HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 cc17-8
18. Dr. Gibson

What steps the Ministers for Women are taking on European Union-wide initiatives during the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union. [29092]

Ms Ruddock

In addition to what I told my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), the Ministers for Women are urging all member states to address women's needs for family-friendly employment policies and child care in their national employment action plans. We also want to tackle all forms of violence against women. During our presidency, we are urging member states to work at a national level to raise awareness of that issue.

Dr. Gibson

What steps is my hon. Friend taking to persuade employers to set up workplace facilities for child care? She will know that many European countries have moved ahead faster than us on this. Will she tell us about the training of people employed in workplace child care facilities? Does she agree that at least a minimum wage would be proper remuneration for such people?

Ms Ruddock

We are concerned about the provision of child care and to ensure choice. Provision by employers is very welcome. We are aware of provision in other nations. We shall study those issues at our conference in Belfast. Quality and training are key to our national child care strategy. A considerable consultation exercise is under way to ensure that the child care provided is good for child development and gives a safe environment. Child caring should be properly remunerated. The minimum wage will give recognition to those who undertake that worthwhile and sometimes taxing work.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will the hon. Lady take the useful initiative with her European counterparts of trying to find out why the majority of European Union countries have a lower rate of divorce than the United Kingdom? Those lower divorce rates result in less damaging and traumatic experiences for children and a lower cost to the social security budget. If she can discover the reasons, will the Government try to do something about them through their social policies?

Ms Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are different cultural patterns—and that there have been different developments—across Europe. Many of us regret that divorce rates are rising throughout Europe. This country is not unique in that. We have learnt many things in our meetings, but such personal issues will not be brought into the European conferences that I have referred to.