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World Trade Negotiations

11. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What recent representations he has made to his EU counterparts on the world trade negotiations. [82777]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was in Geneva last week to emphasise our commitment to the Doha development agenda in meetings with the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson, and counterparts in other EU member states— [Interruption.] I knew that that would wake them up.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Say it without spitting.

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Mr. McCartney: With or without water, I am better than the hon. Gentleman.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I continue to discuss the Doha development agenda with Trade Ministers of other World Trade Organisation member countries. In the past few weeks, between us, we have spoken to, among others, the Trade Ministers of the United States, China, Brazil, Finland, Sri Lanka, Botswana, South Africa and India, and the Deputy Foreign Secretary of Morocco. Other members of the Government have also been in contact with their opposite numbers. We also remain in regular contact with business and civil society.

Mr. Swayne: The Minister will understand the paradox that we starve the poor by refusing to buy their food from them. Agricultural goods would not have been brought into the World Trade Organisation, however, had it not been for the success of Leon Brittan in outmanoeuvring the French during the Uruguay round. Unfortunately, Commissioner Mandelson has not been as successful. If the talks collapse, what is the Minister’s plan B in relation to the agenda of making poverty history? Did he see the remarks by—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is doing quite well as it is.

Mr. McCartney: That is another typical Conservative approach. In government, the Conservatives cut support to the world’s poorest countries by 50 per cent.; this Government have increased it by 140 per cent. Until recently, the Conservatives had never supported our objectives for the Doha negotiations. Those objectives include more trade opportunities and fewer unfair subsidies, from Europe, in agriculture, and from the United States. We want to see no strings, which means no quotas or duties on exports from the least developed countries to developed and richer developing countries. We want to see significant support for the poorest countries to help them to take advantage of increased trade by building capacity. We lead the world in that investment, and in liberalisation on those countries’ terms. That means that any liberation of developing markets must be consistent with their capacity to adapt development programmes.

We are leading the debate, and I am certain that our discussions over the next couple of weeks will move us to a point at which we can secure an agreement. An ambitious pro-development deal will lift millions out of poverty, and the Government are leading the drive towards it.

John Bercow: Given that the European Union currently spends €64,000 million each year in trade-distorting domestic support for agricultural production—the effect of which is dramatically to exacerbate the plight of the poorest and most destitute people on the planet—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential for that support to be discontinued as soon as possible, so that the poorest people in the world can be given a decent opportunity to compete, to grow and to fend effectively for themselves?

Mr. McCartney: The Government have been at the forefront of reform of the common agricultural policy and United States subsidies. The difference between our party and the hon. Gentleman and his party is that we can influence the outcome. At a time when we need
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more influence in Europe, the hon. Gentleman’s party is turning to the extreme right and rejecting the mainstream in Europe.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Why did the British Government agree to the withdrawal of approximately 200 so-called sensitive agricultural items from the European Commission’s negotiating offer? Did that not constitute a disastrous weakness and oversight?

Mr. McCartney: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind me saying so, he and his party—

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Answer the question.

Mr. McCartney: I will answer the question. As my favourite poet would say, “Haud yer wheesht”. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to know who that is, it is Rab C. Nesbitt. [Laughter.] That was a joke.

The Government are at the forefront of delicate discussions and negotiations to secure a package that is compatible with reducing agricultural tariffs, linked with appropriate access for the G20 countries to services and productive goods without agricultural tariffs. If we can secure that agreement, it will constitute a significant step forward for the world’s poorest countries. I assure the House that everything we are doing is aimed at achieving that delicate balance, and we will succeed.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Despite the Minister’s protestations about politics, is it not a fact that European Union protectionism is one of the major barriers to a successful conclusion of the World Trade Organisation talks—whether it takes the form of unwanted agricultural subsidies or Peter Mandelson’s shoe-dumping tax, which is costing some of the poorest people in the country £20 a year? Would it not be a disaster if the talks failed? It would be a disaster for some of the poorest countries in the world. What further representations can the Minister make to his friend, Trade Commissioner Mandelson, to ensure that the EU pulls its weight in the talks?

Mr. McCartney: Every single country must make a move, and every single trade bloc must make a move. That is precisely what we have been doing in our discussions. This Government sit at the negotiating table, unlike the last Conservative Government, who left the negotiating table and did not participate in an effective way.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman’s party has now recognised the need to achieve a successful round of talks, but it has done so 10 years too late. This Government are taking action with our colleagues in Europe. I hope that during our discussions over the next fortnight we can get that delicate balance right, and secure a successful agreement to help the world’s poorest countries.

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Renewable Energy

12. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to promote renewable energy. [82778]

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The Opposition’s commitment to the environment and recycling has influenced their questions. This question is a repeat of Question 1. It shows a good environmental approach. I think that the honest thing for me to do is to refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave earlier.

James Duddridge: I am glad that the Minister did not recycle his earlier answer as I recycled the earlier question. Will he now tell me how Government policy on incentives to increase smart metering will assist the use of renewables in homes?

Malcolm Wicks: As we made clear in an earlier discussion, we need to find ways to assist individuals who watch the climate change news and research on the television, who look at what is happening at the Arctic caps and who wonder what they can do about it. Many such people are relatively passive at the moment, but they want to play a role. As well as fostering Government and industrial action, we need to turn the concerned citizen into an active citizen on behalf of the environment. What does that mean in practical terms? It means thermal and loft insulation, better understanding of energy use in the home, microgeneration and, indeed, smart metering. We are interested in that development.

Minister for Women and Equality

The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—

Medical Professions

19. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to increase the representation of women in senior positions in the medical professions; and if she will make a statement. [82786]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): There are more women working in the medical work force and in undergraduate medicine than ever before. The proportion of female consultants has increased steadily to 26 per cent. from 19 per cent. in 1995. We have a range of schemes in place to encourage women to enter and progress in medicine, including the flexible career scheme.

Miss McIntosh: I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. I am sure that she shares my pleasure at seeing so many undergraduates coming in, particularly at the Hull York medical school, where a huge proportion—more than 50 per cent.—are women. However, does she share my concern that both in hospital medicine and general practice, many women are choosing to go part- time for the very good reason of wanting to bring up a
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good family? That effectively means that we almost have to train two lady doctors for each position. The implications for senior positions in hospital medicine are alarming, particularly when the Government have removed the post of senior house officer. What does the Minister see as the way forward in encouraging more women to remain in full-time positions in order to gain the necessary experience to become senior hospital practitioners?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but I remind her not only that the numbers of young women training in medical schools are increasing, but that the representation of women in senior positions has steadily improved at all levels and in practically all specialties over the last 10 years. I believe, as do the Government, that it is important to offer real choice to men and women to balance their work and family life. If we can facilitate flexible working, we should do so, and the same applies to flexible training. A year ago, the junior medical committee of the British Medical Association reached an agreement with the Government and other relevant parties on the introduction of a flexible training scheme that would allow the accreditation of flexible training. I believe that that is the right way forward rather than somehow artificially encouraging people to work full time when they would otherwise choose not to do so.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): My grandmother was a GP in the Gorbals from the 1940s through to the 1960s—quite early on in respect of women practitioners in this country. There were not too many women GPs then and there are many more now, as my right hon. Friend said. Many women want a greater degree of flexibility in their career than the GP system allows for. Sometimes they are helped through the system by having more salaried GPs. Would my right hon. Friend talk further with her colleagues in Wales about the possibility of developing more salaried GP positions that would be available to women?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and I will certainly take up his suggestion of having further discussions with colleagues in Wales. It is important to offer flexible careers both in hospital medicine and for GPs. The flexible career initiative was first introduced for hospital medicine, but has since been extended to GPs, who are beginning to find it easier to combine work as a GP with different family responsibilities. That particularly helps women.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Minister promise the House that in her desire to see more women in senior positions in the medical profession, she will not go down the politically correct route of having quotas, targets and positive discrimination? Will she always hold to the fact that jobs should be given on merit, irrespective of people’s gender?

Ruth Kelly: Of course jobs should be given on merit, but if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the majority of female undergraduates who are currently training in medical school should not have the opportunity to have their careers progress at the same rate as men’s, I believe that he is mistaken.

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Domestic Abuse

20. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What progress is being made in supporting women who report domestic abuse. [82787]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): The national domestic violence delivery report outlines a series of initiatives, including the specialist domestic violence court programme, and training packages for independent domestic violence advisers and prosecutors and the police. We also part-fund the national 24-hour freephone helpline to provide information, support and advice.

Mrs. James: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Unfortunately, in Swansea in 2005-06 there were 3,266 reported incidents of domestic abuse. She may be aware that the city has been invited to express an interest in having a domestic violence court, and I and a number of local agencies support that proposal. Despite that, will she continue to ensure that women who suffer domestic abuse get the assistance, guidance and support that they need and deserve?

Ruth Kelly: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She makes the very important point that victims of domestic violence are being properly supported, and she will no doubt be pleased to know that Swansea magistrates court was one of several in Wales visited this week by the national domestic violence group, which is considering its suitability for selection as a specialist court. I wish her well when the successful bids are announced later this year. I am also aware that Swansea police have been recognised for the great deal of innovative work that they do to support victims of domestic abuse. For example, they are targeting perpetrators through the “spotlight on suspects” campaign. That work, together with the Welsh Assembly’s efforts, is making a real difference to victims of domestic abuse, and it is important that it continues.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): In my excellent local women’s refuge, which I happen to be visiting tomorrow, there are women who are fleeing domestic violence, often with young children. What can the Minister do, through discussions with her Cabinet colleagues, to ensure that the perpetrator of such violence is removed from the family home, rather than the mother and children?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that issue, which we are dealing with through our legislative proposals. But it is also important, as I am sure that she will agree, that we invest in domestic refuges, so that those women who want to leave immediately are able to do so. That is why we have invested more than £30 million over three years in new refuge provision, and in the refurbishment of refuges created through existing schemes.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): While I welcome the substantial efforts that have been made to protect the victims of domestic violence—advisers, specialist courts and so on—I am concerned that we are not doing enough to prevent such tragedies, which lead to the deaths of two women every week. Does the Minister have any ideas that she can discuss with colleagues, such as working with young people, potential perpetrators and women who might be
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victims to reduce the likely future incidence of domestic violence, rather than merely helping victims after such incidents have occurred?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I know that the Minister for Women and Equality has been working with colleagues across Government Departments—including in the Department for Education and Skills, for example—to look specifically at the needs of young people and how we can improve education about, and understanding of, these very important issues. It is right that we not only focus on the victims of domestic abuse—important as that is—but that we try at the early stages to prevent domestic abuse from happening in the first place.

Women in Public Life

21. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What assessment she has made of the level of representation of women in public life; and if she will make a statement. [82788]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): Women are well represented at local level, holding 43 per cent. of appointments to NHS trusts, 49.4 per cent. of magistrates’ appointments and 54 per cent. of school governors’ appointments. Women currently hold 35 per cent. of public appointments overall—an increase from the figure of 32 per cent. in 1997. I look forward to working with Janet Gaymer, the new commissioner for public appointments, to make further progress on this issue.

Jo Swinson: In this, the week of the Local Government Association conference, does the Minister share my concern at the fact that just 27 per cent. of Conservative councillors, 29 per cent. of Labour councillors and 32 per cent. of Liberal Democrat councillors in the UK are women, with far fewer in some areas, such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? If so, what steps is she taking—and what steps would she encourage others to take—to address this imbalance and to encourage more women into local government?

Meg Munn: The hon. Lady will be aware that we introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to allow political parties to make their own arrangements to encourage more women to stand in local and national elections. Our focus is on all-women shortlists, which we are using in some local elections, and I would be delighted if other parties joined us in that regard. I know that the hon. Lady’s party is struggling to get such a proposal through, and that the Leader of the Opposition is also struggling. In fact, the number of women selected since the introduction of his A-list has gone down, not up.

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