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Inward Investment (South Yorkshire)

9. Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to improve inward investment in South Yorkshire. [203422]

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Jacqui Smith): UK Trade and Investment promotes the UK as the top inward investment location in Europe and works in partnership with all the UK's development agencies to attract the maximum inward investment. UK Trade and Investment is expanding its inward investment operation and will make further resources available to Yorkshire Forward, which is the inward investment promotion agency for Yorkshire and Humber.

Ms Munn: I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that South Yorkshire is a great place to live and work but that it has also been one of the poorest regions of the European Union and receives objective 1 funding. As the future of regional funding is still unclear, can she give me an assurance that the Government will make getting investment into Britain's poorer regions a high priority, ahead of other regions?

Jacqui Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend about the attractions of South Yorkshire. I can assure her that the three quarters of regional funding that comes domestically from the Government have made an important difference in South Yorkshire. Over the past year, the regional development agency alone helped to create 16,500 jobs and 730 new businesses, and brought in £275 million of private sector investment. Of course, all that activity is under threat from cuts proposed by both Opposition parties.
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11. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What policies she intends to pursue during the UK presidency of the European Union in relation to trade with Africa. [203425]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): During our presidency of the EU, we will seek to make significant progress on the Doha development round, including a successful conclusion to the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in the autumn. A successful development round would deliver enormous benefits to Africa and other developing countries.

Hugh Bayley: The "Everything but Arms" agreement offers the potential for greatly increased exports from the poorest countries in Africa to Europe, but that potential, sadly, has not been realised in a large increase in the volume of exports. What proposals will my right hon. Friend take to her colleague Trade Ministers in the EU for changes of policy to use that agreement in a way that substantially increases the export opportunities for the poorest countries in Africa, which, in turn, of course, would increase the opportunities for us to export goods to them?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and the most practical change that we can make is to alter the rules of origin, which restrict the capacity of the least developed countries to take advantage of preferential access. In the longer term, of course, we must deal with the problem of tariff escalation on value-added goods to enable African countries, in particular, to produce not only primary produce, but industrial goods as well.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The common agricultural policy is inefficient, costly and extremely damaging to the export potential of developing countries, particularly those in Africa, which all hon. Members would seek to help and assist. What positive, aggressive action will the Government take to amend the CAP to achieve what the world wants: a fair deal for the poorest countries of the world with agricultural industries?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is right and he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs played a key role last year in negotiating new, radical reforms to the CAP. I am delighted to say that, since then, the EU has signed up to an end date for the export subsidies on agricultural products that are devastating to developing country farmers. We still have more to do and we continue to press hard for a substantial reform of the sugar regime. Again, that is vital in Africa. We are helping to lead the way on all that in Europe and will continue to do so to help to make poverty history.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may have had the opportunity to read early-day motion 333 on the proposed economic partnership agreements between the EU and African countries. They are bilateral agreements that seek large-
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scale liberalisation of African trade, but they fail to discuss the terms of the CAP. Does she share my concerns that such agreements could undermine the benefits of the multilateral negotiations that are offered at the WTO and that they fail to address the development needs of African countries, which are badly hindered by the CAP?

Ms Hewitt: Our current system of European trade preferences with countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is simply not compatible with WTO rules. That system must be replaced by 2008. We are negotiating economic partnership agreements with those countries, so that they can continue to gain as much access to European markets as possible, but we are absolutely clear that the agreements must be negotiated in a way that enables the development needs of those countries to be met. I am glad to say that we have already given some €20 million to those countries to help them to negotiate agreements that will be good for their people.

Energy Markets (Western Europe)

12. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What discussions she has had with her European Union counterparts on progress in liberalising energy markets in western Europe. [203426]

The Minister for Energy and E-Commerce (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Ministers have frequently discussed the development of the EU's internal energy market with other member states. I recently met the new Commissioner for Energy, Mr. Andris Piebalgs, and raised the issue of the EU gas market, in particular, with him a few days ago. We are looking for further steps by the Commission, in particular, to ensure compliance with the 2003 gas and electricity directives.

Dr. Cable: Does the Minister agree that one reason why British manufacturers, in particular the engineering industry, suffer high energy costs is that they cannot get access to low-cost competitive gas supplies because of the monopoly exercised over the German and Dutch pipeline and the lack of common carriage? What concrete legal action can he take to ensure that the principles of the directive, the single market and the European competition rules are enforced?

Mr. O'Brien: We need to ensure that there is broader liberalisation of the market for energy in the European Union. We have ensured that the Commission is aware of our wish to see that liberalisation proceed apace. The aims of the 2003 directive, which are binding on other member states, require a legal unbundling of network activities from supply, the establishment of a regulator, the publication of network tariffs, the reinforcement of public service obligations and the introduction of monitoring of security of supply. In dealing with some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman identified, especially with regard to Germany, we are engaging not only with the Commission, but with other member states directly to ensure that we move forward with that liberalisation.
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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Is not the biggest problem with the market in Europe the fact that the consolidation of companies took place ahead of liberalisation—exactly the opposite of what happened in this country? That makes it difficult for consumers on the continent to switch suppliers and, indeed, difficult for companies in this country to compete on the continent in the way that the continental companies compete in the UK. What can the Minister do about that?

Mr. O'Brien: I agree that the problem arose because the European market developed differently from the UK market. However, directives place obligations on European member states. We have made it clear to the European Commission that, for gas in particular, which is more of a problem than electricity, we want it to apply those directives. The directives were passed, they were broadly accepted and now they have to be applied.


The Minister for Women was asked—

Pension Gap

20. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding the pension gap for women. [203435]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I regularly meet my right hon. Friend to discuss a range of issues, including women's pensions. Today's women pensioners, of course, benefit substantially from the pension credit, winter fuel payments and so on. The state second pension and the home responsibilities credit are helping women in particular to build better pensions for the future.

Mr. Carmichael: I thank the Minister for that answer, which highlights the complexity of the situation that faces women pensioners and, indeed, all pensioners. She will be aware that the average state pension for women is £51 a week. As a result, some 63 per cent. of women pensioners rely on means-tested benefits. She may also be aware that the National Association of Pension Funds reported this week that a citizen's pension based on residency would be

Will she join the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in veering towards the implementation of that idea?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is right that most women who have retired do not get the full basic pension. There is no doubt that, for future generations of pensioners, and of women in particular, the citizen's pension would deal with that problem. That is why I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend is looking at the option of a citizen's pension. We will do so, of course, in the context of the final report of the review group led by Adair Turner.
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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Does not the fact that, for all sorts of reasons that are not of their own making, so many women get to pensionable age without achieving a full set of stamps prove that, if we followed the advice of some other political parties to put all our money into the basic state pension, we would do nothing to tackle the pensioner poverty that many women face? Will it be a major aim of a third term for a Labour Government to ensure that we abolish pensioner poverty for women?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is right. We have already done an enormous amount—I see it every day in my constituency—to tackle the shocking problem of pensioner poverty that we inherited. If we had simply linked the basic pension to average earnings, we would have given the poorest pensioners far less help than we have given them through the guaranteed minimum pension and now the pension credit. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for their enormous effort and the success that they have had in reducing poverty among the current generation of pensioners.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): How can the Minister come to the Chamber and praise the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what he has done on pensions when, in fact, every year since assuming office he has taken £5 billion or more from pension funds? In 1997, Britain had more money in funded pension funds than the rest of the European Union put together, but now we are in a worse position than most other comparable countries entirely as a result of the actions of this Government and the Chancellor. Of course, it is women, whose pension funds tend to be the smallest, who have suffered most. After seven years in government, for the Minister to stand there and say that as far as the basic state pension—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I was wondering when the hon. Lady was going to stop.

Ms Hewitt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I regret that the hon. Lady, for whom I have a great deal of respect, was not willing to give us credit for what we have done for women who have already retired. They have benefited hugely from the pension credit, the winter fuel payment and all the help, including free television licences and so on, that we are making available both to people who have retired and to future generations of pensioners. I hope that she supports, as I do, the home responsibilities credit and the state second pension, which make an enormous difference to women who are now in work, and the Pension Protection Fund to protect people who have contributed to their occupational pension but whose firms have simply walked away. I think that she should give credit where it is due.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I am pleased that the Minister has an open mind about the citizen's pension, but does she acknowledge that many women receive lower pensions because they are carers? The nature of caring means that many of them are part-time carers who also hold down a part-time job. They do not pay
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contributions, so has she considered introducing a carer's credit to help them to have a pension in their own right in the shorter term?

Ms Hewitt: The home responsibilities credit, both for the basic pension and the state second pension, is already helping some women with caring responsibilities. I agree that more needs to be done to support carers and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at that.

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