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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The business of one of my constituents in Edinburgh has been severely affected by the dubious practice of English Heritage in recommending that local authorities refuse planning consent for one of his
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products—replica historic fireplaces—and use instead products from a competitor, for which English Heritage receives a commission. Given that my request for a debate in Westminster Hall on the issue was unfortunately unsuccessful this week, will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to issue a statement on the matter or at least arrange for it to be investigated as soon as possible?

Ms Harman: I suggest that my hon. Friend seek a meeting with the Minister responsible. I know that it is an important issue for his constituents who produce the fireplaces in question.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Prime Minister promised that there would be full consultation with Members on our relationship with members of the UK Youth Parliament. When will that consultation take place? What does the Leader of the House think would be a reasonable period of time for the debate on motion 2 on today’s Order Paper?

Ms Harman: The motion is on the Order Paper today, and it is disappointing that it has been blocked. It is important that we have a strong relationship between this House and the national Youth Parliament.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): May we have a debate to clarify the definition of assisted suicide? The Leader of the House will be aware that the Lord Chief Justice has declared that leniency will be shown in interpreting the legislation in the case of suicide of terminally ill patients. He confirmed that there would be no further judicial clarification and that the

Does the Leader of the House agree that whatever side of the debate we are on, we cannot have a situation in which the judges make the law? Does she agree that the sooner this matter is sorted out the better?

Ms Harman: This House has set down the legal framework, and the Government have no plans to amend the law on assisted suicide. It is the responsibility of the judges to interpret the law as it stands.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Will the Leader of the House urgently investigate with the Department for Transport the content of a parliamentary answer that I received this morning? It says that more than 1,500 postcards opposing the expansion of Heathrow from my constituents were excluded from the consultation analysis because they were received before the start of the consultation. However, I have a photograph of myself handing in those postcards at the Department during the consultation. That raises some serious questions about how many representations from constituents have been excluded. If I send the Leader of the House the details, can she follow that up with the Department?

Ms Harman: I suggest that the most direct route for the hon. Lady to follow would be to raise the point at Transport questions next Tuesday.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I echo the request made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) about Sudan, and in particular Darfur.

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May we have a debate or at any rate a statement in Government time on the Floor of the House on the plight of the 6,000 children who exclude themselves from school as a result of extreme bullying, 50 per cent. of whom have contemplated or sought to commit suicide in consequence? Is the Leader of the House aware of the Red Balloon learner centres, of which there are currently three, in Cambridge, Norwich and north-west London? They have a fantastic track record in rebuilding the self-esteem of those damaged children and enabling them to return to school, to go on to college or university, or to obtain employment. Those centres have great difficulty in accessing public funding. There are plans for another five such centres, but we need the tap of public funding to be turned on. They are a very vulnerable group of children to whom we owe a particular duty of care.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know, because he is closely involved in and works continually on these issues, that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has been developing and implementing an anti-bullying strategy. Bullying at school can blight a child’s whole life, and I suggest that he try to raise the issue at DCSF questions on Monday.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): In the business statement I missed again any reference to a debate on the aircraft carrier programme. The Leader of the House will remember that in December the delay to that programme was sneaked out by way of written ministerial statement. The grounds for the delay—that the aircraft could not be provided within the timeframe originally envisaged—have been flatly denied by the supplier. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Defence Ministers are apprised of the importance of this matter and that Government time is made available for this issue of vital national significance to be adequately debated in the House?

Ms Harman: There will be the customary debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on defence procurement. I hope to be able to announce that as part of the business of the House, certainly before the Easter recess.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I first agree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) on the issue that she raised.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on regional transport boards. The Department for Transport produced some data that showed that the average speed of cars travelling along the A650 in my constituency is 12 mph, and it is much slower at peak times. There is also a real bottleneck at Saltaire roundabout. Saltaire is a world heritage site, but the funding necessary to sort
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out that roundabout is being blocked by the regional transport board in Yorkshire, to which Bradford council must keep applying for funding. The RTB is unelected and unaccountable. How can my constituents lobby the board to allow work that is vital to the local area?

Ms Harman: That is a good argument for the hon. Gentleman to put his name forward to join the Yorkshire and the Humber regional Select Committee. If he wants to hold the regional transport board to account for the work that it does in his constituency, he can join other hon. Members from his region who will be doing exactly that. Otherwise, his voice will not be heard.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to consider again a debate in Government time on the Government’s policies for disabled people? It is nearly three years since this House last debated that subject. I have raised it with her on two occasions, on both of which she said that she would go away and think about it. This time, can she commit to going away, thinking about and providing such a debate? In that debate, we can talk about the disability pay gap, especially that at the Home Office, which on average pays its disabled employees a third less than its non-disabled employees.

Ms Harman: I take the hon. Gentleman’s points and I am in the process of seeing whether there is an opportunity to debate the issues that he has raised. The equality Bill that we will introduce in the next few months will provide an opportunity for the House to focus on the injustice and unfairness that many disabled people meet and on the importance of legislating to ensure the fair treatment of disabled people. I look forward to working with him as we take the Bill though the House.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Yesterday, the charity SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society, held a parliamentary reception to celebrate the publication of its report, “Saving Babies’ Lives”. Some 6,500 babies die just before or after birth in this country in every year—that is 17 every day. The rate of death is 10 times that of cot death and the rate of stillbirth has not changed over the last decade. May we have an urgent statement from the Department of Health about what the Government will do to tackle this problem?

Ms Harman: The Government will be responding to the SANDS report. The society has done excellent work over the years highlighting the important issue of stillbirth. We have put a great deal more resources into this. There are more midwives, more health visitors and more specialists but, as SANDS reports, we need to go further and no doubt SANDS will be in discussions with the Department of Health.

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Points of Order

12.21 pm

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have just had an update from the Leader of the House that we have now gone to £75 billion quantitative easing, which is uncharted territory. I ask the Leader of House to consider arranging an emergency statement so that the House may debate it. Frankly, I am surprised that we are not at least being offered a topical debate on the matter, given that it was widely trailed on all the radio programmes this morning and is now a reality.

Mr. Speaker: I am not responsible for as and when Ministers come to give statements to the House, except when hon. Members ask for an urgent question. I can then call the Minister—

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: If I may finish. I can then call a Minister to the House. I have no doubt that the deep concern that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) has mentioned will be noted.

Miss Kirkbride: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The announcement was only made at 12 o’clock, although it had been widely anticipated. Clearly, it is possibly the most significant economic move that any of us will see carried out by the Government and the Bank of England in our lifetime. Can you tell us whether Treasury Ministers have said that they are prepared to come to the House either today, or at the very latest tomorrow, to explain this enormously significant economic move?

Mr. Speaker: These things are up to Treasury Ministers. The matter has been put on the record by both hon. Ladies.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We sympathise with the position in which you are placed by the arrogance of the Government, but can you give us an indication of whether you would be prepared to consider an urgent question for tomorrow? The House happens to be sitting this Friday and there will be a lot of public interest in the major announcement that was made by the Government today.

Mr. Speaker: I am not suggesting that I will grant an urgent question, because it would be wrong of me to do so at this stage. Matters have been put on the record and the deep concern of hon. Members has been conveyed, and it will percolate through to Treasury Ministers. An application for an urgent question can be made in the usual way— [ Interruption. ] The Clerk reminds me it has to be done for 11 am. I used to work to a stopwatch when I was at Rolls-Royce.

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Support for Women (Economic Downturn)

12.24 pm

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move,

International women’s day is the day when we celebrate the role of women in their families and at work in this country and around the world. It is a time to focus on our determination to tackle the discrimination against, and oppression of, women and to step up our progress towards fairness and equality. The theme of today’s debate is women in the downturn and beyond it, and I want to say why we have chosen this subject.

People say that the global economic downturn surely affects men and women alike. Yes, the global economic downturn affects both men and women, but it affects them in different ways because women’s lives are different from men’s. Women still do the lion’s share of caring for children and looking after older relatives. Women are still, in many ways, the managers of the family. Women have different patterns of work from men and are more likely to work part time. There are still some jobs that are mostly done by women and some that are mostly done by men. Women still suffer pay discrimination at work.

What has not changed since the last recession is the fact that women are still the main family carers. What has changed is the fact that women’s work is even more important now than it was 10 years ago. Women’s jobs are much more important than they used to be at the time of the last recession. Women’s work is even more important to the household budget than it used to be. More than 30 per cent. of a family’s income in couples’ households comes from women. For more than 20 per cent. of all couples, women’s individual income contributes to more than 50 per cent. of that family income. Women’s work is even more important than it used to be to the household budget.

Women’s work is more important to women themselves. Women have a pride in the work that they do and know that they make a contribution to the world outside the home as well as in the home. Women’s work is more important now in every sector of the economy than it was. In financial services, women make up 50 per cent. of the work force. In the retail sector, women make up 60 per cent. of the work force. Women’s work is vital in public services, too. Some 65 per cent. of public services are delivered by women.

Women’s work is important, too, in lone parent families, so that children are not brought up in households where they never see anyone going out to work.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): As the right hon. and learned Lady points out, the debate is about supporting women and families through the downturn. Does she not agree that the Government’s duty is to support everybody through the downturn based on their need, irrespective of their gender, and that men should be given as much support as women if they need it? Is she saying that the need to support women is more important than the need to support single men, gay men or men with families?

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Ms Harman: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening, but I was just explaining that because women are the main family carers, because they are more likely to work part time, because they are more concentrated in some sectors of the economy than in others and because their work is vital to our public services, we need to ensure that we do not overlook the work of women, which has become even more important to our economy and public services over the past 10 years.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the best way to help women at the moment is to introduce the equality Bill and to ensure that it is a robust Bill that introduces all the things that this party and this Government would want to do to ensure that there is fairness in the way in which we treat women, particularly at work?

Ms Harman: I fully agree with my hon. Friend’s point.

It is encouraging that the number of children in lone-parent families where the parent works nearly doubled in the past 10 years. For all those reasons—for their importance to the household budget and their importance to the economy and public services—we cannot and will not allow women and their work to become the victims of the recession.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Before the right hon. and learned Lady moves on, does she also want to cover the disproportionate impact that the recession has had on women’s employment and the high levels of redundancy that women have seen in comparison with men as a result of the recession? Surely that is another reason why it is important that we talk about this issue today.

Ms Harman: As I have just said, I will keep a very close eye on the situation. We must give women all the support that we can, for the reasons that the hon. Lady has identified.

Both men and women are worried about the effect on our economy of the global economic crisis. Men are worried about their jobs—of course they are—but it appears that women are even more worried.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) rose—

Ms Harman: Women are worried about their own jobs and about those of their husbands. They worry about losing the family home if one of them becomes unemployed, and about their children’s prospects and whether they will be able to get a job or a home. They worry too about elderly relatives whose savings incomes are falling and about pressures on the family budget. It is therefore very important that we take all possible steps to reassure women that we are taking all the action that we can to stabilise the economy and put it on to a strong footing for the future, and that there is real help now for families that get into difficulties.

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