***Check against delivery***
Attlee Suite, Portcullis House - 6th March 2018
Thanks very much and a very warm welcome to all of you here and thank you so much for inviting me to give this lecture.
8,500 works of art, in the Commons and in the Lords, it’s a considerable and important collection on behalf of the public. And going back over 150 years, even longer than I’ve been a Member of Parliament.
I want to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee and the work in particular the work of Melanie Unwin and her team and the careful thought you dedicate to this collection and to commissioning for the future.
And, I want to pay tribute to Frank Doran who died at the end of last year who was such a passionate chair of the Advisory Committee. We all miss him greatly and how poignant it was that just this month you unveiled your latest portrait, of his widow Joan Ruddock. That portrait is hanging downstairs. It’s a wonderful portrait which captures perfectly Joan’s combination of serenity and steel. I miss her after all the years she devoted to this House, and it’s great to have Sharon here with us, Sharon Hodgson.
I want to thank Ali McGovern, who’s now your chair. Ali is equally at home in an art gallery or on a football terraces, here in the corridors of Westminster or in the hard pressed estates in her Wirral constituency. She’s all over domestic policy as well as international policy, and I really regard her as without a doubt, a renaissance woman and a ‘daughter of the women’s movement. Not my daughter but definitely a daughter of the women’s movement, and there could be no better person to chair the committee which preserves the past but looks to the future as you all ensure that your approach reflects the changing times.
It’s great to be here with Helen Pankhurst, and I’m really envious of your name Helen. It’s the name to have. Pankhurst rather than Harman, I feel as if I should change my name by deed poll, especially in this year that we mark 100 years since the first women got the vote and in the week, this week, we celebrate of International Women’s Day its right to recognise that one of the most significant changes that’s happened is in the role of women: at work, in the family and in Parliament.
Now, it’s hard to describe to you younger folk how different things were as it was when I was growing up as a girl in the 1950s. I think some of you looking around might be able to remember this, but the messages to a girl were very clear. The most important ambition was to get a husband. That was the most important ambition, and once you had achieved that lofty ambition – to serve and support that husband. That’s what my mother, like so many in her generation did. She was very unusual though in that she qualified as barrister but of course when she married my dad she had achieved a higher purpose and gave up being a barrister in order to be his housewife. And, I look back now and remember and feel it’s quite poignant that her wigan gown was in our dressing up box and that was the way it was.
The women’s movement swept through women of my generation and this was in all regions of this country, in Scotland and in Wales. It was women from all walks of life: women in trade unions, in business, from academia, to the law and it was an enormous and profound movement.
What it did was it challenged the notion that Women we were inferior to men. Challenged the notion that we should be subordinate to men. Challenged the notion that we should define ourselves through our husbands. But that we should somehow be people in our own right.
When I say ‘define ourselves in terms of our husbands’, that’s really what it was like. I used to always look at envelopes that came through the letter box, to our house, that were addressed to Mrs John Harman. My mum had literally vanished, but that’s the way it was. Not only did you take his name, sometimes his first name as well as second name, but you promised to obey, in the marriage vows. He didn’t promise to obey you, but you promised to obey him. It was his responsibility to be head of the household and keep the household in order, including keeping the wife in order, with a slap if necessary. Because, actually that was what his responsibility was. Women’s responsibility was to cook his supper, look after him and look after the children.
I remember as the women’s movement was really gathering pace and I was back at home in a holiday from university, and at this point my mother, because we were a bit more grown up, had started retraining as a solicitor and I remember one morning coming down and my dad was reading a newspaper at the table, waiting as she cooked his breakfast, and that was kippers, so there was an awful smell emanating from the cooker, but she was also cooking his supper that was curry, so there was another terrible smell emanating from the cooker, and she had, because she had to cook his supper because she was going out to work, to be at the College for Law to train as a solicitor during the day, and she had a law book propped up on the back of the cooker. And, I remember feeling that really strong sense that this was not for me and it wasn’t going to be for women of our generation.
So, I came into Parliament as a fervent participant in the women’s movement - a movement whose aim was to literally change everything about men and women’s lives.
We wanted to share. We wanted to share in every sector. We wanted to participate in science, in the arts, in private companies, in public services, in the law and in education. We wanted to be out there in the world of work as well as just being at home and we wanted men to be in the world of the home, as well as being out there in the world of work. They are your children too. We wanted men to change how they related to the world of work and we wanted to share in making our laws and running the country so we had to get into parliament. We had to break into the male preserve of the House of Commons.
The women’s movement, as I said, our ambition was to literally change everything. Now, Parliament is described as a representative democracy, but at that time, when I first came into parliament in 1982, it was profoundly unrepresentative. There was 97% men and only 3% women. I mean there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t white in the House of Commons.
Women’s voices were not heard. Women played no part in shaping the agenda. The aim of the Women’s Movement was not to try and succeed on men’s terms, but to change the terms; not to play by the rules, but to get in and change the rules.
So, I came into the House of Commons in 1982 as a devoted member of the Labour Party, who we thought was very far from putting women on an equal footing with men, but who we wanted to transform the party as well, into being genuinely the party of women and equality and be the political wing of the women’s movement.
But, I was very out of place. I felt very out of place and I was. As I came in after a by-election, pushing open those enormous, huge, heavy doors into the House of Commons and seeing all the serried ranks of the men in grey suits banked up on those green benches, feeling as though I really was very out of place and I was, standing there as I was in a red velvet maternity dress.
The women’s movement was always about, as Helen said, about solidarity; about achieving change by working together. But really, there was virtually no one for me to work with there. There was a whole load of young women, who had stood for Parliament in the Labour Party but we did so badly in the 1983 Election that I was re-elected but none of them were and that was very hard. It was very hard being a new MP and a new mother.
When I was first elected, I had a huge postbag – the by-election had attracted a lot of attention in the way that by-elections nearly always do and I had an enormous postbag when I arrived in the House of Commons and half of it was from women saying ‘good on you’, ‘get out there’, ‘speak up for us’, that ‘it’s fantastic that you’re an Member of Parliament’ and half of them were saying: ‘What are you doing? You will ruin your children! They will play truant from school’.
The problem was I couldn’t be sure that they weren’t right. For our generation, whose mothers had been stay at home mothers or had worked part time and whose whole focus was on the family, it was a worrying thing to be doing things so differently, so I was very haunted by all those people who thought I was doing the wrong thing and then amongst Members of Parliament, helpful Members of Parliament would tell me ‘don’t talk about women all the time. Don’t get pigeon holed. Don’t bang on about domestic violence and childcare. Show you understand the really important parts of the political agenda, about the money supply, about motorways and the mines’. With a combination of feeling incredibly out of place; all the sisterhood I was expecting to work collective in the House of Commons with not being there; haunted by maternal guilt – very often I wanted to give it all up, but I never did and was never able to for two reasons:
Firstly, because there was such strong support for the idea of women getting into the House of Commons, through as Helen says, women in civil society, so everywhere I went, down any street, on any train or bus, there would be women coming up to me saying ‘we know what you’re doing, stick in there! Keep on doing it!’, so I felt all the difficulties in the House of Commons, but also all the massive support by the women’s movement outside the House of Commons and once you’ve picked up the flag and said ‘well, we as women we can, we can go out to work, we can come into the House of Commons’, you can’t say ‘sorry it’s all too much’, because then it would have been a massive set back and everyone would have said ‘see, that’s what happens when you elect a woman MP. They can’t hack it!’. So, I actually had to keep going and we tried as women in the Labour Party, we tried everything to get more Labour women into the House of Commons.
So, first of all, we tried making the argument in principle: actually it’s right that women should be not discriminated against, that we are the party that believes in equality, that must apply to women. Well, a few people agreed with us but it didn’t really make any change. So then we thought that we must change the rules. We made the proposal that on every shortlist for a Member of Parliament, to stand as a Labour candidate, there would have to be at least one women on every shortlist. Characteristically it was all men shortlists, so we said we’ve got to have one woman on every shortlist. There was absolute rire and controversy. It was regarded as really offensive and critical to men that we should have this rule change. So there was this huge controversy and a huge backlash, but we won that rule change and it made absolutely no difference at all, because all the men got selected.
So then we thought again, and we thought we get through another proposal: 50% of every shortlist will have to be women. Riots broke out amongst the men. Absolute fury, backlash, controversy even hatred that we should come forward with such a hateful proposal, but we got it through Labour Party Conference, we got the change and it made no difference at all, because the 50% of the shortlist that was men got selected. So that’s when we resorted to all women shortlists and at this point we were making the argument that actually we couldn’t get elected unless we didn’t get women’s support, so we needed women’s support to get into Government and they wouldn’t support us if we looked like a party that was of and for men.
The electoral argument persuaded many of our male colleagues that we did have to recognize that we needed to get more Labour women into Parliament and Neil Kinnock, in particular was a strong supporter of the idea of having more women in the Labour Party and in the House of Commons. And, that’s how we got to all women shortlists, which feel like a very difficult measure to have taken, to be saying to a local Constituency Labour Party ‘you are the local Labour Party, you’re going to fight to get your candidate elected, it’s your choice and you can choose anyone you want as long as it’s not a man.’ It felt really quite difficult and again there was even more hostility and even more backlash – a lot of it raining down upon my head but as women in the Labour Party we were very determined and embattled and that’s what made the difference.
So, when we got to 1997, suddenly having started off as one of ten Labour women, I think I was the eleventh, suddenly there was a hundred. I cannot describe the change it was. It changed not only the face and the look of parliament, and by the way at that time the press lobby was 95% men, in the Parliament when I came in which was 97% men, it was reported on by a press lobby which was 95% men, and suddenly we had all these women in the House of Commons, determined to press forward on an agenda for women and that’s what made the difference in our Government from 1997. Suddenly, childcare was a political issue, suddenly domestic violence was on the agenda for the Home Office, we doubled maternity pay and leave, we brought in the Equality Act.
So, great strides were made and people often ask about Women in the House of Commons ‘well, do you work together as women, cross-party, because there is this sense of female solidarity in the women’s movement?’ and there was a limited amount of working cross-parties, between women, for example on things like the hours of the House of Commons and defending abortion rights, but outside of a couple of issue like that there really was no basis for cross-party working. There were so few women on our side, as I said, only ten to start with, and fewer on the Tories side. We were like a different breed from them. We were feminists wanting to change everything about the way the family, the world of work and politics operated. They were Conservative, the party of the traditional family, decrying rights at work as a burden on business, believing that childcare if anything was a private responsibility and not the responsibility of Government at national or local level. Actually, in relation to the House of Commons the few women that there were were older, either their children having grown up or having never had them.
Things have really, really changed and they’ve changed in a number of ways. They’ve changed because of the numbers. Labour has a really big number, more than a hundred Labour women MPs and with the new intakes we’ve had in 2010, in 2015, in 2017, we have women in every region of the country – in Scotland and in Wales. We have women of all ages. We’ve got younger women as well as older women. It’s a common sight to see women, as Ali was, looking wonderful with her bump, pregnancy bump in the division lobby. We’ve got big numbers of Labour women but we’ve also got more women on all sides of the house and this is a real marked difference, so now we now have over 200.
It’s not just the numbers, but it’s the different sorts of women, the different breed of women that are now in the House of Commons, who I would describe as ‘daughters of the women’s movement’ - very different from the tweedy matrons of earlier days. So, it’s not just the numbers, it the sort of women who are now Tory MPs who are much more in tune with feminist agenda, but also a change in men in the House of Commons. When I was first in the House of Commons, to be a male MP was to be very important, so important that you had to delegate all your family responsibilities to your supportive wife. Her place was in the home, whilst his was in the House and the idea of a man supporting the women’s agenda seemed almost inconceivable and I never thought that I’d see the day when MPs in the House, who instead of expecting their wife to shoulder all the responsibility of their family, while their being ‘important’ in the House of Commons, recognise and respect their wife and their partner for what they’re doing inside the home as well as for what they’re doing outside the home - that ‘new man’ has arrived in the House of Commons. Actually when you think of it, on Labour’s side added to, with increasing numbers of a ‘new breed’ of women on the Conservative side plus the support of some ‘new men’. We are no longer on our own as feminists in the Labour Party, and of course there are women in the SNP and other parties as well. So we have new possibilities for women working together across the House, and with supportive men of taking the quest of equality for women to a whole new level.
There’s… It’s not just we’re here is significant numbers, we’re still outnumbered but we’re no longer on the margins. There’s a woman Prime Minister. There are women on the frontbenches of all parties, in senior positions. Women are chairing important Select Committees: Select Committees for Treasury, Business, Home Affairs, for the Public Accounts Committee, for Environment, for Transport. Now, we’ve said elect us as women and we will make a difference for women’s lives and if we don’t what has been the point of us. If, with 208 women MPs it will be a failing if women out there in the rest of country are tearing their hair out about childcare, continuing to face endemic pregnancy discrimination, suffering domestic violence and protesting about sexual harassment and unequal pay. So for us the change in the House of Commons is not just an opportunity, it’s more than that it’s an obligation.
For us women who are here in Parliament, we have to find ways to work together to improve women’s lives and I think we have to be united in our defense of women who are subjected to trolling and misogyny, especially online. The threats and abuse of Women MPs must be resisted by all of us, as nothing less than an attack on our democracy. No woman should have to put up with abuse and threats, it’s a genuine danger to women, after all one of our women MPs, our absolutely beloved Jo Cox was murdered less than two years ago. We should also recognize that it’s an attempt to silence women, to punish women who have the temerity to speak out, especially if they got the temerity to be young and not white. This is an attack on our democracy and we should see it as such. The voters are entitled to elect whoever they want, and once that person is elected they must be able to do their work without let or hindrance. They’re the voice of their constituents and that constituency has the right to be heard through their MP. So, we must tackle this not just in the name of the women MPs who suffer it but also in the name of our democracy.
The other things is, we must not, I believe, in our enthusiasm to fight against inequality in all it’s ugly manifestations fall into the notion that there is somehow a higherachy of inequalities – that some inequalities are more important than other, more worth fighting for. That somehow it is not good enough to fight against only against one form of inequality and that those that don’t fight against every aspect of inequality are not worthy at all. The point is, that all discrimination is abhorrent, all prejudice is repugnant, all inequality whatever its basis is unfair and we should encourage and support each other whatever we are doing to challenge any sort of inequality or prejudice. We shouldn’t be judging each other. We must judge the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes and those who oppress the disabled. It’s wrong to set the fight against inequality based on class, for example, against the fight against the inequality rooted in gender. You don’t advance the fight for equality by setting the fight against racism against the fight against gender inequality. I would never say to the person who fights for the disabled ‘but you’ve never fought against homophobia’. The point is if they have fought for the rights of the disabled that is important and I’d never say to the man who fights against racism ‘but you’ve never fought for women’s rights and therefore you’re not doing the right thing’. Let’s not say to the woman at the BBC that the unequal pay there doesn’t matter there because there are well paid. We would never say rape or domestic homicide doesn’t matter if it’s a middle-class woman. We’d never say that it doesn’t matter that a well-paid black man is lower paid that his white colleague because he is still well-off. We hate the racial prejudice that underpins that. We hate discrimination and prejudice whatever form it takes and we laud those who fight against it, whatever the aspect they focus on and actually support and encourage each other, and not judge each other but actually focus on those who are the oppressors and not actually argue amongst ourselves.
It’s been a long struggle for women to make our way into parliament. The essence of being an MP is that we are here not for ourselves but for others. To represent them and to improve their lives. Sometimes, after decades of being outsiders it’s hard to recognise that you’ve won. Women have won the argument to be here, we have. We’ve won the argument for equality. We’ve changed the mood, but now we have to change the reality and that’s another story.
***Check against delivery*** Attlee Suite, Portcullis House - 6th March 2018 Thanks very much and a very warm welcome to all of you here and thank you so much for...
I will be giving evidence to the Procedure Committee on the need for proxy voting for MP babyleave today at 2.10pm.
Parliament sets the rules for employers on maternity and paternity but has no provision itself. Must lead by example.
On Thursday, 1 February the House of Commons resolved that: "It would be to the benefit of the functioning of parliamentary democracy that MPs who have had a baby or adopted a child should for a period of time be entitled, but not required to discharge their responsibilities to vote in this House by proxy”.
I welcome the Procedure Committee’s inquiry into proxy voting in the House of Commons and the opportunity to submit evidence.
I will be giving evidence to the Procedure Committee on the need for proxy voting for MP babyleave today at 2.10pm. Parliament sets the rules for employers on maternity and paternity...
We are all starting to see more people sleeping rough on the streets and park benches. Since 2010 the number of people forced to sleep outside has increased by 169% and is now at its highest level ever.
Under the last Labour government, years of sustained action reduced rough sleeping by 75%, but much of that progress is being undone. In every year since we left government the numbers have risen steeply. More than 1,137 people are now sleeping rough in London alone, almost the same as for the whole of England in 2010.
Less visible forms of homelessness are also rising. 300,000 people are living in temporary accommodation or ‘sofa-surfing’ while their council tries to find them somewhere to live. The number of children staying with their families in hostels has risen by 70% under the Tories to over 120,000. Insecure, unstable accommodation can be deeply damaging. I’ve helped a number of families where despite both parents are working but due to spiraling rents they can’t keep up with payments and end up homeless, sharing a room in a hostel with their children, often having to share bathrooms with other families, their children facing long journeys from the new hostel to school or even being uprooted to new schools entirely.
As well as the chronic lack of decent, safe and affordable housing, people become homeless for a number of complex reasons, including mental health problems, family breakdown, addiction, benefit changes or unemployment – and the current scourge of homelessness is made worse by Tory cuts to vital services that support vulnerable people in times of crisis.
Mental health services are understaffed and stretched to breaking point. Services to help people overcome drug and alcohol addiction have had almost half of their funding cut since 2010. In England more than 30 refuges for women and children escaping domestic violence have closed since 2010, with 155 women a day turned away and left homeless because of lack of space.
Increasing numbers of people are unable to work or get support due to Home Office delays in processing their immigration applications and the government’s shambolic Universal Credit scheme with an in-built delay of 6 weeks has left people without money to pay their rent and facing eviction.
Southwark Council is working hard to support people and reduce homelessness. They are spending £3m this year on outreach services and are working with charities, such as St Mungo’s, to provide overnight food and shelter. But the government has cut Southwark’s budget by 60% by the government since 2010 and however excellent their support services are they will not be enough to replace what has been lost.
No one should have to wonder where they are going to sleep tonight, or live with the fear that comes with insecure or temporary housing and Labour is committed to ending rough sleeping. We are demanding the government provide 8,000 affordable homes for people with a history of sleeping on the streets, restore council budgets, ring-fence mental health funding and halt damaging welfare cuts. The scale of homelessness is a scourge on our society – we can end it and we must.
We are all starting to see more people sleeping rough on the streets and park benches. Since 2010 the number of people forced to sleep outside has increased by 169%...
This year marks 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave millions of women the chance to vote for the first time and stand as a parliamentary candidate. To celebrate this important milestone, The House magazine, supported by Lloyds, hosted a panel event last night which I was delighted to be a part of with Jess Phillips MP, Tulip Siddiq MP, Seema Kennedy MP, Layla Moran MP and Rachel Maclean MP.
We discussed ways for parties to work together to improve the representation of women in British politics at all levels, from local councils to the Cabinet table.
We then heard brilliant speeches from the Minister for Women and Equalities, Amber Rudd, and the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Dawn Butler, on their reflections as women in Parliament and in Ministerial roles.
Lloyds Banking Group are working with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament to develop the Women in the Real Economy mentoring programme, which partners a senior woman Lloyds leader with an MP to help a young woman from that constituency reach their full potential.
This year marks 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave millions of women the chance to vote for the first time and stand as a...
1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health illness at some stage in our lives. We will all know someone who has gone through depression or anxiety, or a more complex condition such as bi-polar disorder and I have helped a number of people living in Camberwell and Peckham who have got into problems arising from mental ill health.
For too long we, as a society, haven’t felt able to talk about mental illness with the same openness as we talk about our physical health. Indeed it was only in 2012 that MPs spoke for the first time in a debate in Parliament about their own mental health problems. Kevan Jones, the MP for North Durham, spoke about how he coped with depression and Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, spoke about the severe post-natal depression she suffered.
Challenging the taboo and stigma is important. But we need to ensure that mental health services are given the same priority as other services. If you have cancer or suffer a broken leg, the NHS has targets for treating you as quickly as possible. But if you’re depressed or anxious it can be 6 months before you’re able to see a mental health specialist. NSPCC research shows that 150 children a day are rejected for treatment and only 1 in 3 children and young people will get the support they need. With just 0.7% of the NHS budget going on children’s mental health, the government must urgently provide more money.
The South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) in Camberwell is the largest provider of mental health services in the UK. Their pioneering work is essential in preventing children and adults reaching crisis point. They are at the forefront of tackling mental illness stigma and run innovative support programmes in the community, using former patients to help support people recovering from a crisis, and making it easier for more people to access help quickly using social media like Twitter.
SLaM is doing a very important job. But Tory cuts since 2010 have left the Trust with 112 fewer mental health nurses and a 23% staff shortage, with over 1,000 vacancies. These cuts cause more distress to patients and end up costing the taxpayer. The Maudsley Hospital is at full capacity with 100% bed occupancy and the time a patient stays in the Maudsley has gone up from 15 days to 25 days. Some patients stay longer because there is nowhere they can go when they are discharged. If you don’t have the right support in place when you leave hospital, you are more likely to relapse and end up going back in. The bed crisis is causing knock-on pressure on the neighbouring A&E at King’s College Hospital which has seen an increase in people needing mental health support because they have nowhere else to go.
This month I am having meetings with groups of SlaM’s community healthcare specialists, governors, and the Chief Executive, Dr Matthew Patrick, to discuss how we can work together to insist the government gives them the resources they need to protect patient care. The hospital cannot improve or retain staff without money. That’s why I am backing Labour’s call for the government to ring-fence mental health budgets and strengthen patients’ legal right to talking therapies.
1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health illness at some stage in our lives. We will all know someone who has gone through depression or anxiety, or...
Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Women & Equalities, replies to my letter of 10th January 2018 regarding #GenderPayGap reporting & ending the unequal pay gap.
Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Women & Equalities, replies to my letter of 10th January 2018 regarding #GenderPayGap reporting & ending the unequal pay gap.
A number of people in Camberwell and Peckham have contacted me about the important issue of access to taxis for blind and partially sighted people and share their experiences of being turned away by minicab drivers because their guide dog.
It is wrong and discriminatory for taxi or minicab drivers to refuse to take people based on their need for assistance from a trained dog. This directly undermines the living standards of those affected and denies them the freedom and mobility necessary to carry out basic tasks. Indeed blind and disabled people must be able to rely on taxis to take them, as unfortunately despite progress being made, in many instances it remains difficult to access other modes of transport.
It is essential that blind and partially sighted people are included in consultation by the Government on Private Hire Vehicles.
Labour is also committed to strengthening the Equality Act to ensure disabled people have the tools they need to confidently challenge discrimination, and have equal access to justice so that prejudice is not left unchallenged.
A number of people in Camberwell and Peckham have contacted me about the important issue of access to taxis for blind and partially sighted people and share their experiences of...
Many constituents have contacted me surrounding the important issue of the UK trades with other countries after Brexit.
The Government lacks any coherent approach to Britain’s future trade policy aside from apparently wanting it to be decided behind closed doors. Tory backbenchers are pressuring the Government to support a ‘soft touch’ trade policy that will only encourage a race to the bottom on standards that will worsen inequality and poverty both in the UK and in the developing world. It is absolutely essential that Parliament is given a proper say on each trade deal to ensure proper scrutiny.
Brexit poses a difficult question for Britain. Britain should use our new position to take the lead in breaking down global barriers to trade. It is essential that our new trade policy works for the many not the few. Labour believes the UK should use trade deals to raise international standards, tighten global rules on corporate accountability and crack down on abuses in global supply chains, alongside encouraging greater global trade.
Labour is committed to a post-Brexit trade policy that supports development in the Global South and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – eradicating poverty, reducing global inequality and boosting industry, innovation and infrastructure in the developing world.
I will continue to work with my Labour colleagues to insist the Government adopts a trade policy that seeks to raise standards and boosts development rather than encourage a race to the bottom and will continue to vote against the Government’s trade legislation which does not ensure proper Parliamentary scrutiny.
Many constituents have contacted me surrounding the important issue of the UK trades with other countries after Brexit. The Government lacks any coherent approach to Britain’s future trade policy aside from...
You can read the full report of my visit to Australia for the International Progressive Campaign Forum and International Labor Party conference here.
You can read the full report of my visit to Australia for the International Progressive Campaign Forum and International Labor Party conference here.
As always when there is a Tory government, local people and local hospitals suffer, waiting lists for operations grow and more operations are cancelled.
For every delayed or cancelled operation there is a human impact. In the last year at King’s College Hospital, 928 operations were cancelled for non-medical reasons — 4x as many as in 2009 when Labour were last in government. The Prime Minister talked about cancelled operations being “part of the plan”. We can never let there be a plan with cancelled operations as part of it. For the individual concerned, there is the psychological impact of gearing themselves up for an operation and then finding it cancelled, everything is organised around it, including time off work, their family taking time off work or coming to stay when they are recovering. Prompt treatment allows people to get on with their lives.
King’s College Hospital and its dedicated staff are enormously important, both as a centre of international excellence and of local necessity - at the heart of GP services, social care and mental health services and are doing all they can to maintain standards of care. But the Government have been imposing deep cuts at King’s at a time when more patients are coming through the door and there is less money per person.
When Labour left government King’s was rated excellent and one of the top hospitals in the country by the Care Quality Commission. Now after 7 years of Tory government it’s dropped to ‘requires improvement.’ This is not King’s fault, it is the government’s fault. Although King’s critical care has improved since 2015 and care for patients with dementia and major incident response was rated outstanding, this week it was announced by the Care Quality Commission that King’s College Hospital’s rating will remain as ‘requires improvement’.
You cannot improve an organisation by cutting it to the bone. In the last 2 years, King’s has already cut £80 million, double the average rate of other hospitals. On 16th January in the debate called by local MP for Dulwich and Norwood, Helen Hayes, on King’s finances, I spoke in Parliament to stress that the problem at King’s is not the leadership, or the growing number of patients, or the dedicated staff, it is about lack of money. I am dismayed the government has allowed a tone of blaming King’s leadership to creep into debate. Funding pressures are being felt right across the country in the NHS.
King’s A & E department is facing additional increasing pressure because of wider cuts, which have stretched local mental health and GP services. Mental health services are essential in preventing children and adults reaching crisis point but Tory cuts since 2010 have left the South London and Maudsley Trust with 112 fewer mental health nurses and a 23% staff shortage, with over 1,000 vacancies. These cuts cause more distress to patients and end up costing the taxpayer more by increasing pressure on A & E departments as people have to go to hospital to get help. That’s why I’m backing Labour’s call for the government to ring-fence mental health budgets to protect patient care.
I met with the new interim Chair of King’s, Ian Smith, on 23rd January and stressed that he and his team have my full support to fight to improve services, but it is vital that the government now does the same and makes it clear they are on King’s side. I am writing to the Health Secretary to ask him to guarantee that King’s are not forced to make cuts that will take us back to the situation we had under the last Tory Government in the 1980s, when people routinely spent all night on trolleys in King’s accident and emergency. Years of Labour investment from 1997 transformed King’s so that by 2010 it was meeting all of its main waiting time targets, but once again now, almost 1 in 5 patients at A & E have to wait more than 4 hours to be seen and King’s is regularly more than 100% full, with meeting rooms and storage space used for beds.
In 2018 my priority for my constituency work is the NHS, and I will be working with patients, staff, unions, local Southwark MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle, Southwark Council and Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group to ensure the government gives King’s, SLaM and primary care services the resources they need to protect patient care.
As always when there is a Tory government, local people and local hospitals suffer, waiting lists for operations grow and more operations are cancelled. For every delayed or cancelled operation...
Those who have suffered sexual harassment need to have the confidence that their complaint will be taken seriously. This is even harder sometimes if the person the complainant is accusing is in a position of power.
Today I spoke in the Chamber to join other Members in commending the work of the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, who lead a cross party group of MPs to come up with solutions to improve the complaints process. Her approach has been very serious and committed but also inclusive, involving—right at the heart of the process and on an equal footing—the shadow Leader of the House and the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Dawn Butler, who has been able to consult and involve us in the process.
The working group has been able to ripple the discussion widely. Of course, we all have an interest in ensuring that grotesque abuses do not happen in this House, that it is a safe and decent place to work and that any wrongdoing is called to account.
People have talked about the balance between a fair system for the complainant and a fair system for the person who is complained about. Obviously that is right. The media spotlight can be very harsh indeed on a Member of Parliament just on the basis of an accusation made, but it can also be very harsh on a complainant, and we have to bear that in mind. Timeliness is very important for a Member against whom a complaint has been made, but it is also important for someone who has complained. I know that that has been at the forefront of the working group’s mind.
This is an important moment of progress, but it is also a work in progress. The working group has established a response and a system and set up an independent complaints process, but it is very important indeed that colleagues in all parties stay on the case to ensure that this actually works.
Those who have suffered sexual harassment need to have the confidence that their complaint will be taken seriously. This is even harder sometimes if the person the complainant is accusing is in...
100 years after women won right to stand for UK Parliament - there are now over 200 women MPs.
My mother, born in 1918, could vote. But when she was growing up, women’s exclusive focus was to be on the husband and family. Women who worked were women who hadn’t achieved their ‘primary purpose’ of marriage and children. How much have we really moved on?
The spirit of the women who fought for the right to vote was rooted in the revolutionary belief that women were not second class citizens, not inferior to men and should not be subordinate to men.
Their campaign was met with vilification and violence, with imprisonment and force-feeding. When you demand equality and change, no one says, “Oh that’s a good idea, we’ll change everything we’ve been doing for the past centuries.” They resist.
To fight for equality always was, and still is, to confront conventions and the establishment. And they fight back. It’s only women’s persistence and solidarity which makes change.
For each generation, there is further to go. The suffragettes won the right to vote. My mother, born in 1918, could vote. But when she was growing up, women’s exclusive focus was to be on the husband and family. If women did work it was only for “pin money” or they were women who hadn’t achieved their “primary purpose” of marriage and children. If a man beat his wife then she’d probably brought it on herself and, anyway, it was a private matter and right for him to keep her in order.
One hundred years ago, women won the right to be elected to Parliament. But in the ensuing decades, it seemed that there was an invisible glass ceiling which kept the number of women MPs at around 3 per cent. My generation – I’m 67 now – were determined not only that women should have the right to sit in Parliament but that they should be there in equal numbers to men.
We wanted to use the rights won a century ago to make change. And to do that we had to be in Parliament and in government. We wanted to work as well as have children. But maternity pay and leave was rudimentary, pregnancy discrimination rife, part-time work undervalued, pay unequal and childcare non-existent. We got rid of the vow to obey our husbands but have yet to get a marriage vow of equality in the home and an equal share of child-rearing.
We have won the argument for change. But the battle still is to make that a reality. It’s accepted that high-quality, affordable childcare is good for children and parents. But women and men are still tearing their hair out trying to get the nursery place they can afford for the hours they need.
It’s against the law now to discriminate against part-timers. Yet the women working part-time as they bring up young children are completely marginalised at work.
Fathers have the right to paternity leave but few can afford to take it up.
Domestic violence is recognised as wrong and a crime. But still two women every week are killed by a current or former husband or partner. And refuges are being shut after austerity cuts.
We must celebrate the incredible advances previous generations have made. But as we recognise the battles they fought and won, we need to regather our strength and determination for further battles. We can’t stop yet. The job’s not yet done!
As we approach the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, it's painfully obvious how much more work there is to be done
100 years after women won right to stand for UK Parliament - there are now over 200 women MPs. My article in the Independent - 5th February 2018: My...
This afternoon I spoke in Parliament's debate to mark 100 years since the first women won the right to vote, to say that I fully support the Government’s move to ask the Law Commission to consider the case for making it a criminal offence to threaten and abuse parliamentary candidates.
This is about misogynists seeking to silence women who dare to speak out—it is particularly virulent against younger women and black women. Voters have the right to choose whoever they want, man or woman, to represent them, and once that representative is elected to Parliament it is their right and duty to be able to get on with the job without being subjected to intimidation, threats or violence. This is about our democracy. Although as women, inside and outside of Parliament, we have made tremendous progress, we still have so much further to go, so I hope MPs on all sides of the House will give it their full support.
You can catch up with the full #Vote100 parliamentary debate here.
This afternoon I spoke in Parliament's debate to mark 100 years since the first women won the right to vote, to say that I fully support the Government’s move to ask the Law...
Today in Parliament I challenged the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to take steps to help ease King's College Hospital's funding crisis and protect patient care:
"He must be aware of the importance of King’s College Hospital to people in Camberwell and Peckham. In 2009 it was rated “excellent” and one of the top hospitals in the country; now it is missing its A&E waiting time targets and a key cancer treatment target, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of cancelled operations, and it is in special measures.
The Government must take some responsibility for that. They must not wash their hands of it. Will they step up to the plate and help King’s by, for instance, giving it the resources that it needs?"
Read the full debate here.
Government must take responsibility for King's going from "excellent" to special measures" - My Question to Sec of State
Today in Parliament I challenged the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to take steps to help ease King's College Hospital's funding crisis and protect patient care: "He must be aware of...
Today MPs will have the chance to debate, and vote, to bring in a system for baby leave for women and men in Parliament. We set the rules for maternity pay and leave for people at work. We’ve legislated for paternity leave and pay. But for MPs ourselves there is no system at all. It used to be the case that there were hardly any women MPs (only 3% when I was first elected) and those women who were in Parliament were older and either didn’t have children or their children had grown up. Now there are over 200 women MPs - in all parties - and many of them are young. It’s a normal sight now to see a pregnant bulge in the Division lobby. Since 2010 17 babies have been born to women MPs. No-one thinks there’s anything wrong or unusual about that. Yet the issue of what happens when they go into labour and in the early weeks and months of their child’s life is swept under the Commons’ green carpet. And it used to be the case that for the men MPs their babies were entirely a matter for their wife. I was in a Committee discussing a Bill when one MP’s pager buzzed and he announced “point of order I've just had a baby”. We all said “hear, hear” to congratulate him and then he, and the Committee carried on! Nowadays most men want to be there for the birth of their child and play a part in those early weeks and months. And that goes for the many new, younger men in Parliament in all parties too.
Erskine May, the bible on parliamentary procedure, says nothing about MPs having babies. Nor do the Standing Orders of any of the parties in Parliament. So when a woman is pregnant, a colleague will tell her to go to her Whips, tell them she’s pregnant and ask for time off. That was an ordeal for me 35 years ago. I didn’t want to ask the Whips for a “favour”. I didn’t want to be beholden to them. I didn’t want to discuss my pregnancy with men who I knew thoroughly disapproved of a pregnant woman being in the Mother of Parliaments at all. I imagine it was even harder for a man MP to ask the whips to be off votes for a baby.
The attitudes in the whips offices are now lightyears from what they were and they arrange a “pair” for an MP who needs to be off. This is where your whips agree for you to be off the vote and they get the other side’s whips to allow one of their MPs not to vote so the party balance of numbers remains. But there’s still no system or rules to rely on. You shouldn’t have to ask. It shouldn’t need 2 whips offices to agree.
And there’s one further major problem with the current situation. When you are off with a baby your vote is not recorded. Your constituency is voiceless. The record shows that you just weren’t there, that you abstained. It looks, from Hansard, like you just couldn’t be bothered to vote. Social media resounds with the criticism of MPs who didn’t vote on this or that key issue. The campaigners have no way of knowing that the MP was in labour at the time the vote was called. The newspapers hound MPs for falling down on their duties. Manchester MP Lucy Powell (who is probably our most hyperactive MP) was denounced by The Sun as one of the laziest MPs in Parliament when she missed votes having her baby.
And the constituency shouldn’t lose its voice if their MP is giving birth or has rushed to attend his wife’s labour. The MP's vote is the way the view of that constituency is recorded. That dilemma faced the new MP for Bury North, James Frith. His wife had given birth a matter of hours before a vital EU vote. He could have asked for a pair. But then it would look to all the world like he’d not bothered to turn up. So he did vote but it would have been better if he’d been able to cast his vote by proxy.
That is why women and men MPs from all parties have joined me, Tory Maria Miller, Lib Dem Jo Swinson and SNP Hannah Bardell, in asking the Commons to agree on Thursday - that MPs should be entitled to apply for a proxy vote for a period after they’ve had a baby or adopted a child. So when a vote is called another MP votes for them. There’s no scope for abuse. Whether you’ve had a baby or adopted is a matter of fact. There’s a reluctance to change rules in Parliament. But on this, Parliament itself has changed. It’s long overdue for the rules to change to catch up. It’s 35 years too late for me but better late than never!
Today MPs will have the chance to debate, and vote, to bring in a system for baby leave for women and men in Parliament. We set the rules for maternity pay and leave for people...
Pressure is mounting on the government over unfair questioning of rape complainants in court as today a campaign launches led by 2 former Solicitor Generals - eminent lawyer Dame Vera Baird QC, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, and Harriet Harman QC MP – to tackle the issue of rape complainants being questioned in court about their previous sexual history.
The law to stop this problem, Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, is not working properly in courts up and down the country.
The wide-ranging campaign coalition - made up of sexual violence support services, cross-party MPs, Peers and charities - is having its first meeting in Parliament today and is calling on the Government to change the law to tackle the problem, of which there is overwhelming evidence, that in a significant minority of rape trials the complainants’ previous sexual history is being used in evidence - often without the defence even making an application to the judge for permission:
- Groundbreaking research from Dame Vera Baird QC, ‘Seeing is Believing’, based on court observers watching 30 rape trials over 18 months in Newcastle Crown Court, found that rape complainants’ previous sexual history was used as evidence in 11 out of the 30 trials - 37%. In the majority of these cases it related to sexual activity with men other than the defendant. In almost two thirds (7 of the 11, 63%) of the cases where previous sexual history was used in evidence the proper procedure to apply for the judge’s consent ahead of trial with notice to the prosecution was not followed. There was either no application or it was made at trial without notice. In one trial the defence barrister said that it was to show that: “she is an adulteress”.
- A national survey of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers by Limeculture in 2017 into the application of Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 found in 28% of cases where previous sexual history was used as evidence there was no application.
- The Fawcett Society Sex Discrimination Law Review undertaken by a team of legal experts and chaired by Dame Laura Cox, DBE, a retired High Court Justice, which was published on 23rd January 2018 concluded that “evidence from a survey of ISVAs finds that this procedure (s41) is often ignored, resulting in victims having their sexual history used in court without prior notice. To combat this, victims should have a right to legal representation whenever an application to use section 41 is made; and the Government must review the law – in particular, whether the use of sexual history evidence should be used at all for the purposes of establishing consent”.
The coalition is calling for a change in the law so that:
- A complainant’s sexual activity with anyone other than the defendant is not allowed to be used as evidence to show consent.
- The complainant is given a right to participate and be represented in the hearing of any application for her previous sexual history to be used in evidence.
- No judge can hear a rape case unless they’ve been on the sexual violence training course.
The opportunity for this change is likely to arise in the forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill.
Dame Vera Baird QC, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner said:
“In the 70s, 80s and 90s we fought to protect women from being unfairly judged on their sexual history, back then the argument would run, ‘she consented to me as well because she’ll have sex with anyone’. That’s why in government in 1999 Labour brought in Section 41 to try to curtail the use of complainants’ sexual conduct with other people as evidence of consent, but the research is clear that the law is not working as Parliament intended it to and we are now having to fight that fight again.
“We cannot allow rape trials to be inquisitions into the complainant’s sex life. The fear of a complainant being confronted with evidence relating to sex with other men is, and has always been, a huge deterrent to reporting rape. We know the government’s review does not reflect the situation in court rooms across the country and call on them to use the opportunity of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to protect complainants and ensure they are treated fairly in the court room”.
Harriet Harman QC MP said:
“This is not what women should have to put up with and it’s not what Parliament intended. And it’s not a fair trial if prejudicial, irrelevant evidence is allowed in. The government cannot go on ignoring the evidence of the scale and nature of the problem. We need a change in the law to ensure that trials are fair and that complainants do not face the ordeal of their sexual history being dragged through the courts. The forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse bill presents an opportunity for legal change and there is now a wide-ranging coalition to ensure that the process in court reflects what Parliament intended and what is fair to complainants”.
For further information contact Rachel Smethers: 0207 219 2057 / Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editor:
- See ‘Campaign document’ attached for proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, fact file, ISVA testimonies and full list of signatories.
The Government’s review of S41 of the 1999 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act claimed that in 92% of cases there is no previous sexual history evidence questioning in trial so the law does not need amending. Harriet Harman and Vera Baird wrote to AG and MOJ on 8th January 2018 to argue that the work they commissioned is completely flawed because:
- as the government admitted in written answer no. 117913 to Harriet Harman QC MP dated 13th December 2017 that the Crown Prosecution Service do not require caseworkers or prosecutors to note if an application under s41 is made,
- any application made during the course of a trial is unlikely to be recorded as in most trials there is not a Crown Prosecution Service caseworker present and there is no requirement on them or the barrister to report and
- guilty pleas were included in the “research”. If there’s a guilty plea there is no point in a s41 application by the defence since the only role for the defence would be in relation to sentencing.
- In the AG written statement to Parliament of 14th December 2017 he stated that “the law makes clear that sexual history evidence cannot be used…to infer that a complainant’s sexual experience – with anyone – or sexual reputation made it more likely that they consented”, is simply wrong. That is exactly the basis on which the judge in the Ched Evans case allowed the s41 application. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial because sexual history evidence with men other than the accused ‘might support a defence of actual consent’.
- The Limeculture survey is based on answers from 36 Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAS) about 550 trials they attended between April 2015 and April 2017 and finds that Section 41 of the Youth Justice Crime and Evidence Act 1999 is consistently being used, and used in breach of guidelines across the country. The responses from the ISVAs who took part in the survey show high levels of variation in when section 41 is applied and at what point, either before or during the trial, the complainant is informed that they would be questioned about their previous sexual history.
New Cross-Party Coalition Launches Challenge to Attorney General & MoJ On Use Of Rape Complaints’ Previous Sexual History In Court
Pressure is mounting on the government over unfair questioning of rape complainants in court as today a campaign launches led by 2 former Solicitor Generals - eminent lawyer Dame Vera...
On 25th January, I was honoured to be invited to give the inaugural Alice Bacon Memorial Lecture at the University of Leeds.
Alice Bacon was Yorkshire’s first woman MP elected in 1945, one of the 15 new Labour women MPs elected in 1945 and the 43rd women MP to take her seat in the House of Commons. Alice represented the constituencies of Leeds North East and Leeds South East between 1945 and 1970 and was a powerful voice for Leeds in Parliament, respected on all sides for her wit. Alice was just one of 3 women elected in 1945 to make it ministerial rank, with Barbara Castle and Margaret Herbison.
“Unless we write about ourselves, unless we write about what other women have done, history will tell us what men did, but it will not tell us what women did. We certainly can’t rely on the men to include us in their memoirs. And that’s why I wrote my book.”
You can watch the full lecture here.
Unless Women Write About Ourselves History Will Only Tell Us What Men Did: My Speech for the Inaugural Alice Bacon Memorial Lecture
On 25th January, I was honoured to be invited to give the inaugural Alice Bacon Memorial Lecture at the University of Leeds. Alice Bacon was Yorkshire’s first woman MP elected...
King’s College Hospital is enormously important. It is a centre of international excellence and of local necessity. It sits at the heart of GP services, social care services and mental health services. It is a pivotal part of the local community and we are proud of the 15,000 dedicated staff who are on the frontline 24/7 including treating victims from the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks and Grenfell Tower fire. On 16th January 2018 I spoke in Parliament to demand the government give King's the resources it needs to protect patient care and to make it clear to everyone at King’s that we are on their side and want to help them, not make an example of them.
My speech in full:
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for introducing this debate. She has proved herself a real champion for her constituents. She fully recognises and champions King’s College Hospital, which many of her constituents need to use and where many others work. She is my constituency neighbour, and my constituents find themselves in the same situation. King’s is enormously important. It is an organisation of international excellence but also of local necessity. It sits at the heart of GP, primary care and social care services, and of mental health care services, both at the Maudsley Hospital and in the community. It is a pivotal part of the local community.
I will confine my remarks to two key points. The first is about the tenor of the debate. I hope Members do not treat King’s like a recalcitrant teenager who has overspent their allowance, or argue that its managers, chair or board are somehow profiting or salting away public money into offshore tax havens. King’s is doing its very best, in good faith, and all its people want to provide the very best service they can. That must always be at the heart of our debates. A tone of blaming King’s sometimes creeps in, but we should be grateful to it and thank it. On the deficit, it may be inconvenient for the Government to see figures with “King’s” written next to them going in a particular direction, but they should understand what is going on there, not tell King’s off as if it is at fault. It is doing one thing, and one thing only: trying to provide the very best care to people who use its national specialties, to regional referrals and to local people who need it. Let us always start on the footing that it is doing its best and that we are grateful to it for that.
My second point is that we need always to concentrate—I do not mean this in a cheesy way—on actual people. I baulked when I heard the Prime Minister talk about cancelled operations being “part of the plan”. Please, let there never be a plan with cancelled operations as part of it. Let us think of the situation for people. For anyone who has an operation booked, there are all sorts of things around that operation. Quite apart from the fact that it screws up their confidence and courage, they have to get time off work and, if they have a young family, their mother-in-law might have to book time off work, too, so that she can come and stay when they go in to have their operation.
An operation looks like one little entry in the Department of Health computer, but for the individual concerned, quite apart from the psychological effect of gearing themselves up for an operation and then finding it cancelled, everything is organised around it. We must not mess people’s lives around by assuming that cancelling an operation, of all things, is normal and can be used as a management tool. I hope that the Minister says that that is not at all what the Prime Minister meant, and that we will not manage our hospitals by booking operations and then cancelling them.
We must remember the human impact of longer waiting lists and cancelled operations. Someone’s hip replacement operation being postponed might be the thing that ultimately causes their job to be given to someone else. They might take sick leave and then take more, and their manager might finally say, “We’ve tried our best, but we just can’t carry on like this. We’re going to have to get somebody else in.” People lose their jobs while they are waiting for hospital treatment. Prompt treatment allows people to get on with their lives. An elderly person who is waiting for a cataract operation, for example, will not go out much, because they cannot see. They will not have the confidence to go out and meet their friends. If the operation is heavily delayed, by the time they have it they may have lost their social circle, lost what they do and become de facto housebound. For every single person who has to wait or whose operation is cancelled, there is a human cost. It is important to focus on that.
There is also the question of accident and emergency. I have watched the TV programmes and have visited King’s A&E on numerous occasions. The odd person is there just because they want to spend four hours sitting somewhere, but most people are there because they have had an accident or they have an emergency. They might have tried to find somewhere else to be seen, but they are there, and they are worried. They are often in pain, and they often have worried relatives with them. We must not drift back to the situation we had before 1997 under a Tory Government. I remember that well. People routinely spent all night on trolleys in King’s accident and emergency. I know what that situation was like, and we must not drift back to it. That would be really unfair on people. In this day and age, when much of the hospital has been rebuilt, we should not go back to that situation.
I hope the Government recognise people’s concerns. I hope that they are generous not just with their money but with their commitment to King’s; that they help it to go forward; and that they do not talk euphemistically about savings. Everyone knows what cuts are—cuts are when more people are coming through the door and there is less money per person. I thank Bob Kerslake for his work as chair, and I am disappointed that, because of the circumstances, he felt he could not stay on. I will meet the new interim chair shortly, but I hope that everyone at King’s—the staff, the management and the chair—feels that the Government are on their side and want to help them sort out the situation rather than blame them, make an example of them and talk about King’s as if it is anything other than the wonderful hospital we believe it is.
King’s College Hospital is enormously important. It is a centre of international excellence and of local necessity. It sits at the heart of GP services, social care services and mental...