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Topical Questions

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

All workers should be safe and able to thrive at work. Workplace harassment reflects an unacceptable sense of power, entitlement and disrespect towards others. Today I have launched a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace. I am seeking views on whether the law is fit for purpose and how we can ensure that we have the right processes in place to keep people safe at work. We want to hear from people affected by this issue and design solutions that work for them. I urge everyone with an interest to go on to gov.uk and help us in this exercise by filling out the consultation questionnaire.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

According to the Home Office, only 15 police forces have had training in relation to domestic abuse and violence. What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office to ensure that all police forces receive that training?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There is work going on to build further capacity in police forces across the four nations. The UK is also making a major contribution to deliver that capacity in the police forces of other nations. I will get my hon. Friend the Minister for Women to write to him with the specifics.

Photo of Kirstene Hair Kirstene Hair Conservative, Angus

Angus is proud to be home to one of only three guide dog training centres across the country. I want to do more to support those with sight loss. One measure is to introduce audio passenger information on buses, which would allow those with sight loss to travel independently. There was a consultation on the Bus Services Act 2017, which finished in September last year. Could my right hon. Friend update the House on when those recommendations will be made public?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

The consultation has finished, and some funding is ring-fenced as part of the inclusive transport strategy for ensuring that audio-visual equipment is installed on buses. The Department for Transport is in the process of bringing forward regulations and publishing guidance. That will be later this year. In the meantime, we are encouraging operators’ efforts to ensure that there is accessible information on their services.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

The Prime Minister cites the race disparity audit and the gender pay gap regulations as some of her proudest achievements, seemingly not realising that they are symbolic of her failures. The report highlighted the systematic institutional racism of her Government’s policies, and we now have the real possibility of a casual racist and misogynist entering No.10—[Interruption.] I am afraid it is true. I hope the Minister will give assurances that the women and equalities agenda—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. Let me be absolutely clear: nothing disorderly has occurred. People have free speech within the rules of the House. I will adjudicate the enforcement of those rules. Nothing disorderly has taken place, and I certainly do not require any assistance from occupants of the Treasury Bench.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I could go through the list of things that have been said, but we do not have time. I hope the Minister will give assurances that the women and equalities agenda will not go backwards under the new Prime Minister. To adapt Stormzy lyrics:

“We have to be honest

Rule number two, don’t make the promise

If you can’t make the deal, just be honest

Equalities will never die, it’s like Chuck Norris

Rather, chuck this Government and chuck Boris.”

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

Although I am sure that there will be a lot of column inches and debate about the Prime Minister’s legacy, one of the things she can be proud of is setting up the Race Disparity Unit and the work she did to shine a spotlight on practices in particular parts of Government and public services. She has also supported me in setting up the equalities hub, which brings together that disparity team with disability, women and equalities and LGBT issues at the heart of Government. She should be very proud of that.

I gently point out to those on the Opposition Front Bench and all Members of the Labour party that they really should have come to the House today with a bit of humility, following the shocking and, quite frankly, chilling things we saw last night. There are Members of the Labour party—a once great political party—who are standing up for the Jewish community, and long may they continue to do that, but those on the Front Bench have to understand the graveness of what we saw. It is one thing to be incompetent and fail to grip a situation. It is quite another to be complicit in it.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

What steps is the Minister taking to protect people from sexual harassment at work, particularly in the charity sector?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

I thank my hon. Friend, particularly for the work she has done in focusing both domestically and internationally on this issue. As I said in my opening statement, we are today issuing a consultation, which will apply across every sector, to protect workers against harassment, particularly sexual harassment. Of course, the Department for International Development has done a tremendous amount in the wake of the Oxfam scandal, ensuring that the victims’ voices can be heard, but also that we are building the systems we need globally to protect people from predatory individuals.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

A constituent of mine was involved in several car accidents, leaving them disabled. After going through the difficult process of claiming disability benefits, they are now being denied legal aid in relation to these accidents. This constituent is a veteran. Is the Minister not ashamed that my constituent, after serving our country, does not have his years of service impacting on his wellbeing, but this Government’s hostile environment towards disabled people, who, as confirmed by the UN, are disproportionately denied justice?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

If the hon. Lady would give me the details of that case, I will be very happy to look at it.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

As we have heard from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the Lowestoft Signing Choir produced a moving and superb performance in Portcullis House last night. Its members Ann and Daniel Jillings have been passionately campaigning for a GCSE in British sign language. While preparatory work is under way, will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities work with the Department for Education and with the Minister for School Standards, who has been very supportive—he is in his place—to ensure that this exam, which will transform so many people’s lives, is put in the curriculum as soon as practically possible?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I am delighted to confirm that we are committed to the development of a BSL GCSE. Daniel Jillings and his mother Ann have been formidable campaigners on this issue. Daniel in particular, despite his young age, has been very influential indeed with his campaign. We are pushing this work forward as soon as we can, while also ensuring that it can be completed to the highest standard. My hon. Friend will be aware that the development of a new GCSE is a complex and lengthy process, but, as I say, we are committed to it as a new GCSE.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

In case it is her last Question Time, may I thank the Minister for Women and Equalities for the leadership she has shown on LGBT equality during her time in post to date, which I know will continue? However, may I press her and the Government on sex and relationships education guidance to schools? The message from headteachers is overwhelming: they desperately need clearer, simpler, straightforward guidance that they can hold up to parents, governors and everyone else to make sure that no child in this country goes without inclusive relationships education.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Defence

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. It will not be my last Women and Equalities questions; I just may be sitting in a different place. I agree, absolutely, that guidance is incredibly important. The work that the Department for Education has been doing has been making good progress on that. I think we need to have absolute clarity on these issues, and I am confident that the Department for Education is doing that.