2 Jan 2005 04:00 AM

The threat of increased premiums for many women drivers has been dropped with under 30's making the biggest savings, thanks to a deal agreed by all Member States in Europe, Women and Equality Minister Jacqui Smith said today.

The EU Gender Directive, giving equal treatment to men and women in goods and services, will still allow UK insurance firms to use gender as a basis of risk if objective data can justify the difference.

Sex discrimination in the UK in goods and services is already illegal under the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act which has been successfully protecting men and women for nearly 30 years. Once the Gender Directive comes into effect, everyone in the 25 Member States will be protected from discrimination on the grounds of gender in a range of areas including:

* Financial services such as banking, insurance and pensions. * Sexual harassment in connection with all types of housing including accommodation and hotels.

Deputy Minister for Women and Equality Jacqui Smith said:

"Gender discrimination is totally unacceptable.

"The rights we've enjoyed in the UK for nearly 30 years will now be enshrined in this Directive for the benefit of all Europeans. This achievement shows how Europe can develop solutions that are good for us all - consumers and business -, when we listen to each other's concerns and share each other's good ideas.

"It's good news on insurance, but this Directive covers much more than that.

"It means that pregnant women in any Member State should not be disadvantaged from getting mortgages because they are pregnant; that married women should be free to get credit without a requirement for their husbands to be guarantors, and that part time workers should be able to apply for loans.

"The Directive will also protect the rights of UK citizens living and working in the EU in the same way as they do under the Sex Discrimination Act in the UK. What's good for the UK is certainly good for Europe."

Notes to Editors

1. The EU Gender Directive is available at:

2. The UK already has comprehensive legislation in this area. The UK 1975 Sex Discrimination Act covers most of the general provisions of the new Directive.

3. The European Commission published the draft Directive which aims to extend the principle of equal treatment between women and men, beyond the field of employment, in the area of access to goods and supply of services, on 5 November 2003. The Directive will require unanimous agreement between Member States.

4. Member States Ministers first considered the proposals at an EU Employment Council on 1 June 2004. The Directive includes the following areas within goods and services:

* services such as banking, insurance and other financial services; * sexual harassment covering all types of housing, including rented accommodation and hotels;
* transport
* services of any profession or trade.

5. All 25 MS gave their agreement at the General and External Affairs Council on 13 December. Most of the provisions will take effect 3 years after the 'entry into force' date which is the date the Directive is published in the Official Journal. This can be 2 - 3 weeks after the date of adoption (13 December).

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