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Female Entrepreneurs

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 25 June 2009

The Government recognise the vital contribution that women entrepreneurs are making in building our economy. Women-led businesses contribute £45 billion to the UK economy. Women can get advice and support through the Business Link network. In addition, we are funding a network of women’s enterprise ambassadors to inspire more women to start their own business, and piloting women’s business centres that provide specific business advice.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that many female entrepreneurs employ agency workers? Such workers very often enjoy their flexibility and, indeed, are well paid. They are very concerned about the EU agency workers directive, so can the Minister confirm that the Government are still broadly sceptical about the directive and that they will ensure proper and full consultation?

I commend the hon. Gentleman for the particular interest he has shown in this matter over a number of months. He is right that consultation on the directive is ongoing—it closes on 31 July. Those who wish to have an input into our response may do so in Exeter, Birmingham, Glasgow and London over the next month or so. We intend to ensure that flexibility still remains for agency workers while protecting their rights, which is another important consideration.

I think my hon. Friend would agree that a lot of people are forced into becoming an agency worker. It was clear that the people who lost their jobs at the Mini factory in Oxfordshire had no rights and no way of defending themselves, and the reason why they could be sacked overnight was that they were forced into agency working. The fact is that that is not a way forward or a solution that we should support.

I agree that some people do not choose to be agency workers but have that chosen for them. The directive and our policy are driven by a desire to ensure not only flexibility but fairness. Protection in employment is just as important as flexibility. The trick is to get the balance right, and we intend to do that.