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Women’s Voting Rights

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 23 March 2017

First, I would like to set out my own condolences to PC Keith Palmer’s family and all those who were affected by the terrible incident yesterday. I would also like to say a big thank you to the emergency services and the House of Commons staff, who I felt were outstanding yesterday. The kind of people who perpetrate these sorts of attacks need to understand that they will never disrupt our democracy, because democracy is part of our country’s DNA. That is why oral questions are happening perfectly as normal today.

This is a fantastic time to be able to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage. We now have our second female Prime Minister, who I know is committed to encouraging women in politics, and the proportion of women MPs has finally reached 30%. However, there is much, much more to do. In the Budget, we announced a £5 million fund to support projects to educate young people about the important milestone that is coming up and to inspire women to get more involved in politics at all levels.

As we mark 100 years since women were given the right to vote, will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the election of two female Prime Ministers, the first of whom made our country and the world better places in which to live, and the second of whom will make our leaving the European Union a great success?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am extremely proud that it is our party—the Conservative party—that has delivered not only the first two female leaders of the major political parties represented in Westminster but, critically, the first two female Prime Ministers of our country. One of them shaped the Britain we live in today; one of them will shape the Britain we live in tomorrow. It is long overdue that we celebrate the centenary that is coming up.

Women won the right to vote—they fought for it, as they have had to fight for so many rights. I want to make that clear. What is the Minister doing, as we approach the year in which we celebrate that struggle, to ensure that all women in the country today are registered to vote, as many are finding individual registration difficult?

The Government are committed to ensuring that everybody who is entitled to vote in our country, women included, is registered to vote. I very much hope over the coming months that we can all be role models and inspirations for a new generation of young girls growing up in our country, and encourage them to play their role in our democracy not just in this Parliament, but in councils and other community groups around the country.

This House benefits hugely from the much broader representation that women and all those from different backgrounds bring to it. As chair of the all-party group for women in Parliament, may I ask the Minister to commit the Government to highlighting women’s suffrage, which was hard fought for and should be highly valued and used?

I absolutely give my hon. Friend that commitment. We announced £5 million in the Budget to help community groups around the country to celebrate and highlight this important centenary. When I arrived here as a Conservative female MP just over 10 years ago, there were fewer than 20 others. We now have a huge number, but we need to do more. We all need to work together to say that politics is a place that should have more women in it. It is important that we see that happen.

While it is welcome that next year we will celebrate 100 years of votes for women, those women were also campaigning for economic equality. How then, 99 years on, can the Government justify the fact that 86% of Treasury gains come from women?

One of the Government’s important achievements is getting more people, particularly women, into work. Indeed, there have never been more women in work. However, women’s economic empowerment is vital—it is one of our biggest economic growth levers, not just in the UK, but around the world. I was on a United Nations high level panel that recently completed a second report to hand over to the Secretary General in New York. That will provide a platform for delivering global goal 5 of the sustainable development goals.