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Topical Questions

Volume 641: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018

Some 16% of the population is disabled, but their representation in our Parliaments, Assemblies and councils is far too low. It is primarily political parties’ responsibility to support their candidates properly, just as they must also support disabled employees. That is why I am announcing today that over the next 12 months my Department will, with others, undertake a programme of work to help political parties to best support their disabled candidates and to consider how independent candidates can be supported, too. While that work is under way, we will provide up to a quarter of a million pounds to support disabled candidates for elections in the forthcoming year. I shall keep the House updated.

It was an honour and my privilege to have whipped the equal marriage Bill through this House. Will the Minister complete that work by abolishing civil partnerships?

Although the demand for civil partnerships has tailed off since my right hon. Friend’s efforts were brought to bear on that Bill, they are extremely valued by some people, and others would also like the opportunity to have a civil partnership. We are looking into the issue and have commissioned some additional research into opinions on and attitudes towards civil partnerships, but whatever the outcome of that research, I assure my right hon. Friend that they will not be compulsory.

I congratulate the Minister and welcome her to her new role. In the past 12 months, I have congratulated no fewer than three Ministers on their appointment to the role. [Interruption.] “Get used to it,” I hear from a sedentary position, and that is exactly the problem. Responsibility for women and equalities has been passed from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to the Department for Education, then back to the Home Office, and now it is with the Department for International Development. To add insult to injury, the Government Equalities Office will see its funding cut by almost half. All that does not really scream a commitment to women and equalities. Does the Minister agree that the Equalities Office needs a stable Department with proper funding?

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. We do need to stabilise the work of the GEO and to increase what we are doing on the equalities agenda across the Government. We have done some tremendous things in recent years, and we need to build on that work if we are really to address inequalities, not only in the policy areas for which I am directly responsible but across the Government, including in disability, age discrimination and elsewhere. Since I have taken this post, I have given this a lot of thought, and I will make some announcements in the forthcoming weeks.

T2. Equality of access to education and schooling opportunities for women and girls in the developing world is central to their life chances. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to support initiatives to widen access to education and schooling for women and girls? (905393)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There are some good tie-ups between the work of the Department for International Development and the Women and Equalities role. I hope that I will be able to help both Departments by being the joint Minister. We spend around £1 billion on education, half of which is specifically to help girls to access good-quality education. Most recently, we announced a further £212 million of funding through the girls’ education challenge, to ensure that almost a million more marginalised girls throughout the Commonwealth can receive good-quality education.

Earlier in questions, the sharing of data and the working together of Departments in relation to domestic abuse and domestic violence was mentioned. Some time ago, I had a constituent whose data was shared, which meant that she had to come out of hiding, where she was being protected, and to move to another place because of that sharing of data by the Department for Work and Pensions. I know that that is something that the Minister is working on, but can she ensure that the highest possible resource and focus is given to this issue, because my constituent’s life was put in danger by the fact that her data was shared with her ex-partner?

I am dismayed to hear that. Clearly, that is not the intention of the amendments to the Data Protection Bill. We have put a declaratory statement in the Bill to encourage and give confidence to all the agencies involved in safeguarding that, under the Bill, they do have the right to share information for the purposes of safeguarding. I am extremely concerned to hear of the hon. Lady’s case, and if she will write to me please, I will look into it.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; it is an extremely important and pertinent one. The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK is both unacceptable and, frankly, frightening for anyone of a Jewish background or disposition. We should all do what we can to tackle it. Our relationship with the Jewish community has been built on the solid work of the cross-Government working group on tackling anti-Semitism, which ensures that any issues are brought forward quickly and are dealt with. The Government are providing more than £13.4 million to ensure the security of Jewish faith schools, synagogues and communal buildings, following the concerns raised by the Jewish community. I wish that we did not have to spend that money, but we do, and we are.

Will the new Minister, whom I, too, congratulate, now publish the long-awaited inquiry of the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), into the safety of women accessing abortion clinics? Will she also take up the recommendation of 160 parliamentarians, including David Steel, author of the Abortion Act 1967, to introduce buffer zones?

May I thank the hon. Lady, who has run such an effective campaign on this, and the colleagues across the House who have written about this matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary? As she knows, the previous Home Secretary, in her capacity as both Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, took this subject extremely seriously, as does the new Home Secretary. We are drawing together the evidence and looking at it very carefully, and we will, of course, let the House know the results of that review as soon as we can.

T4. I welcome the Government’s commitment to transparency through gender pay gap reporting. Will my hon. Friend update the House on how many employers have reported during the first year of this new scheme? (905397)

That is a typically astute question by my hon. Friend. As of 9 o’clock this morning, 10,212 businesses and organisations had responded, and 95% of all businesses and organisations that should have replied had done so, and we are now chasing the other 5%

The trans community suffers some of the most profound discrimination across the world. Will the Minister advise the House what discussions are being held with her colleagues in the United States of America, where we are seeing an incremental rolling back of the rights of trans American citizens that fundamentally undermines the principles of America’s liberal democracy?

One thing that I have been conscious of is how the progress that we have made on these issues and on wider issues has been a catalyst for change in other countries all around the world. We in the UK have a very important role to play. Let me give Members one example. At the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, our Prime Minister used the key part of her plenary session to champion the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We will continue to do that in every nation on earth.

Women used to lag well behind men in terms of workplace pensions. Will the Minister update the House on the current situation?

It is true that women used to lag behind men in terms of workplace pensions, but at 73% their participation rates are now equal to those of men in the private sector. Thanks to auto-enrolment, 10,000 men and women in my hon. Friend’s constituency now have a private pension. Thanks are also due to the 1,670 employers assisting them.

Particularly given her statement at the start of topical questions, will the Minister for Women and Equalities tell us what progress she has made in getting the position of disability commissioner reinstated at the Equality and Human Rights Commission?

I have been aware of this issue for some time, from a previous brief, and I can tell my hon. Friend that the commission is currently going through a tailored review that will look at the structures it has in place to represent and hear the views of disabled people and enable commissioners to focus on their needs and rights.