Philip Davies makes his debut on equalities committee
The controversial Conservative's first contribution was as provocative as expected
Philip Davies has previously questioned whether the women and equalities select committee should exist but yesterday he made his first contribution as a member.
Describing himself as the parliamentary spokesman of the campaign against political correctness he questioned how important gender equality is and whether the general public were bothered by it.
Committee chair Maria Miller slapped him down for veering from the remit of the inquiry and Sam Smethers, chief executive of feminist campaign group The Fawcett Society, found herself explaining the meaning of the word 'important' to him.
His appearance at the committee will confirm concerns raised when he was elected unopposed to join it last month that he would seek to derail its work. Davies has previously suggested 'feminsist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it' and in December he spoke for over an hour in an effort to talk out a backbench bill calling on the government to ratify an international treaty on domestic violence.
The committee is holding an inquiry into how well the government is pursuing its stated aim of achieving "gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls". The policy was one of the sustainable development goals drawn up by the UN in 2015 for all member states to aspire to and which the UK signed up for. Gender equality is known as sustainable development goal five (SDG5) and includes pledges to end discrimination and violence against women and girls.
The first witnesses included Smethers, director of the gender and development network Jessica Woodroffe and human rights professor Dr Mary Ann Stephenson of Warwick University.
Davies, who arrived late for the evidence session, waited until right at the end to make his contribution. He asked how important SDG5 was to the general public claiming that since politicians have to talk up popular issues to get elected they would talk about SDG5 more if it was a widespread concern to people.
Smethers explained that there were different definitions of 'important' and Mary Anne Stephenson asserted that the target of ending violence against women was very important and most people would recognise and support that. Maria Miller pulled Davies up for diverging from the point of the inquiry which was concerned with how well the government is implementing the policy rather than whether it was a good policy.
Undeterred Davies pointed out that violence against women and girls could never be entirely eradicated, said he doesn't understand the difference between a goal and a target and demanded a list of concrete policies that the panel would like to see implemented that would help achieve the goal of equality.
Sam Smethers told him that there was a range of suggested policies in The Fawcett Society's written evidence. She added: "What we need are people who are committed to progressing equality for women and who are going to drive that agenda forward."
A group calling themselves the 'Shipley feminist zealots' are set to march through Davies' constituency this weekend in an echo of the women's marches planned for America on Friday to protest Donald Trump's inauguration as US president.