The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The Government are committed to ensuring that regulations are necessary, give effective protection, balance cost and risk, are fair and command public confidence.
I have today presented to Parliament a Command Paper listing RIAs published between 1 January and 30 June 2005. Copies of those listed have been placed in the Library. This is the 23rd such Command Paper.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The Informal EU Gender Equality Council hosted by the UK presidency took place in Birmingham on 89 November. Together with ministerial colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) and Baroness Crawley, I chaired this meeting which included visits to innovative community projects from across the west midlands tackling the problems of gender inequality.
In addition to 15 Ministers from across Europe with responsibility for gender equality, I was delighted to welcome Rachel Mayanja, the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women, Anna Zaborska, Chair of the European Parliament's Women's Committee and Vladimir Spidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
On Tuesday 8 November, Ministers were divided into groups to visit community projects brought together in two venues in Birmingham. My colleague Meg Munn, visited a community arts centre called "The Custard Factory" and I hosted the other group of Ministers who visited a converted pub in Balsall Heath, now a thriving centre of education as part of South Birmingham College. At each venue we had the opportunity to talk to a number of women about their projects and to learn about good practice in the United Kingdom. The areas covered by the projects included rural enterprise, education and training, business start-ups, confidence-raising, gender equality in the business world and the promotion of technology and enterprise for young girls.
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A number of Ministers commented that they found this part of the Informal to be the most innovative as it gave them a chance to speak to individual women who had experienced various forms of disadvantage and to hear their stories.
On the second day, after a short welcome speech from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, Ministers broke into three small groups chaired by the UK, Austria and Finland (the current and two succeeding Presidencies) for detailed discussions and an exchange of good practice. These discussions were based on questions prepared by the Presidency and sent to the Ministers in advance. The three themes flowed from the preceding Gender Equality Conference. These were:
"Breaking the Barriers", which included issues such as breaking down traditional stereotypes of women's work and occupational segregation, the kind of support needed for women entrepreneurs and using taxation and incentive policies to break employment barriers;
"Getting in, getting on" covering educational initiatives aimed at inspiring girls to aim high in their professional lives, how women can update and expand their skills throughout their lives and the gender pay gap and how it can be abolished.
Discussions in these groups were lively and informative, aided in part by the smaller numbers of participants. In the subsequent Plenary session, each chair reported back on some of the key issues discussed and highlighted examples of good practice that were shared in their group. In discussion, Ministers agreed that the key issues affecting gender equality include:
During the Ministerial meeting a number of speakers also identified the need to increase the number of women in the labour market if Europe is to increase economic growth, productivity and competitiveness. The links between this and the EU "Lisbon Strategy" were made with particular reference to retaining women in the labour market.
Ministers agreed that the opportunity to share and exchange practical examples of good practice, which worked in their Member States, with other colleagues, had been extremely useful and hoped that it could be built on in the future.
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At the end of the meeting, a presidency statement was issued which will be formally presented to the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council on 89 December. I attach a copy to this Statement.
1. Ten years ago in Beijing the United Nations drew up a Declaration and a Platform for Action that has been the template for progress on gender equality ever since. The enthusiasm and commitment of the national delegates and representatives of civil society, who worked day and night on the text, helped to inspire the development within the European Union of a strong legislative base for gender equality and innovative policies for women's empowerment.
2. Together the Luxembourg and United Kingdom Presidencies were determined to lead the EU to a strong reaffirmation of the Declaration and Platform for Action to mark their tenth anniversary. This began with a Conference and Informal Ministerial meeting in Luxembourg in February, that reviewed progress in all EU Member States towards the goals in the Platform for Action, and provided a comparative review of the institutional mechanisms for promoting gender equality within Member States. The Luxembourg Conference report provides an important basis for future comparative EU study, and the Common Ministerial Declaration (adopted by Ministers of EU Member States responsible for gender equality on 4 February) provides a strong statement of support for the Beijing Platform for Action.
3. In March the Luxembourg Presidency led a very strong EU delegation to the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, where, in no small part due to the determination of the EU, we secured a full and universal reaffirmation of the Beijing Declaration with a renewed emphasis on the importance of gender equality for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. These goals were reviewed at the Millennium Review Summit in September, where the UK led the EU delegation. The Outcome Document of the Summit makes even stronger linkages between the Beijing Declaration and the MDGs, including a reference to making the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women, a central objective of relevant international policies as well as national development strategies, including those aimed at poverty reduction.
4. Education and economic empowerment are key to promoting women's advancement in all of the areas identified in the Beijing Platform for Action. An educated woman who has marketable skills and equal rights in the workplace can better resist discrimination in other arenas. Women, as 50 per cent. of the EU population offer great economic and social resources of creativity, entrepreneurship and community cohesion. But economic empowerment, and gender equality, requires an effective legislative base and a wide range of policies, at national and local levels, and in business, for success. Within the EU we now have a strong legislative base, with the conclusion of negotiations on the
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extension of protection against discrimination on the grounds of gender into the field of goods and services. Therefore at the UK Presidency Gender Equality Conference and Ministerial Meeting in Birmingham we concentrated on sharing our experience of practical interventions and policy initiatives that deliver economic empowerment for women and gender equality for women and men.
5. Alongside practical examples from many EU Member States, generously shared by representatives from governments, business, trade unions, academics and civil society, we also considered ideas that have been successful in the developing world. And Ministers, prior to their own very valuable discussions, visited community projects based in the West Midlandsseveral funded by the EUto see how local initiatives can make a significant difference to the economic chances of disadvantaged women, particularly to those experiencing multiple discrimination. These projects working with the specific needs of Minority Ethnic women, women in business, training and education of women, young female entrepreneurs, women facing social exclusion and support for women in rural enterprise, represent a microcosm of the complexity and diversity of issues facing women in their everyday lives across Europe, and, highlight the challenges faced by policy and decision makers to achieving full gender equality.
6. We were strongly influenced in our work by the mid-term review of the EU Lisbon Strategy. This strategy recognises overtly that gender equality and the advancement of women are fundamental to the achievement of full employment, sustained economic growth and social cohesion, as well as the promotion of knowledge and innovation in Europe, the reinforcement of social protection and the eradication of poverty. We encourage all Member States to ensure that their future annual Lisbon implementation reports, (which will report on their National Reform Programmes for 200508), are fully mainstreamedin particular that; any targets and data are disaggregated by gender; that the goals of women's employment and the provision of good childcare are properly resourced; and, that the Integrated Guidelines on Growth and Jobs for 200508, are heeded, (with particular reference to Guideline No 18 "promoting a lifecycle approach to work"). The EU Lisbon Strategy must be achieved by full acknowledgement of the importance of gender equality.
7. The EU made a firm commitment, renewed in Luxembourg in February, to continue its work on different aspects of the Beijing Platform for Action by the development and collection of helpful and relevant indicators. It was also agreed that this year no new specific indicators would be developed, so that Member States could focus on implementation of the Platform in its entirety. In 2006 this work will recommence under the leadership of the Austrian and Finnish Presidencies, including a focus on gender equality health indicators. However, in due course, this will be greatly assisted as a result of work done under Luxembourg and the UK this year on the establishment of the European Gender Institute. This, and the Recast Directive that simplifies and streamlines the existing gender equality acquis, have been the primary focus of our work in Council.
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8. The Presidency is proud of the EU's record of achievements in the field of gender equality but is all too well aware of the work that remains to be done. We believe that our emphasis at the Presidency Conference and Ministerial in Birmingham, on women's economic empowerment, in the context of the Beijing Declaration and the Lisbon Strategy, is an important one, and has provided the opportunity for significant and purposeful conversations between practitioners from across the EU, and more widely. We are pleased that the European Commission plans to reprise the theme of women's employment and work-life balance as the central part of its Third Annual Report to Heads of State and Government, (to be presented at the Spring Council in March 2006). This UK Presidency Statement will be presented to the Employment, Health and Social Affairs Council for consideration on 89 December.
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