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Workplace Inequality: Gender and Race

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2023

1. What steps the Government are taking to tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (903305)

As part of our strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, we have committed to strengthen the protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. That includes taking forward two legislative measures as part of the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). Furthermore, in our landmark inclusive Britain strategy we committed to publishing guidance on ethnicity pay reporting for employers. That will be published soon and will support employers to identify and tackle unfair pay gaps in their workforces.

New data published by the Ministry of Defence earlier this month showed that in the year to September 2022, more women left the armed forces than joined. Given the string of sexual abuse and harassment allegations that we have heard, that data is concerning but hardly surprising. What is the Minister doing to ensure that women are safe in the armed forces and that the pervasive attitude of misogyny in the armed forces is tackled?

The hon. Lady is right to raise that serious issue. My colleagues in the Ministry of Defence take it very seriously and have a strategy and a plan to tackle it. As I mentioned in respect of sexual harassment in the workplace, we have many measures to look into what is going on. We are concerned about women leaving the workplace, and this Government will do everything we can to make sure that women are encouraged to stay and thrive in their workplaces.

The Scottish Government are encouraging employers to report on ethnicity pay gaps—a policy supported by the Women and Equalities Committee—but the Scottish Government do not have the powers to enforce that policy. Is the Minister willing to have a conversation about the transfer of those powers, so that we can all learn lessons from the results?

We have no plans to devolve equal opportunities policy. Quite a lot of work is being done on ethnicity pay reporting. It should not be made mandatory. It is different from gender pay gap reporting, because it covers more than two separate categories. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more detail on the work that we are doing, but we will publish guidance for those companies that want to carry out ethnicity pay reporting in due course.

Gendered abuse, harassment and bullying in the workplace is wrong, but it can happen anywhere. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when there is gendered abuse, bullying and intimidation in this Chamber, we should make sure that action is taken to stamp it out?

I completely agree. This is a very serious issue. We are all aware of allegations that have been made against Members in this House. I know that you care very much about this issue, Mr Speaker. This is a place where we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We condemn any Member who tries to intimidate, harass or abuse other Members of Parliament when they are simply representing their constituents.

On racial inequality and discrimination, a previous Home Office report looked at hate crime in terms of Islamophobia and antisemitism. The statistics and figures were absolutely appalling, with a high number of incidents. The Government removed the independent adviser on Islamophobia, Qari Asim. He apparently did not have any terms of reference for two years. Given the Government’s commitment to tackle Islamophobia and intolerance, what is their strategy?

The Government have a strategy to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. I recommend that my hon. Friend raises this issue with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who is responsible for that portfolio as part of the communities strategy.

This week, the UK Government rejected outright five recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee on menopause and the workplace, and they are not committing to any new work in response to the report. The Chair of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), described the Government’s progress as “glacial” and their response as “complacent”. She pointed out the missed opportunity to protect vast numbers of talented and experienced women from leaving the workforce. Will the Minister change tack? Will she commit finally to acting on menopause and the workplace? If she will not, will she commit to look again at why devolving employment law in Scotland matters so much, so that we can do that work?

I would ask the hon. Lady to read the women’s health strategy, in which she will see that the menopause is a priority area. The Select Committee has made recommendations, which we have considered carefully, but there is no point in the Government having a strategy if they are simply going to accept recommendations from elsewhere that do not conform to it. The best thing for her to do would be to work with the Government and look at the good work we are doing on tackling issues around the menopause.