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7 Jun 2007 : Column 401

Science Careers

24. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If she will meet the Engineering and Technology Board to discuss the promotion of science, engineering and technology as a career path for women. [140949]

The Deputy Minister for Women and Equality (Meg Munn): The Engineering and Technology 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 should be delighted to meet the Engineering and Technology Board.

Michael Fabricant: I thank the Minister for that helpful answer. As she will know, engineering no longer
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means walking around with a heavy monkey wrench. Although when I used to go to the Soviet Union in the 1980s I would see women engineers with heavy monkey wrenches, nowadays it is much more a question of thought, intelligence and design. Does the Minister not agree that women have a particular skill in engineering and ergonomics—designing what is right for the man-machine, and woman-machine, interface—which makes this an ideal career path?

Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right—although, as he knows, many women do possess the physical strength to carry around various tools. We know from the latest data that 72 per cent. of women with such qualifications are not working in the science, engineering and technology professions, and I hope that everyone involved will do more to return women to those professions, because we need their skills.

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Business of the House

11.33 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for the week commencing 11 June will be as follows:

Monday 11 June—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Iraq inquiry, followed by a debate on carers. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 12 June—Second Reading of the Serious Crime Bill [ Lords].

Wednesday 13 June—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [ Lords].

Thursday 14 June—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Bill, followed by Committee and remaining stages of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill.

Friday 15 June—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 June will include:

Monday 18 June—Remaining stages of the Mental Health Bill [ Lords] (Day 1).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 21 and 28 June and 5 July will be as follows:

Thursday 21 June—A debate on the Shipman inquiry.

Thursday 28 June—A debate on the India country assistance plan.

Thursday 5 July—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on development assistance and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business.

In April, after the British naval personnel were taken hostage by the Iranians, the Secretary of State for Defence ordered two separate reviews—one into the media handling of the incident, and one by Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fulton into the operational lessons learned. Yesterday, Lord Grayson committed to a debate on the Fulton report in the other place. Can we have a debate on that report in this House in Government time before the summer recess? Can we also have a separate debate on the review of the media handling of the incident?

Last night, Conservative, Liberal and Cross-Bench peers voted to create a lifeboat fund for people whose pensions schemes have collapsed. As happened with the votes in this place, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor ordered Labour peers to vote against the proposals, which would have given fair compensation to the 125,000 people who have lost their pensions under this Government. The proposals could be paid for by using unclaimed assets and a Treasury loan, as we did after the Maxwell fiasco, so can we have a debate on why the Chancellor is refusing to help people
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who did the right thing and saved for their pensions, but lost out through no fault of their own?

The current Prime Minister is about to negotiate a European treaty that will have to be ratified by the Prime Minister-designate. The Prime Minister wants to revive parts of the failed EU constitution, including the surrender of the veto in the justice and home affairs pillar. The French Presidents says:

The chairman of the Home Affairs Committee says that there is no evidence to justify

and that it should not be agreed without a full parliamentary debate. May we have such a debate?

Two of Labour's deputy leadership candidates want more taxpayers' money to go to the unions. The Solicitor-General said:

and the Labour party chairman said:

Last year, unions received £3 million of taxpayers' money through that fund. In the rest of the year, those same unions gave £4.3 million to the Labour party. In the next few years, a further £7 million of taxpayers' money will be given to the unions, who will continue to fund the Labour party. May we have a debate on back-door funding of the Labour movement?

Finally, last month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that home information packs would be delayed until August, and then would not be needed for all houses. Imagine the surprise, therefore, for readers of “South West Property Magazine” when they saw an advertisement saying that

Who is the advert from? A confused estate agent? An uninformed property consultant? No; it comes from Her Majesty's Government. Just when homeowners thought that HIPs could not get any more confusing, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Planning have done it again—the Laurel and Hardy of the property market. May we have a statement on how much taxpayers' money was wasted on those erroneous and misleading advertisements?

Mr. Straw: I recognise the importance of a debate on the Fulton report and the associated Hall report about the media. I cannot make a promise, but I will consider whether it is possible for there to be an occasion when those can be debated. I will also consider an oral statement on the reports.

On the right hon. Lady’s second point—the decision of the other place yesterday in respect of pensions—if it were as easy and simple as she and her party are suggesting to use the so-called unclaimed assets, I am almost certain that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would have accepted that. The truth, however, is that it is not. It is highly irresponsible to pretend that those assets can be used in that way. As was made clear by Lord Turnbull, a Cross-Bench peer and former permanent secretary at the Treasury and a
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Cabinet Secretary, if the so-called unclaimed assets were used in the way proposed, that would be a fraud on hundreds of thousands of holders of with-profits schemes who typically have far lower pensions than they will get as a result of the proposals, to which we have already agreed, to bail out the failed pension schemes. What the right hon. Lady proposes is not a wise move, and it is further proof that the Conservative party is still in Opposition mode and has no sense of the sort of decisions that it must make if it is to mount a serious bid to be elected to Government.

On the European treaty, and as has been made clear time and again, any decisions made in principle in negotiations at the European Council will then be subject to a formal intergovernmental conference—as they must be as it is an international treaty and not just another European Union instrument—and after that to a full parliamentary debate in this House. The German presidency and others have already made it clear that they have no intention of seeking to revive the 300-plus pages version of the EU constitution. They are talking about amending treaties to make the EU more efficient, which is in our interest. If the right hon. Lady had read the Home Affairs Committee report, rather than just a selective quotation, she would know that it says—to paraphrase—that there could be merit in this country being involved in qualified majority voting in certain areas of justice and home affairs. That would be better than the current situation of informal groupings of countries making decisions over which we cannot have any control.

The right hon. Lady’s point about the trade unions was an example of the old Tory party, as it was a wholly unjustifiable attack on the movement— [Interruption.] I am glad to note that the rest of the Tory party is equally unreconstructed, because there are millions of trade unionists who do not pay the Labour party levy but who are keen on their union. To offend those millions of people, as well as those who voluntarily pay the political levy, is an error by the Conservative party. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was one partisan attack after another on the trade unions. The Conservative party is the only party that has ever sought to change adversely the funding of another party without doing anything about its own funding. I had thought that there was a general consensus to leave things where they were following the 1992 decisions. I am sorry to note that that is not the case.

On a lighter note, I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for drawing to my attention an advertisement in the “South West Property Magazine”. I had not seen it because I live in SE and we do not get that magazine posted through our doors as we are on the wrong side of the tracks—SW starts just down the road.

Mrs. May: South-west as in Devon, Dorset and Cornwall.

Mr. Straw: All the more reason why I have not seen it. Now that the advertisement has been drawn to my attention, I will examine it, and I rather feel that a south-west Member of whatever party might ask a parliamentary question about its cost.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time about protection for temporary and agency workers? Last month, in the
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pages of my local press, I asked people who believed that they had been discriminated against because of their temporary or agency status to get in touch with me. I have since been contacted by a number of constituents who want and, indeed, need such protection. This is not a small or unimportant issue, and I think that we need a serious debate.

Mr. Straw: I recognise the importance of the issue, not just to my hon. Friend but to many people, and I will certainly give consideration to whether there should be a debate on the Adjournment in Westminster Hall.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a good to have confirmation that for the Government “south-west” means south-west London and no further. I note that a statement by the Home Secretary is to follow. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that means that a terrorism Bill and, probably, a criminal justice Bill will not now be introduced in this Session? Will he give the House an assurance that if they are introduced very late this Session, they will not be subject to the carry-over procedures?

Revelations in The Guardian today and further evidence in “Panorama” next week on the al-Yamamah affair suggest that we need a statement by the Secretary of State for Defence on whether his Department connived in breaches, or potential breaches, of corruption legislation and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that statement is made and will he ensure, too, that the extant National Audit Office reports are published?

May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about his current view—I say “current” because it is evolving—of the generous tax relief afforded by taper relief on capital gains tax, which enables private equity entrepreneurs to pay as little as 10 per cent. tax on their very generous income while their cleaners, on little more than the national minimum wage, pay 20 per cent.? Is that really Labour party policy? Lastly, may we have a debate on the Government’s attitude to freedom of information? For once, that does not relate to the private Member’s Bill, but to the decision by the Office of Government Commerce to destroy the gateway review documents on the cost of identity cards and other misdirected and mismanaged IT schemes, in defiance of the Information Commissioner and the information tribunal. One gateway reviewer said that the order to destroy the reports was

That applies to many aspects of government, but we need clarification of precisely whether the Government support their own legislation on freedom of information.

Mr. Straw: First, I abjectly apologise to the House— [ Interruption. ]—and to the south-west. I made the error of thinking that because the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) represents a constituency not far from south-west London, but a very long way from south-west England
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Interruption. ] I used to be expert on the counties of Britain—and I still am—but I am happy to have a geography lesson.

On the second point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about Bills, I am sorry that I cannot give him the precise undertakings for which he asked. Let us wait and see what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has to say. If appropriate, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

On the hon. Gentleman’s third question about BAE and the al-Yamamah contract, I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this morning, namely, that he was

I endorse what he went on to say:

My right hon. Friend explained why he thought that it was not.

I say to the hon. Gentleman—and to the House, too—that it is worth the Liberal Democrat party, in particular, noting the judgment in the administrative court at the end of last week by Mr. Justice Collins, who, in respect of an application for judicial review of the decision to suspend that investigation, said that the application was “wholly unarguable”, and he dismissed it.

I note what the hon. Gentleman had to say on taper relief, and I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On freedom of information, my understanding is that the gateway reviews have not been destroyed, but given that the hon. Gentleman and his party supported the Freedom of Information Act 2000, they need to bear in mind that it does not say that anybody who wishes to get information from a public authority may automatically have it made available. The Act provides a whole series of exemptions, which are there, among other things, to ensure the proper functioning of government. In the unlikely event of the Liberal Democrats ever—ever—being in government, they would find the same thing, too.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on funding for training in prisons? When Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons last visited Woodhill prison in my constituency, she was very critical of the lack of training and workshop provision. She is due to visit again this September, but she will find that the new workshops, which were planned for October 2006, are unlikely to be funded until April 2008. That is a wholly unsatisfactory situation and means that prisoners in Woodhill are not receiving the training that they need for rehabilitation.

Mr. Straw: I will give consideration to such a debate and ensure that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is made fully aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns.

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