My Lords, this afternoon’s debate marks the culmination of a week of questions addressed to the Government on the role and rights of women and the restrictions they face in our communities, our nation and the world. I hesitated long and hard before adding my name to the speaker’s list. I felt that I should just listen rather than speak on such a day and on such a subject. But my wife counts the Pankhurst sisters among her forebears. “Put your name down”, she said, and I did. I congratulate all those who are contributing to our deliberations and, in the end, I am delighted to be counted among their number.
The Library briefing for this debate identifies key issues and addresses them, in the main, by means of statistics. This allows us to look quantitatively at various aspects of the situations faced by women: domestic violence, representation in the boardroom and senior management, the gender pay gap, our educational system, health, and participation in leadership and political life. This approach allows us to build an evidence-based picture, to spot trends and to measure success—or the lack of it—in efforts to build a world of equal opportunity, equal rights and equal rewards. It offers a vital tool as we move forward.
The last thing we need today is to be damned with faint notes of paternalism: some nice, comforting, cheap words from someone like me about solidarity and support for the struggle—good, high-minded things such as that. I want to stand in solidarity and want keenly to offer support, but I would prefer that to be measured by what I do rather than by what I might choose to say. My reason for adding my voice to that of so many others today may be thought somewhat strange. It is self-interest that has driven me to speak. I am tired of being part of a culture, and heir to a history, of patriarchal domination. As a 21st-century man, I am weary of feeling imprisoned within a stereotype: that of male power, trapped on the wrong side of all those statistics, part of an unfair and unjustifiable system. I long for continuing and accelerating progress in the journey towards gender equality, certainly for its own sake but also, undeniably, because the freedoms that will thus be enjoyed by women will bring consequential freedoms to men.
As a white man, I could put forward an almost identical case for race equality. As a heterosexual man, I could do the same for justice for people of all sexual identities. As a Christian, I long for the extirpation of all that smells of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. As a relatively well-off person, I must fight the corner of the dispossessed and marginalised. Progress in any of those fields of endeavour will inevitably bring benefits to me too. The freedom of others is the best possible guarantee of something approaching freedom for me. Is it selfish? I suppose so. Is it motivating? Definitely.
Let me bow out by borrowing some lines from the poet John Donne. The relevant lines for the point I am trying to make will be obvious, but I have left in two or three words that are superfluous to my argument but not without their importance at this time. We all know the original words anyway. No person is an island; everyone is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, and,
“if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”— those were the words I spoke of, in case your Lordships’ had not guessed. Any person’s inequality diminishes me because I am involved in humankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for me.
I am more than grateful for the opportunity to speak on a day such as this and on such a noble subject. I express the hope that I might be a beneficiary of all the progress aspired to by those who have contributed thus far to this debate.