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Energy White Paper

9. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on issues outlined in the Energy White Paper. [140932]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): I have many such discussions with my colleagues.

John Barrett: The Secretary of State will be aware that his predecessor mentioned that with a new generation of nuclear power stations, the necessary investment in efficiency and renewables would not be
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made. What will he do to ensure that Scotland develops its full renewables potential, and that that is not put at risk by a future generation of nuclear power stations?

Mr. Darling: I want Scotland to do as much as it can to get more renewable energy—and it would be greatly assisted in that regard if Liberal Democrats would help those developments to go ahead, rather than objecting to each and every one of them.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): One of the welcome proposals in the energy White Paper is for a cross-Government communications campaign to inform people in time for this winter of the steps that they can take to assist in dealing with fuel poverty. It is not clear from the White Paper whether that cross-Government campaign will apply only to England, or throughout the UK. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that it applies to the entire UK, so that this winter my constituents get the benefits of the measures proposed in the White Paper? They suffered last winter, and we do not want the same to happen this winter.

Mr. Darling: It is certainly our intention that whatever measures are put in place, they apply right across the UK. As my hon. Friend knows, the schemes to help insulation are operated differently in different parts of the UK, but the end result is exactly the same. He is right to say that it does not matter where anyone lives in the United Kingdom; they should all be entitled to whatever assistance we can make available to help them tackle problems like fuel poverty.

Gas Storage

10. Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): What discussions his Department has had with Canatxx Ltd and its associated companies on gas storage under the River Wyre in the last six months. [140933]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): Our officials meet companies from time to time to keep abreast of energy developments, and during the past six months met Canatxx Ltd once.

Mr. Wallace: The Minister will be aware that Canatxx gas storage company intends to store thousands of tonnes of gas below the Wyre estuary, which is currently designated by the European Union as a special protection area. He will also be aware that current applications across the rest of the United Kingdom already exceed the UK storage requirements for gas. Is he therefore convinced that the need to avoid damage to the environment around the Wyre estuary is overridden by the national need to store gas?

Malcolm Wicks: May I simply record that I understand that a public inquiry has been held on Canatxx’s Preesall application, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is considering the inspector’s report. My Department is not involved in the decision, and the hon. Gentleman will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the project. More generally, however—I am not talking about that
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project—we recognise the need for more gas storage. Storage capacity could more than double if all planned and proposed projects go forward. In terms of our energy security, one way or another we need to increase gas storage—but I am not commenting on the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Imported Furniture

11. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): If he will apply the Furniture and Furnishings Regulations 1998 to imported furniture at the point of entry into the UK, with particular reference to sofas. [140934]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 apply to imported upholstered furniture, including sofas, destined for the domestic market. These regulations apply at the point of entry to the UK and are enforced by trading standards officers. HM Revenue and Customs liaises with trading standards bodies on furniture imports as appropriate.

Mr. Baron: From my previous correspondence with his Department, the Minister will know that we have a problem locally with imported furniture—mostly sofas—that is illegal because it does not meet our furniture and furnishing regulations, being brought into the United Kingdom from eastern Europe; as a result, the public are being put at risk. Trading standards officers and the police have a real problem keeping track of the hundreds of lorries that bring the furniture in once they are in the country, and as a result much of that furniture is disappearing into the ether. Will the Minister explain to the House why—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is far too long a supplementary question.

Malcolm Wicks: The Department has provided funding of some £900,000 over two years for what we are calling “scambuster” pilots to operate in a number of areas—[Hon. Members: “Scambusters!”]. You are right—it is a silly name. The scambuster projects are designed to help trading standards with a range of scams, not just this one. Although the number of deaths from fires has diminished, fire safety remains crucial, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. We have taken action in respect of one of the countries involved: we have arranged for the Polish embassy to write to Polish manufacturers to make them aware of the regulations. When customers buy sofas, it is important that they do so from reputable dealers rather than in the informal market. The customer needs to beware, but the Government are taking action, which is also important.

Industry (Totnes)

12. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): If he will make an official visit to Totnes to discuss the situation of industry in the area. [140935]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): I am advised that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the
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Regions will be pleased to consider the possibility of including a visit to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency when she next visits the south-west region.

Mr. Steen: I do not know whether the Minister is aware that Dairy Crest, which produces milk and has done so for the last 86 years, is in danger of closing, with the loss of 200 of the work force. Can he tell me whether regional aid might be available to help modernise the plant, and will he encourage the management to produce a work plan so that the unions and I can understand what is needed if the company is to continue in business?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Obviously, there is regret at the loss of jobs at Dairy Crest and the impact that it will have on local people and the local economy in Totnes. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, Jobcentre Plus is working closely with the company to ensure that employees affected receive the advice and support that they need to find alternative employment. An application for designated large-scale redundancy status is being prepared that would provide immediate access to Jobcentre Plus jobsearch and training programmes. The regional development agency is also in discussion with South Hams district council about the future employment use of the site. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the Regions in a few days’ time.

Minister for Women

The Minister for Women was asked—

Trafficking of Women

20. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What the timetable is for ratification of the Council of Europe convention against trafficking. [140944]

21. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): When the Government expect to implement article 13 of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings for women victims of trafficking. [140946]

22. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): If she will make a statement on the trafficking of women in the UK. [140947]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): Action Plan, published in March, sets out the actions that the Government are taking to implement the convention. Ratification without full implementation would be an empty gesture. The inter-ministerial group on human trafficking monitors progress on both implementation of the action plan and the convention. In line with convention requirements, we already operate a 30-day reflection and recovery period for victims accepted on to the POPPY project, but we will, of
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course, consider whether there is a need to adopt a longer period. The convention imposes a set of minimum requirements.

Mr. Carmichael: May I urge on the Minister the importance of setting a date for ratification? I appreciate, as she says, that it will impose on the Government certain legislative requirements, but I remind her that the UK Borders Bill, which would be an eminently suitable vehicle for those legislative changes, is currently before the other place. The necessary changes could be made in the Bill.

Meg Munn: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman in particular, and hon. Members across the House more generally, want to know the period over which we will be able to put in place all the actions to ratify the convention. However, I am not able to give a specific date, precisely because a range of issues need to be addressed, all of which will take different amounts of time, so it is not possible to say when exactly we will reach the final point of being able to say that everything has been done. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that we take this issue very seriously. Our action plan sets out exactly what we are going to do, and we will do it as quickly as we can.

Mr. Steen: No. 21, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: A supplementary question would help us to get on.

Mr. Steen: I was just limbering up for it. Is the Minister aware that we need to encourage women who have been trafficked to come forward and give evidence against their traffickers? Bearing in mind that there have been only 30 convictions of traffickers in this country over the last four years, does she agree that a longer reflection period—in France, Germany and Holland, it is 90 days—would encourage more women to come forward, which they are not doing at the moment?

Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As I set out in my answer to this group of questions, we are considering whether a period beyond that minimum should be introduced. I also reassure him that, from my conversations with the head of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, I know that longer periods are allowed in individual situations. I take his point, however, that that may not be having the effect that he seeks because it is not known about more widely. We will certainly consider that point.

John Barrett: What would the Minister say to a number of groups who are increasingly concerned that women who have been trafficked are often treated as criminals rather than victims of crime? What discussions is she having with other Departments on the provisions for those women?

Meg Munn: The point of the United Kingdom action plan on tackling human trafficking was to ensure that the focus shifted from the criminal aspects to the needs of the victims. The inter-ministerial group, which involves all Ministers concerned with this matter,
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meets regularly and monitors the action plan. Together, we are considering what more we need to do to provide for victims.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): May I ask my hon. Friend what the Government are doing about child trafficking?

Meg Munn: Child trafficking is an area of great concern, and we are doing more research on the extent of the problem and how we need to respond. The police have conducted a number of operations to deal with the matter, and we will continue to do more to address the issue.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to work closely with Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe, which, as she knows, is trying to develop a network of places in safe houses across the country to match the Government’s plans?

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend is right, and I have regular contact with that organisation. We are considering how to develop facilities, services and support for victims, and discussions are ongoing in the Department for Communities and Local Government about how to make greater provision for victims in terms of accommodation and support.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister tell the House what work is being done with the Department for International Development? Clearly one of the main issues is to address the source of the problem, so that we do not have to pick up the pieces in the UK. According to my discussions with many non-governmental organisations, more information is needed locally. Many people have been trafficked half-voluntarily, thinking that there would be something good at the end of it, so better education programmes would probably cut some trafficking at source.

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am pleased to say that the Department for International Development has given the issue some priority. It has a strategy on the matter, and its actions in relation to preventing trafficking at source are integral to our UK action plan.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I accept the Minister’s point about the steps that need to be taken prior to ratification. But has the Minister considered best practice in other countries, such as Italy, which has a conviction rate for traffickers four times better than that of the UK, although it too has not ratified?

Meg Munn: Clearly, we want to learn from best practice elsewhere. In that regard, one of the issues is how people are made aware of trafficking. From reading the information gathered by Select Committee members who visited Italy, I know that prostitution there is much more visible, which is not necessarily desirable. Therefore, although we must learn from best practice, we should also ensure that our practice is relevant to this country, and not merely lift wholesale something that works elsewhere.

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Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): The fact that so many questions about this subject are on the Order Paper shows the strength of feeling in the House, and rightly so. Fortunately, there is no need for the moral debate that took place in the times of Wilberforce, because every Member of the House hates the evil of modern slavery, and we all want to stop it. I commend the Government on what they have done so far, but will the Minister tell the House whether they are taking steps to co-ordinate the powers of the various public authorities who have responsibilities in this matter, such as those relating to police, immigration, licensing, health and safety and so on? Only through an orchestrated approach right across the board will we be able to counteract this dreadful, evil crime.

Meg Munn: I entirely agree. That is why, when I talk about trafficking, I refer particularly to the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, which brings together a range of disciplines. The hon. Lady has raised some issues that go beyond what the centre does, but I know that it is aiming for the most effective practice possible, and I believe that through co-ordination—with people working together in the same centre—we can achieve the objectives that she has rightly identified.

Homophobic Bullying

23. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What assessment she has made of the Government's progress in tackling homophobic bullying; and if she will make a statement. [140948]

The Minister for Women (Ruth Kelly): The Government take the issue of homophobic bullying seriously wherever it occurs. We delivered protections from homophobic bullying in the workplace in 2003, and we enforced protections in schools in the “goods and services” regulations which came into force this April. When such bullying amounts to homophobic harassment outside the workplace, the discrimination law review will consider the best way of addressing the real issues that people face.

Simon Hughes: I know that every school must have an anti-bullying policy. Will Ministers consider whether that policy should include a requirement for a specific anti-homophobic bullying element, and also whether one teacher in each school, primary and secondary, should be given responsibility for ensuring that the policy is implemented and effective?

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work in raising the profile of such issues. I know that he and his party have campaigned for precisely such training and attention to the issue in schools. Clearly, homophobic bullying is serious wherever it occurs. To date the Government have decided to take a slightly less bureaucratic approach than the one that the hon. Gentleman suggests by establishing, together with Ofsted, where weak anti-bullying practices are in operation, helping schools to improve their focus on bullying of all kinds, and working with Stonewall to establish how homophobic bullying in particular can best be tackled in a school environment.

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