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Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive

9. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): What recent progress his Department has made in implementing the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive. [95036]

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): The latest consultation exercise on the draft implementing regulations for this directive was concluded on Tuesday this week. Subject to a detailed analysis of the outcomes of that exercise, the directive should be transposed into UK legislation early in 2007, leading to full implementation on 1 July next year.

Richard Ottaway: The Minister has caught me slightly unaware with that announcement, as no one was aware that that was about to happen. He has had six consultations, a review and a three-year delay. He now says that it is about to implemented, which is very welcome, but does he recognise that the delay has led to a huge mountain of discarded electronic goods—35 per cent. of them perfectly usable—piling up with nowhere to dispose of them? The UK and Malta are the only two countries that have not implemented so far. It is a very sorry state of affairs and I hope that the Minister will keep on the button and ensure that it actually happens.

Malcolm Wicks: It pains me to disagree with my own MP—I will not say whether I voted for him or not, as it is a secret ballot—but I have to say that he is a little out of date. Many people in the industries know where we are on this matter as we have carried through the consultation exercise and people have known about the appropriate time scale. Let us remember what this is about. In Britain alone, we have 1 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste every year and the amount goes up by about 4 per cent. a year. The
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European directive is about promoting producer responsibility. As part of a more sustainable economy, it is important that we recycle and reuse electrical and electronic waste.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): The Minister knows that the national headquarters of the Furniture Reuse Network is in my constituency and, from the meeting we held with him earlier this year, he also knows how keen the network is to see the implementation of the directive. Can he tell the House how the Government plan to support the community sector to ensure that it has access to reusable waste electronic and electrical equipment from local authority and retailer sites?

Malcolm Wicks: I know of a number of good voluntary sector schemes, including one in Croydon, which I visited recently. Although we expect most of the waste to go to local authority sites—we are consulting on that—voluntary organisations are important in making sure that the products can be reused and sold on relatively inexpensively, often to low-income groups. Non-governmental organisations have a vital role.

Post Office

10. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the procedures used by Post Office Ltd when consulting on its proposed changes to local post office services. [95037]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): Under the Postal Services Act 2000, Postwatch was established to monitor changes to postal services and to ensure effective consumer representation. Postwatch has signed a code of practice with the Post Office, which provides a practical framework for consulting on proposed changes.

Richard Burden: There is no doubt that Post Office Ltd has to make some difficult decisions and has some difficult challenges ahead, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, often, the way the Post Office goes about involving and consulting local communities leaves a lot to be desired? It was warned about that by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and others over the urban reinvention programme, but in my constituency, although the Post Office has met me in respect of the proposal to franchise out a Crown post office, it seems to be adopting a tick-box mentality when saying that the local community has been consulted rather than thinking creatively about the process. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Post Office about that?

Mr. Darling: Yes I will. As my hon. Friend says, over the next few months the Post Office will have to make some difficult decisions about the shape and size of the network, and it is important that when there is consultation it is carried out properly. It will always be the case that, if people do not like a proposal, they may feel that there has not been proper consultation—no matter what the outcome—but there are some elementary things that we need to get right, so I would
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appreciate it if my hon. Friend could let me know precisely what passed between him and the Post Office so that we try to avoid such mistakes in the future.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the Secretary of State accept that, when there are changes to local postal services, it is important that there is proper consultation? In my constituency, for example, the sorting office in Kirriemuir, which covers the glens of Angus, decided to stop making newspaper deliveries. That does not appear to be a national process, but there seems to have been a review and cuts are being made by stealth. Where there is a rural service that has an impact on rural businesses, is not it important that there is proper consultation before such actions are taken?

Mr. Darling: I am not familiar with that particular instance, although I know Kirriemuir and that it is important. If the hon. Gentleman would care to let me know what he thinks went wrong, I will certainly ask the Post Office to look into it.

Disabled Staff

11. Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with employer representatives on attitudes towards employing disabled staff. [95039]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): Neither the Secretary of State nor I have held recent discussions on that topic with employer representatives.

Mr. Hunt: That is an extremely disappointing reply, given that the Government are putting the Welfare Reform Bill before the House and that one of the critical issues in the Bill is how to get more disabled people into work. Is the Minister’s hesitation in holding discussions with employers’ groups because the Government’s own record is so lamentable? Nineteen per cent. of the working age population is disabled, yet only 6.8 per cent. of DTI employees are disabled, so what urgent measures will the Minister take to restore the credibility of his Department on that important issue?

Jim Fitzpatrick: There is no embarrassment on the Government Benches. We passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and established an office for disability issues. The Act requires that all public bodies have due regard to promoting disability in all their functions and also that they produce a disability equality scheme by 4 December. The DTI is on target to meet that deadline; the scheme will provide an action plan for work to provide the framework in which we will meet our duty.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): One of the largest categories of long-term illness and disability is made up of those suffering from mental ill health. When I talk to groups in my constituency, they report that, despite a transformation in social attitudes to mental ill health, there remain
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serious problems in terms of returning to the workplace and the difficulties that people encounter in having their applications treated fairly. Will the Minister say whether he agrees and, if he does, what he hopes that our Government will do to tackle that?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Mental ill health affects a sizeable proportion of the population. Almost every family—if not every family—has a member affected by it. It is an important aspect of our disability policy and I am sure that it will feature in all the plans that Departments make. It is a difficult area of work that requires a lot of attention to detail. I am sure that we will do that in due course.

Minister for Women

The Minister for Women was asked—

Equal Pay

16. Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to address the gender pay gap. [95020]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): Last month, I published an action plan, in response to the women and work commission recommendations, that set out a comprehensive package of measures across Government that I believe will widen women’s choices, enable more women to realise their potential and reduce the gender pay gap.

Ms Johnson: In Hull and the sub-region, women still face many barriers in the field of employment. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage more employers to take up best working practices and to break down some of those barriers?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the issue is not just about legislative change. We have to change the culture within which employers operate. I am determined to build up as many companies as possible as exemplar employers that can showcase their flexible working to others and show what is possible. We have nearly 100 exemplar employers and I hope to build that up further.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that the comprehensive spending review 2007 will prioritise closing the gender pay gap, set specific gender equality targets for Departments and require measurable progress year on year?

Ruth Kelly: As the hon. Lady knows, I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this and many other issues. She will also know that we do have a target for reducing gender inequality. As part of the Budget process, we try to ensure that women are treated fairly and we are making real progress in tackling inequality and the gender pay gap, in particular. I hope that she is also aware of the latest action that we have taken through the women and work
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action plan, which not only builds up exemplar employers, but introduces equality reps and a quality part-time work initiative and sets out the measures that the Government are going to take, including extending the right to request flexible working.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): In my constituency of Hove and Portslade, our further education and sixth-form colleges have pledged to put increased effort and investment into NEET pupils—pupils not in employment, education or training. What advice would my right hon. Friend give those institutions and those pupils on training to address the gender pay gap?

Ruth Kelly: I suggest that the careers advice that pupils are given should emphasise the importance of pay progression and the opportunities that will be available to those young people. I have been trying to encourage girls to consider non-traditional occupations, which they might ultimately find more rewarding in every sense—personally fulfilling, as well as financially rewarding. The Government have introduced a national standard for careers advice to make sure that top-quality careers advice is offered throughout our schools and colleges.


17. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): When she next plans to meet the Engineering and Technology Board to discuss the promotion of science, engineering and technology as a career choice for women. [95021]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): The promotion of science, engineering and technology comes under the Office of Science and Innovation. The Minister for Science and Innovation meets the chair of the ETB regularly. I am pleased to report that the board and the UK resource centre for women in science, engineering and technology are developing a memorandum of understanding to promote the role of women in science, engineering and technology. I met Annette Williams, the director of the UK resource centre, this week to discuss progress.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive answer. She will have heard her right hon. Friend the Minister for Women say that she has frequent meetings with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. She will also know that the Department of Trade and Industry is a sponsor of the ETB. Will she or her right hon. Friend be saying to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that funding continues to be needed in this valuable area to promote science, engineering and technology?

Meg Munn: Of course. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s role in the engineering board. It is important that we continue not only to get more women into the sector, but to get back into it some of the 70 per cent. of women who have qualifications in the area. The funding that has gone into the UK resource centre has been enormously important and we will of course continue to press for more.

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Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): For 13 years, Aberdeen has hosted a science festival called Techfest at the beginning of each September. The festival is aimed predominantly at schoolchildren, although events are also held for adults. May I invite my hon. Friend to come up next September to see what is happening in Aberdeen, the excitement on the children’s faces—boys and girls—and the way in which all businesses have been supportive of the festival and engaged with young people to get them interested in science in the first place?

Meg Munn: I congratulate Aberdeen on its efforts. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is enormously important that children are enthused at an early age. Great work is going on in this area, and, subject to diary commitments, I would certainly love to look at the opportunity of going to Aberdeen next year.

Equality Bodies

18. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What the Government’s policy is on encouraging the development of productive working relationships between statutory equality bodies and the voluntary sector. [95022]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): In October 2007, all the existing equality bodies will be replaced by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. As was set out in the “Fairness for All” White Paper, one of the guiding principles of the new body will be partnership working, including with the voluntary sector.

Tony Lloyd: In thanking my hon. Friend for that response, may I remind her that the voluntary sector is often at the cutting edge of innovative new ideas, especially in the areas of sexual orientation and disability? The sector’s work has not always come to fruition, but it has often come up with ideas that have later become the norms of behaviour and attitude. The Minister for Women referred earlier to changing cultures. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to change cultures in such areas, it is important that we have a flourishing voluntary sector with which the statutory bodies work properly? For example, the Fawcett Society addresses gender equality, and I could go through a list of different aspects of equality in which the sector’s contribution has been enormous. It is important that we get the balance right.

Meg Munn: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In preparation for the new commission, 15 stakeholder events were held throughout the country, and many voluntary sector organisations attended them. We hope to announce in the near future the commissioners of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I am sure that there will be representatives with a great deal of experience of the voluntary sector.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I welcome what the Minister says about the progress so far, but as the next step towards establishing the new
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statutory equality body—the Commission for Equality and Human Rights—will the Minister publish as soon as possible the results of the Government’s consultation on the Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations? I ask this in the true spirit of co-operation: will she then publish the regulations in draft form so that Parliament can have a meaningful debate on this sensitive and important matter, instead of the wide-ranging and unfruitful debate that is taking place at present?

Meg Munn: I can give the Government’s absolute commitment to bringing forward the regulations as soon as possible. I will certainly take back the suggestion of draft regulations, but our priority must be to lay the regulations in Parliament, alongside the religion and belief regulations, and get them implemented next April.

Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations

19. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): When the Government expect to lay before Parliament the Sexual Orientation (Goods and Services) Regulations. [95023]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): We made clear earlier this month our intention to implement the sexual orientation regulations next April. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality has just set out, we will lay the regulations before the House in good time for them to be debated and approved so that they can come into effect on that date, alongside the regulations on religion and belief.

John Bercow: Does the right hon. Lady agree that, subject only to the very limited doctrinal exemption that the Government already propose, the sexual orientation regulations must apply in full to all organisations, religious or otherwise, including adoption agencies, charities, general practitioners, housing trusts, nurseries and youth groups, because the principle of equality before the law must take precedence over the views of a vociferous religious minority which, however sincere, is fundamentally opposed to that important principle?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must provide effective protection against discrimination for gay, lesbian and transsexual people. It is right that we take the time to consider the more than 3,000 responses that we have received on the matter. As I am sure he and other hon. Members are aware, there are passionate views on each side. It is only right that we take the time to consider properly such a complex issue, so that we provide protection against discrimination in a way that is effective and appropriate and which gets the balance right so that people are able to hold religious views and beliefs.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I reiterate the call for the regulations to be published in draft form before they are laid in Parliament. That could lead to a much more sensible and rational debate when the time comes. I cannot emphasise too strongly
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my agreement with the words of my colleague the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Any excessive exemptions granted in the regulations would undermine the principle that Parliament has adopted.

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