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Topical Questions

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 23 March 2017

We celebrated International Women’s Day this year with a budget for potential and a budget for equality, including £20 million of funding to combat violence against women and girls, £5 million for internships and £5 million to mark the centenary of women getting the vote for the very first time. Next month, the gender pay gap reporting regulations will come into force. I want to thank Members from all parts of the House for their constructive support as we take forward amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, enabling statutory, age-appropriate relationship education in primary schools and relationship and sex education in secondary schools.

The European Social Investment Fund has supported a Cardiff-based charity, Chwarae Teg, to deliver a range of successful programmes to help women in Wales achieve pay equality and progress in Welsh workplaces. One example is the £8.6 million for the Agile Nation 2 project. Can the Minister provide a guarantee that post-Brexit the Government will provide equivalent replacement funding for Chwarae Teg?

The Government are proud that we now have the lowest gender pay gap on record. We are absolutely committed to making sure that that continues post-Brexit.

T6. The good news is that smoking rates among both men and women are falling, as is the incidence of lung cancer in men. The bad news is that the incidence of lung cancer in women is rising. What will the Government do to tackle that? (909424)

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health looks into these incredibly serious issues very carefully. I will raise my hon. Friend’s concerns with him.

T2. The Minister said that the Budget was good for women, but actually mothers and couples will be losing 11%, or £2,400, of their individual income. In contrast, their husbands or partners will lose 5%, or £1,700, of their income. What does that tell us about her effectiveness as a Minister for Women? (909418)

The bottom line is that the best route for all of us as women is to be able to have the chance to have a working life and a career. That is why we have more women in employment than ever before, something the House should welcome.

The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) had a question on the Order Paper. She is here and it could be topical. She should be heard.

T5. Will the Secretary of State make every effort to ensure that women are involved in the huge programme of rail infrastructure upgrades we are currently undertaking as a Government? (909423)

Absolutely. The Department for Transport set out an ambition for women to represent at least 20% of new entrants to engineering and technical apprenticeships in the transport sector by 2020. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills visited the Crossrail Academy recently. The academy is exceeding the target: 27% of its apprentices are female.

Some 54,000 women are forced out of work due to maternity discrimination. Will the Government look at reducing the extortionate fees for employment tribunals, and will the Minister specifically look at extending the time for application from three months to six months?

We are consulting on proposals to extend the support that is available under the help with fees schemes. We propose that the gross monthly income threshold for a full fee remission should increase to £1,250, which is broadly the level of the national minimum wage.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only 36% of headteachers are women? In my constituency, the Affinity Teaching Alliance, led by local headteacher Sarah Watson, is working on an innovative programme to change that. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sarah Watson on enabling many more women to take up senior teaching posts, and does she agree that that is the best way to get the most out of our workforce?

I would indeed like to congratulate Sarah Watson. Improving flexible working in the teaching profession is one of the best things we could do to ensure that women can get to the top, and later this year the Department will host a summit with teachers to discuss how we can make more progress in that regard.

T4. Eighty-six per cent of cuts and adjustments to tax and benefits have been inflicted on women. Will the Minister agree to meet me, along with women from my constituency who are affected by the changes in the state pension age, and will she tell us why the Government are persistently refusing to listen to the WASPI campaigners, who have fought so long and so hard for a fair deal? (909422)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a long-standing commitment to equalise the state pension ages of men and women, and we continue to look very closely at the state pension age in general. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, welcomes the increase in longevity. The Government have made big concessions with regard to cost—we have already committed more than £1.1 billion—and there will be no further concessions.