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International Women's Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:58 pm on 11th March 2010.

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Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families) 1:58 pm, 11th March 2010

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. How do we begin to change the atmosphere? That is the question. When I rise in the House, I try not to follow the practice of scoring points just for the sake of it. The adversarial, jeering, bullying, public-school atmosphere is very off-putting.

I turn now to the problem of getting a seat, which is not necessarily the easiest thing for all women-or all men, for that matter. I am a single parent, and I faced a Labour majority of 26,000 because I could not go anywhere else. I have no parents and no support network, so I had to fight where I live and where my children were at school. There was no alternative.

How just is the Conservative proposal for a married couples tax allowance? It drives me mad. I was left alone to raise children and get on with my career to the best of my ability, so why should the tax allowance be given to my ex-husband? I might say that I am very friendly with him, as our split was amicable, but he has remarried. Why should he have the tax allowance, when I am doing my best to bring up my children on my own? It seems so unfair.

There is no level playing field in getting a seat. Obviously, Liberal Democrat policies on parental leave are very far-reaching but I want to talk about a problem in the Equality Bill to do with equal pay. Women's financial position holds them back terribly from taking part in the parliamentary process, and I am deeply concerned about the proposal for four years of only voluntary equality in pay.

When one asks a group of students in a classroom who wants to be Prime Minister, the boys will mostly put up their hands and say that they do, but the girls just sit on their hands, even though they know that they could do a better job. There are issues with how women are educated and trained, and how they approach learning to debate and make an argument.

As I said, my party expects there to be more women in Parliament after the election, but we have many women in councils, in the London Assembly, and in Scotland and Wales. The problem is with Parliament, and perhaps the electoral system. That is what leaves us so short on these Benches at the moment-although I am sure that it is just for the moment.