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Human Trafficking

23. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to deter advertising in local newspapers linked to the trafficking of girls and women for sex. [185137]

The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): Last week, the Government published “Women Not for Sale”, which examined the prevalence of this type of advertisement in local newspapers in England on one day last October. Following constructive meetings with representatives from the newspaper and advertising industries, the Newspaper Society has agreed to draw up tougher guidance on advertising for local newspapers.

Mrs. Hodgson: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I wonder what plans the Government have to tackle the demand side of prostitution, given its links to the trafficking of girls and women for sex.

Barbara Follett: The Government believe that tackling the demand side is vital in fighting trafficking, as highlighted in the UK action plan that we published in March 2007. I visited Sweden with other Ministers to see how its legislation is tackling demand. Although we do not anticipate reviewing legislation, we are examining ways in which we can reduce demand.

Rape Crisis Centres

24. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What funding the Government are providing for rape crisis centres in the next two financial years. [185138]

The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): The Government recognise the vital role played by voluntary and community sector rape crisis centres. Decisions on the victims’ fund and funding for independent sexual violence advisers for the coming financial year will be announced by the relevant Departments in the near future.

Angela Watkinson: I thank the Minister for her reply and hope that we can conclude that there is some optimism about future funding. She will know that the
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reporting of violent sexual offences compounds the trauma that victims have already experienced, and it is extremely important that facilities are there to make it as easy as possible for victims. Of course, the police cannot take action unless the crime is reported. Will she take that on board when she is considering funding so that we can ensure that rape crisis centres have the funding to continue?

Barbara Follett: I thank the hon. Lady for those remarks, which I take on board. I am visiting rape crisis centres at present and we recognise that they face significant financial challenges. I would like to underline the fact that there has been no reduction in Government funding for sexual violence support services. This year, the Government will invest £3 million in support for victims of such crimes, including more than £1 million for rape crisis centres. We are core funding Rape Crisis England and Wales and the Survivors Trust. We are working with rape crisis centres to do what we can to ensure that they get the necessary funding.

Female Entrepreneurs

25. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What steps she is taking to encourage female entrepreneurs. [185139]

The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): Women’s entrepreneurship is a significant strand of enterprise development. The Government have established the taskforce on women’s enterprise to accelerate the levels of female entrepreneurship. We are also committed to working with key partners, such as regional development agencies, to support further development of women’s entrepreneurship. That includes a national network of 1,000 women’s enterprise ambassadors.

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Would she agree that one measure that would do untold damage to the cause of female entrepreneurship would be the implementation of the EU agency workers directive? Can she confirm that it is still her Government’s intention to resist the directive?

Barbara Follett: That would not be its effect, and we do need to have protection for migrant workers.

Child Care

27. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): If she will collate and publish information on access to nursery facilities as a means of encouraging women into work. [185141]

Hon. Members: Intermission!

The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): I apologise to everyone for the delay in answering.

We are supporting women who return to work by ensuring that they have access to good quality child care. The Government are working with local authorities and stakeholders to implement practical ways of increasing access to formal child care that will bring positive benefits to children and families. We
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have placed a new duty on local authorities in England to collate and publish information on child care sufficiency by March.

Tony Lloyd: My hon. Friend’s answer was worth waiting for. [ Interruption. ] The House is very slow this morning, Mr. Speaker. The need to collate information is absolutely vital in this area. We now know that among the biggest barriers to women returning to work is the lack of affordable and available child care. We also know that child care provision is patchy across the country, particularly in areas with Conservative councils. When the information is collated, will it be possible to bring some pressure to bear on the local authorities in areas of under-provision to ensure that women are given a proper chance to get back into work?

Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for his courtesy and apologise for my slowness. I congratulate Manchester City council on its work in that respect, which has helped many more women to get into work. The Government are providing substantial help, totalling £18.5 million a day, for working families through the working tax credit. We provide £3 million a day to help working families with 80 per cent. of their child care costs. A lot is being done and we hope to do a lot more. I hope that the relevant figures will be made available to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members so that they can ensure that their constituents get the child care they need and deserve.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Topical Debates

30. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of topical debates. [185144]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I have issued a written ministerial statement today setting out a timetable for a review of topical debates and setting up a procedure for publishing subjects proposed by Members. I welcome comments from Members to that review.

Mr. Mackay: So, yet another review, from the Government of review, review, review: may I suggest to the Leader of the House that there is no need for a review this time? The public want topical debates so that we in the House are right up to date, but they do not want Government media stunts instead of topical debates.

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman criticises the proposed review, but we have to make decisions on important matters, such as the business of the House and issues that affect the lives of people outside it. To do that, we need the facts: we have to consult people and listen to what they say, and that means that we have to have a review. Doing things on the back of an envelope for the sake of a cheap headline is something that I shall leave to the Opposition.

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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): To have more effective topical questions, can we double the time allotted to them and halve the amount of time allocated to Front-Bench Members in topical debates?

Ms Harman: Topical questions have been working well, and we do not propose to review them at the moment. The topical debates have caused controversy but, as I said, I have issued a written ministerial statement about them this morning. I want to seek the views of hon. Members on all sides of the House so that we can discuss how to take matters forward. We will then make further proposals to the House.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): In her ministerial statement on topical debates, the Leader of the House says that she will publish a quarterly list of the subjects that have been proposed, but the Modernisation Committee has recommended that that list should be published every fortnight. Why has the right hon. and learned Lady gone for the longer option? In addition, will she publish the names of the people proposing the subjects? I am sure that it would be of considerable interest to the House to know whether a subject had been proposed by a Back Bencher with a genuine interest in it—or by, say, the Government Chief Whip, with an eye to his own media agenda.

Ms Harman: I shall take those suggestions as a contribution to the review. I should point out that the subject for this afternoon’s topical debate was chosen, not by the Chief Whip, but by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who is sitting next to the hon. Gentleman.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—


31. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the provision of BlackBerrys to hon. Members. [185145]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): There has been one written parliamentary question about BlackBerrys, and the Parliamentary Information Communication and Technology department—PICT—has received one e-mail inquiry from an hon. Member on the matter in the past three months. At a recent ICT event in the atrium of Portcullis house, two hon. Members asked about the availability of BlackBerrys.

Bob Spink: I am grateful for that reply, and I acknowledge that this is not the most pressing issue before the House this week. I do not want to promote a particular brand of personal digital system, whatever that might be, but I believe that hon. Members should be given the maximum choice so that they can best serve their constituents. Will the matter be considered again?

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Nick Harvey: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, but the provision of mobile computing services to the House was the subject of a full EU tender four or five years ago. I should explain that BlackBerrys are not marketed directly, and none of the companies bidding at the time offered a service for that product. Since then, the House has invested a good deal of time and money in Microsoft-based hand-held devices, but BlackBerrys operate on a completely different system. The result is that they would not be compatible with the infrastructure that we have developed.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): As an avid BlackBerry user since 2005, I am rather surprised by the small amount of representation on their behalf that has been received. I do not want to endorse the use of any particular product in the House, but the personal digital assistant that I have received from PICT is not in the same league as a BlackBerry. I hope that PICT will not take the small number of representations on behalf of BlackBerrys to mean that hon. Members are not interested in them.

Nick Harvey: I have noted the hon. Lady’s remarks and will convey them to PICT.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Voting Rights

32. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What the Government’s policy is on the right of hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies to vote on matters relating to England where responsibility for such matters in Scotland has been devolved. [185146]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): As I said to the House on 13 December, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s policy to the House on 3 July. The Government do not accept that there should be any discrimination in the right of hon. Members to take part in the business of the House. English votes for English laws would lead to the break up of the Union. The Government believe in the Union and will do nothing to harm it.

Ann Winterton: With a Scottish mother and an English father, I am understandably supportive of the union between Scotland and England. Why have the Government been so dilatory in coming forward with proposals to address the West Lothian question, and when will they address and end positive discrimination against the English, following their flawed devolution policy?

Helen Goodman: We have already taken forward significant policy changes on that issue by introducing devolution, and we are now looking at the accountability measures needed. All that the hon. Lady is doing is demonstrating that on this subject, as on others, she is completely out of step with not only Government policy
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but her own party leadership. I suggest that she read the speech given by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) on 10 December, in which he said:

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I say to the Deputy Leader of the House that the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) is not out of step with the views of the British people on this issue? The Government appear to have a complete blind spot when it comes to acknowledging that further constitutional reform is needed. I put it to the Deputy Leader of the House that now that there is successful devolution in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the prospect of more, it is important that we consider how matters of purely English consequence are dealt with by English elected Members of Parliament, in a way that is compatible with fully supporting the United Kingdom.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman needs to take account of the great deal of work that is being done on the issue. As he knows, the Modernisation Committee is considering ways of improving regional accountability for England. I am glad that he indicates that he supports that. As for Wales, we already have a means of reviewing and, if agreed, amending the devolution settlement through the government of Wales mechanisms. Similarly, it has been agreed that there should be further devolution to Northern Ireland when the Assembly feels ready for it.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not recognise that there is a lingering sense of injustice in England, following the constitutional resettlement giving Welsh and Scottish Members more independence? Will she at least allow the House a topical debate on the subject?

Helen Goodman: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is not for me to take receipt of requests for topical debates now. I remind him that 85 per cent. of Members of the House are English, and that secures the interests of English voters.

Select Committees

33. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Whether she plans to bring forward proposals for changes to the Standing Orders governing the ability of Select Committees to meet in public. [185147]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): The Government have no plans to change the Standing Orders for Select Committees generally. With respect to the European Scrutiny Committee, the matter is on the Order Paper for discussion this afternoon. I look forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman’s views then.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: And I am sure that she will, but the issues of openness and the public’s right to know are not on the Order Paper. Is the hon. Lady aware that in the Committee’s routine weekly meetings, it has to meet in private? It scrutinises more than 1,000 draft regulations, directives and laws from the European Union every year, but the public and the press are not admitted. Will she alter that in line with the Government’s pretended belief in openness and the public’s right to know?

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Helen Goodman: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have twice attended the European Scrutiny Committee recently and I am perfectly well aware of the situation. Everybody in the House believes that we should conduct proceedings transparently whenever possible, but that is not the same as holding every single meeting under the glare of publicity. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that his Committee has taken contradictory positions when it has looked at the matter.

Parliamentary Questions

34. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): What plans she has to review procedures relating to parliamentary questions. [185148]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): From the beginning of the current Session the House agreed an experiment for a period of topical questions at the end of each of the main departmental question times. This will be reviewed at the end of the current Session. The Government have no further plans for review of procedures relating to parliamentary questions, but we await with interest the report in due course from the Procedure Committee on written questions.

Andrew Mackinlay: It is on written questions that I want to probe the Minister. I welcome the changes that mean we can table questions during the parliamentary recess, but why can we not table written questions during the entire recess just as we do on any other day? By what logic is it that if we table a written question in the recess just after the tabled cycle has been answered, it stays in a box for some weeks until the next cycle comes up? Why can it not be processed through to the Department to which the question was addressed? The situation is crazy.

Helen Goodman: Once again, my hon. Friend demonstrates his fantastic grasp of House procedure. His suggestion can be looked at further by the Procedure Committee, if not by the Government.

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