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Equal Pay

4. Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): What progress the Equality and Human Rights Commission has made on developing a set of metrics for reporting on equal pay. [303696]

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): Given that women are, on average, still paid 22 per cent. less than men 40 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, we need greater transparency about pay structures to find out what is happening in organisations so that we can tackle this unacceptable inequality. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is working with business, the unions and others to give comparable, clear figures so that they can be published business to business in places with more than 250 employees. The consultation that it held closed on 28 October and we expect its recommendations soon.

Mr. Vaizey: My understanding was that the Equality and Human Rights Commission would publish its findings on metrics in July and that the measure would come out at Christmas. Will the Minister enlighten us about when it is due?

The Solicitor-General: I saw the commission chairman at an event about positive action on Tuesday; he reassured me that the commission is on the cusp of being ready to publish. I expect the findings to come out in January-about then.

Domestic Violence (Migrant Women)

5. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the future of the rule on no recourse to public funds in respect of migrant women who have experienced domestic violence. [303697]

The Minister of State, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): Last week, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality launched "Together we can end violence against women and girls", in which the Government gave a commitment to launch a national pilot to assist victims of domestic violence who have no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status. The pilot, administered by Eaves housing, was launched this Monday.

Dr. Starkey: I very much welcome that news, because I have had direct experience of the issue in my constituency. A woman came over here as the wife of a British citizen, was subjected to domestic violence and sought protection in the local women's refuge, where she was accommodated. However, the refuge got no funding. If the pilot looks as if it is working, may I urge the Minister to roll it out across the country as soon as possible?

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Maria Eagle: I reassure my hon. Friend that the pilot has been operating across England and Wales since this past Monday; her constituent would have help on the basis of the pilot. We will, of course, be evaluating the outcomes, and, subject to that, looking to make the arrangements more permanent.

Age Discrimination (Public Services)

6. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she plans to take to reduce the incidence of age discrimination in the provision of public services. [303698]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster): The Equality Bill will prohibit unjustifiable age discrimination in the provision of goods and services and outlaw the discrimination and unfairness that still persists against older people in social care, NHS services and insurance company services. We particularly welcome the work of the Department of Health and the findings of the south-west review of age equality, which will join the anti-discrimination efforts from 2012 onwards.

David Taylor: The Equality Bill is welcome, but older people, our largest vulnerable group, would surely still benefit from the appointment of a commissioner to oversee their access to services across the public sector, an idea promoted in my own private Member's legislation. What discussions has the Minister had with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on how our older citizens can best secure rights in this area equivalent to those of the younger section of the population?

Michael Jabez Foster: The Government are the champions of older people, supported by friends such as my hon. Friend. With our ageing society, it is increasingly important that the voice of older people is heard by Government at all levels. I am pleased to remind my hon. Friend of the role of Dame Joan Bakewell, who has been hugely valuable as an independent voice of older people, as has Michael Parkinson in his role as dignity champion. My hon. Friend can be assured that we will continue to take all advice that we possibly can in ensuring that this becomes a reality.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): How can we have any confidence in this Government on the issue of age discrimination when their much-vaunted Equality Bill still allows employers forcibly to sack people into retirement at the age of 65?

Michael Jabez Foster: As the hon. Gentleman knows, this issue is under active consideration; we will be looking into it later next year, with the support of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is important to remind him, however, that he voted against the Second Reading of the Equality Bill.

Primary School Teachers (Gender Balance)

7. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If she will discuss with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families proposals to increase the proportion of male primary school teachers. [303699]

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The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): There are too few male primary school teachers. Although applications are rising, men still account for only 15 per cent. of registered teaching staff in primary schools. The positive action provisions in the Equality Bill, which passed its final Commons stages last night, will allow employers who wish to do so to choose to appoint a person from an under-represented group, provided that all the candidates are equally qualified to do the job. That would improve diversity in the work force, and it would have an application in the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Hollobone: Does the Minister agree with the chief executive of the General Teaching Council, Mr. Keith Bartley, who said in September:

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The Solicitor-General: It is very important, though, is it not, to try to encourage male role models into primary schools? A lot of families do not have fathers at home, and it is incredibly important to have a male role model at that age. The broader welfare of children in our primary schools requires that we try to make some effort to redress this imbalance, and the Training and Development Agency for Schools is doing some of that work. I hope that the positive action provisions will be seriously taken up and used to very good effect.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

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

Monday 7 December-Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Tuesday 8 December-Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate on disability benefits for the elderly followed by a debate on local government finance settlement and council tax. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 9 December-Statement on the pre-Budget report followed by remaining stages of the Child Poverty Bill.

Thursday 10 December-Estimates Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate on students and universities and a debate on the relationship between central and local government. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: Students and universities ; 11 th R eport of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee of Session 2008-09 HC 170; Government Response-8 th Special Report of Session 2008-09, HC 991. The Balance of Power: Central and Local Government ; 6 th Report form the Communities and Local Government Committee of Session 2008-09, HC33 ; Government Response-Cm 7712. ]

At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 December will include:

Monday 14 December-Second Reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 15 December-Second Reading of the Flood and Water Management Bill followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Welsh language.

Wednesday 16 December-Motion on the Christmas Recess Adjournment.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business.

I make no apologies for repeating my call, supported by others, for debates on the pre-Budget report and on Afghanistan. Last week the right hon. and learned Lady offered the fiscal responsibility Bill as providing the right opportunity to debate next week's PBR, but that Bill is not even scheduled to have a Second Reading before Christmas. On Afghanistan, she said some weeks ago that she was "sympathetic" to the idea of a debate, but she has given no firm commitment since. The whole country is talking about these issues except the House, and it is indefensible for her not to provide time for debates. May I make a suggestion? Against the wishes of Conservative Members, the Government are proposing that the House should rise on 16 December. If she cannot find time for those two debates, will she postpone
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the Christmas recess by just two days so that the House can have the time that it wishes to debate the state of our economy and the welfare of our troops?

May we have a statement by the right hon. and learned Lady on the Prime Minister's claim yesterday that Britain is not the last country in the G20 to leave recession? He clearly stated:

Given that Britain has been chairing that group all year, he should know that Spain is not a member. Does she believe that the Prime Minister ought to correct his mistake and confirm for the record that Britain is indeed the last country in the G20 to exit recession, or does he not do apologies?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady give us a statement on her handling of the Equality Bill yesterday? As the Opposition repeatedly warned, the time allocated for debate was wholly insufficient. Five groups of amendments, including several Government new clauses, were sent to the other place without any scrutiny. Last week, she told us that the Solicitor-General had tabled all Government amendments a week before Report, but what use is that if there is no time to debate them? It is disappointing that the Leader of the House has not shown more leadership when it comes to her own legislation. What proposals does she have to prevent that from happening again?

May I ask yet again when the Leader of the House will give us the dates for the Easter recess? She chose not to respond to my question about that last week. Why is that particular recess causing such irreconcilable difficulties?

What has happened to our topical debates? Today we have had a summary, as a written statement, of the debates that we have had, but we have had no topical debates for more than a month and no indication of when the next one will be. What has happened to them?

May we have a statement on the appointment of the EU's Economic Commissioner? For weeks the Prime Minister lobbied furiously in Brussels to secure the top post for Tony Blair, and only got his fourth choice as the new High Representative. Meanwhile, the French have quietly assumed control of the internal market, with President Sarkozy gloating that the British are "the big losers". Yesterday, the Chancellor caved in to a decision to establish three EU supervisory authorities for financial services. Given those developments, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Minister replying to this afternoon's debate on Europe will respond to the growing concern about the threat to one of the country's main generators of wealth and employment?

Finally, will the right hon. and learned Lady join me in condemning the Prime Minister for launching a class war against those with aristocratic connections who were educated at public school?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on the pre-Budget report, and he was consistent in asking for that on behalf of the House even before he became shadow Leader of the House. I can tell him that there will be a full day's debate on the pre-Budget report, which will be announced shortly, so we have accepted the representations that he started making when he was on the Back Benches and has now brought to the Front Bench.

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As far as the very important question of Afghanistan is concerned, as Leader of the House I take it very much as my responsibility to ensure that the House is informed regularly about the situation, and that does happen. I ensure that there is an opportunity to debate it at large and hold Ministers to account, and that every week that this House is sitting, there is an opportunity for a debate on Afghanistan. [Hon. Members: "What?"] I ensure that there is an opportunity for the House to be informed and hold Ministers to account, or to debate the matter. The country expects Afghanistan to be right at the top of the House's agenda, and it certainly is. May I say what an honour and privilege it was yesterday to attend the remembrance celebration in Belfast cathedral for those from 19 Light Brigade?

I turn to the right hon. Gentleman's points about the recession and the G20. I understand that Spain is in the G20 plus, so the Prime Minister was absolutely right on that point. This Government have taken action to protect the economy in the face of a global financial crisis. As a country that has a large financial services sector that goes back decades, of course we are particularly affected by a crisis in that industry. Of course, as a trading nation, we would be affected by a global crisis that has reduced trade. The truth is that this Prime Minister has not only protected our economy from recession, but actually shaped the international approach, which has made sure that the country goes forward. I must say that had it been left to the policies of the official Opposition, we would not even be beginning to come out of recession, which is what we are doing at the moment-we are moving into recovery.

It is important that the Equality Bill received proper scrutiny from the House. May I just reiterate what happened? The Joint Committee on Human Rights scrutinised the Bill and did a report on it, as did the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. There were 38 hours of scrutiny in Committee, leaving aside evidence taken from the public as part of the Public Bill Committee hearings. There were two Select Committees, then 38 hours in Committee. Report stage is one day in this House unless major new policy is introduced, but no major new policy was introduced between Committee and Report.

I am sure that this will be a disappointment to Opposition Back Benchers, but there was no Front-Bench request for an extra day on Report until the business was announced- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Leader of the House, but there is far too much sedentary wittering taking place on the Opposition Benches, both from the Liberal Democrats and from the Conservatives. The Leader of the House must be heard. I want to make progress and I want to get everybody in.

Ms Harman: I totally agree with you, Mr. Speaker. There is much too much sedentary wittering-it should be for me to witter at the Dispatch Box. I am still on my third point about scrutiny and I have many more to go.

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