Harriet Harman

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

Current News

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Monthly report January/February 2018

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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.

In 2018 my priority for my constituency work is the NHS - Southwark News

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...

Sexual_harassment_cross-party_committee_report_-_debate.pngThose 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.

 

You can find out more about the working group's recommendations and catch up on the debate in Parliament today here

Backing cross-party proposals to tackle sexual harassment in Westminster

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...

 

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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 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...

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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.

Backing move to make abusing parliamentary candidates a criminal offence in Vote 100 debate

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...

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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...

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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! 

 

It's 35 years too late for me, but MPs must get baby leave

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...

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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:

  1. A complainant’s sexual activity with anyone other than the defendant is not allowed to be used as evidence to show consent.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.

 

ENDS

 

For further information contact Rachel Smethers: 0207 219 2057 / Rachel.smethers@parliament.uk

 

Notes to Editor:  

  1. See ‘Campaign document’ attached for proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, fact file, ISVA testimonies and full list of signatories.
  2. 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:
    1. 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,
    2. 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
    3. 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.
    4. 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’.
  3. 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.
  4.  

 

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...

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Monthly report - December 2017 / January 2018

Read more

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...

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