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Maria Eagle: We welcome increased reporting. I can tell my hon. Friend that there were 67,000 prosecutions in 2008-09, increasing from 50,000 in 2005-06. The conviction rate also increased from 46 per cent. of those charged in 2003-04 to 72 per cent. in 2008-09. That is why domestic violence crime is falling. We are putting more focus on it, there are more prosecutions, the conviction rate is up and the incidence is down. There is
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more help for victims, and the courts, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and all authorities are better able to understand this crime and to do the job. That is not to say that more cannot be done; it can, but the focus on the issue has led to the fall in the volume of this crime.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): There were worrying findings in last week's report on the role of the NHS in supporting the victims of domestic violence. Does the Minister agree with the chair of the taskforce that too little has been done by the NHS so far in this area?

Maria Eagle: No. It is important to realise that many of our public services have not in the past focused on the impact of this crime as much as we would like them to do, or as much as they are now doing. We welcome that increase in focus from the NHS and from other public services. It is only when all public services, working together, focus on the needs of the victims and of children in families in which domestic violence is perpetrated that we see increased reporting, better conviction rates, and a better result and outcome for all of us.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. I would like other colleagues to be able to get in too, so I need short questions and answers.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): As well as using a criminal justice response to reduce domestic violence-which is working-how are we trying to prevent future domestic violence by educating young people about the unacceptability of violence in the home?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend is right to identify that as an important point for the future. We are making personal, social and health education statutory in schools, and domestic violence will be part of that curriculum. We are also making it easier for children who are affected by this in their families to be listened to independently, by giving greater support to the listening services provided by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We hope that that will have a real impact.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Incidents of violence against women in Northern Ireland have been increasing in recent years. Will the Minister join me in expressing the hope and expectation that as policing and justice powers move from this House to the Northern Ireland Assembly next month, this issue will be a matter of priority for the incoming justice Minister?

Maria Eagle: I welcome the further devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly; the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have had a particular interest in that myself in the past. I hope that the move will lead to Ministers with responsibility for health and other areas of public service working together with the new policing and justice Minister in Northern Ireland to find relevant local solutions to such problems to achieve the greatest impact on domestic violence in the area. We do not want just to export solutions; it is for
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local people to come up with their own solutions. The more Ministers work together, the more they are likely to come up with a solution that will work locally.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): In focusing on what lies behind domestic violence, the recent report by Dr. Linda Papadopoulos examined the issue of sexualisation and violence. The evidence given to the report suggested a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects, and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm. We believe that we should ban the most manipulative marketing techniques aimed at young people, and stop irresponsible companies from winning future Government contracts. Do the Government agree?

Maria Eagle: A late convert to effective action is better than no convert at all. We would certainly welcome support from any party in the House, across party politics, in ensuring that the equality agenda is moved forward and that young girls can have the same protection and the same likelihood of doing well in society as young boys.

Police Stop and Search

6. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on use by police of stop-and-search powers in relation to black and Asian youths. [322781]

The Minister of State, Government Equalities Office (Maria Eagle): The Minister for Women and Equality has had no direct discussions with the Home Secretary on this issue. The Government are committed to delivering a policing service, and a wider criminal justice system, that promote equality and do not discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their race. The National Policing Improvement Agency is working to reduce unjustified disproportionality in stop and search by police forces. Tackling that will increase community confidence in stop and search as a useful tool with which police can keep the community safe.

Keith Vaz: Will the Minister join me in welcoming the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission? We have heard some comments about the commission, but here is a very good report into the problems with stop and search. We cannot go on with this disproportionality. What are we going to do about it?

Maria Eagle: I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the EHRC report on the disproportionality of stop-and-search powers and their use by police forces. It shows that people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched if they are black, and twice as likely if they are Asian, and that there are inexplicable differences between different police forces and persistent ratios across time in particular areas. It is important that police forces look carefully at how they use their powers, and that they use them to protect the public rather than inadvertently to undermine the confidence of the public. The work of the NPIA will be key to ensuring that that happens.

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Access to Information (People with Disabilities)

7. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on equality of access to information for blind, partially sighted and print-disabled people. [322783]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office (Michael Jabez Foster): We have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, which sponsors the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which requires employers, service providers and bodies delivering functions to make reasonable adjustments. That duty is a cornerstone of the protection for disabled people and has been carried forward into the Equality Bill, which was amended on Report in the other place to make more explicit the application of that duty in respect of disabled people who experience information disadvantage.

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Alun Michael: I welcome that amendment, and the commitment of Ministers. Will my hon. Friend ensure that this matter is understood and driven ahead at every level, and in every Department and Government agency, as a matter of urgency?

Michael Jabez Foster: Indeed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality is already on the job. The Government Equalities Office is also ensuring that other Departments are fully aware of the provisions in the Bill, and advice will be updated as those provisions come into force. I believe that there is also a role for Members of the House to be vigilant in ensuring that within their own localities the equality message is clear and understood. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will be at the forefront in achieving that.

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Business of the House

11.33 am

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House 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 22 March-Motions to approve three statutory instruments relating to Northern Ireland devolution, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Child Poverty Bill.

Tuesday 23 March-Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [ Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Bill [ Lords].

Wednesday 24 March-My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 25 March-Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 26 March-The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 March will include:

Monday 29 March-Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 30 March-Conclusion of the Budget debate.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 25 March will be:

Thursday 25 march-A debate on police community support officers.

Colleagues will also wish to know that subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter recess at the end of business on Tuesday 30 March and will return on Tuesday 6 April.

Mr. Speaker, you have paid your own tribute to Ashok Kumar, and I want to say a few words about him and pay my tribute as well. He was exceptional. He was a scientist who dedicated himself to the people and industries of Teesside. He was of Indian origin, and he represented the people of Teesside as their councillor, and then their MP, for 25 years. He was totally committed and hard-working, and we were proud to have him as a colleague in the parliamentary Labour party. We will miss him, and our thoughts are very much with his family.

Sir George Young: I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. May I join her in paying tribute to Ashok Kumar? He was a calm, courteous and decent man, but he was also an energetic champion for his constituents. He brought to Parliament an expertise in science that helped to enrich our proceedings, and the House will miss him.

Last week, I challenged the right hon. and learned Lady about the statement that the Prime Minister had made in the House and to the Chilcot inquiry that defence spending had risen every year. She strongly refuted my assertion that he was wrong, but yesterday, she was holed below the waterline by the Prime Minister.
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Was this a question of her loyalty overcoming her judgment? Will she now accept her error and, unlike the Prime Minister, will she now apologise to the House?

On the forthcoming business, what has happened to the traditional Easter Adjournment debate? Its absence denies Back Benchers their traditional right to raise issues of concern on behalf of their constituents. Has it been abandoned because the Prime Minister wanted to avoid sitting on the Wednesday and facing another bad day at Question Time?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady give the House her assurance that all written parliamentary questions will be answered before Dissolution? I know that she will particularly wish to impress this point on her Treasury colleagues, who have a number of outstanding questions from hon. Members.

Where are the Standing Orders that will implement the resolutions on the Wright report on reform of the Commons? Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady said that drafts would be circulated to everyone who had shown an interest in this issue. I hope that that includes me, but nothing has yet arrived. It would be a great shame if the progress that the House has made were to be undone by yet more dithering by the Government at the last minute.

May we have a debate on the Government's policy for tackling so-called legal highs? The tragic death of the two boys who took mephedrone has heightened the need for us to react more quickly to the ease with which existing narcotics can be reconstituted to form legal substances. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree with our view that we should be able to ban such drugs temporarily until there is a proper assessment of the risks that they present, and then ban permanently those that are dangerous?

May we have an urgent statement on the release of Government statistics? Yesterday, the Youth Justice Board revealed that figures on the number of crimes committed by under-18s would not be published until the autumn, six months after the normal publication date. The Government have claimed that the delay is due to the official pre-election period, but that is total nonsense, since that takes effect only once the election has been called. What have the Government got to hide?

May we have a debate on today's report from the National Audit Office on Whitehall reorganisation? The NAO has discovered that, between 2005 and 2009, the Government spent more than £1 billion on changing the structure of Departments and agencies. Many of the moves do not seem to justify the expenditure; one name change lasted just five weeks. Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been reinvented three times since 2005, and those changes appear to have been motivated more by a need to massage his giant ministerial ego than by good governance.

Finally, will Ministers keep the House in the picture on the British Airways dispute? Can the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that Ministers who are booked on flights during the period of the strike will fly with BA, if the flights are available? Does she also recognise that she might have some influence over the industrial action? Given that she is-we hope-closer to Unite's deputy general secretary than the Prime Minister is to Unite's political secretary, does she think that there is anything she can do to help?

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Ms Harman: In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, those issues can be raised in the Budget debate. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry to say that my notes have failed me, because, although I know that the answer is to raise the issues in the Budget debate, I cannot remember what the point was.

Sir George Young: An apology.

Ms Harman: No; that was the second point, and the answer to that is that the Prime Minister gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry and answered questions at Prime Minister's questions. That stands in stark contrast to the shadow Foreign Secretary, who is refusing to appear before the Public Administration Committee. The Prime Minister has been completely open and clear, and he has answered from the Dispatch Box. He has given the information, and therefore the issue does not need to be raised in the Budget debate. However, there are questions that need to be answered, and although the shadow Foreign Secretary-the right hon. Gentleman's shadow Cabinet colleague-is prepared to go on the "Today" programme, he is not prepared to show respect to this House's system of Select Committees by answering their questions.

The shadow Leader of the House asked me about progress on the Wright Committee proposals. He has stressed at length-in many cases quite justifiably-the importance of the Select Committee system. He need not worry about progress being made on the proposals that we shall be going forward with. We need to complete the process of placing before the House for its approval the Standing Orders that would give effect to the resolutions of the House, and they will indeed be brought forward. However, it comes ill from the right hon. Gentleman to talk about the importance of Select Committees, when one of his shadow Cabinet Colleagues is showing contempt for a Select Committee of this House by refusing to appear before it.

As for mephedrone and the tragic deaths of young people from taking that drug, the House will be aware that changing chemical substances are being manufactured. They are extremely dangerous, and young people ought to be aware that they should not be taking them, because they could put their health and even their lives at stake. Obviously the Government can draw on the important scientific advice on these changing chemical compounds from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but the most important thing right now is for young people to have the important warning that they should not be taking such substances, because they are extremely dangerous.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Government statistics on crime. I am surprised by that, given the shadow Home Secretary's wanton distortion of statistics in order to try to conceal the fact that crime has come down. We shall continue to produce Government statistics in the normal way, and we will continue as Ministers to draw attention to the fact that crime has fallen as a result of good work by the police, which we need to continue to improve on.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the machinery of government changes. He will know that Departments have to be changed to keep abreast of changing times. That is an important prime ministerial duty and responsibility, although most of the expenditure was incurred not in making departmental changes, but in relation to non-departmental public bodies.

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