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Dr. Francis: May I invite my hon. Friend to sit with me and redraft clause 1(1)? I am sure that we would arrive at a good and effective compromise.

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and I have already been working together closely on amendments that will be tabled in my name. My officials and I have been working closely with other Departments and Carers UK to ensure that, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, the finally amended Bill does what we want it to. The amended Bill will be unambiguous, so we shall be able to determine precisely the costs that it will impose. If the amendments are agreed in Committee, I have no doubt that the whole House will want to back the Bill on Third Reading and that the Government will be able to back it. We will then all see clearly what it will achieve, it will be welcomed by carers, and it will be all the better for the work that we shall put in.

I give hon. Members the assurance that the Government are committed to getting the Bill right. We are not trying to emasculate it in any way whatsoever. We are tabling fairly extensive amendments to specific clauses, which I shall try to make available as soon as possible. However, as the hon. Member for Banbury suggested, it will be necessary to convince other Government Departments, Carers UK and carers generally of the merits of what we are trying to do. That takes time, but the work is being done. With that assurance, I hope that hon. Members will agree to the money resolution and that we can get the Bill into Committee to do the extensive work required so that we end up with a Bill that will really do a heck of a lot of good for carers.

Question put and agreed to.


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Women, Equality and Human Rights

[Relevant documents: the Sixth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2002–03, HC 489-I, on the Case for a Human Rights Commission, and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee on 8th December 2003, HC 106-i, Session 2003–04.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Charlotte Atkins.]

2.5 pm

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Patricia Hewitt): This weekend, millions of women throughout the world will take part in events to mark international women's day. I am delighted that, once again, we are holding this special debate in the House. The fact that we hold such an annual debate and have not one, but two, Ministers for women, and have many more women Ministers in the Government than previously marks quite a change in the culture of politics and government in our country.

I recently had the opportunity to glance at the riveting diaries of Alan Clark, which are being broadcast at the moment. They give us a gem of an insight into what was going on in the Department of Trade and Industry a little under 20 years ago. Alan Clark was speaking to Peter Morrison, the newly appointed Minister of State for Industry, and perhaps I may quote from the diaries. They say:

said Alan—

I am sure he did. The diaries continue:

These days, I am glad to say, we have not the first but the second woman Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and the majority of officials who are promoted to the senior civil service in the DTI are women. That represents quite a change in the culture.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Just to protect Alan Clark's reputation, the right hon. Lady might have noticed that he treated men and women the same. For example, when my wife, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley), was elected, he said that she immediately lost her looks, just as he had when he was elected.

Ms Hewitt: I am sure that the whole House and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman's wife will be grateful to him for that reminiscence. I think that there were some respects, at least, in which the late Alan Clark did not treat men and women the same, but we shall go no further down that track today.

It is impossible to separate national and international issues. We live in an increasingly interdependent world in which one country's war becomes many other countries' refugee and migration challenges, and one country's pollution or oil spillage becomes many other countries' environmental disasters. Our belief in

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equality and respect for the equal worth of every individual is not confined to Britain any more than our commitment to the values of opportunity, security and democracy.

The point about the interdependence of our world is constantly brought home to me—I am sure that this is true of many hon. Members—in my constituency surgery. Last Friday, a constituent from Sierra Leone visited my surgery. Some years ago, he was forced to flee the appalling violence that has plagued that country and now lives here. He first came to see me some time ago during his desperate search to bring his wife here, and I am glad to say that, with the help of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, she has now arrived. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. She holds one of the toughest jobs in government and is always measured, fair and helpful.

Last Friday, my constituent brought his wife to meet me. She told me how she had been driven apart from her husband and how she had spent five weeks walking along bush roads through Sierra Leone to escape and come here. She showed me the knife scars on her face and arms that were left by the soldier who raped her and who then used the same knife to force upon her genital circumcision. For that lovely, gentle woman and for millions of others throughout the world, human rights and equality are a distant dream. When so many of our newspapers and journalists have nothing good to say about asylum seekers, let us remember, in honouring international women's day, the purpose of the Geneva convention on refugees and the need today, just as much as in the aftermath of 1945, to protect people who have been persecuted.

Of course, we cannot offer refuge to everybody who needs it and seeks it: no one country can do that. We must work with our European partners and with the wider international community to try to deal with the causes—the conflicts, the tyranny and the desperate poverty—that force millions of people to flee their homes. I am proud—I think we all are—of what our Government and our armed forces have done to help restore peace to Sierra Leone and to start rebuilding its shattered society, economy and system of government. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is ensuring order and integrity within our asylum system, so that decisions can be made swiftly and fairly and the legitimate claim of a refugee is not held up or compromised by those who think that claiming asylum might be a quick route to economic migration.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): A piece of good news is that on Wednesday the Secretary-General will open the War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone—a special court. Should not the message go out throughout the world that those most responsible for war crimes will, in due course, be brought to justice, whether in Rwanda, Sierra Leone or elsewhere?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is right. His point will be endorsed by the whole House. I am delighted to say that we have played a role in helping to create that war crimes tribunal and the new constitutional court.

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will travel to Sierra Leone in a couple of days to attend the opening of the court.

Last year, the conflict in Iraq was a major theme of this annual debate, and this week has seen more terrible acts of terrorism in the country. We know from our bitter experience of terrorism in Northern Ireland that, on their own, the police and security services can never defeat terrorism, essential and heroic though their efforts are. The only way to achieve peace and security is through the difficult and painstaking process of politics, of building political institutions that can start to bring people together, to reconcile conflict without violence and to create legitimate government. That is what we are supporting the people of Iraq to achieve.

It was surely no coincidence that this week carnage followed almost immediately upon the Iraqi governing council agreeing proposals for the transitional constitution. Any prospect of a free and democratic Iraq is what the extremists hate and fear most.

I have spoken previously in the House about the efforts that we are making as a Government to support women in Iraq. I hope that the whole House will welcome the fact—largely unreported—that the transitional law that was agreed by the governing council this week acknowledges the vital role of women in Iraq, and asks for the electoral system to be designed so that one quarter of seats in the new national assembly will go to women. This is not western feminists imposing their agenda on Iraq, as the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), in the magazine that he edits, would have us believe. Iraq has a long tradition of women's education and leadership. Most of its doctors, teachers and university lecturers are women. Without their strength and the contribution of other Iraqi women, economic and social development will be impossible.

No doubt the governing council has in mind the examples of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have quotas within their constitutions for women's political representation. Indeed, Pakistan is well ahead of the United Kingdom when it comes to women's representation in Parliament. However, I know that the women in Iraq who have been arguing the case for quotas in electoral law were delighted and grateful for the support that they received from the British Government, both on the issue of representation and in the work that we have been doing in supporting Iraqi women's groups and centres in different parts of Iraq, including the new shelter for Baghdad that has opened recently for women who have suffered violence.

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