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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 8 March 2023

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Gender Pay Gap

1. What recent assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the gender pay gap. (903984)

Gender pay gap reporting continues to motivate employers to look at their pay data and improve workplace gender equality, and huge progress is being made. The gender pay gap has fallen by approximately a quarter in the past decade, but of course, there is more work to be done.

I thank the Minister for her response. An 18-year-old entering the workforce today will not see gender pay equality in her lifetime. With the national gender pay gap at 14% and growing, will the Minister commit this International Women’s Day to ending the motherhood penalty by fixing our broken childcare system and ensuring that every family can access affordable childcare?

Absolutely. It is this Conservative Government who, in 2017, introduced the world-leading regulations that have ensured that we are able to record the gender pay gap and the progress that we are making. We are also committed to the childcare aspect, which is difficult for many women. That is why we have announced additional funding of £160 million this year, £180 million next year, and £170 million the year after for local authorities to increase the hourly rates to pay for childcare, which is so important to women.

Last year, the gender pay gap was 12% higher than it was in 2020, the year in which the Minister for Women and Equalities was first appointed to the Government Equalities Office. If not the Minister, can anyone on the Government Front Bench please apologise to women for that increase this International Women’s Day?

I thank the shadow Minister for that question. It is disappointing that she cannot welcome the progress that has been made, and not just in terms of the gender pay gap: we are supporting pay transparency, which is equally important in making sure women are paid the same as men. We are launching a science, technology, engineering and maths returners pilot to enable 75,000 people to return to the STEM sector, mainly women. On carers’ leave, flexible working and shared parental leave, and through supporting the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) with her private Member’s Bill on harassment in the workplace, there is huge progress on supporting women in work.

No apology, then, for that increase in the gender pay gap over recent years, and no real action, it seems. Other figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the gender pay gap for women in their 50s and 60s is nearly four times higher than it is for those in their 30s. Some 185,000 women aged between 50 and 64 have also left the workforce since 2020, at a cost of £7 billion to our economy. Will the Minister back Labour’s proposal for larger companies to publish menopause action plans to support women to stay in work, boost productivity and grow our economy, or will that action to support working women again just be dismissed as left-wing?

I am pleased that the Labour party is getting with the programme—that it can actually define what a woman is, for a start. We will not take any lectures from the Labour party; perhaps it needs to get its own house in order before lecturing the rest of the country, because according to The Daily Telegraph in January, the Labour party paid its black workers 9% less than its white workers. It absolutely needs to get its own house in order.

As I highlighted to the Leader of the House last week, the gender pay gap between women and men currently sits at nearly 15%. We know that women are not a homogenous group, so that gap will vary further based on intersecting characteristics, including ethnicity and disability status. Will the Minister, in line with the theme for this International Women’s Day, embrace equity by mandating gender pay gap reporting and action plans for all employers, as well as introducing ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting requirements?

As I set out, this Government in 2017 set out world-leading regulations requiring larger employers to publish their average salaries, but that does not stop other employers from doing the same. We would have to pass new regulations to reduce that threshold and change the Equality Act 2010, but we are seeing all employers wanting to reduce the gender pay gap, and we are leading the way in government, with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Work and Pensions having eliminated that gap in their Departments.

Making Misogyny a Hate Crime: Potential Merits

2. What recent assessment the Government have made of the potential merits of making misogyny a hate crime. (903985)

I am going to have to be quicker, or I will never get on the “Women in Westminster: the 100” list.

The Law Commission recommended against adding sex and gender to the hate crime laws. It found that the addition of those characteristics might make the prosecution of crimes that disproportionately affect women and girls more difficult. The Government share the Law Commission’s concern. Parliament repeatedly voted against making misogyny a hate crime last year, and there are no plans to change.

I recognise the arguments that have been made. Most violence against women originates in misogyny. Therefore, making misogyny a hate crime would send such a powerful signal to all offenders that all their offences will be taken with the utmost seriousness and investigated properly. Victims of Wayne Couzens have argued that, if only their reports of his indecent exposure had been taken seriously, Sarah Everard might still be alive today. Is it not time that we made misogyny a hate crime?

I beg to disagree. It may send a signal, but it is more of a virtue signal than a real signal. We have more police officers than ever, and we are determined to stamp out violence against women and girls.

Health Disparities

Health disparities exist across a wide variety of conditions, from cancer to mental health, and contribute to the unacceptable variation in health outcomes. The major conditions strategy that we are launching will therefore apply a geographical lens to end the disparities in health outcomes across England.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but what does she make of the interesting comments by Sir Chris Whitty about health inequalities in coastal areas, such as Southend, and what are the Government proposing to do about those inequalities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are disparities. There is an eight-year difference in life expectancy between a woman born in Blackpool and a woman born in Woking, and we want to end that. That is why our major conditions strategy is in parallel with the work that NHS England is doing on its Core20PLUS5, where we are targeting the 20% most deprived populations and the five key health conditions that are making those disparities apparent today.

The average life expectancy of a woman with a learning disability is around 18 years shorter than women in the general population, so on this International Women’s Day, what can the Minister say to women with learning disabilities about the disparity in their life expectancy in Britain?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point and that is exactly why mental health is part of the major conditions strategy. People with mental health and learning disabilities do suffer from poorer physical health, and that is why it is crucial that we do not see—[Interruption.] If he listened to me, he would have heard that I said “learning disabilities”. It is crucial that we do not see people with a learning disability in isolation, and that we look after their physical health, as well as the conditions they suffer from.

Pregnant women who live in the poorest areas of England are twice as likely to die than those living in the most affluent areas. Shockingly, black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth. This Government have had 13 years, but have failed to tackle maternal health inequalities. What action is the Minister taking to address these appalling disparities?

This is why we have set up the maternity disparities taskforce. We are working with the chief midwife to drive down those disparities, and we are working with NHS England. Maternity is one of those Core20PLUS5 elements, because we recognise that there is huge disparity across the country, which we want to eliminate.

Energy Bills: Impact on Disabled People

4. Whether she has had recent discussions with her Cabinet colleagues on the impact of energy bills on disabled people. (903988)

The Department is talking to a range of stakeholders to assess evidence and options for a more targeted approach to consumer protection from April 2024.

More than 200,000 disabled households, including people in my constituency, lost out on the £150 warm home discount scheme due to a change in who the Government deem entitled to claim. Disabled people often require additional energy to run specialist equipment and to keep their homes warmer. Given that there is no appeals process, will the Minister agree to review that problem in the system and work with hon. Members to address it next year?

The Government have been committed to supporting disabled people—a whole range of people—in the cost of living crisis. As I have mentioned, we will be meeting and discussing it.

Transphobia and Hate Crimes against Trans People

5. What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for the Home Department to tackle transphobia and hate crimes against trans people. (903989)

The Government take all forms of hate crime seriously. We expect the police to fully investigate all those sorts of hateful attacks to make sure that the cowards who commit them feel the full force of the law. We are committed to reducing all crime, including hate crime, which is why we are recruiting 20,000 additional police officers.

The Minister will know that trans people are already the group most likely to be the victims of violent crime, and there was a massive 56% increase in hate crime against trans people last year. That is against what I conceive to be a background of semi-official transphobia in England, which is similar to the moral panic that led to section 28 in the 1980s. What is her view of the comments of her party’s deputy chairman, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), who called on the Conservative party to campaign on

“a mix of culture wars and trans debate”?

With the greatest respect, I do not accept the way that the narrative has been framed about the deputy chairman of the Conservative party. We have to look at all those issues, but I welcome the increase in the reporting of the sort of offences that the right hon. Member mentions, because it is only when people come forward that we can do something about it. The increase to 56% from 43% is a good thing, because it means that people have more confidence in the police. There is more to do, but I certainly do not accept that the Government are against assisting in that area, as has been said. We are putting huge amounts of effort and education into it, from which we will reap the benefits in years to come.

Gender Recognition Certificate: Application Process

6. What progress her Department has made on amending the application process for a gender recognition certificate. (903990)

The Government have taken steps to modernise the application process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate and to make applications more affordable. GRC applicants are now required to pay £5 and the newly developed digital application process for GRCs launched on 29 June.

Does the Minister agree that it is important to have a consistent approach to the recognition of overseas countries’ GRC schemes and that, because of the complex interaction with the Equality Act 2010, it is right to recognise the schemes of only those countries that have equivalent approaches?

A consistent approach to GRCs is fundamental to the effective functioning of legislation in this area. The GB-wide Equality Act was carefully drafted in the light of, and to reflect, the specific limits of the UK-wide Gender Recognition Act 2004. It is important, for the effective functioning of the Equality Act, that the recognition of international GRCs is in line with the basic principles of the GRA.

I thank the Minister for his response. Many people in Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom as a whole, have concerns about gender recognition certificates. Has he had an opportunity to talk to some of those organisations to get their opinion, so that we can draw up a policy that is recognised by everyone?

I recognise that this is an area of considerable concern for some, but it is important that the debate is calm and measured, and absolutely respects the individuals involved. I have many meetings with people from around the country on these specific issues, and we take careful consideration of all the points that are made to ensure that everybody feels confident that the law is in the right place.

Entrepreneur Support Programme: Educational Opportunities

7. If she will make an assessment of the potential impact on educational opportunities of the entrepreneur support programme set out in “Inclusive Britain: government response to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities”, published in March 2022. (903991)

The Department for Business and Trade is keen to support entrepreneurs from all communities, as evidenced by a disproportionately high proportion of start-up loans accessed by ethnic minority-led businesses. The Government have supported actions aimed at improving opportunities for ethnic minority entrepreneurs, as set out in the “Inclusive Britain” report, and we will be reporting back to Parliament shortly.

Decision making, leadership, commitment, confidence, resilience, teamwork and self-esteem are all skills and attributes essential to entrepreneurialism. It is also the case that these can be fostered by high-quality physical education in schools, which is why today’s announcement of £600 million over two years to support primary school PE and sport is so welcome. Sport England reported in December:

“Children and young people with Black, Asian and Other ethnicities are the least likely to be active.”

So will my hon. Friend use his good offices to upgrade from Government aspiration to Government policy the Association for Physical Education’s recommendation to make PE a core subject in schools to help tackle this unacceptable disparity?

Hear, hear. As someone who benefited from playing football, rugby and cricket at my state school, I am delighted at the announcement that my hon. and learned Friend refers to. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has today announced a package of activity to boost equal opportunities in school sport, both inside and outside the classroom.

Violence against Women and Girls

8. What recent steps she has taken with Cabinet colleagues to help end violence against women and girls. (903992)

14. What recent steps she has taken with Cabinet colleagues to help end violence against women and girls. (903998)

Tackling violence against women and girls is a Government priority, and something I regularly discuss with my colleagues. We have added violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement, meaning it is set out as a national threat for police forces to respond to alongside issues such as terrorism. We have launched the £36 million domestic abuse perpetrator intervention fund to improve the safety and feeling of safety of victims and their children, and to reduce the risk posed by perpetrators.

It is a sad fact that walking home at night is for too many women and girls a time when they feel exposed to danger, and this is unacceptable. Sadly, for some when they get home, home is not a place of refuge; it a place of danger. During the periods of national lockdown in the pandemic, this became a reality for more women and girls, with the police and domestic abuse support services reporting an increase in cases of victims experiencing abuse in their own homes. Will my hon. Friend advise me what progress has been made in supporting the frontline services?

I am pleased to be able to say that the Northumbria police and crime commissioner has received £3.7 million from across the safer streets fund rounds to date, and the £750,000 through the current round 4 is for a range of interventions on transport and therapy. Also, we have training for the NHS to make sure we have an all-systems process to improve this; we have better training for those who work in healthcare and in education in a whole-system approach. This Government are committed to assisting.

As the father of three young women, like any parent I worry about their safety. Society seems to have become harder, and old-fashioned values of respect towards women seem to be vanishing in many parts of our society, even in the police. What practical efforts can the Government make to make young women feel safe in the streets, particularly in areas of our great cities?

I know that the Prime Minister has daughters and shares my right hon. Friend’s concerns. I can say that the Lincolnshire police and crime commissioner has received £1.3 million from across the safer streets fund rounds so far, and the almost £400,000 in the current round 4 is for extra CCTV and police training to respond to VAWG. This is part of a wider picture and we are advancing. I am very proud of what the Government are doing.

An Afghan woman is smuggled into the UK on a small boat because she cannot access the resettlement scheme. Once here, she is trafficked into prostitution and abused by a grooming gang. Under the Government’s new Bill, she would be unable to access modern slavery support, and she would be returned to an unsafe country. Does the Minister agree that we must make sure that all vulnerable women are safe from such crimes?

There is a lot of work going on. We have been engaging with stakeholder groups to see what we can do to make sure that every woman is safe. I have spoken to several groups about this issue, which is being considered. Let no one be mistaken: this Government are extremely strong on making sure that vulnerable women, wherever they come from, are safe.

Sadly, catcalling and other gender-based micro-aggressions are still commonplace in schools. The Chester Sexual Abuse Support Service, which works closely with schools across my constituency, tells me there is still a lack of awareness, education and prevention regarding these issues. What is being done to resource schools to raise awareness and help young people to challenge behaviours that lead to abuse?

A wide range of work and training is going on within schools to ensure that young people understand more clearly what is and what is not acceptable. On more national interventions, we have the Ask for ANI scheme in pharmacies and the Enough social media campaign, which has really cut through—the responses we have had to that campaign have been unprecedented. This Government are committed to, and making good progress in, assisting young people to understand what is and is not acceptable.

Topical Questions

I wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day, when we celebrate 51% of the population. I am proud of this Government’s record on supporting women, whether that is young girls playing more sport in school or the first ever women’s health strategy, which this year will see the rolling out of the prepayment certificate for hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy loss certificates this summer, and the levelling up of IVF access. Today I am proud to announce £25 million to roll out women’s health hubs across England—the one-stop shop for all women’s health needs that will drastically improve women’s experience of healthcare in England.

The Minister will be aware of a legal agreement under the Equalities Act between McDonald’s and the Equality and Human Rights Commission over the handling of complaints of sexual harassment. Does the Minister believe that that is solely an issue of a toxic culture at McDonald’s, and will she look at whether women working on zero-hours contracts across the economy are at increased risk of experiencing sexual harassment because of depending on male managers for future shifts?

We take sexual harassment in the workplace very seriously—[Interruption.] Oh, to be shouted down for the entrance of a man.

Order. Minister, nobody was shouted down. It happens every time, and when the Prime Minister comes it will happen again. Don’t worry—come on.

I will try again, Mr Speaker. Once again, the Government are keen to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. That is why we are supporting the private Member’s Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill, because it is such a serious issue.

T2.   I am proudly backing a campaign to improve services for menopause sufferers in the county of Devon. In society and at work, stigma remains a barrier to many people getting the support they require. What steps are the Government taking to prevent menopause discrimination in the workplace? (903979)

We are working with employers and employees on that crucial matter, to ensure that there is no stigma in the workplace for those experiencing the impact of the menopause. To that end, on Monday I was delighted to announce the appointment of Helen Tomlinson as the Department for Work and Pensions menopause employment champion. She will have a key role in driving awareness and promoting the benefits to both business and the economy of a fully inclusive workplace.

T3. Disabled people are more than twice as likely to experience domestic abuse and sexual violence as non-disabled people. The national disability strategy set out a roadmap to improve the protection and support available to disabled people in their homes, but last year that was found to be unlawful by the High Court for not having given the disabled community an adequate opportunity to shape the strategy. Will the Minister confirm that tackling the scourge of violence against disabled people will be a central priority of the new disability action plan, and will she guarantee that that new plan will be shaped by disabled people? (903980)

Violence against disabled people, in their home or anywhere, is just as important an issue as violence against anybody else, and we are putting unprecedented moneys towards stopping that sort of violence. It is all about education. The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing are working hard on that, and we are making progress.

T5. Young men often struggle with their mental health, and particularly with suicidal thoughts that can hit like a heart attack. What more can the Government do—indeed, what more can each individual Member of the House do—to help those young men? (903982)

Absolutely. That is why we are setting out the suicide prevention strategy and looking at high-risk groups such as men. The Home Office is also working to set up helplines for men. Some £200,000 is going into those helplines, and so far they have supported 10,000 men who needed support.

T4. New businesses are almost three times as likely to be started by men as by women. Does the Minister agree with Labour’s plan to work with the British Business Bank to support female founders to achieve their ambitions? (903981)

The Labour party is once again late to the party, because the Conservative Government are already delivering on this. We have set up the high-growth enterprise taskforce to get more women into setting up high-growth businesses and to end the disparity in venture capital whereby, for every pound that is given, 89p currently goes to men’s businesses and only a penny to women’s.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that live subtitles and a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings are available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Today is International Women’s Day. At home, we are taking huge strides to deliver equal opportunities for women, such as mandatory pay gap reporting and the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021; and internationally, we have today launched a new women and girls strategy, which puts them at the heart of everything we do.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Over 100 days ago, the Prime Minister promised to publish his tax returns. He still hasn’t. People want transparency in our politics, especially because the Prime Minister is the richest Prime Minister in history and because of the concerns there have been. So why on earth has the Prime Minister not published his tax returns yet, when will he do so, and when he does so, will he include his US tax returns?

Q4.   On International Women’s Day, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on all the work that has been done on the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative and on ensuring that the UK continues to show its global leadership? There are 250,000 people in this country living on park home sites. They are treated as second-class citizens by councils to which they pay council tax, they are treated poorly by managers who own the sites, and they are at a disadvantage when we roll out our incredibly generous energy schemes. Will the Prime Minister ensure that we can give them more support and help, and reform the Mobile Homes Act 2013? (904002)

My hon. Friend is right that there is still more work to do to tackle problems with the sector. We are making progress in implementing changes. Park home owners’ rights are now codified in writing with the site owner, and should those obligations not be met, residents can take site owners to a tribunal. Local authorities also now have powers to take enforcement action, and we will continue to support them to improve protection for park home residents everywhere.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the successes of women in our society. It is a crying shame that, as we do so, we face legislation that drives a coach and horses through our world-leading modern slavery framework, which protects women from exploitation. In the last decade, this Government have introduced five plans to tackle illegal immigration—five utter failures. The problem just gets worse with every new gimmick. The Home Secretary says the public are

“sick of tough talk and inadequate action.”

Does the Prime Minister agree with her assessment of this Government’s record?

What the right hon. and learned Gentleman fails to recognise is that there is a global migration problem. We are not alone in facing these challenges. It is precisely because, across Europe, the numbers are escalating to the extent they are that we have brought forward new plans, and because we are determined to ensure that this remains a compassionate and generous country and that that is done fairly and legally. That is why we will break the criminal gangs. We have announced new agreements with Albania and France, tougher immigration enforcement and now new legislation that makes it clear that if you come here illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed. But what we have not heard is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s plan. We know what it is: it is open-door immigration and unlimited asylum. While he may be on the side of the people smugglers, we are on the side of the British people.

If the Prime Minister was serious about stopping the boats, he would steal our plan on stopping the boats, smash the gangs, sort out the returns and clean up the utter mess. [Interruption.]

Order. I am going to hear this, and nobody is going to—[Interruption.] I wouldn’t if I were you. I think we have heard enough. I want to hear the questions and the answers. They will not be interrupted.

Nobody on the Labour Benches wants open borders. Those on the Conservative Benches have lost control of the borders. The Prime Minister promised the country that the Bill will stop all small boat crossings, no ifs, no buts. It sounds like more talk, so in the interests of adequate action, when will he achieve that?

We will be implementing the plan as soon as we can pass it through Parliament, so I look forward to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s support. The reality is that he has been on the wrong side—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Stafford, if you don’t want to hear the Prime Minister you can go and have a good cup of tea, nice and strong I suspect, but I will hear him.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been on the wrong side of this issue his entire career. He described all immigration law as “racist”, he said it was a mistake to control immigration and he has never, ever voted for tougher asylum laws. It is clear that while he is in hock to the open border activists, we are on the side of the British people.

When I was in charge of prosecutions, I extradited countless rapists and the conviction rate for people smuggling was twice what it is today. I voted against the Prime Minister’s legislation last time because I said it would not work. Since it became law, the numbers have gone up: he has proved me right. He should be apologising, not gloating. The Prime Minister says the Government will detain people who are not eligible to claim asylum here and then return them. Well, they already tried that under the last legislation. Last year, 18,000 people were deemed ineligible to apply for asylum—that is the easy bit, the talk—but as for the action, Prime Minister, how many of them have actually been returned?

As a result of the plans we have brought forward, we have almost doubled the number of people returned this year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about laws—[Interruption.]

Order. I think the Front Benchers need to be a little quieter. I want to hear and I do not need you joining in. Our constituents want to hear Prime Minister’s questions, both the questions and the answers. Show our constituents the respect they are due. Come on, Prime Minister.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about our laws. Actually, when I was in Dover yesterday talking to our law enforcement officials, what did they tell me? That precisely because of the law the Conservative Government passed last year, they have now been able to arrest more than double the number of people they did before: 397 in the last six months. But stopping the boats is not just my priority; it is the people’s priority. His position is clear: he wanted to, in his words, scrap the Rwanda deal, he voted against measures to deport foreign criminals, and he even argued against deportation flights. We know why, because on this matter—he talked about his legal background—he is just another lefty lawyer standing in our way. [Interruption.]

Order. We will continue. When you keep shouting, it prolongs things. Some of you are trying to catch my eye. When you are disappointed, I do not want any complaints. Let us get through these questions, so we can get some Back Benchers in.

All that nonsense because the Prime Minister does not want to answer the question. He knows what the answer is. The number is 21. I thought he was a man of detail. The number is 21—21—people out of the 18,000. What happens to the rest? They sit in hotels and digs for months on end at the taxpayer’s expense. Last year he promised to end the hotel farce—that is the talk—but because of his mess there are thousands of people who cannot claim asylum and cannot be returned, so where does he actually think they are going to end up?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the pressure on our asylum system, but we have a clear plan to stop people coming here in the first place. Labour Members have absolutely no plan on this issue because they simply do not want to tackle the problem. We introduced tougher sentences for people smugglers—they opposed it. We signed a deal with Rwanda—they opposed it. We are deporting foreign offenders as we speak—they oppose it. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) should save that good voice for the rugby match. She might be able to join Mr Stafford for that strong cup of tea.

In fact, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed every single step of what we have done to try to stop the problem. We know his only contribution to this debate—in his own words:

“We will defend free movement.”

That is the Labour party for you.

The Prime Minister stood there last year saying exactly the same thing. We said that it would not work; the Government passed the law and the numbers went up. Absolutely deluded. He cannot say where they will return people, because they spent £140 million on Rwanda and it does not work. They cannot say how they will return people because the Bill does not come with a single new return agreement. They cannot say when they will fix the mess because it is more talk, more gimmicks and more promises to be broken. A few months ago, I put to the Prime Minister that of the people who arrived on small boats, only 4% had been processed. He stood there and said that that was unacceptable. What is the number now?

As a result of what we have done, there are now 6,000 fewer people in the asylum case load backlog. We are hiring more caseworkers and we are increasing their productivity. Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken when it comes to returns, because we have returns agreements with India, Pakistan, Serbia, Nigeria and—crucially—now with Albania, where we are returning hundreds of people. Our position is clear: if you arrive here illegally you will not be able to claim asylum here, you will not be able to access the modern slavery system and you will not be able to make spurious human rights claims. That is the right thing to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is going on and on about process and hiding behind it because he does not want to confront the substance. We are the party of fairness. He represents the party of free movement.

I thought that the Prime Minister was supposed to be a man of detail, but he has gone to all those lengths to avoid the detail. He knows the answer to the question—less than 1% of those who arrived by boat have been processed. [Interruption.] He shakes his head, but that is the Government’s own statistic. On his watch, processing of those boats cases has gone from “unacceptable”, in his words, to almost non-existent. Does that not tell you everything you need to know? After 13 years, small boat crossings are higher than ever; claims are unprocessed; the taxpayer is paying for hotel rooms. Criminal gangs are running, laughing all the way, to the bank. The asylum system has been utterly broken on his watch.

This is the Government’s fifth Prime Minister, their sixth immigration plan and their seventh Home Secretary. After all this time, all they offer is the same old gimmicks and empty promises. I do not agree with the Home Secretary on very much, but when she says that the Tories are “all talk and no action,” she is spot on, is she not?

Illegal immigration enforcement—up. The amount of people processing claims—up. The backlog is down. The number of returns agreements is up. Hundreds of people have been returned to Albania, and now we have new laws to detain and deter illegal migrants. It is clear what we stand for. We are doing what is right: we are acting with compassion, we are acting with fairness and we are acting to respect the laws and borders of our country. We are delivering on what we said. It is crystal clear from listening to this that it will be the Conservatives, and only the Conservatives, who stop the boats.

Q6. Graphic lessons on oral sex, how to choke your partner safely and 72 genders—this is what passes for relationships and sex education in British schools. Across the country, children are being subjected to lessons that are age-inappropriate, extreme, sexualising and inaccurate, often using resources from unregulated organisations that are actively campaigning to undermine parents. This is not a victory for equality; it is a catastrophe for childhood. Will my right hon. Friend honour his commitment to end inappropriate sex education by commissioning an independent inquiry into the nature and extent of this safeguarding scandal? (904004)

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns and thank her for her work in this area. That is why I have asked the Department for Education to ensure that schools are not teaching inappropriate or contested content in relationships, sex and health education. Our priority should always be the safety and wellbeing of children. Schools should also make curriculum content and materials available to parents. As a result of all this, we are bringing forward a review of RSHE statutory guidance and will start our consultation as soon as possible.

On International Women’s Day, can I ask the Prime Minister to reconfirm that under his proposed new asylum laws, a woman who is sex-trafficked to the UK on a small boat by a criminal gang will not be afforded protection under our modern slavery laws?

It is precisely because we want to target our compassion and our resources at the world’s most vulnerable people that we must get a grip on this system and break—

Order. Can I say to SNP Members that it is quite right that questions are asked, but I also want to hear the answers? Shouting from up there is not helping anybody.

As I was saying, it is precisely because we want to target our resources and our compassion at the world’s most vulnerable people that we need to get a grip on this system, make sure that we have control over our borders and make sure that our system and resources are not overwhelmed, so that we can help the people most in need. There is nothing fair and there is nothing compassionate about sustaining a system in which, as we saw recently, people are dying on these crossings. That is not right, and our plans will stop that from happening. [Interruption.]

Order. Mr McDonald, I do not need to hear you chuntering all the way through. You could be joining the others for a cup of tea.

I will take that as a yes from the Prime Minister that women who are victims of sex trafficking will not be protected under our modern slavery laws. What a complete and utter disgrace. But while it may shock, it should not necessarily surprise, because this is the Tory Government who in recent months have spoken of “invasions”. Just yesterday, this Tory Government said that 100 million people could be coming to these shores. This morning, this Tory Government said that the number could in fact be billions. That is complete and utter nonsense. May I ask the Prime Minister: from whom are his Government taking inspiration, Nigel Farage or Enoch Powell?

What a load of nonsense. In fact, the figure of 100 million does not come from the Government; it comes from the United Nations, and it illustrates the scale of the global migration crisis with which the world is grappling. That is why it is right that we take action: because if we do not, the numbers will continue to grow. They have more than quadrupled in just two years. It is a sign of what is to come, and our system will continue to be overwhelmed. If that happens, we will not be able to help the people who are most in need of our support, our generosity and our compassion. This has always been the way of this country. Once we get a grip on this system, that is who we can extend our support to, and that is why it is the right legislation.

Q9. Last year, the UK economy grew at 4.1%, the fastest rate in the G7. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3.4%, which is more than in comparable countries. To maintain this momentum ahead of the net zero strategy refresh, will the Prime Minister encourage my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to use his Budget statement next week to stimulate investment in renewable energy projects by renewable energy companies, both offshore and onshore, to improve our energy security, reduce reliance on more expensive fossil fuels and ultimately reduce bills for households? (904007)

I am proud of our commitment to scaling up renewable energy sources. Renewables make up nearly 40% of our electricity supply, which represents a fourfold increase since 2011. My right hon. Friend will know that I cannot and will not pre-empt Budget decisions, but he is a powerful champion for the environment in this House, and I have no doubt that he will make his views known to the Chancellor.

Following the tributes relating to International Women’s Day, I want to pay a special tribute to the women in the House, past and present, who have helped to shape the future of our country.

When Jean rang 999, she was told that she would have to wait at least eight hours for an ambulance, so she got into her car and drove herself to Eastbourne District General Hospital. She paid for parking and made it to the entrance to A&E, where she collapsed. Jean died an hour later. No one should lose their mother or their grandmother like that. Will the Prime Minister apologise to Jean’s family, and to all those who have lost loved ones owing to the Government’s appalling ambulance delays?

Of course my thoughts and condolences go to Jean’s family. It is absolutely right that we continue to make progress on improving performance in urgent emergency care. We outlined plans to do that just the other month, and I am pleased to say that we have been seeing a marked improvement over the last few weeks in comparison with the peak pressures that we saw over the winter, owing to covid and flu, both in waiting times in A&E and in ambulance performance times. Because of the investments that we are making in more ambulances, more doctors and nurses, and more discharges, I am confident that we will continue to make progress towards securing the care that we all expect and need to see.

Q12. Since its release earlier this year, the heartwarming and inspiring story of Dave Fishwick’s journey to set up a community bank has quickly risen to become one of Netflix’s top films. Last week in the Chamber, I called for more initiatives such as the “Bank of Dave” to support local communities across the UK. Does the Prime Minister agree that financial inclusion is an essential part of levelling-up opportunities in our communities, and will he meet Dave and me to discuss how we can replicate his success story in other areas such as Stoke-on-Trent? (904010)

Community focus banks and non-bank lenders such as Burnley Savings and Loans have a vital role to play in ensuring that everyone has access to affordable credit. That is why we have made it quicker and easier for new banks to enter the market. Since the new bank start-up unit was created a few years ago, 30 new banks have been authorised. I will ensure that my hon. Friend has a meeting with the Exchequer Secretary to discuss this issue further.

Q2. BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” has exposed queue-jumping online touts who have been buying up Eurovision tickets and putting them up for sale for thousands of pounds on dodgy sites such as Viagogo. In this year when we are hosting Eurovision on behalf of war-ravaged Ukraine, this latest example of the rampant rip-off culture in Tory Britain in particularly despicable. Why have the Prime Minister’s Government not done more to support genuine fans over the merchants, the spivs and the ticket touts? (904000)

We have introduced measures to combat ticket-touting, but I shall be happy to listen to the documentary that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned to ensure that we are doing everything we can do, and I will talk to the Home Secretary about it. More generally, it is a source of enormous pride for us to host Eurovision. I know that everyone is looking forward to it. We should ensure that access to it is as broad as possible, and we will do all that we can to make certain that that happens.

Q14. In the aftermath of 9/11, the British Government signed an extradition treaty with the United States with the intention of covering terrorism and other violent crime. Since it came into force in 2003, the US has extradited 83 people to the UK, while we have sent 225 to America. Three quarters of those extraditions have been for non-violent and largely white-collar alleged crimes. There is a fundamental unfairness at the heart of our extradition treaty, as was shown when Anne Sacoolas refused to come here to face trial for the killing of Harry Dunn. That unfairness is compounded by an American system that coerces British citizens and gives them unfair trials. In the last two decades, the American policy has been rather like an international commercial policy. Correcting that is important, so will the Prime Minister look at the treaty with a view to correcting this parody of justice? (904012)

Obviously it is in our national interest to have effective extradition relationships. Under the treaty we have with the US, we have secured the extradition and subsequent conviction of terrorists, murderers, rapists and child sex offenders. I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this issue further. As he knows, the US has refused, I think, one UK extradition request and the UK has refused 27, but I know that he has concerns and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further.

Q3. There is a stark correlation between areas off the gas grid and those with the highest rates of fuel poverty. It is worse in Scotland, ironically in those areas closest to the national gas reserves in the North sea, but also in urban deprived areas where multi-storey flats are deprived of the ability to have natural gas. Being off the gas grid means that people are dependent on unregulated fuels such as heating oil, the price of which has risen faster than electricity and gas, or on old, inefficient and costly all-electric systems. Will the Prime Minister end this by ensuring that all fuels are regulated and that those all-electric households are able to get the alternative fuels payment? (904001)

As someone who represents a rural constituency with many people off the gas grid, I appreciate the concern that the hon. Gentleman raises. That is why this has always been uppermost in the Government’s mind as we have designed and implemented our support for people with energy bills, notably by basing it on electricity meters rather than gas, but also by putting in place the alternative fuels support payment of £200. We are making sure that that gets to everyone who needs it.

The adjustments to the dental contract last November were a welcome step, but there is more work to do. Will the Prime Minister therefore keep this area under the closest review to ensure that constituents such as mine in South Norfolk and those of other hon. Members get the best possible dental care?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. I can tell him that we are continuing to invest in NHS dentistry, with £3 billion a year, and we have also enabled practices to do 10% more activity on top of their contracts and removed the barriers so that hygienists and other therapists can continue to work to their full skillset. The number of NHS dentists has increased by about 500 over the last year and we will continue to work with the sector to see what more we can do.

Q5.   As today is International Women’s Day, does the Prime Minister agree that voters in the run-up to May’s local elections have every right to ask candidates who are standing for a position of responsibility in local government questions relating to women’s rights? Does he believe that as representatives of their political parties, all candidates must answer those questions honestly, politely and with respect while standing on a voter’s doorstep? (904003)

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point and I wholeheartedly agree with her. These are important questions, and voters deserve to have clear and straightforward answers to them. I hope that she can continue to put her campaign forward. She will have my full support, and I hope that in the local elections we can debate these issues in the way that they should be debated.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being auctioned off for the Conservative Women’s Organisation. On this International Women’s Day, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the excellent work that the CWO does to get more Conservative women into politics, and to all the remarkable women who support us in the work that we do, especially—because she is in the Gallery—my mum?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful auction. I assume that it was not his mother who bid for him successfully. I pay tribute to her and to the Conservative Women’s Organisation for the fantastic work that it does. We need more women standing in local and national politics, and everyone who is working to bring that about deserves our praise and thanks. Long may that continue.

Q7. On this International Women’s Day, research published by the pensions company Scottish Widows has shown that a woman retiring today would have to work to the age of 81 to achieve pension fund parity with her male counterparts, and it is every bit as worrying that a woman in the workplace today aged 25 can still expect to retire with a pension fund £100,000 less, on average, than that of her male counterparts. With all the fiscal and social policy levers at his disposal, can the Prime Minister tell us how he is going to set a course to shut that gap, over what remains of his premiership? (904005)

The Government take the gender pensions gap incredibly seriously. We have delivered groundbreaking pension reforms and major progress. Automatic enrolment has helped millions more women to save into a pension, and pension participation among eligible women in the private sector was 87% in the last available year, up from just 40% a few years ago. We remain committed to the measures in the 2017 review and will continue to give this issue all the attention it deserves until we close the gap.

Grimsby Town football club have reached the quarter finals of the FA cup. The last time the team achieved this was in 1939, which by coincidence was the previous time the town had a Conservative MP. Grimsby beat the Prime Minister’s team, Southampton, to get to this next stage, but will he join me in congratulating the team and wishing them the best of luck when they play against Brighton & Hove Albion?

Although it pains me, I congratulate my hon. Friend and Grimsby Town on their victory over Southampton. I now have a new team to support in the cup, and my hon. Friend will have my full support. I wish Grimsby well in their next match, and I look forward to cheering with my hon. Friend and all her colleagues.

Q8. I have heard the Prime Minister talk fondly of helping out in his mum’s community pharmacy. How would he feel if 600 pharmacies close this year because of a vicious NHS contract that takes no account of rising costs and is forcing many into bankruptcy? (904006)

I praise the work of our community pharmacies, which are fantastic at delivering primary care on the frontline. As I have said previously, the Government are exploring ways in which we can support them to do even more, because improving access to pharmacies is something that people would welcome, and it would help people to get the care they need faster and more efficiently. We will continue to look at all the proposals we have received.

For more than two years, an illegal waste site has been operating in the village of Borstal. Tipper lorries with covered numberplates thunder to the site at all hours of the day and night, blighting the lives of residents nearby and creating untold environmental damage. I thank the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team for their engagement with the Environment Agency so far, but no action has been taken. Does my right hon. Friend agree that enough is enough, and that swift, multi-agency action should be taken to stop and shut down such illegal and criminal activities?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. The Government are committed to tackling waste crime, and the joint unit for waste crime brings agencies together in the way she describes. I am aware that she has met the local Environment Agency director about this particular issue, but I will ensure that she gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss it further.

Q10. My constituent Olly Stephens was just 13 years old when he was stabbed and brutally murdered in a local park just yards from his home. The two boys who attacked him had shared dozens of pictures of knives online before the attack. Can the Prime Minister explain to me why the Government have removed measures to tackle this sort of dreadful online content from the Online Safety Bill? (904008)

I am very sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. My thoughts are with Olly’s family.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should do everything we can to tackle the scourge of knife crime. That is why, for instance, this Government brought forward new powers to improve the police’s use of stop and search, which has made a major difference. Violent crime is now down considerably over the past few years. The Online Safety Bill goes further than any other country has gone to make sure we protect children online. I am happy to look at the specific issue he mentions, but the Bill has been praised by the Children’s Commissioner and others as a groundbreaking law that will do wonders to improve children’s safety.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be visiting Shrewsbury at the end of this month, at my invitation, when she will hear of the tremendous progress made to date by the River Severn Partnership and the Environment Agency in trying to find a holistic solution to managing Britain’s longest river, the River Severn. We are now experiencing flooding in Shrewsbury on an annual basis, with tremendous economic damage as a result. Will the Prime Minister take an interest, please, and secure additional funding for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so that we can finally tame these rivers and protect our communities from annual flooding?

My hon. Friend has raised this issue before, and he is right to do so. The Government have doubled our investment in flood defences over this Parliament, to £5.2 billion. I know that the DEFRA Secretary will talk to him and his communities on her visit, and I look forward to hearing back from her after that.

Q11. Between 1997 and 2010, Labour Governments across the UK lifted 800,000 children out of poverty. Since 2010, the Conservatives have driven half a million children into poverty, with child poverty next year predicted to reach levels not seen since the 1990s. There is not enough parliamentary time this year for the Prime Minister to say sorry to each child damaged by the Conservatives’ policies, but will he start today by saying sorry to all the children he failed during that time? (904009)

The exact stats are that, since 2010, 1.2 million fewer people are in poverty, because of the actions that this Conservative Government have been putting in place, such as raising the national living wage. The best way to ensure that children, especially, do not grow up in poverty, is to ensure that they do not grow up in workless households. As a result of the actions of this Government in getting people into work, there are now several thousand fewer workless households than there were in 2010.

It was a great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister to Dover to talk about the work he is undertaking on the pull factors in tackling illegal immigration. The Prime Minister has a meeting with President Macron this week, so may I ask him to see what more can be done to deal with the push factors associated with illegal migration and small boats—pushing those boats across French beaches and pushing those boats from French beaches into the French sea?

As I have said before, no single lever will solve this problem, which is why it is right that we work on all the different things that will make a difference, including close co-operation with the French. That is why I was pleased at the end of last year that the Home Secretary and I announced the largest ever small boats deal with France, with a 40% increase in patrols and greater co-operation. We look forward to strengthening that co-operation and furthering that discussion this Friday.

Q13. Let us be absolutely clear in this Chamber: under this Government’s new dystopian, far-right-appeasing, anti-refugee Bill, those who are trafficked to the UK would still face deportation. Can the Prime Minister therefore clear up whether Sir Mo Farah, who last year bravely revealed that he was trafficked to the UK as a child, would have been removed under this Bill? (904011)

It is precisely because we want to help the world’s most vulnerable people that we must stop our system being exploited and overwhelmed by illegal migrants who are being trafficked here by criminal gangs. There is nothing compassionate or fair about supporting that system continuing, which is why our new laws are the right way to deal with this. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can see that and support them.

This morning, on International Women’s Day, I joined some of the amazing young women at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Leigh-on-Sea to take part in the Football Association’s Let Girls Play football campaign. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sport, and football in particular, is a brilliant way to empower young women? Will he visit Southend and celebrate some of our aspiring Lionesses?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. I hope that I will be able to come to visit her. She is right about the power of sport to both engage young women and inspire others. I am looking forward to seeing the Lionesses later today, and the Government are pleased to announce today more funding and more support for sport in schools, which I hope she will warmly welcome.

Q15. On International Women’s Day, it is vital that we talk about women in Indian-occupied Kashmir being subjected to rape, domestic abuse, kidnapping, forced marriage and torture by Prime Minister Modi’s extremist BJP-led Government. Does the Prime Minister agree that the BJP Government have exploited women through gender-based violence? Does he agree that the UK Government should be standing in solidarity with Kashmiri women? (904013)

This Government have a proud record of standing up for women and girls across the world. We have led the way in preventing sexual violence in conflict, and are taking a lead on ensuring that tens of millions of girls in some of the poorest parts of the world receive the high-quality education that they deserve. Just today, we have announced a new women and girls strategy from the Foreign Office and backed that up with £200 million more to support women’s health around the world. That continues our leadership on this issue, which will remain the case.

Bill Presented

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michelle Donelan, supported by Secretary Suella Braverman, Secretary Steve Barclay, Secretary Kemi Badenoch, George Freeman, Julia Lopez, Paul Scully and Alex Burghart, presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of the processing of information relating to identified or identifiable living individuals; to make provision about services consisting of the use of information to ascertain and verify facts about individuals; to make provision about access to customer data and business data; to make provision about privacy and electronic communications; to make provision about services for the provision of electronic signatures, electronic seals and other trust services; to make provision about the disclosure of information to improve public service delivery; to make provision for the implementation of agreements on sharing information for law enforcement purposes; to make provision about the keeping and maintenance of registers of births and deaths; to make provision about information standards for health and social care; to establish the Information Commission; to make provision about oversight of biometric data; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 265) with explanatory notes (Bill 265-EN).