Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2021

I am delighted that Katharine Birbalsingh has begun her new role as the chair of the Social Mobility Commission. By expecting high standards and not indulging in the soft bigotry of low expectations, she produced fantastic results at the Michaela Community School and gave children the best chance in life. We want her to bring that same attitude to the commission and be a loud champion of equality of opportunity by focusing on education, employment and enterprise, levelling up opportunity and unleashing the full potential of our great country.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to tackling disparity in our healthcare, which is particularly important when it comes to maternity care. I ask the Minister to speak to her colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care about Tameside Hospital, where there is a desperate need for capital funding in a new maternity unit and antenatal clinic. The current unit is located in the Charlesworth Building, which was built in 1971 and is poorly insulated, so sensitive clinical equipment often overheats. The capital funding bid badly needs support and I hope that she will work with me on it to deliver better healthcare for the women of High Peak.

Maternity care is a top priority for this Government, and we are making progress. Since 2010, we have seen a 25% reduction in stillbirths and a 29% reduction in neonatal mortality. On the new maternity unit at Tameside, I understand that the Acorn birth centre opened last year and has been well received locally, but I am happy to discuss further improvements with my hon. Friend.

This morning, we learned that domestic abuse-related crimes have doubled in the last five years, but the number of prosecutions has fallen every year in the same period. A few minutes ago, the Foreign Secretary rightly lamented violence against women and girls across the world. When will she get a grip on the catastrophic situation facing many women and girls in our own country?

This Government were the first Government to pass the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to set out for the first time on the statute book protections for women and girls and other victims of domestic abuse. This is a sweeping piece of legislation, and we are working at pace to drive actions to increase prosecutions across the entire criminal justice system, backed up by a significant investment in our courts to address the backlog.

I regret that the Minister does not appear to have seen the figures from this morning. If she had, she would know that her Government’s measures are not working. I thought she would mention additional measures that are required: increasing sentences for stalking and domestic murder; introducing new defences for victims; stopping the social security, family courts and migration systems from failing victims; and making serial abusers subject to special supervision. Labour has called for all of these measures. When will the Conservatives enact them?

I can tell the hon. Lady that the Conservatives are already enacting the vast majority of that long list she has just recited. As I said, we are the first Government to put domestic abuse legislation on the statute book. I would invite her to attend Home Office questions and address the Home Secretary directly to hear about the vast amount we are doing to protect women and girls in this country, which is a personal priority of the Prime Minister.

T3. Does the Minister agree that improving trust in and legitimacy of key public officials and institutions in areas such as law enforcement, immigration and health, particularly in communities where historically they have been low, is absolutely essential, and what steps does she intend to take to level up in this vital area? (904372)

Building trust between different communities and the institutions that serve them was a central theme of the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. We will respond to the report shortly, setting out our plans for building back fairer, and I can assure my hon. Friend that his concerns will be at the heart of our response.

T2. Between March and June this year, self-harm for women in prison grew by a staggering 47%. Is the Minister aware that the best health outcome for women with children is not incarceration in prison, but a sentence in the community? Can the Minister say how she is pursuing this with the Secretary of State for Justice? (904371)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that very important point. I do not have the Ministry of Justice figures to hand, but what I can do is get one of my colleagues in that Department to write to her with a more specific and comprehensive answer to her question.

Does the Minister agree that it is time to better protect women from abuse and harassment, and the vehicle to do this is the Online Safety Bill?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. No one should feel afraid to participate in our democracy. Intimidation in public life can stop talented people, such as my hon. Friend, and those from minority backgrounds from standing for public office.

T4. When it comes to inequalities, young carers very often lose out. Can I invite Ministers to come and look at a wonderful organisation in Wick called KLICS, which really is delivering a service that means a huge amount to young people? (904373)

T5. Dame Laura Cox recently argued:“The macho behaviour and posturing so frequently displayed in our political debates have disproportionately and adversely affected women in public life.” She added that not just politicians but“women journalists, academics, campaigners and political activists have all reported instances of intimidation, abuse and even physical violence.”What does the Minister believe that we can do collectively to change this culture? (904374)

The hon. Lady is right: we do need to deal with the culture in our politics, and we need to make sure that we have rational, reasonable debates. I think we are demonstrating that today.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on [Interruption.] I do not think we need any more interruptions. If Members listen to this next bit, it might help.

I wish to make one further point. There were many reflections on Sir David Amess’s decency and kindness at the very moving requiem mass held yesterday. I sincerely hope that those qualities of kindness and decency are reflected in our proceedings today and in the future.