I ask you, Mr Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members to look up—to look up and remember that before 1834, women could only watch proceedings in this House through a ventilation shaft right in the middle of the ceiling.
Thank you. It is so useful to be corrected by helpful gentlemen here.
After this palace was rebuilt because of the great fire of 1834, things improved, but not much. There was now a Ladies Gallery above the Speaker’s Chair, but it was high up and there was a row of heavy grilles covering the glass. That was deliberate: it was there to stop the MPs from seeing the women because it was thought that they might distract them. In the Ladies Gallery, you could not see properly, you could not hear properly, and it was hot and uncomfortable. Leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett described the Ladies Gallery as
“a grand place for getting headaches”
and said that it was like wearing a giant pair of spectacles that were not designed properly because it was so difficult to see through the grilles. The grilles were both a physical and metaphorical symbol of women’s absolute exclusion from Parliament in the 19th century, so it was no surprise that they became a target during the suffragette movement, with women tying themselves to them in protest.
All around Parliament, we can see the marks of the long and arduous struggle for women to win the right to vote and to be heard in Parliament. There is the plate in the crypt chapel that marks the place where suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hid on census night; there is the damaged statue of Viscount Falkland—damaged because a suffragette handcuffed herself to it and was forcibly removed; and the hated grilles are still preserved in Central Lobby.
The fight for women to have a voice and a vote was long and hard, both inside and outside Parliament. Suffragettes were brutally force-fed with tubes: a process so painful that it could cause lifelong injuries and make even the prison wardens cry in horror. Those who dared march in favour of women’s rights were pelted with rotting vegetables, dead rats, rocks and cowpats.
But the struggle was worth it, because on this day 100 years ago an important law was passed that changed the UK forever. On this day a century ago, the Representation of the People Act was passed in Parliament, allowing some women—those over the age of 30, with property—to vote for the very first time. In fact, it was the Home Secretary at the time, Sir George Cave, who was the main sponsor of the Representation of the People Bill, which became the famous 1918 Act. It was also the Home Secretary who moved the crucial clause, clause 4, on franchises for women.
Although women did not get full voting rights until 1928, when a Conservative Government passed the Equal Franchise Act, what happened in 1918 was a major step in the right direction. That February vote paved the way for women to make huge strides forward in politics and in many other spheres of life. That is why it is so important that the determination of the women who fought for our democratic rights is never forgotten.
To help do that, the Government are celebrating this milestone with a special £5 million fund. In November, we announced that £1.2 million of that money is going directly to seven centenary cities and towns in England with a strong suffrage history. Bolton, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester and Nottingham will use that money to strengthen the reach and legacy of the centenary and help inspire a new generation with this story. Leicester unveiled the statue of its local suffragette hero, Alice Hawkins, on Sunday.
In December, we opened the small grant scheme so that local groups could bid for money to pay for local events to celebrate the anniversary. Today, I am pleased to announce that the large grant scheme is now open, so that local community groups can bid for even bigger projects worth up to £125,000. The rest of the £5 million fund will be used to pay for activities to raise awareness of the importance of democracy for young people, as well as to erect a statue of leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Money will also go to projects specifically designed to increase the number of women in political office, including piloting a programme to inspire young women with opportunities to be leaders in their communities.
The centenary is also a great opportunity to take stock and celebrate all that we have achieved as women. I am proud to be part of the most diverse House of Commons in British history. We have our second female Prime Minister. A third of those attending Cabinet are women, and we have the highest ever number of female MPs. Outside politics, we have seen so much progress since 1918. More women are in a more diverse range of jobs than ever before and are increasingly at the top of their fields.
But let us not fool ourselves that true equality is a done deal. It is something we must all continue to work for. We know that women still face barriers. The gender pay gap and sexual harassment must be addressed. Women are still more likely to take on the bulk of childcare responsibilities. Only 4% of chief executives of FTSE companies are women, and I am certain that we are more likely to be sitting next to a man than a woman on these Benches—perhaps not during this statement, but generally.
Those of us who have our place here face vile sexist abuse. We have seen a concerted effort both online and offline to destroy the confidence of women who want to be involved in political life. Just last week, we learnt that the Labour leader of Haringey Council had quit over what she called “bullying” and “sexism” by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) receives endless horrible abuse. In fact, she has disgracefully received over half of all the online abuse sent to female politicians. As she has said, it is the sheer volume of hatred that makes it so debilitating, so corrosive and so upsetting. In my constituency of Hastings and Rye, I am often asked by people who come up to me, “How can you bear it—the hate?” I bear it, like other women in this Chamber do, because I know that female voices matter in politics and in life.
But we should not have to bear it. We need to call this sort of behaviour out and make it clear that enough is enough. I know, like the suffragettes and suffragists did, that this House is for everybody, and I hope we can welcome even more women here in the future. I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Minister for sight of her statement. Unfortunately, I have not really had time to read it as it was given to me so late—not very sisterly, but never mind.
I was hoping that the Minister was going to make an announcement today that the Government were going to issue an official apology to the women of the suffragette movement or maybe a pardon for those who were wrongly imprisoned and sexually assaulted in their battle to get women the vote. Instead, all we have is another announcement—how utterly disappointing.
The Minister is right: 2018 marks the landmark centenary of when some women received the right to vote. That was also the day when men, wanting to cement their authority and majority, decided to give working-class men the vote, so the men in my office are also celebrating today. Working-class women, socialists, trade unionists and black, Asian and minority ethnic women were still denied a voice.
Labour is the party of equality, with a proud record of advancing women’s rights. We are so proud of our achievements and ashamed of the Tory party’s determination to undo and remove safeguards for women. [Hon. Members: “What?”] Let me explain. Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 had a safeguard for women and employees who might be sexually harassed or abused by third parties, as we saw in the Presidents Club, but unfortunately the coalition Government removed that section in 2013. I hope the Government will reinstate it. Almost every piece of legislation that has improved the lives of women has been introduced by a Labour Government.
I am afraid it is true. I do not want to get into, “Our one’s bigger than your one,” but Labour has more female MPs than all the political parties put together. This Government talk about their commitment to equality, but in reality, the only thing they are committed to is making announcements without action.
It is true that the entire process of the grants has been shambolic. The Government announced a women’s centenary fund. They took nine months to officially launch it and gave women’s groups just four days to submit an online application for funding if they wanted to be in time to celebrate today’s date. The Government talk about their commitment to equality, but as I said, they are just making another announcement.
This was supposed to be a momentous opportunity for the country to come together and celebrate the achievements made over the last 100 years of some women gaining the vote, but instead, the Government have outsourced yet another contract that has fallen woefully short of achieving its intended purpose. Labour will be pressing the Government for answers on the allocation of these funds. I am glad that the Minister gave some details today about where the funds have gone, but only 4% of them have been allocated.
This year must be the year that women’s voices are fully heard in politics. This year, the Labour party will be celebrating the centenary for the whole year. I am really pleased that the House authorities have named the exhibition in the Houses of Parliament after me—“New Dawn”—so my name will live forever in this place.
I urge—[Interruption.] I urge the Minister and all the Members heckling me from a sedentary position to take a moment on this day and in this year, marking the centenary and the 10 years until all women received the right to vote, to take a moment to think about the Government’s policies and the damage they are doing to women, with 86% of the cuts falling on the shoulders of women. Please take a moment to think about the structural barriers and the privilege that we have to undo. Please take that moment in this year.
May I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for the work that has been done throughout Parliament on the Vote 100 celebrations?
I know that this is something that involves everybody, and I must say I am slightly disappointed at the tone of the hon. Lady’s approach. I think it is great to see so many women active in Parliament, and I wish she could perhaps be a little bit more celebratory about that today. In fact, this Government are committed to making sure that we deliver for women, such as the highest level of employment for women and the tax cuts to the personal allowance, which have been so helpful to women.
Instead of making a great list, I just want to challenge the hon. Lady on one element of my statement that she did not engage with, but which I think was the most important element: what are we going to do about stopping the hate towards women? If we want more women to enter politics—we want more women councillors, more women MPs—we must take action to stop the level of hate coming at women. A lot of it comes from Momentum. We have seen that—[Interruption.] I am not saying that it only comes to Conservatives. I say to the hon. Lady that I know it comes to Labour MPs as much as it does to Conservative MPs. Momentum is not selective in who it abuses.
It is incredibly important that we all call this out. If we listened to Claire Kober’s comments over the weekend, she was explicit about where the abuse had come from and about the sexism that had come to her. It is incredibly important that we work together on this to make sure that it does not happen. Today, let us look ahead to this year of celebrations and to all the work we can do to encourage more women to come forward and not be put off by the hate directed to them.
It is a privilege to have served in this House for nearly 26 years now. Every day, as I take my seat on this Bench, I look across at the memorial to Jo Cox on the other side of the Chamber, and I remember that there is a huge capacity in this House to work cross-party and to bring about positive change, which we all want to do. I am therefore very pleased that the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement on such an auspicious day, particularly to pay tribute to the people who gave us the equal suffrage that we now enjoy.
As we take stock, however, we must not forget that women are still under-represented in this place and in other fields—such as science and engineering, and the top levels of business—and that women still do not get equal pay for equal work. Much of the stereotyping of male and female roles begins in the classroom. What message will my right hon. Friend send to teachers today to ensure real equality of opportunity and aspiration for all our students in the future, irrespective of gender?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. She is herself such an inspiration for many women coming into Parliament, who can see her extraordinary achievements. In answer to her question, a pack is going to be made available for teachers in schools to build on the celebrations that we are having here and to make girls in schools aware of the changes that have taken place over the 100 years.
I also say to teachers in schools that I know they want what we want, which is more equality of opportunity for girls as they go into the workplace. One thing we need to be better at is encouraging more girls to go into STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths. At the moment, only 30% of STEM subjects at A-level are taken by women. We need to do better at that and encourage them to get more involved in STEM subjects, so that they have more opportunities in adult life.
I am very proud to be able to respond to the statement on behalf of my party, the Scottish National party, following in the footsteps of inspirational women such as Winnie Ewing, Margo MacDonald and our own First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. She has shown her commitment with a 50:50 gender-balanced Cabinet, and she has today made a commitment to encourage more women to come in behind us, as women in politics, with a £500,000 fund to encourage women into public life at all levels in Scotland, where they are so desperately needed.
In this House that man built, suffragists and suffragettes gave us our place. We have a voice, but we do not yet have equality. A woman called Carolyn in Glasgow reflected on Twitter today:
“No right will persist if it is not protected.”
We have a duty to protect the rights of women in the work we do.
I do not wish to be party political, but I would be doing a disservice to suffragettes who stood up for their causes, which were about more than just winning the vote for women, if I did not say that we still have a Government who pursue policies such as the rape clause and social security cuts that hit women’s budgets— 85% of the cuts have come out of women’s pockets—and that we have yet to see justice for the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigners. We also have yet to see the work on the Istanbul convention begun by my colleague Eilidh Whiteford, the first SNP woman to get legislation passed in this place, brought fully into force.
Across the country today and in this building, children are learning about the work of the suffragettes, and primary 4/5 of St Albert’s Primary School are learning why women fought to get their rights. May I ask the Minister to encourage other schools right across the country to take up opportunities to learn more about that battle, including by going to organisations such as the Glasgow women’s library and the Mitchell library in Glasgow, which holds the mugshots of suffragettes arrested and jailed in Glasgow? Today, the suffragette flag is flying over the former Calton jail in Edinburgh, where women were held and force-fed.
We reflect today on how far we have come, yet we also reflect on how far we have to travel. I see many people in the suffragette colours, which are purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope—and I am wearing green for hope.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response. We share a view about wanting to make sure that the history of the suffrage movement is well understood. The new generation of girls needs to understand why it was so hard-fought and why it is therefore so important for them to participate in the vote.
The hon. Lady asked specifically about the legislation we are bringing forward to do more to protect women. I gently say to her that the Government are very focused on making sure that we continue to do so both in the positive—making sure that we have a better approach to the gender pay gap—and in protecting women. That is why we are bringing forward this year a domestic abuse Bill, which will address the issue of the Istanbul convention.
It is right that we celebrate today, and most of us would want to recognise what we have achieved working together, often cross-party, to improve the lot of women in this country. I particularly want to pay tribute to all the people who have served on the Women and Equalities Committee for the incredible work we have done together to try to improve things for women in our country.
It is our role in the Commons to scrutinise laws and to make sure that we have a healthy democracy. Allowing women the right to stand for election to this place and giving them the vote gave us a healthier democracy 100 years ago, and we need to make sure we build on that in the future to have more women in this place and ensure a healthier democracy in years to come.
My right hon. Friend was right not to forget the abuse and intimidation that the suffragettes endured from their opposition 100 years ago. It is the sort of abuse that too many women who stand for public office still have to endure today. What can my right hon. Friend tell us about the work the Government will be doing to tackle the online abuse that is so clearly putting women off standing for election and, in doing so, to make sure that in the future we can have a 50:50 Parliament that properly represents this country?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who has done so much herself to promote the cause of equality in Parliament as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I share her view that we need to do more to stop the online abuse that is really damaging the self-confidence of so many women and reducing the likelihood that they will get involved in politics.
One of the things we have announced is that we have asked the Law Commission to look at the legislation to ensure that what we constantly say here is actually the case—namely, that things that are illegal offline are also illegal online. Is that being taken forward, and is the legislation in place to deliver on that? We are going to make sure that that is the case, and if necessary we will come back to the Chamber with proposals.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I commend the right hon. Lady for her assertion that although as women, inside and outside the House, we have made tremendous progress, we still have so much further to go?
May I also say that I fully support the Government’s move to ask the Law Commission to consider the case for making it an offence to threaten and abuse parliamentary candidates? This is about misogynists seeking to silence women who dare to speak out—it is particularly virulent against younger women and black women. Voters have the right to choose whoever they want, man or woman, to represent them, and once that representative is elected to Parliament it is their right and duty to be able to get on with the job without being subjected to intimidation, threats or violence. This is about our democracy, so I hope Members in all parts of the House will give it their full support.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments, and I am full of admiration for the work that she did in government to promote the role and the importance of women’s working lives. That goes absolutely to the core of the argument for wanting more women MPs and more women in government, because only then do we get government’s application to and attention on the improvements that need to take place. I thank her for her support in this area and I completely share her view—this is an attack on women; it is a sexist attack. We have seen an escalation of it over the past few years. It is not good enough for people to say, as some do, “You’re in politics. You must accept it.” We do not accept it. We will take action to stop it, and we will push for cultural change.
I think we all want to celebrate how important this day is. It is 100 years since women first got the vote. My message to any young woman or girl watching this is, “Go for it!” This is an amazing place to be able to speak up for your community, and we want a Parliament that is hugely diverse.
Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that we should pay huge tribute to wonderful organisations such as the Girl Guides, which play their role in inspiring a brand new generation of girls to get involved, but that there is work to be done, which we all need to do, in inspiring men and boys to become part of a campaign on gender equality in the next 100 years, when perhaps they did not play as much of a role during the past 100 years?
Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I share her approach to encouraging young women to get involved. They should indeed go for it. And yes, third-party organisations such as the Girl Guides and the Scouts play an important role in giving women the confidence to be able to find their own voices. Of course, men play an important part as well in helping us change the law and helping change attitudes, so that the sort of abuse that women have received, often from men, becomes culturally unacceptable. We need their help for that.
Today, the Home Affairs Committee will take evidence from the Fawcett Society on how we tackle misogyny and hate crime today. Does the right hon. Lady agree that, given that we all stand on the shoulders of our mothers, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers who fought for so many women to have their voices heard, the best tribute that we can pay to all those women who fought for us is to fight ourselves for women’s equality for our daughters and for our granddaughters in future, and to make sure that our sons and grandsons count themselves as feminists, too?
I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Lady. We must not sit back on our laurels and think that it has all been achieved. We need to keep on making the point and ensure, as she rightly says, that the next generation understands that and that equality matters to men as much as it matters to women.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and answer her call that men should join the fight to secure women’s rights? May I ask her to do one small thing? I draw her attention to early-day motion 866, which has been signed by many right hon. and hon. Members, not least men from this side of the House. It asks the Government to implement section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, which would require political parties to publish the gender balance of their candidate lists. It might not be very conducive for this party to publish its lists, but that would encourage us to select more women as candidates to take their role in public life.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He, of course, has played an important role in encouraging women to get involved in Parliament. We are always grateful for the additional support of men, which is such an important part of this. I will take a careful look at what he suggests.
A hundred years on from the first women winning the chance to vote, power in our society is still predominantly and disproportionately in the hands of men. We are a long way from equal power. Government and legislation have an important role to play, but there is also a wider task for all of us to unpick the sexism and the gendered assumptions that are woven right through our culture. Does the Minister agree that the best way to honour the spirit of the suffragettes is for everyone, regardless of gender, to take action in their everyday life to promote gender equality?
I wholly agree with the hon. Lady. It is interesting where one can see sexism, which can surprise one. I sometimes go to meetings and find that there are not any women there. All of us should have a responsibility for calling that out and saying to people who might be hosting a meeting or chairing an event, “That’s not good enough. Where are the women?” Of course, that gives one an opportunity to step up and take a role, but most importantly, it makes sure that there are fewer all-male events. We need to call it out wherever we see it.
May I join the Minister in calling out controlling and misogynistic language—trying to shout women down in public life? We must learn the lesson that the suffragettes taught all of us: it is deeds, not words, that we are here to give. Will she join those of us calling out the Sierra Leonean politicians using female genital mutilation as an election pledge and standing with the women whose voices can no longer be heard, such as Michelle Samaraweera, whose rapist and murderer still sits free in India despite the Government asking for his extradition eight years ago? Madeleine Albright told us that there was a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. Let us use our platform to speak for women who cannot yet speak out and show the difference it makes.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point, and I completely share her view. This Government, with cross-party support, have done much to ensure that we address female genital mutilation in this country and that, where we think girls are being taken abroad, the Border Force is trained to make sure that it looks after this issue. But there is no room to stop on that sort of action and I share her view. The idea of using female genital mutilation as an election pledge is just disgusting and disgraceful.
May I add my support to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) in urging the Minister to look at section 106 of the Equality Act? When the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was taking the Act through the House, she drafted that clause in a cross-party manner; I worked with her when I was the shadow Minister. There is nothing in the clause that we should be afraid of. We have seen from the BBC that transparency and publishing information help to make change, and although we have made progress on this side of the House, we know we can go further. I urge my right hon. Friend to look seriously at the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the point, which he makes so eloquently. I also congratulate him on his new role as co-chair of Women2Win. I know he will play an important part in ensuring that we get more women into Parliament. As I have said, I will certainly take a look at the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin).
Order. I should just note for colleagues that the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), when he was Government Chief Whip, responded favourably and quickly to a request from me and others to establish the Women and Equalities Committee. His role in that matter ought to be acknowledged and respected.
I was honoured in Leicester on Sunday to help unveil the statue to the suffragette Alice Hawkins. Alice was a shoe factory worker who fought all her life for equality and liberty, including infamously digging up Leicester golf club with the message,
“No votes for women, no golf for men.”
On a more serious note, Alice knew, as we all know, that the fight for equality never ends. Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the next big battles is to ensure that the increasing number of women who care for elderly relatives are treated fairly in work and get the support they need, because this will happen to all of us as we live for longer? For those women to have equality, we need better support, better social care and more flexibility in the workplace.
The hon. Lady is right that the main carer for elderly people—often it is our parents—tends to be a woman, just as it does for children. One thing that we hope to achieve culturally, rather than through legislation, is to share that responsibility more equally. Certainly she is right that the Government need to give considerable support to the women who do so much of the caring.
Emily Davison was a child of Northumberland and is buried in Morpeth, 6 miles from where I live. The town is in full bunting celebration this week to remember her and her bravery in stepping out, because she felt she had no other way to be heard, to try to reach the King on Epsom racecourse, where she lost her life.
The challenge is that bravery is still required to stand as a female politician. Too many people say to me, “Gosh, you’re very brave to be in politics.” I do not feel brave. Mostly, I feel very loud and noisy: I have stuff to say, I want to say it and I have this extraordinary place in which to share my beliefs. Can the Home Secretary give us confidence that we will get the police force and the Crown Prosecution Service to work more effectively to protect us and all those who follow us in politics from attacks? I have received personal attacks that have not been followed up, whereas colleagues have found police forces in other parts of the country more effective.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope it is taken as a central theme of the message I am putting out today that we will do more to ensure that women who participate in elections are protected. The Law Commission is reviewing whether there is a parity of approach to offline and online offences, as we believe should be the case. If an additional piece of law is needed to ensure that electoral candidates get additional protection, we will put one in place. I will review what my hon. Friend has said to see if there is any additional help I can give her.
Even in this Brexit-free week, the Government have chosen to bring forward Bills about smart meters and space technology, while the gender-based violence legislation has been postponed time and again. A century ago, Parliament managed to cope with a world war and the women’s suffrage legislation at one and the same time. When will the Government stop procrastinating and deliver on their duty to improve women’s lives?
I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s criticism. We are bringing forward a domestic abuse Bill this year and will embark on a consultation shortly. We want to engage, as I have been doing, with stakeholders and Members of Parliament, including Opposition Members, to ensure that we include what really matters to them. Protecting women and their lives is central to what we do.
My youngest daughter recently asked her father, “Daddy, can men become Members of Parliament too?” but I suspect that she is a little bit unusual. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must use the opportunity of the centenary to encourage more women to stand for election and to overcome their fears of being in the public eye, because of the good they could do as an MP or a local councillor? In almost any elected role, one has the opportunity to give people a voice and make lives better.
I reassure my hon. Friend that as part of the celebrations this year, we are focused on encouraging more young women to get involved in politics and, potentially, to become Members of Parliament. The Cabinet Office has an education pack that it will be putting out to schools. As I said in my statement, we are also commissioning organisations to engage across the country with young women to make them aware of the opportunities they have to represent their constituency in this place.
There is nobody more partisan than I am, but today is no time to be partisan. It is a time to be proud that we are all lucky enough to be in this place on such an auspicious day, when we welcome and celebrate 100 years of women’s enfranchisement. When I first came here, there were only 60 women MPs and today we celebrate comprising nearly a third of all Members, but it is still not enough.
While we do not have the representation we want here, there is also an issue outside this place for the women who form 51% of the population: enforcement of the laws to protect them is very bad, particularly in the employment sphere. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to say how we can improve the enforcement of employment law to ensure that all women in every workplace up and down this country are properly protected?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising not only women in Parliament, which is central to what we are discussing today, but the additional subject of women outside Parliament and ensuring that they have the access to top jobs and the full opportunities that men have. The Taylor review contained many recommendations, the vast majority of which we are taking forward. We now have a director of labour market enforcement to co-ordinate the different groups and ensure that there is no abuse of the labour market. We will always take working lives very seriously to ensure that there is no breach of the legislation.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that Sussex is leading the way in having great women in politics, with our wonderful Home Secretary, our first female Muslim Minister who spoke at the Dispatch Box a few weeks ago, a female chief executive officer of East Sussex County Council, a female leader of West Sussex County Council and Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner. Does she agree that to replicate that success across the country, we need to work together across the parties not just to celebrate our achievements so far, but to make sure that we are doing more for women in politics?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She is an extraordinary woman in her own right. Not only is she a Member of Parliament; she is one of those wonderful Macmillan night nurses that we all know so well. She is an extraordinary role model and I hope that her presence here will encourage other women to come forward.
Just over 20 years ago when I was first elected to this place, I was only the 209th woman ever to be elected to the House of Commons. We have 208 women in this Parliament, so that is an advance, but we do not have 325. We have more to do. In that regard, will the Home Secretary commend the efforts of our trade unions, which spend their time enabling women to organise, improve their confidence and take part in public life, in a way that makes them much more likely to go on to seek to represent others in their communities in our councils and in this place?
Chelmsford was the birthplace of Anne Knight, who wrote the first ever pamphlet on women’s suffrage. I wonder what she would think of how easy it is today to publish our views online. I think that she would congratulate everyone who has spoken today about the need to be more careful about what we say on social media and online.
I am incredibly proud to be here after 100 years of women having the vote. The Government have designated this year the year of engineering, and next year is the 100th birthday of the Women’s Engineering Society. Do the Home Secretary and all the women here agree that the fusion of all those anniversaries presents an excellent opportunity to encourage more women into engineering, as well as politics, and for everyone to step up to that challenge?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to make sure that more women get involved in engineering as part of widening their opportunities. While she is thinking of additional landmark anniversaries or celebrations, I point out that today is Safer Internet Day, which is a reminder of how important it is for positive things to be published and circulated online, and of how we have to be so vigilant to make sure that we are not put off coming into Parliament by the online negativity that sometimes takes place.
I am delighted that we are celebrating 100 years since some women first got the vote, but now is the time to go further and ensure that all votes count equally by introducing a fairer voting system. It is not an accident that every democracy with more than 40% women legislators uses some form of proportional representation. Does the Home Secretary agree that a fitting tribute to the suffragettes would be to replace our archaic and undemocratic electoral system with one that ensures that every vote genuinely counts equally?
I make the very simple point that with one third of women and one third of men not voting at general elections, and two thirds of women and two thirds of men—perhaps more—not voting in local elections, the best and easiest way to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage is for everyone to go out and vote whenever an election is called.
It is my belief that every one of us women MPs was encouraged by other women who wanted us to make this place look and feel more like the world we live in. I was particularly encouraged by my grandmother, Florence Parker, a stalwart of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, who campaigned so hard for women’s suffrage. I thank the Home Secretary for mentioning Bristol’s role in the suffrage campaign. Will she join me in congratulating the Co-operative Women’s Guild on its role in achieving women’s suffrage?
One hundred years on from gaining the vote, too many girls and women still have to struggle too hard to reach their potential and for equality. What the change showed 100 years ago is that sometimes the law is required for real equality. Will the Minister follow the example of Iceland and make it illegal to pay men more than women?
Under the Equal Pay Act 1970, it is illegal to pay men more than women for the same work. We are focused now on making sure that we make more progress on the gender pay gap, which is why we have introduced legislation requiring all companies with more 250 employees to publish their gender gap by 4 April. After that, we will work with them to make sure that they take action to close it.
I am proud to be one of those making what the Home Secretary described as the most diverse Parliament ever. I am not only one of the one third who are women, but one of the 7.8% who are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. My maternal grandmother was illiterate; her passport had a thumbprint in it because she could not write her own name. Does the Home Secretary agree that on a day like today, it is not enough simply to pat ourselves on the back? We could do better not only on women, but on BME, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, disability, and all those things—some people may even inhabit more than one of those categories at once.
Yes, I agree with the hon. Lady. We can talk today, as we should, about making sure that we encourage more women into Parliament and ensuring that there is more opportunity for women, but there is a wider issue of equality. I hope that thinking about women in this way today will encourage us all to think about it more diversely as well.
It is a delight to be able to celebrate the 100 years today, but would it not be a terrible mistake if we showed any sense of complacency? After all, so often in the history of these matters, we took one step forward and two steps back. In 1739, women could vote for sextons and local government officials. In 1843, Grace Brown—she was a butcher in Lichfield, by the way—and 30 women voted in an election. In 1867, Lily Maxwell voted in a parliamentary by-election, but then in 1871, the men said, “No, you can’t vote anymore,” and expressly refused to allow them the vote, until it came in properly in the 20th century. Do we not need to make sure that every single man in Parliament is a proper honorary sister?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is such an outstanding advocate for equality. That was a great history lesson on the forwards and backwards of women’s rights. I wholly agree with the central principle of his point. This is no time for complacency. I particularly feel—I sense that the rest of right hon. and hon. Members here share this feeling—that we all need to do more to stop the attacks on women who stand for election; and yes, we need the men in this Parliament to stand beside us and call it out.
I am sorry that I was a little late, Mr Speaker, but I had something else that I could not avoid. However, I am so delighted to be able to celebrate this centenary. As some may know, men also played a major part in ensuring that the vote was given to women. In the late 1860s, Jacob Bright, with Richard Pankhurst, brought forward the first Bill to give women total female suffrage, and I believe that that tradition can be continued. For example, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for her help in getting my Bill, which is now the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, through to protect women. We men are behind everything that you have said.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. He brought forward that Bill on gender equality internationally. It was a very important Bill internationally for helping women, and he is right: we need men to participate to ensure that we not only protect women’s rights, but make progress with them.
I echo the many calls to encourage more women to enter politics. Until we have council chambers and a Parliament that truly reflect the rich diversity of British society, including gender balance, we will be doing a disservice to the next generation. Will the Home Secretary join me in commending the excellent work of the Labour Women’s Network and the Fabian Women’s Network, whose sisterly support, training and mentoring schemes have led, and are leading, to many women entering public life?
It is interesting that we have cross-party initiatives to encourage women and also ones in our own parties. We have Women2Win and, as the hon. Lady said, Labour has the Labour Women’s Network. Of course, I commend them and encourage them; we need more women on both sides.
With no working Northern Ireland Assembly, we have no outlet for celebrations for this great event. Would the Minister undertake to contact the permanent secretary in the Department for Communities of the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that Northern Ireland has a part to play in this wonderful and incredibly important celebration?
I welcome the funding that Nottingham has received for its centenary city celebrations. People may learn not only about Edith Annie Lees and Helen Watts, but about the Nottingham suffragettes who burned down the men-only Nottingham boat club in 1913—there is obviously a bit of an east midlands theme. They may be astonished that the club did not accept women into membership for another 57 years. As the Home Secretary acknowledged, it is some 48 years since the House passed the Equal Pay Act, and yet women still face a gender pay gap of more than 18%. When does she think that we will eliminate it?
Gosh, it has been an interesting day of stories, what with boat clubs and golf clubs and the militant march of women. I hope that that will happen soon. That is why we are taking action on the gender pay gap and insisting that companies report by April this year. In my conversations with companies that are putting reporting in place, it is clear that they are surprised at the revelation of a gender pay gap and they are then proposing action. In one example, after a company discovered that many more men than women were in higher-paid jobs, it put in place training programmes. Those concrete actions will help to eradicate the gender pay gap.
I thank the Minister for her statement about the grant programme to celebrate women’s suffrage. Will she confirm that the programme will celebrate the sacrifices of the suffragettes and the work of the thousands of women and men across the country who campaigned painstakingly for decades for women to be given the vote? Will she also confirm that the scheme will look not only backwards to celebrate but forward at the work that still needs to be done and which many Members have mentioned today?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that this funding and these projects must be about looking forward. We want to celebrate the past and the achievements to date, but we also want to keep up the pressure and the change and to work with the new generation to ensure that they have the opportunities to come forward. The purpose of these grants is to encourage local organisations to bid, so that they can make such proposals. I hope that organisations from Brentford and Isleworth will do just that.
Today is a very important day. It is right that we celebrate. I think particularly of my daughter and of what society her generation will inherit—will theirs finally be the generation that sees equality across all areas of public life? To assist with that, when my daughter and other young women visit Parliament, I want them to see more female role models immortalised in this place. I think particularly of Winnie Ewing and my late friend Margo MacDonald. Will the Minister work with the Vote 100 campaign and the House authorities, through you, Mr Speaker, to ensure that that enduring inequality in this place is finally ended?
Yes. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is delightful to hear that he took his daughter around to see the great opportunity and stature of this place. I hope it gave her some inspiration. He has put his finger on it. It is all about ensuring equality for women, but there is still so much to do and I hope that he will support some of our plans this year.
I welcome the Minister’s statement about encouraging more women into Parliament and I am immensely proud to be here today representing my home seat 100 years after women first got the vote. Does she agree that sitting well beyond 10 pm, as we did numerous times in December, is hardly family friendly and hardly encourages women to enter Parliament? Does she further agree that a lot more still needs to be done, including introducing baby leave, as proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), to make this place more welcoming and open to future female MPs?
I agree in principle with the hon. Lady. This House has come a long way, as Members who have been here a lot longer than me would point out. There are occasionally longer sittings, but I think that they are pretty unpopular with many Members of Parliament. I urge the Chief Whip and shadow Chief Whip to engage in more constructive discussions. It takes both parties to agree not to sit past 10 pm.
We obviously need more women to be elected to this House, but may I draw the Minister’s attention to local government? In the not-too-distant past, only males were elected to some local councils. When young female councillors are elected, the problem is not so much the abuse they might get during the election process, but the treatment they receive from council officers: they are spoken down to, mainly by male officers; told they do not know what they are doing when they are elected; often are not offered appropriate training; and often either leave office early or do not seek re-election—all because of the treatment they receive inside local government.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Council election is often the first step women take before becoming a parliamentary candidate. The number of women in local government is shockingly low. We all need to do more to ensure that we find women in our constituencies willing to stand for the local council. The example he describes is very unsatisfactory. We need to be vigilant to make sure that women who do take the step are not talked down to.
I am proud to be Croydon’s first female MP and I have been learning this week about the suffragette Dorinda Neligan, who, as well as being arrested outside this place, was the first headteacher of an all-girls school in Croydon, despite complaints about strong-minded women encouraging girls to be dissatisfied with life at home. I am proud to be surrounded by many strong-minded women today. What can the Government do to promote more strong women in our school curriculum, from English literature to history, where we remain woefully under-represented?
The hon. Lady has highlighted the issue of girls in schools and the need to be vigilant to make sure that there is no sexism at that level. Women who have written great works or are great historians need to be ably represented in school. I suggest that her question is more specifically for the Department for Education, but I will certainly have a word with the Secretary of State to ensure that that is the case.
I thank the Minister for her statement. Will she join me in paying tribute to the group of women in Durham who this year are not only helping to organise the Durham miners’ gala but are reinstating the women’s gala on 30 June to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage?
I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in commending those women and welcoming their participation. Participation in public life can start with some small civic act and lead, as it did for many women here, to becoming a councillor and then a Member of Parliament. That first stage of activism in civic life is so important in encouraging women eventually into Parliament.
Chesterfield is very proud today of Winifred Jones, a suffragette who was jailed twice during the suffragette struggle. I am sure that Winifred would be delighted to know that Chesterfield Borough Council now has a woman leader and a woman deputy leader and that the chair, the secretary and the treasurer of Chesterfield Labour party are all women. The Minister is absolutely right that this is no time for partisanship, so it was disappointing that she reflected purely on the misogynistic abuse from the left. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) faced appalling abuse from people on the right. Would it not be best today to recognise that across the political spectrum there are people who engage in misogynistic abuse and that we all have to work collectively to get rid of them from our political discourse?
I would be cautious about not calling out abuse where it happens. The hon. Gentleman is right up to a point—as I have said, there has been appalling abuse of Labour Members as well. If, however, we tiptoe politically too much around the cause—I refer him to Claire Kober’s comments last weekend—we do not help women who themselves would like us to call it out.
I am proud to stand here as Burnley’s MP on this historic day and to reflect on the work and achievements of the suffragettes and suffragists. Does the Minister agree that a fitting tribute to their work would be at the very least to guarantee the safety of all women in our communities? As we stand here today, women who are victims of domestic violence are taking the brave step of leaving and seeking refuge, but only too often they find that their refuge is full or sometimes closed down—the likely fate of the refuge in my constituency. I understand that the Government intend to review domestic violence legislation, but I fear that for many women that will be too late. Will the Minister join me in saving these important facilities and doing our bit to stand up for women?
I share the hon. Lady’s view that those refuges provide essential support for women who are victims of domestic abuse and I am proud that we have more beds available now than we had in 2010. She is right that we are conducting a review. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is doing that review, but I will work closely with it to ensure that there is no reduction in the number of beds available. That will be a central part of our domestic abuse Bill, which will be coming forward later this year.
This is an amazing day for all of us women who have been elected to Parliament. I am the 201st woman to be elected.
I think today reminds us that so often when we study history, women’s participation in it, and contribution to it, is not celebrated or talked about. This is about ordinary people, ordinary women, doing extraordinary things. Does the Home Secretary agree that it would be a wonderful contribution to this centenary year if we asked all MPs to provide a story about the women in their constituencies or areas who did something for the suffrage movement? It could be kept in the House to be used by the education service, so that there will be no reason for future generations of boys and girls not to understand the contribution that women made.
May I take this opportunity to recognise all the women who are currently serving in this place and the other place and those who have gone before us? We may not always agree politically, or see eye to eye, but I absolutely recognise the courage that many have shown to get here.
I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) that it is important for the police and the criminal justice agencies to understand that, when female MPs—or, indeed, male MPs—come forward with stories of abuse, whether it be online or otherwise, they must be taken seriously. We do not necessarily want to be making those police reports. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my own recent experience with the Home Secretary.
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), I think it extremely important—I have raised this point with the Prime Minister—that we recognise that abuse comes from all sides of the political spectrum. I acknowledge that it comes from my own party, which makes me incredibly ashamed, and I would never condone it. However, I have been subject to some significant abuse from the right. I think that the more we make this a party-political issue, the more we are prevented from making progress.
The hon. Lady has made a characteristically important point. On the issue of abuse, I do not really share her view. Speaking honestly, I do not think that this is about being party-political. The fact is that plenty of Labour MPs have come to talk to me about the abuse that they have received from Momentum. It is not just we who receive such abuse. It is fine if some members of the Labour party do not want to call it out, but I think it is fair that we call it out because I do not think it is helpful to ignore it. We can talk about “all sides” and, of course, horrific abuse also comes from the right, although it does not, I think, come from members of the Conservative party. So I think there is a difference and I do not think it is helpful to ignore it.
As for the reporting of domestic abuse or any violence against women, the position has improved. Far more reporting is taking place and it is largely true that the police engage with it in a completely different way from the way in which they engaged with it 20 years ago. I think we should all welcome that, although, as in so many other instances in which there has been progress in respect of the protection of women and women’s rights, there is always more to do.
Let me wish everyone a happy feminist Christmas, which is what today feels like. I started the morning at 8.45 with everyone dressed in their Sunday best, and it genuinely feels like a happy moment in this place to celebrate something genuinely happy.
Following what the Home Secretary has just said about abuse, I have a suggestion for her that would make Labour women very happy. If she is hearing the concerns of Labour women, she could say today that she will do the following, and it will make Labour women very happy. When I see metro mayors and police and crime commissioners, I do not notice that any of them looks particularly like me. There is a huge problem with the representation of women in that regard. There is a very simple thing that the Government could agree to do today: they could agree to allow all-women shortlists to be used and agree to add a provision to the Equality Act 2010, so that they could be used for those positions. At present, it is illegal for the Labour party to use all-women shortlists. If the Home Secretary would like to do Labour women a solid, that is the one that we would ask for today.
I hate to let down the hon. Lady, who is such an extraordinary champion for women. All Conservative Members are full of admiration for the work that she does. However, she clearly has not noticed the Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, who does a fantastic job and is particularly focused on protecting women. That reminds us how important it is to have women in those senior roles. [Hon. Members: “And Vera Baird.”] And Vera Baird as well—I thank hon. Members for the reminder. There is more that all of us can do to encourage women to put themselves forward for roles such as police and crime commissioner and mayor.