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WTO NAMA Negotiations

9. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): If he will make a statement on the impact of the outcome of the non-agricultural market access negotiations at the World Trade Organisation on British trade and industry. [33383]

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): The non-agricultural market access negotiations are an integral element of the Doha development agenda.

Martin Horwood: Does not the Minister agree that, at the request of countries such as the United States, Korea and China, one impact of the NAMA negotiations might be the curtailment as non-tariff barriers of measures such as energy saving labelling and safety testing on imported foods? Far from being a win-win situation, as the Secretary of State assured the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) it was, that might lead to the undermining of sustainability, consumer safety and consumer choice.

Ian Pearson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing happening in the NAMA negotiations presents any real threat on those issues. Our aim in the negotiations is to achieve progress similar to the progress that we are now seeing in agriculture and to reduce tariffs—

Martin Horwood: There has been no progress.
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Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman may say that, but the second European offer made by Commissioner Mandelson proposed an average tariff reduction on agricultural products of 39 per cent., which is more than was achieved in the Uruguay round. That is a serious offer. What we need now, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, is similar progress on NAMA and services, so that we can reduce tariff barriers and increase world trade in a way that will benefit both developing and developed countries

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is right to recognise that although there has been a great deal of focus on agricultural products, NAMA and services are important. Will he give us an assurance that in those discussions, the British Government will not force countries to privatise services that they do not want to privatise—that we will give a guarantee that they can decide about water and other public services in their country, and do what is in the best interests of their people?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which has been raised by many non-governmental organisations. I can assure him that the UK's position is clear and has been stated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on a number of occasions. There is nothing in the negotiations to force countries to privatise anything. What we want to see from the NAMA negotiations is a liberalisation of world trade, which would benefit developing and developed countries. That will be a priority in the negotiations.


The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—

Gender Pay Gap

19. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What steps the Government are taking to close the gender pay gap in the public sector. [33393]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): Action and policy interventions include Agenda for Change, which aims to bring fairer pay to over 1 million non-medical staff in the NHS, including women. The local government pay and work force strategy addresses the causes and effects of occupational segregation on the gender pay gap. I am also pleased to say that all Government departments and agencies have completed equal pay reviews.

Jo Swinson: The Equal Pay Act was introduced 30 years ago, yet we still have an 18 per cent. gender pay gap. I should have thought that the Government would take every opportunity to address that injustice, so can the Minister tell me why, in the forthcoming Equality Bill, public bodies will be required only to have a pay policy in place, without explicitly being required in the Bill to take action to close the pay gap?
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Meg Munn: The pay gap is an enormously important issue and it would be wrong to say that progress has not been made. Considerable progress has been made and the pay gap now is 17 per cent. on average, but down to 13 per cent. at the median. In the Equality Bill we are introducing a public sector duty to promote equality in various ways, including in pay. The work that will be done on pay will begin to make a difference, but it is only one aspect that we are considering. As I said, the local government pay and work force strategy addresses the causes and effects of occupational segregation, which we know is one of the main drivers of the gender pay gap.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the measures in the Equality Bill and the new commission for equality and human rights, with its main site to be based in Manchester, will help greatly in the work to close the pay gap for women in the public sector? Will she welcome the news that Salford council has just appointed a woman chief executive?

Meg Munn: I certainly welcome the news that Salford council has just appointed a chief executive who is a woman. One of the key issues about the pay gap in the public sector is not that there are not many women working in the public sector—there are. The issue is the level of responsibility that they have and their position within the organisation. We are making progress on that, but we want to see much more progress made. The Equality Bill is one measure which will deal with that. We also have the Women and Work commission, which goes much wider than the public sector and will report next month on related issues. I hope that will take us a great deal further.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Minister will be aware that one of the things the Government can do to ensure gender equality at the very top is to increase the number of women who occupy senior management posts in the civil service. The increase in the number of women in senior management posts over the past two years has been only 1.6 per cent., yet the Government have a target of increasing that number by 5 per cent. in the next three years. Can the Minister explain what measures she will use to achieve that target, and what the Prime Minister is doing to ensure that at Permanent Secretary level there is the representation of women that the country deserves?

Meg Munn: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my and my party's concern that we should have more women in top positions. We should celebrate the existence of tough targets rather than fearing them. Implementing a range of measures to reach those targets is enormously important, and we expect all Departments to consider the issue. Fast-stream measures have been implemented to help talented people of both genders to move through the system. I am sure that improvements will be made very quickly and hope that I can report such progress in the future.

Women's Pension Inequality

20. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to tackle women's pension inequality. [33394]
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The Minister for Women (Tessa Jowell): Earlier this month, we published the report "Women and Pensions: The Evidence". The evidence tells us that men and women will reach the age of 65 with similar basic state pensions by 2025, when the average entitlement to a full basic state pension among both sexes will be more than 90 per cent. That is marked progress on the present situation and reflects the greater number of women in work. We will consider that evidence together, obviously, with the recommendations of Adair Turner's Pensions Commission to ensure that our policy proposals lead to fairer outcomes for women.

Lynda Waltho: As my right hon. Friend knows, women make up two thirds of pensioners, but their income in retirement is less than two thirds of that of men. Indeed, recent Department for Work and Pensions figures show that 2.2 million women do not qualify for a basic state pension. In the light of yesterday's Turner report and with tomorrow being carers' rights day, will she go further and confirm that the Government will closely examine the Turner recommendations to make sure that we deliver a pensions system that finally offers everyone the chance of a decent income in retirement, recognising that if we get it right for women, we get it right for everybody?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which she has campaigned to focus attention on the issue. I am sure that she welcomes the fact that 1.9 million female carers have been helped by the second state pension and that 63 per cent. of the 5.8 million low earners who benefit are female.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): The Minister will be aware that the Turner report includes the recommendation that women over 75 should receive a full pension. Although that recommendation is welcome, does she agree that she would be better advised to consider the Liberal Democrat proposal of a citizens pension for all women of retirement age?

Tessa Jowell: It is always worth, albeit briefly, considering a Liberal Democrat proposal. The position of women over 75 will be a material consideration in deciding how to take forward the recommendations in Lord Turner's report.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the percentage of women coming into work has reached a plateau? If we are to achieve a successful economy and get the next surge of women entering the marketplace and becoming productive members of our community, we need a package for women that encompasses not only pensions, but pay and child care.

Tessa Jowell: If one considers full time and part time, the number of women entering work is actually increasing. My hon. Friend is right that if we are to see a sustained increase in the number of women who choose to return to work, it is important to ensure the implementation of child care and other measures that promote the flexibility that women need, if they are to combine looking after a family with being at work.
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Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I agree with the Minister that this is very important. I welcome what Lord Turner said yesterday, especially his particular attention to women and his stressing of the importance of flexibility for parents and carers in the work force and thereby in the provision of pensions. Unfortunately, however, the right hon. Lady will not take these decisions. She appreciates the difficulties of millions of women, but the Chancellor—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We do not have a great deal of time. The hon. Lady must ask her question, not make a statement.

Mrs. Laing: What will the right hon. Lady do to make the Chancellor see sense in this respect so that he appreciates the problem, stops rubbishing the Turner report, and does something for women pensioners?

Tessa Jowell: The position was clearly set out yesterday by the Prime Minister and the Work and Pensions Secretary. We will consider the Turner recommendations as a Government. We will take account of the pressing importance of meeting the needs
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of women, in particular, that arise from the necessity for flexibility in the currently inflexible pensions system, and ensure that we have a set of proposals for women that are sustainable. These decisions will be taken by the whole Government.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): In a forum on women's pensions that was organised in early November in Milton Keynes with my local chamber of commerce, the view was strongly expressed that there needs to be a universal basic state pension available on the basis of residence, as suggested by Turner, if women are to benefit in future. Will my right hon. Friend take that message forward very strongly to her fellow Ministers to ensure that that is incorporated?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That aspect of Turner's recommendations is potentially particularly beneficial to women. It is one of the proposals that will be looked at very closely because of the importance of securing a pensions settlement that recognises the age-old inequality of the system in relation to women.

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