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Anne Snelgrove: My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that we are here to deliver for women, but I can tell her one thing that Margaret Thatcher delivered for me. I was selected to fight my first election on the night that Margaret Thatcher resignedand I am very proud of that fact.
Ms Harman: When I first joined this House of Commons 25 years ago, I was one of only 10 Labour women MPs. At that time, there were only 13 Tory women MPs. For the Tories, however, the march towards gender equality has yet to get under way: they have moved from having 13 Tory women MPs 25 years ago to 17 today, while we in the Labour party have made great strides, as Labour women MPs are 96 strong, coming from Scotland, Wales and England.
Ms Harman: Labour women MPs range from those with great experience, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport as well as being a mother and grandmother, to the fresh-faced new arrivals who entered in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
Ms Harman: When I popped into the Whips Office last night, I noticed that it was considerably improved by the presence of two lovely new babies, so many congratulations to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), and to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel).
Ms Harman: My point is not just that it is possible for women to be MPs and Ministers and have children and grandchildren, but that it is necessary for the House to have such women who are mothers and grandmothers if we are to understand, speak up for and deliver for women, as well as men. That is what this Government are striving to do.
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. Can she estimate how long it will take, at the current rate of progress, before there is equal
representation of women and men in this House generally, but particularly on the Conservative Benches?
Ms Harman: I think that we have made a great deal of progress and while we should be gratified about it, we should not be grateful for it. We are not doing women a favour, but delivering long overdue rights. Although we have made great strides, we have much further to go.
We have introduced a national minimum wage, which has just about ended the pay gap between the lowest paid men and women, but that is not enough. We need to close the gender pay gap altogether and our new equality Bill, which we will bring forward later this year, will help us step up progress towards that.
We now have nurseries and after-school clubs in all areas. In my constituency in the London borough of Southwark, there are double the number of child care places that there were six years ago, but it is still a problem for many women to find good child care that they can trust and afford, so we will continue to improve its accessibility, affordability and quality.
We have given parents with children under six new rights to request flexible working. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), who was then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, 3.5 million parents, mostly mothers, have been able to adjust their work patterns to suit their family. Children do not stop needing their parents when they get to their sixth birthday; the responsibilities of parents change as children grow, but they do not lessen. The Prime Minister has said that we will extend the law so that parents of older children can also request flexible working.
Mrs. May: I am very interested in the what the right hon. and learned Lady has just said. In fact, that is the policy announced by the Conservative party some considerable time ago, yet it was only about 10 days ago that the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform announced that he was against the extension of flexible working to parents of older children and that the Government were not going to adopt that policy. Is there a division in the Cabinet on that issue?
Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend made no such announcement [Interruption.] He did not. The position is as announced by the Prime Minister when he introduced the draft legislative programme and brought the Queens Speech before the House. He said that we were going to set up a review under Imelda Walshnot into whether we should increase the age of children whose parents can have flexible working, but into how we will go about doing it. The review is shortly due to report and when it does, we will extend up the age range of children the right for their parents to have flexible working. I hope that I have reassured the right hon. Lady that on this process of extending flexible working, which we have already led onand I am grateful for the right hon. Ladys supportwe are going to make even further progress.
The stay-at-home mother has become the working mother, which means that child care, flexible work and after-school clubs are all mainstream public policy issues. We put a family focus at the heart of government because although it matters most of all to parents, it matters to everyoneto the whole of our society and to our economy, toothat the next generation is properly brought up and able to use their skills and talents to the full.
Family policy is not just about parents and children, but about the older generation. Without the involvement of active grandparents, many families would not be able to cope. Families are multi-generational, which means not just granny helping with grandchildren, but younger families helping the older generation. That is why we have introduced a right for people caring for older relatives to request flexible working, but still too few people know of that right, so we are going to have a campaign to ensure that they do.
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister has set up a review to look at the support services and financial support for families caring for older or disabled relatives. It will report later this year, and will help 6 million carers. When we have pressed on with providing nurseries and rights for parents, we have not been afraid to be called the nanny state. Now we shall be proud to be called the granny state.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I see that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is sitting on the Front Bench. Can the Minister assure us that the Department for Communities and Local Government has a policy on local authority and other social housing that allows people who move, perhaps to their first home, to stay near members of their family with caring responsibilities? For far too long people have been allocated homes away from parents or grandparents, or others whom they need and want to look after. If we really want to liberate women, young and older, so that they are able not only to work but to bring in family members to fulfil caring responsibilities, housing policy will be a crucial element in the equation.
Ms Harman: Policy on the allocation of council and social housing is very important in enabling families to stay together and support each other; so is the design of individual homes allowing people to remain independent and in their own homes as they age. Just as we have ensured that new housing developments include access to facilities for children such as schools, playgrounds and open spaces, we seek to ensure that sustainable communities include the granny flat, the day centre, the sheltered housing and the community centre. We recognise the importance of families supporting older people in local communities, and being able to live near their relatives.
Ann Clwyd: I want to set the record straight, as my right hon. and learned Friend has attempted to do herself. She is right: Margaret Thatcher did nothing for women. I was in the House when Margaret Thatcher was here, and we watched her for a long time. There were huge gaps in the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970, and it was a Labour Government who put that right, not Margaret Thatcher.
Ms Harman: All the developments that I have been listing, including the national minimum wage and increased provision for child care, were matters that Margaret Thatcher and the Tory Government considered not even worthy of being raised in the House of Commons, let alone desirable. Indeed, in 1982, when I asked my first question to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcherit was about the need for after-school clubsher only response was to laugh, and to say it was irrelevant and nothing to do with Government. This Government believe that those are mainstream issues.
Ms Harman: Let me now deal with the question of tackling violence against women, particularly rape and domestic violence. I pay tribute to the important work of many of my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and for Luton, South (Margaret Moran). There has been a 26 per cent. increase in the number of men convicted of rape since 1997. We are opening more expert sexual assault referral centres. We have new laws such as the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act 2004, along with the new specialist domestic violence courts and tougher sentencing.
We know that early intervention can save lives, and that if the issue is swept under the carpet it only gets worse. We need to ensure that every police station treats rape with the seriousness it deserves and that in every court domestic violence is treated with deadly seriousness, because it still claims the lives of two women every week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice will shortly conclude his review of
homicide, which will include consideration of the provocation defence in domestic violence cases. There can be no excuses for domestic violence, least of all when the victim has been killed.
Margaret Moran: Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating this Government, who introduced the 2004 Act? In the Home Affairs Committee yesterday the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), announced that we would be introducing homicide reviews, and that the problem of no recourse to public funds for victims of domestic violence was being fixed. That is welcome news to everyone affected by domestic violence.
Ms Harman: Just as we are tackling the age-old problems of domestic violence, we are tackling new problems such as human trafficking. It is shameful that women are shipped into the country from abroad, kept as modern-day slaves for sex and advertised for sale in the local newspapers. I welcome the new guidelines issued by the Newspaper Society to try to stop those advertisements.
My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, Home Office Ministers and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Women and Equality are reviewing the way in which other countries tackle the international sex trade. In this country there are
laws to prevent a man from buying a faulty car and to prevent women from working in unsafe workplaces, but apparently it is still okay for men to buy women for sex. Surely, in the 21st century women should not be for sale.
Ms Harman: I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), and to the all-party group on trafficking of women and children. We will report later this year on what steps we will take to tackle the demand side of human trafficking.
Ms Harman: Our concern to work with and support other women does not stop at our borders. We work to prevent female genital mutilation and forced marriage here and abroad. In developing countries, we work to reduce maternal mortality and AIDS.
Mark Pritchard: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that this is supposed to be a debate. It is on an important issue, and it is sad that the Leader of the House wants to make it so partisan. Is it not right that if there are to be interventions in a debate, those interventionsalthough they are in the gift of the Leader of the House at this particular pointshould be distributed across the House as a whole?
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