HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc14-6
16. Ms Kelly

What factors underlay her decision to give priority to (i) child care, (ii) violence against women and (iii) family-friendly working in allocating departmental resources. [19072]

Ms Harman

The Government are giving priority to the concerns which, for years, women have been raising, but which the previous Government ignored: child care and family-friendly employment to help women balance their home and work responsibilities and protection from violence at home and in the outside world.

Ms Kelly

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. On Friday I will be able to see for myself the benefits of after-school clubs when I visit the Horwich parish playcentre in my constituency. However, I understand that there are waiting lists for that club, as for many similar clubs in Bolton. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how she plans to tackle this problem?

Ms Harman

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his green Budget that there would be a £300 million investment in after-school clubs, which will enable the current 3,000 after-school projects to be expanded to 30,000. Opposition Members said that there was no need for extra child care and that that investment was not needed, but the waiting lists in my hon. Friend's constituency and throughout the country are testament to the fact that there has been a demand from parents throughout the country which for many years was ignored and which we are now tackling.

Sir Michael Spicer

On welfare reform, family friendly or otherwise, does the thinking of the Minister for Welfare Reform dominate the Government's thinking, or not?

Ms Harman

We have set out the principles that underlie our approach to welfare reform. We want to modernise the welfare state because it is failing too many of the people it is supposed to help; it does not ensure that there are opportunities for people who have been written off to a life on benefit and it does not ensure that those who cannot work are able to lead independent and dignified lives in the community through the right package of care and support.

Our determination to ensure that we extend opportunities to people is evidenced by our £195 million investment to help people with disabilities who, under the previous Government, were written off to a life on benefit.

Mr. Hope

Is my right hon. Friend aware of research by the Department for Education and Employment that shows that women who get a qualification can earn up to 20 per cent. more per hour than those who do not? Indeed, those with a vocational qualification can earn up to 50 per cent. per hour more. Are not qualifications and training vital to the success of women who go back to work?

Will my right hon. Friend take some future opportunity to visit the Pen Green centre in my constituency, which has been declared a centre of excellence? It provides child care, training and support for parents to help them get back to work, have their children looked after and get out of poverty.

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. It is important that women have the right opportunities to train to improve their qualifications so that they can not only get a job, but get on in their work. I have been discussing with my ministerial colleagues in the Department the opportunities available for women to gain qualifications through part-time and term-time courses; central to the extension of such opportunities is child care. I will be happy to visit the Pen Green centre in my hon. Friend's constituency. I am confident that, through the opportunity provided by the extra £300 million investment in child care, we can spread the good practice that he has described to many other parts of the country where, at the moment, there are only waiting lists and unmet demand.

Dr. Julian Lewis

As the question refers to violence against women, will the right hon. Lady join me in condemning the conduct of Labour Front and Back Benchers last Friday? They spent no less than five hours talking out a Bill that was supported by every leading mental health charity and which would have prevented rape of female in-patients in psychiatric units. Does she support or condemn those tactics?

Ms Harman

The position is as it was set out. We have to look at the whole issue. We are determined to tackle the issue of violence against women, both domestic violence and violence in the wider world. On the basis of consultation with women throughout the country, we will present proposals that will show that we intend to tackle the issue with the seriousness that it deserves.