19 Mims Davies debates involving the Department for Education

Careers Guidance in Schools

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
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I agree with my hon. Friend the shadow Minister. Resources will have to follow statutory guidance. The pandemic has had a significant impact on schools’ ability to deliver careers advice. According to recent research by the Sutton Trust, 75% of teachers in state schools said it had a negative impact, far more than the proportion of similar results returned from private schools.

There is an increasing concern that we have arrived out of the pandemic to a different world, one that students are not being prepared for. With the jobs market evolving faster than ever, Teach First has found that nearly 80% of teachers believe their students to be less ready for the world of work than in previous years. Again, more disadvantaged students will be disproportionately impacted by that, with more than half of teachers saying that they feel the pandemic has impacted disadvantaged students’ perceptions of their potential careers.

Well informed and realistic careers decisions cannot be made if careers provision is socially patterned, as evidenced by the Social Market Foundation. Essentially, pupils from schools in affluent areas opt for university while those in less affluent areas take vocational options. That needs levelling up.

The Baker clause strengthened the legislative framework, stating that schools must allow colleges and training providers access to help pupils make informed choices. If careers provision is resourced to the tune of £2 per student—less than a cup of coffee—quality will be found wanting, as argued by Careers England. Ensuring that schools, teachers and employers feel supported to meet the needs of students will be vital for improving the quality of guidance given. With only 17% of year 13 telling the Sutton Trust that they have learned about careers opportunities in their local area, there is considerably more to do to connect businesses and schools.

Although the Careers and Enterprise Company has done some excellent work connecting schools and businesses in some areas, including schools in my own, only half of heads report that their schools are part of the CEC careers hub. That clearly needs to be scaled up. Since the abolition of Connexions in 2011, 2 million children and young people have not had access to independent careers professionals.

I would argue that we need massively to improve access to work experience, with only a third of pupils having completed work experience by the age of 18. A statutory duty, with resources to support a two-week placement, should be put in place. Where possible, we need to ensure that the work experience that a young person undertakes is relevant to their future ambitions. Beyond giving the important experience of the work environment, work experience should help those students better frame their future ambitions and make informed careers decisions.

That was brought home to me recently by a year 10 work experience student called Kevin, who chose to work in my constituency office because he felt it would be more interesting than the other opportunities on offer, but it was pretty clear that he wanted to be a firefighter. I have now put him in touch with our local fire service, and he used his experience to do a bit of research in my office when he was on placement there.

It is essential that any new Government strategy on careers advice focuses on work experience and ensures connections between schools, local authorities and local businesses. That will mean that pupils get more opportunities for their two-week work experience, which will help them make informed decisions. It will also help us, as legislators and politicians, to ensure we have a growing economy.

A new strategy must also deliver on one of the areas that we most need to change when it comes to careers guidance, which is apprenticeships. Although most students feel that they get plenty of guidance about university courses, only 10% feel the same way about apprenticeships. Too often, support for students considering apprenticeships or vocational education is much weaker than for those considering academic education. In some schools, every student creates a UCAS account by default, cementing the idea that higher education is the default option. We need to ensure that within careers advice apprenticeships and further education are put on the same footing as university education. We cannot continue with the disparity in information, advice and therefore access that we see all too often.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Mid Sussex) (Con)
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an opportunity to link local economies, the labour market and businesses with apprenticeships if schools can organise that before people leave education? No one should be heading out of education not into the labour market, higher education or a traineeship. Does he see an opportunity to enact that via schools?

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
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I agree. In my constituency, Tata Chemicals Europe offers some brilliant apprenticeships, and at times it has really struggled to achieve the connection between the local school community and the apprenticeships on offer. I totally agree with that very good point.

As I have said previously, I was the first person in my family to go to university. I do not want a system that disadvantages students from working-class backgrounds and excludes higher education as a pathway if it is right for them. We must absolutely ensure that they are given the information and support they need to go to university and aspire to be the best they can be, but we should also ensure that people from all backgrounds make informed choices about the other brilliant opportunities on offer, such as apprenticeships, including those at levels 4 and 5, and those with a mixture of university and in-work training.

Students recognise that the situation with apprenticeships prevents them from properly considering them as an option. Some 31% think that having better information would have encouraged them, their friends and their classmates to choose an apprenticeship. It was also found that a number of people, including parents, reinforce the stigma associated with apprenticeships. We need to challenge parents and carers on that.

More funding and training for teachers is absolutely key if we are to reach parity of esteem between university and apprenticeship options. We must remove the idea that apprenticeships are not as valuable and almost second rate. To do that, we need a practical system to promote them. Having a central UCAS system means that universities can do active outreach around it. Teachers and other support staff, and generations of parents and carers, are also familiar with it. Students seeking apprenticeships deserve a system that is just as clear and effective and that is funded and supported.

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Mid Sussex) (Con)
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Thank you, Ms Rees, for calling me to speak in this really interesting debate. I also thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for approaching it in exactly the right way.

My earlier intervention, about tracking where our young people go next after leaving school, still stands, and it is a point that I am pleased to be able to expand on. We know when people are not going to achieve their desired outcomes or pass their exams: when they go AWOL and fall off the radar. I know from my previous role as employment Minister that the next time we pick them up, in a jobcentre and on to the next stage in their careers, is quite often after they have had a stay at the Ministry of Justice, or developed health conditions, addictions or other challenges that need to be unpicked. I strongly believe that, with the right interventions in the mid-teenage years, we can ensure that everybody can go into a fulfilling career. If exams and university are not the route, that really matters—as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), that applies to 60% of our young people.

I would like us to talk, in schools and more broadly, about the reality of a life of jobs. Unless people are very lucky, they do not go into a career or get a job for life—career-wise, we all live in insecure times in this place. We need to speak about jobs, roles and sectors, and about things changing, to inspire and enable our kids to take the opportunity of education into the world of work and not feel that education and learning happens only in schools, colleges or universities, or that it always has a label, like T-levels or indeed A-levels. Rather, it is absolutely part of working life. Some of us might have been in a very different job five years ago, and we might not even know about the job that we could have in five years’ time.

We need to empower our young people not to think that studying happens purely at school, college or university, but to understand that it is never over and that what they get from a good education—learning and having the confidence to take on new skills and abilities—is what they need to take them into a long-term career. We need to build an agile mindset into our young people. We need to help people to be ready to join the labour market at any age or any stage.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench—it is good to see her there. With my former employment Minister hat on, let me say that we should also absolutely tackle job snobbery. There is no such thing as good or bad work. We have all done jobs that we did not generally enjoy quite so much—they are less lucrative and “valuable” in people’s minds. But let us be honest that during the pandemic we started to understand who and what really meant everything to our lives. Many of those people were performing roles that, coming into the pandemic, we simply did not understand or fully appreciate. The mantra should be ABC—any job, better job, career—because guess what: people are never more attractive than when they are in a job. That is wrong, but it is a fact, because those soft skills and that confidence—I wish I had a penny for every time I heard the word “confidence” when it comes to changing or transitioning roles because of the pandemic—are absolutely key.

We need to instil that confidence through good careers advice in our schools and allow them to open up and spend time with their local economies. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) about that. People could live right next to the Cadbury factory or the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, but have never been inside. People can feel very locked out, even in their own communities. Schools should not just be unlocking careers or education, but should be unlocking opportunity that is right on the doorstep. No one should need to move to find opportunity.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth
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I totally agree with my hon. Friend that schools should be the ones to give this advice. I raised the issue this morning with the headmaster of Westcliff High School for Boys, which is in my patch, and he said that one size does not fit all. The funding for careers advice must go to schools, because they know their local area and the different opportunities that are available. Does my hon. Friend agree that we absolutely must put schools in charge of this funding and this advice?

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am conscious of the need not to overburden schools. Let us find the bridge here—the career services and the links to the local labour market. There are good ways to assist schools with this work—Jobcentre Plus, LEPs, growth funds and Mayors—but schools also have to be absolutely determined to look at careers and long-term outcomes for young people and not solely at exam results. We have to make sure that we do not judge whether a school is good based solely on exam results; it is about where young people come from and where they get to—their progression—and some people’s progression is not simply about exam results.

That leads me to the work of the kickstart programme. Despite the pandemic, we got 163,000 young people under 25, who were those most at risk of long-term unemployment, into their first jobs. How did we do that? We got the employers into the jobcentres and we put people together. We threw out CVs, because no one has experience until they have experience—of course they do not, particularly in a pandemic. That work provided life-changing opportunities for young people, but above all it stopped people asking for the finished article. Who here has gone into a role—this role, any role—as the finished article? We have to help employers to stop looking for the finished article and to think about how they were mentored when they went into that sector. We should take them back to where they were before they came into their grand or great role.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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Does my hon. Friend agree that the full functional employment we have now, with many companies facing a dearth of staff—I refer to my former entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in that I was an employer and often struggled to find staff—will help to change employers’ attitudes, so that they work with what they have, bring people on and help to develop people’s careers in situ?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I say to my hon. Friend that there is nothing wrong with being an employer. We need people to take those risks, opportunities and leadership roles, but they have to have the experience and the start-up to get there.

I genuinely think we are seeing a sea change with careers and employers, and that lets me explain a little more about the kickstart roles that were created. We have heard anecdotally that around seven in 10 people have stayed with their existing employer, but we also found that many other people had undiagnosed health conditions, challenges at home or other issues that meant going into the wider labour market was simply never going to happen for them, and that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

When I was at the Department for Work and Pensions, we therefore opened over 150 youth hubs. Those were locally led, and included the careers service, local authorities, jobcentres and employers. People could go into a safer, more relaxed and more comfortable space to have a one-to-one conversation along the lines of, “What can you do, and what are you interested in?” If employers can spark that interest in our young people, or in anybody at any age or any career stage, rather than talking about what people cannot do, they can take a chance on people. With near full employment—employment is at almost 80% in some parts of the country—employers are having to do that. They are throwing out the usual way of doing things and putting time and training into people, and I do not think anybody really regrets that, do they?

On universities—my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) and others put this brilliantly—we really have to help those who perhaps feel that there is a stigma about not going to university. We are sending people to university who are potentially wasting their time there and who could be doing something much more productive and beneficial in the local labour market. However, that can be done only based on really strong, good reading skills and digital skills, and while many young people and many of us generally can hide behind our mobile phones and feel that we have digital skills, we simply do not.

We need to tackle the STEM challenge strongly, talking about the skills needed for different sectors and jobs and what is transferable, but we cannot do that without face-to-face support. We know that works in jobcentres and with training. Online courses do not equip people with enough to get into those sectors and areas, so they can do some of that training, but they also need practical, individual human support. It is vital that we give them that and tackle the STEM issue as a result.

In Mid Sussex, we recently had a STEM event, chaired by Phil Todd and linked to the Burgess Hill Business Park Association, where schools came to spend a wonderful day building bridges, weighing things, creating things, working on projects and working with local businesses that they simply would not have known were there. In fact, 70% of jobs in Mid Sussex are not on the high street; they are in small industrial areas, back bedrooms, villages and areas that are not seen, and they are exporting globally. People do not need to work in a big building to have big opportunities; it is important that young people see that.

On good careers advice, the main thing is to give people confidence that it is not about where they start but where they end up. I have enjoyed yoghurt making, selling kitchens, working in Little Chef and selling mobile phones and pagers—remember them? I want to return to the issue of job snobbery, because pubs, restaurants and hospitality are places that we love, and we miss them when they are not open and cannot serve us. When we go on holiday and go abroad, we see how those places are revered. People can progress quickly in that sector. So let us talk about careers as a whole. I will conclude, Ms Rees, as I am sure that time is against us.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (in the Chair)
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I call the Opposition spokesperson.

Social Mobility Commission

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 4th December 2017

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Alan Milburn has advised the Government through his commission over the past five years, and the Government have taken much of his advice on board; when he was publicising his most recent report, he made some very constructive comments. I stand by the record as outlined in the answer to the initial question from the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable): we have made considerable progress but there is much left to be done. The best way of getting families out of poverty is to ensure that they get into the workplace, and we have record levels of employment. The best way to get children the best opportunities in life is to deliver a great education, and we are delivering a better education for more children than ever before in England.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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I was pleased to hear from the Minister about the home learning environment, alongside our good schools, giving true opportunity to our children. On the Government side of the House, we want our children to go as far as their talents will take them. Is this not an opportunity for a renewal?

John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I remind hon. Members again that the resignation of the board is the matter of which we are treating.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 6th November 2017

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Schools receive up to £6,000 for each child as part of their funding formula, and if they need to apply for additional money, that money is forthcoming. We are keen to ensure that children with particular problems, including autism, are quickly identified and given the help they need, and the new scheme does that.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Extracurricular activities including sport ensure a well-rounded education for all our students, and this is particularly important for those with special educational needs. Can the Minister tell me what support schools can get to provide those extracurricular activities?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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It is absolutely true to say that all children benefit from better access to sports provision, not only physically but academically. I am pleased that we have doubled the primary sport and PE premium using money from the soft drinks levy. I am also a big fan of cadet forces, and we have used £50 million from the LIBOR fines to fund that activity. I would like to see more state schools with cadet forces.

Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools

Mims Davies Excerpts
Thursday 2nd November 2017

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on their work to secure this important debate. I also thank all members of the Women and Equalities Committee for their wide-ranging work and the cross-party spirit in which it is being undertaken. I sincerely miss being on that Committee because it brings so much good work to the House. Whenever I talk to people in my constituency about the work that really matters to me as an MP, I always say that my time on that Committee was the most positive experience.

In this House, we all understand the importance of ensuring that our schools—indeed, our educational establishments as a whole—are safe environments in which students can learn and thrive. I am still absolutely shocked when I listen to the evidence to the Select Committee of the young children who talked about the pressures and issues they live with.

I learned so much as a parent. I thought I knew so much—until I heard from those youngsters. So I thank the members of the Committee for the work they are doing. I also thank the Minister, because she is very committed to her work in this sphere, and I can think of no one better placed to start moving things forward. That is really what this debate is about.

I am so sorry about the spirit this debate finds the House in and about what has been raging around us. We absolutely need training courses; we need to learn and to work together. This morning, I sponsored the Women’s Business Council’s Four Years On reception in Parliament, which celebrated some really positive moves forward. It was really tough to espouse the good work we are doing here, given the environment we have to deal with. So we can do better in every sphere, and as we head into next year and the celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage, we have a real opportunity to make some positive steps.

For me, this debate is the start of a very long journey, and I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of relationship, sex and online education. During my work on the Digital Economy Bill, I was absolutely staggered by the amount of pornography our youngsters are able to get hold of at the touch of a button. From nudes, to sexting, to Snapchat, I do not think most parents, or indeed school establishments, understand what is out there. Why does this matter? We need to see these things against a background where, as the Committee heard, 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three-year period—data published in 2015. Given that background, we have what we have heard described today as an epidemic.

However, there is some good work. Girlguiding is doing important work to make sure our young girls understand what sexual harassment is and how to deal with it. So there is hope. Universities UK is also doing great work on helping university students to understand that these learned behaviours need to be dealt with. As part of an investigation it carried out, 68% of female students said they had been the victim of one or more type of sexual harassment on campus. These are behaviours that people are learning from school and online, and parents do not necessarily know about them or understand them. The figures are deeply concerning, and I am pleased that the Department for Education is committed to working with the Women and Equalities Committee and the Government Equalities Office, which I was with earlier.

It is so important that we build on healthy relationships and keep our kids safe in school, and the primary school issue is really important. In preparation for the debate, I spoke with leaders at one of my local senior schools, and I was pleased to hear they did not feel that sexual abuse was a real concern in their school. However, they did say that, although they have strong safeguarding procedures in place, the culture is coming into school from elsewhere. That is where parents can very much work to change behaviour and change what is acceptable, but they need to know and understand what is out there.

I welcome the Committee’s suggestions on working with Ofsted and independent schools, but social media companies and parents need to come to the table, and the Government need to get on with this. A year down the line, this epidemic is growing.

I would like to finish by once again thanking the Committee for all the work it is doing. It is providing the Minister and the Government with plenty to think about, but more importantly, plenty to act on.

Global LGBT Rights

Mims Davies Excerpts
Thursday 26th October 2017

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell).

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this important debate and the Backbench Business Committee, which keeps keeping me in the Chamber on a Thursday afternoon for really important cross-party debates. I know that my right hon. Friend is working hard on LGBTI rights here at home and abroad. Parliamentarians from across the House, by coming out and, most importantly, speaking out, are leading the way. It takes courage. As a fellow human, I see and support that courage.

We in the UK, which is leading the world on LGBT rights, have been on a positive journey. We will all have friends, family members, neighbours or colleagues openly identifying themselves as belonging to the LGBT community. And this has been reflected in Government policy. We have made huge strides since 2010, particularly under David Cameron, with the introduction of marriage equality, Turing’s law and the abolition of offences that have affected so many people, and this summer when the Prime Minister announced the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I am fortunate to be working alongside a constituent, Tara, and the transgender community, which is working so hard on these issues. I welcome all the Government’s plans, and look forward to them moving forward.

As a former member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I am absolutely delighted that it is this Parliament that has carried out the first investigation into transgender rights. We were absolutely right to do that—some 650,000 people have been identified as transgender. We must tackle the issue as it affects families, mental health, our NHS and our communities. Our work in this area is world leading.

May I thank Julie and the lesbian and gay liaison team at Hampshire police for all the work that they do across our communities? We all want equality for all. It makes us safer, happier, and healthier. I also wish to thank those who work openly on this matter in the NHS, the fire service and all our communities, because by working together we become stronger, and by working with trans people in particular our communities become stronger.

It is hate crime awareness week, and we all have a huge responsibility to be temperate in our language and in our actions. Tolerance matters. Hate crime can leave an individual, a family or a community isolated from society. It highlights a broken society, and the UK is no place for hate. Tolerance and understanding make this a safer place in which to live.

I congratulate the Hampshire police and crime commissioner on his focus on joint working with the Hampshire Citizens Advice service on safe reporting spaces. I also congratulate the Isle of Wight on securing the right to host a UK Pride event in 2018, so next year will be a great occasion. I have been contacted by constituents in Eastleigh who also want to hold a Pride event. They want to see their town flying the flag. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) also say the same thing.

We are here today listening to stories about those living in fear across the world. We must remember that being who you are is not a crime, but targeting, bullying or threatening a person—wherever they live and whoever they are—is a crime. People do not have to put up with that behaviour. They should report it and ask for help. I congratulate Hampshire and Isle of Wight Youth Commission, which has carried out a project on tackling such behaviour. The behaviour is learned—perhaps from school or college—and it is unacceptable. If we can achieve all this here, we need to focus our attention abroad. We have heard about the perils of being born in Chechnya, Azerbaijan or Egypt. One’s heart sinks when one hears that, in Chechnya, an LGBTI person does not even exist.

We have also been talking about Australia, where voting is compulsory. We can see the simple question that should be posed: should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? A strong yes vote would be a huge victory for LGBTI Australians, and such a move would help their Government to send out a clear global message.

I welcome what we are doing in the UK to make the lives of people around the world better through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and through our aid budget. We must ensure that we continue to work with the UN Free and Equal campaign, which has reached an estimated 2 billion people through the use of social media, which gives us a huge ability to change attitudes.

We have made some huge strides in LGBTI rights here in the UK. We as parliamentarians do set an example in our local communities, in this Chamber and across the globe.

Tom Brake Portrait Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I will not seek her support immediately for the amendments to which I am about to refer, because they relate to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and she may want to look at them more carefully, but may I encourage her to look at amendments 287 to 290, which are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International? They are relevant to ensuring that, as part of that process of conversion from EU law to UK law, we do preserve human rights aspects of that EU law, which often has been used in support of LGBT rights. I hope that she will at least look at them.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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To me, Brexit means Brexit. It is not about going back on equality. I feel extremely strongly about that.

I mentioned the WHO, which made such a regrettable decision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley mentioned, but I am sure that UK pressure really made a difference in reversing that decision. So, yes, the world does watch us. The Prime Minister’s speech at the PinkNews awards this month recognised that. I support the fact that she, Ministers and colleagues from across the House have the chance to support the LGBTI community. I look forward to my children—not just my children’s children—growing up in a world where sexuality and gender are no measure at all by which to judge a person.

Parliamentary Candidates: Barriers for Women

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 13th September 2017

(6 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the barriers for women in standing for Parliament.

Sir Roger, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and lead this debate this afternoon. Last week, I was in this Chamber discussing transparency at the BBC and expressing my disappointment at the large gender pay gap. I hope today that we can have a similarly productive conversation about the barriers facing women coming into politics.

As the 380th woman ever to be elected to this place and as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament, I am grateful to have secured this important debate and I am also very grateful to all the hon. Members who are here today for attending this debate, on a subject that I know we are all passionate about—getting more women into politics and interested in politics, and encouraging women to put themselves forward for election to become a Member of this House or, as importantly, to get involved at a local level.

I recognise that that is not a simple task. Let me sell the job: “It has long hours. You will be open to abuse, sexism and jeering. The pressures and responsibilities of doing the job for constituents are immense. You won’t see your family as much as you’d like. In fact,”—as has been the case this week—“you might see your sleeping bag or sofa a little bit more, because the hours for this role can run rather late. Indeed, you don’t know how pregnancy, maternity or even caring responsibilities will fit around the job—you can’t find that on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority website.”

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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The hon. Lady is making a great speech and I congratulate her on bringing this issue to the House. Does she agree that, in some respects, it was great to see no fewer than three babies in the Lobby last night? However, whether it is men or women who have had babies in recent weeks, they should not have to come into this place with their children and be breastfeeding or going through the Lobby. We should have a system, either proxy or digital, whereby people can vote remotely.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I absolutely agree that it was most wonderful to see those children, because my children—several other MPs have said the same to me—would never have been that well-behaved. Clearly those children have had some experience of this place. If the demographics are changing, we must consider how we can work differently.

On paper, and in reality, the job that I have described does not sound all that appealing. However, we know the pros that come with our position: the wonderful opportunities to stand up for what is right, on issues that matter to us and to our constituents, and the fact that we are able to do something about what we care about. There is a platform to speak in this historic place. Nobody here, among all these talented colleagues, could fail to want to engage and use this opportunity for their constituents. We have a wonderful responsibility to marry the good and the bad, to demonstrate why what we do is worthwhile and to encourage fresh talent to join us—even if they are only seven months or even seven weeks old.

I am delighted to have served on the Women and Equalities Committee previously, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who is here today. I hope to join the Welsh Affairs Committee, having lived and worked in Wales for a number of years, and that is the magic of this place. Members can use their position and experience to do something that will really make a difference—luckily, I might, apparently, be making up the female numbers, although that was of course not my intention.

Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a great case on an issue that I know she is very passionate about; I have worked with her on it before. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on women and enterprise, and it is a big, big privilege for me to work with a really inspirational group of female entrepreneurs from across a range of businesses. Interestingly, however, virtually none of them see politics as a route forward for them. Does she agree that it is critical that we provide more role models and mentors to allow this huge untapped pool of talent to make their faces known in this place?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I will come to that later in my speech, when I talk about the joint work of the all-party group on women in Parliament and the all-party group on women and enterprise. Unless we show that this is a worthwhile career for the other side of the country—male and female, north and south—we will absolutely be doing down the opportunities for everybody.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is making her case very passionately. She is number 380, so I beat her by one—I am the 379th woman elected to Parliament, which is something I am very proud of. Does she agree that we want to encourage women from all walks of life? We talk very much about how things fit in for young women with children or babies, but I am particularly aware that women who have had a career and brought up their children have an awful lot of expertise to offer as they get older. I do not know if I have a lot of expertise, but I put myself in that category: my youngest was 16 when I came here and has just left school. I feel that many women do not use all the knowledge and experience they have gained through their career; indeed, some of them start to wind down when they hit their 50s. Does my hon. Friend think there might be a way to encourage those women in particular to get involved?

Roger Gale Portrait Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I gently suggest that interventions should be interventions, not speeches.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

Coming from a woman returner who freely admitted last night that she never reveals her age—I totally agree. It is my experience that has brought me here. I do not quite know where I fit in when it comes to maturity, but it does not matter; it is the mix that matters and the fact that we are all welcome here. Indeed, confidence in returning to work at any level, in any job, is so key for females.

We need to talk about the measures that the Women and Equalities Committee came up with, which address how the Government and political parties must and can increase female representation. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments later, but the paper that we have seen outlines the opportunities that the Government and political parties have—and, frankly, should be taking—to increase the number of women being put forward for election. That is the starting point; indeed, they are more likely to be elected if they are on the ballot. What is the old adage? “If you’re not on the ballot, you can’t win”—but just be careful: if you are on the ballot, you do not know who you are going to get. Funny, that. I look forward to hearing Members’ thoughts on that issue during the debate.

All of us, whether male or female Members of Parliament, have our individual stories about how we came to be here. For us, it was a little luck, or indeed a lot of luck; for others, it is a matter of “Try, try, try and try again”. Being an MP, of course, is a job like no other, in terms of the challenge in pursuing the goal of reaching Parliament. At the same time, it is really important for political parties, MPs, the Government and for us all as individuals to look at why so few women MPs overall have been elected. What can we do to improve the situation overall?

In 1918, the first woman, Constance Markievicz of Sinn Féin, was elected to this place, and we look forward to celebrating the centenary of that event in 2018. The following year, Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons Chamber. Since then, 487 women in total have been elected to Parliament. That is something to celebrate, but it is also worth remembering that we have only just exceeded the number of men who were elected to the Commons in just one election in 2015.

I was elected in 2015, as one of the 191 women elected in that year. That was hailed at the time as a momentous step forward for the representation of women in our Parliament, given that there was a jump of almost a third compared with the number of women MPs in 2010. In June, we witnessed a further leap forward, with that number increasing to 208—sadly, on our side we lost some of our fantastic female colleagues, which was a disappointment to us all.

Our progress must be welcomed, and I am grateful to all of those who have put so much effort into supporting women in politics, certainly in our party. Some of our male colleagues have been active in movements such as Women2Win—I see some of them here in the Chamber today—as well as the Conservative Women’s Organisation, which offers a kind of soft landing within the party. I applaud the female and male Conservative MPs who are mentoring and supporting our future Conservative MPs and councillors. Their work is absolutely making a difference; we see that in the numbers.

In the light of that progress, I remain mindful—it is easy to lose sight of this—that although women make up half the population, they make up less than a third of the MPs in this place. We must not rest on our laurels, because there is so much more to be done. As MPs, we need to challenge and change the public perception of our role as MPs to make it more attractive for women to join us.

Coming from a family with no political links and no political passion, there was a time when the thought of becoming an MP would have seemed somewhat out of reach or rather unsuitable, but after two years in this place, I have realised that my assumptions of what makes an appropriate parliamentarian have changed. Actually, women are very much suited to decision-making processes. We urgently need to reach out into our communities and tear down the perceived barriers to this and other jobs. Where women can rise to the top, we need to ensure that our would-be colleagues feel that that is achievable for them.

Sadly, it takes a huge amount of courage these days for women to stand to be MPs, because we are often scrutinised through a different lens from our male colleagues. Interest in our personal lives, how we raise our children and how we look—what we wear, what our shoes look like and so on—is still interesting to people. We have not quite gone beyond that. Over the pond, a presidential candidate and former Secretary of State—we know who we are talking about—was branded a “nasty woman” during the presidential election. When a boy or a man asserts himself and considers himself a leader, that is okay, but we are still in the realm of women being seen as bossy when they want to be leaders. That issue was bravely addressed by the shadow Home Secretary when she spoke out about the sexist and racist abuse she received through social media. Sadly, we know that she is not an isolated example. As was revealed back in January this year, almost two thirds of respondents to a BBC survey on the mistreatment of female MPs said that they had received sexist comments from fellow workers and fellow MPs.

I chose to cut my hair and have a political haircut to look more like a politician. I got here and decided to throw that book out the window. I have certainly looked at parliamentary procedures and processes and how we actually do things, and I know, having spoken to former trailblazing women MPs, that there was a certain look and style that we were supposed to conform to in order to fit in. I am delighted that we all know that we do not have to do that anymore. When we put ourselves out there to stand up for our communities, we feel incredibly vulnerable about how we look and what we do. New MPs enter a whole new world where inflection and inference is under a level of public scrutiny that cannot be believed. Every single word we utter—I have already been speaking for some time—will never go away. Hansard has a lot to answer for. We have to be ready for that scrutiny, whether we are male or female.

Not only is there pressure for women to be here, but we need to be extraordinarily effective, both at home and at work. We all have to be superwomen now. It is not only that we as MPs have to look perfect and be perfect; there is a danger in all society that those participating and putting themselves in the public eye have to do everything brilliantly. I have heard that from some of our new female MPs. They have the pressure of not mucking up, not drawing attention to themselves once they get here—it is really difficult—and matching our experienced male colleagues. It is about justifying our female presence here and messing up the status quo in Westminster. All parliamentarians have the responsibility to demonstrate that the Westminster bubble is broader, more welcoming and better than it is perceived to be. It is more inclusive and the outdated notions are on their way out, and we have a part to play in that.

Dare I point out the obvious? We have a female Prime Minister. We also have a female Home Secretary. The Leader of the House is female. The Secretaries of State for Education, for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and for International Development are all of the so-called fairer sex, but frankly they are just powerful women. In my party, we acknowledge that diversity in the Opposition and other parties is extremely strong. We should not be navel-gazing about whether we are getting things right; public perception of what it is to be a woman making a decision must be tackled, whether it is here or in any top job. Through that, we can ensure that hidden female talent, whether it is political or in any other role, is found, supported, mentored and encouraged, so that we all feel that we can stand for election.

I am really proud of the women in Parliament all-party parliamentary group and in particular the mentoring scheme we are developing with Lloyds Banking Group. That scheme gives insights into getting those top jobs to young women across the country. That includes not only the realities of being an MP, but the opportunities that exist in the workplace, and I am delighted to be bringing the scheme forward. There are so many all-party parliamentary groups focused on female, family, health and community issues, and I am proud of all the work that has been done by men and women on those groups.

The women and enterprise all-party group, led by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), is to be applauded, as is the work on baby loss done by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). We are working on a cross-party basis—male and female—championing heart-breaking and difficult causes. Having more women here in Parliament gives us the opportunity as parliamentarians to champion and tackle those difficult and often unspoken challenges. It was shocking and poignant to hear that, until International Men’s Day last year, this House had simply not discussed or understood male suicide. We should be out in our communities highlighting and explaining that work to our constituents. I applaud the fact I have been given the opportunity to have this debate.

There should be a focus on specifically promoting this job to women who have never considered standing for election, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. As the Women and Equalities Committee report made clear, we cannot take it for granted that the number of women MPs will just carry on increasing. We are meant to push to be world leaders in women’s representation, so we need to be working closer to home. If we do not agree on targets, why are we so afraid of setting goals?

I started my journey into politics as a non-political local parish councillor, co-opted in after complaining about the local play facilities. Then I was elected on to a town and district council. Now I have the honour of serving the constituency of Eastleigh as its first female MP; some of the previous male incumbents had some complications, so my constituents turned to a woman.

Given my personal experience, I am so delighted to be here as an advocate for local government and an access point to politics and to Parliament, but efforts must be made to develop the pipeline of female councillors so that they can learn the challenges of local government and be able to enter a political career at a less intimidating point. Councils are less political and are community-led—surely a more attractive place for someone to be, if they find they have time on their hands. Women must be welcomed into parties. They must be given the opportunity to stand for winnable seats and have a realistic route to political success. I welcome the fact that in 2017, my party actively looked to field women as candidates in 50% of the retirement seats, which were winnable.

If we cannot set targets or goals, how on earth can we get people to fill out the application forms? I spent four years toying with the opportunity to become a candidate to be a Member of Parliament. The timing was not right for my career; I felt I needed time to gather my experiences and personal confidence before taking the plunge. Carers and women returners will know that—this resonates beyond politics—as men and women we must support our loved ones on their next employment step. We all have a lot to give.

Incidentally, one of the recommendations in the Women and Equalities Committee report called on the Government to take action by supporting all-women shortlists. I must say I am not massively in favour of such shortlists, even though I ended up on one myself. I must admit that the last man standing stepped down due to life-changing issues, so I was called in. On reflection, I am not totally certain that I would have wished to have been the token female candidate, added to the list for diversity’s sake. After all that dithering on my application form, I was finally there to be counted.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the hon. Lady agree that all-female shortlists should be a temporary measure, until we strike the right gender balance? Of course, nobody wants to be on an all-female shortlist, but has anybody in this House who has been elected from one ever had that thrown back at them? To be fair to the media, I do not believe that they have.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree—once someone is here and doing the job, how the heck does it matter how they got here? Perhaps we do need to have a good look at that. I am not a fan of all-female shortlists, but if we want to make change happen, perhaps we have to be bold. We do not want to fill the Chamber with women just because they are women; we want all our Members of Parliament, from whatever party, to bring experience and ability to the table.

My speaking notes are telling me to move on to motherhood—I was going to call that “the elephant in the room”, but I am not sure that is terribly flattering. I want to talk about balancing politics with motherhood. I am really grateful to those, both in the room and elsewhere on the parliamentary estate, who help me juggle my commitments. I know that everyone here with caring responsibilities feels exactly the same. Our duties in Westminster and to our constituents are very much helped by the support that we get from our families. None of us takes that at all for granted. I have had a wealth of support from colleagues, staff and my team. In fact, when I stopped bringing out my baby buggy when leafleting, people were really upset—they had nothing to put their bags on.

I am also really proud, now that I have got here, to think about how we make it easier for those with caring responsibilities. I am delighted to be on Mr Speaker’s exciting diversity committee, which seeks to make a parliamentary career more appealing for everybody, not just the typical parliamentary stock. I thank Mr Speaker for his attention to making this House more accessible. Incidentally, I look forward to chairing the upcoming roundtable with the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament on flexible working practices and the impact of technology on women in the workplace. All our colleagues are benefiting from technology and we need to look at how it works in this place.

My experience of being a mum and juggling many metaphorical and literal balls comes in very handy as we dash around speaking and, more importantly, listening on behalf of our constituents, on issues from education to animal welfare. An ability to flip and change is really useful in this place, not to mention the practice that we, as parents, have at diplomacy. There is nothing wrong with using the constructive, supportive attitude that can come from caring for small children or loved ones to help us participate in parliamentary life. I am still very much on a learning curve, but I hope that those diplomatic skills will continue to hold me in good stead.

Those qualities and experiences are what make Members of Parliament returning to the House from maternity or parental leave really important. I hope that many women will take the advantage that motherhood can give them career-wise, both in and outside politics. A male friend of mine once said to me, “Do you know what? Don’t take it for granted. You’ve got a chance to reassess your life and look at what suits you. Many men don’t often feel that they’ve got that opportunity.”

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and commend her for what she has done—prior to being elected here, and since—for women in politics. She has done a wonderful job. I am in awe of all my colleagues across the House who have young children. I have not got a family, and every day I am amazed at how well my female colleagues on both sides of the House are able to juggle the challenges.

Does my hon. Friend agree that having this debate and talking about so many women in politics having families shows women outside the House that having a family never stops a woman from achieving what she wants as an individual—whether in politics or in big jobs in any industry? There is no limit to what she can achieve.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is often the job market: what job can be worked 30 weeks a year from 9 until 3, to cater for the children? What pays enough for someone not to spend that time with their children? We are really lucky here; when I say to my children, “I am so excited and busy and it’s worth doing,” they understand. It is not just me taking time away from them.

As many parliamentarians can see, the barriers that we have just heard about really do stop people coming to this place. The “Improving Parliament” report in 2014, which assessed the selection, retention and supply of women to this House, looked closely at the issue. It flagged up the unpredictable parliamentary calendar, the challenges of managing two geographical workplaces and a lack of clarification for MPs with primary caring responsibilities about the impact that has on their work as major factors that influence a prospective Member of Parliament—or somebody who wants to become a parent.

Such a person might say, “I want to become a Member of Parliament, but I actually do not know what that means for my parental responsibilities, let alone my parental leave.” We have a debate tomorrow about abuse of candidates—particularly abuse received by women. That is also a major player in people’s lives and life decisions now. As we well know, when we are elected we are often asked, “What on earth have you done? You’re putting yourself out there for major scrutiny.”

There is no formal parental leave for Members of Parliament, despite the fact that since 2010, 17 babies have been born to 12 women MPs. It is bordering on ironic that we as MPs are doing so much for the wider workforce, yet are unable to look at our own working arrangements. There is currently no formal pairing and that makes options difficult for both male and female Members of Parliament. There is no voting by proxy and no flexible crèche that can cater for ad hoc childcare arrangements. In short, there are no real practicalities to assist with parenthood because, frankly, at the moment Parliament fails to set a proper example as an employer. As a result, prospective candidates commit themselves to the demands of the job, which requires a huge amount of attention, but are not officially able to look at the flexibility that a parent needs.

I have touched on the support that we all luckily receive. Frankly, if we are looking to achieve true diversity in the long term, informal arrangements are not enough to combat the huge amount of guilt, let alone the practicalities, attached to being a working parent. I am not alone in this room in saying that my priorities lie with being a parent. Given that the role of the MP is so attractive and important, I might also often not be alone in saying, why on earth would we need a requirement for maternity leave? We run our own diaries and have some level of flexibility, but we all know that this job comes first. Luckily, our families and children have thick skins and, it seems, boundless patience.

It is notable that the Danish Parliament allows an MP, male or female, up to 12 months’ paid leave which, in practice, is always granted. In Sweden, the same rules for parental leave applicable to the general public apply to MPs—in fact, it is possible for them to take 480 days’ parental allowance. I think we would all miss our constituencies quite a lot if we took all that off—I do not know where we would be—but it is time for us to be bold and look to update our parliamentary practices, so that we can keep up with our goal of achieving parity.

We need to recognise that this is an unstable career path. If we want people to stand, take their seat, relocate and balance their homes—the norm for an MP—we need to ask whether ordinary people can afford to become an MP and whether the current Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is fit for purpose when it comes to facilitating a parliamentary career and a growing family. Considering the issues of disability and diversity, which come to the fore when looking at our careers, is IPSA really fit for purpose for everybody who would wish, or is able, to pursue such a career? Can we honestly say to anyone—anywhere, regardless of gender, marital status, family commitments or caring responsibilities—that they can afford to be here and are able to be here? We are looking for a big commitment from any MP, male or female, in taking on an insecure, non-guaranteed career.

We must not, of course, use such scrutiny to stop the public being able to elect and vote out their representatives in Parliament, but it is fundamental to our democracy that we ensure that we look properly at diversity. I have no desire to challenge who the electorate choose, but I want to ensure that a wide range of the most able candidates can get on the ballot paper.

Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she agree that having more women in Parliament is not simply the right thing to do? Diverse company boards are more successful on every single measure, so it stands to reason that we will get even better results from a diverse Parliament.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree. My experiences as a local councillor, before I became a Member of Parliament, were so important. Drawing people into politics with that sort of background and professionalism—not necessarily solely driven by ideology—is really important. We need to address the issue, and I hope that this debate will go some way towards that.

As politicians, we have to decide whether there is a point at which we should stand down, allowing our fresh talent to take up new issues, ideas and opportunities. Perhaps we should be prepared to give way to those whom we are mentoring, as well as offering leadership. It is all very well encouraging people in, but are we allowing space for them? How do we sell the role of MP at Westminster and get myriad applications? A lot of things come to mind, such as coming through as a police and crime commissioner or in the councillor role. Indeed, having the chance to stand as an MP should not be a leap of faith for anyone. People’s families being dependent on that is a real concern, so there is juggling to do.

Many Members are waiting to speak, so I will move to my final remarks and reiterate and elaborate on exactly why this debate is so important. There is not only a shortfall in our democracy, but a crucial aspect is involved. To be here is to have a special chance—to do what matters, to be in the Chamber, to take part in the decision-making process, to tackle issues of inequality and discrimination and to develop laws, policies and programmes. It is vital to hear women’s voices on women’s issues, and for Parliament’s perspective to benefit fully from the diverse country that we have been elected to represent.

What is more, it cannot be a coincidence that five out of the nine Select Committees chaired by women have equal or better representation of women, but only one out of the 18 Committees chaired by men has equal or better representation. I sincerely believe that when in power women should continue to empower other people in this place.

Staying on this theme of having more women leading the political charge and encouraging participation, we cannot expect young girls simply to want to engage in the modern political environment if we do not show them what they can relate to. Men are key role models in that, as we have heard, and vice versa. I admire so many male colleagues who have done and do so much to empower all generations in politics. We must reconnect with our voters and demonstrate that Westminster does not have to be out of touch. I urge voters and the media to look more deeply at who we are: dig, and we are more interested and more diverse—honestly.

The idea that the UK can enjoy more from the “feminine touch” is faintly ridiculous. The phrase is outmoded, but the fact is that women are more linked into public office, have lower levels of corruption, are more keen on peace and reconciliation, and find it more important to promote policies that address the challenges facing disadvantaged groups. Everything is to be gained by encouraging women and breaking down the barriers: working across party, for me, is one of the most important parts of the job.

I used to work in radio, where we had a saying that provides an analogy for what I want to say today. Sometimes, radio DJs love a hit record before anyone else has heard it, and they play it incessantly—to death; they then hate it, but by that point everyone else has caught up and loves it. I have the responsibility today of playing the tune with the goal of encouraging more equality, diversity and women in Parliament. It is the responsibility of all of us in this place to ensure that others have the opportunity to follow. There have been trailblazers such as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), my right hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), and my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and for Devizes (Claire Perry). So many people have warmly welcomed us and given huge amounts of advice to all of us here. Without those women trailblazers, where would we all be?

We have an opportunity to achieve parity of attitudes inside and outside Parliament. If we can reflect the outside world in this House, we will be in absolutely the right place. I ask the Minister for action to be led sincerely by the Government and all political parties, so that we can increase women’s representation in this place. Along with many other colleagues in the Chamber, I will welcome all the Minister’s comments and action to ensure that that happens.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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--- Later in debate ---
Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I thank all Members from across the House for the spirit and tone of the debate. It would be remiss of me not to mention the candidates department, which I hope is being swamped with applications from females as we speak. I will use and adapt two Madeleine Albright quotes to end the debate: there is a special place in hell for women and men who do not support other women; and we should use the debate to form our opinions, and use those opinions to create discussions, so that we can all work to break and end barriers.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

16-to-19 Education Funding

Mims Davies Excerpts
Thursday 7th September 2017

(6 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I congratulate the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on securing this important debate, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I was part of a previous Adjournment debate on this matter and have looked forward to this broader debate, which is very welcome.

First, I welcome the huge progress made under this Government on 16-to-19 education as a whole. This year, the percentage of entries awarded the top A* or A grade is 26.3%—an increase on the 2016 results—with an overall UK pass rate of 97.9%. I am particularly pleased that the proportion of entries in STEM subjects has increased and that there are more female than male entries in chemistry for the first time since 2004. Having hosted an event in Parliament in June to promote women in engineering, alongside the Women’s Engineering Society, I am absolutely delighted that we are doing something about that at sixth-form level. Alongside industry, we roundly looked at the challenges in relation to STEM for students of both sexes, with a view to ensuring that they have a chance to have the career that they need post 16-to-19 education. This Government, and certainly my colleagues and I, do not take the challenge post-16 at all lightly.

On top of the excellent secondary schools that offer A-level courses in my constituency, we are fortunate to have the stand-alone colleges. I think the importance of that will come out in the conversation and debate today; they are themselves definitive success stories in many constituencies across the UK. Eighty-seven per cent. are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted—that includes Eastleigh College, with which I have strong links—and 55% of disadvantaged students progress to university, compared with 42% from state schools or colleges. Even better, 90% of students attending sixth-form colleges go on to study for a second year at university, if that is right for them.

Let me take this chance to thank my two local post-16 colleges for the great visits that have allowed me the opportunity to see the work that they do, and their principals: Jan Edrich at Eastleigh College and Jonathan Prest at Barton Peveril College.

Students in my constituency have a great choice. Eastleigh College is packed full of apprenticeship opportunities and is strongly linked to business. It is a leader in air conditioning and gas engineering training. All of that is very much needed. Business leaders in my constituency want work-ready post 16-to-19 students. As a Conservative and a believer in choice, I know it is vital that we give our students such opportunities, so I must ask my right hon. Friend the new Minister to take her opportunity to balance the skills agenda alongside the need for traditional colleges in order that all our students have the right opportunities. I believe that there will be continued strong lobbying from the Sixth Form Colleges Association; it is certainly beating down my door, and I am sure it is beating down hers.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While the hon. Lady is talking about the importance of such education to employers, will she recognise that education in a sixth-form college is not just about the three A-levels, but is often about the wider experience, including work placements, that colleges give their students, and that that requires resources for the colleges to be able to administer it effectively and properly? That is why the £200 uplift is so important.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree that a well rounded education is very important; I will come to that shortly. Both academic and pastoral excellence is vital in all our education institutions.

During the summer recess, I was delighted to carry out another visit to Barton Peveril College in Eastleigh and meet the principal, Jonathan Prest. This is a thriving sixth-form college in my Hampshire constituency. With more than 3,000 full-time students, it is one of the 12 largest sixth-form colleges in the country and therefore has a huge responsibility when it comes to preparing our young people for the world of work. It seems that colleges of that size and scale can just about manage when it comes to the finances, but we want to ensure that the opportunities in traditional colleges are maintained, alongside the skills agenda.

I was concerned to hear about the current funding arrangements. The situation was not new to me. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about post-16 finances and raised the matter with her directly in the main Chamber, and I am grateful to her for spending time with me. Currently, sixth-form colleges and school or academy sixth forms receive £4,531 per student. That is less than we provide for younger students in secondary schools. It is 48% less than the average university tuition fee and about 70% less than the average sixth-form fee in the independent sector. Unlike schools and academies, traditional sixth-form colleges struggle to cross-subsidise—that is probably the best way of putting it. We have also heard about the inability to get VAT costs reimbursed. The issue has therefore been raised today, and I know that the Minister will look at it, because it does affect the learning of our sixth formers.

More broadly on 16-to-19 education and colleges, I absolutely agree about the opportunity to give our kids the cultural capital that they need when they come out of 16-to-19 education. Are we giving them the right opportunities? For example, are they being allowed to study for the Duke of Edinburgh’s awards? Are they going out to see plays? Are they spending time with local businesses? The first thing that business people say to me is, “I can’t get students who are work ready.” Those extracurricular activities are really important; indeed, they are vital. We do not want bored 16 to 19-year-olds; we want work-ready 16 to 19-year-olds. I therefore join colleagues in supporting the benefits of that broader education.

I congratulate the Government on the excellent work being done to support the education of all our young people, but we must ensure that we look at the traditional 16-to-19 stand-alone college. I must personally thank all the colleges and their staff and everyone across the country who is doing this work. I also thank the governors, who are doing so much work as well. They are often forgotten.

I will finish by asking the Minister to consider carefully the concerns raised about funding arrangements for stand-alone sixth-form colleges. I look forward to working further with her on these issues as we go forward.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Free Childcare

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 18th July 2017

(6 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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As I have said, we increased the funding to allow for it to be delivered; an average funding of £4.94 for each hour is now being provided. That was in direct response to the concerns of some providers about the level of funding, but I have to say that even the providers who said that the funding was not sufficient have now managed to deliver at this price. Indeed, the nursery I visited yesterday said it had surplus places before the pilot scheme was introduced, but is now full, which is great news for it in terms of its overall funding.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Small, community-led pre-schools, such as the one in Hedge End in my constituency, are not necessarily groups, and they are worried about the process for them and for local parents. Will my hon. Friend tell us what the Government have done to ensure that all early-years providers are able to deliver the 30 hours for those families and to retain the positivity around this programme?

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Parents have a choice about where to deploy their 30 hours of care. It can be with a childminder or in a nursery school, but it can also be with one of the many excellent voluntary sector providers, including pre-school playgroups. My wife used to run a pre-school playgroup, so I have been briefed on this issue. It is vital that people have a choice about where to send their children that suits their lifestyle, their work and the logistics of getting their children to that setting.

Schools Update

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 17th July 2017

(6 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Mims Davies.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Thank you, Sir; lucky me. In my constituency surgery on Friday parents once against raised the issue of high needs with me, so I thank the Secretary of State for this statement, especially for its focus on that area. As she is being so bold, will she look at nursery funding, and post-16 funding, which we have heard about today, where standards can really make a difference to our children’s generation?

Justine Greening Portrait Justine Greening
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I reassure my hon. Friend that we have done so. Indeed, she knows that there has never been more additional investment in early years than under this Government. The good news is that the quality of early-years provision is getting better; that is to be welcomed, and it can, over time, significantly shift the dial on social mobility.

Budget Resolutions

Mims Davies Excerpts
1st reading: House of Commons
Tuesday 14th March 2017

(7 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Justine Greening Portrait Justine Greening
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If I can make a bit more progress, I will give way.

This Government are rightly focused on apprenticeships because of the huge difference that they can make to individuals, boosting a person’s lifetime earnings by 11% on average. Eighty-three per cent. of apprentices tell us that they believe it is improving their career prospects. This is already making a big difference to individuals. Last year 900,000 people were enrolled in an apprenticeship, which means that more than 3 million people have started an apprenticeship since 2010. They include apprentices such as Adam Sharp, last year’s advanced apprentice of the year, who moved 150 miles to take up a mechanical design apprenticeship in Sellafield and dreams of becoming that nuclear power plant’s chief mechanical engineer; and Becky King, who went to train at the National Physical Laboratory in London straight after college in order to develop her passion for science.

Last week I kicked off National Apprenticeships Week with Barclays in the City. I met young people on apprenticeships at Barclays who were inspiring because they were finding out just how well they could do. Apprenticeships are bringing out the underlying talent of our young people. It is cathartic for them to be able to discover their potential.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Earlier I met Nationwide representatives from my area keen to support women in getting more maths skills to lead businesses. Recently apprentices from Lloyds met the all-party women in Parliament group. One area where we really need to keep up momentum is with the maths skills that will make sure that our women can lead companies as well. The apprenticeship work at Eastleigh College is doing exactly that in building the basic skills for the gas fitters and plumbers we need—

Natascha Engel Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel)
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Order. We are already going to have to impose a time limit of eight minutes on Back Benchers right from the beginning. This debate is very heavily subscribed. If people are going to intervene, they must keep it very brief.

--- Later in debate ---
Justine Greening Portrait Justine Greening
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Returnships are not widely used at the moment—in fact, they are used by just a few companies—but we know that where they have been invested in, they have made a real difference. We are at the beginning of bringing forward some pilots so that we can better understand what works and get a clearer sense of the broader strategy that we should have for the long term. That comes alongside the investment in lifelong learning, which ties into that work. Critically, we will consider how we can ensure that, as we develop those policies and ideas, they are informed by evidence. That was the reason for the investment that we announced in the Budget.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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On returners, will the Secretary of State also consider people who have stepped out of the workplace because of caring responsibilities? They are not necessarily youngsters, but include people who have given up a career thinking that it would be for the long term, but have found that it is for a shorter time.