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My hon. Friend has been a long-standing supporter of the cause of getting more women into Parliament, particularly as Conservative MPs, and of the all-women shortlist. Opinion in the party has been changing on the question of such shortlists. I have always had a concern about them, and I say to members of the Labour party that it may also be a problem for them in using only all-women shortlists as
a means of getting women into this House. We need to reach a situation where there is no issue about whether a man or a woman is selected for this House and the attitudes are such that those doing the selecting are examining the individuals skills rather than whether they fit a stereotyped image of a Member of Parliament
Mrs. May: Quite a queue is building up. I am only two pages into my speech, but I am trying to be as generous as possible with interventions. My concern is that all-women shortlists might not change the attitude in the party to the selection of women. We should all want to achieve a situation where selection is genuinely gender-blind and
Mrs. May: I am spoilt for choice. I noted that when reference was made to women candidates who were millionaires the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) stood up. I wonder whether she still wants to intervene.
Fiona Mactaggart: As the right hon. Lady noticed, I was not standing up at that point. I did not want to intervene on the issue of millionaireseverybody knows that I am one; it is because I inherited money. I wanted to ask whether she could envisage a situation in which a majority of her partys new Members of Parliament were women, as happened among new Labour MPs elected in 2005.
Mrs. May: Indeed, I can envisage such a situation. To ensure that it happens, it is important to continue the work within the party and reach a position where people no longer have a stereotyped image of the sort of person who makes a good Member of Parliament.
Jim Sheridan: The right hon. Lady has been generous. On the question of stereotypes and the selection of women, will she join me in congratulating Mr. Speaker on his progressive views in appointing the first female Serjeant at Arms?
The Minister asked me a specific question about the equality Bill and I intervened to ascertain exactly what the Government were going to propose in it. I hope that she realises that we supported the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002. I was the shadow Front-Bench spokesman who dealt with it, taking the Bill through from my side of the House. We were happy to support that Act, and I would be happy to support its extension and the removal of the sunset clause so that the opportunities it provides continue.
However, it is wrong to portray the Act purely as one about all-women shortlists. What it does is enable parties to take positive action to ensure that they have women candidates. That positive action can take a variety of forms. It can take the form that we have adopted for selections for Westminster or the form we have adopted for selections of European parliamentary candidates. It can also take the form of all-women shortlists. A variety of methods can be used, and we support the removal of the sunset clause and the extension of the Act.
It is important to get more women into Parliament. We are not trying to do that to be politically correct, as some people complain, but to be politically effective. Women make good MPs. The business community is developing a strong understanding about the different skills and experiences that women can bring to business and the benefits that they can provide. They include skills of listening, using constructive methods and an approach to collegiality and the delivery of objectives that enable businesses to excel. It is those positives that also mean that we should work to increase the number of women MPs.
I reject the argumentssadly, one does still hear themthat if we try to get more women Members, we will get second class Members of Parliament. That is absolutely wrong. We may get Members of Parliament who have a different approach to political issues, but we must all recognise that that different approach is equally as valid as the traditional, more male and macho approach that we have seen in this House. I suggest that the big challenge that remains for women in business and in politics is to be able to succeed as themselves and not to feel that they have to behave like, and adopt the attitudes of, the men in those male-dominated environments. That is why we can genuinely make a change by bringing those new skills into the House, but everybody has to recognise that that approach to being a Member of Parliament is as valid as the more traditional macho approach.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I am pleased that the right hon. Lady is saying that those of us selected on all-women shortlists are not second class, because that is what was suggested by the Conservatives when I stood in 1997. Does she agree that there is a demonstrative effect to selecting a woman? It was notable that in the following two elections, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats selected women to stand in my constituency, although unfortunately the Conservatives have selected a male candidate for the next election.
Mrs. May: There is a proven demonstrative effect, in that having a woman candidate increases turnout at elections, according to figures from the former Equal Opportunities Commission. At the last election in Maidenhead, the three main political parties were all represented by women.
Another reason for parties to seek more women candidates is that we should be seeking the most talented candidates, so we should not ignore 50 per cent. of the population and their talents. If decisions are taken by a narrow group of people who think the same way and have the same sort of backgrounds and experiences, they will be less good over time than decisions taken by a wider group of people with greater
diversity. Women have different experience sets from those of men, and women know first hand about issues that men do not know about. Indeed, the same goes for many under-represented groups in politics. They all possess valuable experiences that are unique to them and of value to our political life.
There is perhaps another reason why having women in politics is important. It is that politics has changed. The issues that matter most to people in Britain today are no longer those that are understood as the traditional male issues, although I did receive an intervention on the issue of defence. By and large, when we go out into the streets to talk to people about the issues that matter to them, they talk not about defence and unemployment, but about health and education. It is vital to be able to draw on the experiences that women have in those areas.
The approach to politics has also changed. In the new politics, we see a feminisation of politics and a less macho approach. We have seen a move away from the yah-boo tonealthough that may not have been demonstrated today. A new politics is emerging, characterised by both issues and method, and it means that we are seeing a different, feminised political agenda.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Some of us believe that candidates should be selected entirely on merit, irrespective of their gender. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those men, in particular, who articulate the cause of all-women shortlists should, if they really believe in them, do the decent thing and give up their seats to allow a woman to take their place?
I am pleased to have recently published a document, Women in the World Today, which sets out the five priority areas that the Conservative party has for womens issues. Unlike the Leader of the House, who was not willing to accept that anybody in another political party could ever have done anything good in this area, I accept that the Government have made some changes and taken some steps that should be welcomed. For example, the approach taken in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 was important. I visited the domestic violence court in Solihull recently and talked to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service about its operation. Such courts have been a valuable step forward and of benefit.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): On the issue of domestic violence, does the right hon. Lady share my concern that women are frequently threatened with the removal of their children if they are victims of such violence? Jean Robinson of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services is concerned that women sometimes do not report domestic violence because they fear that that will happen.
The hon. Gentleman is right and there are many aspects of the issue that still need to be addressed. Despite the fact that the Government have
introduced legislation on this and various other issues that affect women, there are many other issues that need to be addressed. If a woman who is on the receiving end of domestic violence chooses to act, she can still become the victim all over again if she has to leave her home and live in the fear that her children will be taken away.
The hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) intervened earlier on the issue of recourse to public funds for victims of domestic violence. That has been a problem, in relation not only to domestic violence, but to trafficking
Margaret Moran: As I pointed out, the Government are addressing the issue of no recourse to public funds, and will put money towards supporting women in that situation. Does the right hon. Lady accept that this Government introduced safeguards for victims of domestic violence who could potentially become homeless? We are also looking to further safeguard women in those situations through the Housing and Regeneration Bill.
Mrs. May: The hon. Lady perhaps did not hear me say that I am fully willing to accept that the Government have taken steps to improve the lot of women in several ways. However, in several areas, the Government have not followed through on their legislation, and there are still significant challenges facing women. I am concerned that the Governments approach has tended to look at women as a whole, and failed to take into account the diversity of the 30 million British women. The Government have failed to recognise that women are individuals facing distinct challenges. The Government have also tended to take the view that the answer to everything is legislation
Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; she is being very generous. There is a great difference between arranged marriages and forced marriages. I recognise that some ethnic groups in this country allow and want to continue arranged marriage, but does my right hon. Friend agree that forced marriage is completely unacceptable? If the Government are serious about such issues, they will change the legislation to make forced marriage a criminal offence rather than a civil one.
The Minister for Women and Equality and I have already debated domestic violence restraining orders.
If the Government intend to introduce them, I welcome that. The Minister also mentioned female genital mutilation.
Mrs. May: The right hon. and learned Lady might not have heard me say that we are using the facilities available under the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to ensure that women candidates are selected where they will win seats in the next European parliamentary elections and that we have women in the European Parliament.
I will be honest with the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I have not looked at the legislation proposed by the EU, although I am happy to do that. We need to consider the question of enforcement. The Government introduced the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which made FGM an offence, but 74,000 women in the UK are estimated to have undergone the procedure and another 3,000 to 4,000 will do so each year. Despite the prevalence of FGM, not one person has been prosecuted under the Act. We must ensure that we have not merely measures on the statute book but measures on the statute book that change peoples lives. That is what it is about.
We know that between 5,000 and 8,000 trafficked women are thought to be working in prostitution in the UK. The Government have signed the convention on action against trafficking in human beings, but so far they have failed to ratify it or to change their policies. I hope that the Minister for Women and Equality will seriously consider adopting the policies that we have proposed. The issues are ensuring the prosecution of more traffickers, increasing the number of places in safe houses for victims of trafficking, allowing 16 to 18-year-olds to be admitted to POPPY project places and setting up a helpline for victims of trafficking. I hope that those suggestions are non-contentious, because they could make a difference to the victims of trafficking, reducing their number and supporting those who fall under this terrible slavery of the 21st century.
As a member of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children and of the Committee that scrutinised the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, may I say that it is right, for once, to welcome the Governments initiative of visiting other countries to see how they tackle the issue? My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the urgency of the issue, because, to this countrys shame, London,
our capital, has become Europes capital for sex trafficking. We must introduce legislation as soon as possible to tackle this scourge.
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I pay tribute, again, to the all-party groups work on the issue. He is right to emphasise this countrys shame. We must ensure that we act preferably to stop, or at least to reduce, this terrible trade in human beings.
Richard Younger-Ross: The right hon. Lady makes a valid point about trafficked women being forced into prostitution. Women in prostitution are abused in different cities across the country and are often the target of murderers. Does she agree that the decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution would end that scourge?
Mrs. May: No, I do not. I look forward with interest to the Governments review on prostitution. There is a debate to be had about the measures that can be taken. Again, enforcement is an issue, because the enforcement of kerb-crawling laws varies across the country. We must ask what we can do, even within the existing framework, to ensure that we try to do something for women who all too often, sadly, are drawn into prostitution through no fault of their own and are on the receiving end of abuse as a result.
On women in the workplace, the issue of flexible working has already been raised. Some time ago, we said that we would extend the right to request it to the parents of children under 18. In the workplace, the stubborn pay gap is still an issue. I am disappointed that although the Government say that they will do something about the gender pay gap, they intend to leave it to the single equality Bill, which will not be introduced until the Queens Speech has been delivered later this year. We have made a simple set of proposals to tighten the legislation, which the Government could, if they chose, adopt today. The Government have followed our agenda in a number of other areas and I would be happy if they followed our agenda on pay. Again, we must not only legislate, but ensure that schoolgirls do not simply go into the lower-paid careers that lead to the gender pay gap.
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