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Sole Traders (East Midlands)

19. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What estimate she has made of the number of (a) female and (b) male sole traders in east midlands businesses on 1 January. [43246]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): The most recently available data show that there were 53,000 female and 144,000 male self-employed people without employees in the east midlands in summer 2005. Data for January 2006 will be available from the Office for National Statistics in spring 2006.

David Taylor: A decade ago, as a freelance accountant, I supported numerous small businesses in the east midlands, many run by women and concentrated in high-competition, low-profit industries. Then, as now, female entrepreneurs faced even more acute start-up difficulties than men—problems of finance, advice and, critically, of self-belief. What does the Minister believe is the role of the regional development agencies in helping women to surmount those chronic and crucial hurdles?

Meg Munn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because the regional development agencies are key to this process, and we seek to ensure that they all address the issue of women moving into self-employment and business. I am delighted that the East Midlands Development Agency is taking that matter particularly seriously, and has developed an action plan and specific proposals to address those issues, which, as my hon. Friend rightly says, include access to finance, the problems of caring and domestic relationships and, crucially, business advice that recognises the particular challenges that face women moving into self-employment.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Minister congratulate Pauline Goodman, the project leader of Business4Women, run by the Kettering Business Venture Trust? She is doing marvellous work to encourage local business women to network and develop their businesses.

Meg Munn: I am delighted to congratulate the hon. Gentleman's constituent. Such organisations are important and there is now a range of networks throughout the country, supported by Prowess, which is promoting women's enterprise support. Having that support, with other people to talk to and ways forward, is making a real difference to women running businesses on the ground.


20. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the percentage of women retired and due to retire in the next 10 years who have not accrued the right to a full basic state pension. [43247]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): Figures from the Government Actuary's Department show that in 2005–06, 30 per cent.
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of women reaching state pension age are entitled to a full basic state pension, and the forecast is that in 10 years' time, by 2015, 70 per cent. of women reaching state pension age will have full basic state pension entitlement.

Tony Lloyd: Anyone in the House would have to give credit to the Government for introducing the pension credit, which has made a real difference to pensioner poverty. Nevertheless, the figures that the Minister has just given demonstrate that poverty among pensioners is still a real issue, particularly for women, and that that will continue for the foreseeable future. Do we in this generation have the political will to take action and do something serious about women's pensions, both to get things right for this generation of pensioners and to establish a future framework that will guarantee women proper pensions into the long-term future?

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the work that he has done in promoting this crucial issue. The figures show that changes are taking place, and that the introduction of home responsibilities protection and the fact that more women are now working is narrowing the gap between men and women. However, the crucial issue for the future is women's private pensions. We need to ensure that, as part of the debate surrounding the Turner report, the private pensions issue is tackled. Although we are beginning to address it and are witnessing changes to the state pension, that issue is still very much on the agenda.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I appreciate what the Minister is saying about private pensions and state pensions, but the Government's real responsibility lies in dealing with state pensions. The last time that we discussed this issue, the Minister for Women did not undertake to persuade the Chancellor of the merits of the Turner report, or of the real importance of putting right the scandalous way in which women pensioners are being treated, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) just pointed out. Will the Minister undertake to persuade the Minister for Women to persuade the Chancellor that this matter is urgent and should not be kicked into the long grass? Women pensioners are poor now and need help now.

Meg Munn: I am sorry that the consensual discussion that I normally have with the hon. Lady seems to have gone out the window. I wonder where that is coming from. The reality is that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women supports discussion of the Turner report; in fact, she promoted its launch. We should remember that it was this Government who, through the pension credit, corrected the absolute poverty that many women lived in before we came to power.

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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give the House the business for the following week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 23 January—Consideration in Committee of the Government of Wales Bill.

Tuesday 24 January—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Government of Wales Bill.

Wednesday 25 January—Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping (Pollution) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 26 January—Remaining stages of the Criminal Defence Service Bill [Lords], followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 27 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 30 January—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Government of Wales Bill.

Tuesday 31 January—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, followed by a debate on pensions on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 1 February—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 2 February—A debate on defence procurement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 3 February—The House will not be sitting.

It may also assist the House if I inform Members that a revised calendar is now available in the Vote Office.

[The following is the information: 17th and the 20th to the 52nd Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2003–04, the 1st to the 30th Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2004–05, and the 1st to the 3rd, the 5th and the 6th Reports and the First Special Report of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2005–06, and of the Treasury Minutes and the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel Memoranda on these Reports (Cm 6271, 6283, 6302, 6303, 6304, 6332, 6355, 6416, 6441, 6458, 6468, 6496, 6577, 6578, 6579, 6609, 6667, 6668, 6682, 6689 and 6712).]

Mrs. May: Can the Leader of the House tell us why the Merchant Shipping (Pollution) Bill has taken precedence over the Childcare Bill, which was originally to be brought to the House next week? Will he ensure that the Defence Secretary makes an early statement to the House on UK troop deployments in Afghanistan, particularly given that the Dutch Government might not now send 1,200 troops there in the coming months?

I recognise that the Government never comment on leaked documents, but given that it now appears that the number of so-called rendition flights through the UK
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may have been greater than was previously reported to the House, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Foreign Secretary makes an early statement to the House to update Members on that matter?

Last week, the Leader of the House said that the number of NHS trusts with financial difficulties was small. Today, it is reported that no fewer than two thirds of hospitals are having to close wards as a result of financial problems. That is hardly a small number and, apparently, the Prime Minister's response will be to appoint a new Minister to take charge of NHS spin. Yet again, the Government are putting spin doctors ahead of real doctors. Will the Leader of the House make Government time available for a full debate on the state of the NHS? Will he also make time for a debate on education standards, given the concerns about league tables, the number of children being taught in failing schools and the Government's failure to tackle truancy? Will he confirm that the education reform Bill will be published before the House rises for its mid-term recess?

This month, the largest rise in unemployment for 13 years was recorded. The productivity gap between the UK and the US has been widening since this Government came to power. Will the Government make time for a debate on the state of the economy? In its third report of the 2003–04 Session, the Treasury Committee said:

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will abide by that request, and give us the date of the Budget?

Finally, when will the Home Secretary make a statement to the House on the Government's final proposals on the reorganisation of police forces?

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