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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 26 November 2015

Attorney General

The Attorney General was asked—

Syria: Legality of Airstrikes

1. If he will publish his legal advice on the legality of the UK carrying out airstrikes in Syria in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution on that matter. (902342)

9. If he will publish his legal advice on the legality of the UK carrying out airstrikes in Syria in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution on that matter. (902350)

It is a long-standing convention that Law Officers’ advice is not published. However, as hon. Members will know, the Prime Minister is setting out today the case for taking further action in Syria, and he will also set out the legal basis for doing do.

I thank the Attorney General for that answer, and I hope that the Scottish media are listening on this issue of the publication of legal advice with respect to the Scottish Parliament. I welcome the fact that there will be some disclosure later on. I understand convention, but I still think full disclosure of legal advice should be given rather than made a part of the Prime Minister’s statement. We need to learn the lessons from Iraq, when the Government of the day went backwards and forwards on legal advice until they got the answer they wanted. I therefore ask again for full disclosure.

As I say, the hon. Gentleman will see that the legal basis for action is, in the Government’s view, set out in what the Prime Minister intends to say. Indeed, he has responded as he said he would to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, and that response has been published this morning for all Members to see. As for the legal advice that the Law Officers give, it can be argued that the convention is there for very good reason. There are essentially two reasons. The first is to enable legal advice to be given to Government in a frank and open way, which is best done when advice is not published; and secondly, of course, the legal advice the Law Officers give is part of the collective responsibility of Cabinet decision-making. Again, there are good reasons for not publishing it on those grounds.

Does the Attorney General not realise that in an open and transparent democracy, it is really not good enough to rely on convention? For the House to understand the legal basis on which bombing may begin, it is vital for Members to be trusted with this information, so I appeal to the Attorney General to reverse his decision.

As I say, Members on both sides will have the chance to understand what the legal basis for the Government’s proposals will be, but there is a distinction to be made between the Government’s legal basis for action and the precise advice that Law Officers give. For the reasons I have explained, I do not think it sensible in what is undoubtedly an open and transparent democracy to publish that advice.

In the absence of United Nations Security Council resolution 2249, there are still arguments that airstrikes are legal. Does the Attorney General agree that, in the light of that resolution, the legal case has been strengthened?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that there were legal grounds for action in the absence of a Security Council resolution. Such a resolution is not necessary, in my view, to justify action of this kind. It is, of course, extremely useful that what the UN Security Council resolution clearly does is underline the logic for action in the way that we are setting out today. I agree with my hon. Friend.

The Attorney General may say it is not necessary, but does he think it would be better if a chapter 7 resolution explicitly endorsing military action against ISIS was passed at the United Nations? Have the Government made any attempts to achieve such a resolution, and which countries do the Government believe would block it?

My hon. Friend will realise, of course, that that particular resolution was secured with the unanimous support of the Security Council. What it indicates is that all necessary measures should be taken in order to counter ISIL. As I have said, it is important to recognise that the legal basis for action here, which the Prime Minister will set out today, is not dependent on the presence of a Security Council resolution, but I think that what has been agreed in the Security Council underlines the case that we are making, which is that action should be taken and that there is a lawful basis for doing so.

President Hollande has said that France is at war with Daesh, but my understanding is that no one has formally declared war on anyone. Will the Attorney General advise the House on the merits and demerits of a formal declaration of war?

I think we must be very careful not to dignify Daesh with a status it does not deserve. It seems to me very clear that what we are doing here is setting out a basis under which this country is entitled to defend itself from what constitutes an armed attack, or the threat of such, not just from other states, but from terrorist organisations. In my view, Daesh falls firmly into the latter camp.

Hate Crimes against Disabled People

2. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve the conviction rate for hate crimes against disabled people. (902343)

The Crown Prosecution Service recently revised its disability hate crime legal guidance for prosecutors. As part of its ongoing commitment to achieving meaningful improvement in disability hate crime prosecutions, it has mandated that disability hate crime training for all prosecutors should be completed by the end of the year.

What contacts have been made between disability interest groups and governmental agencies to foster a better approach to the addressing of hate crime?

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that, along with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People and the Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, I recently set up and took part in a ministerial round table with Government agencies and the third sector to deal with precisely that issue. We gave particular attention to issues such as victim support, the quality of reporting, and confidence among members of the disability community about the way in which the criminal justice system treats them.

In October, the Police Service of Northern Ireland launched an online campaign after 44 disability hate crimes were recorded over a six-month period. Two years ago, the PSNI contacted the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability—of which the Solicitor General will know—which has set up an advocacy scheme to help disabled people to gain access to the criminal justice system. Does the Solicitor General feel that he should consider similar action?

I commend the work of Leonard Cheshire Disability. In 2012, 65,000 cases involving a disability hate element in England and Wales were recorded in the national crime survey, but there is a big gap between that figure and the number of prosecutions, and I want that to change.

I may be bending the supplementary matter a little, Mr Speaker, but what steps is the Crown Prosecution Service taking to ensure the reliability of evidence relating to crimes allegedly committed 30 to 40 years ago?

No, that is not a stretching of the question; it is a departure from it. Ingenious, but flawed on this occasion.

The sad reality is that hate crime is a growing problem. A young Muslim woman, Ruhi Rehman, was racially abused when travelling on the metro in my home town of Newcastle on Saturday. Thankfully, her attacker was chased off by outraged passengers, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have “Geordie angels”. More than 27% of prosecutions for hate crimes are currently failing because of victim issues, a significant rise since 2010. Do the Government share my concern that victims are being let down, and that serious crimes are going unpunished as a result?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that case. When I attended a hate crime training conference at the College of Policing a few weeks ago, not only disability hate crime but the type of hate crime to which she has referred was very much on the agenda. She will be glad to know that the CPS is enhancing training for all the leaders in their regions, which I think will result in a renewed emphasis on the need to make victims confident that the system will work for them rather than against them.

Communications Data (Use in Prosecutions)

4. What assessment he has made of the importance of communications data in securing prosecutions. (902345)

Communications data are an essential form of evidence used in prosecutions across the full spectrum of criminal offences, including terrorism, serious and organised crime, child sexual abuse, murder and rape. It is important for that capability to be maintained and modernised, which is why the Government have published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

In the light of that, does the Attorney General agree that we need to continue to improve our communications data capability?

I do agree with my hon. and learned Friend. It is important to recognise that the cases in which evidence of this kind is very significant range well beyond terrorism cases. For example, some 95% of CPS investigations of serious and organised crime involve communications data.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that any agency of Government, or indeed Parliament, such as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, should not seek to protect its most senior management from legal action and/or prosecution by claiming that communications data are no longer available after 30 days, but instead should strive to be completely transparent and, when receiving requests for such data, make them available?

Mr Speaker, I am sure you would not want me to wade into the details of that case, and I am obviously not in a position to do so anyway, but I would say that all organisations should take very seriously their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and all other legislation.

In addition to the offences to which my right hon. and learned Friend has already alluded, could communications data not also help secure prosecutions in areas such as stalking and sexual grooming?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a large range of offences to which this might be relevant—essentially, types of offending where whether someone communicated with another person and where they were when they did so is relevant. One can think of conspiracies of all kinds, cases involving paedophile rings or drug-smuggling operations, harassment, which he mentioned, witness intimidation or even something as diverse as insider trading. There is a huge range of offending that we need to deal with in this way.

12. The outrage on the streets of Paris and the seven foiled plots that have kept people safe in the UK show there should be no safe place online for terrorists and those who wish to do us harm. What additional measures can be taken to make sure that everyone in the UK remains safe from this threat? (902354)

Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not sustainable to have a situation where a terrorist atrocity plotted by telephone can be understood and intercepted but one plotted over WhatsApp cannot. The measures in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill are entirely necessary, therefore, to avoid the kinds of atrocities he describes.

Stalking and Harassment Cases

5. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service has taken to enable its prosecutors effectively to prosecute stalking and harassment cases. (902346)

The CPS launched a joint stalking protocol with the police in September 2014, and has revised its legal guidance to prosecutors and delivered training on the new stalking offences, which led to a 15.1% rise in the level of prosecutions last year. The CPS continues to work closely with the police and voluntary sector to increase and improve prosecutions.

The national stalking helpline responded to 2,800 calls last year and frequently speaks to victims of stalking and harassment where restraining orders are not given or where ineffective restraining orders are given following a trial. It already takes the average victim 100 incidents of harassment before they go to the police. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that stalking and harassment are serious offences that can lead to serious sexual assault and violent offences, including murder? What more can be done to address this serious and often hidden problem?

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the seriousness of stalking—it is no joke—and I join her in commending the work of the organisation she mentioned. The CPS legal guidance on this crime urges prosecutors to apply for restraining orders on conviction and, where appropriate, on acquittal too. It is vital that we deal with this serious crime in a way that protects victims and deters perpetrators.

There is concern that the new stalking provisions are not being used and that harassment provisions are being used instead. Will my hon. and learned Friend indicate that the seriousness of the offence should be reflected in the use of stalking charges rather than harassment charges?

My hon. Friend speaks with experience from her practice in criminal law. I was a member of the all-party group on stalking and harassment, together with Mr Elfyn Llwyd, the former Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and we said then it was vital that the law be used to its full extent. There is a non-exhaustive list of types of stalking behaviour. This means that prosecutors and the police should be looking at such cases in a wide way and applying the full extent of the law wherever appropriate.

Human Rights Act 1998

6. What discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on developing proposals for reform of the Human Rights Act 1998. (902347)

I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss important issues of common interest, including on domestic and international human rights law. I cannot talk about the legal content of those discussions, because, as the House knows, by convention, whether Law Officers have given advice is not disclosed outside Government.

Does the Attorney General agree with his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who said that the European convention on human rights is

“the single most important legal and political instrument for promoting human rights on our planet”?

As I have said a number of times, I have no quarrel whatever with the wording of the European convention on human rights; what I disagree with is the way in which that document has subsequently been interpreted by the Strasbourg Court. That is what the Government want to do something about.

14. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), a former Justice Minister and, in the week, a resident of Acton, has said:“I would definitely not want Britain to withdraw from the Convention because it would appear as though the UK was no longer as committed to Human Rights as it in fact is. This would damage our country’s reputation.” Just how will the Attorney General ensure that the Government’s plans to scrap the convention will not weaken the rights of the ordinary British citizen? (902356)

Again, it is important to be clear about what we are talking about. There is a distinction to be made between the Human Rights Act, which we fully intend to get rid of, and the convention, which we do not intend to leave unless we have to. We must do something to ensure that decisions on, for example, who has the franchise in British elections are taken by this House and not by the Court in Strasbourg. Those are the decisions we need to do something about. Of course this country will remain committed to human rights, with or without the Human Rights Act.

I must also point out to the hon. Lady that the Conservative party, in government, has been responsible not only for reducing the length of pre-charge detention to 28 days and for abolishing identity cards—both in response to illiberal measures passed by a Labour Government—but for introducing the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and many other things that clearly demonstrate our commitment to human rights.

That is extremely helpful, but I have concluded over a period that prolixity and lawyers are inseparable.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, if we repealed the Human Rights Act—and even if we withdrew from the European convention on human rights—there is no provision whatever in the statute of the Council of Europe that would automatically force the United Kingdom to leave the Council of Europe?

We will be discussing with our fellow members of the Council of Europe how we might reach a better settlement in relation to the Strasbourg Court’s jurisprudence. In those discussions, I fully expect that other members of the Council of Europe will wish us to remain within the organisation.

Can the Attorney General reassure the House that a British Bill of Rights would not only protect our existing rights, which are essential in a modern democratic society, but protect us against abuse of the system and the misuse of human rights laws?

I do think that that is the objective. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that there is a real danger to support for human rights, which we wish to see as widespread and full-throated in this country, if it appears to many of our constituents that the concept is being abused through the sorts of cases that none of us fully believes to be genuine human rights cases. We must do something about that.

As part of developing these proposals, the question of whether the new British Bill of Rights will have legal application in Scotland is absolutely crucial to Scotland’s constitutional settlement. Can the Attorney General give me an indication of whether it will apply in Scotland, and if it will, does he agree that a legislative consent motion would be required from the Scottish Parliament to give it that legal application?

The hon. Gentleman and I have already discussed the question of consultation with the Scottish authorities, and I am fully in favour—as are colleagues in the Ministry of Justice—of ensuring that the devolved Administrations are fully engaged in that consultation process. As to whether a legislative consent motion would be required, that would depend entirely on the nature of the proposals. We have not yet seen them, and it is important that we should consider them properly when we do.

Crown Prosecution Service: Funding

7. What steps he has taken to ensure that the measures relating to the Law Officers Department in the comprehensive spending review enable the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute cases effectively. (902348)

Throughout the spending review process, I have been keen to ensure that, while saving money wherever possible, the CPS received sufficient funding to prosecute its current case load effectively. I believe that the settlement we have achieved does indeed do that, and I particularly welcome the £4.4 million that has been ring-fenced for the CPS counter-terrorism division, which will nearly double in size, and the extra funding provided to recruit 100 additional prosecutors to deal with serous sexual offences.

Should I need to declare an interest, I should tell the House that I was the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for five years, from 2008 to 2013.

One of the reasons that the CPS has coped well with the cuts in the past five years is that the case load of referrals from the police has gone down. What level of assurance can the Attorney General give me that if the case load goes up significantly or becomes more complex, further funding will be made available to enable the CPS to carry out its service?

As the hon. and learned Gentleman would expect, if circumstances change in that regard, we will speak to the Treasury again about money to be made available to deal with them. The settlement takes account of, and helps us to deal with, the substantial changes and significant shifts in the case load that took place over the time when he was Director of Public Prosecutions and subsequently.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that priority is given to dealing with the woeful state of the CPS IT system, which has been a long-running problem for many years? Secondly, will he ensure that all changes to CPS systems to ensure efficiency are aligned with the proposals that Sir Brian Leveson made in his report for overall efficiencies within the criminal justice system?

Yes, certainly. On my hon. Friend’s latter point, he will know that the CPS has been closely involved with the Leveson review, and a large number of Sir Brian’s conclusions come from what he has been told by the CPS. As my hon. Friend will have noticed, some £700 million was made available for digitalisation of the courts in the spending settlement announced yesterday, through the Ministry of Justice settlement. The CPS will benefit from and contribute to that process immensely.

At the beginning of the year, the DPP asked the Attorney General for an extra £50 million to plug the funding gap so that the CPS could properly prosecute complex matters, such as historical sex cases. He confirmed to this House that he was talking to the Treasury about this extra funding and that he thought it would understand the case he was making, but there was no mention in yesterday’s autumn statement of this extra, special funding for historical sex cases. What went wrong?

The hon. Gentleman should pay close attention to what the CPS is saying now, as much as to what it said then. Let me tell him what it said yesterday in response to the settlement. It said:

“This settlement will allow the CPS to respond to a changing caseload and the significant increase in complex and sensitive cases, such as terrorism, rape and serious sexual assaults and child sex abuse.”

The CPS is making the same point that I am making today about this settlement: it is a settlement that recognises the need to deal with precisely the type of increase in case load that he is talking about.

Crown Prosecution Service: Costs of Errors

10. What estimate he has made of the annual cost to the public purse of avoidable errors by the Crown Prosecution Service. (902351)

The CPS does not maintain a central record of the number or value of wasted costs orders, but I can tell my hon. and learned Friend that the total value of costs awarded against the CPS in the last financial year, of which wasted costs orders are a mere subset, amounted to just over £1 million, which was about 0.18% of overall expenditure.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Terry Boston, a solicitor in my constituency, said the following in an email to me last week:

“I am becoming more and more concerned about justice in this country. The reason for this is the blatant failure of the CPS and their one line cover all excuse, ‘We are short of staff.’”

I appreciate, as does Mr Boston, that savings have had to be made, but can my hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the CPS does have sufficient staff in place, both nationally and in Lincolnshire, to perform its functions?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his question. I can assure him that the CPS does indeed have sufficient staff in place to properly do its work. The CPS conviction rate in his region last year was 84.2%, which is slightly higher than the national average.

Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes

11. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve the conviction rate for anti-Semitic hate crimes; and if he will make a statement. (902352)

New CPS legal guidance for prosecutors on anti-Semitic hate crimes was published in May, and in addition the CPS is implementing its religiously aggravated and anti-Semitic crime action plan, which seeks to raise awareness of these cases and to improve the reporting of such hate crimes. This has been welcomed by the all-party group against antisemitism.

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the incidence of anti-Semitic hate crime is going up, particularly in Muslim areas, unfortunately. Can he expand a little further on his earlier answer about the role of the CPS in educating the police on these matters?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the consistent work that he has done over the years to highlight that obscene crime. I am sad to say that there are spikes in that type of offending when particular political events occur. The CPS is aware of it, as are the police, and that type of hate crime was very much on the agenda of the national training conference at Ryton.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Gender Pay Gap

1. What steps the Government are taking to tackle the gender pay gap; and if she will make a statement. (902379)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I could not be clearer: we want to consign the gender pay gap to the history books. We are therefore introducing new regulations that will require larger employers to publish their gender pay gap information. That will encourage companies to take action and to drive change on this important issue. Transparency is important, and we also want to tackle the underlying causes of the gap, which is why I want to see girls entering the broadest range of careers and reaching the top of their professions.

Will the Secretary of State, who I know cares about this issue, symbolically forgo her salary from 9 November until the end of the calendar year so that she knows from personal experience what it feels like to do the work of a male colleague but for 20% less salary? Does she not think that all Governments have failed in this field, and that now is the time not to have declarations about change over a generation, but to seize the legislative agenda, for which she would have massive support across the House, finally to bring pay equality to women in our country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question, but I am not interested in tokenistic gestures. He can give up his salary if he feels so strongly about it and wants to make a statement. The important thing is that this Government are taking action on the issue, which his party did not do in 13 years of government. He is right to say that the matter now needs to be tackled by legislation, and the Government will publish regulations shortly to make that happen.

Women over 40 endure the biggest gender pay gap. What specific policies does the Minister have to address that problem?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her question, and I know her Committee will be considering this area. She may be interested to know that figures published earlier this month show a 1.6 percentage point drop in the gender pay gap for women aged between 40 and 49, and that is repeated in the over-50s and the over-60s. She is absolutely right to say that this matter needs to be tackled. I have mentioned the regulations, which will provide the necessary transparency. We are also doing a lot of work on how we can help women to juggle caring responsibilities, which come when they are older. Of course they can also request flexible working as introduced by this Government.

At the gender gap presentation the other evening we heard how gender diversity must not be an add-on to another role, and yet it seems that, as Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Lady has had her role added on. What action will she take to ensure that there is someone dedicated to the task in every Department to get rid of the gender gap?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House in the last Parliament when I was Minister for Women and Equalities. I was delighted to take the role with me into this Parliament. In fact, I have been Minister for Women and Equalities longer than I have been Secretary of State for Education. It is a role about which I feel passionate. Just by looking at the array of Ministers on the Front Bench today, he will see that this Government take very seriously their equalities responsibilities. Whether we are talking about the gender pay gap or any other matter, those responsibilities run right the way through all the Departments in this Government.

Will the Minister put in the Library the gender pay gap of all Government Departments and all Government quangos, because an awful lot of Government quangos have a gender pay gap? Perhaps the Government should sort out their own house first, before they go round lecturing everyone else.

The hon. Gentleman tempts me very much. He might be interested to know that the overall gender pay gap for all civil service employees fell from 13.6% in 2014 to 12.8% in March 2014. The gender pay gap in the Department for Education is 9% and it is 11% in the Ministry of Justice. The regulations that we are publishing will also apply to the public sector. As that information is public, I would be very happy to write to him with it.

According to figures published last week in the annual survey of hours and earnings, the gender pay gap in the UK fell by 0.8 percentage points to 9.5%. However, in Scotland, the gap dropped by 1.8 percentage points to 7.5%. Will the Minister learn lessons from the action taken by the Scottish Government who are cutting the gender pay gap further and faster?

The hon. Lady is right to say that the gender pay gap in Scotland is lower, and that is why I was delighted to visit Scotland recently to meet counterparts in the Scottish Government, successful female entrepreneurs and Professor Lesley Sawers, who has, at the request of the UK Government, been doing a lot of work in Scotland on women in enterprise. One reason we are stronger together is that we can all learn lessons from each other.

At 35%, the gender pay gap in the finance and insurance sectors is the biggest in the land. What are the Government doing to tackle that?

I am delighted to say that those sectors are already taking responsibility for tackling the issue. They are learning from the Government’s voluntary approach to women on boards, and I am pleased that Jayne-Anne Gadhia from the finance sector and others in the insurance sector have recently launched voluntary initiatives to ensure that companies publish their own gender pay gap. Larger companies will, of course, also be caught by the regulations that we are due to publish shortly.

The Minister has rightly highlighted the fact that the public sector is very good at closing the gender pay gap, in comparison with the private sector. The Resolution Foundation estimates that care workers are collectively paid £130 million below the national minimum wage because of employers’ failure to pay for travel time and deductions for essentials such as uniforms, mobile phones and petrol. What steps is the Minister taking to close the pay gap in that part of the private sector, in which 78% of workers are women?

The hon. Lady is right to point out that certain sectors—not only care, but clerical, secretarial and others—are very female dominated, which contributes to the ongoing gender pay gap. That is why I welcome the focus, which we will come to in later questions, on raising girls’ aspirations for their jobs and careers. The Government are committed to enforcing the national minimum wage, and only recently we published the names of employers who do not pay their employees the national minimum wage. That is unacceptable and we will continue to make that information public.

Body Confidence in Young People

The Government have continued the work started under the coalition Government to encourage body confidence with the aim of promoting young people’s media literacy and resilience, supporting good practice and raising awareness. For example, in March we started work with the PSHE Association to publish guidance on teaching about body image using accredited resources.

Next week, models, agents, academics and professionals are coming to Parliament to discuss what the fashion industry can do to lead the way in promoting positive healthy ideals for young people. Does my hon. Friend agree that a collaborative approach is essential if we are to tackle the issue of low body confidence and lack of self-esteem that affects too many young people?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fantastic work that she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on body image. She has been a fantastic champion on this important issue and she is absolutely right that effective change will be achieved only by co-operation and collaboration. I recently met the British Fashion Council and the campaign group All Walks Beyond the Catwalk to discuss how we can make this happen for the good of those who are in the fashion industry, those who aspire to it and, most importantly, those who are influenced by it.

I was very pleased that the Minister mentioned personal, social, health and economic education. Is it not the case that establishing good-quality PSHE on a statutory basis in all schools will help instil good body confidence in young people and also keep them safe from inappropriate relationships, which often happen when children and young people have low self-esteem?

The fact that a subject is a statutory requirement does not mean that it is taught well, and we want all schools to put high-quality PSHE education at the heart of their curriculum so that all young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. The majority of schools and teachers already recognise the importance of good PSHE education and naturally know that healthy, resilient and confident pupils are better placed to achieve academically and fulfil their potential in life.

As the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) will know, it is frequently thought that this problem only affects young women, but it affects boys and young men as well. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure the House that she has not lost sight of that and tell us a little more about what the Government are doing in that regard?

My hon. and learned Friend makes an excellent point. There is even a name for the problem; it is called “manxiety”. We are not blind to the fact that this issue affects an increasing number of young men and boys, which is reflected in the worrying increase in the use of steroids. That is why the Government’s body confidence work is blind to gender and tackles the problem by dealing equally with boys and girls.

Part of body confidence can be better understanding of what our bodies are for. What will the Minister do to promote breastfeeding in the PSHE curriculum?

It is up to schools to decide; we do not want to give them a prescriptive list or tell them how to teach PSHE. As I said, we want our young people to leave school prepared for life in modern Britain, with a resilient and healthy attitude to life, and breastfeeding is clearly a strong part of that.

School Attainment

3. What assessment she has made of the difference in levels of attainment between boys and girls at school. (902381)

Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers across the country, more pupils—boys and girls—are getting the education they deserve. Girls outperform boys on average at both primary and secondary school, but while girls have higher attainment, they are less likely to pursue subjects such as physics and maths. As Education Secretary, I am aware of all those issues and determined to tackle them.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but the sad reality is that, in 2014, 10% fewer boys attained A* to C at GCSE, including maths and English. What steps will she take as Minister for Women and Equalities and Education Secretary to close this gender gap and help boys to achieve their full potential?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. There is certainly more that we need to do to tackle underachievement among boys, especially among white working-class boys, I am sorry to say. The Chancellor has committed to the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion, for the rest of this Parliament; a quarter of white British boys are eligible for that funding. We need to do more to explain to young men the careers that are out there and why they will need skills such as maths, but we also need to think about parental engagement—a lot of the messages will come from home that education is very valuable and that boys as well as girls need to focus in school.

Addressing the education attainment gap is important, but equally important is addressing the gap in work. A recent event held in Northern Ireland by the STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—industries showed that men outnumber women three to one in the workforce. What steps have been taken to reduce the gender gap, not only in education, but in wider employment?

I am delighted to hear about that successful event. That illustrates the point I was making about needing to inspire young people—boys and girls—about the careers that are out there and the importance of STEM subjects. I am delighted to say that maths is now the most popular subject at A-level, and there have been 12,000 more STEM A-level entries from girls since the start of the last Parliament, but there is a long way to go.

Has my right hon. Friend considered whether the disparity between the numbers of male and female teachers, especially in primary schools, is affecting the attainment level of boys?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Young people benefit from strong role models, and we have an excellent workforce in our primary schools, with 82% of teaching in those schools rated good or outstanding. I would like to see more male teachers; equally, I would like to see more female headteachers in our secondary schools.

Freedom to Donate Campaign

4. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the Freedom to Donate campaign; and if she will make a statement. (902382)

Making sure that the blood supply is safe is an absolute priority. Donor deferral for men who have sex with men was changed from lifetime to 12 months in 2011, but four years later it is time to look again at the question. Public Health England has just undertaken an anonymous survey of donors, and I am pleased to say that SaBTO—the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs—will review the issue in 2016.

The safety of blood is of course paramount, but the Minister will know that when I met her in December 2014 to discuss the issue, there were two matters about which I was very disturbed. One was someone from the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs saying that the word of gay people was somehow less valuable than the word of straight people—that was disgraceful. Secondly, the Minister promised me that survey work would be available at the time of the general election, but when I put down a written question about it, she said that, in fact, such survey work was not being done—although she now says it is. I felt that she misled me at the time. Can she say more about how we are finally going to achieve equality in this matter? Many clinicians feel it is long overdue.

My hon. Friend and I did have a meeting, and I can confirm that the Public Health England survey has been undertaken and is currently being analysed. I do not recall that an official made that point. It is important to put it on the record that the blood service does not discriminate on sexual orientation: lesbians are free to give blood and their blood donations are much appreciated. The deferral period is based on sexual activity and it applies to a number of groups other than men who have sex with men. As I say, SaBTO will review the issue in the light of the PHE survey. I am always happy to discuss this with my hon. Friend.

Safety in Public Spaces

This Government are clear that women should be confident that they are safe in public spaces. We are bearing down on those whose criminal actions impinge on this right. We have made progress. Last year Crown Prosecution Service data showed the highest ever number of convictions for crimes of violence against women and girls. We are refreshing the cross-Government VAWG strategy, including providing more options on intervention to prevent harassment, assault and abuse.

Bristol’s women’s commission is leading the campaign to make Bristol a zero-tolerance city towards gender-based violence and exploitation. How can the Government help Bristol and other cities achieve a zero-tolerance approach?

I am very pleased to hear about the work taking place in Bristol. This Government are committed, as I have said, to making sure that violence against women and girls is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in society. I look forward to hear more about the work being done in Bristol.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital to provide extra protection for victims of stalking—who are often also affected by domestic violence and who are sometimes targeted and followed from family courts—in order to bring more perpetrators to justice?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Testimony that I have heard from victims of stalking shows the incredibly invasive nature of this crime and how damaging it is psychologically and emotionally. We are determined to tackle it, including by introducing the domestic abuse coercive control offence, which we passed in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and which we will be commencing shortly, to make sure that all domestic abuse is an offence and that the police have the weapons they need.

19. Councillor Michael Pavey of Brent council organised a fantastic event recently on women’s safety, female genital mutilation and domestic violence. He was disappointed, however, that the audience was overwhelmingly female. Does the Minister have any ideas about how to increase awareness of these issues among men, especially young men? (902397)

The hon. Lady makes a very important point, and as the Minister with responsibility for preventing abuse and exploitation I know that far too often I go to events where the audience is predominantly, if not exclusively, female. Yesterday, however, I was pleased to support the white ribbon campaign, which is the campaign for men against violence against women. The more we can do with such campaigns and more awareness raising, the more we can encourage people to understand that this is an issue that affects all members of society, no matter what their gender.

What assessment has been made of the impact of the two new specific offences introduced in 2012 of stalking and stalking involving fear of violence, adding protection for victims and also bringing perpetrators to justice?

We have seen some success with the stalking offences that my hon. Friend asks about. We are seeing more and more police forces using the stalking offences and making sure that victims are protected. It is so important that we protect victims and give them the support they need, and make sure that perpetrators are dealt with in such a way that they cannot get to those victims and that they suffer the right penalties.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic women face particularly high incidences of violence and abuse, and research the other day from the charity Tell MAMA showed that incidents of hate crime against Muslims had risen by more than 300% since the appalling attacks in Paris, and particularly against Muslim women. What steps can the Minister take to stamp out gender, faith and racially motivated violence against women and girls?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government recently announced that we are publishing new data sets to show racially motivated hate crime, particularly hate crime against Muslims, because we agree that we need to understand the scale of the problem and we need to make sure it is absolutely clear that it is not acceptable. There can be no excuse in any religious text for hatred and nobody should think they can get away with it.

I am grateful to the Minister. Does she recognise that the women’s sector is under enormous pressure, particularly specialist organisations that, for example, support black, Asian and minority ethnic women? The charity Eaves was forced to close earlier this month, Imkaan reports that 67% of its members are uncertain about the future sustainability of their funding, and generic providers are increasingly being commissioned to provide specialist services. Is it not time for a proper, sustainable funding strategy for services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, rather than gimmicky short-term fixes such as the tampon tax, which only women pay for?

It is a shame that the hon. Lady makes that comment. While we are in the position of having to pay that VAT, it is right that we use it to provide additional support for the services in question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) on coming up with the idea. The hon. Lady is quite right that we need those specialist services, but it is not that many weeks since the Labour party voted for a 10% cut in police funding. The Conservative party has maintained police funding, which will make sure that victims of these horrendous crimes get the support they need.

Gender Economic Inequality

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at our party conference last month, we cannot have true opportunity without real equality. I am very proud that we now have more women in work, more women on boards and the lowest pay gap on record across the UK, but we must continue to make progress. Women will be the main beneficiaries of the new national living wage and the rise in the personal allowance.

I thank the Minister for that response, but as she acknowledged in response to an earlier question, the overwhelming majority of care workers are women, and they face low pay, zero-hours contracts and non-payment of travel time as a consequence of financial pressures on the sector. Professor Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, among others, is clear that yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor will not plug the funding gap in the care sector. What will the Minister do to secure a fair deal for care workers?

One of the greatest things we can do is introduce the national living wage, which will proportionately benefit more women than men, and employers in the care sector and other employers will have to pay it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that people should be able to pursue their career without worrying about their sex, sexuality or sexual identity, and that everyone has the right to pursue a full role in the workplace?

I thank my hon. Friend, who puts it really well. I particularly want to answer that question in the context of transgender people, who often face discrimination in the workplace as well as in their day-to-day lives. That is why I am today publishing guidance for employers and service providers to improve knowledge and understanding about supporting those who are transgender. It is an important step, but I want us to continue to raise awareness of the issues and discrimination facing many transgender and non-binary people.

STEM Subjects

8. What support the Government is providing to encourage more girls to choose STEM subjects in schools. (902386)

The Government are determined to increase the number of young people, particularly girls, studying science, technology, engineering and maths. There have been 12,000 more STEM A-level entries for girls over the last five years, but of course more needs to be done. That is why we are supporting schools through professional development and enrichment activities, including the Stimulating Physics Network, STEMNET and the inspiring Your Life campaign, which will transform perceptions of science and maths.

I thank the Minister for her reply. As a former engineer, I know at first hand the benefits of choosing STEM subjects in schools, and I am pleased that the Government are encouraging more girls into the area. Does the Minister agree that alongside the promotion of STEM in schools, it is vital that young people, particularly girls, receive good careers advice and guidance so that they can go on to succeed in the STEM-related industries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know that girls often outperform boys in STEM subjects at school but do not necessarily go on to study those subjects at A-level or go into STEM careers. That is why I am delighted that we have set up the new Careers & Enterprise Company, which will strengthen the links between employers and schools and hopefully inspire the next generation of engineers by showing them just how interesting and varied careers in engineering can be.

In September, Medway’s new engineering university technical college opened, and I am thrilled that many local girls chose to be part of the first intake. To what extent has industry been involved in the Your Life campaign to inspire more girls to consider a career in STEM?

As my hon. Friend outlines, Your Life is a fantastic industry-led and industry-funded campaign. Everyone is committed to inspiring the next generation of boys, but particularly girls, in the importance of STEM. I experienced that at first hand when I visited the Ford motor company in Dagenham—the spiritual home of the fight for equal pay—and saw a team of schoolgirls racing cars around its test track and really understanding the value and excitement of careers in STEM.

Engineering

The Government have supported a range of initiatives aimed at inspiring young people, including many girls, to take up engineering. Since 2010 the number of women starting engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships has trebled to 4,800. I am pleased that at the National Physical Laboratory in my hon. Friend’s constituency over half the apprentices are female. By protecting the science budget we are ensuring a strong science and engineering base that will benefit the entire country.

I urge the Minister to come to the NPL with me, because there are exciting projects there with graduates. I also invite him to Jack and Jill nursery school in my constituency, which is promoting engineering for six and seven-year-olds by inviting our great inventor Trevor Baylis to show them what can be done with Meccano sets. Will the Minister join me in asking toy manufacturers to make these kits for five-year-olds and upwards, instead of eight-year-olds and upwards, because we start really young in Twickenham?

I am always delighted to go to Twickenham. I am delighted also to welcome this very successful initiative. Twickenham, in this respect, is part of a much bigger national story in which we have more women-led businesses than ever before—about 1 million. As of 2014, 20% of all small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are now majority led by women—an increase of 170,000 on the number in 2010.

It is really important to show young girls and boys the fantastic careers that engineering provides. To do that specifically for girls, we need engineering companies to engage with schools. What discussions is the Minister having with other Ministers to ensure that there is a central point where engineering companies can find the schools they can engage with?

I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Education in this respect. The Careers & Enterprise Company that is set up in the Department for Education plays precisely the co-ordinating role that the hon. Lady mentions.

Immigration Detention of Pregnant Women

10. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on immigration detention of pregnant women. (902388)

Published Home Office policy states that pregnant women should not usually be detained unless there is a prospect of early safe removal. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman for England and Wales, to review the detention of vulnerable individuals. His report and the Government response will be published before the Immigration Bill completes its passage through Parliament.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. In 2014, 99 pregnant women were detained at Yarl’s Wood, and I understand that there are some remaining cases. Will the Minister use her good offices to expedite those cases?

I will make sure that the Home Office looks carefully at all the cases my right hon. Friend has raised. I repeat that pregnant women should not routinely be detained. The Home Office is currently considering Stephen Shaw’s review on detainee welfare, and we will publish his report before the Immigration Bill completes its passage.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman). This is a big problem, but it is about the providers. What discussions will the Minister have with Serco, Mitie, G4S and other providers about the detention of pregnant women?

The Home Office has regular discussions with all providers to make sure that appropriate treatment is given to all vulnerable people held in detention. I repeat that the Stephen Shaw review will be published shortly.

Boards of Public Institutions: Representation of Women

12. What steps the Government are taking to increase the representation of women on the boards of public institutions. (902390)

We are making real progress in increasing the number of women on public boards, with 44% of new appointments going to women last year, up from 39% in the previous year. Steps to increase diversity include streamlining the application process and increasing awareness of opportunities via a central website and social media.

There has been success in non-executive roles on boards but much less success in decision-making, operational roles. Only 8% of FTSE directors are women in executive positions. Does the Minister agree that quotas that focus on the wrong metric could undermine progress in this key area, which is judge and jury of success in this regard?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that there is an abundance of talented women who have the right skills and experience for board positions. Government and business must work together to level the playing field and encourage those women to work their way up the executive pipeline. That is why the Government will establish a new review focusing on that all-important executive layer in FTSE 350 companies.