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Ethnic Minority Families

21. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): What assistance the Department is giving to support family and personal relationships in ethnic minority communities. [114235]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): This year, the Department made available £5 million to the marriage and relationship support grant programme. Out of the total grant programme, £800,000 is being spent on work that directly supports family and personal relationships in ethnic minority communities.

Kali Mountford : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and for the close attention that she pays to the issue. She knows that conferences have been held throughout the country, including at the Kirklees domestic violence forum in my area in Huddersfield and in the House last week, when the all-party groups on domestic violence and on children met. At that meeting, the point was again made that ethnic minority women are much less likely to come forward for help, despite their being at least as likely to experience problems. What can my hon. Friend do to help local groups that want to support women in their communities, create new groups and help people through the grant system, which they currently find difficult?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is right to ask how we can improve access to the grant fund process. Every year, the Department, through application forms and feedback forms, looks for ways in which to ease the process. I would be more than happy to hear about any difficulties that specific groups, especially from ethnic minorities, have experienced, and about examples of how we can improve the system. My hon. Friend is also right to draw attention to the fact that many people from ethnic minorities will not gain access to all the necessary information on, for example, remedies for domestic violence. We are considering a series of issues and methods of improving matters. Not least, we have translated into many different languages a guide that we recently produced about legal remedies for victims of domestic violence.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that support for family support groups, in focus and funding, does not sit comfortably with the Department's overall functions, and that it is not well done? Is it not time the Government modernised the entire procedure for support for ethnic minority families, and more widely, moved it to a Department that is primarily focused on supporting families in this country and ensuring that the support is properly given?

Ms Winterton: I disagree profoundly with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the delivery of service is poor. I think that, in terms of the number of people who are given adult relationship support, our record is impressive. The hon. Gentleman had a point, however, in saying that our support should be tailored to support for other things such as parenting. I assure him that I work closely with other Departments, particularly the Home Office, to ensure that happens.

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The President of the Council was asked—

Sitting Hours

26. Norman Baker (Lewes): What plans he has to propose that the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons review the sitting hours of the House. [114242]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): None at present.

Norman Baker : I understand why that is, given the commitment from the former Leader of the House. I voted for the change in the hours with some enthusiasm, but like, I suspect, many other Members I feel that they have not turned out quite as we anticipated then. I understand that the Minister may not wish to return completely to the old system, and I would not support that, but will he consider, for example, returning to a 2.30 pm rather than an 11.30 am start for question time, while retaining the present starting and finishing times?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would welcome any specific points that any Member may wish to make about how the current hours could be made to work better, but as my right hon. Friend said when the issue was last discussed during questions, he is in no hurry to revisit it, given that only six months ago the House expressed its settled will on a free vote.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I join those who do not think that the new hours are working very well? Indeed, I think that they are working against the democratic process.

May I also ask why, when I take junior schoolchildren on to the Terrace, I need a letter of permission from either Black Rod or the Serjeant at Arms to take a school photograph? That rule serves no useful purpose—and surely we, as elected Members, are as trustworthy as appointed Officers.

Mr. Bradshaw: I imagine that the rule was established to protect Members from unwanted photography, but I will take up my hon. Friend's point because it has also affected me when I have entertained school parties here. I see no logical reason for such a formality.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): We must all hope that the hon. Gentleman is protected from unwanted photography at all times.

Will the hon. Gentleman take careful note of the point made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), which reflects the extreme concern felt by many Members throughout the House about the dismal failure of the new arrangements? They have allowed the Government to get off scot free too often.

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not accept that. Question time has become much more topical, and there are the new cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall. Taking the

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package as a whole, we see that the amount of scrutiny of Government has increased, not decreased, as the hon. Gentleman seemed to imply.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Does the Minister not accept that large tranches of very important legislation are leaving the House without being debated? There is not even the fallback of allowing some sections of the Finance Bill to be discussed up the passage in another place. Will the Minister urge the Leader of the House to review the position at a relatively early date? We want to know about experience with the new sitting times. Could we not use the time available on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to ensure that the House does its proper duty, and that legislation is scrutinised adequately before going on the statute book?

Mr. Bradshaw: As I told the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), the suggestion of a review is interesting. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—as a member of the Modernisation Committee and as Chairman of the Procedure Committee—has a specific proposal, he will wish to pursue it further. I think there is potential for use of Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to good effect, but to suggest, as the hon. Gentleman did, that the overall modernisation package means less scrutiny of Government—

Sir Nicholas Winterton indicated dissent.

Mr. Bradshaw: It seems that I have impugned the hon. Gentleman. I am glad he accepts that scrutiny has become better rather than worse as a result of the package.

Cross-cutting Questions

27. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): What assessment he has made of cross-cutting question sessions in Westminster Hall. [114244]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): My right hon. Friend has as yet made no assessment of the cross-cutting question sessions in Westminster Hall, but I have attended most of them and my impression is that they are a useful innovation welcomed on both sides of the House, and that they are working well.

Brian White : The Minister says that the sessions are a useful innovation, but situations still arise in which Members table questions affecting a number of Departments, and those questions are referred to an inappropriate Department. Will my hon. Friend look at the issue of ordinary parliamentary questions on cross-cutting issues?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will certainly look at that issue. Perhaps my hon. Friend has a specific example of a question that he has tabled which he feels has been directed to the incorrect Department. I would say to him that this issue is usually handled with great expertise and knowledge by the Table Office, but I will take up any specific examples that he has with the Table Office.

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The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Broadcasting Rules

28. Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): What assessment the Commission has made of the effects of changes to the rules on broadcasting within the parliamentary estate. [114246]

Sir Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): The Commission is advised on these matters by the Administration Committee, which has approved a trial for this Session involving giving broadcasters access to live interview points in Central Lobby and the Committee Corridor, and to two areas in Portcullis House. The Committee will review the experiment at the end of this Session, taking into account all the views expressed.

Mr. Pond : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that response. As he will be aware, most of the coverage of this place by the media covers the theatre in this Chamber. As someone who is about to descend into—and who is looking forward to—several weeks on the Finance Bill Committee under the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and others, and who has served under his chairmanship in a Select Committee, I am keen that people should understand that a lot of work goes on Upstairs.

Is it the hon. Gentleman's understanding from the experiment so far that we are getting more coverage of Select Committees and Standing Committees, or is it just being used to give coverage to what the media might consider to be gossip in the Westminster village?

Sir Archy Kirkwood: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I believe that the experiment has improved public understanding and accessibility. Some 658 booked interviews have occurred during this Session; that is quite a lot. There are very strict rules under which these interviews must be conducted: they are supposed to be specific interviews with Members of the House on specific issues that are before the House. Those rules need to be carefully monitored and established, in order that we keep control of what I think is an important part of our attempt to explain—rightly, as the hon. Gentleman says—what goes on here. This also gives me the opportunity to say that the Committee would welcome any views, positive or negative, on how the experiment has worked to date.

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