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Corston Report

16. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What contribution the Law Officers' Departments are making towards the implementation of the recommendations of the Corston report on meeting the needs of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system. [312122]

The Solicitor-General: The Government accepted almost all of Baroness Corston's recommendations and are committed to diverting from custody vulnerable women who are not dangerous or serious offenders by strengthening services in the community that can tackle the complex needs of such women, who are frequently convicted of a lot of low-level offending. There have been 31 grants to such organisations, including Together Women and the Cardiff-based women's turnaround project, which is hosted by Safer Wales and offers practical support so that women can manage their lives better and do not fall into offending. My hon. Friend has been a great champion of the turnaround project.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. and learned Friend and congratulate the Government on the progress made on the Corston report and on the fact that the number of women in prison is now falling. I am particularly pleased about the Cardiff project. Does she agree that many women offenders are, or have been, victims of abuse to a disproportionate level? What more can the Law Officers' Department do to help women who have been abused as either children or adults when they present as offenders?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I chaired the Fawcett commission on women and criminal justice, the evidence made it plain that a disproportionate number of women in custody for low-level, non-dangerous offending had either been sexually abused or suffered domestic violence, and through the chaos that followed that treatment had declined into crime. Because at that stage we were not intervening as quickly and as well as we do now in cases of either domestic violence or sexual abuse, we were, in a sense, punishing them twice-by not helping them early enough to prevent them from descending into offending and then by putting them in custody when they offended. We are now trying to tackle the problem, and it is notable that organisations such as the turnaround project and Together Women deal with women not just after they have they have been convicted but after they have been abused, when their lives are becoming chaotic, to try to save them from ever descending into criminality at all.

Snow and Ice Clearing

18. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on whether householders may be prosecuted in relation to snow and ice clearing activities which lead to the injury of another. [312124]

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The Solicitor-General: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman-I hope that he will not take it badly if I put it briefly, and I know that you will not, Mr. Speaker-is that there have been no discussions about prosecuting people for clearing snow and ice.

Mr. Dunne: I appreciate that the Solicitor-General might have been trying to clarify the fact that clearing is not subject to criminal action, and if that was what she intended to say, I am grateful to her. However, she will be aware of the considerable concern among householders in recent weeks that they are potentially liable to prosecution either from local authorities or in civil cases. It would be helpful if she could get clarification from colleagues, perhaps in the Ministry of Justice, that that is not likely to occur.

The Solicitor-General: When I saw that the hon. Gentleman's question was about prosecution, which is our responsibility as Law Officers, I sent back to the Crown Prosecution Service to ask it to scour the four corners of jurisprudence to look for anything that looked like a possible prosecution for snow clearing with some bad effect, but we could not find anything, whether relating to local authorities or anything else. Between us, the hon. Gentleman and I can probably rule out prosecution for clearing snow. Civil liability is a different thing. It looks very remote to me, but I am not going to give free legal advice.

Youth Matters (Expenditure)

19. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): How much was spent in respect of her responsibilities for youth matters in the last 12 months. [312125]

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman asks in general terms how much was spent on youth matters. Reducing youth crime and improving the criminal justice system for young people is a central part of the Government's effort to build safer communities, and action is planned for that.

However, if he is asking about such things as the Law Officers' youth network, which encourages understanding and respect for the rule of law and the criminal justice system, I can tell him that in the past 12 months, it has cost just over £4,500. In addition, the Crown Prosecution Service has spent almost £86,000 on a national schools project, with a similar information motive.

Mr. Pelling: Is there a danger that police officers spend too much time doing youth work that should really be provided by professional youth workers?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman would be asking me only for a view about that, because the police are not my responsibility. My constituency engagement tells me that police are very usefully involved in talking in schools, and they are sometimes even posted at schools for a while and have regular liaison with them, but I doubt they go beyond the four corners of their responsibilities and try to give people counselling and advice. I am not sure anything is going wrong, but he should take the matter up with the Home Office if he is worried.

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Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked-

Reform of the House of Commons Committee

20. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): When the Government plans to respond to the report of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons; and if she will make a statement. [312136]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The Government firmly believe in strengthening the role of the House of Commons, and making Parliament more effective is an essential part of restoring public trust in our political system. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, the Government propose to accept a large number of the recommendations of the Wright Committee's report, including the election of Chairmen and members of Select Committees, a House Committee for scheduling non-Government businesses, and allowing Back Benchers to initiate debates on motions that will be voted on by the House. We intend to bring the matter to the House for debate and decision on 23 February.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Leader of the House for that response, and particularly for giving us the date, for which we have all been waiting, on which we will be able to discuss and vote on the Wright Committee proposals. I welcome the fact that the Government are minded to accept many of the proposals, although I would imagine that we are talking about House business, and therefore a free vote, and that it would not be for the Government to accept or reject the proposals. If the Government are accepting most of the proposals, which will she personally be rejecting?

Ms Harman: There will be a free vote on this-of course, this is House business-but the hon. Lady will be aware that it is for the Government to table the motions. We take the Wright Committee's argument that that needs to be done with two characteristics: first, we need to seek consensus in order to take the matter forward, which is certainly what our approach will be, and I look forward to working with her and other hon. Members; and secondly, we need to make progress bit by bit. We will be making a good start and, I hope, a substantive and major start, with four key areas that I have outlined for debate and, I hope, decision by the House on 23 February.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): So now we know, after months of prevarication, that the full recommendations of the Wright Committee are not to be put before the House, that the House is not to be trusted to vote on all the recommendations, that the Government will choose those they accept, and that those will be the only ones put before the House. May I suggest to the right hon. and learned Lady that that is simply not right? It is not what was anticipated when the Wright Committee was set up, and it will be a grave disappointment to those who want genuine reform of this House.

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Ms Harman: I do not think it acceptable to suggest that what we have done is prevaricate. I think the Wright Committee worked with expedition and on a wide-ranging area of complex issues. The Committee itself said that the matter needed to be dealt with bit by bit and that further work was needed on some proposals. The hon. Gentleman has a choice. Either he can seek to work with us to make progress, or he can get in a huff about the process. It is down to him to choose.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Wright Committee did indeed work with expedition, as the Leader of the House has just said, which is more than the Government have done-23 February is a long way off the eight weeks that the Wright Committee proposed for a response. Further to the question posed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), can she confirm that, whatever the House decides on 23 February, those recommendations will be implemented before the Dissolution of Parliament?

Ms Harman: Indeed, we intend to give the House an opportunity to decide on a series of motions that will go beyond being an endorsement in principle and actually give to recommendations. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect on his attempt to suggest that we are dragging our feet on this issue. We want to ensure that we work together to bring forward changes that are comprehensively agreed.

The convention is that, after a Select Committee report, the Government have two months in which to make a response. It is 21 January today and the two months is up on 24 January, and I am giving the Government's response here. The response is that we will have a debate on 23 February and suggest that we go forward in four key areas. Rather than a written response that can be debated generally outside the House, we think that it is better for the Government to give the House the opportunity to debate and decide these issues. Again, I put to the right hon. Gentleman the point that I made to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). He can either get tangled up in an argument about the process or he can accept my suggestion that we work together to make substantive progress on four key areas of the Wright Committee's proposals.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Having campaigned for the handing back of authority from the Executive to the House for more than a decade-certainly while I was Chairman of the Procedure Committee and as a member of the Modernisation Committee-may I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House, which was signalled yesterday at Prime Minister's questions? The Leader of the House has chosen the important and fundamental issues that will give greater authority to Back Benchers. As long as the motions will be decided on a free vote, I warmly welcome what she has said in answer to this question, and I look forward to the House having more authority by the time that I leave it at the general election.

Ms Harman: The request from the House to the Wright Committee was to make proposals that will-as the hon. Gentleman suggests-strengthen the way in which the House works.

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House of Commons Commission

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

CO2 Emissions

21. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Which hon. Members have written to the (a) Serjeant at Arms and (b) House of Commons Commission in the last 12 months with proposals for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the House of Commons part of the parliamentary estate. [312137]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): Responsibility for environmental matters in the House rests with the Director General of Facilities. In the last 12 months, four Members have written in with proposals for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions on the parliamentary estate. Such correspondence is viewed as confidential, so it would not be right to name them. The number does not include Members who made requests for the Commons to participate in environmental campaigns, and several proposals were made orally or through parliamentary questions- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Far too many private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. A question was asked and the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) was answering it, but people kept on chuntering away. That is just bad manners.

Hugh Bayley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. On 19 October, all members of the House of Commons Commission, from all parties, agreed that the House of Commons was not in a position to sign up to the 10:10 commitment. Two days later, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) proposed a motion committing the House to 10:10. Did the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) tell his party leader that the House of Commons Commission had considered the matter and decided that it was not practical and that he personally would not vote for that motion?

Nick Harvey: I had a discussion with my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who was, I think, moving the motion to which the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) alludes. I had a discussion with my hon. Friend and explained why the Commission, much as it would have wished to sign up to the 10:10 campaign, did not feel able to do so.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked-

Parliamentary Questions

22. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the accuracy of responses to parliamentary questions. [312138]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I keep the quality and timeliness of Ministers' answers to
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written parliamentary questions under continuous review. Following recommendations by the Procedure Committee and discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend, the Prime Minister has recently written to Cabinet colleagues reminding them of the importance of answering written and parliamentary questions in a timely way and to an acceptable quality. We are, of course, always happy to make representations to Ministers on behalf of Members.

Mr. Turner: The number of ministerial corrections in the column headed MC in Hansard seems to be growing. Does that mean that the accuracy of ministerial responses is improving or getting worse?

Barbara Keeley: I have not reviewed that recently, but I am perfectly happy to look into it. Of course, both the Leader of the House and I, and the Procedure Committee, are aware that the number of written questions keeps climbing, and sometimes very large numbers of written parliamentary questions are tabled to Ministers and Departments on the same day. However, if there is interest in checking the accuracy figures, I am certainly happy to do that.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Obviously, I am sure that the deputy Leader of the House will agree that there seems to be a growing problem with Ministers taking the easy option and saying that they do not have the information available. That could be on the salary of chief executives in the north-west or ambulance times, or even a basic question on Monitor. MPs are being denied such information because Ministers are taking the easy line. Will she do something about this?

Barbara Keeley: I am very happy to take up individual examples. The best response to such issues is to say that if Members give me examples of where they have had issues, I will be happy to write to Ministers and have meetings with them and officials, which I have done quite recently.

Question Time

23. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If she will bring forward proposals to amend the procedures of the House to prevent hon. Members who have secured a question for oral answer by a Minister from also asking a topical question to the same Minister at the same Question Time. [312139]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): When it recommended the introduction of topical questions, the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee concluded that Members should not have to choose between the two types of question. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the Procedure Committee might have to consider the matter further based on the number of Members called on both substantive and topical questions at the same Question Time.

Mr. Hollobone: Under the old system, for an hour's Question Time to a particular Department, each Member of the House got one chance to ask a question. Under the present procedures, some Members get to ask two questions, while others are frozen out altogether. Given
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the interest of the deputy Leader of the House and her boss in issues of equality, would she be kind enough to look seriously at that?

Barbara Keeley: It would be for the hon. Gentleman to make representations to the Procedure Committee if he wanted to have a change. Members feel that topical questions are quite a good opportunity to raise a question without notice, and they have proved to be one of the most popular innovations, so the issue is difficult. The Leader of the House is not responsible for the fairness of the shuffle, but this issue might be something for the Procedure Committee to look at.

House of Commons Commission

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

Severe Weather (Staffing)

24. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What estimate the House of Commons Commission has made of the number of hours spent by staff covering for colleagues unable to get to work owing to the recent period of severe weather; and if he will make a statement. [312140]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): It is not possible to identify separately the additional hours worked by staff as a result of the recent severe weather, but I am sure that I speak for all Members of the House when I say that we are very grateful to the staff of the House for their commitment and flexibility in ensuring that services to the House and its Committees continued as usual.

Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has stolen my thunder, because I was going to ask him if he would join me, and indeed the whole House, in praising the valuable work undertaken at a very difficult time by members of staff who came in, in very bad weather, worked quite late on occasions to replace those who were unable to come in, and enabled a functioning democratic process, such as that in our House of Commons, to continue despite the appalling weather conditions.

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