Like the overwhelming majority of people in Camberwell and Peckham I wanted us to stay in the EU and indeed I campaigned locally and across the country for Remain. Despite the strong Remain vote in Southwark, unfortunately the result of the Referendum was, by a small majority, to leave. I remain deeply disappointed about this and am increasingly concerned that our fears about the impact of Brexit far from being exaggerated, understated the devastating impact that Brexit would have on jobs, our economy, employment rights, the environment and our security.
There are only weeks until the Brexit talks are meant to conclude but the Government still have no credible plan, no viable solution to the Irish border and there appears to be no support in Parliament for the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals.
If Parliament votes down the Prime Minister's Brexit agreement or she cannot reach an agreement with the EU, I believe we must keep all options on the table including a public vote.
However, after the mistakes and mishaps of the last two years, I believe we should be prepared for the possibility that the Prime Minister may fail to deliver the Brexit agreement that our country needs.
I am committed to judging any Brexit agreement against Labour’s six tests that were set out by the Shadow Brexit Secretary in March last year.
When or if there is an agreement for Parliament to vote on, I do not accept that it should be a 'take it or leave it' choice between what may be a bad deal or crashing out of the EU without an agreement. I believe a No-Deal Brexit would be catastrophic and the Government does not have the right to plunge our country into chaos because of its own failure.
This is why, if any agreement is voted down by Parliament, my preference is for there to be a general election - to try to get a Government that can negotiate the best agreement for our country. However, if a general election is not possible, all other options for breaking the impasse must be kept open including a public vote.
As your elected representative in Parliament, I welcome your views and comments throughout this process. Thanks once again to all those who have contacted me on this issue.
Like the overwhelming majority of people in Camberwell and Peckham I wanted us to stay in the EU and indeed I campaigned locally and across the country for Remain. Despite...
Brandon Tenants’ Association reps Joy Allan-Baker, June Lewis and Eileen Piper came to Parliament today so I could thank them for all of their hard work on behalf of residents in the difficult days and months following the tragic killings of Rhyhiem Barton and Siddique Kamara.
We discussed how I can further back them in their demands to increase youth activities on the estate, CCTV and local police. When an estate is in a state of shock it is so important to have the constant voice and presence of dedicated tenants reps. We are all indebted to Joy, June and Eileen and all TRA chairs and secretaries who do an enormous amount of work for residents.
Brandon Tenants’ Association reps Joy Allan-Baker, June Lewis and Eileen Piper came to Parliament today so I could thank them for all of their hard work on behalf of residents...
Great turnout for the borough-wide, all women campaign session in Rye Lane today. Thanks to Cllr Jasmine Ali for organising and to all Cllrs and members who came out to talk to local people about the issues affecting them.
Great turnout for the borough-wide, all women campaign session in Rye Lane today. Thanks to Cllr Jasmine Ali for organising and to all Cllrs and members who came out to talk to local...
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Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the Crosland Lecture. It is a great honour.
And it’s a real pleasure to be here with Mel Onn, my colleague and your MP. And to accept her invitation on your behalf to deliver this lecture.
I remember when I met Mel as your candidate, in the General Election campaign in 2015.
Austin Mitchel, who won the seat for Labour after the untimely death of Anthony Crosland in 1977, had been a huge figure all my decades in the PLP and was so identified as Grimsby MP. As a young woman, and a lone parent, Mel, born and raised in Grimsby, seemed such a contrast to Austin. Grimsby had changed massively in the decades since Austin became your MP. And now there was to be a big change in the MP. And it was a tough campaign. We’d hoped to get into government...but it turned out our backs were against the wall. And we were far from confident of winning here in Grimsby.
But as we went out and about chatting to people in Grimsby it was evident how completely confident she was of her Labour values and how direct she was with the people we met. She had a natural air of authority.
Since then, in parliament, Mel has become one of our bright hopes for the future - now being shadow minister in the Housing team an issue which is going up the agenda of concern here in Grimsby and something for which she has a deep personal understanding, having been brought up on housing estates and experienced homelessness as a teenager.
Our Labour Party, and our democracy is all the better for the arrival in parliament of Mel and alongside her, the new cohort of young women. They are forthright, admirably resilient. They expect to be on an equal footing irrespective of their gender. They do not expect to defer to anyone or anyone. They don’t expect to apologise for being young, for being a woman, for being a mother. Nor should they.
We just need to be in government so that Mel can speak from a position of power not from opposition. And one of the driving reasons why we need to be in government is the scourge of inequality. When you mention inequality everyone agrees that it’s a bad thing. For most of us the main reason we are in the Labour Party is because we detest inequality and see Labour as the way to fight it. But though we all agree that it is a scourge - it’s worth spelling out why, why progress to tackle it has been uneven and what we still need to do about it.
Inequality is a breach of human rights
Every young person is entitled to fulfil their potential, to follow their chosen path as best they can, to have a decent life. The fact that it is harder for that to be the case for a young person from a low income background and easier from a young person from a wealthy family is anathema to the Labour Party. It makes us fume with indignation and burn with resentment against the injustice to any and every child who suffers from inequality. The opportunities for a young person should not be greater for someone from a wealthy family and fewer for a young person from a low income family. Being born in London should not be a social or economic advantage compared to being born in the North. Inequality is a breach of an individual’s human rights
The individual needs the state to create a level playing field
It baffles me that the Tories are regarded as standing up for the individual against the state when in fact it is the state that needs to act to ensure inequality does not blight the lives of individuals. The state does not hold back individuals, state action is necessary to hold back the inequality which blights the lives of so many.
So it should go without saying that inequality is bad for the individual if you, as that individual are restricted in your life chances because of the family or region you are born into. And you need more of the state, not less.
Inequality can take many forms: no hierarchy of inequality
Inequality can take many forms. It can be because you are black or Asian, or because you are a woman, or because you are gay, or disabled or old. Inequality is bad whatever it is rooted in. No-one should be discriminated against because of their gender, or subjected to homophobia or racism or written off because they are past 60. That is poisonous stigma based on prejudice that sees only the category and not the individual for what they are. And there should be no hierarchy of inequalities. It is not worse to be discriminated against if you are black than if you are a woman. It’s not better to be stigmatised because you are disabled than if you are gay. Whether what is the basis for your being oppressed its wrong. And anyone who fights against any inequality is doing something important. So I firmly resist the “what about” tendency that says well, you might be fighting against gender inequality but “what about class”. Or you might be fighting against class inequality “but what about racism”. Whatever discrimination the struggle is against it is combatting discrimination and inequality and I applaud it. All those who are fighting for equality should respect and support each other, working on the different front-lines of inequality. The solutions to different strands of inequality are different. The policy that will liberate a white lone parent - like childcare - will not help in the fight against racism. But it’s worth striving for. Fighting against racism will not of itself liberate women - of any ethnicity - but it’s still worth doing. There are plenty of oppressors so we need to turn our fire on them - not on each other. It is pointless and a distraction to compete about which sort of inequality is the worst - when it’s all bad and there’s plenty of it.
Inequality is bad for the economy
Inequality is bad for the economy. Structural inequality is the opposite of meritocracy. Where there is opportunity for enterprising people with initiative to set up their own businesses, the economy thrives. When companies have a talent pool to draw on their business grows and so does the economy. Inequality holds back and economy. The economy loses out if business overlook people because of their ethnic background. Half the talent of the country is wasted by discrimination against women. Think of all the scientists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose contribution has been lost to this country because they are women. Now, this is widely recognised in international development - that discrimination against women holds back the economy. But somehow it seems to be easier for some people to recognise the truth of this abroad than to act on it at home.
Inequality is bad for society
Societies which are more equal are more harmonious, less conflicted, more at ease with themselves. That seems obvious. We instinctively draw back with unease when we see gated communities - people having to lock themselves away for fear of those who live beside them. But greater equality also means better health for all - and not just for those on lower incomes. The figures show clearly that more equal societies are healthier. So tackling inequality ought to be seen as part of any public health strategy.
Equality is the foundation of our democracy
Strangely, for a society which remains so unequal, equality is the principle on which our democracy is founded. That each person has just one vote - that the vote of a millionaire is no more important than the vote of someone who’s unemployed. And we want the government to be based on the will of the people, not on the influence of money so we have laws (often put under considerable strain) to regulate election spending to try and prevent money trumping our democracy. And we look across to the USA with horror about the extent of the influence on politics of big business and wealthy lobbies - such as the National Rifle Association.
The struggle for equality
But though it seems to us self-evident that equality is a good thing and inequality is a bad thing, making society more equal is a struggle. No-one says “oh thank you for pointing out about sex discrimination. We’ll stop it right now and put women on an equal footing”. Far from it. Racial inequality has been documented for years. But it is still prevalent. Charting and exposing inequality is necessary but it doesn’t, of itself, stop it. Winning the arguments for equality doesn’t mean it happens. Entrenched privilege is hard to shift. Those who have a vested interest in the status quo are not quick to give up their privilege. It’s not called the struggle for nothing. And if we want change, that’s what we have to do. Not only did we have to struggle to get into government - and that took us 18 long years from 1979 t0 1997, but I had to struggle to implement policies to tackle inequality even when we were in government.
The pattern of inequality in the UK
When we got into government in 1997 we embarked on programmes to tackle deprivation and poverty. We tackled pensioner poverty - which was the biggest group of those in poverty. We set targets for tackling child poverty and put it into law. We put resources into tackling in-work poverty though the tax credit system. We introduced a National Minimum Wage. We began the work which would start to halt the growing gap between rich and poor as well as programmes to tackle discrimination against women, minority ethnic communities, the disabled, the elderly and on the grounds of sexual orientation.
To take things further our 2005 manifesto promised to bring in a new Equality Act. When I was elected Deputy Labour Leader in 2007 Gordon Brown appointed me Minister for Women and Equality. I thought it was essential to include inequality on the basis of social class in the new Act - and to that I had to press on past those who said it was not in my remit and that I should stick to gender, race, disability etc.
To lay the basis for action on class in the Equality Act, I pressed for a Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth - like the Royal Commission which was set up in 1974 under the Labour government of Harold Wilson. It produced 5 reports between 1974 and 1979 but - unsurprisingly - one of the first things the Tories did when they got into government was to abolish it!
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t succeed in getting agreement to a Royal Commission. Some of my colleagues in government feared that as we had been in power for 10 years a Commission might show us in a bad light, might show that inequality was still prevalent - which of course it was. My argument that we had made progress but we needed to show the extent to which further progress needed to be made, and embark on it, did not win out. But I fought on and did ultimately in 2008 get agreement to establish a more modest version - a National Equality Panel - chaired by the highly respected academic, John Hills of the LSE. The panel’s findings were striking:
- That before Labour got into government in 1997 the gap between the top and the bottom was growing
- That when we got in we succeeded in halting that gap growing
- But more needed to be done if we were to begin to narrow the gap
- That - and this is obvious if you think about it - the bigger the gap between the top and the bottom, the wider the gap between the rungs of the ladder, the harder it is to climb up that ladder. So a more equal society is more meritocratic and allows for upward social mobility in a way that a very unequal society doesn’t.
- That class trumps ability and by the age of 7 the bright working class child is overtaken by the less able middle class child.
Clause 1 Equality Act
So, armed with the findings of the National Equality Panel that more needed to be done and by government, we drafted, as the first clause of the Equality Act a new law to propel action against socio economic inequality - inequality rooted in class background. What Clause One says is that every public authority must, in every decision they make, consider whether it would widen or narrow the gap and take action to narrow the gap. It was to apply to every government department, every council, every university, and all our health and education services. What it would have done is put at the heart of all the actions of every part of the public sector the drive to end class inequality. It would have made the Treasury be clear about how each budget was contributing to narrowing the gap. It would make the Transport Department ensure that transport infrastructure narrowed the equality gap. It would stop the Department of Communities and Local Government cutting funds to councils in deprived areas while sparing councils in wealthy parts. It would have made all decisions by every Council, whether on housing, planning, or children’s services, part of a huge drive to make the public sector an engine to tackle class inequality. It would narrow that egregious gap between rich and poor and between richer and poorer regions. But we lost the election in 2010 and again, predictably, one of the first things David Cameron did was to say that he would not bring Clause One into force. So it’s there, on the statute book, but not implemented.
Implement Clause 1 - My challenge to the Prime Minister
Theresa May, in her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street, spoke of how she was determined to tackle what she called the burning injustice
"that if you’re born poor you will die, on average, nine years earlier than others......If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.
"If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.”
She’s right on that. The fact that by the age of 7, children with a higher social class background but low assessed ability overtake those from a lower social class background who were initially assessed as having high ability is nothing if not a burning injustice!
But under her government it’s getting worse. And, as has always happened with a Tory government, the possibility of those born at the bottom to rise up the ladder is becomes more remote. The chance of the bright working class 7 year old to achieve their potential diminishes, while the not so bright middle class child forges ahead. That is downright unfairness and the very opposite of a meritocracy.
So my challenge to the Prime Minister is, if you mean what you say about tackling those burning injustices, if you are genuine in wanting to tackle lack of social mobility then implement Clause One. It’s no good saying that you want to tackle inequality and while leaving Clause One lying dormant. The Scottish government have implemented it. It came into force there in April this year. In Wales, they’ve already done something similar, placing a legal duty on public bodies to set out annually how they are progressing in terms of achieving equality and are considering whether they need to go further and fully implement Clause One.
Class inequality cuts deep scars across England. Clause One has been consulted on and legislated. Model guidance of how to implement it has been drafted and consulted on. David Cameron chose not to implement it - but now Theresa May is prime minister and unless she implements it, it will be evident that her concern for those “burning injustices” are just crocodile tears.
The next Labour government
To make any real progress in tackling burning injustices rather than seeing them grow worse, we need a Labour government which will once again embark on the quest for equality. The agenda for tackling inequality is the essence of our Labour values across the piece, whether it’s
- strengthening and supporting trade unions to empower people in their workplaces
- tackling the exploitation of zero hours contracts and the gig economy
- universal free childcare to liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work
- a muscular regional strategy. Resentment in regions which felt left out of a London-centric economy and politics lay behind the views of many who told me they were going to vote Leave
- requiring Universities to take bright children from state school and end the imbalance highlighted by MP David Lammy
- ensuring the Equality and Human Rights Commission have the money and powers they need to be rigorous enforcers of the equality agenda.
- playing, though our international development agenda, a major part in the fight against global inequality.
These are policies driven by a moral purpose but they also take us forward in the direction of a modern dynamic economy and harmonious communities. And whether up here in Grimsby or down south in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, they are at the very heart of Labour’s DNA.
**Check against delivery** Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the Crosland Lecture. It is a great honour. And it’s a real pleasure to be here with Mel...
To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in this country winning the right to stand for election to parliament, we will be holding the first ever women MPs of the world conference on Thursday 8th November. And MPs have agreed that it will be held in the historic chamber of the House of Commons.
Women have fought their way into parliaments in nearly every country in the world. But we are still only relatively recent arrivals on the political scene, still pioneers in male dominated parliaments. We are all pushing for the same things and facing the same obstacles. Women are now in parliaments but are not yet on equal terms with men. Women MPs around the world want not only to be in parliaments but also to be able to share power equally and to be strong enough to make a real difference for women in our countries. It’s not good enough to be in Parliament. It’s very much what you do which counts.
So at our conference we’ll be discussing policy ideas for helping women and girls. I’ll be telling them about our new laws to make organisations publish their equal pay gap every year. We’ll be discussing how we make sure that women MPs are as powerful as men and how we change our rules to reflect that women are in our parliaments too. I’ll be telling them about how we’re introducing a system of proxy voting for MPs who go on maternity leave. And we’ll be discussing the backlash that faces us. Challenging the idea that we must just expect to get death threats and that we should be awash with insults and abuse on social media.
I will be eager to hear what they are doing in their countries as they push forward for women. Many of them are drawing up new rules to deal with sexual harassment in parliament. In India they are using a Girls’ Parliament to ensure girls get the idea that politics is for women too. The Girls’ Parliament is elected and has its own PM and cabinet! This is a brilliant idea and I’m going to propose to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in Parliament that we set one up in the UK! One of the issues we’ll be discussing at our conference will be how we increase the number of women MPs. It’s always hard to make change if you are just a small minority.
The women MPs of the world will be bringing all their ideas and experience to London to share with us and each other. Imagine how it will look when the green benches of our House of Commons is crammed with women from over 100 countries from Sierra Leone, to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Japan, Peru, Australia and the USA - all looking very different from how our Commons usually looks.
The visual impact alone will be stunning and the images will race around the world.
And it will show that as we celebrate the progress towards equality made by women in the UK, we recognise that women are striving for the same progress in every country in the world - and we support them.
We want to make lasting connections. So we will use the conference to initiate an online forum of women MPs so the discussion kickstarted in Westminster can continue.
This historic conference is backed by the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, the Foreign Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park. Speakers include shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott MP and shadow equalities secretary, Dawn Butler MP. And Prime Minister Theresa May has been invited to participate.
The sisterhood is now global. Already as word about the conference spreads, the Japanese House of Representatives has been in touch to share ideas on how we can make it easier for MPs who have had a baby or adopted a child to carry out their duty to vote on behalf of constituents in parliament. We have so much to learn from women MPs in other parliaments. And they have much to learn from us and from each other. This promises to be an historic event. The public gallery will be opened up to the public and community organisations to watch the debates. So put that date in your diary..
Tweet us & find out more at #WomenMPs🌍 #WomenMPsoftheWorld @HarrietHarman
This article originally appeared in Southwark News, 20th September 2018
To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in this country winning the right to stand for election to parliament, we will be holding the first ever women MPs...
In 2016 the Government committed to launch a Pensions Dashboard by 2019. The dashboard was designed to be a one-stop-shop digital platform, where any individual could view their various pension pots and see how much they have saved for their retirement.
Labour has long supported the creation of a Pensions Dashboard, as it would make pensions guidance more effective and give people a better insight into their future earnings after they retire.
Many people across the country and in our area currently have very little idea of the value of their pension schemes - they may be in multiple schemes and as a result they may have no idea what their returns might be. In addition, I am aware that the Government has estimated that 50 million pension pots with £3 billion in savings would be lost without a dashboard. Indeed, one in five adults admit that they have already lost a pension pot.
Unfortunately, on 4 September 2018 the Government issued a statement outlining its decision to back the Pensions Dashboard, provided it is run by industry. I believe that this is a cop-out.
I firmly believe that the Pensions Dashboard should be publicly-run for the benefit of workers across the UK. Passing it on to the private sector means there is no guarantee of compliance from all pension providers. Furthermore, there has been no indication of whether the State Pension will be included in the dashboard.
In addition, I understand that the data of millions of people will be accessible through the dashboard, which is why I believe that it must be accompanied by high standards, tough regulations and sound governance. I am concerned that a privately-run dashboard could put savers' data at risk.
I can assure you that I am committed to ensuring that older people have dignity and security in retirement and I will continue to press the Government on this issue at every opportunity.
In 2016 the Government committed to launch a Pensions Dashboard by 2019. The dashboard was designed to be a one-stop-shop digital platform, where any individual could view their various pension...
On 15th September I joined Labour members & councillors for Southwark’s Borough Conference. I was glad to pay tribute to our councillors & leader Cllr Peter John. The Tories are starving councils of funds, so it’s a difficult time to be a councillor. No Labour councillor wants to carry out cuts. It’s impressive that despite the difficult climate Southwark Labour remain determined to innovate, improve the lives of local people and quest for equality. I raised the damage the Government is doing to our NHS, in particular mental health services. I am seeing disturbing cases of people who need to be sectioned not getting the treatment they need. Mental health professionals only decide on a section if they believe the person is a danger to themselves or others. It is a high bar and a last resort. So it’s imperative that once the decision is made the person is brought in for treatment immediately. But doctors cannot put a section into effect unless they have police with them to gain entry if the person won’t let them in, or if they resist. But the police are so overstretched that it is taking weeks to get bookings. Meanwhile the person suffers without treatment, their family suffer and are in danger and they are a threat to the public. Often desperate family or neighbours call 999 and emergency services end up dealing with the situation because the system is not properly resourced. In Opposition we have to expose what is actually happening as a result of the inhumane, unfair and reckless Tory cuts to public services. The only solution is a Labour government, properly funding our NHS. I look forward to working with local members as we strive for this.
On 15th September I joined Labour members & councillors for Southwark’s Borough Conference. I was glad to pay tribute to our councillors & leader Cllr Peter John. The Tories are...
This morning I spoke to charities, lawyers, MPs and members of the public about the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ campaign against Legal Aid cuts at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, chaired by Labour MP Karen Buck. The JCHR, which I chair, recently carried out an inquiry on the inability for most people to enforce their rights. While in 1979 77% of people were eligible for Civil Legal Aid, now only 25% of people are. This is due to Legal Aid cuts, which have led to a lack of Legal Aid lawyers in many areas, no Legal Aid for some proceedings e.g. inquests, and the government’s drumbeat of criticism of claimants. It is wrong that now you cannot enforce your rights or challenge unfairness against you unless you have money. The JCHR is calling on the Government to increase the number of people eligible for Legal Aid, at least to include those who qualify for tax credits and benefits and we proposed there should be Legal Aid for representation at inquests. In the 2013 Lakanal House inquest all the public services- fire, ambulance, council- had QCs and solicitors at public expense. The only people unrepresented were the tenants in the neighbouring identical block who had to watch their neighbours' children being brought out in body bags and put their own children to bed every night worried about their safety. The Government must ensure there is “equality of arms”. I’m working with Jeremy Lefroy MP to table an amendment to the next available Bill to require public bodies to pay 10% of what they’re paying for their own lawyers towards lawyers for members of the public with an interest but no legal representation.
This morning I spoke to charities, lawyers, MPs and members of the public about the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ campaign against Legal Aid cuts at the All-Party Parliamentary Group...
**Check against delivery**
Thank you for inviting me to this exciting conference. In my 35 years of being an MP I’ve been to thousands of conferences but this is unique - to be here together with women MPs from different parts of the world. It’s going to be fascinating to see what emerges as our common agenda and discuss how we can work together to make further progress. So I warmly congratulate Catherine Martin and her team on this initiative. And it’s hugely to the credit of your Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he recognises the significance of this and is here today.
Just a few points for us to bear in mind:
* We should recognize how far we’ve come in such a short time. As women we are only recent arrivals in politics. We are pioneers. When I was growing up - I was born in 1950 - the idea was that summit of a girls ambition was to be a get a good husband. And after that to be a good wife serving him. My mother, qualified as a barrister - which was very unusual in those days - but after she married my father she gave up. Her wig and gown was in our dressing up box. The man was the head of the household and his word held sway. Men made decisions and women abided by them. That was very much the case outside the home too. Men made history and women made the tea. The rise of the women’s movement challenged those attitudes successfully. Now there is a general expectation that men and women should be on equal terms. In all walks of life. Now there are women MPs in nearly every country in the world. And our numbers are increasing steadily. When I was first an MP in 1982 I was in a parliament which was 97% men only 3% women. Now we are up to 32%. Still a minority, but now a critical mass.
We should be gratified by our progress but never grateful. No one handed it to us. We fought hard for it. All we’re demanding is the rights that we are entitled to. All we are asking for is equality and we don’t have equality yet. We are in parliaments but women in our countries are still not on an equal footing. We’ve won the arguments. Now we need to change the reality. Equality is a human right. Necessary for the economy and for equal societies are ease with themselves. Equality is the future.
*Our case for women in parliament is the case for democracy and for better decision-making. It is essential for the democratic legitimacy of our Parliaments that they are representative - that voters can see that in their parliaments, making the decisions that affect their lives are people like themselves, who understand them. Parliaments are just not representative if there are no, or hardly any women there. When I was first elected, and our parliament was only 3% women it was simply unrepresentative of the 50% of the population is women. Women’s voices were not heard. So, no-one is doing us a favour “letting us in” to parliament. We are a democratic imperative. Male dominated parliaments can’t be defended on grounds of merit. And it’s not about merit. Parliaments with no, or hardly any, women are not meritocracies, they are discriminatory. Unless you believe that men are just so much better than women - which of course we don’t. And a balanced parliament with a diverse team of MPs is better for decision-making. Homogenous teams are blinkered by group-think and are blind to so much in a changing world.
*Though we’ve fought our way in to parliaments we are as yet, as relative newcomers and not on equal terms with the men in parliament. It is not enough just to be allowed in the building. We must ensure that we share power on equal terms. That means equal numbers in senior positions in government and in opposition. And it means women in those positions being as powerful as our male counterparts. When we were in government in 2010, I was in the minister for women and equality but my bill, the Equality Act, was not passed till the very last day we were in office. It was our very last Bill and nearly didn’t get through despite the fact that I was not only in the Cabinet but was deputy leader of my party. And we need women in leadership. My party, Labour, in 100 years has never had a woman leader. We must next time. Don’t get me wrong I’m encouraging all the brilliant men in our party to press on with their ambition - and aspire to be deputy.
And to reflect the reality that women are now in parliaments we need to change the way our parliaments work - so, for example, we’re pressing for proxy voting for a woman MP who’s just had a baby, and for a new MP dad too. I’m keen to hear how all of your parliaments accommodate women who’ve had new babies and men who want to play their part in their families. I know this is something that the Irish Parliamentary Women’s Caucus is exploring.
*It’s our duty as women MPs to speak up for and make change for women. If we leave it to men, it won’t happen. When I was first in Parliament the political agenda was all “money supply motorways and mines”. We handful of women were urged not to “bang on” about women’s issues or we’d be seen to be narrow, not part of the mainstream, not serious politicians. But we women MPs and in the Women’s Movement more widely, insisted that there should be a change in what is seen as the political agenda - that it should include maternity leave, and tackling domestic violence. And childcare which Colette Kelleher played a leading part in when she was in the UK. Should be part pf the mainstream agenda. Together we insisted on changing the traditional political priorities. Our latest push includes equal pay - we’ve introduced a law to require organisations employing more than 250 people to publish their pay gap and that has exposed the scale of inequality. In the UK everyone swears support for equal pay and denies that they are discriminating. But the figures published for the first time this April show that 8 out of 10 employers pay men more than women - in every sector - even sectors such as retail which wouldn’t exist without women’s work. Why should women on the check out at Tesco put up with £8 per hour when the men in the store room get £11.50. How can people expect unions to be the champion for equal pay for their women when our biggest union, Unite for example pays their men employees 30% more than their women. And the teachers union, NASUWT, pays their men 40% more than their women. And it’s nothing less than an insult to the women at Facebook UK that the men there get bonuses which are 60% higher than the women. Now it’s out in the open and we will be demanding progress year on year.
*We must work in solidarity as women. You can’t do it on our own. That means solidarity between women in parliament and women outside. (I would never have survived in the early days - struggling with 3 young children in a male-dominated parliament - without the support of the women’s movement outside parliament). Our solidarity with movements such as #MeToo is essential. And it means solidarity and working together between women within our parties in parliament - and getting more in because numbers matter. It’s good to see that you now have 22% women in the Dail - but we all still have a way to go. (That’s why we did all women shortlists. You have to use whatever organisational methods are going to really deliver.) And solidarity means working with women across parties - where we can - to make advances for women in our countries - as you did in the recent abortion referendum with such spectacular success. Deep party loyalties make that a bit of a challenge to us in UK - and has been difficult because the first feminists in parliament were all Labour and were opposed by the conservatives. But that is changing with the arrival of the new younger women who’ve arrived on the Conservative side and is hugely effective where it does happen - like through the work of the Select Committee on Equality, like our work on domestic violence. And our cross-party working for proxy voting for MPs on Babyleave, and Stella Creasy who you're hearing from later today working effectively cross party on abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland.
*We must win the support of and work with men. That is easier now with the new generation of men who have very different attitudes from their fathers’ generation. They see women as equal and recognise rights of their wife to succeed in their work, recognise the need to share the upbringing of their own children. Sons of the Women’s movement. But as women we must still set the agenda and not allow men to lead on women’s issues. Remember the women’s movement saying “Women must be the engine of our own liberation”.
*We need to work internationally. We’re all on the same path. We’re all pioneers. We all are seizing the same opportunities and facing the same problems. We’re all struggling to combine work and family, we’re all facing the backlash. We support our sisters in other countries in their struggles and draw support by networking/sharing ideas - which is what this conference is such a great example of.
*We must make “unreasonable demands” - “today’s unreasonable demands are tomorrow’s conventional wisdom”. If something’s right in principle then we must demand it. No asking politely. Not just persuading but insisting. And achieving them by force of numbers. We must guard against self-censorship. We’re not asking for favours. We’re demanding the rights that should always have been ours. And we must defend the progress that we’ve made. In the UK we’ve seen the network of children’s centres which are so vital for working mothers, being cut back. There are many countries in the world where women’s rights are being pushed back. We can never be complacent.
*Don’t expect to be popular - a woman in public life is still counterintuitive. But we must call out abuse and threats of violence. I didn’t when I was first an MP and was subjected to death threats. As a young woman with babies I feared my constituents would think I was not able to fight for them if I was weak and too preoccupied with my own problems. But I now think that was wrong. It’s not about proving we’re tough. Attacks on women MPs are not just misogyny, they are anti-democratic. Our wonderful colleague Jo Cox was murdered for doing her job as MP. We’re elected by our voters and they expect us, and we are entitled, to get on with our job without fear on hindrance.
So, I look forward to hearing your Taoiseach - it’s so encouraging that this agenda has support at the highest level of government. And I look forward hugely to the discussion. But above all I send you solidarity and wish you support in your struggles. We are looking forward to our own conference of women MPs from around the world in November in the House of Commons to which some of you will be coming and we can continue the conversation.
A lot done...a lot more to do!
**Check against delivery** Thank you for inviting me to this exciting conference. In my 35 years of being an MP I’ve been to thousands of conferences but this is unique...
A lot of people living in Camberwell and Peckham have contacted me concerned about environmental principles and governance after Brexit. I agree that leaving the EU must not lead to any watering down of existing standards.
The Government opened a consultation on an Environmental Principles and Governance Bill in May to explore the scope and content of a new statement of environmental principles. The consultation will also consider what functions and powers a new environmental watchdog should have to oversee environmental policy and law.
I am concerned that, under the proposals in the consultation, we may no longer retain the environmental protections we currently enjoy in the EU. The proposed watchdog is a toothless imitation of current EU institutions, which will advise and lay reports to Parliament with formal action only at the end of numerous bureaucratic hoops. I want to see a world-leading environmental body with independent, statutory backing. The consultation closed on 2 August and the Government says it will bring forward a draft bill this autumn.
As you will be aware, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill received Royal Assent on 26 June. I consistently supported amendments to this legislation to safeguard environmental protections. For example, I supported amendments which would have required the Government to pass primary legislation within six months of Royal Assent, establishing a duty on public authorities to apply principles of EU environmental law and establishing an independent body to monitor compliance of public authorities with environmental law.
While the amendments accepted by the Government in lieu of these proposals offered some helpful developments, they did not ensure that all existing EU rights, powers and liabilities that contribute to the protection and improvement of the environment are preserved under UK law.
The Government has since announced that it will introduce a new Environment Bill. However, I am concerned about the lack of information around this Bill. It is important the Government presents ambitious and concrete measures that recognise the scale of the environmental problems we face. We must make the case for a more progressive, more ambitious domestic environmental policy.
I will continue to press for environmental standards to be properly protected and enhanced where necessary and to ensure our principle and governance mechanisms are not weakened on exit from the EU. This is vital to secure the future of our natural environment.
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch with me on this important issue.
A lot of people living in Camberwell and Peckham have contacted me concerned about environmental principles and governance after Brexit. I agree that leaving the EU must not lead to...
Great afternoon celebrating the amazing NHS at the Camberwell & Peckham Labour Party Picnic.
Great afternoon celebrating the amazing NHS at the Camberwell & Peckham Labour Party Picnic.
I believe we must meet our obligations under the Dublin regulation to reunite refugee children with family members in the UK and that Brexit must not lead to a loss of rights for refugees.
I therefore supported Lord Dubs' amendment to the Withdrawal Bill which sought to preserve existing rights - allowing those seeking asylum, including unaccompanied minors, to join a family member in the UK. This amendment was passed by the House of Lords in April but in the Commons, the Government rejected it and instead brought forward its own alternative.
This alternative amendment sets out that the Government must seek to negotiate an agreement with the EU to allow unaccompanied child asylum seekers to come to the UK to join a relative, where it would be in the child's best interests to do so. The Government has subsequently accepted changes to expand its amendment by allowing aunts and uncles as qualifying relatives able to sponsor, as well as relatives under 18. These revised proposals were agreed in the House of Lords on 18 June.
Our country has a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution and we must continue to play our part by taking our fair share of refugees. We could do more to help unaccompanied child refugees in Europe by fully implementing the Dubs scheme. This was a targeted scheme for resettling some unaccompanied refugee children in the UK.
It is very disappointing that the Government ended the Dubs scheme after resettling far fewer unaccompanied children than anticipated. I believe we should restore the Dubs scheme and accept some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
I also believe that refugees should be able to settle, integrate and live fulfilling lives in the UK and that more needs to be done to reunite families, for example by expanding the scope of the refugee family reunion rules.
I will continue to defend the right of refugees in Europe to reunite with family in the UK.
I believe we must meet our obligations under the Dublin regulation to reunite refugee children with family members in the UK and that Brexit must not lead to a loss...
Many people say that prostitution - men paying for sex with women - has always been with us and always will be. But I don't agree with that view. Prostitution is bad for women, men and neighbourhoods and there is something we can and should do about it.
There are a number of contested propositions about prostitution. Some argue that it is a choice women make and that they should be allowed to make that choice. They say that just because I don't want to be a prostitute I shouldn't interfere with their choice, their right to sell their body for sex. I think there are only a very small number of women for whom prostitution is genuinely a free, positive, strong choice. Most women find themselves in prostitution because of mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction. Many have had troubled or abused childhoods or have been brought up in the care system. Many have been tricked into prostitution by human traffickers who have brought them from abroad and then forced them into the sex trade. These women need protecting and help to lead a better, safer life. If that means interfering with the "right" of the very few women who choose to sell sex or the "right" of men to buy sex, then so be it.
Some argue that prostitutes are "sex workers" and that their "job" should be protected not eliminated. But prostitution is not the sort of "work" that anyone would like to admit their mother does. Who wants their daughter to grow up to be a prostitute? - No-one. Surely we have higher ambitions for women than that they should sell their body for sex.
Some say that I should listen to the voice of organisations like "The English Collective of Prostitutes". I have, and I don't agree with them because I have also listened to the voices of women who were victims of trafficking whose cases I dealt with when I was Solicitor General in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Some say that it's a way for a woman to earn a lot of money. Most money in prostitution doesn't go to the women but to pimps and criminal gangs.
Some say that it's not just about women, there are male prostitutes too. I think the arguments about protection of women apply in the same way to men who fall into prostitution.
What about a man's "right" to pay for sex, especially if he couldn't get sex anywhere else? His right to pay does not justify his exploitation of women. Some say "but if men can't pay for sex they'll resort to rape instead". Men do not have a "right to sex" and if they commit rape they should be put in prison.
Some say that if you make it a criminal offence to pay for sex you will drive it underground and make women even more dangerous for women.
I think we should follow the example of the Nordic countries where the woman prostitute is treated as a victim and helped and men paying for sex are guilty of a criminal offence. We should tackle the criminal gangs who deal in guns, drugs and women's bodies. And I think we should ban the small ads in local newspapers which are advertising prostitution.
Many people say that prostitution - men paying for sex with women - has always been with us and always will be. But I don't agree with that view. Prostitution...
On 1st August 23 year old Siddique Kamara was stabbed to death just yards from his home on the Brandon Estate. His family are devastated. And this is the second murder in the same street within the last 3 months. Rhyhiem Barton, aged only 17 years, was shot dead there on 5th May.
The Police have worked quickly to arrest and charge a man with Siddique’s murder and it is vital that anyone who has any information that can help the police with either crime should come forward. If you do not want to contact them directly you can pass information entirely anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
The local community are, justifiably, shocked at this second killing. As I did after Rhyhiem’s death, the day after Siddique’s murder I held a meeting on the Brandon Estate, attended by Southwark Council Leader, Peter John, local councillors for Camberwell Green and Newington, senior members of Southwark Police, the hardworking Brandon Estate tenants' representatives Joy Allan-Baker, June Lewis and Eileen Piper and local residents.
At both meetings the same concerns were raised. With the recent killings, parents are worried about having to leave their children and go to work when schools are on summer holidays. Holiday play schemes are either full or too expensive. So it was important that Peter John immediately pledged £10,000 from Southwark Council to support the summer youth programme in Rachel Leigh Hall. They need to be able to pay youth workers and pay for extra sports activities and with the extra funds they can now do that. This isn’t just a problem on the Brandon. Across all estates there’s a lack of facilities for young people. It’s bad enough after school and at weekends, but it becomes even more of an issue during the long schools summer holiday. With all the government cuts, there just isn’t enough money to provide the services that are so badly needed to keep the children of working parents safe and happy when school’s out.
The community also raised concerns about the lack of CCTV particularly around the low-rise homes where the elderly live. I am supporting their application for CCTV and the Council are acting on it, including lopping some of the trees which provide shady spots where criminals can lurk and where they would not be able to be seen by CCTV.
In both meetings the community and the families have highlighted the role of social media in gang violence. They believe that the internet is being used both to plan and to incite violence and they’re calling for action.
Everyone agrees that the internet is crucial for exchanging ideas and sharing art forms. But the local community believe that much of the drill music and videos cross over a line and are used for criminal purposes.
Siddique Kamara was himself a drill rapper, under the name of 'Incognito'. In an interview earlier this year, he spoke about its effect on crime in London - "You see with the crime that's happening right now, music does influence it. You've got to put your hands up and say drill music does influence it."
The lyrics often glorify gang warfare and include threats against rival gangs or individuals. For example in one track on YouTube, Moscow17 tell rival gang Zone 2 to "check the scoreboard". Another video asks "how you gonna make it even?" Zone 2 then posted a song in response telling their rivals that they would “roll up and burst them”.
I’ve called on Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee to conduct an inquiry into whether the police have enough resources to deal with surveillance of the use of drill music for crime, whether internet providers are quick enough in responding to requests to take down material which is inciting crime and whether more powers are needed to stop the internet being used for gang crime. I’m also liaising with the Youth Violence Commission and am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime.
Government cuts both to police budgets and youth services are having a significant effect on the rise of youth violence. Southwark alone has lost a quarter of its police officers since 2010. My Labour colleagues and I are intensifying our demands to government to increase officers on the beat and to restore police and youth service funding. It is time the Government stepped up to treat this crisis with the urgency required to help stop any more young lives being lost to violence and prevent other families and communities going through this heartbreak.
On 1st August 23 year old Siddique Kamara was stabbed to death just yards from his home on the Brandon Estate. His family are devastated. And this is the second murder...
As we mark the NHS turning 70 this month it’s impossible to look back and overstate just how much its creation by the then Labour government meant to people’s lives in Britain in 1948, and still means today.
Before its introduction only people who earned enough could see a doctor or get treatment. For the first time in 1948 the NHS meant people who couldn’t afford to take their sick children or elderly relatives to the GP suddenly found that they could get the treatment they needed and women who hadn’t been able to afford to have their babies in hospital safely could now do so.
70 years on the NHS has grown to 1 million dedicated and compassionate staff, it is a beacon of equality around the world and remains our most cherished national institution. The NHS represents that sense that we all have a duty to each other, we pay in collectively and it is there for us whenever we need it.
But after 8 years of Tory government all around us now we see the effect of the cuts. For example at King’s College Hospital, which is a fantastic and important hospital for people locally, A & E waiting times are missed, cancer treatment targets are missed, there’s been an increase in cancelled operations, and the chair, Sir Bob Kerslake, resigned in December because he said it was impossible to cut the amount government are asking them to cut without affecting patient care.
We see cuts at the Maudsley Hospital pushing down the pay and conditions of those contracted to work there and large numbers of vacancies in nursing staff. Particularly worrying is that when I visited psychiatrists at the hospital they told me that when they have someone who is psychotic and paranoid who needs to be sectioned because they’re at risk to themselves or others in the community, cuts to policing mean there are a shortage of police to go with doctors to safely take the person to the Maudsley and sometimes they have to wait weeks before they get the treatment they so desperately need. During that time that person and their family suffer terribly and sometimes are at risk of violence. The Maudsley team only decide to section someone if they have tried everything else and that person is in crisis. They can’t wait. I have written to the Minister to demand that she tackle these unacceptable delays and am liaising with the police as well.
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, claims the Government is spending more than ever on the NHS. But in reality they have cut £20 billion since 2010 and spend 3% less a year than was spent by the last Labour government. When Labour got back into Government in 1997 we made one of our key 5 pledges cutting waiting times and we trebled investment in the NHS. Soon waiting times were coming down and people were no longer coming to my advice surgery asking for help with cancelled operations or unable to get on a GP’s list. More was invested in community services, mental health and GP practices, crumbling hospitals were rebuilt and staffing was massively increased.
That’s why there’s such a need for Labour to get back into government. To not only protect, but advance the NHS.
The 70th anniversary of the NHS is a time to reflect and recognise that, though healthcare has completely changed, the principles at its foundation are as important as ever. I have made the NHS my constituency priority for 2018 and am working with Labour Southwark MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle and Southwark Council to use this anniversary year to intensify our support for our local NHS and our demands to the Government to give the NHS the money it needs.
As we mark the NHS turning 70 this month it’s impossible to look back and overstate just how much its creation by the then Labour government meant to people’s lives...
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report on enforcing human rights. The report finds that cuts to legal aid and government reforms to the system mean that for many people enforcement of their human rights is now simply unaffordable. This is gravely concerning for access to justice and the rule of law.
Large areas of the country are now “legal aid deserts”, as practitioners withdraw from providing legal aid services since they can no longer afford to do this work.
For rights to be effective they have to be capable of being enforced.
To do this, we must have adequate and equality of access to legal information and advice; a robustly independent judiciary and legal profession; strong National Human Rights Institutions, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and a culture which understands the concept of the rule of law, respects human rights and which is supported by the Government.
At the moment we are seeing the erosion of all of those enforcement mechanisms because of a lack of access to justice and lack of understanding of the fundamental importance of human rights and the rule of law.
The Government must act urgently to address this.
Government, Parliament, the media and the legal profession all have a responsibility to consider the importance of the rule of law, and the role that rights which can be enforced through an independent court system, plays in that.
Government must exercise self-restraint and refrain from criticising the judiciary and legal profession.
This report comes as the Government reviews the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and puts forward recommendations to feed into that review.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report on enforcing human rights. The report finds that cuts to legal aid and government reforms...
Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson, was "paired" with Tory chairman Brandon Lewis so she could be at home with her new baby son Gabriel during the Trade Bill vote. This should have meant neither her nor Brandon Lewis votes so their absences cancel each other out and this does not unfairly impact the result of the vote or discriminate against her because she has just given birth. But despite this agreement Brandon Lewis MP did turn up and voted with the Government.
This shambles should put it beyond doubt that pairing is not the answer for MPs having babies. We’re elected as MPs to vote on behalf of constituents and MPs having babies shouldn’t lose that right. In Prime Minister’s Questions today I pressed Theresa May to urgently bring forward a vote on proxy voting for baby leave. There are loads more parliamentary babies in the pipeline and more crucial votes coming up. It’s time to sort it out. This one is overdue.
Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson, was "paired" with Tory chairman Brandon Lewis so she could be at home with her new baby son Gabriel during the Trade Bill vote. This...