The Secretary of State was asked—
Free Trade Agreements: NHS/Public Services
As we leave the European Union, the Government will ensure that all future trade agreements continue to protect the UK’s right to regulate public services, including the NHS. I have been clear on a number of occasions that more trade should not come at the expense of the high levels of quality and protection enjoyed in the UK.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has made those comments, and I am sure we can all agree that, whatever happens with Brexit, our country must not be held to ransom by multinational corporate interests over the future of the NHS and other public services, so can the Secretary of State give a watertight guarantee that we will not see any trade deals that would drive up the costs of medicines and allow foreign firms to sue the UK over improvements in public health and standards in healthcare generally?
As I have made clear in questions and in debate in this House, if we look at trade agreements that we have already entered into, for example, in chapter 9 of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—the cross-border trade and services chapter—article 9.2 makes it very clear that the Government retain the right to regulate in public services. Any changes in the NHS should be a matter for domestic policy debate in the United Kingdom, and not anywhere else.
There is not only enormous interest but enormous demand for UK expertise in healthcare, and we are committed to sharing that expertise and knowledge with the rest of the world. Research commissioned by Healthcare UK recently identified £3 billion to £7 billion of potential contracts for UK health organisations annually over the next 10 years. That is a lot of jobs.
Free trade agreements are, of course, needed, and the EU has some very good ones, which is why the United Kingdom Government are copying them. But trading on World Trade Organisation terms is very expensive. What is the Secretary of State doing to dispel the notion that is abroad, particularly in his own party, that leaving the EU and trading on WTO terms is a good idea? If it was, every country would be walking out of their trade blocs and every country would be ripping up trade agreements. It is a very silly and very dangerous idea, and I hope he is doing his best to combat it.
I am not quite sure how that relates to the question on healthcare, but it is an important point that the WTO rules provide a baseline, and the way in which countries get preferential treatment beyond that baseline is very often through a free trade agreement. That is why we want to see free trade agreements beyond what we have today.
I welcome the assurances that the Secretary of State has given to the House here today, but can he confirm that the principal protections for public services related to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement are in fact to be found in the joint interpretative instrument, which does not have the same legal force as the treaty? Crucially, it cannot alter or override it. If we are to have confidence in the protections for our public services and the NHS in future trade agreements, these must be written into the text of the treaties. Does he agree?
However we get the assurances, that is what we need to do. In CETA, for example, they are contained in chapters 9 and 28, as well as annex 2 and the additional national reservation in annex 2. It is up to this House how we carry out public policy. For example, in the four years from 2006, Labour outsourced 0.5% of the NHS budget to the private sector each year, which of course fell to only half that level under the coalition Government. If Labour want to increase to their previous levels of outsourcing, they should be able to do so under a policy protection given under the treaties.
Service Businesses: Overseas Markets
The Government support UK services businesses to access foreign markets in a number of ways, including through trade promotion and facilitation. For example, in March 2019, the DIT took a delegation of eight leading UK FinTech companies to exhibit at Money 20/20 in Singapore. The DIT also works with partners overseas to remove access barriers, opening up new opportunities for UK businesses.
My hon. Friend will know that in this rather complex world environment, there is a confusion at times under WTO rules between goods and services. Once we leave the EU, get a clean break and regain our place at the WTO table, will he make it a priority to make clearer definitions of what are goods and what are services?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right; there are a great many complexities at the WTO. In fact, the world is sliding inexorably towards a future of increased protectionism without changes being agreed to at the WTO to address all problems and to cope with new forms of trade that simply did not exist even 10 years ago and that create the confusion he identifies. As a newly independent voice, the UK will be a champion for change, openness and co-operation, because believe me, Mr Speaker, a failure to deal with the problems the WTO faces is not an outcome that anybody should want to contemplate.
Can all those on the Government Front Bench tell me what I should say to my service and manufacturing industries that export overseas? For years, they have been frustrated that the Chinese are stealing their patents and intellectual property, but now this Government are going to open not only the back door but the front door to the Chinese to take their secrets and undercut them.
In the past week, the Chinese have agreed a joint communiqué with the EU about the forced transfer of intellectual property, which gives us some comfort. We work extensively with the Chinese Government through joint trade reviews to examine various areas of the economy, particularly in services, where we can address this. I believe that progress is being made on this front, but I go back to the point I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant): this is a complex area. WTO rules make this very difficult to address, and we need to change it.
As I mentioned in answer to the previous question, we are conducting a number of joint trade reviews with India, China and Brazil—some of the largest economies in the world—to ensure that we address some of these access barriers; to ensure that, for example, Chinese-language contracts are translated into an official English version; to ensure that service providers understand what the rules and regulations are; and to ensure that qualifications are matched across the piece. There is a great deal we can do and more that we will do.
I welcome what the Minister said about trying to open up overseas access to UK service companies. However, is it not hugely disappointing that the continuity agreements with Norway and Switzerland exclude trade in services? Is it not the case that if, post Brexit, we revert to WTO rules trade with the EU, we would see a massive 26% fall in global service trade, with just as bad a fall in the UK’s service trade even if we get that free trade agreement?
As we approach the negotiations with the EU on the future economic partnership, services will play a large part in that. We have signed mutual recognition agreements with Australia and New Zealand, and as for the Norway and Switzerland deals, we should never forget that 35% of pretty much all the goods contracts entered into by the UK is contained within services value. This is not just a matter of pure services, but of goods as well.
Service exporters depend on an international workforce, but arbitrary immigration targets limit their ability to recruit the staff they need. Growing our market share in services is essential to the future success of our economy, so if this Government truly have a global strategy, why are businesses that want to export being denied access to a global pool of talent?
On the whole, the services businesses that are exporting are doing so by establishing overseas, and therefore recruitment in the UK does not particularly concern them, as they are employing people in foreign countries. That said, we know there is an issue with provision of skilled labour in the UK. The immigration Bill, when it comes forward, will provide reassurance on the ability to recruit people with certain skill levels, and I look forward to seeing that.
Free Trade Agreements: Regions and Devolved Administrations
We are committed to ensuring a meaningful role for the regions and devolved Administrations in the development of our trade policy. The DIT has been consulting widely on its approach to potential FTAs with regional representatives from local government and local enterprise partnerships. I can further confirm that we are putting in place a new ministerial forum with the devolved Administrations to cover international trade, as well as continuing to discuss wider future working arrangements on trade policy.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Businesses in Redditch such as Mettis Aerospace, Bee Lighting and Thorlux Lighting are at the heart of global manufacturing and are leading-edge businesses. Will the Minister confirm that he is working closely with representatives of west midlands manufacturing industry to ensure that their interests are represented and our local economy can benefit from future trade agreements?
As my hon. Friend will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is very keen on our keeping up contact with the Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority. We of course do so, and create contacts with businesses that way. The strategic trade advisory group, which will be helping us with FTAs, includes representation from regional business. We will always be there to consult with local business, and I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) to contact the local DIT business office in Birmingham in relation to any businesses in Redditch that need its help.
Does the Minister accept that the devolved Administrations must be fully involved in developing both the negotiation mandate and the negotiations themselves when the international trade negotiations have an impact on devolved competencies?
I have visited the devolved Administrations several times and I talk with the Ministers on a regular basis. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that the devolved Administrations have a key part to play as we go forward and negotiate our free trade agreements. We are currently in negotiation with the DAs on putting together what is known as a concordat on how they will be implemented. The progress on that, to be quite frank with the House, has been disappointingly slow. From our end, we have not reached an agreed policy position, but we will do so shortly, and I am keen that the devolved Administrations are properly involved.
EU Customs Union
The Government’s intention, as provided for in the political declaration, is to secure a tariff-free trading relationship with our European partners, alongside an ambitious independent trade policy with the rest of the world. A customs union would prevent the UK from varying its tariffs and could leave the UK subject, without representation, to the policy of an entity over which MPs had no democratic control.
If we were to be part of the EU customs union after Brexit, the United Kingdom, as the world’s fifth biggest economy, could kiss goodbye to any realistic chance of an independent trade policy. For this very good reason, being a member of the customs union was ruled out in the last Conservative party manifesto. Were this to become Government policy, would not the Secretary of State and his entire ministerial team be honour bound to resign?
It is very clear that we do not want to see a customs union being put in place for one of the reasons that my hon. Friend has already given, which is that, with us as a third country, the EU would be able to negotiate access to the UK market—the world’s fifth biggest market—without any due consideration of the impact on the United Kingdom. We would find ourselves in a totally new trading position in that access to our market would be traded for us.
One of the principal benefits of Brexit is of course the ability to set our own trade policies, and many businesses in my constituency—it includes Immingham, the largest port in the country—want to take advantage of the freedoms that will be forthcoming. What additional support will the Secretary of State’s Department offer those businesses?
Some 9,000 people work in the Welsh steel industry, so can I ask the Secretary of State to think again, and support a permanent customs union and commit to a common external tariff on steel imports to support steel jobs in south Wales?
No, I will not commit to that. I have set out the reasons why I believe the application of a common external tariff will be limiting on the UK’s ability to carry out an independent trade policy. What I would say is that we already have the Trade Remedies Authority up and running, and that is the best way to deal with any disputes over steel through WTO rules.[Official Report, 30 April 2019, Vol. 659, c. 2MC.]
Does the Secretary of State accept that even outside the European Union, some other countries will seek to restrict their trade? For instance, has not the United States said about its negotiating objectives that it will seek to restrict the trading ability of any country that seeks to trade with China?
The United States is perfectly entitled to set out trade objectives, as are we. We believe that trade is best operated through the rules-based international system based on the WTO. Countries can have their own opinions, but that is still the safest, best and most predictable way to carry out global trade.
We know the benefit of a permanent customs union, particularly for the integrated supply chains on which so much of our manufacturing success is based. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the net economic benefit of an independent trade policy in the short, medium and long term?
We believe it is possible to get the benefits of a customs union—no tariffs, no quotas and no rules of origin checks—through the mechanism set out in the Government’s proposal on our future relationship with the European Union. The ability to access growing markets will depend on our ability to create trade agreements with those markets. A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development suggested that by 2030 the Asian proportion of trade will be above 50% for the first time since the 19th century, and we must be in a position to take advantage of that.
Intellectual Property Rights
The UK’s intellectual property regime is consistently rated as one of the best in the world. The Government are reviewing their future trade policy as we leave the EU and ensuring that existing trade arrangements with global partners—including provisions on intellectual property—continue uninterrupted on the day the UK leaves the EU.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that tomorrow is World Intellectual Property Day, and this year the theme is sport and intellectual property. A number of United Kingdom-based companies have had their intellectual property stolen by beoutQ, a Saudi Arabian-based pirate broadcaster, including—I know this will interest you, Mr Speaker—last Monday’s Watford against Arsenal match. What steps are we taking to protect the intellectual property rights of UK businesses and sports interests, and will we use our trade policy to hold to account countries such as Saudi Arabia that are allowing the theft of our country’s intellectual property in that way?
I am not familiar with the case raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but if would like to drop me a line, I would be happy to look into it more carefully. We will continue to make representations to Saudi Arabia on that point. The UK intellectual property regime is respected around the world, and our local, European and international commitments produce one of the tightest and most respected regulatory regimes for IP worldwide. We believe that is the right system, and we will insist that it is honoured by others, particularly if we are to do trade deals with them.
The Minister is right to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to do more trade internationally, but those businesses are the most vulnerable to the risk of intellectual property theft. What assurances and support can the Minister give companies such as those in the digital games sector in my constituency, to encourage them to do more abroad?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. We have one of the most robust and respected regimes for IP protection internationally. A specialist group sits in the Department for International Trade and advises on IP matters, and that is very important to this country. We recognise the extent of exports that are driven by games, TV, sports and so on, and that is hugely important to us. SMEs should get in contact with local DIT offices. We can always help and would be delighted to do so.
GREAT is the Government’s most ambitious ever international marketing campaign. [Interruption.] It encourages the world to visit, study and do business in the UK. While Labour Members never lose an opportunity to talk this country down—as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has just done there—we use GREAT to sell Britain abroad. If the chuntering from the potential future Speaker could stop for one second, I will say that GREAT works across 144 countries, and for trade and investment in 2019-20, its priorities are the USA, Germany, China, Japan, Australia, India, Canada, France, Italy and Spain.
Britain’s universities are among our greatest organisations. Some are household names across the world, but some, like Anglia Ruskin University, which is based in Chelmsford as well as Cambridge, are less well known. How is the GREAT campaign supporting our education sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I was at the all-party university group yesterday, meeting vice-chancellors and others, to discuss this issue. Just last month, we launched our new international education strategy. As part of that, we are encouraging bids to the GREAT challenge fund to showcase to even more countries the fantastic education offer this country has.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy and export promotion. I can announce to the House that UK Export Finance will support an Airbus Defence and Space UK contract worth nearly $500 million to manufacture and deliver two satellites and a ground station for Türksat, Turkey’s communications satellite operator.
May I also, with your indulgence Mr Speaker, thank two civil servants who are leaving my Department? My principal private secretary, Oliver Christian, has been an outstanding civil servant and I congratulate him on his promotion. I also thank Amy Tinley, my outgoing special adviser, who has been a force of nature in my Department and will be widely missed across the whole of the civil service.
I congratulate the civil servants for getting out of Dodge while they can as well.
Scottish Enterprise told the Scottish Affairs Committee that the success of Scotland’s financial industry was based on accessing and servicing all customers in the EU, which it does currently under the free trade non-tariff EU passport system. Does that not highlight once again the vital importance of freedom of movement to Scotland, and that the Secretary of State’s Government simply do not care about Scottish interests or Scotland’s vote to remain?
I will ignore the hon. Gentleman’s lack of grace in his first comment.
What that shows is the importance to Scotland of services and of access to the single market in the United Kingdom. Financial services are one of the country’s greatest and strongest exports, and Scotland benefits hugely from being part of the United Kingdom’s infrastructure.
The world was shocked by the two crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8s that saw the tragic loss of 346 lives. That is, of course, a matter for the European Aviation Safety Agency to investigate, but it is for the Secretary of State to investigate whether the export capacity of Airbus was unfairly affected by Boeing’s failure to be transparent about the pitch instability of the aircraft, or to provide specific safety training on the MCAS system, which was supposed to counter that instability. He will know that in one 12-month period the concealment of those issues helped Boeing to increase its sales against the Airbus A320neo aircraft by 768 planes, while Airbus sales dropped by 748 in the same period. What support, if any, does his Department currently provide to Boeing? Does he consider that its ethical failure has had an adverse impact on Airbus’s sales? What discussions has he had about Boeing with the Directorate-General for Competition and the Directorate-General for Trade in the European Union to protect Airbus’s export capacity from unfair and potentially illegal practices by its competitors?
Let me associate myself immediately with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the loss of lives as a result of the tragic crashes of the 737 Max aircraft. Safety issues are, of course, the responsibility of the Department for Transport but, in the context of international competition, as he is well aware, there have been two recent cases at the World Trade Organisation relating to Washington’s state subsidies for Boeing and European subsidies for Airbus. As far as I am concerned, the issues relating to Airbus have been solved. I think that we would all benefit from a clear set of international rules on aircraft subsidy so that we could be assured that there is a genuine international level playing field, not least because of the rise of the Chinese aircraft industry and its entry into the market.
According to an EY report, foreign direct investment has tended to move out of London into other parts of the United Kingdom, and there has been an increase in manufacturing activity. We are seeking to expand exports from all parts of the country, not least to India, and I am delighted to say that exports to India were up by nearly 20% in 2018. Only last night I attended the Grant Thornton tracker event with Mr Banerjee, the director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, who is a great friend to this country and to our businesses up and down the land.
It is important that we take climate issues seriously. Whether or not individuals accept the current scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, it is sensible for everyone to use finite resources in a responsible way. The United Kingdom was the first country to establish legally binding emission targets, through the Climate Change Act 2008, and we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 country. We are leaders in clean energy production, and it is estimated that $11.5 trillion is likely to be invested globally in clean energy between now and 2050. That represents an enormous opportunity and the potential for more jobs in the United Kingdom, which, as I have said, is already a global leader in terms of both practice and exports.
There is also the small matter of putting British taxpayers first, and ensuring that they are getting value for money from any contracts that we award. However, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Anzac day. In fact, may I take the opportunity to invite colleagues to join me and others at the wreath-laying ceremony that will take place at the Cenotaph at 10.30 this morning, and the service at Westminster Abbey that will follow it?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments earlier on trade agreements and the NHS. As a former clinician, can he confirm categorically that future trade agreements will not impact adversely on the values, standards or funding model of the NHS?
As I said, it is very important that NHS policy and management are decided by British political debate, not from outside. We have had considerable success in utilising the private sector to augment the NHS. As Andy Burnham said, the previous Labour Government worked with the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists, and they came right down. I would hope that any future Labour Government would have exactly the same freedoms to use the same policies.
We will take every opportunity to support UK steel exports, and of course exports in general, which is why we produced our export strategy last year. With the help of Members such as my hon. Friend, we will champion local businesses and ensure that that message goes right around the world.
The Canadian model offers a useful example of how the devolved Administrations should be involved in trade policy formulation. Does the Secretary of State agree that a substantive role in the strategic trade advisory group is essential for the meaningful involvement of the Welsh Government in UK trade policy?
The strategic trade advisory group is there to provide a broad societal view of what should be achieved in free trade agreements. We are of course talking in depth with the Welsh Government about their views on what we ought and ought not to be doing on trade policy, the industries we should be championing and how. I do not think that the strategic trade advisory group is the right place for that engagement, but there is of course a Welsh business represented on the group.
It is vital for us to encourage low-income countries to participate fairly in world trade, and for that they need inward investment. Will the Minister kindly advise us on what the UK is doing to promote investment into low-income countries so that they can participate fairly and reasonably in world trade, with world-class goods and services?
I thank my hon. Friend for championing lower-income countries around the world. We have made outward direct investment a priority. We are working with the Department for International Development to help developing countries to attract FDI. The Prime Minister has tasked us with making the UK Africa’s biggest G7 investor by 2022. Through our own investment promotion programme, DFID’s Invest Africa programme, and the Africa investment summit, which I am organising with DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we aim to drive mutual prosperity, in Africa and beyond.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Universal Credit: Joint Claimants
We believe that most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly, without state intervention. However, we recognise that there are circumstances in which split payments are appropriate and we will always put that in place when requested.
We understand that the UK Government are carrying out a formal impact assessment of the options put forward by the Scottish Government on delivering split payments, but has the Minister made representations to the Department for Work and Pensions outlining how split payments could help to protect victims of domestic violence?
We are working closely with the Scottish Government to establish the practicalities and nuts and bolts of their proposed pilot. We recognise that domestic abuse, including economic abuse, is a horrific crime that can affect anybody, and we are working across parties and across Government to ensure that it is addressed.
Does the Minister agree that the options put forward by the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People are sensible and deliverable, with the DWP’s assistance, and will he congratulate the Scottish Government on taking forward this fantastic work to make universal credit fairer?
That is not within my specific portfolio, so I cannot comment on the details, but I do know that policy officials in the Scottish Government and in DWP engage on an ongoing basis to determine how workable the Scottish Government’s proposals on split payments are, and that work will continue.
If two people in the same household work for the same employer, they do not receive one wage; they each receive a separate salary at the end of every month. If the point of universal credit is to mimic wages to help people to get back into work, why on earth do the Government insist on not taking forward the idea of split payments for households?
This Government believe, as have every preceding Government, that most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly without state intervention, and it is not this Government’s policy to make split payments by default. However, we are looking at the proposed Scottish pilot and, at the same time, by the end of the summer all jobcentres will have domestic abuse specialists to support work coaches and raise awareness.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has highlighted this and is bringing forward proposals to ensure that the main carer is the recipient. In particular, we are looking at the universal credit application form to ensure that the identification of the bank account can be done in an appropriate way.
That is a very broad question, and I will ensure that the Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman specifically on the work that is being done with Women’s Aid on an ongoing basis. There is a wholehearted strategy on domestic abuse and support for women in this context that is being addressed on a multitude of levels.
The Minister has repeatedly said that split payments would be too difficult and that the Government would therefore be unwilling to consider that option at this time. However, the Scottish Government and the Social Security Minister have proved that it is possible to ensure that split payments are the default. Does he accept that, by not doing this, he is simply compounding financial insecurity and leaving women in potentially perilous situations?
Split payments are available on request. No information is needed to get a split payment. However, 60% of payments are already paid into a woman’s bank account. As I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), main carer recipient work is being done to ensure that this is done on a practical basis.
Women’s Life Expectancy
Preventing health problems is the best way to improve life expectancy. We are taking action on childhood obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and action to reduce smoking rates. Later this year, my Department will produce a prevention Green Paper, which will set out cross-Government plans for prevention in greater detail.
In Newcastle, cervical cancer screening rates are significantly lower in more deprived areas of the city, and the recent Macmillan cancer inequalities report showed that more deprived areas had worse access to cancer treatment. This is because people on lower incomes are more likely to be on zero-hour contracts and juggling childcare and other caring responsibilities with work, and therefore less able to access fixed-time appointments in places outside their local community. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the healthcare system reflects the lives of those in the poorest areas and to raise incomes so that we have fewer cancer and health inequalities?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We know that we need to make it easier to book appointments and more convenient for women to attend them. That is why Sir Mike Richards is undertaking a comprehensive review of screening programmes. It will look at how we can improve the uptake and set out clear recommendations on how we can make those screening programmes more accessible.
ONS figures published in March 2019 show that the life expectancy of women in the poorest UK regions fell by 98 days between 2012 and 2017. Given that this is the first time that that has happened in peacetime since the Victorian era, what conclusions does the Minister draw from the fact that it has happened only since 2010?
The conclusion I draw is to look at Public Health England’s recent review, which made it clear that it is not possible to attribute the slowdown in the improvement of life expectancy to any single cause. That is why we are not complacent, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). The Budget saw us fully fund the situation with a big cash boost, and there will be a prevention Green Paper and we have a prevention vision. All that will contribute towards ensuring that life expectancy, which has not been as good as one would have liked, improves.
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), the Government have already put in place prevention programmes to ensure a reduction in smoking rates. The prevention vision and the prevention Green Paper will set out the means by which smoking can be reduced further to support people, pregnant or otherwise.
I answered that question just a moment ago. As I said, Public Health England’s recent review made it clear that it is not possible to attribute the slowdown to any one cause. It is therefore important to tackle all the causes of the deterioration in life expectancy, which is why the Government will publish a prevention Green Paper later this year.
Domestic Abuse: Medical Training
Tackling domestic abuse is a key priority for this Government. That is why we have put £2 million into expanding the pilot programme, which will create a model health response for survivors of domestic violence and abuse. Training for frontline medical staff to help identify domestic abuse is included in a wide range of training and education curriculums for health staff.
According to Women’s Aid’s “Survival and Beyond” report, 54% of women experiencing sexual and physical abuse meet the criteria for at least one common mental health disorder. I note what the Minister says about training, but what specific domestic abuse training is the Department considering to ensure that it actually happens?
I commend the hon. Lady’s work on the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse. She will know that the Department produced a domestic abuse resource for health professionals that advises them on how best to support adults and young people over 16 who are experiencing domestic abuse, and that training is available now.
The most recent survey done in women’s prisons shows that nearly 65% of prisoners have had a significant acquired brain injury, which often relates directly to their offending behaviour. The vast majority of the 65% have suffered domestic violence, so should we not be screening every woman as she arrives in prison to ensure that they get the neuro- rehabilitation support they need?
Domestic violence can be extremely damaging for the children who witness it. What is the Minister doing to support those children?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because domestic violence clearly impacts the whole of family life, and there is evidence that children are also affected. We need to ensure that there are no legal barriers to sharing data to protect children or vulnerable adults, and we need to ensure that the £8 million we are spending will help those children recover from domestic violence.
Health-based independent domestic violence advisers can identify victims of domestic violence that other services are unable to detect. SafeLives, the national domestic abuse charity, suggests that domestic violence often goes undetected among elderly and black, Asian and minority ethnic victims. Surely, by placing these professionals in an A&E environment, countless victims could be identified and helped. Will the Minister commit to placing independent domestic violence advisers in all A&E departments?
Since 2012, 62,949 start-up loans worth £489.5 million have been made to business owners, and 39% of those loans went to female entrepreneurs. In response to the Rose review, an industry-led taskforce will look at driving greater investment in female entrepreneurs by finance providers. The Government are also establishing a new investing in women code, through which financial institutions will take steps to improve the allocation of funding to female entrepreneurs.
It is worrying that the Rose review concluded that only one in three active entrepreneurs is a woman, so will the Minister take action to respond to the recommendations of the Rose review so that more women can turn their great business ideas into great businesses?
I thank my right hon. Friend for highlighting that particular finding. It is our ambition to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030. The new investing in women code will drive more funding for women and encourage more women to start businesses. Alison Rose is already taking several recommendations forward with the backing of industry. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is bringing forward the Government’s strategy to address persistent gender economic barriers facing women across the country at every level.
Is the Minister aware that an increasing number of women entrepreneurs are using digital blockchain tools to start and grow their businesses? Will she meet people who can introduce her to blockchain solutions, and will she say something to her colleagues in the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority to encourage such use?
I would be very happy to meet women who are using all manner of tools. I met eBay yesterday, and it talked about the work it is doing to encourage women to start their own businesses. It particularly talked about how it is working with retail businesses in Wolverhampton. I am always available to speak about anything that will encourage women in business—in fact, not just women but all people.
The Government strongly condemn sexual harassment in the workplace and are committed to seeing it end. Employers are already responsible for preventing sexual harassment in their workplace and can be held legally liable if they do not, but we are consulting this summer to gather evidence on whether reinforcing this with a proactive duty would lead to better prevention of this terrible practice in the workplace.
Women who work in the retail and hospitality sectors in the UK have little protection when they face workplace harassment, which is something that happens far too often. As last year’s Presidents Club scandal shows, employers have no duty to protect their staff. May I encourage the Minister, when she carries out that review, to give serious consideration to reinstating section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 to give women the protection at work they have every right to deserve?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this, because it is important; every woman—indeed, every person—should be able to enjoy their place of work without the threat or risk of sexual harassment. I take issue gently with him on section 40. He may know that it was used only twice when it was in force and it had the three strikes approach, which we believe was one reason why it was not used as often as it should have been. We are very open-minded; we have this consultation, and I encourage everyone to participate in it, so that we can find solutions that suit not just employees, but responsible employers.
Has the Minister thought about looking at the system of protected conversations that was introduced by the coalition Government? Given the nature of such conversations, that system could give a licence to employers to engage in harassment in conversations that then, under statute, cannot be quoted at subsequent hearings.
I am happy to look at that. As I say, we will be consulting in the summer. We want also to understand the scale of sexual harassment in the workplace. By definition, it tends to be activity that is hidden and there is stigma to it. We want absolutely to make the point that it is not right for anyone, of any gender, of any sexuality, to suffer this sort of behaviour in the workplace.
Gender Pay Gap
Gender pay gap reporting provides transparency for everyone in holding employers to account, and many organisations already recognise that closing the gap makes good business sense. I am writing to public sectors employers who are within scope of the regulations to urge them to develop action plans, and meeting influential business leaders to press them to take action in their sectors to make the best of the potential that their female employees can provide to them.
Before I answer that, I feel obliged to wish my hon. Friend good luck in the London marathon this weekend, as I do to all Members of this House who will be running those 26 miles—we hope it will be good weather.
I am sure the whole House joins me in being delighted that we have exceeded last year’s compliance levels, with 95% of all employers believed to be in scope in the regulations having reported their data by the deadlines. We are confident that 100% compliance will be achieved shortly, and we have already seen the reporting rates rise to 98%.
When across 45% of firms the discrepancy in pay increase is in favour of men this year, it is now clear that the Government’ s policy of asking companies simply to report on the gender pay gap is not enough. I welcome the Minister’s response to the question about encouraging people, but will she now heed our advice and make it mandatory for companies also to produce action plans on how they will defeat this inequality against women?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I know she shares my enthusiasm and determination on this point. She will be pleased that already just under 50% of employers within scope are publishing their own action plans—they are doing that because they understand it makes good business sense. We believe that this is the best approach. Interestingly, 56% of employers have reported either reductions in their gender pay gaps or the fact that they are staying the same. There is a great deal of work to do, but we have to bring business with us; businesses have to realise that it makes good business sense to close their gap and to treat their female staff properly. We believe that by encouraging them we will bring about the best result.
I welcome the progress that has been made in closing the gender pay gap and increasing the representation of women on company boards, but what are the Government doing to support low-paid, low-skilled women, who often seem to be left out of the conversation?
My hon. Friend has distilled into his question the important point that the gender pay gap is not just about the heads of companies—directors and so on—important though that aspect is; it is also about helping women at the very lowest ends of the pay scales. We want to encourage them to seek better jobs and have better incomes. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is setting out a strong strategy on economic empowerment for women, so that they are treated fairly in the workplace, no matter their pay level, and ensuring that employers realise that if they are going to get the best of their workforce, they need to pay their female staff properly.
Universal Credit: Effect on Women
Universal credit treats all genders equally, and female employment is at a record high. The changes to the tax threshold and the national living wage and the increases to the universal credit work allowance will specifically assist women more on an ongoing basis.
On behalf of the Go Girls, a group of young parents in Newport, may I raise with the Minister one of the unfairnesses of the universal credit system? Lone parents who are under 25 get paid a lower rate than they would have been paid under tax credits, causing great hardship to young parents and children. Will the Minister help me to lobby the Department for Work and Pensions on the issue?
I note the point, which I have discussed with the hon. Lady previously. I am happy for the Minister with responsibility for this specific matter to sit down with the hon. Lady and her particular constituents to ensure that it is addressed, but I should make the point that this April we brought in the £1,000 increase to the UC work allowance, which should make a difference in the interim, before such a conversation takes place.
It is incredibly important to provide support and a route back to work for people who have taken time out to care for others, and we want to find out the most effective way of doing so. Today, I am announcing that, as part of our returners programme, we are awarding grants to the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation; to One Ark in Liverpool; to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for projects in Yorkshire and Humber; and to Carer Support Wiltshire. These grants will be used for a number of initiatives to make it easier for people to return to the labour market and to discover how best to keep people economically active.
The housing association Habinteg recently launched a new advisory group for disabled people. The group has highlighted the impact that not having an accessible home has on people’s employment, health and wellbeing. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the group to discuss their real concerns?
There is no excuse for new build homes especially not to be accessible. The Global Disability Innovation Hub set a challenge and has demonstrated that accessible homes can be built with no greater footprint and at no greater cost, so there is no excuse for local authorities not to do so. I would be happy to meet those representatives, and will suggest that to the Minister for Disabled People, too.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, and the Government take these issues very seriously. For example, our apprenticeship diversity champions network is working in partnership with employers to help to overcome gender stereotypes in sectors such as science, technology, engineering and maths and industries such as construction. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that since 2010 there has been a 26% increase in the number of girls entering STEM A-levels in England, and that in the United Kingdom the number of women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses since 2010 has increased by 28%.
On 22 April, we marked the very first National Stephen Lawrence Day. It has been 26 years since his tragic racist murder. Sadly, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, racism and racial discrimination are still very prevalent in our society.
In 2018, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance stated that any measure that directly or indirectly targets and undermines the rights of marginalised groups must be understood as breaking international human rights law. This Government have presided over an immigration enforcement system in which people are being unfairly racially profiled; refused to allow people to bring forward discrimination claims based on more than one aspect of their identity; introduced voter ID, which will disenfranchise marginalised communities; failed to act on the results of their own racial disparity audit; and introduced hostile-environment policies. Will the Minister inform the House whether, as well as breaking the UN’s human rights law, her Government are institutionally racist or just do not care?
The hon. Lady raises some very important issues. I am sorry about the tone of her question, because I do not recognise the attitude that she implies among my colleagues, including the Prime Minister, who has done some groundbreaking work in this area. What I would say to her and other hon. Members who rightly are concerned about these issues is that part of the motivation for moving the Government Equalities Office into the Cabinet Office, so that it can sit alongside the race disparity team, is to look at these things in the round. As well as the issues that she identified, individuals in this country face multiple discrimination. For example, an enormous number of people sleeping on the streets in London are young, gay, black men. Only by working together and looking at the disaggregated data will we really understand how we can improve lives for everyone in this country.
Being part of the LGBT community is not a lifestyle choice and learning about LGBT issues is not what makes someone gay, lesbian or trans. What is being done by the Government to ensure that those outdated views have no place in our future society?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. We have been clear in introducing relationships education and relationships and sex education that they are designed to foster respect for others and for difference, and to educate pupils about the different types of healthy relationships. Teaching about the diverse society that we live in can be delivered in a way that respects everyone’s views.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her FBU question. I would suggest that the FBU—[Interruption.] I have said this before, because it concerns me that there are no women on the FBU executive council. If the fire brigades workforce are to be looked after as we want them to be—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently published a report looking at facilities for female firefighters across the country and was concerned to see, for example, two services with no designated shower facilities for female firefighters—then these changes must be made from the very top of our fire brigade community, making sure that women’s voices are heard, because they are absolutely essential as part of our firefighting workforce.
Department of Health guidance in Northern Ireland says that Northern Ireland doctors referring women to GEO-funded free abortions in England could be breaking the criminal law. Will the Minister publish her legal advice to enable the Department of Health to change that guidance, which surely is erroneous? Will she update the House on what she is doing to help women in Northern Ireland, such as Sarah Ewart and others, who are being required by law to continue pregnancies where doctors have already told them that their babies will die before they are born or shortly after?
May I start by thanking my right hon. Friend and the Women and Equalities Committee for an incredibly important piece of work? It not only looked at the legal and human rights issues, but got on record public opinion and the opinion of healthcare and legal professionals in Northern Ireland and showed the complete paucity of care being endured by women in Northern Ireland. With specific regard to the legal advice, I clarified in my evidence to her Committee via a letter that the legal advice that we received when the scheme was set up meant that it would not be a crime to refer to those services and that the issue that she raised in her question does not stand.
I have also met with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who looks at health inequalities. She believes that she already has the powers to provide guidance to ensure that no one is deterred from referring someone to a healthcare service that they need, and where their life may be in danger if they do not receive it, because of fear that doing so might be a crime. That is completely bogus, and she has undertaken to do that immediately. However, there is obviously more to do to put right this issue—with apologies for adding to my answer, Mr Speaker—so that every citizen of the United Kingdom can have the healthcare services that they need.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has done a great deal of work on this issue in her constituency. We are keeping this matter under review. We are keen that local councils are able to use the powers that they have under the antisocial behaviour laws, if appropriate in their areas.
Recent research shows that the HPV vaccine has led to a dramatic decline in cervical cancer. Having a vaccination saves lives, so can we use this opportunity to urge mums and dads across the UK to ensure that their kids have the measles vaccine?
As the hon. Lady will know, we are doing a great deal to support women, and men, who have suffered from domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being looked at. The Government have pledged an additional £20 million over this Parliament to support victims and organisations combating domestic abuse. Women’s Aid does a fantastic job.
In light of recent objection to the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that would address the discrimination against daughters when it comes to inheritance, when do the Government intend to end the practice of male primogeniture?
The Daughters’ Rights campaign was started after one new mum was told that her new arrival being a girl must have been a disappointment to her. This matter and the issue of courtesy titles are complex matters, but we do need to look at them in this modern age. My Department is working on that, and I welcome the Daughters’ Rights campaign.
The Northern Ireland Office has the lead on this issue, and it is waiting on a potential declaration of incompatibility. There has never been a case of such a declaration being issued and the Government not taking action. I alluded earlier to the fact that I am focusing on what we can do with the powers that we have to ensure that, within the current restrictions, every woman who needs particular healthcare services has access to them.
Shared parental leave is a good option for families, but take-up remains low. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Business Secretary to introduce a standalone period of parental leave just for partners, to give families more choices and help women to balance work and family?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has been doing to campaign on this issue, along with a number of our Conservative colleagues. We are looking at this as part of the women’s economic empowerment strategy. We want parents to have the choice as to how they share caring responsibilities, and we know that there are practical, as well as cultural, barriers to them doing so.
Both are growing, but female in particular.
I refer the hon. Lady to a written ministerial statement I tabled this week for an update. The first meeting of the taskforce will be in June, and we will be making announcements about who will be on it, but it will have three co-chairs: one from Government, one from the private sector and one from the charity and social sector.
In the response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004, what consideration is being given to the approach of the International Association of Athletics Federations and its use of testosterone levels to determine whether a trans athlete competes in a women’s or a men’s race?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue, although it is slightly separate from the very narrow remit of the Gender Recognition Act. Every Department is facing all sorts of issues in relation to trans people, so we have brought together a team of Ministers and officials across Government to make sure that policy is where it needs to be. I have also had separate meetings with the Minister for Sport to discuss both elite and community sport. Many of these decisions, particularly at the elite level, are for sporting bodies to lead on, although there are safety issues as well. I can assure her that these will be ongoing meetings across all Departments and that we will make sure that every Department provides services and support and has the right policies in place for modern times.
I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about this, and I am pleased she has taken up this very important campaign. The Ministry of Justice is looking very closely at it. I have mentioned before that the civil procedure rule committee is looking at the issue she has raised in the past about applications to court. It will have a further meeting at the beginning of May, and I will be very happy to update her on that when the meeting has taken place.