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Child Care

18. Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): What plans he has to provide child care in schools to help people to move from welfare into work. [146800]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Desmond Browne): The extended schools programme is putting schools at the heart of their communities. Schools are taking the opportunity to provide a range of services and activities, such as child care, to help meet the needs of pupils, their families and local people.

Two hundred and forty extended schools will be funded over the next three years, including at least one in every local education authority. They will deliver an

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expansion of school-based child care to make it easier for those with caring responsibilities, particularly lone parents, to move into work.

Jeff Ennis: Is the Minister aware that last Friday I attended the opening of The Willows, the new neighbourhood nursery unit attached to Willowgarth high school in Grimethorpe in my constituency, which is providing not only a full range of day care services to the local community but child care opportunities for year 10 and year 11 students at the school? Does he agree that such facilities and initiatives can make a real difference to disadvantaged communities such as Grimethorpe?

Mr. Browne: I was not aware that my hon. Friend had visited that facility, but I am pleased that he and other hon. Members on both sides of the House support the significant development of child care across the country. He is right to identify the importance of child care to our aspirations in terms of employment. That is why, in addition to the existing and planned investment to expand child care, which since 1997 has created over 800,000 new child care places, helping over 1.4 million children to access child care, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced three pilots in Bradford, Lewisham and Haringey for further child care places specifically to help lone parents back into work.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is bound to be concern over the situation in Amara, Iraq, where six Iraqis were shot dead, five by Iraqi police and one apparently by British soldiers. No one doubts that the circumstances must have been very difficult, but I wonder whether you can advise what can be done to arrange for a Minister to come here to explain what happened. We know that in Saddam's Iraq there were no demonstrations, and that if there were, there would have been mass shootings, but as we have responsibility now there should be a statement as quickly as possible by the appropriate Minister, and I would be pleased if you would advise accordingly.

Mr. Speaker: The Minister concerned will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has had to say on that matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is well known to the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and I take very different views in general on what happened in Iraq, but on this matter surely we are united on the principle that when British troops are in action, whatever the circumstances—and none of us will rush to judgment—the House of Commons should be told what has happened.

Mr. Speaker: As I have said before, I only have the powers that the House has given me. I also say to the Father of the House that the Minister concerned will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has had to say, and it is now on the record.

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Fire and Rescue Services

Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Reid, Mr. Secretary Hoon, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Peter Hain, Mr. Nick Raynsford and Phil Hope, presented a Bill to make provision about fire and rescue authorities and their functions; to make provision about employment by, and powers of employees of, fire and rescue authorities; to make provision about education and training and pension schemes; to make provision about the supply of water; to make provision about false alarms of fire; to provide for the funding of advisory bodies; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 38].

Criminal Justice (Justifiable Conduct)

Mr. Roger Gale, supported by Mr. Eric Forth, Mr. Peter Atkinson, Mr. Richard Bacon, Mr. Julian Brazier, Derek Conway, Mr. Gerald Howarth, Mrs. Eleanor Laing, Richard Ottaway, Mr. Andrew Turner, Ann Winterton and Sir Nicholas Winterton, presented a Bill to amend the law of England and Wales by making provision for exempting from civil and criminal liability in specified circumstances persons acting in defence of persons or property: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 April, and to be printed [Bill 36].

Civil Service

Mr. Oliver Heald, supported by Mr. Michael Howard, David Davis, Mr. Alan Duncan, Mr. Nicholas Soames and David Maclean, presented a Bill to make provision with regard to the Civil Service; to establish a Civil Service Commission; to make provision for and in connection with the removal of general restrictions as to nationality which apply to persons employed or holding office in any civil capacity under the Crown; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 January, and to be printed [Bill 37].

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Orders of the Day

Housing Bill

[Relevant documents: The Tenth Report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 751-I, on the Draft Housing Bill, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6000.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.34 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time. The Bill was published on 8 December. It will help to create a fairer and better housing market and to protect the most vulnerable in housing. Together with other Government measures on housing and planning, it will make a major contribution to achieving the aims of the sustainable communities plan. The Bill is big in vision, scope and size. In that respect, it has similarities to the Housing Act 1996, which was taken through Parliament by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry). I take this opportunity to extend my personal welcome to the right hon. Gentleman in his new role as shadow Secretary of State for local and devolved government affairs.

Early last year, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set out the Government's vision for sustainable communities. In that statement, he recognised candidly that for more than 30 years, all Governments had failed to meet housing need. In particular, Government investment in housing declined significantly during the 1990s, leading to an increase in social housing disrepair compared with the rest of the housing stock. As a consequence, in 1997, the Government inherited a colossal backlog of £19 billion in social housing repairs, and a declining number of newly built homes. More than 2 million homes in the social sector were substandard, and there were similar problems in the private sector.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Why are local authorities such as New Forest district council not being allowed to spend their housing budget on desperately needed new houses, but are required by the Minister's imposed policy to deploy that budget on repairs, despite the fact that their stock is in good condition? That policy might be appropriate to northern metropolitan boroughs with a history of neglect, but it is not in the south-east. Will he be more flexible?

Keith Hill: The hon. Gentleman ought to be aware that opportunities for the new build of social housing are afforded by funding streams other than those through local authorities. As I shall explain, I make no apology for focusing the spending of a local authority on significant housing disrepair where that remains.

We responded to the challenge of disrepair with large-scale additional resources. We trebled council funding for homes from £750 million in 1997 to about £2.5

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billion this year. Choices had to be made—we could not deal with everything at once—so in 1998 the new Government made tackling disrepair our top priority. We did so because we believed that it would benefit the greatest number of people and would make the biggest difference most quickly. It also prevented the further loss of stock. Accordingly, we introduced the decent homes standard for homes that are properly weather-proofed with central heating and modern bathrooms and kitchens. The approach is now showing results.

This year, we shall have reduced the number of substandard homes by about 1 million since 1997. We are making good progress and we aim to ensure that all social housing tenants will enjoy the decent homes standards by 2010. In other words, we shall have completed the huge task of bringing nearly 2.5 million substandard homes up to the decent homes standard by that date.

Funding for new social housing, through the Housing Corporation's approved development programme, also declined through the 1990s. The spending review of 2000 reversed that decline. Investment in new social housing will increase still further, to about £5 billion, over the three years from 2003–04—double the level that we inherited in 1997.

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