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Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2010

Q7. Before the Prime Minister goes to Her Majesty to ask for the Dissolution of the House, will the Government come before the House and give a statement to Equitable Life victims on when they can expect a fair and reasonable settlement? (313308)

Equitable Life policyholders lost out as a result of mismanagement that went back to the 1980s. There is concern on both sides of the House about that. The hon. Lady knows very well that there has been an ombudsman’s report on the matter, that we have apologised for the regulatory failures that caused loss, and that we have set up a system to establish how there should be ex gratia payments. Sir John Chadwick has got this work under way and will be making his interim findings in the spring.

May I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend that one of the causes of the growth in inequality has been the extension of outsourcing of jobs that were previously done in-house? A class of working people has grown up that no longer qualifies for pensions, sick pay, redundancy pay and all the other things that in the 20th century we used quaintly to associate with civilisation. Is it not time that the Government started to discourage outsourcing?

The transfer of undertakings regulations were designed to give protection where work was transferred out from direct employment in the public sector to the private sector. However, the Equal Opportunities Commission has documented evidence to show that this has acted as a downward pressure on women’s wages and their income in retirement. We are determined to ensure not only that people in public services can give a good service to the public, but that they are fairly treated in employment.

Q8. Balal Khan was this week sentenced to just three years in an institution for a violent rape. Will the Minister refer that disgraceful sentence to the Attorney-General and also investigate the parents and community, to find out how that young man could have such a complete disregard for women’s rights? (313309)

I am sure that the Attorney-General will have drawn to her attention the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, which will give her the opportunity to consider whether she wants to refer that sentence to the courts.

Today is Holocaust memorial day, 65 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the evil of the holocaust is unique, its lessons must be applied to the racism and anti-Semitism of today, so that a better society can be enjoyed by everyone?

I support absolutely what my hon. Friend has said. We in this House regard Holocaust memorial day, which is today, as very important. There will be a debate in the House tomorrow and there is a book of remembrance that can be signed. The work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is very important indeed, but we must also bear in mind the lessons that come out of the holocaust about prejudice, discrimination and anti-Semitism, which we must fight wherever they rear their head in this country.

Q9. It was revealed last week that a company in my constituency had been selling bomb detectors to the Iraqi Government that do not—indeed, cannot—work. If the Government knew about that, why did they wait until the BBC report last Friday to impose an export ban? If they did not know, why were Government agencies so curiously incurious about $85 million-worth of security equipment being sent from the United Kingdom to a war zone? (313310)

I will ask the Business Secretary to respond to the hon. Gentleman in detail on the important issue he has raised.

Q10. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union are making good progress on modernisation and addressing the industrial relations problems that have bedevilled the industry. Can she now say when the Government will sort out the pensions deficit, which needs to be done as a matter of urgency? (313311)

Like my hon. Friend, the Government are strong supporters of the Royal Mail and want it to have a secure and prosperous future at a time of big change. We are committed to the universal service six days a week and to a post office network. We are also committed to changing the regulations to allow more ability to compete, and we obviously want to ensure that the pension liabilities are secure as well.

Each year, 1,000 women die from cervical cancer. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland young women can get screening at the age of 20, yet in 2004 the Government sought to increase the age for women in England to get screening to 25. Why do the Government discriminate in that way, and will they consider redressing that injustice?

We are very concerned indeed to make sure that we prevent, and have early detection for, as many cancers as possible. In that, we ensure that the necessary resources are available but we are guided in the application of those resources by clinical judgments. The hon. Gentleman is no more a scientist than I am; what we have to do is take the best advice and act on it, and make sure that there are the resources to back it. That is why we have trebled investment in the national health service.

Q12. We are desperately short of teachers in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and the situation is likely to get worse as we move again to teaching the sciences separately. What impact does my right hon. and learned Friend expect if we are to recruit only first-class or upper second-class students to teach those subjects? (313313)

I urge my hon. Friend not to worry about that at all, because like so many other Tory policies it will probably be changed by this afternoon. What will be unchanged is our commitment to science, in which my hon. Friend has played a leading role.