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Oral questions on Women and Equality also took place in the Commons yesterday.

Shadow Justice Minister David Burrowes stuck up for the rights of Christians:

"Does the Minister share my concern that equality legislation is in danger of being brought into disrepute by cases such as that of nurse Caroline Petrie, who was disciplined for offering to pray for her patients. Do we not need to tackle the concern of many with religious beliefs, and of Christians in particular, who themselves say that they are facing increased discrimination?

The Solicitor-General: I do not think that that question was about the equality legislation that we are bringing into force. Clearly, everybody has to behave in a balanced and sensible way, and the whole point of the legislation is to promote good cultural relations and good relations among people of all kinds and all faiths. We will drive on with that purpose."

(The Solicitor-General is Vera Baird.)

Worthing West MP Peter Bottomley also had a question about Christian matters:

"As well as doing what the law requires, will the Minister use her good offices to interview any Church of England bishop who says that he will not appoint a suffragan who is prepared to ordain women?

Maria Eagle: I have to be careful about getting too involved in the internal affairs of the established Church, but I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to the appropriate people. He will no doubt be aware that the Second Church Estates Commissioner has questions on 19 March."

Norfolk South West MP Christopher Fraser made a very good point about the funding structure for rape crisis centres, which is an ongoing problem:

"What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of funding arrangements for rape crisis centres. [261697]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): This financial year—in addition to local authority funding and £1.25 million from the victims fund—the Government have paid out £900,000 from a £1.1 million special fund for rape crisis centres. Since the special fund was announced in March 2008, no rape crisis centre has closed. My officials have been working closely with Rape Crisis England and Wales and the Survivors Trust to shape how this year’s special fund will work. We will announce details of the fund shortly.

Christopher Fraser: Many local authorities do not receive the funding that they need to establish rape crisis centres. Will the Minister commit to instituting a three-year funding cycle for rape crisis centres in all local authorities?

Ms Harman: As I have said, we have increased the funding to local authorities and through special funds. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that it is important that he and all hon. Members look at what their own local authorities are doing and whether they are providing the services for which they have been financed. I would also say that the money and the investment in those much-needed services come from the Department for Communities and Local Government budget and the Home Office budget. Those are two budgets on which his party has not offered to match the funding that we are promising to put in. We want more funds to go in, but Opposition Members express concerns while not even being prepared to match our spending. I think that that lacks conviction."

Shadow Minister for Women Theresa May corrected Ms Harman:

"The Minister really needs to get herself up to date on Conservative party policy, because we have announced £2.5 million for up to 15 new rape crisis centres. I welcome the fact that today she has said that the £1 million extra funding will continue into the next financial year, but we are three weeks away from the end of this financial year. Many rape crisis centres do not know whether they can continue, such as Rape Crisis in Wycombe, which serves my constituency. It has had to cut staff hours and reduce its services because it does not know its future financial position. When will the Government adopt our policy of three-year stable funding for rape crisis centres?

Ms Harman: I am sorry, but I really am not going to accept that from the right hon. Lady: her party would cut funding to local government and to the Home Office, but we are being told that we are not spending enough. We have rolled out sexual assault referral centres and set up a special fund, and we are working with the umbrella organisations. Since we set up the special fund, not one single rape crisis centre has closed. If she is saying that more money should be put into this sector, she should say where it would come from because her party’s policies would see it cut. Unless the Conservatives can put their money where their mouth is on this, I am not going to be listening."

This is an excellent policy from the Conservatives. Security of funding is extremely important to organisations such as rape crisis centres, a point also stressed by Boris Johnson during his Mayoral campaign. The Mayor is committed to making it available in London.

(Tom Greeves worked on Boris Johnson’s Mayoral campaign.)

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