Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:50 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Equalities) 5:50 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I will use the few minutes at my disposal to address the equalities aspects of the gracious Speech, which come against the background of what many of us consider a potentially disastrous arrangement with a party that denies the right of a woman to have autonomy over her own body and denies the rights of the LGBT community. I hope the Government are not prepared to consider giving anything else to the DUP that would threaten our hard-won freedoms on this side of the Irish Sea. Perhaps we can in a small way do something for the people of Ireland. In the Commons, there is an amendment asking the Health Secretary to exercise his right to grant Irish citizens the ability to be considered for free abortions on the NHS in England. I ask the Minister, if such an amendment is tabled in the Lords, to give it favourable consideration.

So to the gracious Speech. First, I welcome what is not in the Speech. I am happy not to have to be considering ending the pensions triple lock, cutting winter fuel payments, the dementia tax, more grammar schools, restricting free school lunches, and of course the Trump state visit. Now to what is there. On what is termed enhancing,

“rights and protections in the modern workplace”,

we would welcome anything that helps individuals to achieve a better work/life balance and fulfil caring responsibilities. We would particularly welcome better protections for those in the workplace with mental health issues.

On the Armed Forces Bill, the proposals to make the Armed Forces a more attractive prospect for women, and the recognition that more flexibility in considering family circumstances will make for a more effective workforce, are welcome.

On the domestic violence and abuse Bill, we welcome any measures that can help eradicate domestic violence and abuse. Many of our laws are outdated and leave victims without the support and protections that they need. But legislation is only half the story. Those implementing that legislation need resources, and services that offer support to victims are being cut by local authorities because of a continually decreasing pot of money from the Government. So my question is: will legislation on domestic violence be matched with the resources to carry out the job?

Finally, my favourite sentence in the gracious Speech is:

“My government will make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation”.

The Liberal Democrats in government passed the equal marriage Act, and drove legislation on gender pay gap reporting. We will now push for further measures in both these areas. Will the Government please look at equal civil partnerships? It is nonsensical that same-sex partners can enjoy the legal and financial protections of a civil partnership while over 2 million mixed-sex couples and 3 million children are denied the same protections. Will the Government develop the good work already started on gender pay gap reporting and extend this requirement to include ethnicity and to companies with more than 250 employees, and extend the target for women on boards to 40%?

My last ask requires no legislation, just a bit of compassion. Will the Government please address the plight of schoolgirls whose “period poverty” prevents them attending school during their period for want of sanitary wear? This is easily fixable, cheap to implement and would enable all girls to attend school all month round. I am sure this measure would find favour in every part of the House.