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Topical Questions

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 14 March 2019

This is LBT women’s health week. We know that lesbian, bisexual and transgender women are less likely to participate in services such as cancer screening, which means that they face a wide range of health inequalities. That must stop. As part of our LGBT action plan, we will shortly announce the appointment of a national LGBT health adviser to help to improve the delivery of healthcare services for LGBT people. We will also announce the membership of the new LGBT advisory panel before the first conference, which will take place next week.

Will the Minister support calls from my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), other Scottish National party Members and women’s advocacy groups for the introduction of separate payments of universal credit to protect victims of domestic violence and financial coercion?

The hon. Gentleman raises important issues that are being considered by both my hon. Friend the Minister for Women and our colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions, and the new Secretary of State is particularly attuned to them. I will ask Ministers to write to the hon. Gentleman to update him, and I will pass on his concerns today.

T4. In my constituency, the sex worker outreach project run by the admirable Nelson Trust is doing really good work to help women to come off the streets and lead very different lives. What support can the Government provide to help these kinds of community services? Does my right hon. Friend agree that reducing the number of women in prison on short sentences would help this kind of rehabilitation? (909824)

I recall the visit that I made with my hon. Friend to see how his local community was looking after vulnerable people in Gloucester. We believe that people who want to leave prostitution should be given every opportunity to find routes out, and this is why we are spending more than £2 million across the Government to support prostitutes and sex workers who are at risk of abuse and exploitation. Indeed, we have a piece of work at the moment involving ongoing research conducted by the University of Bristol into what prostitution in the 21st century looks like, precisely so that we can address the issues that that research identifies.

The primary victims of religiously motivated attacks are women, but how can the Government reassure Muslim women that they are serious about tackling Islamophobia when they choose to ignore and shut down the voices of the British Muslims in their own party who are calling for an independent inquiry into institutional Islamophobia? Speaking as a British Muslim, I believe that it is disgraceful and patronising that the Conservative party continues to refuse to act and tells British Muslims in the party that there is not a problem. Will the Minister at least accept that her party has a problem?

The Conservative party took immediate action to suspend 14 members who put issues in, so we are not going to take any lectures from a party that refuses to suspend people or throw them out of the party for antisemitism.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend set out the legislative timetable for removing caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010? (909826)

We are proceeding with this as soon as a suitable legislative vehicle is available. However, I can update my hon. Friend and tell him that the guidance that we promised to publish alongside it has now been produced. It is there to help employers, service providers and individuals to understand the context of the Equality Act, and it is going out for consultation with stakeholders this week.

T2. Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, is doing excellent work in our region to raise awareness of the link between alcohol and breast cancer. What steps is the Minister taking to increase awareness of the health risks associated with alcohol that apply to women? (909822)

That is a really excellent question. The Government are investing an extra £16 billion in that sort of primary care and prevention to make sure that we have the public health investment that helps people to tackle alcoholism and ensures that women get the breast cancer support that they need. Today, we have released a written ministerial statement responding to the inquiry on breast cancer screening.

T7. The Alison Rose review of female entrepreneurship highlights the fact that £250 billion of untapped potential is lost to the sector because it is not taken seriously enough. Does my hon. Friend agree that businesses, especially banks, should be urged to take a much more inclusive approach to female entrepreneurs? (909827)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has asked this question, as it gives me an opportunity to thank Alison Rose for her review, which tries to ensure that the business landscape is as fair for women as it is for men. It is a shocking fact that women’s average starting capital is 50% less than that of men. I was at a fantastic reception at No. 10 last week, where there was a room full of female entrepreneurs, some of whom were world-leading entrepreneurs. We have fantastically talented, capable and creative female entrepreneurs in this country, and we absolutely must support them. We must ensure that businesses, banks, venture capitalists and angel investors are all doing their bit to help these women.

T3. What steps are being taken to ensure that non-disclosure agreements are not used to cover up discrimination and harassment? (909823)

We have launched a consultation on the use of NDAs and have proposed to make it explicit that NDAs should not prevent individuals from reporting any kind of harassment, sexual or otherwise, to the police. I hope that that answers her question.

May I ask the Minister for Women and Equalities whether some MPs are more equal than others? Back Benchers—the poor bloody infantry—have to traipse through the Lobby for every three-line Whip, but Cabinet Ministers can sit brazenly on the Front Bench and then slope off in their limousines after betraying the people and the Prime Minister.

All the Ministers on the Front Bench this morning are here and ready for their duties, in particular the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who was ironing his shirt 20 minutes before this session started. We are in turbulent times, but we must trust our institutions and trust in democracy. I am also the Secretary of State for International Development, and I will take messy democracy over any other system in the world.

I am a tad taken aback that the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) feels it necessary to disclose to his ministerial boss his personal habits in relation to such matters, but there we go.

T5. Yesterday, I was delighted to welcome to Parliament the Tea in the Pot women’s support service, and many of its staff are 1950s-born women. Will there be an equality impact assessment regarding the effect of recent pension credit changes on 1950s-born women? Will the impact on pensioner poverty also be measured? (909825)

There has been an impact assessment all the way through. If the hon. Gentleman highlights a good group, I am sure that the Minister with responsibility for pensions would be delighted to meet its representatives.

I urge the Government to work with NHS England to provide support to women GPs who have left the workforce but want to return after caring responsibilities. They should be supported to return to practice so that patients can get the benefits of their skills and experience.

My right hon. Friend is right. As well as having more GPs in training than ever before, we need to attract GPs who have left the workforce back into work. In March 2017, we launched a major “return to practice” campaign that aimed to attract 500 GPs. So far, 263 have completed the scheme, and a further 266 are in train.

T8. Hundreds of WASPI women from across the country were in Parliament yesterday to protest at the spring statement, and they would like to know why the Government have not considered a special compensation scheme for women who have suffered severe detriment following the state pension change because they were never told about it in the first place. (909828)

As has been extensively covered in several debates, we have allocated an additional £1.1 billion of transitional support. The recent uprating order included an additional £3 billion to support the uprating of the state pension, and we will continue to support pensioners of all genders.

What measures could be included in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure that parental responsibility does not override restraining orders, especially when partners have been convicted of coercive behaviour?

My hon. Friend raised a constituency case during the International Women’s Day debate last week, and we want the draft Domestic Abuse Bill to support both the victims of the many forms that such abuse can take and the children who live in abusive households. I urge my hon. Friend to write to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is scrutinising the Bill, to make her point.

As the Minister for Women and Equalities knows, the estimated 18% gender pay gap is likely to grow following Brexit as women in public services and retail are disproportionately affected. Does she accept that the women who voted to leave did not vote to leave themselves worse off and that they deserve a final-say referendum on the exit deal?

No. We do not want a second referendum, which would be disastrous. We are doing specific work in those sectors to close the gender pay gap. However, I caution that some companies that are doing the right thing will see their pay gaps widen because they may be recruiting many more young women, so we must look at the figures in detail to see that good progress is being made.

I know that Ministers on the Treasury Bench wish to examine in great detail the work of the Women and Equalities Committee when we issue our reports, but could the Secretary of State perhaps explain to me why it has taken five months for the Government to respond to our very important report on sexual harassment in public places? This issue needs urgent action, not more deliberation.

I am sorry that we have taken a long time over responding to the work of the Select Committee. I would rather publish a response that will actually take the right action than put out something swiftly that is not going to do the job. I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand that we want to be doing things that ensure we address the issues she has raised.

Mr Bradshaw, you are a curious fellow. You were standing up a moment ago. [Interruption.] Very well. We will take one more.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister for Women and Equalities join me in condemning the wording of letter ESA65B from the Department for Work and Pensions—the letter asks general practitioners to cease issuing fit notes to people with disabilities awaiting an appeal for employment and support allowance—and help ensure that such blatant discrimination against disabled people, which resulted in the death of my constituent who was forced back to work against his doctor’s advice, will cease immediately?

It is critical that welfare and healthcare work absolutely together if we are to support people. If the hon. Lady would like to share the details with me, I will certainly get a response from the Department for Work and Pensions.