Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018

If I may, I will briefly return to the issue of gender pay gap reporting. Tomorrow is the deadline for employers in the public sector to report their gender pay gaps, and all other employers with more than 250 staff must report by next Wednesday. I have this morning’s figures from the update of gender pay gap reporting, and I can inform the House that we have 98% registration and 81% reporting from the public sector and 82% registration and 45% reporting from the private and voluntary sectors. I hope that employers will take this opportunity to accelerate their reporting, because it is unacceptable in 2018 that there are still differences in the amounts that men and women are paid in industries from finance to beauty, and we intend to take action.

As the local elections approach, will the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to tackle online abuse of women in public office?

This is such an important question. We all know how terrible the growth of online abuse has been, particularly towards women, and when we want to encourage more women to participate in public life, it is shameful that it takes place. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has ordered a Law Commission review to ensure that what is illegal offline is illegal online and the appropriate action is being taken to follow that up.

Many women will have slept a little more soundly last night after the decision by the Parole Board not to release the rapist John Worboys. The Government argued that a challenge was highly unlikely to succeed, but the brave survivors and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, proved the Government wrong. Will the Minister explain why, given the clear evidence that Worboys was a danger to women, the Government refused to take action?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue, which is so important. I know that everybody feels enormous sympathy and concern for the victims of this terrible atrocity. I welcome yesterday’s result. We need victims to be supported and to feel that the law works for them. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has said that he will look at making sure that in future there are changes to the Parole Board to ensure that there is much more transparency in such incidents.

T3. What is being done to ensure fair access to apprenticeships and work in all sectors for marginalised groups in society? (904695)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and there are few in this House who have done more to champion apprenticeships and the benefits that they can bring, particularly to young people. We want all young people and everybody in work to benefit from the apprenticeship scheme, which is why we are committed to having 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. So far, we have achieved 1.2 million. It is also why we are spending some £2.45 billion in cash terms, double the amount we spent in 2010.

T2. Have the Government made any assessment of whether local councils are meeting their duties under the Equality Act 2010, by keeping pavements clear of obstructions and safe for disabled people to walk? (904694)

It is essential that disabled people can go about their daily lives. Particularly as we move towards the local elections, it is important that they can get out, so that we can ensure that everybody participates in voting. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I will find out from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government whether it has made any such assessment.

On equality in politics for women, does the Minister for Women and Equalities agree with some senior Members in this House that the next leader of the Labour party, for instance, should be a woman and that perhaps that implies that the next leader of the Conservative party must be a man?

Those are not matters for the Minister for Women and Equalities. Who knows, she might have a personal interest in these matters—I do not know? Let us hear from her anyway, because it is very interesting.

I step forward gingerly following that introduction, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend will know that on the Government Benches we believe that merit should be the decider for high office, while believing that women should be equally represented. We feel that our selection process and our promotion process allow both things to take place, and we are proud of the party that has had two women leaders and two women Prime Ministers.

T4. As one of the MPs who was happy to support the Guide Dogs Talking Buses campaign, I was pleased that the Government agreed to introduce legislation. The key question is: when will the regulations come forward that make audiovisual information mandatory on buses? (904696)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I will have to look into it and get back to him.

T5. This is National Autism Week, and I should like to ask the Minister whether she is aware that girls are often picked up as being on the autism spectrum much later than boys. Will she urge her colleagues to ensure that, like Sweden, we have a good, early and specific test for autism in every primary school? (904698)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the fact that this is National Autism Week. We are all wearing our badges with pride, and I hope that he will take part in the Back-Bench debate on this subject later today. He is right to say that girls get diagnosed later and less frequently than boys, and this is something that we are looking at very carefully as we renew our work on the autism strategy.

T6. Sir Robert Devereux, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions who oversaw the increase in the state pension age for women born in the 1950s, retired in January. My constituent, Paulette, a former NHS worker, wants to know why, having made national insurance contributions for 45 years, she will have to work until she is 66 to get a pension of £159 a week, while Sir Robert has retired with a taxpayer-funded pension of £85,000 a year at the age of 61. (904699)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this issue has been debated widely and extensively in this House. I would ask him to contemplate what inequalities would be produced for men, and indeed for women born in the 1960s, if changes were made to the pension arrangements, which have effectively been advertised since 1995, for women born in the 1950s.

The appalling abuse of Alice Terry on social media overnight demonstrates the totally unacceptable direction of travel of political debate in this country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that no party should have any problem whatever with signing the respect pledge?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I was shown the sort of abuse that Alice Terry received overnight, and it was particularly horrific and persistent. A lot of my colleagues on the Government Benches have stated their support for her, and I would urge some—not all—Opposition Members to take more action to speak out against such abuse because, as Lord Bew’s independent review of this issue has shown, a lot of it comes from the hard left, also known as Momentum.

T7. The 113 MPs, including me, who wrote to the Home Secretary last year enjoyed some momentum and made progress when she agreed to undertake a review of the feasibility of exclusion zones around abortion clinics, but it is all gone a bit quiet since the evidence deadline passed. When can we expect the conclusions, and will there be good news for the vulnerable women who simply want to have their NHS treatment in anonymity and for the regular pavement users— (904700)

Order. I am sorry. I do try to help the House by extending the envelope for topical questions, but it is not fair if Members then ask very long questions—[Interruption.] Forgive me; I do try to help Members, but Members must help one another.

The hon. Lady will know, because we have spoken about this, how much I care about it. I thank her for bringing the matter forward. The consultation has concluded, and we are now looking at it. I will make sure that she is one of the first to know when we decide how to bring it forward.

Gender pay gap reporting has made me angry, not just because companies need to do more but because we all need to do more. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should all check whether we have gendered expectations, particularly of children, and that those of us with influence should be very careful about how we treat young people?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. One of the benefits of gender pay gap reporting is that it reveals what has been hidden before. In a lot of issues to do with gender, this is about making certain elements much more transparent than they were before. The hon. Lady might be angry, but I take the view that we need to take action. Taking action will do more than being angry.