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Malcolm Wicks: There will be joy in the heart of the OECD that the Conservatives support its work. That is
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welcome. I reject the notion that the Government do not pay due regard to corporate social responsibility. We pursue essentially a voluntary approach. We recognise that corporate social responsibility has many dimensions. There are the international ones that we are examining now. There are also the charitable efforts of many companies and how they treat customers and their employees. This is an issue to which we are committed as a Government.

Nuclear Decommissioning

10. Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the restructuring of the UK Atomic Energy Authority on the safety of nuclear decommissioning; and if he will make a statement. [75727]

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency interest in this matter. UKAEA needs to restructure to enable the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to carry out its remit, under the Energy Act 2004, to complete the decommissioning of the sites for which it is responsible. We recognise that any changes on a nuclear site have the potential to affect safety and, for that reason, they are subject to scrutiny by the safety and environmental regulators. With that scrutiny, we are confident that the authority and the NDA will manage the forthcoming change in a way that will not adversely affect safety, and that the restructuring of the authority will not impact on its high standards of safety.

Mr. Vaizey: I have no problem in principle with the restructuring, but can the Minister help me with an inquiry that has been raised anonymously with me by a constituent, who makes the point that up to 300 senior managers will be part of the restructuring, and if the restructuring happens in that way and if the UKAEA does not win a contract, those senior managers will be removed from the site, which will compromise safety? My constituent contrasted that with the restructuring of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which apparently involved only 40 or 50 senior managers. Is the Minister aware of that concern, and would he like to comment on it?

Malcolm Wicks: I was not aware of that. I do not receive the anonymous letters that the hon. Gentleman gets. I will examine the matter. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me and includes his signature so that I know from whom the letter is coming, I will take the matter up seriously with the authority, with which I have regular meetings. There is important work to be done, not least in nuclear decommissioning. While the process is resource-intensive, it needs to be as cost-effective as possible.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to safe decommissioning of nuclear plants is the supply of the specially trained staff who are necessary? Does he recognise that there is a shortage of such staff and will he therefore welcome the emergence of the Dalton institute at Manchester university?

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Malcolm Wicks: I not only welcome it, but I had the privilege of visiting Manchester university only a few weeks ago. It is clearly a centre of excellence when it comes to nuclear energy and other aspects of energy.
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We discussed renewables there as well. It is a centre of excellence not only across the United Kingdom but internationally. It is a resource that we value and cherish.

Government Assistance (York)

12. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What assistance the Government have given to York as a science city. [75729]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Government, through the Learning and Skills Council and the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, together with additional European funding and resources from the city of York council, have helped to provide just over £3 million to the city of York for investment. A further £2.63 million of Government funding has been allocated through Yorkshire Forward from its “Northern Way” project to support the development of York as a science city.

Hugh Bayley: The growth of science has turned round the York economy. When the Conservatives were in power, unemployment in York was twice the national average. It is now well below the national average. York is not only a science city for the local community, but a science leader throughout Yorkshire and the Humber and, indeed, the north of England. Will the Government’s commitment to York and funding for science in York be a long-term commitment?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend clearly outlines the success of science city York since 1998 and the ability of the city council and the university of York, with the private sector, to harness the world-class potential of business clusters in bioscience, health care, IT and digital creative industries. It is a model that the Government want to support. Three science cities were mentioned in the 2004 pre-Budget report and the 2005 Budget mentioned three more. I am sure that regional development agencies, as a result of the comprehensive spending review in 2007, will be looking to see what the Government intend to do then.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): While we all applaud York science city and the contribution that it has made to the local economy in North Yorkshire, does the Minister share my concern about the erosion of the green belt as the science city and York university intrude ever further into the remaining green belt in York?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The protection of the green belt against the development of the university and York science city is something that the regional development agency, the city council and the authorities take very seriously. Those decisions are not taken lightly, and I am sure that everything has been done to protect the green belt. The Government’s record on green belt protection since 1997 is exemplary.

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Summer Time

13. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What recent representations he has received (a) in support of and (b) against the adoption of single/double summer time. [75730]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): In the past 12 months, the Department has received 73 representations on the question of adopting single or double summer time throughout the year. The representations reflect the strong divergence of opinion on the issue, which suggests that the present situation is a satisfactory compromise between those who prefer lighter mornings and those who prefer lighter evenings.

Mr. Kidney: Do those representations disclose the fact that lighter evenings would cut deaths on roads, reduce industrial accidents and provide a massive boost for the tourism industry in the United Kingdom? If the Department cannot bring itself to agree to change the clocks permanently, will it look at the trial in the 1960s and Lord Tanlaw’s Bill in the House of Lords, which I have taken up in the Commons?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I recognise my hon. Friend’s strong support for that change. I heard what he said about road traffic accident statistics, but I must point out that there has been a significant reduction since 1998 in such accidents in the UK. The experiment on British standard time between 1968 and 1971 was adopted to test public support, but after a vote in Parliament the experiment was abandoned. A 1989 Green Paper floated the issue, but it was not pursued, and a debate in 1996 on a private Member’s Bill failed to secure significant support, so I do not think that the issue is making progress.

Women and equality

The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—

Gender Equality

19. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What policies to reduce gender inequality in the workplace the Government will promote at the Council of Europe’s ministerial conference on gender equality. [75710]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): My hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality will attend the conference later today, and will promote our implementation of the women and work commission’s recommendations tackling job segregation and the gender pay gap, as well as the measures that we have taken to deliver a better work-life balance.

Andrew Gwynne: I welcome that answer and I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new post. She will be aware that a substantial number of women in my constituency of Denton and Reddish balance family life with part-time jobs, but they are often low-paid, low-skilled jobs, with many women working far below their skill level. What have the Government done to promote greater opportunities for women to undertake quality part-time jobs? The problem makes a significant contribution to the pay gap and is a waste of skills.

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Ruth Kelly: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He is right to draw attention to the issue. Indeed, the facts show that women who work part-time earn almost a third less than women who work full-time, which is largely because, on their return to work after looking after children or elderly relatives, they are forced to choose lower-paid occupations in which their skills are not properly utilised. The Government, through, for example, the right to request flexible working and the provision of child care places, have made a huge contribution to turning that around. It is something that was taken up by the women and work commission, which has made practical proposals to which we will respond in the next few months.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Will the Minister give any special coaching or hands-on mentoring to her right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) about inequality and diversity in the workplace?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will not tolerate personal attacks, or the use of the Minister to do so.

Human Trafficking

20. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with other EU Governments on alerting girls and women to the dangers of trafficking. [75711]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): During our EU presidency last year, the UK initiated the development of an EU action plan on human trafficking, which was adopted in December 2005. The action plan addresses the areas of prevention, investigation and prosecution of trafficking offences, as well as provision of support and care for victims.

Ann McKechin: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as many of those young girls and women end up in prostitution in all parts of the United Kingdom, as well as in other parts of the European Union, we need to do much more to inform the men who use those services of the horrendous conditions that those women suffer and the state of virtual slavery under which they are held, very often with criminal force by criminal gangs? We must make sure that men are aware that, when they use those services, they are helping to perpetuate criminal gangs and slavery throughout Europe.

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She rightly highlights the fact that, wherever there is prostitution, there is also human trafficking. If there were no demand, women would not be trafficked into the United Kingdom. The inter-ministerial group that looks into prostitution and human trafficking takes the issue extremely seriously and we will be taking forward more initiatives. I welcome my hon. Friend raising the subject and hope that other hon. Members will take the opportunity to make people in their constituencies aware of what is happening in that regard.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Given that the Minister says that the Government are keen to remedy the dreadful problem of human trafficking, can she explain why they have not signed the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings?

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Meg Munn: I welcome the hon. Lady to her responsibilities on these matters. The Government agree with all the aims of the convention. The reason that we have not signed is that we have concerns about automatic reflection periods, which are the subject of the next question. We are concerned that they might act as further pull factors in relation to asylum and immigration. However, we have held a consultation on a UK action plan and, as part of the response to that, the matter is under active consideration.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): May I praise the outstanding work being done by Home Office staff, especially at Gatwick and Heathrow, with trafficked children and women? Having interviewed quite a number of trafficked children myself, may I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that there are proper protocols in place in social services and education departments and schools throughout the country, so that trafficked children can be identified, dealt with appropriately and provided with the right support?

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and praise her for her work in that regard. She raises enormously important issues. We are becoming aware of even greater numbers of children being trafficked than we had previously known about. There are multi-agency protocols in place to deal with the matter, but I will take it back to the inter-ministerial working group to ensure that we do that even more effectively.

Human Trafficking

21. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the merits of granting automatic reflection periods and residence permits to victims of trafficking. [75712]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): The UK currently assesses cases on individual needs. However, in our response to the recent consultation paper on a proposed UK action plan on human trafficking, we will be further considering the merits of granting automatic reflection periods and residence permits.

Mary Creagh: My hon. Friend is aware that the Human Rights Committee is investigating the trafficking into the UK of women and girls for domestic and sexual exploitation. These women suffer multiple rapes over long periods of time and should be treated as victims rather than criminals by the authorities. Many of them exhibit the physical and psychological characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder. Can my hon. Friend use her influence to ensure that a reflection period is granted to those women so that they are protected by the laws of this country and can help to bring to justice the criminal gangs that bring them here?

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and welcome the inquiry that the Joint Committee on Human Rights is conducting into this important matter. I reassure her that we do grant periods of reflection and that every help and support is offered to the women, both to help them deal with their experiences and to bring the criminals to justice.

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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In Northamptonshire, we have a serious problem with sex slaves. The one thing that the police would like the Government to do is to grant automatic reflection periods, as that is their biggest problem. I urge the Minister to be bold and to sign the Council of Europe convention.

Meg Munn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continued interest in this important matter, which we are considering in relation to the consultation that we had on the UK action plan. However, there are competing issues. I am interested to hear that his local police are raising reflection periods as a problem, because they are granted—it is just that they are not automatic. I will be happy to have further discussions with him outside the Chamber.

Home Working

22. Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to encourage companies to allow women to work from home. [75713]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): The Government encourage all types of flexible working by providing guidance, promoting the benefits, and sharing best practice. Employers are already required to consider seriously requests to work flexibly, including home working for mothers of young children.

Ms Johnson: I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on her new position.

This week, I spoke to women entrepreneurs at the Hull business expo. Does my right hon. Friend agree that encouraging more women to take up businesses for themselves would allow them maximum flexibility in the place where they choose to work—from home or from an office?

Ruth Kelly: I do. That is an option that should be seriously encouraged when women are looking for opportunities in wanting to go back to work having spent some time at home. If we could encourage women entrepreneurs so that the rate of female entrepreneurship increases to that of male entrepreneurship, there would be 500,000 new businesses, which would make a major contribution to economic growth and productivity.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I welcome the Minister to her new post. I am confident that she will show commitment to every aspect of the equality agenda. I am pleased by what she says about encouraging home working, which is an important part of flexibility in employment. However, does she agree that, in discussing these matters, we must consider not only women with small children but women with wider caring responsibilities for elderly, disabled or ill people, as well as—we are talking about equality here—men with family and caring responsibilities?

Ruth Kelly: I agree with the hon. Lady and thank her for her kind words. She knows of my commitment to this agenda; I am certainly committed to all aspects of
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it. I draw her attention to the fact that, since we brought in the right to request flexible working in 2002, the number of fathers taking up that right has increased threefold. She is right that we have to extend that in stages to a greater range of the population. That has been considered during the passage of the Work and Families Bill, which is progressing through its stages in this House. From 2007, the right will extend to carers—a good next step that will be widely welcomed up and down the country.

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