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International Women's Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 11th March 2010.

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office 2:48 pm, 11th March 2010

I want to take a minute or two to thank everyone who has participated in the debate, male and female. It is good to welcome our brothers, whether or not we agree with them-I do not agree with Mr. Hollobone. None the less, it is good to see them participate fully in a debate that centres on women's issues. Once they are raised, everyone sees them as human issues and carries them forward.

There have been contributions thoughtful, spirited and provocative. Lynne Featherstone was sensitive, in a way that was second to none, to the attitudinal barriers in this place to women's arrival here in greater numbers. I agree with her that it is very easy to pick up some of those attitudinal ways-I am guilty of doing that myself.

My hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas has built an international reputation, most particularly in Sierra Leone, to which she referred, and we will miss her greatly.

My hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer is much praised by all, and rightly so. She has taken steps to celebrate and champion the rights of women that could have made her extremely unpopular, but she did not hesitate to take them.

Mrs. Laing and I have a tradition of growling at each other across the Chamber and slapping each other on the back outside it, so let me slap her on the back inside the Chamber for a change. She was brave and right to say what she did, which is that the allowances system for MPs must ensure that MP parents spend time with their children, and it will be women who will lead that drive forward.

Mrs. May and I simply growl at each other all the time, but that is the way it goes, I am afraid. I want to- [ Interruption. ] That was not a growl; it was a mistake. Let me tell her that the National Equality Panel has made it clear, if one reads what it said closely, that all our equality measures have moved things in the right direction, even though there is still a long way to go, and that what we picked up was a huge legacy of inequality brought about by an earlier era, which was of course a Tory era. That is clear.

The right hon. Lady asserted her support for the Equality Bill, and I am glad to hear it. However, what she said is extraordinary, because she led the debate in trying to vote it down on Second Reading. Funky as her pink boots are, to be true to herself, she probably ought to be wearing flip-flops today.

I want to pay tribute to the Government Equalities Office and to the dynamic and strong leadership of my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman and the chief executive, Jonathan Rees. I also want to make special mention of the Equality Bill team, Wally Ford and Melanie Field, and the other members of their excellent team. The GEO was only set up in 2007, and it is a tiny department. However, people think it must be huge because of the great work it does across government, and because of its impact in government and across the country for disabled people and people of whatever gender. The GEO drives through a great swathe of equality initiatives from a tiny base. It is a very good department indeed, one we should be devoutly grateful for.

Labour women MPs have been here long enough to have made a significant impact, and they have done just that. We have fought, and will fight, for an equal chance for women at work; for employers to acknowledge caring and family responsibilities; and-this is particularly close to my heart-for domestic violence, violence against women and rape to be taken very seriously indeed: in fact, to be taken deadly seriously. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Miss Begg for the role she has played in the Speaker's Conference in emphasising that, as we have all said, this House needs to represent the women of this country as well as the men. All of us on the Government side of the House have worked, with intermittent support from the Opposition, for all those aims, and we will work further for women to have an equal say in every area of life.

The poll to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham referred indicates that we are succeeding in changing public opinion in the direction of equality. That is an outcome devoutly to be wished for, and for which we will continue to persevere. Labour people live by the ethic of equality, and we will go onward-and in government, too-to ever greater achievements towards equality, working hard for a future fair for all.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of international women's day-women's representation.