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Topical Questions

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

I am delighted to have been appointed as Minister for Women and Equalities. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, this Government will bring

“compassion to the challenges we face”,

put people’s needs above politics and reach out to communities across the country. My priority will be to deliver our groundbreaking Inclusive Britain strategy, our cross-Government work to improve the lives of disabled people, and to break down barriers to opportunity for people from all backgrounds up and down the UK.

I recently met the chair of the Chesham mosque committee, who had been told that medical examiners in our area will be available only five days a week and not at the weekend. That will cause significant problems for our Muslim and other religious communities who bury their loved ones as soon as possible following a death. Will the Minister meet me and my constituent to find a way forward to ensure that the new system does not infringe the rights of religious communities?

I did not fully hear the question, but if the hon. Lady writes to me in more detail about what she requires, I will be able to follow up in better detail.

T2. Back in the 1990s, a colonel in the Royal Marines said to me that he would rather have a gay Marine alongside him who could shoot straight than a straight Marine who could not. My right hon. Friend will know there was much persecution of gay people in the armed forces. Can she update us on how the LGBT veterans independent review is getting on? (901853)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can tell him that under Lord Etherton as chair, this important independent review has launched a call for evidence on the experiences of LGBT veterans who served between 1967 and 2000, when LGBT people were barred from openly serving in the armed forces.

T4. Why was the post of Minister for Disabled People demoted? What message do we think that that sends to disabled people, who already feel like an afterthought for this Government, and will the Government reverse that decision immediately? (901855)

This continues to be an important ministerial post in Government. The Secretary of State will have strategic oversight, but let me leave the hon. Lady in no doubt about how important the issue is to this Government. With 1.3 million more people in work, billions more in funding for children with SEND, a new BSL Act, Down’s syndrome Act and special rules for end of life, this continues to be a very important area for this Government.

T3. I am delighted that two entrepreneurs, Janet Percival from Jaspels cider and Stacey Chadfield from Emberwood Creative, will be coming to Westminster as part of the Savvitas MP HERoes initiative. Does my hon. Friend agree that our entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy, particular in places such as Ynys Môn? (901854)

With family on the island running businesses, including my own—businesses based in Llangefni and Aberffraw, a wonderful part of the island—I absolutely support the work that the Savvitas MP HERoes have done to celebrate female-led enterprises across all areas of the UK. I particularly want to take this opportunity to thank Helene Martin Gee for her excellent work in this area. I am also delighted to announce that to date, 40% of start-up loans issued by this Government have gone to female entrepreneurs.

T5. Women’s Budget Group analysis shows that 100,000 lone parents, mostly women, and 200,000 children will be forced into poverty if the Government raise benefits in line with average wages rather than inflation. Will Ministers confirm that they will push the Chancellor to uprate benefits in line with inflation so that women are not forced into further hardship because of the Government’s economic incompetence? (901856)

The hon. Lady will know that we do not make fiscal policy in Equalities questions. She will have to wait for the Chancellor to give a statement to get an answer to her question.

T6. The Government have an excellent opportunity to grant investment zones in South East Cornwall. What work are the Government doing to ensure equality of opportunity for those investors? (901857)

My hon. Friend is a role model to all the female entrepreneurs in her constituency. Whether through investment or expressions of interest by different areas, or making sure they take account of equality of opportunity in their conduct, the Government recognise that a diverse and inclusive business ecosystem is good for investors, entrepreneurs, businesses and my hon. Friend’s society.

T7. It is widely acknowledged that public spending cuts impact most on women. The Chancellor has signalled that he will seek such cuts in an effort to close the £40 billion hole his predecessor recklessly blew in the public finances. Will the Equalities Minister now undertake to publish an equality impact assessment on the 17 November autumn statement, as required by the Equality Act 2010? (901858)

We will undertake all due assessments on fiscal statements, as we regularly do over the course of things.

T8.   The Government rightly want to see more disabled people in employment, but what more can the Minister say about encouraging in-work progression for those with a disability and, most importantly, getting more disabled representation on company boards to drive wider corporate change in business? (901859)

My hon. Friend has always been a passionate advocate for compassionate conservatism. We are looking at the issue very carefully. We are going to accept all the recommendations of the Holmes review of public appointments and I point my hon. Friend in the direction of the DWP progression work that we are doing.

Next week, we come together to recognise National Fertility Week, and yesterday I had the great opportunity to meet Fertility First, a fantastic charity that provides information to everyone who requires fertility treatment. What more can the Minister do to ensure fair and equal access to fertility treatment for everyone in the UK who needs it?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that subject, which I would be happy to meet with her to discuss in due course. As she knows, I returned to this role only a few hours ago, so I do not have a full answer for her now, but I am happy to work with her on this issue.

What is the Secretary of State’s response to the allegations made yesterday, following her appointment, by Ben Cohen of Pink News?

I know everyone wants to start Prime Minister’s questions quickly, but please forgive me, Mr Speaker, if my answer to this question is a tad longer than it ordinarily would be.

I am afraid that this particular individual is one who uses Twitter as a tool for defamation. He has even been sued by people in this House, such as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). As we begin a new era of equalities, I would like to say that the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword. It is there to protect people of all characteristics, whether they are young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight. We are running a compassionate equality strategy and we should not be distracted by people who use Twitter as a way to insult or accuse Members of Parliament.

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 I welcome the Prime Minister and call Dr Alan Whitehead to ask the first question.