Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Challenging Nick Clegg on the Government’s record on women at PMQs


Today I challenged Nick Clegg at PMQs on the Government’s record on women. The Coalition government has taken a number of decisions which have disproportionately adversely affected women. 

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): It is good to see the Deputy Prime Minister back in his place after his important day trip during the important statement last week. Since he became Deputy Prime Minister, he has had the opportunity to appoint seven Cabinet members. Will he remind the House how many have been women?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Lady knows exactly who the members of the Cabinet are from the Liberal Democrat team. I would remind her, however, that millions of women in this country have got from this Government what they never got from her Government: better pensions; more jobs; tax cuts; shared parental leave; better child care; and more flexible working. Instead of scoring Westminster points, why does she not do the right thing for millions of women around the country?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is reluctant to answer the question, which is unlike him, because normally when he is asked about numbers and women, he is quite forthcoming. I will tell the House the answer: four and a half years as Deputy Prime Minister, seven Cabinet appointments, and not one woman. And this is not a Westminster point, because it affects what they do. So will he tell the House, since his Government introduced tribunal fees, what has been the fall in the number of sex discrimination cases?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not have that statistic to hand, but I am happy to provide it to the right hon. and learned Lady. Once again, however, she displays her and her party’s total denial about their record on women. Female unemployment rose 24% under Labour, and in one year women were given a paltry 75p rise in the state pension—scandalous, a total shame. Through our new, fairer single-tier pension, 650,000 women will get an extra £400 a year from 2016, and I care more about those 650,000 women across the country than I do about anyone around the Cabinet table.

Ms Harman: I will answer the question since the right hon. Gentleman has not. Since the introduction of their tribunal fees, there has been a 90% fall in women taking sex discrimination cases to a tribunal, including women who have been discriminated against at work because they are pregnant. Let me turn to another of the right hon. Gentleman’s key decisions. Of those who get the millionaires’ tax cut, what percentage are men?

The Deputy Prime Minister: This is quite breathtaking. Is the right hon. and learned Lady not aware that of the over 26 million people who have benefited from our tax cuts for low and middle-income earners, the tax cut has disproportionately gone to women? Is she not aware that under her Government the top rate of tax was 40p—5p lower than it is under this Government? Is she not aware that there are now more women in employment than ever before? That is a record of which we are very proud indeed.

Ms Harman: And he should be aware that any gains on tax changes for women have been more than wiped out by the hit they have taken on the cuts to tax credits. And yes, I would indeed agree with him that it is breathtaking that 85% of those who benefit from the millionaires’ tax cut are men. Let us try him on another one. What proportion of those hit by his bedroom tax are women?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Since the right hon. and learned Lady is losing her way a bit with the statistics, let me tell her that we have cut tax for 11.9 million women, and that the gender pay gap for women under the age of 40 has pretty well disappeared under this coalition. Under her Government, only one in eight of the FTSE 100 board members were women. Under this Government, there are more women on FTSE 100 boards than ever before. The Labour party is becoming the Lance Armstrong of British politics: it has forgotten the better half of a decade of how it messed things up.

Ms Harman: I will tell the Deputy Prime Minister and the House the reality for people who are paying the bedroom tax. Two thirds of those hit by the bedroom tax are women. It does not seem that there is any shortage of spare rooms in Downing Street for the spin doctors to spin against each other. Let me ask him about something else. Of the £26 billion this Government have raised through changes to benefits and direct taxes, a staggering £22 billion has come from women. Can he explain why?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think it is time to call out the right hon. and learned Lady on her Government’s record. Under Labour, unemployment was higher; female unemployment was higher; youth unemployment was higher; inequality was higher; child poverty was higher; pensioner poverty was higher; relative poverty was higher; fuel poverty was higher; and income tax for low and middle-income earners, including millions of women, was higher. When will she come to admit that her party created so much of the mess that this side of the House has had to clear up?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman has just demonstrated that he is completely out of touch with women’s lives. It is always the same with this Deputy Prime Minister. He talks the talk, but he walks through the Lobby with the Tories. He briefs against them, but he always votes with them. He complains about the autumn statement, but he signed it off. That is why people will never trust him or his party ever again.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Does the right hon. and learned Lady seriously think that the British people are going to trust her and her party on the economy? Of course not. Manufacturing jobs were destroyed three times faster under Labour than they were under Margaret Thatcher. This was the party—[Interruption.] In fact, the shadow Health Secretary, sitting there demurely, is the only man in England who has ever privatised an NHS hospital, and they dare to lecture us. [Interruption.] Hinchingbrooke hospital—the only NHS hospital to be privatised, and by the Labour party. Inequality higher under Labour; privatisation of the NHS higher under Labour; and an economy destroyed under Labour.

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