Speech for National Labour Women’s Conference
12th March 2004
I’m so pleased to have a chance to speak at this conference about the new laws on domestic violence that we will be bringing before parliament later this month.
We’ve come a long way to get to this point.
In 1976, when Jo Richardson introduced the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Bill she had the backing of Labour women – but in the House of Commons she was a lone voice.
I remember, some 5 years later, when I joined Jo in the House of Commons there were 97% men and only 3% women and domestic violence was just not an issue as far as parliament was concerned.
Mention it once and you were condescendingly ignored – mention it twice and you were obsessed.
There’s been a big change
* with 100 women in parliament and
* Labour in government.
And there’s been a big change in attitudes too
* First, it was “it’s his job to keep her in order – if he needs to give her a clout to do that so be it”
* Then it was “It’s wrong for him to hit her – but she probably brought it on herself”
* Then it was “He shouldn’t do it – but there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s between him and her and not for us to but in”
Now, government is saying
“It’s wrong and we can and will step in to stop it.”
We have to challenge the legacy of those old attitudes and say – as the government is saying clearly now –
That whatever happens in a relationship, there is never, never any excuse to resort to violence.
* Women should not have to put up with it.
* Children should not live in fear from it.
* Men should not think they can get away with it.
* And it’s for all the agencies to work together and stop it.
As well as challenging attitudes, we need to toughen the laws – so that the law does more to protect her and to punish (and deter) him – and that’s why we’re introducing the new Domestic Violence Bill
I’d like to acknowledge the strong support we’ve had both from the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary
But I’m in no doubt whatsoever that it is the presence and the active support of Labour’s new women MPs that has made this Bill a reality.
Vera Baird, Margaret Moran, Julia Drown, Julie Morgan, Oona King, Margaret McTaggart, Meg Munn – fought really hard for this Bill – and so did many more. Jo Richardson would have been proud of them.
So, now, with over 100 Labour women MPs, domestic violence is very much on the agenda. And so it should be.
We’ve committed to tackling crimes of violence – so we must be concerned about domestic violence which accounts for a full quarter of all reported crime and sees two women killed every week by a husband or partner
We’re committed to supporting families and children – and domestic violence always devastates families and always harms children.
So we’ll bring in our new Bill – and the police and the prosecutors are working to put the laws into practice. But we need to do more.
We need to continue to work on this
We need to continue to have the support of women MPs
And that’s why we need to win a third term.
Women’s votes coming to Labour played a major part in our 1997 election victory.
We need to remind those who may have forgotten, of the importance of women’s votes - and not take those votes for granted. Women have always been the last to come to Labour and the first to leave. So far, they have given us their support – but not a blank cheque.
And we need to have in the front of our mind that Labour is a party that believes in and struggles for equality – that means equality between those of all ethnic origins and of all social classes and it means equality between men and women.
So for Labour to sustain our majority – to continue to deliver for women - we must have women’s votes
And to sustain our commitment to equality we must deliver for women
And to put our politics into practice we must “walk the talk” and that means men and women sharing power.
We must be a party of men and women, working together on equal terms to better the lives of men and women in this country.
We have no need to be diffident about reminding women of what we have done since we got into government. We can be proud that…
* We increased women’s representation in Parliament.
* Introduced the Minimum Wage
* Introduced the Pension Credit and State Second Pension
* Put extra investment in schools and hospitals
* Increased nursery places
* Gave more financial help for families with children
* Gave more financial support for those in retirement
* Extended maternity rights and gave extra rights to part-timers
* As well as bringing in new laws on rape.
But we need to think seriously about how we ensure women know what is at stake and what is on offer at the next election.
We need women’s votes to win again in all the seats we won for the first time in 1997 as that is where most of the women MPs are
We must keep the women MPs because
* They are the “critical mass” which ensures we can deliver for women
* They prevent parliament being a “men-only” activity
* Some of our most able ministers are women – we must not lose them.
The big increase of Labour women MPs in 1997 has genuinely changed the political agenda and has been the wedge by which women’s issues have firmly driven into parliament and into government.
So we need
* women to vote for us
* so we can keep our women MPs
* so we can deliver for women
To do that we need
* an election team of men and women. Women will not listen to a men-only team saying women matter.
* A manifesto which makes clear what women have to gain from another Labour Government
We need policies which will build on what we’ve already done and which will translate our policies into action which all women can see in their daily lives.
* We need to make more progress on domestic violence and rape. To make the new laws a reality we need to give women the support they need to cope with the justice system. Personal support for victims of domestic violence and sexual offences would help tackle the problem of cases “falling by the wayside” before they get to trial because the woman can’t face it or just has too much on her plate already. And women will not have confidence in the law while the courts remain overwhelmingly white and male. That’s why the work of Charlie Falconer and the work of the Crown Prosecution Service is so important in paving the way for equal numbers of men and women in the judiciary.
* We need to make more progress on family-friendly employment. With committed leadership from Patricia Hewitt, as Women’s Minister and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, we’ve already changed the law and extended maternity rights and pay. But we can, and must, do more to support women as they care for their babies in that first crucial year of life. And we must do more to back up women at work who still struggle as they try to care for their families as well as hold down a job. We need a programme of action which will ensure that they have the back-up, the advice, information and support that they need. We now have personal advisors for young people trying to get into work, we now have personal advisors for lone parents trying to get into work – perhaps we should be thinking about personal advisors for women with families struggling to stay in work
* We have already done a huge amount to tackle low income amongst pensioners – most of whom are women – with the winter fuel payments, the Minimum Income Guarantee for pensioners and free tv licenses for the over 75’s. And we’ve made pensions fairer with pension-sharing on divorce. But time out of paid work spent caring for children or elderly relatives still leaves too many women pensioners with inadequate pension cover. Pension Credit is taking direct action here – with two-thirds of those in receipt being women and entitlement being highest for those millions of women with inadequate basic pensions. For the future the Second State Pension is giving millions of carers and low-paid workers – most of them women – the chance to build up a decent state pension for the first time. But there is no doubt we still need to do much more to tackle the unfairness which still leaves too many women with inadequate pensions. So, we need to be thinking about what further steps we can take to boost pensions for women who both care and work.
* There’s a growing problem of trafficking of women and children. Young women from Eastern Europe are told they’ll get a good job in a bar in Milan – instead they find themselves forced into prostitution in London. And parents in rural Northern Nigeria are persuaded that their children will have a better life with friends in London – only to lose touch with them as they are coerced into a life of crime and prostitution. I’ve just arrived back – this morning – from a week in Sierra Leone to support development organizations such as Plan UK and to support the government of Sierra Leone in their struggle to bring justice and development to their country. Europe could and should play a crucial role. We need to lead a new cross-European initiative to step up the attack on unfair trade which locks developing countries into poverty and makes women and children easy prey for the traffickers. And we must work with our EU partners to track the traffickers across Europe, prosecute them and strip them of the proceeds of their crimes.
* And Childcare. With strong leadership from Margaret Hodge, the first minister for Children, we’ve made great progress with the National Childcare Strategy. But for too many women childcare is still a huge headache. We need a major nursery expansion – starting in the poorest areas and extending to all. Quality, affordable, accessible childcare has always been our goal. We must make sure we continue to work to make it a reality for all parents who want it for their children.
We need to expose the Tories’ claim to be a woman-friendly party as wholly bogus. Only 10% of Tory MPs are women . They are selecting men to replace retiring male MPs. They have no policy platform to deliver for women. Michael Howard’s team is a men- only affair.
The Fawcett society have calculated that at this rate, they won’t have equal numbers of women MPs for the next 300 years. Well, I think women are not prepared to wait that long…
This conference comes at an important time for us as Labour women. We can contribute to the debate about what our manifesto and Labour’s third term, would offer women of this country.
We can be bold in our demands and confident in their delivery.
We don’t have to put forward our demands with any diffidence or meekness.
We should be gratified by what we have done so far – but we should not be grateful.
It’s what women are entitled to.
What we are demanding on behalf of women in this country is “fairness not favours”
Labour is the party which believes in equality and fairness.
Labour is a party which needs women’s votes – and with those votes
Labour is the party which will deliver for women