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Topical Questions

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 17 October 2019

My vision as Minister for Women and Equalities is to ensure that everyone has the freedom to be whoever they want to be and to shape their own future, regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability. I was proud to open the Asia chapter of the Global Equality Caucus during my recent visit to Japan, and I look forward to building on the excellent work of this Government: from ensuring 12 years of quality education for every girl internationally to removing the barriers that stop women getting on at work and bringing LGBT leaders from across the world together in May next year. Together we can make Britain the best place in the world to be a woman and to be LGBT.

The Child Maintenance Service is failing receiving claimants, most of whom are women. Will the Minister introduce tighter monitoring of direct pay compliance, stop collect and pay charges for receiving parents, and finally introduce a service that ensures effective enforcement of late payments?

I am happy to hear details of where the Child Maintenance Service is a concern. The Minister for Welfare Delivery is working directly to support families in this area. As I said, I am happy to hear the details, so please write to us and we will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

T4. Bullying and harassment that particularly affect women have no place in any workplace anywhere in the world. When will the Government ratify the new International Labour Organisation global convention that outlaws such offences? This Government led the way on that convention when it was established earlier this year. (900041)

Again, I thank my right hon. Friend, who has brought a laser-like focus on bullying and harassment in all places of work. The Government and I strongly support this convention, which seeks to ensure that women and men around the world are properly protected at work. Our law makes it clear that violence and harassment at work are unacceptable and unlawful, and our next steps will be to consider how we will ratify this and bring this new treaty to the attention of Parliament.

T2. May I remind the Minister that next year marks 50 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970, and much of the progress has been made because of our membership of the European Union? I took the first petition on equal pay and sex discrimination to the EU in 1977. Much of the progress has been made because the EU has pushed us and many Labour Members campaigned for many years. How much longer are we going to have to wait? Is it going to be another 50 years? (900039)

I do not believe that we need the EU in order to have strong rights for women in Britain; I believe that we British women are strong enough to stand up for ourselves.

We have a gender gap not just in the workplace, but among entrepreneurs; one in 10 men in work are entrepreneurs, whereas only one in 20 women are. What does the Minister think would be the best way to address that?

My hon. Friend is right about this, particularly in respect of funding. Female-led businesses are getting less funding from venture capital than male-led businesses. We want to address these barriers and open up entrepreneurship to women across the country. We are lagging behind places such as Canada and Australia, and we need to do better.

T3. I am sure the Minister will agree that all women deserve equal protection under the law, no matter where they come from. Indeed, I have had positive conversations with Ministers about including migrant women in the Domestic Abuse Bill, but can she tell us when she will be able to commit to including them specifically in that Bill? (900040)

I thank the hon. Lady and all Members of this House who contributed so positively and, on occasion, movingly to the Second Reading debate on this important piece of legislation. She knows that the Government are conducting a review of the treatment of migrant women, because we have very much borne in mind the findings of the Joint Committee, chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). That review is ongoing and as soon as I have more news I promise that the hon. Lady will be among the parliamentarians I speak to.

In Cheadle, Northern Rail has responded positively to my campaign for lift accessibility for people with disabilities by giving 24-hour access, but not every disability is visible—some are invisible. Does the Minister agree that we should support people and help to promote the need for accessible toilet signage?

Absolutely, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on campaigning so hard on behalf of her constituents and working with Northern Rail. She is right about this. The inclusive transport strategy covers not only visible disabilities, but those that are invisible, and we are about to undertake a huge communications campaign to make people with all disabilities comfortable and confident to use our public transport system.

T5. Audio-visual announcements on buses are vital to enable people with sight loss or hearing loss to travel with confidence. The UK Government’s consultation ended more than a year ago, in September 2018, with no further progress, so what discussions has the Minister had with her counterparts in the Department for Transport to bring forward this important measure? (900042)

This is a key piece of our work in the inclusive transport strategy, especially as buses are the form of transport used most often by people with disabilities. We are crunching the data we have and we are hoping to make this available soon, but the inclusive transport strategy abides by the United Nations’ aims to make sure that all of our transport is accessible by 2030.

Sexual harassment online is a major issue for many women. Will the Minister examine the issues of cyber-flashing and revenge porn to make sure that victims are given the proper legal protections from those as sexual offences?

My hon. Friend raises a point that concerns many in the House and outside. I am currently doing a piece of work on online offences and look forward to the development of the online harms White Paper, because I suspect that many of the answers we all seek will be in that documentation.

T6. Endometriosis UK found that 476,000 British women had to visit their GP more than 11 times for a positive diagnosis, and that their pain was often dismissed as being psychological. What steps is the Minister taking to eliminate gender bias in the diagnosis of health conditions? (900043)

On the particular issue of endometriosis, I will have to write back to the hon. Lady, but being wrongly diagnosed as having a mental health condition is incredibly serious, and we are looking into rolling out training to GPs to help them better to diagnose mental health conditions. I will use this opportunity to say again that we are investing £2.3 billion a year in mental health services in the community, and hopefully that will go into GP practices and GPs will know not to make those kinds of diagnoses in future. I will get back to the hon. Lady on that particular condition.

When she was Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) committed to the House to introduce legislation to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010. When will the current Minister for Women and Equalities and her team bring forward legislation so that we can end this bizarre and divisive situation?

It is a pleasure, as always, to respond to my hon. Friend on this important piece of work. I am in the process of discussing this with the Secretary of State, and we hope to have an answer for him shortly.

T7. In the spirit of equality, the Electoral Reform Society has said that compulsory photo ID for voters will potentially leave millions of voters voiceless. Some 3.5 million voters have no photo ID at all, with the most affected being the elderly, ethnic minorities and those who are socially disadvantaged. Is it not the case that the suppression of voter participation is dangerous and will exclude many from exercising their democratic rights? (900044)

It is perfectly proper that we make sure that the right people are voting and that they bring ID with them to the polling to station. We have had issues with electoral fraud in this country.

T8. During the Prime Minister’s leadership campaign, he promised to look into the impact of the changes in state pension age for women. Will the Minister commit to working with the Prime Minister to provide transitional arrangements for the women of the 1950s, who have been hit hardest? (900045)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue again. Obviously, with the litigation ongoing it is difficult for me to comment more broadly, but I understand that that comment was made by the Prime Minister. If people are suffering and need any support, they should go to their jobcentre, talk to their local citizens advice bureau and make sure that they ask for help. We have many different benefits, both in retirement and after retirement, to support people to have a good, secure retirement. This issue should not affect anyone—women or men.