from the Leader that he is prepared to take up those suggestions and guarantee that we will make that progress towards the culmination of the reform of the upper House.

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Finally, may I draw the Leader's attention to today's edition of The Mirror, which has the huge headline "Moore Shame"? Jo Moore has appeared in our lives yet again, and in quite the most dreadful way. I hope that the Leader can deny absolutely the story in The Mirror and elsewhere, and if he cannot, I hope that he will get the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to come here to deny that this dreadful woman has, yet again, sought to take advantage of the most distressing and appalling circumstances. We really have heard enough of her; I do not want to hear of her, about her or from her ever again, and I hope that the Leader of the House can give us that promise.

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