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Topical Questions

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 2 February 2017

The whole House will welcome the fact that the Turing law has now come into effect. Alongside that, Parliament this week approved the regulations introducing mandatory gender pay gap and bonus gap reporting for private and voluntary sector employers with 250 employees or more. Transparency over time can make a big difference. It is one of our key manifesto commitments, and the Government are holding themselves to the same high standards that we expect of others. That is why we have now laid regulations for gender pay gap reporting in the public sector, which we look forward to debating in this House at the earliest opportunity.

What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the recent trends in the number of women in work?

My hon. Friend may be aware that the number of women in employment has increased by 229,000 over the past year alone. The female employment rate is now at a record high of 69.8%.

As of the 2016 autumn statement, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit measures come from women. The Treasury continues to fail to provide any impact assessment of its fiscal policies or to send a Minister to the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions. Will the Minister therefore commit to ensuring that women do not suffer the same abysmal impact from the spring Budget?

I have just set out that the female employment rate is at a record high, which is good news and we want it to progress. Indeed, it is the third highest female employment rate in the whole G7.

T4. What are the Government doing to support men to take a more active role in looking after their children? (908551)

We know that when fathers take an active role in childcare, it is not only great for their relationships with their children; it is also important in eliminating the gender pay gap. That is why we have introduced shared parental leave and extended the right to request flexible working, helping both mums and dads to balance their work life with their family commitments.

T2. Does the Minister agree that the Equality and Human Rights Commission must publish an equalities impact assessment of its planned redundancy programme before that programme proceeds any further? (908549)

The EHRC is an independent body that was established under the Equality Act 2006. It has been subject to a substantial reform programme to ensure that it can carry out its core functions effectively, but it must be able to do that under its own steam because it is an independent body.

T5. Research by England Athletics shows that more than a third of women have suffered harassment while out running. I chair the all-party parliamentary group for running. What further help can my right hon. Friend offer to challenge that behaviour, which is clearly a barrier to getting more women out running? (908552)

I totally agree that such behaviour is unacceptable, and we should not tolerate it in any form. I regularly go running, and I have been stopped for selfies, but never subjected to any catcalling. We can do more. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign and other initiatives have really helped to narrow the gender gap in sports participation. The new Active Lives survey demonstrates that 59% of women are now doing at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which is the amount recommended by the Chief Medical Officer, but we can do much more to ensure that there are no barriers to women participating in sport.

I do not know whether the Minister has been stopped for selfies because of the quality of her running, her celebrity status or, more likely, both.

T6. Four thousand eight hundred women in my constituency and countless thousands across the United Kingdom are WASPI women, losing out on thousands of pounds that is rightfully theirs. Does the Minister agree that this affects a generation of women who very often suffer from pay discrimination, and that denying them their rightful pension only heaps injustice upon injustice? (908553)

The Government have been very clear: bringing about state pension age equality was an important principle, and one that we have to maintain. We have made £1 billion of concessions to women in this age group but, as the pensions Minister has made clear, there will be no more transitional arrangements.

The Government have been very clear about the fact that they want equality law to be protected when we leave the EU. That is particularly important. Can the Minister update the House on whether that will form part of the White Paper to be published today?

This is an important point, and it is one of the reasons the Prime Minister set out a number of objectives in her speech recently. I am not going to pre-empt the White Paper, which is being published today, but it is certainly important to ensure that we absolutely maintain—and, indeed, continue to advance—issues of equality and rights.

T7. The Government have said that setting the age threshold for their living wage at 25 creates a financial incentive to employ young people, but given that the Federation of Small Businesses has advised its members that employing a young person on that basis could constitute age discrimination, will the Government review the age threshold and introduce the living wage from 18 to combat age discrimination in the workplace? (908554)

This is an important issue. We have introduced the living wage to make sure that all people get the minimum wage they need to be able to live effectively. We do not have a Treasury Minister on the Bench today, but I will absolutely make sure that one of them responds to the question the hon. Lady raises.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the long-promised consultation on caste discrimination? It was promised by Christmas, and we are still waiting.

It remains, as my hon. Friend suggests, a work in progress, but it will be published very shortly.

According to a report by the Trades Union Congress, between January and March 2014, following the introduction of tribunal fees, just 1,222 sexual discrimination claims were made to an employment tribunal, compared with 6,017 in the same quarter a year earlier. Does that not make a nonsense of the Government’s supposed concern for gender equality?

On Tuesday, we launched a consultation on the proposals to widen the support available to people under the Help with Fees scheme, following the completion of the employment tribunal fees review last year. However, it is also important to point out that ACAS has seen the number of people who are able to sort out their differences via mediation go beyond 80,000, and I think a number of people would be much happier going back into the workplace they have come from having sorted out their problems through mediation rather than tribunals.

This week marks the start of LGBT history month, and, of course, we all celebrate the great achievements the LGBT community has given this country. However, hate crime against the LGBT community remains far too high, with Stonewall saying that one in four LGBT people hide their sexual orientation. Will the Minister take urgent action to tackle that, first by increasing the sentences for those who commit hate crimes against LGBT people?

We do have a lot to be proud of, and the UK continues to be recognised as one of the most progressive countries in Europe for LGBT rights, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must not rest on our laurels. We must make sure that anybody who attacks anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation is brought to justice. LGBT history month is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and recognise the contribution that gay, lesbian, bi and trans people have made to British history, British society and British culture.