Previous Section Index Home Page

David Taylor: Under the existing legal and judicial framework, the police and courts often have difficulty dealing swiftly and effectively with domestic offences. Many victims despair of finding remedies or relief from
6 Nov 2008 : Column 353
the day-to-day experiences that they continually endure. I urge my hon. and learned Friend to instigate a major review and reform of society’s approach to domestic abuse, which includes psychological, financial and sexual maltreatment, as well as physical violence.

The Solicitor-General: I really do wonder sometimes where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past couple of years—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): On your Benches!

The Solicitor-General: He must have been nodding off occasionally. Certainly, outside the House he has not had his eye on the ball in the way that some Opposition Members and most of my colleagues on the Back Benches have. We have done the most enormous amount of work on domestic violence. We have set up a system of independent domestic violence advisers, who support and befriend complainants as soon as they make a complaint and who help them right through the process. We have a system of specialist domestic violence courts, and specialist programmes to deal with perpetrators. Between 2005-06 and 2007-08, the number of convictions for domestic violence increased from just over 29,000 to almost 44,000. We are making sterling efforts and they are starting to make an impact. It must be becoming clear, even to the densest of family bullies, that they have no excuse for domestic violence and that the courts will deal with it extremely seriously.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Is there not a problem with domestic violence programmes organised by the probation service? It is under such financial pressure that it is finding it very difficult to deliver them in a timely fashion. The programmes are immensely important for reforming offenders and for victims, many of whom would not come forward if they thought that their partner would be imprisoned immediately. What effect will the proposed cut of £1 billion in the Ministry of Justice budget have on those programmes?

The Solicitor-General: I do not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman has tried to generate. As I have said already, the number of complaints to the police about domestic violence has gone up exponentially, largely because the police and the courts have made it very clear that they will adopt a helpful approach to complaints and deal with them strongly. It seems that people are not hesitating about making complaints to the police, even though they cannot predict what the sentence will be and their partner may end up in custody as a consequence.

6 Nov 2008 : Column 354

The specific programmes in respect of the perpetrators of domestic violence have been in place only since 2006. The Liberal Democrats may occupy a fantasy world, but we cannot click our fingers and generate courses for perpetrators just like that. Our target was to set up 1,200 courses in 2007, and we succeeded in setting up 1,800. For 2008, the target was 1,800 and we put in place 2,000. The target for 2009 is 2,000, and we will put in place 2,500. The queues to get on the courses are growing smaller—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am keen to allow one more question.


4. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the review of demand for prostitution; and if she will make a statement. [233482]

The Solicitor-General: I have discussed with the Home Secretary a number of measures to address the problems of prostitution arising from the demand review. They were mainly announced by the Home Secretary in September, and included improvements to the legislation on kerb crawling, new powers to close brothels, greater restrictions on lap dancing clubs and a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for another’s gain. The full results of the review will be announced this month.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank the Solicitor-General for that reply. The last of those offences announced by the Home Secretary—the offence of having sex with someone who is controlled for gain—mirrors an offence in Finland. Is the Solicitor-General aware that there have been no prosecutions since the Finnish offence was introduced?

The Solicitor-General: No, I did not know that. However, I do not think that that is an inherent defect of the offence, and I am not sure that the two offences are identical. We prosecute those who control prostitutes for gain, so prosecuting people who pay for sex with a person who has been prostituted for gain goes with the grain of what we do already. We all know that a very high percentage of prostitutes are controlled for another’s gain, so one might think that there is a 90 per cent. chance that any man who buys sex will fall foul of this law. We will have to design its finer points later, but we have every hope that it will make a significant difference and be a significant deterrent.

6 Nov 2008 : Column 355

Business of the House

11.34 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 10 November—Opposition day [20(th) allotted day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion on the economy and the future of the Post Office card account.

Tuesday 11 November—If necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments followed by a general debate on adding capacity to Heathrow.

Wednesday 12 November—The House will be asked to approve motions relating to regional committees, European scrutiny, modernisation of the House of Commons and the Speaker’s Conference. The House will also be asked to approve a motion relating to the House of Commons Members’ Fund.

Thursday 13 November—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a general debate on international aid—transparency.

The provisional business for the week commencing 17 November will include:

Monday 17 November—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Education and Skills Bill followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Education and Skills Bill.

Tuesday 18 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 19 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 20 November—General debate on fisheries.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 November will be:

Thursday 20 November—A debate on organ donation.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. Today the Home Secretary is making a written statement, understood to be about the cost of the identity card scheme. She is also making a speech today announcing that the Government have backtracked on plans to issue identity cards to workers at all UK airports; it has been heavily trailed in the press. Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make an oral statement on the status of the ID card scheme?

Will the Leader of the House give us a date for the pre-Budget report, or at least a date when she will give us a date for that report? Given the current economic climate, and the state of public finances, it will be a very important statement. Given that we have not had a debate on the economy in Government time, will she take up the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) that we should have one or two days’ debate on the pre-Budget report?

6 Nov 2008 : Column 356

On Monday the House of Lords had a debate on the economy. During that debate, my noble Friend Lord Forsyth called for an inquiry on the leaking of information about the banks’ bail-out package. The noble Lord Lea of Crondall suggested a wider public inquiry, including the banks. The City Minister, Lord Myners, said—I quote from Lords Hansard, column 16—“My Lords, I agree”. But yesterday, the Prime Minister said, in Hansard , column 247, that the City Minister “said no such thing”. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister’s statement in the official record is corrected, and when will we have that public inquiry?

Shortly, the Bank of England is expected to cut interest rates, but today it is reported that Northern Rock, the nationalised bank owned by the taxpayer, will instead raise some of its mortgage rates. Businesses and home owners are already struggling, as banks are not passing on interest rate cuts, so may we have a statement from the Chancellor on why a state-run bank is blatantly defying the Government?

Yesterday Labour MEPs voted to abolish the UK’s opt-out on the European working time directive. At a time when businesses across the country are struggling to keep going and families will probably be looking for more work, not less, that just goes to show how out of touch Labour MEPs are. It is time that the Prime Minister got a grip on his party. May we have a statement setting out the official Government position on the working time directive?

In the House of Lords this week, Lord Darzi said that patients have a right to three cycle treatments of IVF. However, guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence only recommends that patients have three full cycles of treatment; it is not mandatory. May we have a statement from the Health Secretary to clarify official Government policy on IVF treatment?

Finally, there has been widespread condemnation of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), for his remarks blaming a commander in the Special Air Service for his choice of vehicle prior to the deaths of three troops in Afghanistan. The fact is that there was no choice. The Minister, when in the House on Monday, refused to apologise to that commander, so will the right hon. and learned Lady assure the House that she will press the Minister to give an unreserved apology to Major Morley and to UK commanders in Afghanistan?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the question of ID cards and argued that there should be an oral statement, but she is aware, as she said, that there has been a written ministerial statement, which simply updates the House about our progress. As we have previously announced to the House, ID cards with biometrics are being introduced for foreign nationals and piloted at airports, so that people who are airside have biometric ID cards. The written ministerial statement simply announced the progress that we are making with the pilot scheme as we roll it out.

On the date for the pre-Budget report, we have chosen a number of opportunities for the House to debate the important issue of the economy. We have had debates about energy and employment and a statement about small business, in addition to numerous statements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As for the date
6 Nov 2008 : Column 357
of the pre-Budget report, we will announce it, as I said last week, in the normal way. I suspect that Donald Rumsfeld would have called it a “known unknown” as far as this week is concerned, and I am not announcing the date this week.

The right hon. Lady asked for a public inquiry into the global financial crisis, but may I take this opportunity to commend the work of the Select Committee on the Treasury? I should have thought that she would take that opportunity too. The Treasury Committee has asked the public to suggest questions for its evidence-gathering sessions, and the Committee is bringing before it not only the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but, no doubt, those various people who used to be described as the masters of the universe. I pay tribute to the Committee’s work and look forward to receiving its report.

On Northern Rock, the right hon. Lady rightly said that there will be an interest rate announcement from the Bank of England shortly, and, subsequent to that, other banks and building societies will make it clear how they intend to respond to it. She will know that Northern Rock is managed at arm’s length, as we would rightfully expect it to be, but the business Minister will make it clear to chief executives of building societies and banks in a meeting this afternoon that the Government have put in a considerable amount of public money directly, with £37 billion of capitalisation for banks, and made available through guarantees a further £250 billion, and that we expect from them some response to ensure that the interest rate cut is passed on not only to mortgage holders but to small businesses. I am sure that that is the view of the whole House, and the Minister will make it very clear.

The right hon. Lady asked about the European working time directive, and we have always been clear that it is right to give employees legal protections at work. The Opposition have not been in favour of such protections, whether the minimum wage or the working time directive, but we are in favour of people not being forced to work long hours that they do not want to work, or that can impede health and safety. That is why, when we came into government after many years of Tory rule, we introduced a legal prohibition on requiring people to work very long hours. Following a European Court judgment there have been some changes, to which other Governments across the piece are now agreeing, about how on-call time is calculated for the purposes of the working time directive. [ Interruption.] I must say that I would be interested to hear whether the Opposition, who are chuntering away about working time, are now in favour of guaranteeing minimum standards and the protection of working hours. Our position is clear, and we are getting on with things.

I will look into the right hon. Lady’s point about Lord Darzi’s comments in the House of Lords about IVF provision and write to her.

As for our troops in Afghanistan, I should say that Remembrance day offers us all the opportunity to remember not only those who lost their lives in the great wars, but those who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will continue to increase investment in equipment
6 Nov 2008 : Column 358
for our troops and to work with the other countries around the world who share the important work that our troops are carrying out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s announcement that next week the Government intend to bring forward proposals to amend temporarily Standing Orders to enable the establishment of regional Select Committees and regional Grand Committees. Does she agree that in responding to the Modernisation Committee, the Government are recognising the overwhelming weight of evidence that that Committee received, which showed the accountability gap at the regional level? In bringing forward the recommendations for regional Select Committees and regional Grand Committees, are the Government not also reflecting the difference of opinion on the Modernisation Committee on how best to meet that accountability gap?

Ms Harman: I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution to our debate next week. In case hon. Members have not yet seen them, I should say that the motions for that debate which set out the framework for the regional Committees have already been tabled and are available for Members to scrutinise. We have also tabled a business motion that will show how they will be debated. My hon. Friend makes an important point, not least that we need proper scrutiny of the important work of the regional development agencies, particularly at a time when we are concerned to support the economy in every region of the country.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I have regularly raised with the Leader of the House the question of time for the consideration of Back-Bench and Opposition new clauses and amendments. She has announced three items of business for the next couple of weeks that will certainly have amendments from both sides of the House.

In the Employment Bill debate two days ago there was, yet again, no opportunity to complete consideration of the Opposition and Back-Bench new clauses and amendments—indeed, more than half of them were not debated. Yesterday was our 20th sitting day since the House came back following the summer. On nine of those days, there have been no votes at all, and the House has risen early on nearly a third of them. Will the Leader of the House honour her undertaking to me and others that she will review the business of the House to make sure that there is time for Back-Bench and Opposition new clauses and amendments when the Government come forward with their business? Otherwise Parliament will not be doing its job properly, and she will not be honouring the obligation to make sure that we hold the Executive to account.

Next Section Index Home Page