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Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady agree that the example that has been set in Iraq would be strengthened if perhaps it moved across the boundaries to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where no women are represented in the majiis? Does the right hon. Lady share my aspiration that the example that we have set in Iraq might set an example for other Arab countries in the area?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Lady makes an important point. While each country has to deal with these issues in its own way, I think that the women of Iraq and the Iraqi governing council have shown the importance that they

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place on women's representation in creating a secure and democratic Iraq. We in Britain have appreciated the importance of positive action to ensure that political parties and political institutions represent the entire community and not just half of it.

I began by referring to migration, which is as old as human history. Today, when transport and communications have been revolutionised, far more men and women are moving throughout the world in unprecedented numbers, from south Asia to Saudi Arabia, from the former Soviet states to western Europe, from south to north America, from north Africa to Europe and so on. Some of them, like the constituents to whom I have referred, are fleeing intolerable conflicts; others—often educated women—are seeking better lives. They are drawn by the prospects of jobs and opportunities that are lacking at home.

In many ways, women's experience of migration is very much the same as men's. However, because in almost every culture and country it is women who are primarily responsible for children and the work of families, and because women have different life experiences and less economic power, their experience of migration is in important ways different from men's. They are more likely to migrate as the dependants of husbands or partners. They are more likely to end up in marginal employment. They are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Girls and young women are kidnapped and sold or duped into brothels, waking in pain and spending their days being humiliated, threatened and beaten.

Only last year, in London, seven women from Moldova and Romania were found who had been forced into prostitution. They were sex slaves in the modern economy. They thought that they were coming to Britain to get a job and a better life. They ended up on a journey of rape and beatings, and in one case forced marriage. The man at the centre of that monstrous crime ring, Luan Plakici, was convicted and sentenced recently to 10 years' imprisonment. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, to the Crown Prosecution Service, to the Home Office and to the Metropolitan police for their work on that case and on other cases to expose and bring to justice those involved in the appalling crime of global trafficking. All the Government Departments involved are working together, and as a result arrests and prosecutions have increased. We are trying to prevent trafficking by spreading awareness of the problem among vulnerable groups not only here but throughout the world.

That is one side—the dark side—of global migration. For millions of women, it is not like that at all. They and many others have chosen to migrate in search of better lives, to make themselves better off and, as centuries of migration have shown, to make the countries to which they migrate better off as well. The long history of migration from Britain to the rest of the world and back to Britain has created today's multicultural country, and the growing diversity of our country, particularly our cities, is a great source of cultural, social and economic strength. In the global economy, we are increasingly competing not just for investment but for skilled people. The fact that we are one of the most open trading nations in the world and are an increasingly diverse and generally welcoming country is a huge source of strength. Many of our public services,

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particularly the national health service, have long depended on the work of migrants, especially migrant women, going back to health professionals from Jamaica and other parts of the West Indies who were recruited in the 1950s—ironically, at the behest of Enoch Powell, who was then Minister of Health. As I have recently said in the House, migrants from central Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union are already making, and will continue to make, an enormous contribution to our economy.

We need to be sure, however, that our gain is not made at the expense of the countries of origin, which is why the NHS, for instance, has an agreement that it will not recruit nurses or other staff from vulnerable countries, including South Africa, which needs every skilled health worker that it can train. I recently discussed that with Beverley Malone of the Royal College of Nurses, who is profoundly aware of the problem, but there is a danger that agencies operating in other parts of the health and caring services will recruit nurses from countries where they are desperately needed—indeed, they are already doing so—and that those nurses will find their way into employment here.

We have benefited enormously from the entrepreneurs, both women and men, who have come to our country from overseas, particularly south Asia and the Caribbean. Those entrepreneurs and the new generation of British-born Asians and Afro-Caribbeans provide us with great competitive advantage, as they move into the professions and set up their own businesses. They can use their long ties of family, culture and language with many other parts of the globe, both for their own benefit and that of the whole country. Parween Warsi, for example, moved to Britain from north India in 1975 and started to make samosas for local restaurants. She is now chief executive of S and A Food and is one of Britain's most successful business women. She employs 1,300 people, and has a turnover of more than £100 million a year. She and many others like her are helping to transform and strengthen our economy.

Members on both sides of the House should embrace and celebrate our diversity and the contribution that women make to it. However, there are strains and difficulties in our changing communities, and many hon. Members are worried about the way in which our Muslim communities have become the target of prejudice. We must remember that Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world, has conferred enormous benefits on the globe. The scholar Bernard Lewis reminds us that at the peak of Islamic power only China had a civilisation comparable in its level, quality and variety of achievement. In the west we use Arabic numerals, which, in fact, are the fruit of the great mathematical learning of India, but they were brought to the west by the Islamic scholars of the middle east. Our values in Britain include respect for different beliefs and faiths, so it is possible to be both Jewish and Muslim, or Jewish and Christian, or Sikh and secular, and be proud of both traditions. Anyone who says that it is not possible to be a good Muslim and a good British citizen is simply talking nonsense.

Having talked to young British Muslim women in my own city of Leicester, I know how frightened many of them are that intolerance will win. They fear that we might follow the path taken in France and ban in

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schools the expression of religious belief and identity. We all understand the tradition of secular public space and republicanism in France, but it is a different tradition from Britain's. We will not follow that example, and I do not think that anyone on either side of the House would want us to do so. The Government continue to allow girls to wear the hijab in schools, just as we allow Muslim women police officers to wear the hijab or male Sikh officers to wear the turban. I welcome the decision by the governors of a school in Luton to overturn an initial decision to try to ban the expression of religion in the school.

There should be no conflict at all between equal rights for women and respect for different cultures and beliefs, but sometimes there is. I wish to make it clear that we will not accept excuses for violating the rights of girls and women. Domestic violence is a crime. As a society, we are no longer prepared to accept the excuse that prevailed for years that the man was entitled to hit his partner or that she provoked it. Indeed, in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill we are initiating the biggest overhaul of the law in this area for more than 30 years. Murder is murder. One in four murders committed in Britain are the result of domestic violence, and they take place in all communities and cultures. However, they cannot be excused or the charge of murder diminished by calling them, in any culture, an "honour killing". We will condemn them and prosecute those who commit them in all our communities. Equally, genital mutilation, for whatever reason, is a violent criminal assault. I welcome the fact, as will all hon. Members, that the new law that came into force yesterday will make it a criminal offence for anyone in Britain to take a girl abroad for that purpose, even if the practice remains lawful in the country to which she is taken.

In the past seven years, we have secured genuine advances for women in our country. The national minimum wage benefits nearly 1 million low-paid women workers. The pension credit entitles every single pensioner to £102, and there is more for couples. Of particular benefit for women, who have always formed the majority of the poorest older people in our community, is the state second pension, which will do much to reduce the risk of women falling into poverty when they retire because of the caring responsibilities that they currently have. The new child tax credit already benefits 6 million families. As a result of improvements that we have made in the NHS, Britain has experienced the biggest fall in deaths from breast cancer anywhere in the world, which is a remarkable achievement.

We have introduced the biggest-ever package to support working parents, with increases in child care places, new maternity pay and leave, and new legal standards on family friendly working. After less than a year, those initiatives are already helping parents to choose how they balance work and family responsibilities. There is a new push to deal with unequal pay. Those of us who campaigned for the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 feel intensely frustrated that despite the advances that have been made there is a persistent gap in the earnings of men and women,

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particularly in part-time employment. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I have been taking steps to strengthen the law in this area, in particular with the new equal pay questionnaire. It is also why we are now taking steps to speed up and simplify enforcement of equal pay cases, particularly in those large actions—almost class actions—brought on behalf of groups of workers. We shall simplify the procedures, after consulting in the spring. I hope that we can bring new regulations on how the employment tribunals deal with equal pay cases into effect on 1 October this year, at the same time as the new employment tribunal regulations.

As we have discussed on several occasions in the House, we have been taking steps across the public sector to undertake equal pay reviews and ensure that the Equal Opportunities Commission has resources to promote equal pay reviews in the private sector.

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