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Topical Questions

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

Everyone should be able to live with dignity and respect, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-seven years ago this week, the first LGBT Pride marches came to London. Those marches are as relevant today as they were then. Pride matters. As we prepare for our soon-to-be published LGBT action plan, Pride events are happening around the country, with Pride in London taking place next week. I would like to thank all those involved in organising the UK’s Pride events this year. I look forward to taking part in some of them myself and ask all Members on both sides of the House to support them.

When a construction company in my constituency recently went bust, the construction workers, who are predominantly men, found support and mainly found re-employment, but the administration staff—predominantly women—did not. What are the Government doing to ensure that women are not disproportionately affected by closures?

The DWP takes such matters very seriously and will often put in a bespoke plan, particularly if there are a large number of redundancies in one location. A lot of work has been going on in the DWP to ensure that that happens across all sectors. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), has heard the hon. Lady’s question and will take that back to the Department.

T2. Does the Minister agree that making upskirting a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, and closing this legal loophole will better protect victims and increase convictions? (906124)

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. Although there have been successful prosecutions for this highly intrusive practice under existing offences, current legislation does not necessarily cover all instances of upskirting. By creating a specific upskirting offence, the Government are strengthening the law in this area. We are doing exactly what she alludes to—closing a loophole—and ensuring that the most serious sexual offenders go on the sex offenders register. We are determined to continue to work across the House and with Gina Martin and other campaigners to get this important law on the statute book.

Talking about working across the House, the Women and Equalities Committee’s recent report on the race disparity audit notes:

“The ability to disaggregate is essential for understanding the roles that geography, age, gender, social class and poverty play in creating poorer outcomes for some people than for others.”

The socioeconomic duty would ensure that authorities gather that data and adopt policies to tackle inequalities. Will the Government enact section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 to address the conclusions and recommendations of the race disparity audit and the Women and Equalities Committee?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is absolutely right; we cannot address equalities issues in silos. Much of the work that I have been doing in this new role has been looking at how we get all areas dealing with equalities across Government to become more than the sum of their parts. I am looking at the specific issue that she raises. We are also in discussion with political parties with regard to their obligations on reporting data and raising good practice across all sectors.

T3. Given that it is illegal in the United Kingdom to select an embryo during IVF on the basis of gender, apart from those affected by rare genetic conditions, what plans do the Government have to make sex-selective abortions illegal in the UK? (906126)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, because it gives me the opportunity to say that sex selection is not one of the lawful grounds for termination of a pregnancy. Indeed, it is illegal for a practitioner to carry out an abortion for that reason alone. The only circumstances in which sex-selective abortions would be permitted are where there is a gender-linked inherited medical condition.

T4. What is the Minister doing to ensure that grants for the more than 100 disabled workers at the Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries in my constituency are protected? (906127)

I have to confess that I am not across the detail of that particular case, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to meet me to discuss it, I would be more than happy to do so.

T6. I have had a number of pieces of correspondence from constituents who are concerned that the Government need to move their plans forward on upskirting. Can the Minister confirm that we will bring upskirting offences into line with other sexual offences? (906130)

We are applying a very similar approach to this to voyeurism, which carries a substantial two-year maximum custodial sentence, in order to reflect fully the seriousness of the crime. In addition, we are ensuring that the most serious sexual offenders can be placed on the sex offenders register, to help safeguard society, using the same bar as in our current law on voyeurism. The Bill is focused and clear, and I very much look forward to it continuing to receive cross-party support so that it can progress rapidly.

T5. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will commit further funding to the revenge porn helpline, which received over 6,000 calls between 2015 and 2017? (906129)

I am grateful for the question from the right hon. Lady, who I know has long taken a close interest in these matters. The revenge porn helpline does great work, and within the context of the broader debate we are having at the moment, we will continue to look at it very carefully.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, when publishing the LGBT action plan, the Government will also publish as much as possible of the survey data on which it is based?

We will certainly do that. We will publish the action plan, the survey results—the results of the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken in the world—and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 consultation. The survey results are important and they give us a good base to work from, but they are also sad reading and absolute evidence that we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that the LGBT+ community can thrive in the UK.

On Tuesday, I attended the launch of the Coventry women’s partnership, which is a brilliant three-year, city-wide programme aiming to improve economic outcomes for women by providing access to skills, training, confidence building and support into employment. Does the Minister agree that this type of holistic programme of support is necessary if we are to empower women and achieve a more gender-equal future?

I completely agree. It sounds like a wonderful initiative and event. I certainly hope that our locally based work coaches were involved in that event so that they could give the extensive assistance that we are now able to provide to all those seeking work.

Taking your sage advice to persist, Mr Speaker, may I ask my right hon. Friend when she will respond to the long-awaited consultation on removing caste from the Equality Act 2010?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence. I will do that shortly; I know that many Members of this House want that to be done. Since the last Women and Equalities questions, I have met the Dalit community—the meeting was organised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)—and I am considering their particular concerns. I hope to make an announcement on this in the coming weeks.

Just this morning, the Government have published their report on the first year of the two-child restriction policy and rape clause in relation to child tax credits. As we predicted, the impact on women has been devastating: 3,000 families have been denied support and 190 women have had to declare the fact that they are survivors of rape in order to obtain support. How can this Government continue to defend this abhorrent and disgusting policy, and will they finally review it?

As I have said in the past, we keep all our policies under constant review. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that one of the fundamental tenets of welfare reform is that the world of welfare should reflect the world of work and that people on welfare should have to take the same decisions as those who are in work, and that includes making decisions about the number of children they may or may not have. It is worth explaining that there are no current losers from the policy, but only people in contemplation.

On the particular issue of those who have children and what the hon. Gentleman calls the rape clause, we are trying to be as sensitive as we possibly can. I have made the offer to his SNP colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), to meet her if she has ideas about a better way to handle it. At the moment, no one needs to make a specific declaration; we can signpost people to, and assist them in getting, the support they need in those circumstances. We are obviously very keen to hear from third-party organisations working with women subject to that appalling situation to make sure they get the support they need.

Just a few days ago, the Government helped to lead the way by supporting proposals from the International Labour Organisation to agree a convention outlawing sexual harassment at work around the world. Will my hon. Friend urge colleagues to include support for this convention in their trade talks, which I know are top of the Government’s agenda?

As my right hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities and I take a great interest in this subject, and we will be encouraging all Departments to have that principle in mind, not just in international trade agreements, but in every policy that can be so affected.