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Hugh Bayley: I congratulate the Government on bringing more such cases to court. Provision of domestic violence outreach services is excellent in some parts of the country, but funding is patchy. Outreach can prevent violence from escalating to a point at which women, children
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and occasionally men are forced out of the family home and into refuges. What can the Government do to extend its provision?

Barbara Follett: The Government are considering many ways of extending outreach provision for domestic violence victims, and for women who are victims of sexual violence. We have already done so through, for instance, rape crisis centres and sexual assault referral centres, which are making great progress at present, and we hope to do more soon on the domestic violence front.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): A letter that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), acknowledges that the number of domestic violence victims has risen by 12 per cent. in the past year, from 594,000 to 664,00. She attributes the increase to better reporting, but it is quite a large increase. How much of it does the Minister think can be attributed to the 24-hour drinking that takes place nowadays?

Barbara Follett: The incidence of reporting has certainly increased. I think that women now feel more confident about coming forward, and that there are better systems to protect them. I cannot speculate on how much the increase in the number of reported cases is due to drinking, although I am sure that Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will look into the possibility.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): A range of issues are covered by the issue of violence against women. The Government estimate that about 20,000 girls in this country are at risk of genital mutilation, yet they have no national strategy. They have issued no guidance to the police on the issue since 2004, and there has not been a single prosecution under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. I am sure the Minister agrees that that is not acceptable. What is she going to do about it?

Barbara Follett: It is certainly not acceptable. As the right hon. Lady will know, I have spent a good deal of my life in Africa, and I have seen the results of female genital mutilation both in that continent and in this country. It is something that I abhor. I take the right hon. Lady’s point about the need for a strategy, and we shall be presenting one later this year.

People Trafficking

14. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): What further steps the Government plan to take to assist women who have been trafficked. [212140]

Barbara Follett: The Government will build on the positive measures that we have already taken as a result of acceleration of our plans to ratify the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. More than 322 women have been supported by the POPPY project since March 2003.

Mr. Steen: The worst thing for a young woman who has been trafficked is to feel that no one cares anything about her, her welfare or her future. Does the Minister
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agree that it is essential for us to give such women identity papers, as set out in the Council of Europe convention, which the Government have signed but still not ratified? Women experience a sense of belonging and security if they have identity papers. Given that it is not necessary to wait for ratification to provide them, what is preventing the Government from getting a move on?

Barbara Follett: As always, the hon. Gentleman has brought a new slant to a problem on which he has done a great deal of work. We are speeding up our ratification of the convention, and doing as much as we can to move it along. I will raise his point with Home Office Ministers.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): May I bring to the attention of the House my early-day motion 1755 on the Women Leaders Council, a new international body for women only put together to combat the crime of human trafficking? Will the Government do all they can to liaise with the new council to prosecute and eradicate human trafficking?

Barbara Follett: I commend my hon. Friend on the EDM and I particularly commend the work of the Women Leaders Council. Some will have seen the imaginative installation by Emma Thompson in Trafalgar square to publicise it. We need imaginative things such as that, but we also need hard work on human trafficking. Straight after these questions, I and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), and my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, will be going to Holland to explore what is being done there on human trafficking, on which, frankly, much more needs to be done.


15. Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on support for women who are carers. [212141]

Barbara Follett: The Prime Minister launched the revised National Carers Strategy on 10 June, which set out a £255 million package of support for carers. Throughout the development of the strategy, I had discussions with ministerial colleagues about support for women carers.

Lyn Brown: Research by USDAW has shown that working carers are not aware of their right to request flexible working. What will the Government do to advertise more widely that right to make it easier for carers in the workplace?

Barbara Follett: My hon. Friend is quite right. The research into the knowledge of the right to request flexible working provides some discouraging figures. I have had talks with colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform about how we can advertise this. We intend to come forward with a programme.

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

Tap Water

17. Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): If the Commission will review the recommendation of the Administration Committee not to provide tap water at meetings held in the House. [212152]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): The Commission relies on the advice given by the Administration Committee in matters of this sort and normally proceeds on the basis of a report from the Committee. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to seek to persuade the Committee to change its advice on this matter.

Mr. Spellar: Is not the hon. Gentleman getting rather embarrassed at continuing to defend this issue when we know that bottled water is hugely environmentally unfriendly? Following my campaign, many Departments have significantly reduced their use of bottled water. Following the Evening Standard campaign, many restaurants in London are providing tables with tap water. When MPs are lecturing the public about reducing waste, and are even imposing fines on people for putting more waste into their bins, is it right for the House of Commons resolutely to refuse to take the issue on board and to save the environment while saving some money?

Nick Harvey: The right hon. Gentleman knows from discussions that we have had on the matter that I have a great deal of sympathy with what he is saying. We have asked officials of the House to keep in touch with officials from the House of Lords who are investigating the possibility of an on-site watering facility— [ Interruption. ] I mean a bottling facility; there are plenty of on-site watering facilities. The right hon. Gentleman and those who agree with him must continue to put pressure on the Administration Committee, which looked at the issue recently. I am not sure how scientific its study was. It is essential that the Committee looks at it again.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): With the greatest respect, that is rather complacent. Nobody in their right mind in the real world wastes money on bottled water. Chateau Thames water is perfectly acceptable. It is about time that we did not waste money in this House. It brings us into disrepute and the sooner we have ordinary tap water, the better. Why do not we just get on with it?

Nick Harvey: I will communicate the right hon. Gentleman’s views to the Administration Committee, but I would urge him to do so as well.

Staff Pension Scheme

18. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): If the Commission will examine the financial implications of extending the House of Commons staff pension scheme to staff of hon. Members. [212153]

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Nick Harvey: The employees of Members of Parliament are not employees of this House. It would therefore not be possible in a technical sense for them to be part of this scheme, which is run by the House for its employees. The contracts of MPs’ staff specify that they are part of the Portcullis pension plan, which means that a contribution equivalent to 10 per cent. of their gross salary is paid by the House to one or more stakeholder pension providers.

Hugh Bayley: None of us could do our jobs as Members of Parliament without the professional support of Clerks, Librarians and the other staff of the House, but, equally, none of us could do our jobs without the support of our staff, in our constituency offices and here in Westminster. It is outrageous that Members and the staff of the House belong to good public sector final salary pension schemes, but other public servants, who serve the public for years, end up on the Portcullis plan and face retirement on a fraction of the incomes of House staff. Will the House of Commons Commission examine this problem and do something about it?

Nick Harvey: The 10 per cent. employer contribution is about average for similar schemes run by large employers. The current arrangements have been in place for five years, but if the hon. Gentleman feels that the time is right to review the scheme, he should, in the first instance, approach the Advisory Panel on Members’ Allowances to suggest a review of the scheme.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Topical Debates

19. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): When she expects to complete the review of the procedures for selection of the subject matter for topical debates. [212155]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The results of the review on topical debates will be published to the House before the summer recess. That will help to inform any decision of the House on whether to make permanent the Standing Orders that introduced topical debates on an experimental basis for the 2007-08 Session, and whether any changes to the Standing Orders may be necessary.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for that helpful and informative reply. Does she not believe that the House as a whole should have more of a say, in a transparent way, in the selection of the subject for the topical debate? At the moment, the decision lies exclusively with her and the Government. Should it not involve a small committee representing parties across the House, so that the debates are genuinely topical and supported by a majority of the House?

Ms Harman: The decision on the choice for the topical debate rests with me, as Leader of the House, because that is what the House decided, by way of resolution, should be the system for picking the topical
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debate. That arrangement is subject to review, because, as I have said, it was introduced on an experimental basis. In order to increase transparency and at the request of a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman, we have introduced greater transparency even ahead of the review’s findings, publishing a list of the requests that have been made to me as Leader of the House. I remind the House that I am at pains to ensure that I approach this as business of the House, even though it is Government time. For example, a request was made to me at last week’s business questions for a debate on eco-towns, and that is exactly what we will be debating as the subject of this afternoon’s topical debate.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Debating time in the House’s two Chambers is in short supply, and the initiative of topical debates has been a useful way of widening the range of debates and increasing the number of people who contribute. On the related area of the 90-minute debates in Westminster Hall, could we examine ways of making those a more effective weapon in this place? Far too often, people who have bid for debates, which are granted by Mr. Speaker in good faith, come along with no one else to speak to the matter in hand, and that cannot be the most effective use of Westminster Hall time.

Ms Harman: Westminster Hall debates, be they on Select Committee matters, at the initiative of private Members or Government-sponsored debates, have proved a useful additional debating forum for hon. Members to raise issues of concern, but I think that we could further consider the use of Westminster Hall—for example, it is not used on Mondays. I shall take my hon. Friend’s question as a prompt for further consideration and report back to the House on how that might be undertaken.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Leader of the House said that she would treat this as a House matter, but can she tell us how many times the subject for the topical debate has happened to be the subject about which the Prime Minister has made a speech earlier in the week?

Ms Harman: Well, I have not got the actual list, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I follow the Standing Orders, and the letter and spirit of the resolution, and consider whether the debate is topical; whether it is an issue of concern or national importance; and whether there have been other opportunities to debate the issue in the House. The questions that have been the subject of topical debates come from both sides of the House. Sometimes they coincide with an issue on which the Prime Minister has put forward a proposal, but they often do not.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): On what basis does the Leader of the House, under the current procedures, decide on some Mondays that life is so uneventful that we do not need a topical debate at all?

Ms Harman: I do not decide not to have a topical debate because life is uneventful. It is a question of what other business we might have that the House wants to debate. For example, on 3 July, the Foreign Secretary will lead a debate on Zimbabwe and we will
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also debate Members’ allowances. Sometimes I take the view that issues of concern need a full day for debate, and that should be the priority for the House. It is not that there is no issue of topicality that the House might want to debate, but that on that day there is another issue that we will want to spend the whole day debating. If there is any particular Thursday that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to raise, because he thinks that we should have had a topical debate but did not, he should do so.

I should point out that there is a dearth of proposals for topical debates. I would not want anyone to get the impression that there is a vast number of topical debate requests that I ignore in favour of a topic chosen by the Prime Minister— [ Interruption. ] Well, that is absolutely not the case. Hon. Members are being cynical, but instead of their snorting cynicism, they should make some proposals for topical debates.

Programme Motions

20. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If she will bring forward proposals to amend Standing Orders to provide for debate on all programme motions. [212156]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): We have no plans to bring forward motions to amend the present programming arrangements in that respect; they already allow for most such motions to be debated directly or, subject to the Chair, to be brought into debate on related business.

Mr. Bone: With due respect to the Deputy Leader of the House, I do not think that that is quite correct. We cannot debate Second Reading programme motions: they have to be put forthwith. I am surprised that the Leader of the House has not corrected her earlier statement when she promised to look into this matter. Would it not be better if these horrible programme motions—if we have to have them at all—were handled by a business Committee of this House, rather than the usual channels?

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is right that the Standing Order indicates that the question on the programme motion should be put forthwith, but that does not mean that it cannot be debated. It can be debated as part of the Second Reading debate, with the agreement of the Chair. I am grateful to him for motivating me to consider the way in which the Order Paper is drafted. As he knows, at the moment the programme motion, which usually follows the Second Reading motion on the Order Paper, says that there will be no debate on it. It might be clearer if it stated “No further debate.” If the House would prefer that, we could raise it with the House authorities. It might be a more helpful way to set the issues out on the Order Paper.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): On Report on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, Members had only three hours to discuss 16 new clauses and dozens of new amendments. With the Planning Bill, 218 new amendments were tabled at a very late stage. Late amendments were also tabled for the Criminal
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Justice and Immigration Bill, meaning that they could not be debated. When will the Leader of the House provide proper time for Members to discuss vital issues?

Helen Goodman: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition that proper time is not being given. I want to give him some other facts that will demonstrate how flexible we are and how we take account of the needs of the House to debate particular matters. Let us take as an example the European Union (Amendment) Bill. We spent a whole day discussing a motion—it was not a programme motion, but a motion on how the House would handle the Bill—and agreed how we would handle it. Let us take Finance Bills. They are not programmed at all. Let us take the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It spent two days before the Committee of the whole House, as was agreed in a programme motion on Second Reading. Let us take, as the hon. Gentleman does, the Counter-Terrorism Bill. We had two days on Report and the programme motion was debated for 45 minutes at the beginning of that stage. Let us take the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill, where we had an allocation— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Lady can write to the hon. Gentleman.

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