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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): The hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) raised an important issue about the funding for Rape Crisis centres, which was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). My constituents in Berkshire have no Rape Crisis centre in Berkshire, but they access one in High Wycombe, whose funding is also under threat. It may have to close next March. The Minister for Women and Equality has said:
If the Tories come up with good ideas, we will incorporate them into our policies.
Barbara Follett: When the Government came to power 10 years ago, the funding for Rape Crisis centres was £500,000 a year; we have increased that to £3 million. However, I hear what the right hon. Lady is saying, and I will consider the matter in discussions with colleagues.
The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): Once again, I have regular discussions with colleagues across Government on that matter. We are working constructively together to implement the Governments priorities for women, and I am committed to developing a cross-Government strategy on equalities and implementing our equalities public service agreement.
Mr. Fraser: The women and equality unit was previously part of the Department of Trade and Industry. It was then transferred to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Now it is responsible to the newly created Government Equalities Office, which is an offshoot of the Department for Work and Pensions. Given this game of pass the parcel, does the Minister accept that the public do not believe that the Government take the issue seriously? When will responsibility move again?
Barbara Follett: I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. What is important is the work that we do, not the structures within Government, which is an arcane and byzantine subject in which most members of the public are not in the least interested.
26. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What steps she is taking to encourage workplaces to offer flexible working to full-time staff and to help with childcare arrangements during school holidays. 
The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett):
We have given over 6 million peopleparents of young and disabled children and carers of adultsthe right to
request flexible working, and more than doubled the number of registered child care places. We recently announced that we will extend the right to request flexible working to the parents of older children.
Barbara Follett: As the mother of five, I understand the problems faced by parents during holidays; that was the moment when my heart sank. We have asked local authorities to assess whether they have sufficient child care for working parents. That, I hope, will help to address part of the problem.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to the Minister for that replynot terribly helpful, but a little helpful. The Government have had the SSRB report for six months. Why have they delayed publishing it so that the House can debate the recommendations? As a long-serving Member of the House, I am concerned about the position of all Members of the House and their salary, which should be dealt with fairly. Bearing in mind the fact that the increases over the past five years have been below the retail prices index and the average earnings index, is it not appropriate that the recommendations of the SSRB should be put to the House so that the House can reach a decision?
Helen Goodman: I understand the hon. Gentlemans frustration, but I have looked back over what happened in previous years. It generally takes three to six months. That is because all Governments want to give the SSRB report proper consideration. The hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members will have an opportunity to make their views known in the debate in the new year.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that I have already made my mind up on the matter? We had a discussion about it last week in business questions. I find it odd that Tory MPs keep raising the matter. I am more concerned about nurses on 2 per cent. and police officers on 1.9 per cent. I have a good suggestion: make sure that the document goes to the Home Secretary so that she can have a look at it. Then she can put it where it belongs.
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to table amendments before the debate. He is absolutely right that the Governments pay policy is designed to be fair and affordable and to keep inflation down.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): Ministers are fully aware of their responsibilities to the House in respect of written questions. The Leader of the House keeps the quality of Ministers answers to written parliamentary questions under continuous review.
Mr. Amess: That answer will not do. The hon. Lady may treat the general public with contempt until the next general election, but the House of Commons deserves a better response than that. The hon. Lady, together with the Leader of the House, knows perfectly well that the quality of responses is appalling. Only too often, Departments answer questions that they wish they had been asked, rather than those they actually were asked. I am asking the hon. Ladys colleague, the Leader of the House, to undertake a proper review of the quality of Departments responses. If the right hon. and learned Lady finds that the quality is poor, she should do something about it.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; answers must be accurate, timely and truthful. That is fully set out in the ministerial code, which the Prime Minister reissued in the summer and which reflects the resolution of the House from 1997. The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that the Procedure Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into written questions. Its terms of reference are:
To consider the procedures, scope and rules governing the tabling...of parliamentary questions for written answer;
To examine the reasons for, and the consequences of, the recent rise in the number of such questions; and
To consider the procedures for the answering of such questions and what opportunities are available to Members to pursue answers with which they are not satisfied.
Mr. Dunne: Is the Minister aware of the inconsistent treatment of questions asked by Members of this House? I am thinking in particular of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who on some occasions will choose to answer colleagues questions but on others will choose to send them to the agency concerned. At the moment, the Institute for Animal Health is being dealt with very poorly; it is expected to respond to some questions, although the Minister has answered others.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
Long-serving colleagues tell me that although the quality of written answers has not deteriorated since 1997, it
has not improved to any great extent. What advice would my hon. Friend give those treated with replies that are cursory to the point of disdain in trying to hide informationreplies, for instance, to questions about the entertainment and hospitality record of senior civil servants with the private sector, which I have been pursuing for some weeks now? It should not be necessary to obtain an Adjournment debate or engage in extensive correspondence with Ministers to pursue such issues, should it?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend, a particularly assiduous Member of the House, is right. I am sure he is fully aware of all the routes that can be exploredfurther questions, writing to the Minister, contacting the Leader of the House and referring the issue to the Public Administration Committee. However, I agree that that should not be necessary.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): We will, of course, wait for the Procedure Committees report and recommendations. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), for example, has given evidence that fewer than half of questions on tax credits got proper answers, and the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) has said that fewer than a quarter of the questions tabled for a named day to the Ministry of Defence were answered on the named day. Performance must improve next year. To link to an earlier question, would the Deputy Leader of the House consider performance-related pay for Ministers that would depend on their performance in answering questions to Parliament?
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman will be free to make that suggestion in January. As we consider the performance of different Departments, it is important that we take account of the fact that it can vary over time, depending on the sorts of issues that Members are interested in and whether Departments have to answer a particularly large number of questions. One of the things that the Procedure Committee will address is the impact of the doubling or trebling of written questions in the past 20 years.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): Oral statements are one of the most valued and effective parts of the Houses proceedings. The Government have no plans to propose any changes to present procedures, although we are always open to representations from hon. Members on this, as on other matters.
I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House, but I fear that she has not yet caught up with herself, for there has at least been one change recently, and that is the move to notify right hon. and hon. Members some days in advance of the intended date of statements. May I, however, put it to her that the change will remain in practice more symbolic than real if the Government continue their usual incorrigible
practice of telling the worlds media the contents of statements well before they inform the House? Would it not concentrate minds if such conduct constituted a breach of the ministerial code?
Helen Goodman: On the hon. Gentlemans first point, that was, as he says, an innovation made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice only at the beginning of this year. I think that if the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts he will find that under this Government there has not been a large number of pre-announcements to the media. [ Laughter. ] There has not. If he has specific examples, perhaps he could give them to me.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am happy to oblige the House myself with an example that occurred only this week. On Tuesday, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary told The Guardian that every secondary school pupil would have a personal mentor, told The Times that head teachers will have to work with social workers and the police, and told The Daily Telegraph that he would use e-mail and text to monitor pupil attendance. Then he came to the House to make a statement. If Ministers respect Parliament as she and the Leader of the House say that they do, why was this widely leaked before it was announced to the House, and why do Ministers behave like this every single week?
Helen Goodman: If the right hon. Lady is complaining about the media putting together well researched news stories on the basis of consultation documents and White Papers that have already been issued, that is a matter for her. Had she been in the Chamber to hear the Secretary of States statement, she would have known that the House was the first to hear about the allocation of more than £200 million for graduates in nurseries, the decision to allow Ofsted to lead a review on special educational needs, the proposal to spend £220 million on play facilities in 3,500 playgrounds across the country, and the decision to make all schools zero carbon by 2016.
35. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What the Governments policy is on right hon. and hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies voting on matters relating to England where responsibility for such matters in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. 
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): The Prime Minister set out the Governments policy to the House on 3 July. The Government do not accept that there should be any discrimination in the rights of hon. Members to take part in the business before the House. English votes for English laws would lead to the break-up of the Union. This Government believe in the Union and will do nothing to harm it. Constitutional issues are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.
Mr. Evennett: I am naturally disappointed by the Ministers response. As a great supporter of the Union, does she share my concerns about the growing sense of unfairness felt among English voters about this issue? Surely the Government should be doing something to address it for the sake of our democracy.
Better an imperfect union than a broken one...if it should ever come to a choice between constitutional perfection and the preservation of our nation, I choose our United Kingdom.
Nick Harvey (North Devon): Dishes suitable for those with gluten allergies are identified and indicated on all menus, as are dishes suitable for vegetarians, and healthy options. If applicable, menus will state that dishes contain nuts or traces of nuts, and further training for all catering staff on allergen awareness will begin in March and run through till May of next year.
All of our dishes are prepared in kitchens where nuts are present but not all dishes contain nuts as part of their ingredients. Our staff will be happy to provide further details of dish ingredients.
Given that well over 50 people working on the Commons estate have a nut allergy, is it not ridiculous
to expect them to ask every day which dishes have nuts? Would it not be easier to have a small symbol on the menu indicating those dishes?
Nick Harvey: I am aware that my hon. Friend is among those who suffer from nut allergies. The House is developing its processes and practices in consultation with experts in the field. If my hon. Friend has some particular point she would like to suggest that would improve the practice, I will be pleased to arrange a meeting with the director of catering.
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