On the wider aspects of the Bill, it is, of course, utterly unfair. I can see why it is being brought in, but why is it not for all women? It is absolutely appalling that this is only for a tiny section of very privileged, elite women. It should be for all women. We do not have equality in Britain, we are meant to be a foremost democracy in the world and we do not have equality for 50% of our population.
I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is trying to say here. The erasure of women in public life, in literature and in all sorts of ways has horrified me. The debate has become so toxic and so unacceptable that many of us keep our heads down and try not to engage at all. That is quite often what I do, simply because I work on so many issues, and that becomes difficult when I get distracted by the vileness and hate.
However, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that only women get pregnant. Legally, that is not true anymore because trans men have pregnancies and they have babies. I have held a baby by a trans man. Perhaps the Minister would like to put “women and trans men” into the Bill: that might be an acceptable way forward for all of us. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, spoke about “woke Brighton”. I come from Brighton; when I was living there, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was not woke. The whole thing about chest feeding was absolutely ludicrous because, of course, men have breasts; they get breast cancer. The whole thing is utter stupidity, and you have to wonder who thinks these things up. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, also made an interesting point about the wording being at odds with other drafting. That seems a little bit strange these days, but that is something that I gather the Minister is going to expand on.
Most of the speeches in this Chamber today have been very, very concerned with the depiction of women and how we are treated in our society. One thing that we can do is make misogyny a hate crime. That is something that we should do urgently, and we should raise it at every single opportunity so that people who treat women in that sort of way are actually brought to justice.
On the wider aspects of the Bill, it is, of course, utterly unfair. I can see why it is being brought in, but why is it not for all women? It is absolutely appalling that this is only for a tiny section of very privileged, elite women. It should be for all women. Why is there discretionary power for the Prime Minister? That is awful, because the Prime Minister is most often a man, so it has to be a man’s discretionary power.
In the other place, the MP Stella Creasy wrote to Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster-General, and I will read a few lines from that letter because it exemplifies why this Bill is so inadequate. She wrote: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently described instances of pregnancy and maternity discrimination as one of the most urgent and immediate threats to equality during the pandemic. A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed found that 46% of women who have been suspended from work because of their pregnancy have been suspended on incorrect terms, including 33% on furlough and another 13% on sick pay, or told to take holiday or to start maternity pay.”
We do not have equality in Britain. We are meant to be a foremost democracy in the world and we do not have equality for 50% of our population. It strikes me that there must be many, many women who have been held back by this because misogyny is so entrenched in our society that we do not even notice it; we do not see it when it is happening. Many thousands of women—millions—have been held back from doing all that they can to improve society. Again and again, we hear that when you have women on boards, for example, or when you have women as part of work teams, the work is better. The thinking is better because it is a different perspective.
Quite honestly, this Bill is perfectly acceptable in its very narrow, late way, and while we cannot blame the Minister for it being this late, we can perhaps blame him for it being so narrow, so that is a message that he could take back. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said in her opening remarks that it is a tiny step. Dear me—it is a tiny step on the right path, but we really need to see a few more giant steps.
Read the whole debate on Hansard