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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 629: debated on Thursday 12 October 2017

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Trade White Paper

Since he is a conscientious and committed Member of the House of Commons, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government published a trade White Paper on Monday 9 October 2017. The trade White Paper establishes the principles that will guide future UK trade policy and sets out the preparatory steps that we are taking. The paper can be found in the Libraries of both Houses and on the website.

What transitional plans does the Secretary of State have for the transitional period if he cannot necessarily do the trade deals that he wants to do?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the transitional adoption of existing EU agreements, I can tell him that we have had a very positive response from other Governments, who, like us, want to ensure that there is no disruption of trade at the point of departure from the European Union. We will want to get as many of those in place as we can. That depends partly on the willingness of partners to get that ready on time; there are obviously contingency measures available to us under the World Trade Organisation to ensure continued market access in any case.

This Government constantly declares for free trade. In fact, as we leave the European Union and take up our independent seat on the World Trade Organisation, this country intends to champion the cause of global free trade, especially at a time when the growth in trade has been slowing down in recent years.

Does the International Trade Secretary recognise that people fear that in the event of, for example, a very right-wing, ideological Government, we could see the erosion of social standards through our trade agreements or even the erosion of our ability to protect our national health service with the wrong type of trade treaty? Will he guarantee parliamentary scrutiny of every trade deal done?

I would like the Government to be judged by their actions. Therefore, as I indicated to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), as we want to transition the already agreed EU free trade agreements into UK law—which will include, for example, workers’ rights and environmental standards—I hope that we will get the full support of the Opposition in doing that and in getting the legislation available to give us the powers to do so.

The White Paper sets out a strong case for free trade: it is good for growth, and it is good for jobs—but occasionally other countries will act in unfair ways, such as through the dumping of goods. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that it will always be the Government’s approach to respond to that in a proportionate, carefully targeted and time-limited fashion?

The Government will bring forward legislation that sets out our plans for a trade remedies authority to ensure that the protections that UK business currently has—and that the UK workforce currently enjoy—are continued when we leave the European Union.

White Papers are all good and well, but yesterday the Scottish Government published a report showing what is at stake for business as the UK edges closer to the Brexit cliff edge. We know that the Secretary of State has consulted the business community to find out how it will be affected, but will he commit today to publishing the findings, as called for by a range of MPs across the House, even if they show that business wants to stay in the single market and customs union? At what point will this Government stop governing in secret and publish the reality of the impact of Brexit?

The Government are of course extremely concerned about any perceptions of instability. We will consult widely, particularly when it comes to new free trade agreements, but of course the greatest threat to stability, particularly in Scotland, is the insistence of the Scottish Government on threatening a second referendum on independence.

Car Exports

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be leading negotiations on our trade relationship with the EU, aimed at the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade with our European neighbours, including for the automotive sector. The UK will also be able to negotiate our own trade agreements around the world, and it is a high priority that we achieve the best possible deals with global partners. We are in close contact with stakeholders across the automotive industry to that end.

Last month, in a speech to the Bank of England, the Prime Minister described the free market economy as

“the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.”

In view of the Prime Minister’s ideological objection to Government intervention, will the Minister say how the highly skilled workforce at Toyota in Derbyshire will be able to find comparable employment, in the event that of Toyota relocates thanks to the Government’s botched Brexit negotiations?

I know the hon. Gentleman stands up for those constituents of his who work at the Toyota plant, but we need to look more carefully at what Toyota is doing. It has made a £240 million investment in the Burnaston factory, to make a commitment to the UK after Brexit, and that has been supported by a further £21.5 million from the Government, who are also committed to the workers he describes in his constituency.

Given that the United Kingdom imports £30 billion worth of vehicles—more than we export each year—does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of not just the UK but the EU for us to have barrier and tariff-free trade on vehicles in the future?

My hon. Friend is right. We are absolutely committed to a tariff and barrier-free relationship with the European Union in the future. It is worth remembering that the European Union exports twice as many cars to Britain as we export to the EU. It is in all our interests—it is in the interests of all the workers in the European Union—for us to achieve a successful and fruitful outcome.

Following the referendum and the subsequent depreciation of sterling, a number of car manufacturers in Britain have announced plans for further investment and an expansion of production. Nissan, in particular, says that it will expand production by 20% and invest more in the supply chain in Britain. Does that not augur well for Britain’s exports, and should we not start to look towards a time when we can export more than we import?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the characteristics of the UK car industry over the last few years is the fact that UK components of the supply chain now represent 42%, up from 38%. We have a great opportunity in the whole European Union automotive sector, and our Department is working incredibly hard to ensure that we take advantage of it.

Given that this country voted to leave the European Union, is it not the duty of every Member to talk up the British economy and the chances that are available to British manufacturing to exploit the new opportunities that will be presented to it around the world?

My hon. Friend, too, is absolutely right. I travel the world—as, indeed, do all our Ministers—and meet representatives of businesses in countries around the world who see the huge value that this country has, and the great British brand that the Department is representing and selling abroad. What we have to offer is fantastic, and I am an unashamed patriot when it comes to our great exports from fabulous businesses such as Aston Martin, and any number of others. It is the duty of everyone in the House to support all those businesses, and to talk up the British Isles when they travel, not just around the world but in the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State has just said that he wants the Government to be judged by their actions. Can the Minister tell us what the cost of the Nissan deal was, whether deals have been struck with other car manufacturers, and whether the Government have set aside a large budget to ensure that other sectors can continue to export successfully?

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that, under state aid rules which apply not only to the European Union but to the World Trade Organisation, the Government cannot give subsidies to businesses to create unfair competition against other countries. However, as I said in an earlier answer, the Government have supported Toyota with a £21 million investment. Any support that is given to any businesses—in the automotive sector, and across the piece—will be fully compliant with all the rules by which we abide. Subsidies such as those from the European regional development fund are widely known about, and they are perfectly fair and perfectly legal.

Foreign Direct Investment

The Department supports foreign investment in all parts of the United Kingdom through our overseas network, international events programme, bespoke sector support, online services and regional teams. We serve the whole UK by working closely with investment promotion bodies in the devolved Administrations and local enterprise partnerships in England to co-operate effectively across a range of investment support activities.

We have already heard positive news this morning about Toyota and Nissan. Will the Minister join me in welcoming recent work by EMY Consulting which proves that the United Kingdom remains the most attractive place in Europe for foreign direct investment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen some truly amazing numbers coming in. Britain has a record number of inward investment projects, and it is worth bearing in mind the fact that 158,000 jobs have been created and a further 66,000 safeguarded over the past year or so as a result of foreign direct investment.

I am very happy for the Minister to go around the world selling Britain, but will he come to see the real economy in, for instance, Huddersfield, where we have a strong manufacturing sector, or Leeds, where we have a financial sector? Not one person I meet in those sectors wants us to continue with this folly of Brexit. [Interruption.]

Yes, what about all those voters throughout the UK, 52% of whom voted for Brexit? I was a remainer, but we have to uphold the fundamental principle of democracy in this country, and it is the job of all of us in the Government to do our level best to embrace the opportunities—the optimistic opportunities—that Brexit presents.

I thank the Minister for coming to my constituency and talking to my exporters and the Port of Felixstowe, and ask him to assure me that he took on board the takeout that they want us to be oven ready with regulations and so forth as we look to move out of the common market.

It was a great pleasure to visit Muntons in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Her constituency produces a huge number of ingredients that go into Scottish whisky, beer and any number of fantastic products across the country. It is absolutely right that in addressing the question of regulations going forward into a post-Brexit era we in this country maintain our incredibly high standards of regulation, including workers’ rights as well as food standards.

The Minister is assuring his hon. Friend that he is indeed oven ready. That is a new one on me; the hon. Lady has very helpfully added to the collective lexicon of the House of Commons.

Why do the Government not draw a clearer distinction between inward foreign investment, which adds capacity and jobs and is welcome, and inward investment for acquisitions in devalued pounds, which often detracts from our science and technology?

The leader of the Liberal Democrats raises a very important point in respect of looking at the statistics. He is absolutely right that fresh investment that comes into this country that creates and safeguards jobs must be disaggregated from, say, stock market transactions, where there is a significant investment in that type of thing. We are looking very carefully at how to disaggregate these two types of investment to get a much clearer picture, but he raises an important point and I assure him that the Department’s economists are looking at this.

In the 12 months since the EU referendum in 2016, 32 Israeli companies have invested in new business ventures in the UK, bringing an increase in capital investment of 32% from that country. Does that not demonstrate, first, a strong vote of confidence in the UK economy, and, secondly, that Israel should be a natural partner for any future free trade agreement?

Indeed. I have visited Israel; we do a lot of trade with it, and the investment it is making in this country is very welcome. Importantly, since the Brexit vote, a huge number of investment projects are coming to the UK, which is creating new jobs. Doom mongers like me who during the referendum were part of the “Project Fear” campaign have been proved wrong, and it is important that we stand up and say that so far we have not got this right, and that is incredibly good news for both Britain and our individual constituencies.

The Government’s own figures show a 9% drop in the number of new jobs created through foreign direct investment projects and a record trade deficit in goods exports. In the real world, that means thousands of workers losing their jobs, as we have seen at BAE Systems. Does the Minister accept that it will take a fully aligned trade and industrial strategy to protect jobs in this country? The current policy of relying on a falling pound is simply not good enough.

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that we now have record numbers of people in work, record employment and record low unemployment. None the less, he raises an important point on the relationship between this Department and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is absolutely the case that in creating a pitch book for the UK, we must offer a number of different opportunities for companies around the world. Part of that is our tax regime, part of it is our tax credits regime, and part of it is our enthusiasm to legislate, for example, to allow autonomous vehicles to be tested on all British roads. This is a whole package from the entire Government working together. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the industrial strategy as part of what we are presenting to the rest of the world, but this also involves the whole Government.

Leaving the EU: Workers’ Rights and Fair Trade

4. What steps he is taking to ensure that the principles of fair trade, workers’ rights and environmental protection are included in future trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU. (901073)

The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, including successfully supporting workers’ rights and environmental protections as a member of the EU, and the UK will continue to play a leading role on these as we leave the EU. We are committed to upholding the UK’s high standards; our prosperity benefits from us reinforcing these high standards, not abandoning them.

I am glad that the White Paper mentions respecting the role of Parliament, but to protect workers’ rights, fair trade and environmental rules, will the Minister now guarantee to transfer to this House the rights that our elected representatives in the European Parliament have to scrutinise, debate, amend and vote on trade agreements?

The Government have been absolutely clear on the importance of this House and this Parliament scrutinising trade agreements. There is an irony in the hon. Lady’s question. Only last month, she voted against the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would write into domestic legislation 40 years of workers’ rights and environmental protection coming from Europe. She did not want to see that transfer. She even whipped her own side to vote against the Bill. Today, she is calling for us to introduce European procedures. I think her actions speak louder than her words.

Leaving the EU: Trade Policy

5. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the Government will have an effective trade policy after the UK leaves the EU. (901074)

10. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the UK will have an effective trade policy after the UK leaves the EU. (901082)

As the Prime Minister set out on Monday, the Government are preparing for the UK’s future as an independent trading nation. We will maximise our opportunities globally by seeking a deep and special partnership with the EU and boosting our trade relationships around the world.

The trade White Paper establishes the principles that will guide future UK trade policy and sets out the preparatory steps we are taking, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid out earlier in response to Question 1.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is Government policy to take full control of the UK’s trade policy in services regulation, to take advantage of the free trade opportunities that are open to us as we leave the EU? Does he agree that this must not be obviated by any conditions of a period of implementation for our new arrangements with the EU?

The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we want a deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the EU. We in the Department for International Trade are losing no time in preparing ourselves for our own independent trade policy in terms of transitioning existing EU FTAs, in terms of the 14 trade working groups that we have set up and in terms of transitioning trade preferences for the developing world, and that includes the ability to scope out and negotiate new trade agreements once we leave.

Will the Minister update the House on the work that the Government are doing to engage with frontier markets, and how these are being prioritised with existing established markets?

May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan —[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—which, I can tell him, went down extremely well on my visit to Islamabad last month. We are devoting resources to frontier and emerging markets through our economic horizons group. We are committed to transitioning the EU’s scheme of trade preferences with those markets into a UK scheme, which will bring real economic assistance to developing countries, including Pakistan.

Northern Ireland will be the only part of the United Kingdom to share a land border with an EU member state after the UK leaves the EU. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in Northern Ireland regarding future trade and investment opportunities and potential issues post-Brexit?

The whole Government are engaging very closely with those in authority in Northern Ireland, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and also engaging with the other side of the border. I should be meeting the Irish Trade Minister tomorrow.

Given what the Minister says, why have the Government not responded positively to the request that Singapore made 10 months ago to revive the third country training partnership, which in their words would support global Britain’s role in the Commonwealth and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?

The Government take the Commonwealth and ASEAN extremely seriously. In fact, yesterday we hosted a celebration for ASEAN’s anniversary, and we actually hosted the first Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ meeting ever, in March, here in London, and we are making extensive preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next year.

Could my right hon. Friend advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that when we leave the EU, businesses do not face a cliff edge for trade with countries that are beyond the EU but covered by trade agreements that the EU has?

The Department for International Trade is devoting significant efforts to transitioning the EU’s existing FTAs into a UK FTA. We are doing this in consultation with the European Union. In the majority of countries—certainly all those that we have spoken to so far—third parties are in agreement with that. Just two weeks ago I was in Peru, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Colombia, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State met the Ecuadorian Trade Minister to talk about the transition of the EU/Andean FTA—a perfect example in this space.

WTO Tariff Rate Quotas

6. What recent discussions he has had with the World Trade Organisation and his US counterpart on the division of WTO tariff rate quotas between the UK and the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (901076)

I discussed the UK’s independent membership of the WTO with the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer when I visited the US in July, and I have had several productive conversations with the WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo, most recently on my visit to Geneva in July.

I understand that Britain and the EU have now formally informed WTO members of how they would like quotas to be split after Brexit, but the Trump Administration and seven WTO members have already rejected the proposals. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that a deal on quotas is achieved?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the chance to explain our methodology. We decided to split the quotas that we have up to now shared with the EU on a market basis. In other words, we would not divide by 28 or by 15, but by the UK’s share of a market. We did that to avoid disadvantaging exporters from other countries, as well as our own producers or consumers. That is the best route to avoid disputes in Switzerland.

As we are talking about the WTO, if this country cannot reach a deal with the EU, what are the Department’s plans if we do not get an agreement on quotas?

As I have said, we first have to get our trading schedules agreed and then we have to agree free trade agreements with third countries, which involves the division of quotas. We are making good progress on that. We want a comprehensive agreement, because that is in the interests of all concerned. However, the Government are preparing contingencies should there be no agreement, which is the only responsible thing for a Government to do.

The Secretary of State knows full well that a technical rectification would disadvantage other members, which is why seven member states of the WTO have written to Azevêdo specifically setting out that that is unacceptable to them. On 6 July, the Secretary of State said that he was confident that a technical rectification of WTO schedules would be

“smooth and fully understood by our trading partners.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2017; Vol. 626, c. 1364.]

Well, it is not. What is he going to do about that? What assessment has he made of the delays and of the impact on our businesses that will result from that?

I do not anticipate that that will happen. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand what the process is, or what a negotiation is. It is quite clear that our first offer is not the final thing that we expect to be accepted. For example, we have no agreement yet on what will happen with unused quotas or aggregate measures of support. Those issues will be dealt with during the negotiation—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Gentleman likes to multitask, but being able to speak and listen simultaneously is not among his abilities.

Topical Questions

The Department has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation, including through overseas direct investment; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU.

I welcome Crawford Falconer to the Department as chief trade negotiation adviser—he brings a wealth of knowledge—and I can announce the convening of the Board of Trade today, which will ensure that the benefits of trade and investment are spread across the whole UK.

The EU Commission seems hellbent on damaging the economies of the remaining member states through its Brexit negotiations, so will my right hon. Friend say what preparations are being made for no deal?

The best thing for the whole of Europe is for us to reach a deep and comprehensive agreement on trade. We are committed to doing so, and we hope that our European partners will commit to move on to the second stage of negotiations as soon as possible, not least to remove any uncertainty to businesses and workers across Europe. However, if we are unable to do so, the Government have already undertaken a wide range of contingency plans.

Following the Bombardier tariff crisis, can the Secretary of State guarantee that Airbus in Bristol, which employs many people in my constituency, will not have new tariffs to pay once Britain leaves the EU?

There are two elements to that. Of course we want to maintain a completely tariff-free trading environment in Europe, and that is what we should be able to do, given that it is the starting point—that, of course, is unique in any trade negotiation. On the Bombardier case, we have made our views very clear to the United States. I spoke to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, only last week.

T2. The Government’s approach, based on the Florence speech, is entirely sensible and pragmatic. Of course we want a free trade deal, but it takes two to tango. May I press the Secretary of State further on earlier questions relating to what happens if there is no deal and we leave the single market at the end of March 2019? Is the Treasury giving him all the resources he needs to prepare for no deal—for schedules and making deals with other countries? That is absolutely vital. (901094)

I do not really wish to trumpet this to other Departments, but our Department has a unique agreement with the Treasury: we are able to increase staffing levels when that relates to Brexit issues, and we will continue to do so. As I said, we want to ensure that we get a good deal. There is no difference between the Chancellor and me. The Chancellor says that we need to spend money only as necessary. I think that that is correct, but we also need to ensure that we spend money on all areas where contingency plans are necessary.

Thank you, Sir; it is always good to have you keeping me up to pace.

Recent reports suggest that Boeing provided Monarch Airlines with 45 Boeing 737 MAX jets at a cut price and that Boeing used a complex sale and leaseback deal to provide Monarch with more than £100 million in cash against a paper profit. Given the Secretary of State’s earlier commitment to trade defence remedies, why has he left it to me to write to the EU Commissioners to ask them to investigate this as a matter of potential illegal dumping and anti-competitive behaviour?

I am happy to look at the precise nature of the hon. Gentleman’s allegation, but I have to say that the Government’s response on Monarch has been exemplary. We have devoted an incredible amount of resources to getting tens of thousands of stranded British subjects abroad back to this country. The process was led incredibly well by the Department for Transport, and we should be proud of the Government’s efforts in helping the victims of Monarch.

T3. Sheep farming in this country is good for the countryside, food and farming. It is important that we combine making sure that we control quotas of New Zealand lamb with maintaining exports to France. How is the Secretary of State getting on with disaggregating the EU quotas on New Zealand lamb meat? (901095)

We will take the same approach to New Zealand lamb as we do to all other tariff-rate quotas: allocate them on the basis of usage. As I have already explained, that will keep the market stable and mean that we are not disadvantaging New Zealand exporters or our domestic market. That is not only the fairest thing to do, but the best way to prevent the UK from being taken to dispute at the WTO, which is again to our mutual advantage.

If the EU27 do not give the two-year extension that the Prime Minister begged for in Florence, trade barriers will rise between the UK and how many other countries? Does the Department have a number?

I am not sure that I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. If it is helpful to him, I can say that there are 27 other countries in the European Union and the EU has more than 40 FTAs around the world. As I mentioned earlier, one of the roles of our Department is to transition those into UK-only FTAs, which should avoid any cliff edge or future trade barriers at all.

T4. The all-party parliamentary group on trade out of poverty, which I chair, is initiating an investigation into the role that the Commonwealth can play to help developing nations to trade out of poverty. We hope that that agenda will be taken up at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April. We have a potential leadership role, so will the Secretary of State communicate with the Commonwealth secretariat to ensure that that agenda item is taken up? (901096)

We have made it clear that we see our trade policy and our developmental policy as going hand in hand. We want countries to have the power to trade their way out of poverty. That will be one of our key themes at CHOGM and we will be setting out processes by which we think that can be made more possible in the future.

Many businesses in my constituency, particularly sheep and dairy farmers, are signing contracts early in the new year for exports in 2019. What certainty can the Secretary of State give them about pricing for 2019?

As I have said, our aim is to maintain market stability, but of course the good news is that the UK is continuing to export extremely well—we had an increase of about 15% in our exports in the 12 months to August 2017. We want to encourage that and to ensure that we get bigger market penetration, irrespective of what deal we get with the EU.

T6. Will the Secretary of State publish the Department’s plans for a no-deal situation before Christmas? (901098)

Across the Government we will make our contingency plans, but we continue to hope that the EU will come forward with a proper commitment to entering into the second part of the trade deal, as we think that is in our mutual interest.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Domestic Violence: Police Resources

1. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of police resources to support victims of domestic violence. (901055)

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services has noted in recent inspections that forces have protected dedicated resources to support victims of domestic abuse. The number of police referrals, prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse has increased significantly since 2010, but this Government are not complacent. In this Session, we will introduce a landmark domestic violence and abuse Bill to better protect and support victims and to bring perpetrators to justice.

According to the crime survey for England and Wales, an estimated 2 million adults aged 16 to 59, mostly women, say that they were victims of domestic abuse in the past year. Do not the Government accept that the massive cuts in police resources that they have inflicted will inevitably mean that there will be fewer arrests and fewer prosecutions for domestic violence, leaving more women in danger?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question, but I simply do not accept that at all. Interestingly, funding for Bedfordshire police has risen by 1.8% this year—that is £1.8 million. I hope that he will join me in congratulating his local police and crime commissioner on her personal leadership in tackling domestic violence in Bedfordshire and, in particular, on Project Emerald, which is delivering record numbers of prosecutions and protecting more women than ever before from domestic abuse.

Which police force responds to domestic violence the best and which responds to it the worst, and will the Minister get them together in the same room at the same time, so that one can inform the other?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can assure him that through the rigorous inspections of HMICFRS and the Home Secretary’s leadership in bringing together Departments, we are doing everything that we can to support police officers to deliver the best possible outcomes for victims of domestic abuse and violence.

The Minister said that legislation to tackle violence against women will be introduced. Will she comment on the practice of upskirting, on which a constituent of mine is leading a campaign? The practice involves individuals taking photographs underneath women’s skirts. I understand that it is unlawful in Scotland, so what plans does she have to introduce some form of penalty for it here?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Any sort of violence against and abuse of women and girls is totally unacceptable. This Government have a very ambitious strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, and of course we are always looking to make sure that police officers and our criminal justice system have all the measures that they need to keep women and girls safe.

Alcohol plays a significant part in the scourge of domestic violence, so will the Minister consider using the forthcoming legislation she mentioned to allow the use of alcohol abstinence monitoring orders in domestic violence cases, given that they are proving so successful with respect to other violent offences?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the important role that, tragically, alcohol can play in cases of domestic abuse and violence. It also causes wider harms. Dealing with the abuse of alcohol is a key part of our modern crime prevention strategy, which is why we are looking carefully at what more we can do to keep people safe, including through new measures on alcohol.

The reluctance of victims of domestic abuse to complain, and the law’s chronic failure to prevent serial abusers, are distressingly commonplace. Does the Minister agree that a domestic violence register of convicted repeat offenders would help the police to save lives?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I do not accept the premise at all. Confidence in the police is higher than it has ever been, and more and more victims are feeling confident enough to come forward. We see more victims coming are forward, more prosecutions and greater use of the powers that we already have to keep women safe. As I said, we are leaving no stone unturned and we are very ambitious about what more we can do to keep women and girls throughout the country safe.

Leaving the EU: Equalities and Human Rights

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on equalities and human rights. (901056)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on ensuring that all the protections in the Equality Act 2010, including the public sector equality duty, will continue to apply after we have left the EU.

I apologise for being a newbie, Mr Speaker.

Will the Minister confirm that pregnant women will not be obliged to work night shifts after we have left the EU? They currently enjoy such a protection under EU law.

EU equalities law has already been overwhelmingly transposed into UK law via the Equality Act. As I said, Ministers must also comply with a public sector equality duty. On workers’ rights more broadly, the Prime Minister was clear in her Lancaster House speech, which she made some time ago, that one of our key priorities will be to protect and maintain them.

As the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, may I say how heartening it is to see seven Ministers present to respond to Women and Equalities questions, which shows the importance that the Government attach to these issues?

Ministers have been consistent and clear that their policy objective with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is for things to stay the same after we leave the EU, with our having time to debate policy changes after that point. It is clear, however, that the removal of the charter of fundamental rights in itself creates a significant change in the underpinning of equality rights. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can avoid that unintended consequence?

The right hon. Lady should take it as a compliment that seven Ministers are required to cope with her.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) points out, the Government are committed to this agenda, which is why so many Ministers are prepared to answer questions this morning. She raises an important point. I have been very clear that there will be no backsliding on our equalities agenda and law as we leave the EU. I know that my right hon. Friend has a meeting with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) next week. That will be an important time to discuss how we can make sure that there will be no backsliding.

Many protections in EU law, especially equality rights, have already been written into UK law. Does the Minister therefore agree that our leaving the EU should not cause any detrimental impact on or removal of the rights and equalities that we currently enjoy, and will merely present us with the opportunity to further improve the law wherever we in the UK see fit to do so?

Absolutely, and it is worth my pointing out that in several areas, UK law already goes beyond existing EU law.

Does the excellent Secretary of State agree that one of the many advantages of coming out of the EU is the fact that this Parliament will be able to improve equalities and human rights without being restricted by the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have been one of those countries around the world that has constantly stood up for human rights and that has been credible because of our human rights record and our legal framework. We are determined that there will be no backsliding. I have no doubt that this Government, and future Governments, will want to continue to make progress.

Women’s State Pension Age

3. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of changes to the state pension age on women born in the 1950s. (901057)

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has regular discussions with the Minister for Women and Equalities, but the Government will not be revisiting the state pension age for women born in the 1950s who are affected by the Pensions Acts 1995, 2007 and 2011.

What encouragement are the Government giving to the 1,524 women in my constituency of Hull West and Hessle who are suffering because of the lack of notice given by this Government about changes to the state pension age?

The Government have already introduced transitional arrangements at a cost of £1.1 billion. The cost of reversing the Acts would be in excess of £70 billion and create an inequality between women and men.

What is the Minister’s view of any proposal to change legislation that would then favour women as opposed to men in pensions legislation?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am not a legal professional, but I think that any amendment to the current legislation that creates a new inequality between men and women would unquestionably be highly dubious as a matter of law.

8. Does the Minister recognise that signatures to early-day motions in this House since the general election show that there is cross-party support, and probably majority support in this House, for justice for the Women Against State Pension Inequality? If and when the WASPI question comes to the House on a Backbench Business motion or an Opposition day motion, will the Government sit on their hands like they have been doing, or will they allow the House to express its will? (901063)

The hon. Gentleman is very right to raise that question. Clearly, there is support on that matter across the House. However, it is also right that arrangements for the state pension system reflect welcome changes in average life expectancy and address long-standing inequalities in pension age. If we had not equalised state pension ages, women would be expected to spend more than 40% of their adult life in retirement.

Like scores of other 1950s women, I have struggled to get any information on the availability of apprenticeships that a Minister in a Westminster Hall debate on 5 July suggested were an option for struggling 1950s women. Can the Minister confirm whether she agrees with her colleague and thinks that his suggestion of an apprenticeship was really an appropriate one for tens of thousands of women currently being denied their pensions?

I am delighted that the hon. Lady is considering taking on an apprenticeship, because a very large number of women over the age of 60 are. I do not think that anybody should be forced to take one on, but those who want to should be practically encouraged to do so. Between August 2016 and April 2017, the number of apprenticeship starts for people aged 60 and over was 3,500, an increase on the previous year.

Discrimination Claims: Tribunal Fees

4. What steps she is taking to ensure that women who were unable to pursue pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims due to the cost of employment tribunal fees are able to bring forward their cases. (901058)

Anyone who believes that they were prevented from bringing an employment tribunal claim because they could not afford to pay the fee can make an application to the tribunal for permission to bring a claim out of time. The tribunal would then consider the application and apply the relevant legal criteria.

The Minister is in a muddle. He is supposed to be grouping the question with No. 6, which was the request of his Department to my office to which I agreed, but which he appears to have forgotten.

I apologise, Mr Speaker. With permission, I would like to group questions 4 and 6, and I refer to the answer that I have just given.

6. What steps she is taking to ensure that women who were unable to pursue pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims due to the cost of employment tribunal fees are able to bring forward their cases. (901060)

The Government’s research into maternity-related discrimination shows that one in nine mothers reports that they were either dismissed, made redundant or treated so badly that they had to leave their job. Following the Supreme Court case brought by Unison, the union I used to work for, what specific action are the Government taking to identify those who could have brought claims but did not because the Government acted unlawfully?

The Supreme Court judgment was clear on fees and we immediately stopped charging fees in response. We are putting in place the detailed arrangements to ensure that those who paid fees are refunded. We will shortly announce the practical detail that the hon. Gentleman is looking for. As I indicated a moment ago, those who could not apply to the tribunal because of the fee will now have the opportunity to do so.

I understand that the Government are considering how to approach the system, but will the Minister rule out any type of up-front fee to access justice in employment tribunals in the future?

We are clear that we are accepting the Supreme Court judgment. If the hon. Gentleman would like to read the judgment, he will see that it makes clear that there can be, in principle, a place for fees in the justice system. We need to strike the right balance between taxpayers subsidising the justice system and those who benefit from it making a contribution, but only when they are able to do so.

May I first ask the House to send our best get well wishes to our spokesperson on women and equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), who cannot be here today because she was in a car accident last week and is recovering at home?

I was glad to see the Supreme Court rule out tribunal fees because it has been a case of justice denied for so many thousands of women over the past years. There are still barriers for women accessing tribunal fees. The March of the Mummies will take place on Tuesday 31 October to ask specifically for an extension from three to six months to allow women more time to apply for the tribunal fees. Will the Minister meet me and those campaigners on 31 October?

First, I join the hon. Lady in extending my condolences and those of the Government to her colleague.

In relation to the Supreme Court judgment, I have to correct her. It was the balance of the fees that was an issue, and the judgment made it clear that it was, in principle, possible to have fees, but I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and look at her suggestions.

Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is the lowest it has ever been, but we can do better. We have introduced mandatory gender pay gap reporting for the first time and large employers now have six months left to report their gender pay gaps.

The gender pay gap remains as high as 34% in the east midlands. In my region in Wales, it is now 18%. That is largely due to the efforts of the Welsh Assembly Government in trying to support organisations in Wales, funded by the European social fund. What assessment has the Minister made of the use of that fund to help to close the gender pay gap? Will she examine this, to replicate it post-Brexit?

We are of course looking at all the European funds we currently have and how we can best ensure that we continue the work that they are doing post-Brexit. We can all do a lot more on this specific issue. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the recent Government Equalities Office employer events, which we have done around the country; I think he attended the one in Cardiff. The key thing is that the transparency requirement now on companies will, as much as anything else, force them to be clear-cut about where their policies lie. We are already seeing that, when that light of transparency is shone on the data, companies are producing action plans that are really making a difference.

Are the Government as committed to eliminating the part-time gender pay gap as they claim to be about eliminating the full-time gender pay gap? Will the Minister set out exactly what they are doing to eliminate the part-time gender pay gap?

We are absolutely committed to eliminating all the different gender pay gaps. Through the transparency work, we will ensure that companies produce clear-cut action plans that cover all their employees, whether or not they have flexible working arrangements.

Two days ago, the First Secretary of State made a statement to the House on the race disparity audit. He also told the House, as a white man with privilege, that he knew more about race than me—a black women with lived experiences—and Opposition Members, who are a broad church. As there are seven Ministers here today, will the Minister for Women and Equalities highlight seven of her Government’s policies, new or old, over the past seven years—seven is the magic number—that have helped to narrow the inequalities in our country?

Income inequality is at its lowest level. In the Department of Education alone, we have done significant work to ensure that black and minority ethnic pupils are doing better in school. Like me, the hon. Lady is a London MP and will know that there have been dramatic improvements in educational outcomes for BME communities here in London. More young people from BME communities are going to university than before. In fact, the ethnic group that is now the least likely to go to university in the UK is that of white British males. We are taking action across the board. The important thing about the race disparity audit is that, alongside things such as gender pay gap reporting, it is about using transparency to shine a light on areas where inequalities do still exist. I would like to think that we can work together as a Parliament to tackle those inequalities.

Childcare Responsibilities

In relation to progress on childcare, we are taking unprecedented steps to support parents with caring responsibilities, whether by providing tax-free childcare or doubling the provision of free childcare from 15 to 30 hours, and nearly 80% of parents in the early-delivery areas with 30 hours reported that the extended hours had given them more flexibility in their work choices. Of course, the right to request flexible working is also helping parents to balance work and care between them in a way that works for them and their families.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that the message goes out that mothers and fathers who choose to stay at home full time to care for their children, and who often care for those in their wider families and communities, are just as valued and appreciated for their contribution to society as those who of us who go out to work?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The approach in our Government policy agenda has been to give choice and to enable families to make the choices that are right for them. For many people, that will involve staying at home, and that is a choice that we also want to support. We have taken steps to equalise the choice for those parents who want to stay in the workplace and continue with careers, so that they can do so while also bringing up a family.

Caring for a terminally ill child can be absolutely devastating for parents. Currently, however, parents in this circumstance are not able to access disability living allowance mobility payments when the child is under three, despite having to carry about often very bulky medical equipment. Will the Government overcome this anomaly and support parents in this absolutely devastating situation?

Our hearts go out to any parent in what is, as the hon. Lady says, a devastating situation. We have a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions here today, who I know will take note of what she said. More broadly, we are spending nearly £3.6 billion on carer’s allowance every year. However, I think that we all recognise the responsibility we have, as a Government and a community, to support those who are carrying out such vital roles.

Topical Questions

Last month, I was delighted to be able to speak at the Financial Times Women at the Top summit, urging business leaders to fast-track their plans to address their gender pay gaps.

Similarly, on a separate matter, we will mark the centenary of voting rights being extended to women for the first time, by creating a new £5 million fund to help celebrate this landmark occasion. That will include a £1.5 million scheme specifically for projects run by local and community groups across England. We will set out plans for that shortly, and I hope that many communities will take part practically in those centenary celebrations.

I am delighted to say that the number of girls taking science, technology, engineering and maths A-levels—we saw the results this year—increased by 20% between 2010 and 2017.

Elsewhere on our policy agenda, we have now received over 100,000 responses to the nationwide survey on the views and experiences of LGBT people living in the UK.

The High Court judgment on Monday found that the Government’s 2016 redefinition of torture for immigration purposes was unlawful. Will the Government now widen the definition of torture so that vulnerable women who have been victims of abuse and trafficking who are currently held in Yarl’s Wood can be immediately released?

We can be proud of this country’s record on not only fighting torture abroad and improving human rights but being a sanctuary and home for asylum seekers. In relation to the court case the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I have no doubt that Ministers are looking at the judgment carefully and will want to address the issues it raises.

Earlier this week, we saw new information that shows that the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence against girls in our schools is increasing, and that is a year after the Women and Equalities Committee published its inquiry into the subject. What more will the Government do to make sure that their policies are working to keep girls and children safe in our schools?

As my right hon. Friend points out, we have taken a range of steps already, but the recent report highlights again how significant an issue this is for young people now. As social media become a staple part of young people’s lives to a greater and greater extent, those risks will only grow. She will be aware that we are trying to make sure that the guidance that we provide to schools remains up to date, and that sits alongside other areas of action from the Government such as updating the relationship and sex education guidance. We are clear that if schools see this happening, they should report it to children’s social services or the police—it is vital that they take action.

Schoolgirls in Yorkshire and elsewhere have had to use toilet paper and even socks stuffed into their underwear because families cannot afford sanitary protection due to poverty pay and welfare cuts. Will the Secretary of State consider matching our commitment to set aside funding to tackle period poverty and ensure that girls never miss out on their education just because they are having periods?

Schools already have discretion over how they can use their funding. If they want to make sanitary products available to disadvantaged students, they are free to do so. The House will recognise that the issue goes far wider than the role of schools: it is also about making sure that parents understand the need to play their role in educating their children and, separately, the clear-cut duty that they have to comply with the law and make sure that their children are attending school.

The Secretary of State referred to the welcome increase in the number of girls doing STEM subjects at A-level. What measures will the Government take to increase the number of girls choosing careers that require STEM subjects?

The work of the Careers & Enterprise Company will be vital in making sure that employers are plugged into schools and helping to shape careers advice at a much earlier stage, including in primary schools, than in the past. It is welcome that we are now truly building that pipeline of women who will be able to go into those careers. I opened the National College for High Speed Rail earlier this week, and many girls were starting their apprenticeships there, but there is much more work to be done.

T2. While I welcome the Prime Minister’s initiative to tackle ethnic inequality in targeted areas, including Kirklees, can the Minister explain what that will actually do to improve the lives of my constituents? (901088)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is important that we look closely at the findings of the racial disparity audit that was released this week and work across the Government in every Department—including the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education—to bring forward positive changes to address some of the very uncomfortable findings in the audit.

We have made incredible progress since women won the right to vote, and I am especially proud of my female colleagues and Ministers and, of course, our second female Prime Minister. What more will the Minister do to increase the number of women in Parliament?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Interestingly, for all political parties—much of this is down to political parties—it is about the pipeline. Only 17% of council leaders are women; only one third of councillors are women; and, shockingly, of the board members of combined authorities, only 4% are women. Next year represents a fantastic opportunity not only to celebrate the centenary, but for all elected representatives to encourage more women to enter public life.

Yes, but the hon. Lady is No. 3 at topicals, and therefore if she is fizzing with a further inquiry with which she wishes to favour the House, she is welcome to do so. It is not compulsory.

T3. May I therefore press the Minister on the period question, because I find her attitude a little harsh and I wonder whether she will review it in the light of what has been said today? I think the matter needs a second look. I think her approach is a little harsh in terms of, first, schools having to stump up money for sanitary pads and, secondly, blaming parents. Periods are just one of those things; we cannot blame parents for periods. (901089)

As I said, this is clearly an important area, but we have to recognise that we need to allow schools some discretion about how they deal with this alongside a range of other specific issues that the pupils that they teach may face. I do not agree with the hon. Lady; I do think that parents have a responsibility to play their role in making sure that children understand how to approach adult life.

The publication of this week’s racial disparity audit contained many interesting findings, including that Chinese pupils do particularly well at school and that white British males are under-represented in university applications. How will the Minister promote and replicate the first issue and tackle the second?

My hon. Friend is quite right. He will be aware that our opportunity area work—bearing in mind the communities in which it is being done—is doing a lot to address those issues. We have excellent data in the Department for Education to enable us to look at where we are doing well at improving outcomes for white working-class boys, but we absolutely have to do a lot better. That is why we are taking a much more place-based approach to our education delivery.

T5. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about adding misogyny to the list of hate crimes? (901091)

We keep all public order offences under constant review. If the hon. Lady would like to make a submission in relation to that, I would be happy to look at it.

It is important to ensure that our girls, as well as our boys, get a good education, and the best way to do that is to ensure that we have good teachers. What is the Minister doing to ensure that more girls, as well as boys, go into teaching?

We are determined to increase the number of high-quality graduates coming into teaching, whether they are male or female. We have a series of generous tax-free bursaries of up to £28,000 to encourage the best graduates to come into teaching. We have a very strong economy, so we are competing with industry and commerce for those graduates, but we are doing everything we can to get more good people into teaching.

T6. Can Ministers say what more can be done to eliminate the cruel and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation? (901092)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have campaigned on this for many years, and we can be proud of the role that the UK has played in helping to tackle this atrocious practice overseas as well as at home. We have introduced FGM protection orders, and most recently the Girl summit was co-hosted by the Department for International Development, of which I was Secretary of State at the time, and by the then Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister. There is much more work to be done, but we are more on track than we have ever been in the past. We are, importantly, working with communities on the ground to change cultural attitudes.

We are out of time, but I am going to take a question from one more hon. Member who missed out earlier—Gerard Killen.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following yesterday’s High Court decision to allow a full judicial review of the Government’s policy, does the Minister agree that it is time for the UK to join countries such as Ireland and Australia in issuing gender-neutral passports?

I know that the Home Office will be studying the Court ruling carefully. The Office for National Statistics is also looking generally at how we approach data in relation to gender. I simply say that, although we need to reflect the modern world in which we live, I hope that a bit of common sense can be brought to the matter.