**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...
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.
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...
Cllr Jasmine Ali, Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Children and Schools and I met the Executive Head at Harris Academy Peckham secondary school, Rebecca Hickey, to discuss progress at the school and working with local parents to improve first preference applications to the school and hear from students on the important local issues they’re concerned about like youth violence, mental health and energy drinks.
I’m looking forward to the students shortly visiting Parliament to see us at work.
Cllr Jasmine Ali, Southwark Council Cabinet Member for Children and Schools and I met the Executive Head at Harris Academy Peckham secondary school, Rebecca Hickey, to discuss progress at the school and...
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report highlighting serious concerns with the new powers in the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill currently going through parliament.
The Government have got an important job to keep us safe from terrorism. But it must also safeguard human rights.
The Committee believes that this Bill goes too far and will be tabling amendments in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
New powers are too vaguely defined
Having taken evidence from Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, we are concerned that some of the new powers are too vaguely defined and do not have sufficient safeguards to protect human rights.
Findings of report
The Joint Committee acknowledges the importance of the Government’s power to proscribe organisations but is concerned that criminalizing ‘expressions of support’ for proscribed organisations could prevent debate around the Government’s use of its proscription powers.
Proposes to criminalise the publication of images online which arouse suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation (e.g. a photograph of an ISIS flag hanging on someone’s wall posted to the internet) goes too far and also risks violating the right to freedom of expression
This clause criminalises viewing terrorist material online where such material is viewed three or more times.
The Committee believes that this is a breach of the right to receive information.
The Committee believes that there need to be greater safeguards for the increased period that the Bill gives for the retention of biometric data (such as fingerprints and DNA).
At the same time as it increases the powers to retain data, the Bill abolishes the oversight of the Biometric Commissioner.
This risks violating the right to privacy of persons who have neither been charged nor convicted.
The Committee is concerned that powers to stop and search at ports are defined too widely.
These powers can be used to stop people to decide whether they threaten the economic well-being of the UK.
On these grounds, the Committee has serious concerns that the Bill as it stands does not comply with Convention rights.
The Committee therefore recommends that:
- Clause 1 of the Bill, at a minimum, is amended to clarify what expressions of support would or would not be caught by this offence and to ensure that the offence does not risk criminalising debates disproportionately: for example in a way which would prevent someone putting forward a case for why a particular organisation should no longer be proscribed
- Clause 2 should be deleted or at a minimum amended to safeguard legitimate publications (e.g. for journalists and other legitimate activity which should not be criminalised)
- Clause 3 at the very least, should be amended to ensure that it only captures those viewing material with terrorist intent and to clarify the defence of reasonable excuse
- The increase in maximum sentences for certain terrorist offences must be justified
- The enhanced notification scheme for registered terrorist offenders needs stronger safeguards
- The Prevent programme should be subject to an independent review
- The removal of the Biometric Commissioner's oversight of DNA material and for extending the retention period from two to five years without clear notification and review options must be justified
- The stop and search powers must be circumscribed and subject to more robust safeguards.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report highlighting serious concerns with the new powers in the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill currently going...
Meeting Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group management team to discuss progress on reducing GP and operation waiting lists, improving children’s mental health services and action they’re taking to ensure that the governing board of local health bodies like the CCG reflect the diverse community in Camberwell and Peckham. There are no black people on their board and I am concerned they must be representative of our community at all levels of the organisation.
Meeting Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group management team to discuss progress on reducing GP and operation waiting lists, improving children’s mental health services and action they’re taking to ensure that the governing...