HC Deb 26 January 1998 vol 305 cc114-5W
Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will make a statement on her Department's plans and priorities for the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union. [23956]

Mr. Keith Bradley

The Department's priorities will complement the key themes of the UK Presidency, including promoting employability and tackling unemployment, creating a more effective Single Market and bringing the European Union closer to the needs of its people.

In the Council of Ministers we want to work with our EU partners to reach agreement on Social Security measures which will improve the mobility of the European Union's workers and support the Single Market. The proposed directive on supplementary pensions which is before the Council offers sensible measures to protect pension rights for employed and self-employed people who move within the EU to take up a job in another Member State. We will also be working towards agreement on ways to modernise and improve the long-standing rules that co-ordinate the interaction of member states' statutory Social Security schemes in support of the free movement of workers.

The theme of employability is central to the UK presidency and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women will therefore be chairing a meeting of EU Ministers for Women to be held in Belfast on 5–6 May to specifically look at issues which affect Women's Employability. This puts women at the heart of the plans for the UK presidency. The theme will be "Employability and Women—the importance of Childcare" and the meeting will also consider the importance of family friendly employment. We look forward to being able to share with Member States the initiatives that we are taking forward here on family-friendly employment as well as the National Childcare Strategy. We also expect to gain new insights and ideas from other participating members. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security and my hon. Friend the Minister for Women will also address the Women's Rights Committee of the European Parliament on 2 February.