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Topical Questions

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 26 May 2016

I hope that hon. Members will join me in welcoming the introduction of topical questions to Women and Equalities oral questions. Along with the introduction of the Women and Equalities Committee in the last Session and the cross-government Front-Bench presence here today, we are sending a powerful message to the public about the importance that this Government and this House place on equality. I am delighted that at the recent G7 Education Ministers meeting in Japan, I was able to persuade all Ministers to recognise the need to address the discrimination that children might suffer, including because of their sexual orientation or gender. That was captured in the formal summit communiqué.

I am delighted to be asking the first Women and Equalities topical question.

One group of victims of domestic violence who are not entitled to access protection consists of women whose immigration status is dependent on their partners, the perpetrators of that violence. I have raised the issue in two Westminster Hall debates in recent weeks, and two Ministers have agreed to make representations to the Home Secretary about it. Will the Minister—probably the most relevant Minister in this context—add her voice to calls for equality for all women in those circumstances?

Let me begin by welcoming the appointment of Angela Constance as the Cabinet Minister with equalities responsibility in the Scottish Government. I very much enjoyed working with her when she had the education brief in the last Government.

I will certainly look at the issue that the hon. Lady has raised. As I have said, I shall be meeting the Home Secretary soon, and I will add it to our agenda.

T2. During a recent visit to Crossrail, I was delighted to learn of the major contribution that women have made, at every level, to Europe’s largest infrastructure project. Given that both HS2 and Crossrail 2 are on the horizon, will the Minister tell us what action has been taken to retain those women and their skills, which are so important to the future of our infrastructure projects? (905103)

As a result of the Government’s unprecedented investment in transport infrastructure, opportunities for women in construction will continue to grow, and we must build on Crossrail’s excellent example. The industry already has some great role models, including Ailie MacAdam, who led the team that delivered the channel tunnel rail link, managed the construction of St Pancras International, and was a delivery director for Crossrail. I hope that many young women will follow in her footsteps.

T3. The Scottish National party is committed to reviewing and reforming gender recognition law in Scotland so that it is in line with best practice for people who are transgender. Will the Minister join me in applauding that approach, and will she press for such legislative change here, through her own Department? (905104)

As I have made very clear, discrimination on any grounds is abhorrent, and the Government want it to end. There is more discussion now about issues facing the trans community, and I pay tribute to the work of the Women and Equalities Committee, which has published an important report on transgender issues. The report made a number of recommendations to Departments throughout Whitehall; we are studying those recommendations, and will respond to them fully in due course.

T4. Will the Minister join me in congratulating The R&A on barring Muirfield golf club from hosting the Open championship in the light of its decision not to admit women as members? Does she think that the club should put that right, and admit them? (905105)

T6. What conversations has the Minister had with the Home Office about the equalities implications of the Prevent strategy? In a written submission to the Home Affairs Committee, terror watchdog David Anderson QC said that the strategy would benefit from an independent review, expressing the concern that “aspects of the programme are ineffective or being applied in an insensitive or discriminatory manner.” (905107)

I think it will be clear to the hon. Lady from the Home Office representation at this session that such conversations are taking place, but I note the point that she has made.

T5. By the age of six, young girls have begun to decide which roles are for them and which are for boys, often to the detriment of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In many cases, that is because certain toys are marketed for girls, and most science toys are marketed for boys. What plans have the Government to show that young girls do not have to limit their career aspirations? (905106)

I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about this issue. As I have said, no career should be off limits because of factors such as gender, race or sexual orientation. Careers education in primary schools, including initiatives such as Primary Futures, is important to broadening horizons and bringing children’s learning to life. I mentioned the Careers & Enterprise Company earlier; I hope that Members in all parts of the House will support their local enterprise co-ordinators.

T7. Given the importance of the health and work programme, which supports disabled people who are unable to work or gain access to work, will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to publish his Green Paper as a matter of urgency, so that disabled people do not have to wait any longer to access support? (905108)

The Green Paper gives a fantastic opportunity for stakeholders, with their first-hand experience and knowledge, to help shape the policy, and, where there is local best practice, to look for ways in which we can scale that up.

The White Paper on education that I published in March reinforces our commitment to develop a diverse supply of school leaders. More than 450 women are benefiting from our equality and diversity fund, and earlier this year I announced a women in education network to support women’s career progression. I have called on exceptional school leaders to come forward and pledge to coach women into leadership, and 300 have already signed up to do so.

This matter was raised in the Women and Equalities Committee’s report. Evidence was taken on it and it is something that we are considering, along with all the other issues in that report.

The Secretary of State very kindly referred to the Select Committee earlier. We have produced two reports so far in our short existence: one on the gender pay gap and one on transgender people. One of those reports is now five months old, and we have yet to receive a response to either of them. When can we expect those responses?

I always say that if you want something done, ask a busy woman, and they certainly make up the majority on the Women and Equalities Committee. I am delighted to see that it has been so busy. My right hon. Friend mentions two reports: one on transgender issues and one on the gender pay gap. They make recommendations for cross-government co-operation. I want to ensure that we get the best possible responses, but I expect to publish them shortly.

I hope that “shortly” means well before the summer recess. That seems to be a very tardy response indeed. This is really not very satisfactory.

In February, Women for Refugee Women made freedom of information requests on the number of pregnant women being detained under immigration rules. What has happened since has been described by as

“an instruction manual in obfuscation and delay”.

Can the Minister explain why the Government are so reluctant to reveal this information, and tell us when they will finally release the data?

The detention of pregnant women under Immigration Act powers occurs only in limited situations, either when there is a clear prospect of early removal or in exceptional circumstances. Very few pregnant women are detained. Central recording of the number of detained women who have disclosed their pregnancy started in August 2015. Options for the collection of wider data on pregnant women are being considered as part of the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016, which has just gone through this House.

I am sure the Minister will be aware that, against a background of tens of thousands of gun murders every year, 11 states in the United States have decided that the question of who uses which bathroom is the key issue affecting public safety. Will she assure me and the House that our Government will not go down that path and that they will focus on real public safety priorities rather than the ones being imagined as a result of prejudice in the United States?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I am more than happy to have a conversation with him about his concerns. This is not something that has been raised with me previously.

Order. Just before I call the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) to put his urgent question, I would emphasise that although it of course covers an extremely important matter—and is, by definition, urgent—exchanges on it should be completed by 11 o’clock. We have the business question to follow, and a ministerial statement by way of an update on the steel industry and a very heavily subscribed main debate thereafter. The time limits will therefore need to be strictly enforced.