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Malcolm Wicks: We obviously have looked at the impact on small businesses. It is a producer responsibility, but I am encouraged that such a large number of distributors—over 2,500—have already joined the take-back scheme. The costs are relatively small, but the environmental impact will be vast and in the right direction. I am encouraged by the fact that most small companies recognise the importance of that
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scheme. Their customers want to move away from the throwaway society. People who are recycling their newspapers, bottles and plastics want to recycle electrical goods. The directive puts that into place in Great Britain.

Richard Ottaway: As a fellow Croydon Member, may I welcome the Minister to his new brief? He has done well in the past and I am sure that he will do well in the future.

I turn to the WEEE directive. Does he agree that it is essential that those regulations do not threaten our international competitiveness? To what extent has he done a comparison with the regulations in other European countries, and to what extent do our regulations differ from the European regulations?

Malcolm Wicks: We took a little while to introduce the scheme because we wanted to get it right. Offering producers and retailers who are producers the opportunity to join a take-back scheme, rather than their having to handle electrical waste in their own stores, is a move in the right direction. It is encouraging that new companies are springing up that see a commercial opportunity in recycling such waste, and that local authorities such as Croydon are turning what used to be known as the local dump into recycling centres, as evidenced by the excellent Purley Oaks recycling centre in my neighbourhood and the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): The regulations are welcome, but is the emphasis on recycling such products or on their being reused? If they can be reused, that is preferable to recycling them.

Malcolm Wicks: Voluntary organisations and local charities are making efforts in that regard. I have seen for myself in the great borough of Croydon how a voluntary organisation can perform minor repairs and maintenance on a washing machine that has been flung out and thereby make it ready for use by people who are being re-housed or low income families. There is also a substantial market in materials such as scrap metal. Environmentally and commercially, the measures are a major step in the right direction.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): If your parliamentary kettle were to break down, Mr. Speaker, it might well be sent abroad—to Poland, for example—to be repaired. That is an unintended consequence of the WEEE regulations, as they impose a levy on damaged goods which makes them more expensive to repair in this country. Will the Minister consider modifying the regulations so that British companies can repair and resell such goods in this country?

Malcolm Wicks: We will, of course, keep that under close review. The measures have been in operation for only a few days, and I have no doubt that we will need to revisit certain aspects of them. Their overall direction is absolutely right, however. There is a statistic that is worth highlighting: each of us during our lifetime throws away 1 or perhaps 2 tonnes of goods such as kettles, toasters and white goods. We must stop that; we must move away from being a throwaway society to being an environmentally conscious society, and we are doing so.

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Wind Farms

7. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): If he will review the noise limits for onshore wind farms. [147642]

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Malcolm Wicks): We continue to support the approach set out in planning policy statement—PPS—22 on renewable energy, which is for local planning authorities to

using the 1997 report by the energy technology support unit to assess and rate noise from wind energy developments. I do not consider that a review of that guidance is justified at present.

Mr. Whittingdale: Is the Minister aware of the growing evidence that people who live in close proximity to wind turbines suffer significant risks of adverse health effects? Will he give urgent consideration to increasing the minimum separation distance from large turbines to at least 2 km, and is he aware that this is another reason why my constituents in Bradwell and Tillingham are utterly opposed to the proposal to build 10 400 ft wind turbines within a mile of their homes?

Malcolm Wicks: No, I am not aware of such evidence, and I do not believe that it exists. A Government-commissioned Hayes McKenzie study published in 2006 concluded that there was no evidence of adverse health effects from wind turbines. We are aware that there are myths and concerns, and we have established a noise working group, which I have asked to meet quietly along the corridor. [Interruption.] I cannot do Digby jokes, but I can do that one. Among the members of that group are the authors of the report to which I have referred and other acoustic experts. Its remit is to advise Government on the specific issue of aerodynamic modulation, not to review the existing guidance. It is up to local planning authorities to make their own judgments on smaller wind turbine developments.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): May I support my hon. Friend’s general point and ask the Minister whether he will conduct an assessment of the environmental impact of these monstrous things and their effect on our tourism revenue?

Malcolm Wicks: Some people find them beautiful and others find them irksome. One study showed that 81 per cent. of the general public were in favour of wind power and that 62 per cent. would be happy to live within 3 miles of wind power development. Obviously, it is for local planning authorities to make their own judgments, but I am bound to say that it would be sad if we had a Parliament that says no to nuclear, no to gas storage and no to wind turbines. The people of Britain want the lights to turn on and their kettles to boil.

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8. Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): What plans he has to increase the contractual freedom afforded to sub-postmasters; and if he will make a statement. [147643]

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. Pat McFadden): Sub-postmasters are private business people who operate 97 per cent. of the 14,000 post offices in the network. They are free to develop their associated retail businesses and to pursue commercial arrangements with who ever they want, so long as the products provided are not in direct competition with the key Post Office products that provide income to support the network.

Mr. Binley: May I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment? It is interesting to learn that brother Digby is now taking holy orders. I wonder whether he might take ministerial orders; it will be interesting to see. The Minister will know that sub-postmasters are concerned about the terms of their contract, which are vague. They are uncertain as to their freedoms in this respect and they have a real need for greater help and support to allow them to develop new areas of business. What plans does the Post Office have to answer those concerns?

Mr. McFadden: We are in dialogue with the Post Office about all that it can do to support sub-postmasters in their efforts to diversify and to grow and expand their businesses. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this is a competitive environment. A number of sub-post offices are under pressure, as the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) said, but the Post Office will take this action with a mind to the products offered in sub-post offices that provide them with their own revenue.

Minister for Women

The Minister for Women was asked—

Human Trafficking

17. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): What progress has been made by the interdepartmental ministerial group on human trafficking on implementing the action points from the action plan in relation to the protection of trafficked women. [147655]

The Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman): Since the UK action plan on human trafficking was published in March, we have done further work with the countries of origin to protect against human trafficking, to support the victims of human trafficking in this country, and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators—the human traffickers.

Mr. Steen: When she has the next ministerial interdepartmental meeting, will the right hon. and learned Lady raise the recent discovery that trafficked women are being forced to have contraceptive implants in their arms and legs without their consent? Will she also see that health workers and doctors are advised of this, so that the police can pursue the gangs that are doing it?

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Ms Harman: I know that the hon. Gentleman has been one of the foremost Members in this House in raising this important issue. I am not quite clear whether he is talking about the implanting of contraceptives that is taking place in this country.

Mr. Steen: Yes.

Ms Harman: One important point about the interdepartmental ministerial group working on human trafficking is that it includes representation from the Department of Health. I will make sure that it discusses the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and I shall perhaps report back to him in writing.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I most warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend and her colleagues to the Front Bench; it is a great pleasure to see her there. On my recent visit to Ukraine, where the trafficking of women is a serious problem, one concern that emerged was the lack of resources in this country—aside from the POPPY project—and the lack of rape crisis centres, which means that many women are being sent back to Ukraine, only to be re-victimised and to then end up back in this country. Will she look into that issue and ensure that there are proper resources, so that these women can be safeguarded when they arrive—finally and safely—in this country?

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for her warm welcome for me to my new post. I have regarded as very important the work that I have been able to do with her over the years as she has worked consistently on the issue of violence against women. She raises the important point of re-victimisation of women who go back to their own country but are then re-trafficked. That shows the importance of joining up the work of the voluntary sector—she mentioned the POPPY project—the immigration authorities, the police and the Foreign Office, which works in the countries of origin. It is a major problem of organised crime, involving hundreds of millions of pounds, and we need to work together on it.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I, too, welcome the right hon. and learned Lady to this, the fourth of her new jobs, albeit one that is usually shared with other roles. I join her in paying tribute to the work that has been done on this issue by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). We should all be concerned about the modern-day slavery that is human trafficking. It is a sickening and appalling trade in human beings. All hon. Members welcomed the Government’s signing of the convention on action against trafficking in human beings, but they still have not ratified it. When do the Government intend to ratify it and will she update the House on what specific policy changes have been made as a result of signing the convention?

Ms Harman: Signing the convention reflects the work that has been done with countries of origin to tackle the demand side of human trafficking in this country to protect victims and prosecute offenders. I was Solicitor-General for four years and I know that compared to many other European countries, this country has done a great deal to tackle the problem of human trafficking.

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I welcome the right hon. Lady to her position as shadow Minister for Women. Like me, she will combine the important work of that role with Leader of the House work.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): How many prosecutions have there been of men who have paid for sex with trafficked women?

Ms Harman: I cannot give my right hon. Friend the figures—[Hon. Members: “Thirty”.] I am assisted by Opposition Members who say “Thirty”. My hon. Friend raises an important point. Sex without consent is illegal: it is the crime of rape. Too often, the practice has been that the victims are supported and the traffickers prosecuted—rightly so—but the punters, the clients paying for sex with the women who have been abducted and brought to this country, are told to go on their way. We should recognise that if we tackle the demand side of this evil trade, we will go a long way. I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that issue, and we will keep a firm focus and work with the prosecutors on it.


18. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What assessment she has made of the impact of plans to close Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tax offices on women employees of those offices. [147656]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Barbara Follett) rose—

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Barbara Follett: I thank the House for that welcome. Since its merger in 2005, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service has been reviewing its extensive estate in the light of future business requirements. However, before a final decision is taken to close any office, including the one in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, the impact on customers, staff and the wider community has to be assessed. That includes the examination of equality issues such as gender.

Mr. Hollobone: I believe that the intended closure of the tax office in Kettering will be discriminatory against the largely female work force. Of 78 staff, 58 are women and 32 work part-time. They simply will not be able to relocate to the alternatives being put forward in Northampton or Leicester and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary liaised with her colleagues in the Treasury to stop that closure.

Barbara Follett: I shall be most happy to do what the hon. Gentleman asks. I commend him on the work that he has done, in this House and outside, to represent his constituents. They must be very pleased, especially those in Cytringan house and Montagu court. HMRC is committed to ensuring that women and other groups do not suffer when tax offices are closed. I stress that no decision to close the Kettering office has yet been taken, and that consultations in the London area produced quite a large change in the closure programme. Therefore, he should persist.

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Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): May I welcome my hon. Friend to her new role, which is both well deserved and long overdue, especially given her commitment to equalities in this country and in South Africa? The possible closure of HMRC offices may affect my constituents as well. Will any change mean extra travel for the women involved, and will they be able to do the same sort of work in offices elsewhere?

Barbara Follett: One aspect of the impact assessment that is made is the effect on travel, which is quite considerable in the case of the Kettering office. All staff will have individual meetings with their managers to assess their travel requirements and to make sure that they do not affect their work-life balance. Finally, I thank my hon. Friend for her kind comments.

Gender Dysphoria

19. Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): How the Government are promoting equality for people with gender dysphoria; and if she will make a statement. [147657]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Barbara Follett): The Government are committed to promoting equality for people with gender dysphoria. Since April 2007, the duty on public authorities to eliminate sex discrimination has underpinned the specific legal protections for transsexual people in the workplace that we introduced in 1999. We are now consulting on ways to extend those protections.

Chris McCafferty: May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on her promotion, and welcome her to the Dispatch Box? Is she aware of the huge disparity in the ability of transgender people in the UK to access treatment and surgery? In her new role, will she liaise with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure equality for all transgender people nationwide across the UK?

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Barbara Follett: I am aware of the disparity to which my hon. Friend refers, and she will know all too well that responsibility for this matter rests currently with individual primary care trusts. However, I am already working across Government, and with the Department of Health in particular, to improve access to treatment and surgery for the trans community. The Department of Health has a programme of work that is aimed specifically at better meeting their needs.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): This is the last time that I will be speaking to the House in the role of my party’s spokesperson for women and equality. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] May I add my congratulations to the Minister, and wish her very well in her new role? Also, I want to place on record my thanks to her predecessor, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), who is now Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. She worked in an extremely positive way with me and with Conservative spokespeople on these matters.

I congratulate the Government on their proposals in respect of transsexuals. They are defined as people who have had, or seek, gender reassignment surgery, but that definition does not cover the vast majority of trans people, who do not want surgery. Why is no protection in place or planned to cover the majority of trans people who are not seeking surgery?

Barbara Follett: First, I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words, and I commend her for the work that she has done in this House on women and equality issues. I shall also convey what she said to my predecessor.

I agree that a great deal of work remains to be done in respect of the trans community. The Government and the Department of Health are trying to secure basic rights for the people in that community. After that, consultations will be held with them on the other issues that need to be addressed, one of which is the matter to which the hon. Lady referred.

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