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Topical Questions

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK is an international leader on gender equality research, so that employers have the tools and knowledge to act on their gender pay gaps. We are investing £3.1 million in research on gender equality in the workplace over the next two years. That includes £2 million in the gender and behavioural insights programme, to help us to understand what works to change employers’ behaviour and improve gender equality in the workplace. In June, we launched the workplace and gender equality research programme—a two-year programme that will invest more than £1 million in new research and deliver evidence-based tools for employers on what works to close their gender pay gaps. That reflects the Government’s strong commitment to ensuring that evidence supports employers and employees.

Research from Wales TUC showed that as many as 85% of women who took part in its survey felt that the menopause had adversely affected their working life. Will the Minister press colleagues to consider workplace policies on the menopause, so that women get more support and employers cannot ignore the welfare of women with menopausal symptoms?

One of the advances of this Parliament is that we are beginning to talk about the menopause and its effects more than we did three, four or five years ago, and I think that that is a good thing. I very much take the hon. Lady’s point about encouraging employers to recognise the effects of the menopause as part of their treatment of employees. That goes to the point that we have been talking about, whether it is the gender pay gap or the treatment of black and ethnic minority employees and others. It is about employers treating their workforce fairly in a way that gets the most out of people’s potential and makes them feel valued.

T6. Mrs Darlington’s Jams in Cheshire was set up by Marion Darlington in 1980 from her farmhouse kitchen. It has expanded to produce more than 400,000 jars of jam every year and to export all over the world. What steps are the Government taking to help women who want to follow in Mrs Darlington’s entrepreneurial footsteps? (906886)

There are now 1.1 million women-led small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, and I want that number to grow, having been a small business owner before I arrived in this House. It is fantastic to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent, Mrs Darlington, and I am pleased to hear about her success. The Government-supported Start Up Loans company had given loans worth nearly £450 million, nearly 40% of them to women, by March this year. We also have 38 growth hubs across England providing information and support to anyone—that includes women—who wants to start and grow their own business. I wish Mrs Darlington continued success.

We welcome the fact that upskirting has been made into a specific sexual offence. It cannot be right, therefore, that victims of revenge porn are not afforded the protection of anonymity. The Government’s new victim strategy, which was released on Monday, failed to address the lack of protection for victims of image-based sexual abuse. When will the Government close this loophole in law and give all sexual abuse victims the protection that they deserve?

The hon. Lady has raised this matter with me on previous occasions, and I know that she will welcome what is in the victim strategy. She highlights an important issue. As she will be aware, in terms of tackling the publication of upskirting images and voyeurism online and via social media, the Law Commission is looking, as part of the DCMS-commissioned review into online abuse, into the sharing of intimate and sexual images. I believe that that is the right way for us to proceed with looking at the important issue that she rightly highlights.

The Government have responded today, in a written ministerial statement, to the inquiry that I requested—as the then Minister for Women and Equalities—into whether we needed a national buffer zone system for abortion clinics. They have concluded that we do not. May I ask the Minister what arrangements individual councils or areas will have in the absence of such a system?

Let me add that I welcome the conclusion reached in the written ministerial statement. Now that I am able to travel slightly less conspicuously, I took the opportunity to visit the abortion clinic in the constituency of Ealing Central and Acton to take a look for myself. I observed that there was no longer any harassment taking place, which I believe continues to reflect the conclusion in the statement.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question, and, obviously, for her work on this issue.

I asked for the written ministerial statement to be issued in advance so that Members would have an opportunity to question me about it today. Having looked at the evidence, we have discovered that 363 hospitals and clinics in the country offer abortion services, and that in 36 of those locations there have been demonstrations, or protests—however people wish to phrase it. On the basis of that evidence, we have concluded for the moment that we should continue the current scheme of enabling councils to apply for public space protection orders which target their localities, but we will of course keep this matter very much under review, because we want to ensure that people who need to access such services can do so safely.

T2. LGBT youths are significantly over-represented among young people facing homelessness. Will the Government support a shift to mandatory monitoring of gender and sexual orientation by publicly commissioned homelessness services? (906882)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. I know about the work that she does alongside the Albert Kennedy Trust, which does fantastic work in supporting young people. We recognise that 24% of homeless young people identify as LGBT. That is a shocking statistic, and one that we cannot ignore in the LGBT action plan or in the rough sleeping strategy that we have just announced. We have committed ourselves to undertaking research, along with the Government Equalities Office, on the nature and scale of the problem. We have also committed ourselves to taking concrete next steps to address LGBT homelessness in the first annual “refresh” of our strategy, which the research will inform.

The arrival of Blake Bridgen on 8 September means that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) will have the opportunity to engage in shared parental responsibility. Can the Minister assure me that we will continue to promote the “share the joy” campaign, so that other men can benefit from shared parental leave?

Very much so, and I am delighted to hear about my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). That was news to me, and I am sure that we all share his joy. I look forward to his taking some shared parental leave—if that is permitted under house rules.

T3. My constituent came to the United Kingdom when she was 12, but her immigration status consistently made education, work and benefits inaccessible. She now faces being deported for being unable to contribute financially to the system. What steps is the Department taking to support black and minority ethnic women who are suffering at the hands of the Government’s immigration policy? (906883)

The hon. Lady will, I hope, understand that I cannot comment on cases on the Floor of the House, but if I can extend an offer to meet her—or arrange for the relevant Minister to meet her—I will of course do so.

May I take up a point that was made earlier? During the summer recess, I visited Corby jobcentre and met the very dedicated staff there. They told me unequivocally that universal credit was working locally. Is it not the case that more women are in work, and that universal credit is helping that?

I thank my hon. Friend for taking time out of his summer recess to visit his local jobcentre. If more Members were to do the same, they would see that not only are more women in work, but many more older women are in work—and, indeed, that we have record levels of employment across our country, and wages are beginning to rise. We all want people to have more money in their pockets.

Order. I am sorry, but we are running very late. I must ask colleagues to put single-sentence questions, and let us also have very brief replies.

T4. Mid- lothian is home to some fantastic, world-leading science and innovation institutes, but my young, female, particularly working class constituents feel that they cannot access them, especially the jobs at the very top. What is the Minister doing to help? (906884)

The hon. Lady is right to raise that question. The number of women now accepted on to full-time science, technology, engineering and maths courses has increased by 25% since 2010, but we are working hard to drive that figure up further. In my constituency, for example, BAE, from the private sector, is working with education providers and university technical colleges to drive women and young people into those areas, but the Government need to keep working to close the gap further.

The victims strategy rightly focuses on domestic violence, a scourge of our society. How does the Minister propose to make sure that women are aware of what he is proposing?

We have, through the media, statements in the House and, I hope, colleagues such as my hon. Friend, done everything we can thus far to make people aware of the strategy, but we will continue to promote it so that everyone is aware of what we are proposing and how it will help them.

T5. It is extremely important that the injustice suffered by the WASPI women is not allowed to slip off the political agenda, because many women in my constituency are suffering terribly as a result. Will the Minister stand up for women and commit today to urging the Chancellor to put in place transitional arrangements at the autumn Budget? (906885)

The hon. Lady will be aware that £1.1 billion of concessions have been made, and it is really important to note that as a result of our reforms, more than 3 million more women will receive £550 a year more by 2030.[Official Report, 9 October 2018, Vol. 647, c. 2MC.]

Forced marriage is outlawed in this country, but it still happens, and schools do not do enough about it. It does not help either that children can get married at 16 in this country. Will the Minister meet me and Jasvinder Sanghera from Karma Nirvana to discuss this issue?

It was a pleasure to sit in for my hon. Friend’s 10-minute rule motion on exactly this point last week, and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the marriage age. Forced marriage is illegal, of course, and the Home Office is doing a great deal of work to spread the message around communities particularly affected by it that it is simply not acceptable in the 21st century.

T7. I am pleased to say that the 220,000 member-strong Women’s Institute has joined more than 20 other national organisations, 77% of the public and more than 150 MPs across the House to support my private Member’s Bill to measure the true levels of UK hunger. Does the Government’s continued resistance to my Bill not show their indifference to rising levels of hunger on their watch? (906888)

It does not show that at all. The Government have a record of trying to push people into work, because we see work as the best way of tackling hunger and poverty. That is why we are trying to make universal credit taper more easily—so that when people get into work, they keep more of their own money. It is also why we raised the threshold at which people start paying income tax—again so that the lowest paid keep their money rather than paying it to the state. It is also about extending educational opportunities to children so that when children leave our schools they have had a good or outstanding education.

What progress has my hon. Friend made in developing the legislation required to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010?

I always look forward to the six-weekly question from my hon. Friend on this matter. The Government completely oppose any discrimination on the basis of a person’s origins, including any perceptions of their caste, which is why we issued a public consultation on caste and the Equality Act. It ran for six months and closed in 2017. We responded in July and now propose to ensure there is appropriate legal protection against caste discrimination through reliance on existing case law. In our view, this shows that a statutory remedy against caste discrimination is already available. As for a date, I am afraid he will have to keep pressing me, because, as he will appreciate, machinations are in place.

I am pleased that today the previous Home Secretary’s review of abortion clinic protests has seen the light of day—and that the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) is in her place given the last episode of “Bodyguard”. However, the conclusions are a bit disappointing as the word “women” does not occur in there once; the review talks about pregnant persons. It seems to say that a disproportionate number of women must be affected before any action takes place. May I suggest that the Minister has a meeting with her boss, the Home Secretary, me and the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, because there are other ways of proceeding than the blanket ban that the Government have rejected?

I commend the hon. Lady for all the campaigning and other work she has done to stand up for her constituents and those visiting her constituency for the services provided by the clinic there. I am of course happy to meet her and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to discuss this issue further. We will keep it under review. We are particularly interested to see how the public spaces protection order in Ealing is working. We understand from Marie Stopes that it considers it to be working well, but of course we will keep it under review.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018

Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018

Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018.