House of Commons
Wednesday 18 April 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
CHOGM: Sustainable Development Goals
We will be working with our Commonwealth partners to ensure that we address the global goals by discussion and commitments across all the goals, but particularly those on prosperity, education and global health.
Goal 16 of the sustainable development goals includes a commitment to provide legal identity for all by 2030. Is the Secretary of State ashamed that her Government destroyed thousands of landing cards of those arriving from Commonwealth nations and are now trying to throw those people out?
I should thank the hon. Lady for affording me the opportunity to associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister yesterday. This has been an appalling episode taking place during CHOGM week, and she took the opportunity yesterday to apologise and to provide reassurances to Commonwealth partners as well as to people here. It is important to reiterate that anyone who answered Britain’s call all those years ago has the right to remain and call Britain home. The Home Office has, as the hon. Lady knows, put in place new measures to ensure that no one should have any concerns about the process.
In my speech last week, I reiterated that programmes on health are one of the best ways that we can use UK aid, providing a win for the developing world and also contributing to our own global health security. We have made some commitments on malaria during CHOGM, and there will be a malaria summit this evening.
Killer diseases such as malaria are a huge barrier to the attainment of the sustainable development goals. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming today’s malaria summit, which will accelerate global action to tackle this deadly disease, and continue to back and thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?
The House need take it not from me, but can take it from Bill and Melinda Gates, that this nation has played a huge role. The British public should be immensely proud of the efforts that have been made to combat malaria. It is still a huge problem, particularly in Commonwealth countries, and we are determined to eradicate it.
The Prime Minister of Jamaica referred yesterday to climate change as an existential threat, and he was absolutely right to do so. Prior to CHOGM, we had been working with our Commonwealth partners to work up concrete proposals and commitments, and we have had many meetings this week, including one particularly focused on small island states, which are disproportionately affected by this issue.
I associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) said. I must say that an apology from the Government is not good enough, because we need to look at the wider picture. The Government have threatened to deport the Windrush generation and have extended their hostile environment to Commonwealth citizens who are legally here. They are unable to provide data on how many have been wrongly detained or deported, and they have even destroyed their landing cards. Exactly what kind of signal does that send to our Commonwealth partners? I ask the Secretary of State to raise these issues with the former Home Secretary and tell her that this is not the global Britain that we want to build.
I thank the hon. Lady for those comments. Whatever the policy intent, it is quite wrong if it is not delivering the effect that it should in practice—if people are not reassured and cannot get the answers to basic questions, or if the process is moving so slowly that the person is denied access to healthcare, for example. I am pleased that the Home Office has now gripped this issue and is determined to put those wrongs right. The Prime Minister is providing that reassurance, not just in what she said in public yesterday but in in the bilaterals that she and I have had with members of the Commonwealth.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Last week, she set out her new vision for UK aid, saying that it should act as a “shield” against migration. Does she really believe that the British public want to see our aid budget—meant for poverty reduction—being used to prop up her Prime Minister’s hostile environment?
The hon. Lady has misquoted me; I did not say that. Clearly, migration is a very positive thing. The migration that happened with the Windrush, for example, was hugely beneficial to Britain and, I hope, to those individuals, but other issues will be exacerbated if we do not create jobs and prosperity in Africa. I remind the hon. Lady and other Members that thousands of people have lost their lives in transit across the Mediterranean. We need to do more to alleviate poverty in Africa. People should not have to leave their homes, cross the sea via people traffickers and risk their lives in order to survive.
Yemen: Humanitarian Access
The UK has led the call for unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to Yemen, including through the UK co-ordinated Security Council statement of 15 March, the Secretary of State’s visit to Riyadh in December and lobbying from the Prime Minister. DFID is also providing expertise and funding to UN shipping inspectors to facilitate import flows into Yemen.
I am conscious of both aspects on the hon. Gentleman’s question. Just the other week, on 3 April, I was in Geneva, where I co-hosted a discussion on cholera with Sir Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs. We had a roundtable of all the major agencies involved in dealing with the cholera outbreak, including the World Health Organisation and others. We are doing as much as we can to encourage preparation for dealing with that outbreak. Of course, we continue to work on ensuring that there is as much access as possible through any of the ports, although the hon. Gentleman is right that the lack of commercial shipping now coming into Hodeidah by choice is an extra burden.
Given the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, I welcome the role that the UK is playing in funding the global relief effort. Will the Minister confirm what more work his Department plans to do to ensure that we can get the aid to where it is needed within Yemen?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. On 3 April, DFID announced an additional £170 million for the new financial year in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We work with all partners to ensure that there is greater access and a greater prospect of resolution of the conflict through the new UN special envoy Martin Griffiths.
I welcome the steps that the Department is taking to secure continued humanitarian access to Yemen, and urge Ministers to do the same in Syria in the light of recent events. Does the Minister foresee humanitarian grounds for military intervention in Yemen, as those were apparently the grounds for action in Syria? In any event, will he confirm—unequivocally and without exception—that none of the 0.7% aid budget, which is for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, will be used to fund military activities?
There is no prospect of United Kingdom military action in Yemen. The humanitarian efforts are going on at the same time as seeking to resolve the complex political difficulties there. I remind the House of the exceptional difficulties of access in the northern areas controlled by the Houthis.
The Minister’s Department assured the public at the start of March, following the Secretary of State’s trip to the region in December, that humanitarian access in Yemen had been restored. However, fuel imports are estimated to be just 30% of what is needed, with food imports at just 9%. Bombing of port areas also continues. Why did the Secretary of State sign a £100 million aid partnership with Saudi Arabia in March, without insisting on full, permanent aid access in Yemen?
In March, imports met 61% of monthly food needs and 60% of monthly fuel needs. While we recognise, of course, that the level of access is not as great as we would wish, we are working hard with coalition partners to make sure not only that there is increased access but that the issues concerning the smuggling of weapons into Yemen, which has been a principal cause of the restricted access, are being dealt with as well.
Women and Children’s Education
The UK is a major investor in education generally and in girls’ education specifically. Yesterday, the Prime Minister committed £212 million through the Girls’ Education Challenge to ensure that almost 1 million girls across the Commonwealth, including the most marginalised, can get the quality education they need to fulfil their potential.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing in this important field. I join her in celebrating the Girls’ Education Challenge—the programme supported so strongly by her Department. Will she update the House on the future of this programme going forward?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the amazing work of the Girls’ Education Challenge, which is the world’s largest girls’ education programme. Yesterday’s announcement of £212 million will support 920,000 girls in Commonwealth countries and give 53,000 highly marginalised adolescent girls in Commonwealth countries the opportunity to have a second chance at learning.
We remain strongly committed to our family planning programme, under which we work in a variety of different ways, whether through provision of family planning services directly or advice to girls in schools, to try to ensure that girls are not getting pregnant during their education.
Sadly, parents in developing countries are sometimes persuaded to give up their children to orphanages on the promise of a good education. The charity Home for Good told me this morning that the Australian Parliament is looking at measures to tackle orphanage trafficking as part of its modern slavery legislation. Does DFID have any plans to amend our legislation similarly?
DFID’s policy on orphanages is not to fund those establishments. On my right hon. Friend’s point about whether UK legislation, which has led the world in tackling the terrible issue of trafficking, should be amended, we will certainly be discussing that with Home Office colleagues.
Does the Minister agree that one of the most disruptive things in a family’s education is when a member of that family is killed by the greatest epidemic of our times—unnecessary, preventable road deaths, which kill 1.3 million people a year on our planet?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his amazing work as a United Nations envoy on this important issue. It is important not only that children can go to school but that they can get to school safely. That is why DFID funds a range of different programmes to tackle the problem.
UK Aid Match Fund
So far, UK Aid Match has provided more than 100 grants benefiting more than 24 million people in 22 countries.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Will she outline how UK Aid Match funding is allocated to ensure that projects on the ground are receiving the dividends of the generous spirit of so many in the UK? What is being done to ensure that not a penny goes to militarily active groups in any way, shape or form?
Tackling modern slavery is a priority for DFID. We are expanding our work in developing countries through £40 million of new programming that will reach at least 500,000 people at risk of slavery. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is announcing £3 million of new funding to tackle child exploitation in the Commonwealth.
Libya has become a hub for human traffickers who exploit migrants and refugees attempting to make their way to Europe. That has left thousands of women the victims of horrendous abuse. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Libyan Government of National Accord to bring traffickers to justice and to end that abuse?
As good fortune would have it, the recess took me to Libya, to Tripoli, where I met the Prime Minister, the Minister for Justice and the Minister for the Interior. We did indeed discuss the difficulties relating to trafficking that my hon. Friend mentions. We are supporting the Libyan Government with capacity building. We are also working on a £75 million programme to try to deter migrants from moving from sub-Saharan Africa where they might be at risk on that route. It remains an important issue for us and the Government of National Accord in Libya.
Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires British companies with a turnover of £36 million to make declarations of actions that they are taking to reduce modern-day slavery, yet by their own admission, the Government neither keep a record of companies that should make a declaration nor monitor those that have done. What action is the Minister taking with his Government colleagues to make sure that British companies are not unwittingly perpetuating modern-day slavery?
Technology: Developing Countries
Our investments in technologies are saving and changing lives all over the world. Half of DFID’s £397 million annual research budget is focused on new technologies in developing countries in the health, agriculture, climate, clean energy, water, education and humanitarian response sectors.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to see at first hand how some of our aid budget has helped to develop technologies and engineer solutions that have changed people’s lives around the world. Can the Minister tell the House, however, whether any of the technologies that have been invented using our aid budget have been of direct benefit to people here in the UK?
I welcome the interest of the former Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in this important work and commend the Committee to hear from the team involved, because there are a range of different examples. Diseases know no boundaries, and the UK’s development of a test for TB is a good example.
Wales and Lesotho share the precious asset of water. Will the Minister support my initiative to bring together Welsh Water— the not-for-profit water company in Wales—and the Government of Lesotho to work on providing technological solutions to the problems that we share?
I know that my hon. Friend tried to give up plastic for Lent and saw what a challenge it is, which is why we were so delighted to announce over the weekend further funding for research that will help tackle the prevalence of plastic not only in developing countries but here at home.
In sub-Saharan Africa, one of the most comprehensive issues is the provision of clean water to many hundreds of thousands of people, and many small charities are doing that. Will the Minister work closely with them to ensure the provision of technology to develop that in future?
We were all appalled by the horrific attack in Douma, Syria, on 7 April. All indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack. We have not had to rely on hearsay to conclude that: UK medical and scientific experts have analysed open-source reports, images and video footage and concluded that the victims were exposed to a toxic element. This is corroborated by first-hand accounts from aid workers.
We need to ensure that UK aid is working doubly hard—better delivering on the global goals but also working in the UK’s national interest—and is not just spent well, but could not be spent better. Part of that will be delivered through a new cross-Government ministerial ODA meeting to ensure greater coherence and better spend of UK aid.
The hon. Gentleman is right—I have indeed visited the school and the village. The UK has made repeated representations on this particular possibility of demolition and I assure him that we will continue to do so as a matter of urgency.
We are well aware of this threat. We support the materials monitoring unit of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, which oversees the approval, entry and use of materials for reconstruction. We regularly audit spending to ensure that there is no diversion in the manner that my hon. Friend raised.
Ensuring that we have good access is critical to whatever work we do in Rakhine and our prime concern is to stop any initial violence. Our main effort to help the Rohingya is ensuring that we are as prepared as we can be for the cyclone season that is about to hit Cox’s Bazar.
We are proud to be a global leader in tackling malaria and we have committed £500 million a year until 2021 to that fight. We will work with global partners to spend that effectively. We particularly appreciate the efforts of Bill Gates and the foundation, and we thank him for his kind words this morning about the British Government’s contribution to that.
We are very proud to be a founding supporter of the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund. So far, the United Kingdom has committed £9 million to it. We will make our decision on future investments to the fund later this year and I hope to attend the international convention on HIV/AIDS prevention in Amsterdam later this year.
That gives me the opportunity to reiterate what I said earlier. The Home Office has now stepped up its efforts to ensure that people are reassured. It has given further reassurances on precisely the point the hon. Gentleman raises. We all have to ensure, as constituency MPs and as members of the Government, that everyone has the information and support they need at this moment.
It has never been more important to make the positive case for overseas aid. However, delivery of the global learning programme in schools ends in July. May we have an assurance that it will be replaced in time for September?
We are doing a refresh of some of those programmes. Clearly, programmes such as Connecting Classrooms will carry on and we are doing a refresh of the International Citizenship Service. We think these are important ways in which we can deliver on the global goals and help young people in our country to learn more about the rest of the world.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This week, the UK plays host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. I know the whole House will want to join me in welcoming to London leaders from 52 countries, who collectively represent a third of the world’s population. Over the coming days, we will discuss a range of shared priorities, from oceans and cyber-security to continuing to tackle malaria and ensuring all children have access to 12 years of quality education. With 60% of the Commonwealth under the age of 30, the summit will have a particular focus on how we revitalise the organisation to ensure its continuing relevance, especially for young people.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The whole House will be aware of the stories of people who came to this country from the Commonwealth more than 45 years ago—people who are facing the anxiety of being asked for documents they cannot provide to prove their right to reside in the country they call home. Will the Prime Minister update the House on what she and the Government are doing to provide reassurance in these cases?
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, which I know has caused a great deal of concern and anxiety, so I would like to update the House.
People in the Windrush generation who came here from Commonwealth countries have built a life here; they have made a massive contribution to the country. These people are British. They are part of us. I want to be absolutely clear that we have no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here. [Interruption.] For those who have mistakenly received letters challenging them, I want to apologise to them. I want to say sorry to anyone who has felt confusion or anxiety as a result of this.
I want to be clear with the House about how this has arisen. Those Commonwealth citizens—[Interruption.]
Order. The House must calm down. The Prime Minister is responding to the question. There will be a very full opportunity for questioning of the Prime Minister on this occasion, as there is on every occasion, but the questions must be heard and the answers must be heard.
Thank you. Let me update the House on how this has arisen. Those Commonwealth citizens who arrived before 1973 and were settled here have a right conferred by the Immigration Act 1971 to live in the UK. They were not required to take any action with the Home Office to document their status. The overwhelming majority already have the immigration documents they need, but there are some who, through no fault of their own, do not, and those are the people we are working hard to help now. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear that a new dedicated team is being set up to help these people evidence their right to be here and access services, and it will aim to resolve cases within two weeks, once the evidence has been put together.
Last month, I raised the case of Albert Thompson, a man who has lived and worked here for decades, paid his taxes, and yet been denied national health service treatment. The Prime Minister brushed it off. Will she say what she will now do to ensure that Mr Thompson gets the cancer treatment he urgently needs and is entitled to?
The right hon. Gentleman did indeed raise the case of Albert Thompson. It was not brushed off—[Hon. Members: “It was!”] No, the Home Office has been in contact with Mr Thompson’s representatives. First of all, I want to make one point very clear: no urgent treatment should be withheld by the NHS, regardless of ability or willingness to pay——[Hon. Members: “It was!”] No, I also want to make clear that as it happens, Mr Thompson is not part of the Windrush generation that I have just spoken about in answer to the first question. And finally, clinicians have been looking at Mr Thompson’s case and he will be receiving the treatment he needs.
On 20 March, the Prime Minister wrote to me stating,
“while I sympathise with Mr Thompson...we encourage him to make the appropriate application”
and provide evidence of “his settled status here.” Yesterday, we learnt that in 2010, the Home Office destroyed landing cards for a generation of Commonwealth citizens and so have told people, “We can’t find you in our system.” Did the Prime Minister, the then Home Secretary, sign off that decision?
I remind the Prime Minister that it was her Government who created “a really hostile environment” for immigrants and her Government who introduced the Immigration Act 2014.
We need absolute clarity on the question of the destruction of the landing cards. If she is trying to blame officials, I remind her that in 2004 she said she was
“sick and tired of Government Ministers…who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”
Does she stand by that advice?
The right hon. Gentleman asked me if the decision to destroy the landing cards—the decision—had been taken in my time as Home Secretary. The decision to destroy the landing cards was taken in 2009 when, as I seem to recall, a Labour Home Secretary was in position.
It was under a Tory Government, and she was Home Secretary at that time, and that is what is causing such pain and such stress to a whole generation. On Monday, the Home Secretary told the House:
“I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual.”—[Official Report, 16 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 28.]
Who does the Prime Minister think is to blame for that—the current Home Secretary or her predecessor?
The Home Office is a great Department of State that touches people’s lives every day in a whole variety of ways. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been swift in responding to the unfortunate confusion and anxiety, for which we have apologised, that has arisen from the Windrush generation. The right hon. Gentleman referred earlier to action that we had taken as a Conservative Government to deal with illegal immigration. It is absolutely right that we ensure that people who access services that are paid for by taxpayers and relied on by people living in this country have the right to do so and that we take action against people here illegally. The Windrush generation are here legally—they have a right to be here; they are British. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to question the idea of taking action against illegal immigration, I suggest he has a conversation with the former shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who in 2013 said:
“we need much stronger action from Government to bring illegal immigration down”.
This is not about illegal immigration; this is about Commonwealth citizens who had every right to be here. Cases such as Mr Thompson’s have occurred because it was Home Office policy in 2012 to create “a really hostile environment” for migrants, and the right hon. Lady was the Home Secretary who sent Home Office vans around Brent telling migrants to go home. On Monday, the Immigration Minister said that some British citizens had been “deported in error”. The Home Secretary did not know, and then asked Commonwealth high commissioners if they knew of any cases. Does the Prime Minister know how many British citizens have been wrongly deported and where to, and what provision has she made to bring them back home to Britain?
As the Immigration Minister has made clear, we apologise unreservedly for the distress caused to anyone who has been told incorrectly that they do not have the right to be in the UK. We are not aware of any specific cases of a person being removed from the UK in these circumstances and we have absolutely no intention of asking anyone to leave who has the right to remain here, but the Home Office will work to reach out to those from the Windrush generation who do not have the necessary documentation to ensure that that is provided. There will be no cost to them; nobody will be out of pocket as a result. There is a difference between the Windrush generation, who are British, are part of us and have a right to here—we want to give them the reassurance of that right—and those other people who are here illegally. It is absolutely right that the Government make every effort to ensure that people who access our services have a right to do so and that we take action against people who are here illegally.
I am informed that Mr Albert Thompson has still not been informed when he will be getting the treatment he obviously needs as a matter of urgency. Does the Home Office not keep records? It has been months since these occasions were first brought to the Government’s attention. We know of at least two British citizens languishing in detention centres in error, and this morning the Jamaican Prime Minister has said that he knows of people who are unable to return to Britain.
This is a shameful episode, and the responsibility for it lies firmly at the Prime Minister’s door. Her pandering to bogus immigration targets led to a hostile environment for people contributing to our country, and it led to British citizens being denied NHS treatment, losing their jobs, homes and pensions, and being thrown into detention centres like criminals and even deported, with vital historical records shredded and Ministers blaming officials. The Windrush generation came to our country after the war to rebuild our nation, which had been so devastated by war. Is not the truth that, under her, the Home Office became heartless and hopeless, and does not she now run a Government who are both callous and incompetent?
As I have said, the Windrush generation did come here after the war, they did help to build this country, many of them worked in our public services and they contributed. They have a right to be here: they are British. That is why we are working with those who have no documentation to ensure that they have that provided for them. The decision was taken in 1971 not to require them to have documentation. That is what has led to the problem that we now see in relation to the anxiety of these people.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about being callous and having a disregard for people. I have to say to him that I am the Prime Minister who initiated the race disparity audit, which said: what are we doing in this country to ensure that people have equal opportunities in this country? The right hon. Gentleman talks about being callous. I say to him that I will not take that, following a debate last night where powerful contributions were made, particularly by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). I will not take an accusation of being callous from a man who allows anti-Semitism to run rife in his party.
May I assure my hon. Friend that Theresa from Maidenhead would bring exactly that? I am very pleased that, in yesterday’s unemployment figures, we see employment in this country at a record high. Any visit to Carlisle will be about jobs, it will be about the future and it will be about national security—our commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on our defence, our commitment to ensure that we have the powers for our intelligence services and law enforcement agencies that they need to keep us safe—and I look forward to my visit to Carlisle.
I know this is an issue that has been raised a number of times in this House. It is an incredibly sensitive issue, and of course I fully recognise the sensitivities that are involved for the mothers involved. We have taken great care—considerable time and care—to set up procedures, following extensive consultations, that mean that no Government staff will question these mothers about what they have experienced. The point my right hon. Friend was making was that a mother will be granted the exemption through engaging with specialist professionals, such as health and social workers, who may be able to provide them with support in those circumstances over and beyond the issue of their entitlement.
That is not quite the point that the Secretary of State made when she seemed to offend all who were at the meeting of the Parliament in Edinburgh.
Rape Crisis Scotland has clearly stated:
“Hinging benefits on proving trauma isn’t a choice, it’s a disgrace and one which may well re-traumatise women.”
The chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland has said that the rape clause
“is fundamentally damaging for women—forcing them to disclose rape and abuse at a time and in a manner not of their choosing, at pain of financial penalty.”
This is the form, Mr Speaker, with a box for the child’s name. What kind of society do we live in?
We live in a society in which we have taken every care to ensure that this is dealt with in as sensitive a manner as possible. That is why the Government took considerable time and engaged in extensive consultations when putting the arrangements in place. As I have said, no mother in these circumstances will be granted the exemption by dealing with jobcentre staff; mothers will be granted the exemption by dealing with specialist professionals.
My hon. Friend has raised an important point, and he is absolutely right to do so. Home ownership is a dream, and, sadly, too many young people today feel that they will not be able to achieve that dream. We have been having success—last year more homes were built than in any but one of the last 30 years—but we need to ensure that we are helping people into home ownership and seeing more homes being built. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend and others to discuss this matter.
I understand that it is, in fact, possible for special arrangements to be made for split payments. Domestic abuse—domestic violence—is a terrible abuse, a terrible crime that we must deal with, but I understand that it is possible for those arrangements to be made.
I am very much aware of the key role that is played by the A5 in the midlands and of the plans for growth—the plans for new housing to which my hon. Friend has referred—along a route that is so important to him and his constituents. As he will know, we are already making investments in the A5. However, I have also heard his case promoted by Midlands Connect, as has my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, and it will be considered very carefully as we make decisions on further road investment.
We do of course particularly want to ensure that we are recruiting people with the skills our armed forces need. In the modernising defence programme, we are looking at the capabilities we require to defend this country against the threats we face, and that will also involve looking at the particular skills that are necessary.
We are actively considering the proposals for the mid-Wales growth deal. I know that my hon. Friend has put a lot of effort into this, particularly into bringing local partners together, including by making important cross-border links for this area. We believe that the best decisions and proposals for what will work for mid-Wales will come from people who live, work and do business there. We will be offering help and support, and UK Government Ministers in Wales have already met a variety of local partners to start this process off. We are ambitious for Wales and I am keen to see every part of Wales having a city or growth deal.
I was very pleased to be able to meet Alfie and his family, and I know the sympathies of Members across the House are with them as he undergoes treatment. I have written to the family to reiterate our commitment to explore a range of options for finding a solution for Alfie. Of course we want to ensure that people get the treatment they need. It is also important that medicines are properly and thoroughly tested, but I will certainly ensure that the Home Office looks at this application speedily.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very important issue. It is one of the issues we will be focusing on in this Commonwealth Heads of Government week, and yesterday I called on my fellow Commonwealth leaders to join the UK in committing to halving the number of malaria cases by 2023. We are the second largest donor to the fight against malaria and, as the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said in International Development questions, we remain committed to our five-year pledge to spend £500 million tackling it. Yesterday I announced that the UK will commit a further £100 million to the global fund, which has the aim of unlocking a further £100 million of investment from the private sector.
I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this issue with me before. The contract between the trust and the private finance initiative company is still in place, so the PFI company is contractually obliged to manage the project and find another subcontractor who can continue to deliver the building work and the services. As the right hon. Gentleman may know, even before the issue arose with Carillion there were some delays to this project. The Department of Health and Social Care is working actively on it, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is doing so as well and he has also been in discussions with the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, who has also been in discussions with the trust. We recognise the level of concern being raised on this issue and we are working to resolve it.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Team England on winning the second largest tally of gold medals at an overseas Commonwealth games, as they return on Saturday to Birmingham, which will be the next host of the games?
Wait for it. I am also happy to congratulate Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of whom had a very good Commonwealth games. It was an excellent Commonwealth games; Australia put on a very good show. I was pleased to see that one of the last results was in the women’s netball, in which we beat Australia.
More money is being made available to police forces in the 2018-19 year, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken action in relation to the serious violent strategy that she has published. Also, I have to say this to the hon. Lady:
“We do not say that there is a direct causal factor between the number of officers on the ground and the number of crimes.”
She may wave her hand at that, but those are not my words but those of the shadow Policing Minister.
My right hon. Friend has rightly made reference to yesterday’s debate on anti-Semitism. I sat in the Chamber and listened to that debate, including the two appalling testimonies from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and particularly from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), which were deeply moving. They were horrifying in the sense of the abuse that those hon. Members have faced, but also uplifting in the sense of the bravery that they have shown in tackling their abusers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what came out of yesterday’s debate was that there should be absolutely no place in any political party for anyone who is an anti-Semite and that, just as importantly, any apologists for anti-Semites should be kicked out of their party as well?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is incredibly important for us and for the political parties in this country to show a clear signal that we will not accept or tolerate anti-Semitism in any form. I have made reference to a number of the speeches that were made yesterday, and I also join my right hon. Friend in commending those Members, particularly the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North and for Liverpool, Wavertree, who have suffered incredible abuse as a result of this anti-Semitism but who have also shown incredible bravery in being willing to stand up and set that out to the House. Theirs was a fine example of the best of this House of Commons and the best of Members of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman raises a question that I know has been raised in the House before. I am sure that it is a matter of concern not only to him but to a number of his constituents. We continue to take the view that the best resolution of this issue is for India and Pakistan themselves to come together and resolve the matter. That will be the way to resolve it that will actually ensure the sustainability of a resolution.
RBS recently announced plans to reduce the number of mobile banking visits to Dufftown in Moray. Following strong representations from myself, Dufftown and District Community Council, and Speyside Community Council, the bank confirmed yesterday that it would not go ahead with its plans. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming that? However, does she agree that RBS needs to engage more with local communities, because had it done so, it would have realised how unacceptable its proposals were?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming RBS’s decision, but I commend him for his efforts on behalf of his constituents in Dufftown. Such things are commercial issues for the banks, but we have been clear that banks need to consider carefully the impact on people and their access to services when making such decisions.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and we are happy to ensure through various channels that we encourage others to follow the example that India has shown in relation to TB. At one stage, it was eradicated here in the UK, but we need to ensure that action is taken in other countries around the world.
As the Prime Minister said, unemployment is at a 43-year low, and investment in UK industries, including the tech industry, is at a high. When she is on her way to Carlisle, will she come and visit Imagination Technologies? It has received an £8 billion investment, which shows the confidence that overseas technology investors have in our tech industry.
Search and rescue at sea is provided by several organisations, including the coastguard and the RNLI. The RNLI has a proud tradition, and we should be grateful for its record on search and rescue at sea. It is obviously independent and decides where best to put its resources, but we are supporting the work of independent lifeboat charities through our rescue boat grant fund, which has allocated more than £3.5 million since 2014 to increase capacity and resilience by providing new boats and equipment.
The Commonwealth is a wonderful organisation, but too many Commonwealth countries have anti-gay legislation on their statute book. Of course, a lot of that is a legacy of the colonial days, when Britain was a very different country. What message about gay rights does the Prime Minister have for Commonwealth leaders this week? More importantly, that message should go out to gay people in those countries who are suffering because of such legislation.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have a special responsibility to help to change hearts and minds on such issues within the Commonwealth. When I addressed the Commonwealth forum yesterday, I said that across the Commonwealth
“discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.”
Many such laws were put in place by this country, and I deeply regret the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today. As a family of Commonwealth nations, we must respect one another’s customs and traditions, but we must do so in a matter that is consistent with our common value of equality. The message that I sent yesterday is that we stand ready to support any Commonwealth member that wants to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.
London welcomes our good friend Prime Minister Modi today. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to condemn absolutely the mobile billboards that are going around London attacking our good friend Prime Minister Modi, and will she congratulate and thank the 1.7 million members of the Indian diaspora on their contribution to the work of this country?
India is indeed a good friend of the United Kingdom, and the Indian diaspora here in the UK plays an enormous role and makes an enormous contribution to our society and our economy. I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating and thanking them, and indeed in encouraging the continuation of that contribution. When I spoke to Prime Minister Modi, we discussed how we can encourage and increase the links and development between our two countries.
The vile online and social media abuse suffered in particular by female politicians, which was movingly highlighted in yesterday’s debate and also by events at the weekend back home in Northern Ireland, is testimony to how this must be tackled head-on. Can the Prime Minister assure us that steps will be taken to bring social media companies and platforms to account, so that the wild west culture of “anything goes” is brought to an end as quickly as possible?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point about how these platforms can be used for the sort of abuse that we heard about in the Chamber last night and that, as he says, has also been raised in Northern Ireland in the past few days. We are working with the social media companies. Good work has been done with them on a number of aspects, such as child abuse on those platforms, and we continue to work with them on the wider issues. We are also looking at the issue of the liability of social media companies. They are not publishers, but on the other hand, they are not just platforms. We are looking at that issue urgently.
Free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy. I am sure that the Prime Minister will be aware of the events that happened in the Gower constituency during last year’s election, where the Labour activist Dan Evans has admitted spreading lies and libellous accusations against our former colleague Byron Davies, to influence the outcome of the election. It appears that his efforts worked. Does the Prime Minister believe that the leadership of the Labour party needs to make it very clear that our democracy has no place for this sort of behaviour? Does she believe that the honourable thing would be for the new incumbent of that seat to resign and fight a free and honest by-election?
Of course, our former colleague Byron Davies has received an apology, and I understand that a donation has been made to charity. Of course, our former colleague lost his job as a result of the action that was taken. People across the House talk of free and fair elections—that is what we believe in as a democracy—but political parties need not just to talk about free and fair elections; they need to ensure they put it into practice.
Last week, Shop Direct announced that it is closing all its Greater Manchester sites, with the loss of 2,000 jobs, including nearly 1,400 in my constituency at Shaw. That was without prior warning or discussion with staff, the unions, Oldham Council or even myself. Given that this is about the ascendance of automation, what specific measures is the Prime Minister taking to support my constituents? Will she meet me and my colleagues to discuss this and the longer-term, more general impact of automation on the labour market?
Obviously, this is a time of great concern for the Shop Direct workers and their families in Greater Manchester. The Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus are working with the company to understand the level of support that is required for employees, and the DWP stands ready to put in place its rapid response service to support any workers who are made redundant and to help them back into employment as quickly as possible. There are a number of ways in which Jobcentre Plus can support workers, and it will ensure that it does that in this instance.
The hon. Lady raises a wider issue about the impact of automation on jobs. We are looking at the question as part of our industrial strategy, and I will ask the Business Secretary to meet her to discuss it.
Malaria has been mentioned by several Members in the Chamber today. In her conversations with the Prime Minister of Canada this week, will the Prime Minister be discussing how the G7 can help to drive progress towards a malaria-free world?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. I have not yet met Prime Minister Trudeau this week, but this is certainly an issue that we have made sure is being spoken about here at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, and we will raise it within the G7 context.
In 2009, Michelle Samaraweera was raped and murdered. Since 2012, Aman Vyas has been avoiding extradition for this and eight other charges of sexual violence against women in Walthamstow. There have been 47 hearings to date, with the judge not showing up for seven of them, and seven different judges have been appointed. When the Prime Minister talks to her good friend Prime Minister Modi while he is here in London, will she commit to raising this case with him and asking India to take it seriously, so that we can finally get justice for Michelle?
I have already met Prime Minister Modi for our bilateral discussions. There are a number of issues of extradition between the two countries—the UK and India. We raise a number of cases with the Indian Government, as I did this morning. It is important that we recognise the independence of the judiciary in both countries.
Gender Pay Gap
May I say that it is a pleasure to answer this urgent question from the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman)? It is unacceptable that in 2018 there are still differences in how men and women are paid in business and in industries. That is why this Government introduced new regulations, which came into force in 2017, requiring all employers with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap. I am delighted that as of yesterday 10,055 employers, covering all sectors of the economy, have reported their gender pay gap. These new regulations have shone a light on the injustice that has existed for too long and created a new conversation on the need for a step change in gender equality. We are now working with employers to support them to take action to close the gender pay gap; we are building our research base on what works, to drive real change; and we will be supporting employers to understand what has caused their own gender pay gap and what they can do to make a real difference.
We want employers and employees to succeed in driving real change. The Government have launched a range of initiatives that will help. We introduced shared parental leave to enable working parents to share childcare in the first year of their child’s life, and we have extended the right to request flexible working. We have introduced a new £500 million fund to support women and men who have been out of the labour market for a long period to return to work, and we have doubled the early education provision, so that all three and four-year-olds from working households in England can access 30 hours’ childcare a week.
I am pleased that the majority of employers have published action plans, alongside their reporting, to set out what they will do to tackle the gender pay gap in their business or sector. I look forward to hearing more about the ongoing work in this area and the work done to address this great inequality, but there is more to this issue than just the regulations. It is about driving cultural change. From the subjects that girls choose to study at school and university to the expectations of women who are climbing their own career ladder, we want the message to women and girls to be, “We will support and encourage you to achieve your full potential.”
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I thank the Minister for her obvious commitment to this issue. It was Labour legislation that enacted gender pay transparency, but it was her Government who implemented it. It is important that they did that, because it has laid bare what women have always known but previously did not have proof of, which is that there is systematic pay discrimination. It is now clear: eight out of 10 employers pay men more than they pay women—and that is across every sector, including the retail sector, which would not exist without women’s work. Why on earth should women in Tesco put up with £8 an hour on the checkout when men in the stores get up to £11.50 an hour?
Although it pains me to say this, the trade unions that need to be part of the negotiations to narrow the pay gap need to get their house in order. How can women members of Unite believe that that union will champion their rights to equal pay if there is a 30% pay gap in the union itself? The NASUWT, a teachers union, pays its male staff 40% more than it pays women, so it too has to take action. As for the public sector, let us look at the University of Liverpool. Its public policy is to narrow the pay gap, but the University of Liverpool pays men 90% more in bonuses than it pays women. That has to stop.
Does the Minister agree that we are no longer interested in rationalisations, explanations or justifications? The time for excuses has passed. We want stretching targets year on year to narrow the gap. Will she join me in congratulating the women in the House who have spoken up on this issue, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), among many others, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), and Labour’s Front-Bench team, who have been pushing on this issue? Will she congratulate all the women outside the House who have been pushing on this, not least women in trade unions and the BBC women?
May I give the Minister some sisterly advice on what she should do to really focus on this issue? First, she should stay on the back of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and make sure that it uses all its powers and has the resources to take action. Secondly, she should suggest to the Prime Minister that she has a Cabinet session on the gender pay gap, with all Secretaries of State required to come to Cabinet and say what stretching targets they are going to impose in their Departments and the sectors for which they are responsible. Thirdly, she should commandeer Downing Street for a summit at which business and trade unions can tell her what they are going to do to narrow the pay gap. If she does all that, she will have a great opportunity and a great responsibility, because if she drives forward on narrowing the pay gap, that is not only fair and just but the most important thing to help low-income families and tackle child poverty.
I said at the beginning of my statement that I was extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for raising this issue in an urgent question, and I meant it. I fully recognise and thank her for the work that she did in government to introduce legislation on the gender pay gap. Like her, I thank other female Members, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who, along with her colleagues on the Committee, does so much to drive through change. I thank female Members from all parties. There is a real sense of urgency and impatience about this issue. For what it is worth, my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister share our impatience—I hope I do not regret that word—to have this matter sorted.
I must of course pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Lady for all the work she does to try to ensure that this place is a little more understanding and accommodating of a diversity of backgrounds, for Members and our staff. I very much take on her advice, although I worry that I might be stepping a bit above my station if I commandeered Downing Street for the summit she suggested—
The Government’s action means that large companies cannot hide their gender pay gap any more. We should commend the Government on that. That action means that we have transparency of information, and I believe that that transparency will create a momentum for change. If we are to make that momentum as fast as it can be, will my hon. Friend the Minister outline for the House the work that the Government will do to review some of the causes of the gender pay gap, particularly the discrimination that pregnant women still endure in the workplace? What work will the Government do to make sure that pregnancy discrimination is outlawed in this country in the same way that the Minister is trying to outlaw the gender pay gap?
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question; I am always grateful for her thoughts and suggestions on this issue and the other subjects that her Select Committee examines. I completely endorse what she said about pregnancy discrimination: discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy is unlawful and wrong. Anyone who suffers from that form of discrimination has the support of the law. My right hon. Friend and other colleagues have raised the issue of the three-month time limit. Tribunals have the power to extend that time limit if they feel it is just and equitable to do so, but I am very conscious of the issues that colleagues have raised in relation to the time limit and am looking into it.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for tabling the urgent question and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. I also thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her work on section 78 of the Equality Act 2010.
We need actions, not audits. More than 10,000 companies have reported their gender pay gap, which shows that the Government underestimated the number of organisations that should report. The Government might therefore like to review the figure. It is great that more than 10,000 organisations have reported. Labour’s Equality Act—the legislation—was just step 1 of a five-step programme to narrow and close the gender pay gap. In the sisterly way in which these exchanges are being conducted, I wish to tell the Minister the other four steps. She is very welcome to steal them.
Step 1 is the focus on mandatory auditing. Step 2 is companies’ and organisations’ action plans to close the pay gap. Step 3 is Government certification for fair equality practices, which would ensure that those organisations that are doing well are given certification to show their progress. Step 4 is to follow in the footsteps of Iceland with further auditing and fines for those organisations that fail to get certification of their equality practices, taking into consideration their action plans and reporting. Step 5, which is extremely important, is to shift the responsibility to unequal pay from the employee to the employer, so that instead of the employee having to go through court cases to prove unequal pay, it would be the employer’s responsibility.
In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which I am sure has been mentioned a number of times today, needs more resources. Seventy per cent. cuts to its resources will jeopardise its ability to enforce sanctions, so the Government will need to review the cuts that they have levied on the organisation. Labour wants to follow in the footsteps of Iceland, which consistently ranks as the No. 1 country for gender equality. I hope that the Government will see Labour’s five-step plan as a way to accomplish that. The deep-rooted social and economic inequality facing women runs deeper than the pay gap. Women have borne the brunt of 86% of Conservative cuts. More than 60% of those currently earning less than the living wage are women. We need to tackle all the issues.
I am actually more ambitious than the hon. Lady. I do not just want to impose regulations on business; I want a change in the culture of business, a change in the culture of the public sector where we know there are gender pay gaps and a change in the culture of schools and universities. This cannot be imposed from the top down; it must be driven with enthusiasm by the organisations themselves. I hope that this will empower women to begin asking very difficult questions of their employers. I would like women to begin thinking about this when they apply for jobs. They should look at the gender pay gap and make decisions about how that shows how that employer treats their female workforce.
The hon. Lady mentioned the number of companies in the Government’s first estimate. This is just the first year. This was always going to be a bit of a learning exercise not just for the Government, but for businesses and the way they manage the system. We are delighted that there are more companies than we initially estimated that meet the criteria. As she knows, the criteria cover businesses that employ 250 or more people, which means big, successful businesses. We are delighted that there are more of those than our initial estimates suggested.
I am very pleased that we have the support of the shadow Front-Bench team in our common ambition to help women in the workplace to get a fairer deal. Of course we must always seek to do better—and we must use the data to improve the way in which women are treated—but I am pleased to note that we have more women in employment than ever before and, what is more, the full-time gender pay gap is at a record low of 9.1%—that is 9.1% too high, but it is at a record low, and it is on a downward trajectory. I am sure that we all support that in this House.
I congratulate the Minister on achieving something that people on both sides of this House have been working towards, which is an audit that gives us an exact understanding of the data. I speak with experience as I looked at the gender pay gap back in the ’90s as an education and employment Minister. The truly shocking figure for me was not just the eight in 10, but the 8% of organisations that have no gender pay gap between men and women. It is most important that we learn from those organisations. May I just say that the law at the moment applies to those with more than 250 employees? When will the Minister look at lowering that limit, because many women who receive unequal pay are in those smaller organisations?
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. Those of us who have been in the House for only a couple of years are very much standing on the shoulders of giants and she, like the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), are among those giants. I am delighted that she has raised the issue of companies or employers that employ fewer than 250 people. I am very much looking at that matter. We must understand that this is world-leading regulation. This is the first time ever that any country has done this on such a scale. By definition, the first year will be a learning process both for the Government and for businesses, but I am very happy to commit to looking at lowering the requirement if the research and data show that that is appropriate.
The gender pay-gap figures show how far we have still to go on this issue. It is very concerning that there are still some 1,500 companies that have failed to report. Perhaps the Minister could tell us a little more about what she intends to do to ensure that they report those figures, because there could be a lot more hiding within them if they have not reported them in time. Will she give more resources to the EHRC to ensure that it can do its enforcement work and follow up on all these cases so that none of that is missed? It occurs to me as well that the reporting is very much the start of the process. It tells us where women are now within the workforce. What more is she doing to look at the pipeline to ensure that women are coming through, because it will take more than just equalising the pay to make that happen? We have to be there right at the start.
I was very glad to hear the Minister’s comments on pregnancy discrimination, which is utterly unacceptable in this day and age. Will she expand on the issues around the time limit, because three months is really not long enough for women to put in a claim; six months would be far, far better. It would be good to hear some progress on that.
For the limited powers that we have in Scotland on this issue, the Scottish Government have introduced stronger reporting requirements for public bodies, asking them to publish their pay gap every two years, and also to bring down the threshold from 250 to 20 employees in the public sector. Will the Government take that on, because it is something that they can do right now? I was glad to hear that the Minister is at least considering reducing the threshold to 150 for all companies, because at the moment many companies that employ women are hiding. They will not be able to demonstrate the gap, and women will continue to lose out in those companies, which, I would argue, provide the majority of the workforce in the UK. They, too, need to be held to account.
Order. This is an extremely important matter, which I judged rightly, I think, warranted the urgent attention of the House. However, progress has been disappointingly slow. As we have another urgent question and then substantial business thereafter, it would be greatly to our advantage if questions and answers could be a tad pithier.
I apologise, Mr Speaker, but I am just so full of enthusiasm for this subject.
Let me answer the hon. Lady’s questions. On the issue of the private sector employers who have yet to report, it has been the responsibility of the EHRC to tackle them since the deadline. It has a programme of action. It wrote to every single employer who did not report on Monday 9 April, and it is considering each and every company that falls within the boundaries that has not yet reported. I should say that 100% of public sector organisations have reported, so they are to be commended for that.
Let me turn now to the issue of the EHRC—I apologise because someone mentioned this earlier. The EHRC will receive £17.4 million in the next financial year. I have spoken to the chief executive and I am not aware that resources are an issue, but of course I will listen to her if she says otherwise. On the very important point about the pipeline, I have to say that that is why the Hampton-Alexander review is so important. At the moment, 27.7% of FTSE 100 companies have women in senior executive positions. We want that to be 33% by 2020, which is a challenge for business, because that will mean that they have to start recruiting one woman for every two places that come through. It is a challenge and I hope that the business community will live up to it.
The reason why I fought so hard as a Minister in the coalition Government to win the battle to introduce gender pay gap reporting—despite the Minister’s obvious commitment to this today, my goodness it was a battle with No.10 at the time—is that the visibility and transparency of hard numbers help to pierce the bubble of complacency in boardrooms, in newsrooms and in our living rooms where some people still think that we live in a world of gender equality. What concrete action are the Government taking to help employers understand that the gender pay gap is about unequal pay and so much more? It is about the fact that jobs in care and other roles are undervalued and low paid because they are predominantly done by women. It is about the 54,000 women a year who lose their job because they have a baby. It is about the toxic workplace cultures where the boys’ clubs make the decisions and sexual harassment is endemic. Time is up on pathetic excuses. It is time that organisations got serious about action.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady and hope that she will forgive me for not including her in my roll-call of honour of female Members who have helped on this issue. She is right that we need to say to organisations, “Look, you need to do more.” I am pleased that companies have followed our best practice guidance so that, alongside reporting the gender pay gap, they have set out their action plan for how they intend to tackle it. We have seen some interesting plans—for example, from easyJet for rebalancing the number of female pilots in its workforce. This is part of the overall programme, along with our expectation about executive positions and addressing a lot of the pipeline issues. For example, we know that the choices that girls and young women make at school and university dictate their career path, so we need to encourage them into science, technology, engineering and maths.
The World Economic Forum does an annual survey of the gender pay gap in 200 different countries. I am very pleased that the UK ranks in the top 10% in the world, although much more can obviously be done. Will the Minister look at the recommendation of the charity Bliss, to give more support to mothers of very premature babies? They are a small number of women who could do with some extra help.
My hon. Friend raises a sensitive issue in her usual sensitive manner. Of course I will look into it. So many issues can impede the career path of a woman or, indeed, a man. It is in the best interests of businesses to find the flexibility to be able to encompass such sensitivities as and when that flexibility is needed. Flexible working really does pay in results for businesses.
It is now over 40 years since a heroine of mine, Barbara Castle, introduced the Equal Pay Act. She did so with great support from the labour and trade union movement, because the principle that women should be paid the same for doing the same job as men was believed then. Forty years later, we are really no nearer to achieving that pay equality. Although it is important that we have seen transparency, it has laid bare the size of the task. Allowing enforcement mechanisms so that the existing law can actually be enforced is crucial, so that women who are illegally sacked for being pregnant can use the law to get proper redress and so that we can drive out this direct discrimination, which has been illegal for years. Does the Minister understand that?
I commend the hon. Lady’s passion on the issue. Of course, equal pay has been the law for 40 years. Paying people unequally for the same or similar work is unlawful. We are currently seeing the impact that inequality has on workforce morale in various organisations, let alone the anger that individual women feel when inequality comes to light. The gender pay gap provisions obviously deal with the pay gap—unequal pay for the same or a similar job is dealt with under separate legislation. I think that Wendy Olsen’s report in 2010 defined the second highest factor impeding women’s participation in the workforce as “unknown”, which we know is direct and indirect discrimination, so we need to ensure that women are aware of their rights. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has the powers set out under the Equality Act 2010, and we will be looking at how powerful and effective those powers are.
Is not the key point that this is the very first reporting that has been required? It is the start of a process that can be developed. Although the criterion of companies having more than 250 employees accounts for 40% of employment and 49% of turnover, there is an acceptance that that threshold number of employees should be decreased. Does the Minister agree, however, that it should be a gradual decrease over time?
Yes, this is the first year. As of this month, we are having a conversation about the pay of more than 10,000 private sector businesses and more than 1,600 public sector organisations. We are also reviewing their data, which simply was not there a year ago, let alone 10 years ago. Although I absolutely understand the impatience in the Chamber to get this issue sorted as quickly as possible, we have to be realistic. Rome was not built in a day. We need to be sure about action plans.
I hope the Minister will agree that it was revealing to see that job segregation by gender has an impact on pay. I hope she will also agree that the opportunity to change that is in our hands today, with apprenticeships. This is urgent. It is disappointing that the Government have not set a target for tackling gender segregation when it comes to apprenticeships, although they do have a target, which I support, for encouraging more people from ethnic minorities into apprenticeship roles. Will the Minister look into this issue and discuss with her colleagues whether more should be done to tackle the gender imbalance in apprenticeships across different sectors, and will she write to me with her findings?
I will happily write to the right hon. Lady about those conversations. We are conscious of this issue, particularly in the STEM subjects, which is why have committed in the careers strategy to improving STEM careers advice in schools. We are also ensuring that girls and women are being encouraged into the STEM subjects as much as possible, but of course it is not just about STEM. The right hon. Lady’s point about apprenticeships is important; I will take that away with me.
Mandatory reporting requirements are an important step in eliminating the gender pay gap, but does my hon. Friend agree that it will be key for shareholders and customers, as well as employees, to hold businesses to account on those reports?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head when it comes to cultural change. I very much hope that women employees and shareholders are looking at the performance of their companies and asking themselves, “Is this how we want this company to behave?” Let us be clear: more than 10,000 businesses have been having a conversation about this issue at board level in a way they simply would not have been a year ago. I am keen that we look at this not just in terms of regulations, but in terms of cultural change and cultural ambition.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for asking this urgent question and for starting us off with her characteristic insight, constructive challenge and no-nonsense approach to the issue.
For employers with a particularly large gender pay gap, would the Minister consider exploring a threshold above which an organisation would be required to publish an action plan for closing or reducing that gender pay gap?
We have thought about this carefully. At the moment, we are saying that it is best practice for companies to publish action plans, and a lot of companies are doing so. I want to take businesses with us. I do not want to set the Government’s face against them. We want this change to happen and we know that the public will exists, so although we are advising organisations to publish action plans as best practice, that does leave us with options should companies not choose to follow that guidance.
I feel compelled to advocate on behalf of the men who work at Personnel Hygiene Services Ltd, where my wife works, who are paid 6.3% less than the women—we do not want to forget about the men. I appreciate what the Minister has said, but will she commit to naming and shaming companies that do not file their returns? This has gone on long enough, and we need to be aggressive in narrowing the pay gap.
My hon. Friend shows his customary courage in saying that during this particular UQ. The information on naming and shaming is actually out there already—in case anyone has not had the chance to look at it, the names of the companies that have reported, and all their details, are on the gov.uk website. Indeed, when I had the pleasure of appearing before the Treasury Committee, I encouraged colleagues across the House to look at the gov.uk website to see for themselves whether large employers in their constituencies have complied, because I would hope that they would want to encourage those employers to follow the law and report their findings. At this stage, after the deadline, compliance is a matter for the EHRC, which has a range of powers and has considered the issue very carefully. It has published its action plan, and it will be for the EHRC to decide the best action in relation to each and every company.
It is estimated that 1,557 companies employing more than 250 people had not reported their gender pay gap by the deadline. Precisely what penalties will affect those companies, which did not report on time and therefore broke the law?
As I said, the EHRC has set out its action plan, because it rightly has responsibility for enforcement after the deadline. It wrote to all the companies that had not complied on Monday 9 April. Since that date, more companies have complied. Let us not forget that it is not necessarily a question of businesses saying, “We have 250 or more employees—this is our gender pay gap.” Some of them will fall just shy of the threshold and so may declare themselves as not meeting the criteria. However, since that letter has gone out, their numbers may have gone up. We are reviewing this very carefully, and the EHRC has set out what it plans to do over the next 28 days in reviewing companies that have not complied and what it will do thereafter.
My hon. Friend highlights a point that has been raised before. At this stage, we are saying that it is best practice. The advantage of that, I hope, is that we bring businesses with us. In fairness, the vast majority of businesses want to do this. Let us not pretend that those in the corporate sector in the UK are against doing it—they are not. Indeed, the fact that the vast majority of them reported on time—indeed, some of them reported way ahead of time—suggests that they want to do it. That is because businesses know, as McKinsey’s most recent report showed, that if we sort out the gender gap, it has the potential to add £150 billion to our economy. That is a figure that we, and companies, are most interested in.
I am ambitious, just as the Minister is, to change the culture. However, we are a very long way from that. What are the Government going to do to make it easier for women who now know what they have long suspected to raise this issue? The #PayMeToo campaign set up by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and many other women across this House has shown that it is not that women are not asking; they are asking, but the culture in their organisations does absolutely nothing to support any change. It is not the fault of women. What can we do for women who are currently being silenced?
I would ask for the help of colleagues across the House. If they know of such employers in their constituencies, or indeed constituents who are employed by companies that are not acting in their best interest, then I ask them to please write to me or stop me in the corridor. I will always be happy to hear about it.
This is a matter of compliance for the EHRC. I think that as time goes on, the swell of public opinion will cause the companies in question, which do not have the good will of the public behind them, to really examine their conscience. We know that happened during the reporting period—there were instances where companies’ results came in, they were put on to gov.uk, the EHRC and the Home Office said, “Come on, that doesn’t look right”, and then the companies re-submitted their reports. Public power, I think, has a great deal to play in this.
I raised the Iceland example with the Government some time ago and was simply told that unequal pay is already against the law, but that does not cut it: women are still losing out. Will the Government look again at Iceland and independent certification for companies above a certain number of employees?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being so far-sighted in his question. I am very happy to look at Iceland’s self-certification. I repeat that this is the first year that this has happened. We have conducted a world-leading exercise, led from the top by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who both share a great passion about this. We will review the data and then see what more needs to be done.
I was very pleased to hear the Minister talk about shared parental leave as a potential way of closing the gender pay gap. However, the number of dads and partners who are taking it seems to have stalled at 2%. A recent survey by the Campaign for Parental Pay Equality has shown that 80% of the self-employed and freelancers would take it if they were offered it. Opening it up to freelancers could mean that it is an engine for change to drive through the cultural change that we need in our society. With that in mind, would the Minister support my “selfieleave” Bill—the Shared Parental Leave and Pay (Extension) Bill—which would extend it to freelancers? Will she work with me to persuade the Chancellor that in the autumn, this small and inexpensive tweak would mean that the burden of childcare does not fall on the shoulders only of women?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I note that my very able Treasury colleague, the Economic Secretary, is sitting next to me and has heard her question. I am really proud that in 2015 we introduced shared parental leave and pay, which enables working parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay in the first year. In February, we launched a joint campaign with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to promote shared parental leave, because we get the point that awareness of it is not particularly high. That is why we have invested in spreading awareness of it.
Along with outrageous direct discrimination on pay, this reporting also highlights, as the Minister has indicated, persistent under-representation of women at the top level in organisations. Does she agree that this not only amounts to an injustice but is also economically stupid, because we are failing to make use of our human capital? We need to get the message out there that not acting on this is both wrong and stupid.