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9. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What proportion of the UK's international trade agreements were negotiated by (a) the Government and (b) the EU in each of the last three years. 
I thank the Minister for that reply. However, when negotiating with important international partners like China and India, it is important to be able to speak on one's own behalf. When the negotiators go in and negotiate on behalf of 25 countries, it is far more difficult for them to strike a good deal. This is of great concern to me and I would rather that Great Britain negotiated its own international contracts.
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Ian Pearson: The common commercial policy is one of the foundation stones of the European Union. If the Conservative party is saying that it wants to withdraw from that, it is really saying that it wants to withdraw from Europe. It needs to make its position clear on that.
The 25 member states will agree a negotiating mandate and the Commissioner will then negotiate agreements. He will keep in close touch with the member states during those negotiations and it will be up to the member states to ratify the outcome of any negotiations. There is clear member state involvement in the process. However, we are part of the European Union. It is an important home market for us of more than 450 million people, and we do have to sign up to the terms of its agreement.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of negotiating those agreements? It is also important to make sure that our EU partners stick to them. Fifty years ago, one in every 10 white shirts in the world was manufactured in Leicester, but the textile industry has been devastated because of the dumping of textiles by non-EU countries in EU countries, and no action is taken against them. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that our partners stick to the agreements that have been negotiated?
Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to say that it is important that all partners stick to agreements. He will be aware of the EU's anti-dumping legislation, which has recently been applied to textiles. The Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, recently negotiated on behalf of the EU an agreement on the limitation of exports from China to the EU market. As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a massive restructuring in the UK textile industry as a result of the end of the multi-fibre arrangement. We have planned ahead, but other countries have not. We must take account of the fact that we will not be able to compete in future on the basis of low value added goods.
The Minister for Women (Tessa Jowell):
Positive discrimination is illegal. We are committed to promoting equality of opportunity in the workplace and selection on the basis of merit. The duties on public authorities to promote gender and race equality and equality for disabled people are part of that commitment.
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Philip Davies: Does the Minister agree that jobs should always be given on the basis of ability, not gender, and that so-called positive discrimination is no different from any other form of discrimination? Will she use her offices to stamp out such patronising political correctness?
Tessa Jowell: Yes, I agree that jobs should be awarded on the basis of ability. That is why, whereas the Government maintain the illegality of positive discrimination, we support positive action so that the talents of women, disabled people and other discriminated-against groups can be fully utilised.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that women want no part of discrimination? They want to be able to take their rightful place in the workplace, and they want family friendly policies and decent, affordable, good-quality child care. They want to do their job alongside everyone else and to play their proper part in our economic well-being.
Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is right. As she knows, having been a strong supporter at every stage of these policies, the Government have over the past years introduced policies to extend child care, to increase the rights of women at work, and particularly to extend the right of women to request to return to work part-time and to work flexiblya benefit that about a fifth of all women have so far sought to use.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): May I ask the right hon. Lady to check whether it is right to say that among first-line supervisors in the civil service 60 per cent. are female, but two promotions higher, 60 per cent. are male? Does that reflect the suitability of people for the job or some kind of indirect discrimination? I am not accusing her of supporting it, but action is needed to get rid of it.
Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. Progress has been slow and the pace of women's advancement has been less than would be expected on the basis of their talent. That is why positive action and the approaches to flexible working that have often removed the obstacles to women's progress are so importantnot just for women, but for our economy and the efficiency and good performance of our organisations, such as the civil service.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport)
(Lab): I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend's comments on positive action rather than discrimination. What steps can be taken to assist industries, such as the construction industry, which have a traditional image of being heavy and dirtyin fact no longer an accurate pictureactively to encourage more women into their work force? Will she please acknowledge that historically there have been real barriers to the employment of women in some areas?
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Tessa Jowell: I entirely[Interruption.] This is precisely the problem. When one tries to have a serious debate about labour market segregation and the fact that women's employment is clustered in a small number of sectors of our labour market, Opposition Front-Bench Members treat it as a joke. This is precisely the kind of area where positive action and the engagement of young women in school is so important.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I agree with almost everything that the Secretary of State has just said, and of course the Opposition entirely support fair treatment of all women. It is why we support the Equality Bill, which is now in the other place. However, does she agree that positive discrimination is wrong in all cases in all workplaces, and that includes this workplace and the selection process for parliamentary candidates? Does she further agree that positive discrimination in the long term does harm to women because it is like saying that men can always swim on their own, but women always need to wear water wings? It is not right; it is not true. Women can do it all on their own.
Tessa Jowell: In time, the hon. Lady will come to regret those remarks. One of the many reasons why the Opposition are seen as so out of touch and outdated is that they have not sought to ensure that parliamentary representation represents the country as a whole. She is a lone voice, but has a very long way to go.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): I welcome the range of measures discussed between my predecessors and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning the impact on gender and poverty such as the national minimum wage, child and family tax credits, legislation on flexible working and measures to close the gender pay gap.
I am grateful for that reply. My primary concern is with women in retirement who are poor. The pension credit has helped 1.3 million women out of poverty, but my hon. Friend will agree that they are poorer in the first place primarily because, relative to men, they have low pay throughout their lives and cannot save. Also, when they are caring for children or elders the credit system does not properly credit them in, so that they cannot even acquire a full basic state pension. Does she agree that this is a major outstanding issue of gender equality? Granted that the state pension is the state's responsibility, does she expect that when
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the duty on public authorities to promote gender equality comes into force things will have to change quickly? Will she use her considerable influence to accelerate that process?
Meg Munn: My hon. and learned Friend makes some extremely good points. The issues about pay are enormously important. She will be aware that we have established the women and work commission, which will report in due course, to look at the pay gap and the fundamental problems around that. I can assure her that I have taken very seriously the issue about pensions. I have already met the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and he recognises that women and their pension needs will be a major issue in the national pension debate, which will need to consider a range of matters, including caring.
As I have said, the fact that women are poor in old age is not due to one factor alone. The appropriate future for pensions will be the subject of considerable discussion. Reports are due to be published in the not-too-distant future. My right hon.
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Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions wants a national debate, to which I welcome the hon. Lady and her party.
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