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Pensions (Women)

20. Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC) : When the Government will publish their report on the pension position of women. [52016]

The Minister for Women (Tessa Jowell): Last November, the Government published an analysis of women's pensions. The evidence showed that 30 per cent. of women retiring today are entitled to the full basic state pension, but that by 2025, on average, more than 90 per cent. of both men and women will be entitled to the full basic state pension—a figure that reflects the much larger number of women in work.

Adam Price: I thank the Minister for her reply. The Government should be congratulated on the detailed analysis set out in that report. I hope that such reports will become an annual event, until we get genuine pensions equality between men and women. Are the Government finally going to scrap the 25 per cent. rule whereby women with less than 10 years-worth of contributions do not qualify for the full pension?

Tessa Jowell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his congratulating us on the approach that we are taking to one of the most intractable issues that we face. No decisions have yet been taken about the final settlement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will in due course publish proposals, in response to the Department for Work and Pensions' own evidence and that of the Pensions Commission. I should point out that fairer pensions for women is one of our key objectives, given the scale of such inequality and the risk of poverty in old age that too many women still face today.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend mentioned the Pensions Commission, which recognised that the present system was designed by men for men and reflects a society that no longer exists. Will she put pressure on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ensure that the White Paper addresses the question of women and their pensions and that the present inherent inequalities are ended once and for all?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is right. The deep-rooted gender inequalities reflect the different nature of
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the working lives of men and women, and addressing that problem is one of the most important challenges involved in getting the new pensions settlement right. We are actively engaged in discussions about how to do that.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Home responsibilities protection provides a welcome but partial solution to pension poverty among people who have had caring responsibilities, but it can be unfair. For example, a woman with 20 years of home responsibility and 10 of employment accrues only 50 per cent. of the basic state pension, whereas a man with a 30-year employment record accrues 70 per cent. Will the Minister commit to making the system fairer for those with caring responsibilities?

Tessa Jowell: I have made it absolutely clear that achieving equality between the positions of men and women is one of the key outcomes that the Government are determined to achieve in the new pensions settlement.

Human Trafficking

21. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab) : What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the steps that he is taking to provide victims of trafficking with specialist care and protection to enable them to make choices about whether to remain in the United Kingdom. [52017]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): As a member of the ministerial group on human trafficking, I work closely with Home Office colleagues to ensure that provision for victims is sensitive to women's needs. We have a comprehensive support scheme to help women make informed decisions about their futures. Our consultation on a UK action plan includes plans to further develop support arrangements.

Mary Creagh: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I urge her to work with her colleagues to ensure
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that we sign the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings? That would give victims an automatic cooling-off period to recover from the sexual abuse that they have suffered.

Meg Munn: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's interest in this very important matter. She will know that the Government were involved when the action plan was drawn up, and that we are considering moving towards signing it. Our concern is that automatic periods could act as a pull to bogus asylum claims, but we are looking at the experience of other countries. We consider all victims on their merits: the cooling-off periods are not automatic but are on the basis of each person's need.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) is absolutely right. The Council of Europe convention on human trafficking was agreed in May 2005, and no fewer than 24 of the council's 46 members have signed up to it. Therefore, will the Minister tell the House what discussions she has had with the Home Secretary in respect of why the Government still feel unable to sign up to the convention, which would provide minimum standards of protection and treatment for all trafficked people?

Meg Munn: The ongoing discussions on this matter are very detailed. The UK took a lead and made human trafficking one of the key issues of our EU presidency. We are enormously concerned about it, and are consulting on our UK action plan. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), we are looking at this issue. We consider every case on its merits, and women are given time to reflect. Our concern is that an automatic period may act as a pull factor in a way that would be unhelpful to real victims. However, there is no end date for the period in which the UK can sign up to the convention. That is under active consideration, and many other measures are in place to deal with the terrible problem of human trafficking. We are having great success in finding the people involved in it, stopping it happening, and dealing appropriately with the victims.
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Business of the House

11.34 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the week following the recess?

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

Monday 27 February—Progress on remaining stages of the Government of Wales Bill.

Tuesday 28 February—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Government of Wales Bill—[Hon. Members: "Hooray!"]—I hope.

Wednesday 1 March—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on dentistry followed by a debate on the future of cancer services. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 2 March—Second Reading of the Children and Adoption Bill [Lords].

Friday 3 March—Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 6 March—Second Reading of the Police and Justice Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the first two weeks in March will be:

Thursday 2 March—A debate on lone parent employment.

Thursday 9 March—A debate on violence against women.

It may also assist the House to know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to deliver his Budget statement on Wednesday 22 March.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the week after the recess. I am grateful that the Children and Adoption Bill has found a place in the business of the House for that week.

The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will have noticed that we will use our Opposition day on 1 March to discuss dentistry and the treatment of cancer patients in the NHS. I asked last week for a debate on dentistry, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), and the Leader of the House suggested that Members should raise the issue in today's debate on NHS inequalities. He was being somewhat disingenuous in saying that because the debate today not only covers the whole of the NHS, but will probably last for only two and a half hours. There will not be much time to talk about dentistry.

In 1999, the Prime Minister gave a commitment that by the end of 2001 everyone would have access to an NHS dentist—a commitment on which he has failed to deliver. However, hon. Members may care to know that the Government have a radical and innovative answer to ending the queues of people waiting to sign up to a new NHS dentist. They are going to ban people from
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queuing and force them to apply by phone or post. We need a debate about the real answers to the problems, and we will give hon. Members that debate.

On the issue of cancer patients and the use of Herceptin, and following yesterday's court decision—which revealed that, despite the comments by the Secretary of State for Health last autumn, the Government had not changed their policy—will the Leader of the House ensure that the right hon. Lady makes a statement to the House on Herceptin before the debate on 1 March?

We waited a long time for it, but I was pleased to hear the Leader of the House announce the date of the Budget today. It is a pity that it was announced on Sky News before he could announce the date in this House. Talking of long waits, when will the education reform Bill be published?

I realise that referring to the economy usually brings a torrent of statistics from the Leader of the House about inflation, interest rates and employment, but yesterday we saw the biggest rise in unemployment for 13 years, and there are serious underlying problems that need to be addressed, particularly the position of young people. Does he share my concern that over the past year there was a 28 per cent. increase in youth long-term unemployment; the number of economically inactive 18 to 24-year-olds has risen by nearly a quarter since Labour came to power; and that the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training has risen to 1.2 million? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would not be satisfied until the Government had removed the scar of long-term unemployment from the face of Britain. Yesterday's figures show that he is failing to achieve that goal, so will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on youth long-term unemployment?

Finally, on a day when a review of the work of the Electoral Commission has been announced, I note that the Leader of the House has previously said that in order to engage people in the electoral process we should force them to vote by making it compulsory and by fining people who do not vote. Is that still his view, or has he now realised that the more people who vote at the next general election, the bigger the Conservative majority?

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