On 25th January, I was honoured to be invited to give the inaugural Alice Bacon Memorial Lecture at the University of Leeds.
Alice Bacon was Yorkshire’s first woman MP elected in 1945, one of the 15 new Labour women MPs elected in 1945 and the 43rd women MP to take her seat in the House of Commons. Alice represented the constituencies of Leeds North East and Leeds South East between 1945 and 1970 and was a powerful voice for Leeds in Parliament, respected on all sides for her wit. Alice was just one of 3 women elected in 1945 to make it ministerial rank, with Barbara Castle and Margaret Herbison.
“Unless we write about ourselves, unless we write about what other women have done, history will tell us what men did, but it will not tell us what women did. We certainly can’t rely on the men to include us in their memoirs. And that’s why I wrote my book.”
You can watch the full lecture here.
Unless Women Write About Ourselves History Will Only Tell Us What Men Did: My Speech for the Inaugural Alice Bacon Memorial Lecture
On 25th January, I was honoured to be invited to give the inaugural Alice Bacon Memorial Lecture at the University of Leeds. Alice Bacon was Yorkshire’s first woman MP elected...
King’s College Hospital is enormously important. It is a centre of international excellence and of local necessity. It sits at the heart of GP services, social care services and mental health services. It is a pivotal part of the local community and we are proud of the 15,000 dedicated staff who are on the frontline 24/7 including treating victims from the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks and Grenfell Tower fire. On 16th January 2018 I spoke in Parliament to demand the government give King's the resources it needs to protect patient care and to make it clear to everyone at King’s that we are on their side and want to help them, not make an example of them.
My speech in full:
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for introducing this debate. She has proved herself a real champion for her constituents. She fully recognises and champions King’s College Hospital, which many of her constituents need to use and where many others work. She is my constituency neighbour, and my constituents find themselves in the same situation. King’s is enormously important. It is an organisation of international excellence but also of local necessity. It sits at the heart of GP, primary care and social care services, and of mental health care services, both at the Maudsley Hospital and in the community. It is a pivotal part of the local community.
I will confine my remarks to two key points. The first is about the tenor of the debate. I hope Members do not treat King’s like a recalcitrant teenager who has overspent their allowance, or argue that its managers, chair or board are somehow profiting or salting away public money into offshore tax havens. King’s is doing its very best, in good faith, and all its people want to provide the very best service they can. That must always be at the heart of our debates. A tone of blaming King’s sometimes creeps in, but we should be grateful to it and thank it. On the deficit, it may be inconvenient for the Government to see figures with “King’s” written next to them going in a particular direction, but they should understand what is going on there, not tell King’s off as if it is at fault. It is doing one thing, and one thing only: trying to provide the very best care to people who use its national specialties, to regional referrals and to local people who need it. Let us always start on the footing that it is doing its best and that we are grateful to it for that.
My second point is that we need always to concentrate—I do not mean this in a cheesy way—on actual people. I baulked when I heard the Prime Minister talk about cancelled operations being “part of the plan”. Please, let there never be a plan with cancelled operations as part of it. Let us think of the situation for people. For anyone who has an operation booked, there are all sorts of things around that operation. Quite apart from the fact that it screws up their confidence and courage, they have to get time off work and, if they have a young family, their mother-in-law might have to book time off work, too, so that she can come and stay when they go in to have their operation.
An operation looks like one little entry in the Department of Health computer, but for the individual concerned, quite apart from the psychological effect of gearing themselves up for an operation and then finding it cancelled, everything is organised around it. We must not mess people’s lives around by assuming that cancelling an operation, of all things, is normal and can be used as a management tool. I hope that the Minister says that that is not at all what the Prime Minister meant, and that we will not manage our hospitals by booking operations and then cancelling them.
We must remember the human impact of longer waiting lists and cancelled operations. Someone’s hip replacement operation being postponed might be the thing that ultimately causes their job to be given to someone else. They might take sick leave and then take more, and their manager might finally say, “We’ve tried our best, but we just can’t carry on like this. We’re going to have to get somebody else in.” People lose their jobs while they are waiting for hospital treatment. Prompt treatment allows people to get on with their lives. An elderly person who is waiting for a cataract operation, for example, will not go out much, because they cannot see. They will not have the confidence to go out and meet their friends. If the operation is heavily delayed, by the time they have it they may have lost their social circle, lost what they do and become de facto housebound. For every single person who has to wait or whose operation is cancelled, there is a human cost. It is important to focus on that.
There is also the question of accident and emergency. I have watched the TV programmes and have visited King’s A&E on numerous occasions. The odd person is there just because they want to spend four hours sitting somewhere, but most people are there because they have had an accident or they have an emergency. They might have tried to find somewhere else to be seen, but they are there, and they are worried. They are often in pain, and they often have worried relatives with them. We must not drift back to the situation we had before 1997 under a Tory Government. I remember that well. People routinely spent all night on trolleys in King’s accident and emergency. I know what that situation was like, and we must not drift back to it. That would be really unfair on people. In this day and age, when much of the hospital has been rebuilt, we should not go back to that situation.
I hope the Government recognise people’s concerns. I hope that they are generous not just with their money but with their commitment to King’s; that they help it to go forward; and that they do not talk euphemistically about savings. Everyone knows what cuts are—cuts are when more people are coming through the door and there is less money per person. I thank Bob Kerslake for his work as chair, and I am disappointed that, because of the circumstances, he felt he could not stay on. I will meet the new interim chair shortly, but I hope that everyone at King’s—the staff, the management and the chair—feels that the Government are on their side and want to help them sort out the situation rather than blame them, make an example of them and talk about King’s as if it is anything other than the wonderful hospital we believe it is.
King’s College Hospital is enormously important. It is a centre of international excellence and of local necessity. It sits at the heart of GP services, social care services and mental...
A number of people have contacted me this week to ask me to support the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, introduced by my Labour colleague Karen Buck MP, on Friday 19th January.
I am strongly backing the Bill. It is a basic expectation that rental homes should be warm, dry, free from damp and safe. The Tory Government has failed to tackle rogue landlords and ensure that renters have proper protections. Currently landlords are under no obligation to make sure that the properties they let out are fit for human habitation. The only obligations that exist are to repair damage to the structure of the building and fix broken heating, gas, water or electricity installations. This does not cover common issues such as fire safety, inadequate heating or poor ventilation, which can lead to condensation and mould growth.
Local councils have powers to enforce fitness standards, but only 50% of councils have served a notice in the last year. This Bill would give tenants the power to take legal action against landlords who fail to maintain safe standards for rented homes and would enforce a responsibility on landlords to make homes fit for people to live in.
If successful the Bill will make important changes to protect tenants and improve the living conditions for 3 million low-income families living in substandard housing. I welcome the Government’s announcement that they will be supporting the Bill and I will continue to support its progress as it passes through the Commons.
A number of people have contacted me this week to ask me to support the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, introduced by my Labour colleague...
Many people have contacted me about the important issue of John Spellar’s bill to introduce an ‘Agent of Change rule’.
Local music venues are an important source of entertainment for local communities, and are critical to aspiring full-time musicians entering into the professional music industry, but they are increasingly under threat. Since 2007, more than half of London’s 430 live music venues have closed. A major reason for this is new residential developments submitting noise abatement orders against local music venues.
New developments should not be able to force long-standing local venues to close due to sound pollution. We need to strike a balance between building new homes and protecting our existing businesses.
An Agent of Change rule would fix this problem by making the person or business carrying out the change responsible for managing the impact of the change. This would mean developers building near an established live music venue would be responsible for the costs of providing adequate soundproofing, rather than money-pressed music venues.
I and my Labour colleagues will always stand up for our local music industry.
Many people have contacted me about the important issue of John Spellar’s bill to introduce an ‘Agent of Change rule’. Local music venues are an important source of entertainment for...
My letter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission today regarding pay transparency. The justified anger must now spur the change for equal pay. As the equalities watchdog the EHRC must lead and the Government must give them the funding they need to do this:
My letter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission today regarding pay transparency. The justified anger must now spur the change for equal pay. As the equalities watchdog the EHRC must lead and... Read more
Many constituents have contacted me on the important issue of Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. I share your concerns and have signed EDM 128.
It is important that future trade deals do not lead to a race to the bottom and are used instead to maintain and build on existing standards. This is why it is so important that Parliament is given proper time to scrutinise new deals.
The Trade Bill and Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill made it clear that the Government wants our trade policy to be decided behind closed doors. They want to use Brexit as an excuse for a power grab from Parliament, using Henry VIII powers to avoid scrutiny or debate.
Labour is committed to transparency and we are seeking to amend future trade legislation to ensure MPs can challenge future trade proposals that would negatively affect their constituencies or the economy. I was disappointed that last week the Government voted against Labour’s reasoned amendments to both the Trade Bill and Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill highlighting these very concerns.
I will continue to work with my Labour colleagues to ensure the power of Parliament and regulatory protections are not undermined as we leave the European Union and enter into new trade agreements.
Many constituents have contacted me on the important issue of Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. I share your concerns and have signed EDM 128. It is important that future trade...
Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts. Labour will continue to urge the UK government to raise the issue of child military detention with their Israeli counterparts and I understand the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt MP, is committed to doing so.
There can be little progress unless both sides are sure of their security. Sadly, at present the opposite is true. Peace and security are becoming ever harder to achieve because of the climate of increasing aggression and extremism and settlement building.
We need an end to the fear Israeli citizens feel whenever they hear air-raid sirens warning of rocket attacks or the latest reports of terror attacks on ordinary Israeli citizens. And we need an end to the anger and unfairness that has been felt by many Palestinian people since 1967, with their children growing up afraid, in poverty and deprivation, their homes bulldozed to make way for illegal settlements, and their futures offering just more of the same. It is a vicious cycle of fear and despair.
Israel is the only country in the world that automatically prosecutes children in military courts. Labour will continue to urge the UK government to raise the issue of child military...
Harman, left, and Baird said the government used “completely flawed” research
Two senior legal figures are challenging the attorney-general and the new lord chancellor over claims that the law is protecting rape complainants from being questioned at trial about their previous sexual history.
Two former solicitors-general, Harriet Harman, QC, an MP who served as deputy leader of the Labour Party, and Dame Vera Baird, QC, now a police and crime commissioner, accuse Jeremy Wright, QC, and the then lord chancellor David Lidington of using “completely flawed” research to claim that the law is working as it should.
In a letter issued today, Harman and Baird say they are seeking a meeting with the Wright and Gauke for an explanation of how the research was relied on and to suggest how the law could be improved.
In 2016 Wright and Lidington commissioned research into the workings of section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which prevents the use of sexual history by the defence to discredit the complainant unless the judge agrees.
The case of the footballer Ched Evans, who was acquitted of raping a 19-year-old woman, led to concerns that the rule was being breached.
The study looked at 309 rape cases and found that in 92 per cent, no evidence of the complainant’s sexual history was permitted to be introduced by the defence, and applications to do so were made in only 13 per cent of cases.
However, in their letter, Harman and Baird say they are “disappointed and baffled” by the research report and accompanying statement.
They say that it fails to challenge the findings of other evidence about the use of section 41 and that it cannot be accurate because the Crown Prosecution Service does not require its prosecutors or caseworkers to note if a section 41 application is made. Any application at the start of or during a trial is unlikely to be recorded because in most trials there is no CPS caseworker present and no requirement for the prosecuting barrister to report.
“The numbers in your report are therefore not based on anything which could be regarded as reliable. Yet on this basis you conclude the law is being correctly applied and does not need amending,” they write, adding: ”We seriously challenge this.”
The cite a proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill as an opportunity to amend the legislation. They also question why the research report included trials involving “guilty pleas” because there would be no point in a section 41 application by the defence in such cases.
In a statement to the Commons in December, Wright said: ”These findings strongly indicate that the law is working as it should, and strikes a careful balance between the need to protect complainants and ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial, consistent with the common law and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
However, he added: “Whilst this is reassuring, we want to do more to provide vulnerable victims, and the public at large, with complete confidence in our criminal justice system.”
Harman, left, and Baird said the government used “completely flawed” research Two senior legal figures are challenging the attorney-general and the new lord chancellor over claims that the law is...
This afternoon I spoke in Parliament to praise Carrie Gracie, former China Editor at the BBC, for the principled stand she has taken in denouncing unequal pay on behalf of women not just in the BBC and broadcasting but in workplaces up and down the country, I demanded the government to reverse the cuts of almost 70% to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure they have the funds to tackle the pay discrimination which is now laid bare.
From April 2018 all organisations with more than 250 employees will be required to publish their gender pay gap every year. The exposure of the persistence and extent of the pay gap will anger women employees. But it is important that this information is the spur for change, empowering women to demand change, rather than just increasing the justifiable resentment which women feel.
-It is crucial that a woman at work is able to see clearly how the pay gap in the organisation for which they work compares with other similar organisations.
-It is crucial for women to be able to track the progress their organisation is making in narrowing the pay gap year on year.
-It is crucial for the government and local government to see the regional pattern of the pay gap.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has the responsibility to monitor this, to ensure companies publish their pay gaps and to set targets for companies to close the gap. But in order to ensure that the EHRC are able to carry out this important task and right this wrong, it is vital that the government gives them the money they need.
You can read my full statement below or watch the debate here.
I think what we should be doing today is to be thanking Carrie Gracie for the principled stand she has taken. She has done this on behalf of women, not just in the BBC, not just in broadcasting, but women throughout the country who suffer pay discrimination. As a broadcaster and as a journalist she is exceptional, but as a woman facing entrenched pay discrimination, I’m afraid she is the norm.
He rightly says that when it comes to the transparency, the requirement to publish the pay gap, which is in the 2010 Equality Act, it’s for the regulator, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to police that, to monitor it, to make sure companies publish and to set targets that they close the gap. But, will he commit that this Government, in order to ensure that they are able to carry out the important task, to remedy this discrimination, that they redress the cuts of up to 70% that have fallen upon the Equality and Human Rights Commission?
This is a pivotal moment. We need the Equality and Human Rights Commission to be able to do their job. They need the funds to be able to ensure we right this wrong.
Matthew Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:
Well, I pay tribute to the leadership that the Right Honourable lady, in Government and since, on this issue, because making sure that equality of opportunity pervades our country is important, and that means gender equality too. She’s rightly been an outspoken voice in favour of gender pay equality and equality across the board.
What I would say about the EHRC, is that it is their actions, and they have a duty to act and now they are indeed acting, and that is a question of judgement as much as it is a question of judgement.
This afternoon I spoke in Parliament to praise Carrie Gracie, former China Editor at the BBC, for the principled stand she has taken in denouncing unequal pay on behalf of...
Following reports of death threats to MPs after last week’s Brexit vote, I asked the Home Secretary what actions the Government is taking to combat the toxic culture surrounding the Brexit debate.
“I fully endorse the words of my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, but I want to press her on the question of death threats to MPs because of how they voted in last week’s debate. Does she agree that we have here a toxic triangle, which is made up of the divisiveness of the Brexit issue, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail identifying certain Members as targets and framing the attack on them and—facilitated by social media—the mob following? When MPs in other countries are threatened with violence because of how they vote, we call that tyranny, and we call that fascism, but that is what is happening here.
As well as rightly commending the bravery of her Conservative colleagues, will the Home Secretary be brave herself and call in the editors of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph? We have more contentious votes ahead of us, and there are people out there who are vulnerable to being incited to violence. Barely 18 months ago, our colleague Jo Cox was killed. The safety of MPs is at stake here, and so, too, is our democracy.”
“The right hon. and learned Lady makes a passionate case about the difficulties, challenges and very real threats that all MPs find themselves facing. Let us be clear that the real criminals are the instigators of these threats and attacks. Everybody should be clear that anything that is illegal offline is illegal online, so anybody who is in receipt of such a threat should go to the police, so that action can be taken.
From the Government’s point of view, we have made sure that the police have the resources to address the problem. We have invested, through the police transformation fund, in new digital advice to ensure that the police know how to record for evidence the types of accusation and attack that Members may receive online, so that there is a proper trail of evidence for prosecution. I believe that the attackers are the clear enemy, and we should focus our policy on them.”
Following reports of death threats to MPs after last week’s Brexit vote, I asked the Home Secretary what actions the Government is taking to combat the toxic culture surrounding the...
It was great to welcome the lively and enthusiastic Ivydale Primary School Council to Parliament today. A big thank you to the teachers and parents for bringing them!
It was great to welcome the lively and enthusiastic Ivydale Primary School Council to Parliament today. A big thank you to the teachers and parents for bringing them!
The run-up to Christmas is the busiest period of the year for the police. This afternoon I visited police stations in Camberwell and Peckham to take part in their annual #WalktheMet event. I later also joined local officers talking to residents in The Lane.
Thanks to all at Southwark Police for the work they do.
The run-up to Christmas is the busiest period of the year for the police. This afternoon I visited police stations in Camberwell and Peckham to take part in their annual...
Yesterday, I and my Labour colleagues voted for Dominic Grieve’s amendment 7, to give Parliament a say on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU and I was pleased members from across the house voted to ensure the amendment passed 309 votes to 305 votes.
This is a great win for Parliament. The Government will now be required to pass a statute on the terms of the final exit deal, before changing any regulation or creating new bodies.
Parliamentary scrutiny of this process is vital to ensure that the final deal works for the whole country and protects jobs and the economy. People did not vote to take power from Brussels to give it to Ministers without any accountability to Parliament.
I will continue to work with my Labour colleagues and members across the House to improve the Government’s flawed Bill and protect existing rights and protections.
Yesterday, I and my Labour colleagues voted for Dominic Grieve’s amendment 7, to give Parliament a say on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU and I...
Today, I visited Camberwell Sorting Office, meeting with staff and thanking them for the great work they do at this busy time of year.
Postal workers and Post Offices are a key part of our community, providing a vital public service. Tory cuts and privatisation of Royal Mail mean that Post Offices are closing, including Rye Lane Post Office last year, and Postal workers’ conditions have worsened.
Labour values our postal workers and will, when in Government, bring Royal Mail back under public ownership improving service provision and conditions for staff.
HARRIET HARMAN MP THANKS LOCAL POSTMEN AND WOMEN AS THEY DELIVER A FIRST CLASS CHRISTMAS
- Harriet Harman MP passed on Christmas greetings to postmen and women at the Camberwell Delivery Office
- Christmas is Royal Mail’s busiest time of the year and Ms Harman saw the hard work and dedication of local postal workers to sort and deliver festive mail
- The last recommended posting dates for Christmas are: Second Class – Wednesday 20 December, First Class- Thursday 21 December and Special Delivery - Friday 22 December
Harriet Harman MP visited the Camberwell Delivery Office to see first-hand the operation of delivering Christmas post and to pass on season’s greetings to its hardworking staff.
Ms Harman was shown around the office by Delivery Office Manager, Brian Chapman, and was introduced to the postmen and women, who are pulling out all the stops to sort and deliver mail in Camberwell over the Christmas period.
The Festive Season is Royal Mail’s busiest period, as millions of people shop online for gifts and send Christmas cards and parcels.
Harriet Harman MP said: “At no other time is the hard work and dedication of postmen and women clearer than during the festive period. There is a huge amount of effort and dedication that goes into delivering a first class Christmas.
“It was great to meet the team here at Camberwell and thank them for the extraordinary lengths they go to ensure Christmas cards and presents are delivered to loved ones on time, and for all they do year-round.”
Brian Chapman, Royal Mail Delivery Office Manager, said: “Our postmen and women are working extremely hard to deliver Christmas cards, letters and parcels to people in Camberwell. We are grateful that Harriet visited the office to see our operation and to support the team.
“We’d like to remind our customers to post early so that friends and family have longer to enjoy their Christmas greetings and to please also use the postcode as this helps us greatly in the job that we do at this busy time.”
The last recommend posting dates for Christmas are:
Second Class – Wednesday 20 December 2017
First Class – Thursday 21 December 2017
Special Delivery – Friday 22 December 2017
Customers can also help Royal Mail ensure that all their letters, cards and parcels are delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible by taking a few easy steps:
- Post early – Avoid disappointment by posting your cards and parcels early.
- Use the postcode – A clearly addressed card or parcel, with a postcode, and return address on the back of the envelope, will ensure quick and efficient delivery.
- Use Special Delivery – For valuable and important packages and parcels guarantee delivery with Royal Mail’s Special Delivery, which means your gift is tracked, traced and insured against loss.
- Wrap parcels well and always give a return address
- For more information about Royal Mail’s last recommended posting dates, please visit: www.royalmail.com/merrychristmas or call 03457 740 740
Today, I visited Camberwell Sorting Office, meeting with staff and thanking them for the great work they do at this busy time of year. Postal workers and Post Offices are...
Many constituents have contacted me on the important issue of ensuring Animal Sentience is enshrined in UK law after we leave the European Union.
For most of us it’s not a question. It’s obvious that your pet can feel pain or be happy.
On 24th November I voted in favour of New Clause 30 to the EU Withdrawal Bill to transfer EU law on animal sentience into UK law and was so dismayed that the government voted against this.
But I am pleased that following that vote and the pressure from Labour MPs, Caroline Lucas MP and campaigners such as yourself, the Government has been forced into a major U-turn this week and they’ve announced a new draft Bill to ensure high standards of animal protection in the UK and ensure government must now ‘pay regard to animal sentience when making new laws.’
Labour will continue to hold the government to account on the delivery of the Bill.
Many constituents have contacted me on the important issue of ensuring Animal Sentience is enshrined in UK law after we leave the European Union. For most of us it’s not...
Today I asked the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to come to Parliament and make an urgent statement on the resignation of Lord Kerslake as the Chair of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
The problem at King’s is not the leadership, any more than it is the growing number of patients or the dedicated staff. The problem at King’s is that there is not enough money. The Government shows no recognition of the fact that over the past two years, King’s has already cut £80 million—double the rate that other hospitals have had to cut—and taken on an ailing trust to help out the wider NHS. King’s is now being told that it has to make even further cuts. How can it keep its A&E waiting times down, prevent waiting lists from growing and continue to meet cancer targets if it goes on to make further cuts?
The Government must face up to the fact that problems caused by lack of money are simply not going to be solved by blaming the leadership. King’s is an amazing hospital and a specialist world centre of research, which is also there for local people. It was there after the Grenfell Tower fire and the terrorist incidents we have had in London. Is it too much to ask the Government to recognise the reality of the situation and pull back from imposing further cuts, which will make patients suffer? No amount of changing the faces at the top will make that difference. It is the Minister’s responsibility.
Today I asked the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to come to Parliament and make an urgent statement on the resignation of Lord Kerslake as the Chair of King’s College Hospital...
***Check against delivery***
Thanks very much to Les Allamby for inviting me today and for his input and support of the work of our Joint Committee on Human Rights.
I’m delighted to be here to pay tribute to, and support, the work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
I well remember when the Commission was established in 1999 as part of the peace process. But there had been a movement for human rights and equality in Northern Ireland long before that. And strong links with the human rights movement in the rest of the UK. In the 1970s when I was legal officer at NCCL (now Liberty) there was an active Northern Ireland Committee examining, and challenging, everything to do with human rights from job discrimination to internment without trial.
Because of the divisions between the Catholic and the Protestant community (republican/loyalist) and the accompanying violence and intimidation, the context for your promotion of human rights was highly challenging but also hugely important. You have had to defend rights in a very difficult context of and amidst controversy caused by issues such as those surrounding parades, protests and blasphemy
So I start by acknowledging the brave work on human rights and equality that has been done within and between Northern Ireland’s different communities.
Your Commission has, over the years, dealt with all the issues that the EOC, CRE and now the EHRC does - of sex discrimination and racism.
You have, like other commissions, moved forward on issues which are newly commanding focus on the rights agenda such as age discrimination, disability discrimination, gay rights, Female Genital Mutilation and human trafficking.
Highlighting the NI women who’ve fought for their rights
I have admired, in particular, the work over the years of the Women’s Movement in Northern Ireland.
As we campaigned for laws prohibiting sex discrimination and unequal pay and for their rigorous implementation - I knew of and admired the work of Inez McCormack, who along with many others, blazed a trail for women in Northern Ireland.
And though the context of the campaign for women’s equality in Northern Ireland was very different from our situation in the rest of the UK, many of the battles were the same.
And the women’s movement had the same energising effect on all of us - all over England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland, and our arguments were the same. We wanted nothing less than the transformation of women’s role - in the home, at work and in society.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s the summit of aspiration for a girl was to get a husband
And when you’d achieved that lofty ambition - to look after him, the home and the children.
Education was wasted on a girl - or worse, was dangerous as it might jeopardise her ability to snare the husband. No man would want a wife who was too clever by half. And certainly not cleverer than him.
Women worked - but didn’t have careers. Women who’d gone out to work when they left school “gave up to get married”. (Example of woman in Scotland).
But for the unfortunate few who had failed to achieve a husband - there was a whole language around these women. Spinsters, left on the shelf, wallflowers.
My own mother - one of the very few who went to university, qualified as a barrister but she gave up the law when she got married. Solicitors explained to her that clients thought they were getting second best and would lose their case with a woman barrister. And anyway she had a more pressing role which was to make my father’s breakfast and dinner.
So she gave up - and her wig and gown was consigned to our dressing up box.
The Women’s Movement - rejecting subordination to men
But I was part of a new generation of women who weren’t going to put up with this.
Not the man as “head of household”
Not take a vow to “obey”
Not his right to beat her
Not defined by what you look like
Not have to choose between family and work - but do both
And to do that we needed to break into men-only areas in every walk of life
Men only judiciary
Men only trade union movement and business leaders
Men making decisions in councils, in Parliament and governments
Demanding an equal say
We demanded this as a matter of principle
Because to exclude women was discrimination
But also because it would lead to better decisions
This was challenging the established order and was fiercely resisted.
It was even controversial to count the numbers. (E.g. in FTSE 100 counting women on boards and the number of men only boards).
Women in councils
Women in Parliament
I got selected - and elected
But, because of terrible results for Labour in 1983 no other young feminists came in
Pressing for more women
Hard to make a difference if outnumbered.
When I was first elected in 1982 it was to a House of Commons of 97% men.
And of MPs from NI constituencies it was 100% men.
Women’s voices were simply not heard.
We thought it was not enough to get the vote so that we could vote for men - wanted to have our own voice.
Labour women struggled for women’s representation, in the party of women and equality.
All regions, women from trade unions and professional women.
Making the case - but no change.
Then, we tried one woman on every shortlist - but no change
Then, Shortlists 50% women - but no change
So, All Women Shortlists
1997 over 100 women Labour MPs (still none in Northern Ireland)
Slow - but steady - progress
So women had got into Parliament. But still women lacked influence as they were the most junior
But, over time, women moving up in the civil service
Moving up as special advisors
Into the political commentariat
And as more women were elected, on all sides of the House of Commons, the momentum gathered for a steady march of progress.
*a national childcare strategy
*doubling maternity pay and leave and introducing paternity leave
*new laws on domestic violence
In the 30 years since I became an MP...what we have now is a transformed political agenda but the practical reality is we still need much more to change.
- There’s an acknowledgement that domestic violence is a terrible thing - but still pervasive. Still 2 women a week are killed by a current or former husband or partner and every day refuges are being forced to turn women away.
- There’s an acknowledgement that women are entitled to equal pay - but they still don’t get it. Once they’ve had their first child, let alone their second, their pay and prospects suffer and never recover.
- There’s an acknowledgement that women need time off when they have a baby - but maternity pay is so low that still most women can’t afford to take all their maternity leave and woefully small take up of paternity leave. And, as yet, there is no maternity or paternity leave for MPs or councillors. We’re hoping to change that now and Sylvia Hermon and Emma Little-Pengelly are both supporting us with that.
- There’s a recognition that childcare is essential but there are still women tearing their hair out to trying to find, or afford, good quality, flexible childcare…or unable to work.
So in the decades ahead we must, having won the arguments, win the practical change. Next year as we celebrate the centenary of the first women winning the right to vote we must step up our ambition not just to “get into the room” but to insist on change. Less persuasion and more insistence. Less requests, more demands. Less suggesting, more asserting.
Solidarity between women in the cause of progress
One of the most fundamental tenets of the women’s movement of the women’s movement has always been solidarity between women.
Back in the 1970s the notion of “sisterhood” was a new and surprising thing. When I was growing up, other women were regarded as deadly rivals, mostly in completion to get the husband. There was plentiful language to describe women’s rivalry - such as “scratching each other’s eyes out.” My sister was applying for work as a lawyer in the 1970s. This was before the Sex Discrimination Act banned overt discrimination against women. So she applied to a firm where she knew they already had a woman. Phoning them and asking to apply for the job she was told that they wouldn’t consider her - because she was a woman. But, she said, you do employ women, you’ve got one. That’s precisely why, they said. We’ve already got one and if we had another you’d only fight. There was no sense that women could support each other.
But the determination that we would stand together in solidarity, working together in common cause was one of the transformative elements of the women’s movement. The women’s movement changed how we saw ourselves, how we saw our relationships with men and how we related to each other.
We were going to insist on pressing forward in every aspect of life - in factories in offices, in the law and universities, in councils and in parliament – and in our homes. And the way we were going to do this was by working together as women. Women not as rivals but as allies in the difficult and often painful quest for change.
And that solidarity was to all women - not just those near at hand but those from other walks of life, women in different countries and from other parts of the country. So we looked over to our sisters in Northern Ireland. And they looked over to us. So many things about our lives were different. But so much of our ambition was the same. And instinctively we were, and are, in solidarity with women’s quest for change here.
New solidarity between women in Parliament with women in NI
Relations between the government in Westminster and decision-making in Northern Ireland was and remains, extraordinarily sensitive and complex, deeply entwined with the peace process. Which we all wanted to see succeed. Often when women in Northern Ireland reached out to us for support we were warned by our colleagues in parliament, “that’s got to be decided in Northern Ireland - if you interfere you’ll jeopardise the peace settlement.” Of course it is fundamental to us that we support devolution and decision-making by Northern Ireland’s own representatives. But there’s a new dimension to the sense of solidarity between women in Westminster with our sisters in Northern Ireland which I think marks a turning point. The preparedness of Parliament to engage in the issue of abortion for Northern Irish women is testament to that. In a PLP which is now 45% women and where there are young women on all sides of the House who are what I describe as “daughters of the women’s movement”, there is now a refusal to accept being told to stay out of it, just accept what male-dominated Northern Irish politics dictates and don’t intrude.
Women should decide their own destiny
And another tenet of the women’s movement was that we should decide for ourselves, as women. And that men should not tell us what to do.
The slogan on the banners that we marched under in the 1960s in support of the Abortion Act was “not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.” We could have added - if it rhymed, when it comes to women’s lives, women - not men - should decide. In those days there was a natural expectation that men made decisions and women abided by them. In the early 1980s as a new MP I did a survey of the expert committees which advised government. It was men in government being advised by male advisory committees. Men, it seemed were the experts on everything - the mines, the motorways, the money supply. It was the last straw when I discovered that even on the maternity services advisory committee it was all men! But it seems that they were the experts on giving birth too and had the say so on abortion.
When I look back at all the progress we made I can see that there are some lessons I’ve learnt.
Solidarity “despite” devolution
One of them is that you’re always told that there’s an overriding reason that you shouldn’t “interfere” in support of other women. There’s always a political imperative advanced that though it might be right in principle, it’s not right at this particular point to act in support of that quest for equality. Heeding those voices is applauded as “realistic” as “teamly”. But the reality is that lack of solidarity weakens equality movements and postpones the day when people achieve the rights that they seek.
So, we were warned that putting gay marriage in the Equality Act would anger the Catholic Church in Scotland and thereby unsettle the Labour vote. We were warned that using our votes to support the demand of women in Northern Ireland for abortion would destabilise the finely balanced, all important political equilibrium within Northern Ireland and between Britain and Northern Ireland. And jeopardise the peace process. So we mustn’t get involved.
We have always deferred on questions of devolution. That was the reason we didn’t, for example, extend the Equality Act to Northern Ireland. But the question we’re asking now is, where does that leave you? If it leaves you failing to extend equality to gay couples how can that be right? If it leaves women in Northern Ireland without our support for abortion rights, rights that we in the rest of the UK have had since 1967, how can that be right? If it leaves women in Northern Ireland held back by male dominated politics, how can that be right?
There’s a new sense amongst women in Westminster that we will not step aside when our sisters in Northern Ireland call for our support. I don’t know whether that is because there are now more women MPs on all sides and that brings with it a new assertiveness, or whether it’s because the new generation of women are that much more distant from the violence of the division in Northern Ireland. But, whatever the reason, I think it promises significant and welcome change. And the manifestation of this came with the change on abortion in England for Northern Irish women. The government had to accede to the demands, ably led by Stella Creasy MP, for women from Northern Ireland to get NHS abortions in England because if they didn’t we would vote on it, we had the numbers and they would lose.
Those who oppose change can, in my view, no longer rely on the assumption that Westminster will step back from supporting demands for rights in Northern Ireland because of our support for devolution. Women’s rights, gay rights are human rights, human rights are universal and we must champion them in every part of the UK as well as every part of the world. We will call on your solidarity as we struggle to take things forward. And I can say with confidence that you can call on our support. So let’s work together closely. And I’m sure we can identify opportunities to turn that solidarity into action.
No borders between sisters - Speech at Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission annual statement launch
***Check against delivery*** Thanks very much to Les Allamby for inviting me today and for his input and support of the work of our Joint Committee on Human Rights. I’m...
The local hospital in my constituency, King’s College Hospital, has one of the busiest and best A&E departments in London.
Staff are working hard every day to provide excellent care, and are consistently meeting cancer treatment waiting times of 62 days and improving intensive care, despite the pressure inflicted by Tory cuts.
I recently met with the Chief Executive of King’s, Nick Moberly. He told me significant work is underway to improve homecare for people after operations, increase the number of beds available and streamline the linkup between different emergency departments.
King’s do an excellent job with the limited money they have and recently took on the running of the Princess Royal University Hospital in Bromley and its A&E department, which is being turned around under their management.
This year has been particularly hard for the staff at King’s. On top of the deep Tory cuts all hospitals face, staff at King’s have been through the unprecedented trauma of looking after 23 victims of the Westminster and Borough Market terror attacks and 12 victims of the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, and have demonstrated the utmost calmness, professionalism and care.
But King’s are not immune from funding pressures, and these have led to difficulties in meeting the 4 hour waiting target for treating people in A & E. Across London – district nurses have halved under the Tory government and inevitably it’s been nurses in emergency care who have to pick up the slack when they aren’t there.
More than 40% of newly recruited nurses are leaving full time employment within their first year and the overall number of nurses and health visitors is now lower than when the Tories entered government in 2010.
King’s have worked hard to reduce their staffing shortage, but the hospital are still short of 528 nurses and midwives.
According to the Royal College of Nursing, the main reasons nurses are leaving the job they love are rising workload and staff shortages.
The Tories fail to acknowledge that it is dedicated hospital workers, doctors, and nurses who deliver the NHS. Instead of paying them fairly the government has made them bear the brunt of their cuts, enforcing a 1% pay cap which has cut the value of nurses’ wages by 14% since 2010.
The Tories’ own figures show the number of nurses quitting because of worries about their finances or their health has doubled. This crisis is all of the government’s making.
NHS staff need to be paid fairly, not least to ensure they can afford to rent or buy homes near the hospital they work in. What does it say about the government’s priorities that in the Budget last month they could only find £350 million to help the NHS cope with the winter crises and made no commitment on staff pay?
Yet they were able to find 11 times that amount to spend on a disastrous ‘no deal Brexit’ which will only further hit NHS staffing levels as EU citizens, who make up 14% of the NHS workforce in London, are put off coming here.
The local hospital in my constituency, King’s College Hospital, has one of the busiest and best A&E departments in London. Staff are working hard every day to provide excellent care,...
It was great to meet booksellers and book lovers from all around the country at the Parliamentary Book Awards last night. It has been a joy to work with the Penguin Books team. Thank you to the Booksellers and Publishers Associations for hosting this amazing event.
It was great to meet booksellers and book lovers from all around the country at the Parliamentary Book Awards last night. It has been a joy to work with the...