Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017

Over the past month, Mr Speaker, we were both, along with many colleagues from across the House, able to attend the event recognising the Patchwork Foundation’s excellent work engaging under-represented groups in politics. I was also lucky enough to be able to join the UK Youth Parliament in Parliament a few Fridays ago, when it debated important equalities issues such as LGBT rights and the need for a more diverse Parliament over the coming years.

Increasing diversity in Parliament is critical. The Government also remain committed to increasing equality in the workplace and it is good news that the new gender pay gap reporting released last month shows that the full-time gender pay gap is now the lowest it has ever been. Of course, this week marks the launch of our latest programme for returners in the public sector, for those wishing to rejoin the civil service. My Department is leading the way by offering returner places within the Government Equalities Office.

What steps is the Minister planning to take to celebrate the centenary of women being able to vote?

We have announced a £5 million fund that will do three things. First, it will help us fund the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Secondly, there will be grassroots funding and we are alerting community organisations around the country so that they can do their own local projects. Thirdly, as we announced in the Budget yesterday, seven centenary cities and towns in England with a strong suffrage history will receive funding to make sure that the places where the push for women’s votes was strongest can play their role in helping us remember such an important milestone.

Parliament itself is very much engaged with these matters, of course, and that will take the form of a huge exhibition in the course of 2018, which I am sure all colleagues will wish to visit and to encourage others to visit.

Yesterday’s Budget proved that austerity is a failed economic project and women have paid the price. Since 2010, 86% of net savings to the Treasury have come from women. Last year, the Treasury refused to send a Minister to the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions about the impact of the Government’s budget plans and fiscal statements on women. The intersectionality of the cuts takes into account all the benefits to women, and they are still 10 or 12 times worse off. If the Minister disagrees, does she not think that it is about time for a comprehensive equality impact assessment to be conducted by the Government and for the Treasury to be held to account on the impact of their policies on women and diverse communities?

In the fact-free environment in which the Opposition live, it is easy to ignore what respected commentators such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies say about that analysis. It has said that

“what is possible falls a long way short of a full gender impact assessment.”

The IFS makes that point because the analysis of the Budget considers tax and welfare but does not and cannot take into account the impact of the national living wage, the childcare policies this Government have introduced, the work we have done on the gender pay gap, or the legal changes we have made on shared parental leave and flexible working. It gives a very narrow picture of how much the Government are doing to support women. The other point that has been missed is that there are now more women in work than ever before. If we are really interested in women’s economic empowerment, surely that is the main statistic we should focus on.

I call David Morris—he is not here. Where is the fellow? An extraordinary business; he is no doubt in Morecambe. What a pity. Nevertheless, Mr Cleverly is here, so let’s hear him.

T3. Does my right hon. Friend share my encouragement that more than 100,000 people took part in the Government’s LGBT survey? What further steps is she taking to ensure greater LGBT equality in British society? (902545)

The survey received an unprecedented response, making it one of the largest LGBT surveys in the world. We will analyse those results closely and set out further steps to promote LGBT equality next year. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are taking other action, including running a large anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme in our schools.

Recent research by the Fawcett Society showed that it would take 100 years to close the gender pay gap at the current rate of change, and a report by the Women and Equalities Committee has suggested that we will achieve true economic equality only if we move to make all jobs flexible by default and introduce non-transferable paid paternity leave. What steps will the Government take to enact those recommendations?

This is an important topic. Paying men and women unequally for the same work has been unlawful for nearly 50 years, and I spoke directly with Frances O’Grady only yesterday about the need for us to work collectively to tackle this. The Department for Education also held a flexible working summit with the teaching profession last month. I agree that improving flexible working is part of how we can ensure that women are better able to get back into the workplace. In relation to equal pay, that is a legal requirement and gender pay gap transparency is part of how we can continue to shine a light on this range of issues.

T4. Many women’s rights campaigners have raised concerns about women’s safety in relation to the use of women’s facilities, ranging from toilets right through to women’s prisons, where people who were born men use them simply on the basis of self-certifying that they are now women. What response will the Secretary of State give to those women’s rights campaigners who are concerned about women’s safety? (902546)

The Equality Act 2010 allows organisations to provide single-sex services and we have no intention of changing the safeguards that are already in place to protect vulnerable women by providing those services. The consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will be a wide and open consultation, and we want to hear views from all stakeholders, including women’s groups and refuges.

Order. I am afraid that we are out of time, and there is heavy pressure on business today, but I am going to make an exception. The voice of Kettering must be heard, and I call Mr Philip Hollobone.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, is a leading disability rights campaigner and was a superb nominee for the post of Disability Commissioner. After his nomination was made known to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, however, the post was abolished. Has the Government Equalities Office informed the Prime Minister’s office of this disgraceful development, and if so, when?

The roles and responsibilities given to board members of the Equality and Human Rights Commission are matters for the commission itself, and the Government have no power to reinstate the EHRC’s Disability Commissioner role.

Far be it from me to deny the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee of the House the final question of this session. I call Mrs Maria Miller.

Parliament and the Leader of the House are tackling the difficult issue of sexual harassment in this place, and that is to be applauded, but 50% of women in the workplace in general suffer sexual harassment. What are the Government going to do to ensure that the strong laws set out in the Equality Act 2010 and beyond are actually abided by, by businesses in this country?

The debate that we have been having in this place is part of how we raise these issues of sexual harassment in the workplace. We need to be clear that it is illegal and unacceptable, and that it needs to be stamped out wherever we see it. There is legal protection, but we are increasingly understanding that attitudes fundamentally need to change. Also, the Department for Education can play a clear role in ensuring that young people at school get the kind of education that they need to understand that these attitudes are unacceptable, and that they get that from an early age.