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Margaret Hodge: Through the development of skills academies, we are trying to make sure that the qualifications and training courses that are offered meet the demands of manufacturing. It is crucial that the Learning and Skills Council works with employers, through the sector skills council arrangements, or the skills academies, or the regional development agencies, to bring together that demand for skills with an appropriate supply of skills. That is what the reforms are all about.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I agree with the objectives to which the Minister referred, but I have just been told by an innovative British engineering company that it was not allowed to visit a local school to advertise its apprenticeships because that school did not wish to encourage its pupils to leave at 16. With 1.1 million manufacturing jobs having been lost since 1997, is it not the case that if we fail to ensure more joined-up thinking on skills and manufacturing, the only skills that will exist will be in China and India?

Margaret Hodge: I would be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he gave me the details of that particular instance, because I agree that if we are to encourage more young people to work in enterprise, in the widest sense, we must ensure a far closer relationship between industry, enterprise and schools. I have often gone on record saying that that relationship has to start when children are quite young, because they make their subject choices at a very early age. They should be inspired, and the enormous excitement that can come from a career in manufacturing and enterprise must be made visible to them, so I would be grateful if he gave me that information. I say to him, again, that he should not talk down manufacturing. Manufacturing output is up, quarter on quarter, and in the last quarter it went up yet again. In the automotive industry, for example, we are producing as many cars today as we did at the height of car production in the 1970s. It was when his party was in government that car production declined, because that Government failed to see the importance of manufacturing and enterprise to the economy.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Although I recognise why my right hon. Friend says that the national skills centre is employer-led, does she recognise that employers do not always have a good record of looking to the future and planning for skills needs? Will she make sure that there is an employee element, and employee guidance, too? In particular, will she ensure that trade unions have an important role in making sure that employees get the passportable skills that they need for the future of manufacturing?

Margaret Hodge: I agree with my hon. Friend, and the Government have done a lot to ensure that trade unions are closely involved with education in the workplace. I have visited many schemes in which trade unions play an extremely positive role in ensuring that employees obtain greater skills and more qualifications at the workplace. The work that we have done through the sector skills councils, and the academies that we are establishing, will bring employers together, and with that joint experience, employers can ensure that the
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training, qualifications and expertise developed are fit for purpose, so that we can increase productivity and provide sustainable jobs and economic growth.

Environmental Technologies

8. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What steps he has taken to incentivise small and medium-sized businesses to design and manufacture environmental technologies. [106244]

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge): The Government support the UK environmental industries sector, which has increased from £16 billion, employing 170,000 people in 2001, to £25 billion, employing 400,000 people in 2004. We have introduced a range of incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the commission on environmental markets and economic performance, announced by the Chancellor in response to the Stern report, will make further recommendations to ensure that the UK makes the most of the opportunities arising from the environmental challenges of the present and the future.

Mark Pritchard: As my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) said, 1.1 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 1997. Many of those jobs were in my constituency in Shropshire, and in the west midlands. What specifically are the Government doing to encourage environmental technologies for the national good, so that a renaissance in British manufacturing can occur on the back of environmental technologies?

Margaret Hodge: I am rather tired of Opposition Members constantly proclaiming that jobs have been lost in manufacturing industry under this Government. If we look at the record, we see that this year up to September, we have lost 75,000 jobs because of increased productivity and new technology, not because of a reduction in manufacturing output. We should compare that with 1981, when we lost 673,000 jobs in one year alone, or with 1991, when we lost 422,000 jobs in one year alone. The record speaks for itself.

Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Lady has made her point. I call Mr. Bob Blizzard.

Energy Reserves

9. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s remaining reserves of offshore oil and gas. [106245]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): Our latest estimates in September show that at the end of 2005, commercially recoverable reserves of UK oil and gas amounted to between 7 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil equivalent. In addition, it is estimated that between 4 billion and 18 billion barrels of oil equivalent could be found as a result of further exploration. My hon. Friend is a tireless and, indeed, giant champion of the industry, and he knows that while there is long-term decline, there nevertheless remains powerful potential for the future.

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Mr. Blizzard: I welcome my hon. Friend to the energy portfolio today, and I hope that I can do so again in future. Is not the most secure source of energy our own oil and gas and, as we have just learned, there is plenty left? Most of it is in small fields, yet operators have to use the consents procedure that was devised for the large, early discoveries. Will he look at how those procedures can be streamlined without compromising their integrity to facilitate the development of those fields by small companies and, at the same time, make sure that the Department of Trade and Industry retains responsibility for the matter?

Malcolm Wicks: I agree that as the fields mature, as exploration west of Shetland, for example, becomes more difficult, and as more smaller companies move in, we must constantly review procedures, including those for consents. Fortunately, our PILOT partnership with the industry is an effective vehicle for the Government—both the DTI and other parts of Government—and industry to discuss those very issues.

Minister for Women

The Minister for Women was asked—


17. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What estimate she has made of the number of women who will be eligible for a full basic state pension under the Government’s proposals. [106226]

The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): Measures in the Pensions Bill published yesterday mean that about three quarters of women reaching state pension age in 2010 will be entitled to the full basic state pension, compared with 50 per cent. without reform. More than 90 per cent. of women reaching state pension age in 2025 will achieve the full basic state pension.

Bob Spink: I am grateful to the Minister for her response. The Government’s pensions proposals make a serious and decent attempt to tackle the developing problems in that area. Will she ensure that policy takes fully into account the great value of the necessary home building and child care activities in which women are involved, and not just their national insurance record? Women should have fair access to the full basic state pension as soon as possible.

Meg Munn: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the proposals, as cross-party support is important in ensuring that people are confident that we are making long-term changes that will make a difference. I agree entirely with him. The Equal Opportunities Commission said that the Bill

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Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): There is no doubt that there was inherent discrimination in the pensions system, given the unfairness of someone’s sex determining whether they qualified for a state pension. I am delighted that the Government have recognised the problem, and have taken action in the Pensions Bill, which was published yesterday. Can my hon. Friend give me an assurance that the Government will not renege on any of the promises they have made to women, and that they will continue to make sure that the gap between pension provision for women and men is closed as quickly as possible?

Meg Munn: I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend on the issue. The Bill aims to deliver equality. As she will know, we will introduce a gender equality duty in April, which will apply to all Government Departments and public sector organisations, bearing in mind the effect of their policies on men and women. I congratulate the Department for Work and Pensions on its gender impact assessment, as it is exactly what we need to ensure that our policies deliver what she asked for.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): The Liberal Democrats welcome the fact that, whereas at present only 30 per cent. of women are entitled to a full state pension, by the Government’s estimates that will rise to 70 per cent. by 2010. Of the remaining 30 per cent. who will never qualify under the 30-year rule, will the Government re-examine the contribution regulations to enable women who are working on past their current retirement age of 60 to continue to make national insurance contributions, so that they can get a better pension when they eventually retire?

Meg Munn: I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution to the debate. The Bill has just been published and there will be an opportunity to explore some of those issues in depth. Our policy has always been to try to make up the disadvantage that women feel and, as the hon. Lady knows, two thirds of the pension credit goes to women. We will welcome all constructive contributions to the debate.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that pensions are often a complicated matter, and that full information and explanations are required at the earliest stage, especially to young women, about the pension consequences of actions that they take during their lifetime? Will the Government ensure that adequate publicity and information are provided?

Meg Munn: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are considering putting together some sort of guide that will answer precisely such questions. She is right. Simplicity will make it easier for women to be confident that they will get a pension, and that they can save and add to it. A great deal has been done to get rid of some of the complexities in the current pension system.

18. Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): What recent steps the Government have taken to encourage women to make private pension provision. [106228]

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The Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): We remain committed to providing people with information to support retirement planning. Measures in the Pensions Bill set out our proposals to establish an organisation to deliver personal accounts and private saving. We estimate that around 2.2 million to 3.4 million women will open personal accounts. The Government will publish a White Paper on personal accounts shortly.

Mrs. Miller: As the Minister is aware, under the Government’s proposals, women on low pay would be automatically enrolled into personal accounts, yet when it comes to retirement the level of income from that saving could be completely negated by means-tested pension credit. What discussions has she had with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that women on low earnings benefit from the new scheme?

Meg Munn: The hon. Lady raises important points, which we are examining in detail. One of the benefits of our proposals is to link the pension again to earnings. That means there will be higher rates of basic state pension, which will lift more women out of that situation. We need to continue to examine the effects on all women as the proposals go through.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Private pension provision is often associated with self-employment. I recall from my years of acting as an accountant for small businesses in the textile industry that women in particular were less likely to make private pension provision. What does my hon. Friend think are the key barriers that prevent such take-up and what steps are being taken to surmount them?

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend draws attention to an important matter. One of the key barriers is people’s understanding of the pensions system and of the implications for them in retirement, so providing clear information, along with a simpler system that enables more women to qualify for a full basic state pension, will assist the process.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): As my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) points out, the Minister must be worried about the quality of advice that she is offering. If women are, as statistics show, on relatively low earnings, it cannot make financial sense for them to save towards a private pension when the minimum income guarantee that the Government offer goes up by earnings every year, and not by inflation. Is she not worried that many such women will be angry when they reach retirement? They will have saved for a private pension that is swallowed up in benefits forgone.

Meg Munn: These are important issues, but we want women to understand what pension they will get when they retire. In addition, we are doing a great deal to tackle the gender pay gap, which is the reason that so many women are poorly paid now. We want better paid part-time jobs, which means that they will be better able to save for retirement.

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Human Trafficking

19. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office on combating the trafficking of women into the United Kingdom for the purpose of sexual exploitation. [106229]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): The inter-ministerial group on human trafficking co-ordinates work on this issue across Government. The Government introduced new offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 under which there have been 30 convictions for trafficking. The UK action plan on trafficking will be launched in the spring and will make proposals that should improve prevention, investigation and prosecution of traffickers, as well as protection and support for victims.

Mr. Hollobone: In the week when Her Majesty’s Government, instead of apologising for Britain’s role in the international slave trade, should have been celebrating this country’s lead in abolishing it, will the Minister take another lead in confirming to the House that the Government will soon sign the European convention against trafficking in human beings so that that evil trade can be brought to an end?

Ruth Kelly: Most Members of this House will think that it was right for the Prime Minister to express his deep sorrow about this country’s role in the slave trade. Of course, on the occasion of the bicentenary we will celebrate the UK’s achievement in having been at the forefront of abolishing this evil trade. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that while we recognise that 200-year history, we should face up to the new challenges that confront us in today’s world and not ignore the many hundreds—indeed, thousands—of people who have become victims of human trafficking. He is right, too, to draw attention to the importance of the European convention, the aims of which we support in their entirety. As he says, we have been at the forefront of efforts in this area, and we are considering whether we should sign the convention. We agree with all its aims in principle, but there are certain aspects that we need to ensure would not affect our ability to secure our borders.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that in 2007 we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. However, we need to move forward, because every constituency is probably affected by the current slave trade of sex trafficking—I know that it has happened in my constituency. Will she clarify, perhaps not now but in writing to hon. Members, the technical reasons for not signing the declaration at this stage? The failure to do so sends out the wrong signal at a very important time in our
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history, and I hope that we can overcome the problems and sign it as quickly as possible.

Ruth Kelly: I share my hon. Friend’s hopes that we will be able to sign the convention. There are no time limits, and it is right that we should take our time to consider the issues properly. For example, the convention contains provision for an automatic period of reflection or recovery for the victims of human traffickers, yet in practice we tend to exceed those limits. We want to reflect carefully on the experiences of other countries to ensure that we retain our ability to secure our borders.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): When are we going to get a prime ministerial apology for King Henry VIII’s disgraceful treatment of his wives?

Ruth Kelly: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, who makes his point in his own way. I believe that the majority of people in this country think that it was right utterly to condemn the history of our involvement in the slave trade and to express our deep sorrow about it. That will resonate with most people, who see the bicentenary of its abolition as a huge milestone.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I welcome the progress that Ministers have made on matters where they have some power as regards trafficking and modern slavery. However, much more needs to be done to help the thousands of women and girls who are victims of trafficking and are being held in conditions of near slavery and forced to work as prostitutes right now in Britain.

Today, my hon. Friends and I are launching a campaign to try to publicise the help that is available, but what is needed is a national telephone helpline. Will the Minister note the cross-party support for early-day motion 282, tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends, and will she take steps to set up a much-needed helpline?

Ruth Kelly: I welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the measures that the Government are taking to prevent human trafficking of any kind and to protect victims. I hope that she will welcome the contribution that we have made, not only through legislation but through direct support for victims through the Poppy project, which offers them important support by providing sheltered housing and reaching out to people affected in the community. Of course there is more that we can do. In the spring, the Home Office, which has been consulting on those programmes, will publish an action plan. We will consider how that can be developed and how the UK’s human trafficking centre, which was set up in October—it is the first of its kind in Europe—can be used effectively to gather intelligence. I hope that she will support that.

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