The Secretary of State was asked—
Exports in Global Markets
Mr Speaker, before I begin, I am delighted to announce the appointment of Mark Slaughter as the Department for International Trade’s new director general for investment. Mark took up his new role this month and will lead the Department’s work on inward and outward investment.
The Department for International Trade provides support to companies in Wales and the rest of the UK through, for example, the GREAT campaign, high value campaigns, the Tradeshow Access Programme and the financial support to exporters offered by UK Export Finance.
Wrexham pharmaceutical companies, such as Wockhardt and Ipsen Biopharm, export worldwide. Does the Minister agree that it is essential to preserve regulatory alignment to allow them to continue to export and develop in new markets?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is a great champion of his local exporting businesses. We need the right arrangements going forward to support the strong export growth we have seen. He will note that, since 2010, export growth for Wales has gone up by 82%.
What direct support is being given to businesses that want to export overseas and, crucially, how is it being signposted?
The hon. Lady is right to mention the importance of ensuring that British companies know support is in place. In DIT, we have for the first time in our history a Department of State whose only job is to support international economic exports, investment and trade policy. The GREAT campaign has been very significant in promoting that and we have trade advisers throughout the country. Indeed, in Yorkshire and Humber, DIT has 33 mobile and desk-based international trade advisers, who are there explicitly to support local business and to make sure they know what we have on offer.
For the food and drink producers located in my constituency, such as the world famous Tennents brewery and Morrison Bowmore whisky distillery, international trade is an integral part of their business. Can the Minister tell us what his Department is doing to work with Scottish Development International to better promote Scottish businesses, such as the ones I have mentioned, overseas?
The hon. Gentleman is right and, along with many of his colleagues, he is a great champion of local businesses. That is why it was particularly disappointing that we saw so many of his colleagues shaking their heads in disbelief when they heard the shadow Secretary of State the other day refusing to support the EU-Canada trade deal and refusing to support the EU-Japan trade deal. He will recall that one of his colleagues said that if the Labour party is not prepared to support a deal with Trudeau’s Canada, who on earth would it support a deal with.
Although it is very welcome to see a rise in exports, Ministers know they are still coming from a relatively small proportion of British businesses. I urge him to challenge business membership bodies to ensure they put exporting at the heart of their work. We need a culture change. They have a role to play.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work he does in supporting international trade. He is absolutely right. We work closely in partnership with, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meets regularly, representative business organisations because we need to change the culture. Our assessment is that there are more British companies that could export and do not, than there are who can and do. The opportunity is there. The very welcome growth in exports over recent years is to be applauded, but there is so much more we can do by working in partnership not only with representative business organisations, but with banks.
What impact will there be on UK firms exporting around the world if the Trade Bill is not implemented before we leave the EU?
Of course, the Trade Bill is fundamental to the continuity of existing EU trade deals. It puts in place the framework to allow us to move them over from the EU to the UK. Labour failed earlier this week to support jobs, and it has repeatedly voted against the very Bill that would allow us to ensure continuation of trade.
Our exports will be more likely to prosper if reciprocal trade is not met with a common external tariff, will they not?
What my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about is that there will be real opportunities for the UK when it leaves the EU. The appetite throughout the world is first for continuity, but among so many of our existing trade partners there is also a real desire to deepen that relationship and thus support British exports in a way that, sadly, the shadow Secretary of State seems signally not to do.
It is not enough, though, simply to promote exports and global trade. They need to be facilitated, which is likely to require new trade deals with our major trading partners, such as the United States. That, however, is not without its risks. When the Minister and the Secretary of State are going about their business promoting trade and starting early discussions about a trade deal, will they make it clear from the outset that our NHS, our public services, our food hygiene rules and important geographic indicators are off limits and out of bounds?
I am happy to give those assurances, but earlier this week we saw the Scottish National party—the hon. Gentleman’s party, under his leadership in this area—vote against a deal that fully supports the continuity of existing protections. It is interesting that the Scotch Whisky Association and all the thousands who work in the Scotch whisky business strongly support that deal, whereas the SNP opposed it.
In May it was reported that the Department was to axe hundreds of jobs in trade promotion—up to 10% of the workforce. The Treasury has since hinted that additional funding is available to safeguard such jobs, but we have heard that the cuts are still happening. Surely the Secretary of State agrees that axing officials whose job is to promote British exports is not the best way to build a “global Britain”. Will he therefore confirm that his Department has not, and will not, cut those jobs?
The truth is that the Department is growing. It is less than two years old and it is building its capacity. Today I announced the appointment of a new director general for investment, we recently announced the appointment of a director general for exports, and, of course, we are soon to complete the appointments of eight HM trade commissioners around the world, who will deploy our resources to best effect.
Trade Deals with Developing Countries
Freeing up trade is a proven driver of prosperity for developing countries. As we leave the EU, our priority will be to seek to deliver continuity in our trading arrangements, including continuity for developing countries.
Let me first warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box.
The EU acts as a protectionist bloc against the trading interests of developing economies. Can my hon. Friend assure me that, once we leave the EU, arranging trade deals with developing economies will be a central part of our post-Brexit arrangements?
I certainly can. The Department’s White Paper “Preparing for our future trade policy” sets out the scale of the Government’s desire to help developing countries to break down the barriers to trade, and we will give them the tools with which to trade their way out of poverty.
I am sorry that I did not spot the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but if he wants to shoehorn his question—
You look for your favourites.
I most certainly do not look for favourites, but I am always happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman, and if he wants to speak now, he can.
It was on the last question, and you know that.
The hon. Gentleman can always shoehorn in his concern on any question, and the Chair is accommodating of him. I hope that his mood will improve as the day proceeds.
An important issue connected with trade deals is actually a Home Office matter, I refer to the issue of visas. Whether the trade deals are with developing countries or with Australia and New Zealand, the big thing that they talk about is not two-year visas but five-year visas. What work is the Minister doing with the Home Office to bring some sense into this area? Incidentally, that is also needed on the west coast of Scotland in relation to fishing.
The hon. Gentleman will know very well that mode 4 is applied in many circumstances, and that it was part of the Japan-EU free trade deal. Our conversations with the Home Office are ongoing, but it will always be a matter of national policy that we will control our own immigration system. Despite what is said in trade deals, that is protected.
Will the Minister confirm that, whatever agreement is or is not reached with the European Union, after Brexit this country will continue to see increased trade in goods and services with the European Union, developing countries, and other countries around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Clearly, the whole purpose of our leaving the European Union, or one of the plain purposes, is to increase sovereignty and to conduct our own trade deals. We are very keen to do a good deal with Europe—to see frictionless borders and to keep trade going on that front—and indeed to seek wide and ambitious free trade deals with others.
What will the new Trade Minister do to ensure that any such trade deals with developing countries protect, promote and enhance workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights, rather than engaging in a race to the bottom?
It is a feature of the free trade deal that is currently being signed by the European Union, and indeed the commitment of this Government, that chapters will be included in all those agreements that will protect exactly the elements that the hon. Lady identifies. They are in the current arrangements that we voted in favour of earlier this week and will be in future trade deals.
Does the Minister agree that the best way of getting countries out of poverty is by trade, and that that is under threat from protectionism? Does he further agree that how we vote in this House, and the measures we support in the House on extending trade, matter?
That absolutely matters; it matters fundamentally. Trade is one of the greatest promoters of prosperity on the planet. It supports more poor people into reasonable states of living across the world than almost any other policy. The Opposition voted against such a free trade deal last week—in fact, against two of them. All that can do in the long run is reduce the amount of free trade around the world.
For the last 10 to 15 minutes, Ministers at that Dispatch Box have been attacking us for voting on principle against a trade agreement the other day. I want to know how many trade deals the Government have turned down with Barnier and the rest of them across in Europe in the last 12 months. Answer!
I am very sorry to say, Mr Speaker, that I am not entirely sure that I understand the question, but I would like to correct one element of something I just said. Of course, the Opposition did not vote against both trade deals—they abstained on the Japan trade deal. I am afraid that I simply do not understand the question. All I know is that the trade deals that were voted on and passed by the House this week had elements that contained many of the protections that the Opposition have said that they want. There are chapters on labour rights and environmental standards, and there is protection for our public services, particularly the national health service, which, as I told the House on Tuesday, is protected from challenge by those agreements.
What advice does the Minister have for small and medium-sized enterprises that want to do business both inside the EU and outside it, post 29 March next year, in terms of their geographic location? Does he think it would be a good idea for businesses to be based in Northern Ireland, where they can have the best of both worlds?
A characteristic of any trade deal that we wish to do with the EU will obviously be to look at the interests of small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy. The EU-Japan trade deal that we voted for in the House on Tuesday specifically opened up the markets of Japan to smaller and medium-sized producers in the car manufacturing sector. I hope that those sorts of measures will be reflected in any deal that we do with the EU.
Business Investment Overseas
If I may, I would like to begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) for all the work that he did as our Minister of State and for helping to set up the Department. He is one of the very best Ministers that I have had the honour to work with in my whole time in this House.
Since April 2017, the Department for International Trade has actively supported UK companies, with over 50 outward direct investment deals in over 20 countries. With our help, companies from all over the UK have invested overseas in many sectors, including advanced manufacturing, infrastructure and energy.
Sussex sparkling wine is beating French champagne in Parisian wine-tasting challenges. In my constituency we have English sparkling wine producers such as Rathfinny, Ridgeview and Breaky Bottom. What steps is the Department taking to help this industry to invest and export overseas?
I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of English wines in her constituency. In fact, Aldwick Court in my own constituency makes a very fine range of wines, Mr Speaker—I will attempt to get you a bottle to prove the point. We work closely with leading industry associations and producers to help to support English wine exports. A recent example of this was the festival of innovation in March in Hong Kong. Our team in-market arranged a bespoke programme of briefings and a high-profile tasting session to introduce a delegation of UK wine and spirit producers to potential buyers from around the world, very successfully.
It all sounds very exciting, I must say.
The Secretary of State may not be aware of the input of a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister on this matter, but Lakeland Dairies in my constituency is attempting to secure Chinese business but is having some difficulty due to red tape. What support is available to help businesses across the language and cultural divide, and to gain results that benefit us all and in particular Lakeland Dairies in my constituency?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been a number of questions about the ease of doing business in China and market access has been one of the questions raised. A new trade commissioner has been appointed, Richard Burn, in China, and our team will work continually with the Chinese Government to try to remove some of the barriers. If companies in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency face specific problems, I will be delighted to meet him to try to resolve them.
Last month, the Department’s roadshow that encourages small businesses to invest overseas and export visited Immingham in my constituency, and it was greatly valued by local businesses. Does the Department plan to continue and expand that roadshow?
Of course, we will continue to do that; it is a very successful programme. But perhaps more usefully we can help to get small businesses the finance they require to get into the exporting business. Last year, in a change from the previous pattern, 78% of all the UK export finance agreements were done with small and medium-sized enterprises in this country.
Has the Secretary of State looked at the impact of tariffs on British investments overseas?
Tariffs in general are one of the areas we want to be able to look at when we leave the European Union. Of course the setting of tariffs is a legal power that we do not yet have. To be able to take full advantage of alternatives—reductions in tariffs, for example—this House will have to pass the customs Bill, which is coming back shortly. I hope that we can count on the hon. Gentleman’s support on that.
Our proceedings would be incomplete and underperforming without a question from Mr Barry Sheerman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
May I ask the Secretary of State if he is not being a little complacent about the role of China in our manufacturing and other sectors? Does he realise that, when we encourage companies to export, some of the companies, like Syngenta in my constituency, are wholly owned by ChemChina and wholly owned subsidiaries of the communist Government in China? There is a greater number of British companies owned by the Chinese. Does that alter the sort of conversation he has with them?
We believe in an open, liberal, global economy and, if we want to own companies overseas, countries overseas have to be able to own companies in this country. That is part of a liberal trading system, but that system requires a proper system of rules. That is why the World Trade Organisation needs to be strengthened and in some areas needs to be reformed, to ensure we have a global trading system that is fair and fit for all.
Trade and Road and Rail Infrastructure
The Government’s transport investment strategy seeks to make Britain a more attractive place to trade and invest by improving the capacity and connectivity of Britain’s transport infrastructure. I know that, in my right hon. Friend’s own county, which has London Gateway, Tilbury and Harwich, she is a staunch campaigner for improved infrastructure and for more international trade and investment.
To thrive as a global beacon for free trade, Britain has to have world-class infrastructure, so will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State work across Government to bring in road and rail upgrades, but also the introduction of free ports and enterprise zones in order to turbocharge business, trade and investment opportunities post Brexit?
Well-connected transport infrastructure is key to our trading capability. When it comes to free ports, as my right hon. Friend knows, I am personally very well-disposed towards the concept. It is one area where we can take potential advantage when we have the freedom to do so once we have left the European Union.
If he has not already done so, will the Secretary of State raise the potential merits of Scottish inclusion in the HS2 project with the Secretary of State for Transport?
Increased transport infrastructure will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom, and I would be happy to take up the hon. Gentleman’s case with the Transport Secretary at any time.
US Tariffs: EU Countermeasures
While we sympathise with US concerns regarding transparency and the overproduction of steel, we continue to argue that tariffs applied under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act are not an appropriate solution for dealing with these issues. We will continue to seek a constructive, permanent resolution with the United States to avoid further escalation, which would only harm businesses, jobs and consumers in the United Kingdom and the United States.
After we have left the EU and turned our back on our trading partners, what steps will the Secretary of State’s Department take to ensure that the UK can stand up to aggressive trade practices?
Far from turning our back on any trading partners, we are seeking a full, transparent, comprehensive and liberal trading agreement with the European Union, and we will seek others. When it comes to protecting British industries, we can do that only when we have a trade remedies authority in place, and I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that he and his party voted against the Trade Bill, which establishes that authority.
The Secretary of State’s reluctance to support EU countermeasures to combat Trump’s trade war, and the Government’s opposition to every amendment that we proposed to the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, speak volumes about his Government’s true intentions. When will he give the trade remedies authority the board members it will need if it is to stand up for UK businesses and consumers? And when will he put an end to the impression that the UK’s Secretary of State would rather back Donald Trump’s policy of America first?
That question was wrong on so many issues that I do not know where to start. Rather than being against countermeasures, the United Kingdom supported the European Union—as I have done several times in this House—in saying that we believed that what the United States did was incompatible with WTO law and that we were therefore against it. And it is the height of cheek to demand that the Government should put members on a board that the Labour party tried to prevent us from establishing in the first place.
Future Trade Agreements: Parliamentary Scrutiny
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that Parliament will have a critical role to play in scrutinising the UK’s future trade deals. We will bring forward proposals in due course.
The Trade Bill in its original form grants Ministers discretionary powers that undermine Parliament’s right of scrutiny. There is no guarantee that agreements will be transposed as originally agreed by the EU, particularly in respect of quotas and tariffs. Given the oft-repeated mantra of taking back control, how can the Government justify not giving Parliament a say on these arrangements?
I know that the hon. Gentleman and others have tabled amendments to the Trade Bill. The details of our proposals on scrutiny will come forward in due course. The Government are committed to building a transparent and inclusive trade policy that is balanced against the need to ensure the confidentiality of negotiations. Any proposal that the Government bring forward will be on top of those mechanisms that are already at the disposal of Parliament. We will be consulting widely with the regions, and many of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman is articulating will be discussed in the regions of England and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Work has already commenced on talking some of these issues through with the devolved authorities.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, for establishing an independent trade policy and for export promotion. I am delighted today to announce the appointment of Natalie Black, Emma-Wade Smith and Simon Penney as our new Trade Commissioners for Asia Pacific, Africa and the middle east respectively. May I also thank my departing senior private secretary, George Thomson? We do not thank our excellent civil servants nearly enough for the job that they do.
Will the Secretary of State adopt the trade policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition?
Inasmuch as I am able to discern what it is, which the events of this week make extremely difficult, the answer would have to be no—not least because, in regard to trade, the Opposition Front Bench has become a caricature of a loony left party in seeming to regard Justin Trudeau as a lackey of global corporatism.
Ministers have made much today about the vote on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement earlier this week. I am not quite sure what they do not understand about no deal with Canada being better than a bad deal; I thought that in other areas that was actually their party policy.
I want to focus on the damning report on carbon emissions released today by the Committee on Climate Change. The Conservative Committee Chair, Lord Deben, set out a stark demand:
“Act now, climate change will not pause while we consider our options.”
In response, will the Secretary of State explain why, on the latest figures, 99.4% of the support that UK Export Finance gives to the energy sector goes to fossil fuels? Will he tell the House what steps he is now taking to redress that imbalance, to promote and support renewable energy and respect the Equator Principles, which his Department signed up to, about sustainability in global trade last year?
When I saw the hon. Gentleman stand up, my heart sank, given that this is only a 30-minute session.
We use UK Export Finance to promote a whole range of environmental and trading issues—in fact, I was in discussions with Equinor in Oslo last week about how we can use UK Export Finance to further the use and export of renewables.
Like the whole House, I am sure, I am delighted that the Chinese Government have decided to lift the ban. I would like to praise my own officials in helping to do that, although it would not have been possible if the Prime Minister had not raised the issue at the highest level during her visit to China.
I will be seeing how we can take advantage of the lifting of the ban when I visit China in August for the Joint Economic and Trade Committee. I hope that in future we will be able to take delegations of UK beef producers, so that we can seek to make the most of an incredibly large potential market.
The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of access to talent, both in agriculture and elsewhere. We aim to ensure that that continues after Brexit so that the enormous growth—of 70% in exports from Scotland since 2010—can continue, including that of the produce that he mentioned.
The Department will provide an update on the grants available for trade show attendance in 2019-20 later this year in the context of our forthcoming export strategy. My hon. Friend has made an important point, but we must also ensure that the help we give is targeted to produce the best results, not the greatest number.
I do find it strange that people think that foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom is a good thing, but that UK investment in other countries is a bad thing. Such investment is an essential part of an open trading system. It is also an important part of our development agenda. Investing and creating jobs overseas, as we saw with Jaguar Land Rover in South Africa, for example, is often one of the ways in which we can provide help for some of the poorest countries in the world.
One of our great exports is Scotch whisky, much of which is produced in my Moray constituency. What is the Department doing to ensure the geographical indication protection on Scotch whisky is maintained within the EU when we leave?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are seeking to ensure the continued GI protection of Scotch whisky in the EU after Brexit. Negotiations on geographical indications are continuing, and we anticipate that all current UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s geographical indications scheme after Brexit.
I call Matt Rodda. Where is the fella? Not here. Oh well, Mr Dakin is here.
What initial assessment have the Government made of the impact of steel tariffs on the UK industry? What support are the Government giving UK steel to mitigate the impact until the tariffs are removed?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I raised this with the EU Trade Commissioner last week. We are looking to see what impact there may be from any diversion and whether we need to introduce safeguards to protect UK steel producers. The earliest time that is likely to happen will be early to mid-July, and we are already seeing some movements that may justify it. As soon as we have the evidence to be able to justify such a decision, we will take it.
I read a fantastic Ministry of Defence document the other day that showed how the global centre of economic activity has shifted over time: 30 years ago, it was in the middle of the Atlantic; today, it is somewhere over Egypt; but in 2050 it will be somewhere around Vietnam. Is it not right, therefore, that our trade negotiations should accordingly shift south and east?
One of our reasons for introducing Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners is to ensure that the United Kingdom has the proper organisation to take advantage of those shifts in global trade. As I have previously said in the House, the International Monetary Fund has said that, in the next 10 to 15 years, 90% of growth in the global economy will be outside continental Europe. That is where the opportunities will be, and that is where we need to be, too.
Can the Trade Secretary tell us whether he intends to send the Trade Bill for Royal Assent, even if the Scottish Parliament withholds its consent from relevant clauses?
We believe that, because the Trade Bill will give continuity to British businesses, including in Scotland, and because not passing it would be detrimental to the interests of businesses, jobs and workers in Scotland, the Scottish Government will, in the end, see sense and support the Bill.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Women in the Science, Technology and Engineering Industries
The Government are working with business to encourage more women to consider following a science, technology, engineering and maths career path. We are doing this through a range of interventions, from major communication campaigns like the Year of Engineering to specific in-school activities like STEM ambassadors.
Will the Minister join me in commending the Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls in Romford? Retired engineers go into the school to tutor the young girls, particularly in the STEM industries. Does she agree that that is a great way to help young people, and particularly females, into this industry?
I pay tribute to that specific example and to my hon. Friend, who has championed such work in his constituency. Quite often we need to inform people not just about the career possibilities but about the pleasure those careers have given people. The STEM ambassadors programme, which is a network of 30,000 volunteers from a very wide range of backgrounds and employers, is vital to getting the message across.
Oldcastle Primary School in my constituency holds a STEM week in which it involves all our local businesses in a whole range of activities with its pupils. Last week Oldcastle and Trelales Primary Schools—the right hon. Lady is the most appropriate Minister to appreciate this—attended the RAF presentation team and saw the whole range of STEM activities that are available in the armed forces. Does she agree that we also have an opportunity to highlight STEM by engaging our armed forces’ presentation teams?
I absolutely do, and I thank the hon. Lady for mentioning this during Armed Forces Week. There are fantastic career opportunities in not only the RAF, but other services. Those armed forces are more operationally capable when we have equal numbers of men and women serving.
No girl or woman should be held back because of her gender or background. In March, this Government announced that Brook Young People would receive a grant of £1.5 million for its project in the UK “Let’s Talk. Period”. The project will support young women and girls by educating them on how to manage their menstruation and providing free sanitary products, if required.
Is it not outrageous that in 2018 period poverty exists at all? Is it not an indictment of this Government’s policies of austerity that schools such as South Hetton Primary School in my constituency are having to improvise and provide pant packs to ensure that students from low-income families never have to miss a school day for want of proper sanitary products?
It was always a mystery to me why the Labour Government did not seize the opportunity to reduce the VAT rate on sanitary products to 5%, as the coalition Government did. The VAT charged on women’s sanitary products is the lowest possible amount that can be charged in order to comply with EU law. Some retailers have decided to pay the 5% VAT for their customers and have reduced prices accordingly. This is a matter for business, but the Government are committed to applying a zero rate of VAT on sanitary products by the earliest date possible when we leave the EU.
I would like to—
It is very good of the hon. Lady to drop in on us; I am sure she has a very busy schedule. As I am burbling on at her, she will be able to recover her breath, and we very much look forward to hearing her.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to announce to you and to the House—perhaps you will excuse my lateness—that today I am on my period, and this week it has already cost me £25. We know that the average cost of periods in the UK over a year is £500, which many women cannot afford. What is the Minister doing to address period poverty?
As I say, we have invested £1.5 million in the Brook Young People “Let’s Talk. Period” project, supporting young women and girls on managing their menstruation and providing free products, if appropriate. The Government are committed to removing the VAT rate on sanitary products when we leave the EU. That will help with the cost of sanitary products.
What discussions has the Minister had with ministerial colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about bids to address period poverty through the tampon tax fund?
The Government set up the tampon tax fund from the 5% VAT that is charged on sanitary products. The fund serves many charities, but it is particularly helping the Brook Young People project, which I welcome.
Will the Minister confirm that we can reduce VAT to zero only because we are leaving the European Union? Can she quantify in millions of pounds how much that step will save women in Britain?
On the first question, yes. On the second, I will write to my hon. Friend with the figure.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Wings Cymru, which supports every junior, primary and secondary school in my constituency, and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), in supplying sanitary products to all girls across the county borough? Will the Minister also welcome the fact that the Welsh Government have provided direct investment in order to give free sanitary products, after campaigning groups such as Wings Cymru have been lobbying? Is it not time that the UK Government stepped in to deliver more funding for free sanitary products?
That is an interesting project and I am interested to hear about it. On the impact of periods on girls attending school, the Department for Education has conducted an analysis of absence statistics to see whether there is any evidence of period poverty having an impact on school attendance. There is currently no significant evidence, but we very much keep it under review, which is why there will be questions about it in the Department’s 2018 surveys for pupils and senior school leaders. We will of course review the project in Wales and, in fairness, the project in Scotland as well.
The Welsh and Scottish Governments recognise that period poverty is a serious issue and have both introduced schemes to tackle it, so why are the UK Government failing to provide support to tackle this growing problem and leaving it to charities and individual groups such as Beauty Banks, a cosmetics equivalent of food banks organised by Jo Jones and Sali Hughes, to fill the gap?
As I said, we are watching with interest the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver access to free sanitary products in schools and other educational institutions, along with the Welsh commitment. We will look at and review the outcomes of those studies and projects.
Universal Credit: Women in Abusive Relationships
Universal credit continues to support victims of domestic violence through a range of measures, including special conditions for temporary accommodation, conditionality easements and same-day advances. Work coaches will also signpost domestic violence victims to expert third-party support.
The Women’s Budget Group has confirmed what we all knew: the practice of insisting on paying universal credit into a single bank account per household makes it much easier for domestic abusers to exert financial control over their victims. What discussions has the Department had with the DWP to end the practice and make split payments the default, rather than an exceptional practice?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been several debates on split payments, not least the Westminster Hall debate last week. The Scottish Government have of course mandated—and I think legislated for—the introduction of split payments. We are going to work with them to make that happen and we will see how it goes. The issue of mandatory split payments does, though, raise much more complexity than I think the hon. Gentleman might at first realise. There are questions about what the split should be if one person is not working and the other person is, or if one person pays more of the household bills than the other. There are lots of questions about whether people who are mandated to have split payments are able to opt out of them and, if so, whether they are doing so under duress. Much more important than split payments is our ability to detect and support the victims of domestic violence on the frontline.
Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer, in addition to working with the Scottish Government, will he commit to working with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) to support and progress her private Member’s Bill, which calls for the DWP to introduce split payments to protect women against financial domestic abuse and controlling relationships?
Not at the moment, no. We have committed to enabling the introduction of split payments in Scotland, if it does indeed proceed. Work and discussions about split payments with the Scottish Government are ongoing, and I think the full truth of the complexity and the side effects of split payments is now dawning, so we shall see whether it proceeds. If it does, we will review it. As I said, I will keep an open mind about split payments and we will see what transpires in future.
The DWP has continued to say that split payments are available, but does the Minister agree that that may put women at risk of further abuse in relationships and may prevent them from asking for this option?
I do not, no. We are making sure that work coaches at the frontline are able to offer and manually introduce a split payment when it is appropriate. The one thing that all of us who have been involved in work on domestic violence know is that it is critical that the victim is in control—that they have control of their own destiny and make decisions about what is in their best interests. If a split payment is appropriate, we will provide it.
It is unlawful to discriminate against women in the workplace because they are pregnant or new mothers. We are implementing the commitment set out in our response last year to the Women and Equalities Committee report on pregnancy discrimination. In our response to the Taylor review, we have committed to considering whether the legislation protecting pregnant women and new mothers from redundancy is adequate. That review is under way and we plan to publish a consultation in the summer.
Susan Wojcicki is the chief executive officer of YouTube and she has been quite outspoken on this issue. She says that mothers given paid maternity leave, for example, come back to work with new skills and insights that help a company’s bottom line. Does the Minister agree that supporting mothers in the workplace not only is the right thing to do, but can help and be good for business, too?
Very much so. We have the highest rate of female employment on record. We know that we have more women returning to work after they have had caring responsibilities. The message to business is very clear: women are good for business. Organisations with the highest level of gender diversity in their leadership teams are 15% more likely to outperform their industry rivals.
How women are treated when they become pregnant and have to take maternity leave is a disgrace in both how it affects their job promotion and how it affects them when they come back after maternity leave. Can we have more leadership and a new charter so that every woman and every employer knows their rights?
The law is very clear: employers are not allowed to discriminate against women on the basis of pregnancy or of their maternity commitments. As part of dealing with the gender pay gap, employers are beginning to talk about how they treat their workforce in a way that they did not a year or two ago. To me, this is part of readjusting what we expect from employers and what employees expect of the people for whom they work.
Menopause Training and Information in the Workplace
The Government commissioned an evidence review of menopause, published last July, which highlighted the important role that employers can play in supporting women. Following that, the Women’s Business Council developed a toolkit for employers, which enables employers to make the right adaptations to physical workplace environments, support flexible working, and raise awareness to help tackle this issue. To date, social media awareness-raising activity has reached nearly 300,000 people.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The TUC and the trade unions have produced some excellent guides to menopause policies in the workplace. Does she agree that menopause policies should become statutory for employers in the same way that maternity policies are statutory?
This is part of our changing expectations of employers. We now know that the employment rate of older women, aged 50 to 64, has risen more than any other age group since 2010. With more women over the age of 50 remaining in work, more women will experience the symptoms of menopause while at work and so it is in employers’ interests to ensure that they have policies that adapt.
I thank the Minister for her response. Can she further outline how information is provided to small businesses that do not have a human resources department and are not sure how to access help or information as easily as other businesses with HR departments?
We are conscious of the difficulties of scale in small businesses, which is why the Women’s Business Council toolkit is available to employers of any size. We have also appointed the Business in the Community age at work leadership team as the business champion for older workers. We very much hope that its work will help employers and women understand their rights.
FTSE 100 Finance Chief Roles
We are supporting the Hampton-Alexander review targets for women to hold 33% of all senior leadership and board positions in the FTSE 100 by 2020. Some 29% of the FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women, which is up from 12.5% in 2011.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am sure that she would agree with me that, lower down the scale, a lot more needs to be done in terms of pay equality for women. Will she also have a discussion with her colleague at the DWP regarding the 11,000 WASPI women in Coventry who were born after 1951 and who are living in poverty to a certain extent because they cannot get their pension?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I am keen to look at a broader range of women than the Government Equalities Office has perhaps previously focused on, including the category of older women. We are really trying to look at everything facing women at that point in their life, including their caring responsibilities, their financial fragility and the options they have to stay economically active.
Intimate Sexual Images: Distribution
It is a pleasure that the first question that I will answer from this Dispatch Box is from my right hon. Friend, who has done so much to highlight and drive progress on these issues as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and throughout her time as a Member of this House.
The sharing of intimate images in this manner is a terrible abuse of trust that can leave victims feeling humiliated, degraded and betrayed. That is why we created—in section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015—a new offence that criminalised the disclosure of private sexual photographs and films without the consent of an individual who appears in them, and with the intent to cause that individual distress. I am glad that people are being successfully prosecuted under this new offence, which carries a maximum sentence of two years behind bars, although there is always more that can be done.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position in the first of what I am sure will be very many opportunities to answer questions at the Dispatch Box.
When this Government made it a crime to post intimate sexual images online without consent, the then Minister said that the matter would be kept under review, particularly the calls from across the House to make it a sex offence so that victims could have anonymity. We now know that one in three victims will not take forward cases because of concerns about the impact on their lives, so will the Minister, in his new position, take another look at the issue and see whether we can do more to ensure that online sex-related crimes have the same standing as those committed offline?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight these issues. A range of factors can cause victims not to support charges; these include the legal and court process, the length of time the process takes and aspects such as anonymity, which my right hon. Friend mentioned. Although charging is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and we have no immediate plans to review the rules around anonymity, we are committed to supporting all victims of crime and to improving processes where possible. We remain committed to bringing forward a victims strategy this summer, in which we will look at these factors and broader issues.
Before I ask my question, may I just correct the record? It was, in fact, a Labour Government who reduced the tax on menstruation products in 2001 to the lowest allowed, which was 5%.
I concur with the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and welcome the Minister to his new position. As we have heard, one in three cases is dropped, so would it not be better for victims and society if we made image-based sex crimes—commonly known as revenge porn—a sexual offence, so that victims can be given anonymity, just as victims will be given anonymity under provisions of the upskirting Bill?
I am grateful for the shadow Minister’s kind words. I look forward to exchanging pleasant words with her across the Dispatch Box on many future occasions. She is right to highlight the importance of the issue. As I have said, we are committed to supporting and protecting victims. The opportunity currently exists for any victim—and, similarly, for witnesses—to apply for reporting restrictions to help them give evidence. Although we are not at this stage committing to review the rules around anonymity, we do of course continue to look at this matter. All factors will be considered as we move forward with this important legislation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.