First, I would like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing Jo Swinson to speak before me, because it is important that she gets back to her baby. There is an irony that we are discussing such matters today. I encouraged her, because I am a fan of such things, to bring her son into the Chamber. I did that in Glasgow City Council—I got away with it because everyone was too scared to tell me no. In yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, Members were far, far worse behaved, and far, far noisier, than any baby I have ever seen, so I think that babies could get along in here fairly well on most occasions.
This debate calls for a discussion on proxy voting for Members with new babies, including in relation to adoption, and not just for women Members of Parliament. That is absolutely the right way to look at this. Opportunities to take care of, and to bond with, the child should be given to mothers, fathers and adopted parents equally. I would like to briefly focus particularly on women, who statistically will benefit from this procedural change the most.
If we want a society that tackles inequality, we need a reasonable cross-section of society to be making policy from the grassroots up. Women are sadly still under-represented in politics, and that can lead to policies that do not take women’s experiences into account. At the weekend, I spoke to Radiant and Brighter, a group in my constituency, at their “Bright Futures” talk. I said to the women in that room to look at Parliament, but not to think that they cannot be part of it. I said that they should look to be coming behind me and for my job, because their experiences are entirely different to mine. They deserve to be in here as much as anybody else—perhaps more so, given the contributions from some people—and they deserve a place in politics. Their voices deserve to be heard. At the moment, however, they are not being heard.
Women are not a problem to be retrofitted to this place or to the economy. When women’s voices are not heard, that leads to policies such as the two-child limit on tax credits which means that women have to prove to the Department for Work and Pensions that a third child was conceived as a result of rape. That applies to women who have no recourse to public funds getting their period on the bus when they cannot afford sanitary protection. It leads to situations such as split payments on universal credit being taken up by only 20 women in the whole of UK in June, because it is too dangerous for women to do so. Those policies have been made in the absence of women’s voices and the policies are poorer as a result. We therefore need to get more women in here and we need to look at the structures we have in place to achieve that.
I want to encourage every girl to stand up and make her voice heard, whether in her school, in her community, in council chambers across the land, in the Scottish Parliament, in Assemblies or in this place. Women do not put themselves forward for election to the same extent as men. We can pretend that this is a matter of preference, and that women are not as interested in politics as men, but we know that that is just not true. The reality is that this situation is a constructed one. It is a consequence, at least in part, of some of the policies in this House.
Mary Beard, in her book “Women & Power”, writes:
“You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is coded as male, you have to change the structure.”
The structure in this House is inadequate for women and for families. I am sure that nobody would want their daughter to work in an environment where they were subject to online abuse, judged by newspapers on their appearance or behaviour, and not entitled to maternity leave. The hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for East Dunbartonshire spoke passionately about the abuse they received because people were judging them on a structure that was coded as male and had no place for them.