I beg to move,
That this House
has considered International Men’s Day.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I start by thanking the many colleagues from all parties in the House who supported the application for this debate, and the Backbench Business Committee for finding the time for it as close to International Men’s Day as possible.
I am sorry that the debate is not in the main Chamber and that we have been put back into Westminster Hall, but that is certainly not the fault of the Backbench Business Committee, which tried to make it happen in the main Chamber. The debate was actually allocated time in the main Chamber, but unfortunately the Government did not allocate the time for the Backbench Business Committee to hold it. I certainly do not blame the Backbench Business Committee; I am actually very grateful to it for finding an alternative date, namely today.
I also thank once again all the many people who have been in touch with me to tell me their story or to put forward their organisation’s point of view. I am very grateful to them all for taking the time.
International Men’s Day was actually on
“To promote positive male role models…To celebrate men’s positive contributions…To focus on men’s health and wellbeing…To highlight discrimination against men”— that includes highlighting the inequalities that men and boys face—
“To improve gender relations and promote gender equality” and finally
“To create a safer, better world” for everyone. It is worth reiterating those aims, as they provide a focus for what International Men’s Day is trying to achieve.
There is so much that I could say today that it is very hard to know where to start. As I have said before, there are many areas where I think the plight of men is ignored or minimised, and many areas where men are certainly treated differently from women. I will concentrate on the things that I feel need to be pointed out, which others will perhaps not mention today. That way, we can ensure that we cover a wide range of subjects in the debate.
I start with the issue of domestic violence. I will keep mentioning the unrecognised male victims of domestic violence in this type of debate, especially as the issue can—tragically—sometimes lead to suicide, which, as has been said during these debates many times, disproportionately affects men.
One message I have received that links these things together was from someone who said they had been suicidal in the past. They wrote to me and said:
“Thank you so very much for all that you have done for equality by calling attention to Men’s rights issues. I have only recently…discovered the men’s rights campaign after seeing a 2011 episode of the US Talk show, ‘The Talk’, in which a majority female panel and audience mercilessly jested at the idea of a brutally violent sex crime in the news, purely because it had been committed against a man.
To see how that, and other things, was acceptable made me want to give up.
Earlier this year I was suicidal. I’ve contemplated it several times before, but have never come so close.
Without exaggeration of ego, I can tell you that you have saved my life.”
An episode of “The Jeremy Kyle Show”, which was along the same lines as the TV show that I have just mentioned, was recently brought to my attention. A woman was explaining that her partner had gone to the bathroom and she discovered that he was cheating on her. She said that when he came out of the bathroom, she hit him in the face. The audience laughed, then clapped and then whooped with delight. That is the reaction of the public to domestic violence against a man. If attitudes need to change, then it is these attitudes that should be at the top of the list. Can people imagine what the reaction would have been if that had been a man admitting to hitting a woman in the face?
Yet that was not an isolated incident. There are many examples of these attitudes to male victims of domestic violence, which to me is like everyday sexism towards men. The crime survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics showed that in the year ending March 2017 more women than men thought it was acceptable to hit or slap a partner if they had been having an affair or cheated. That paints an uncomfortable picture for those who want to portray domestic violence as purely a male problem. Is it any wonder that men are less likely to come forward to be counted and report abuse, especially if that is the social reaction to such violence?
One man who contacted me said:
“My mental ill health started affecting me as far back as 2010 when I was in a relationship with an abusive ex-girlfriend. I was frequently hit, had my bank account drained of money and was often locked in a bedroom with no way of getting out. I got out of the relationship, but it did have a dramatic effect on my own mental health and wellbeing.”
Later on, he was assisted by the Richmond Fellowship, which I believe is a national mental health charity, and he actually ended up working for it. He says:
“Without the support of Richmond Fellowship and Cambridge 105 Radio, I wouldn’t be here now sharing this story.”
This is just one example of a man suffering domestic abuse. On the positive side, it also shows that there are people and organisations out there that can and do help.
Nothing highlights more starkly the apparent lack of concern for male victims of domestic abuse than the Equal Treatment Bench Book, which is used in the courts—by magistrates, for example. It should be renamed, given that its section on domestic abuse has nothing “equal” about it at all. It refers to the number of women killed each week by a current or former partner, without making any mention at all of the men murdered or abused by their current or former partners. It also says:
“There are a number of significant reasons why women do not leave dangerous partners, including safety”.
What about men? That is a Ministry of Justice publication, for goodness’ sake. I fail to see how publications such as this help magistrates to abide by their sworn oath that they will
“do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”
Interestingly, within further breakdowns of domestic abuse figures there are some noteworthy facts that an Equal Treatment Bench Book should perhaps have taken into consideration. For example, according to the crime survey by the ONS for the year ending March 2017, the number of black African men who have suffered domestic abuse is more than double the number of black African women who have suffered such abuse, at a rate of 8.7 per 100 for such men compared with 4.2 per 100 for such women. In the white Irish category, men are four and a half times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than women, at a rate of 8.2 per 100 of the population for such men compared with 1.8 for such women. There is so much more that could be said about the Equal Treatment Bench Book, but I will resist the temptation to go down that route today.
I move on to the issue of women and men in prison. I have covered this problem in the justice system on many occasions and highlighted the clear bias in favour of women at every stage, yet there are still people who do not want to see any women at all being sent to prison. Setting aside the fact that it is very hard for a woman actually to get sent to prison in the first place, those so-called equality supporters are just showing their true colours. It would almost be easy to confine their comments to the loony bin of thinking if it was not for the unbelievable fact that the Ministry of Justice appears somehow to have been hypnotised by these idiotic suggestions.
The Government’s recently launched strategy on female offenders is completely wrong-headed. One of the justifications for its lily-livered approach to female offenders was said to be that female prisoners were often victims of domestic violence. Having recently tabled parliamentary questions, I can confirm something that people might not expect: there are two and a half times more men than women in prison who have suffered domestic abuse. That is the fact of the matter. In the latest figures, which relate to
In another irony, the same parliamentary questions revealed that nearly one in five female prisoners—18%—is a perpetrator of domestic violence. You couldn’t make it up: the Ministry of Justice’s strategy is based in part on women being the victims of domestic abuse, yet the beneficiaries of the policy could well have committed domestic abuse themselves.
All these noises about female offenders, saying how a different approach is needed to deal with women, are supposed to be in the name of equality, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is one of the most blatantly sexist, discriminatory things that is happening under our very noses. I should say, before the Ministry of Justice suggest it, that the solution is not letting out male prisoners and rehabilitating them in the community as well, to make it a level playing field. All those people are criminals, and the solution is to make sure that we keep them in prison.
I also want to touch on male circumcision: male genital mutilation. According to a barrister’s opinion, carrying out circumcision on males when there is no medical need—non-therapeutic circumcision—is a crime under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, being at least actual bodily harm if not grievous bodily harm. In 1983, Lord Hailsham, the then Lord Chancellor, said of female genital mutilation:
“in the case of a minor under the age of 16, there is no possibility that consent is any defence at all. A minor under the age of 16 is not able to consent to the commission upon her of a criminal assault. Neither parental consent nor the consent of the minor would be any defence at all, and if the parents did such a thing, or instigated such a thing or participated in such a thing, it would only render them liable to criminal penalties, too.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
When I put it to the Government in 2016 that female genital mutilation was already illegal before specific laws on the subject were introduced, they agreed that it was. When I then put to them the position regarding boys, they took a different line. They quoted Sir James Munby, who was the president of the Family Division of the High Court, in a case of January 2015:
“Whereas it can never be reasonable parenting to inflict any form of FGM on a child, the position is quite different with male circumcision. Society and the law, including family law, are prepared to tolerate non-therapeutic male circumcision performed for religious or even for purely cultural or conventional reasons, while no longer being willing to tolerate FGM in any of its forms.”
As the former barrister who I mentioned earlier also said, it would require a parliamentary override for male circumcision to be legal, and that has never existed. No exemptions to the law of the land are permissible for religious or cultural reasons.
The Ministry of Justice went on to say that there was no doubt that female genital mutilation could have a physical and psychological impact on women, and also said that some girls die as a result of the procedure, which is absolutely correct. I do not pretend to be an expert in this field, but I believe that boys have also been reported to have died following a circumcision, and I have seen accounts of the physical and psychological impact of circumcision on men.
I understand that the position of the NHS is that the risks associated with routine circumcision, such as infection and excessive bleeding, outweigh any potential benefits. I am mentioning all this because I believe it should be on the record, not least because of the very different approaches to male and female genital mutilation. The Government said back in 2016 that they had no current plans to change the law in relation to male circumcision. Given everything I have said, there may be no need to change the law to bring about a change in male circumcisions. However, I would be particularly interested to hear from the Minister on that point.
I also want to touch on parental alienation. Men are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to family breakdowns and how children are allocated after those breakdowns. Women are more likely to get custody of the children and, as has been noted on many occasions, men really do draw the short straw in these instances. Parental alienation is a topic that requires much more time than can be given to it today, but I want to put on record how concerned I am about what is a growing problem in this country. For those not familiar with parental alienation, it is what it sounds like: parents being alienated from their children, usually by the other parent, to the detriment of that parent and the children. In my view, it is a form of child abuse. It can happen for all kinds of reasons, and in some cases it is clearly right that parents are kept away from their children—for example, when there are genuine safety concerns. However, parents—when I say “parents”, it is usually men, in reality—are being kept from their children without justification.
One solution is more use of child contact centres. I recently visited Bingley contact centre in my constituency, which is run out of Bingley Baptist church. It is one of the centres under the umbrella of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, which says that more than 1 million children have no contact whatever with one parent or another after separation. I want to place on record my thanks to everybody who works at the Bingley contact centre. They are all volunteers, and they give up their time week in, week out to make sure that parents get to see their children and—just as importantly, if not more importantly—that those children get to see their parents. It is fantastic to see the reaction of the children when they see the parent who has previously been alienated from them. These centres are meant to be a temporary solution, and they work to give—mainly—fathers the chance to get back into their children’s lives. There is a waiting list for that service in Bingley, and no doubt in other places around the country. That is a shame, as the more fathers who can see their children, the better.
I mentioned everyday sexism against men earlier in relation to domestic violence, but there are plenty more cases that need to be challenged. People may recall the absolute hoo-hah over the Presidents Club charity event. That men-only event was derided because the hostesses were asked to wear certain clothes, and a lap dance was given as a prize. I am sure we remember that all hell broke loose when that event was reported. Even the millions raised for good causes, including Great Ormond Street Hospital, were under threat of being returned in disgust.
Fast-forward a few months, and the Daily Mail featured an article about 11 old ladies who invited their daughters and granddaughters to their nursing home for a performance by Hunks in Trunks, complete with numerous pictures of male dancers in the buff, with no trunks in sight. That was of course hilarious, and not seedy at all: women ogling men, women touching men—and those men had far fewer clothes on than the women who were at the Dorchester hotel for that charity dinner, I can assure you, Mr Bailey.
If that had been a bunch of male pensioners doing that with women with no clothes on, apart from a scrap of material, I am pretty sure that the reaction in the newspapers would have been very different. The papers certainly would not have been reporting the story in such a glib fashion. I accept that the events are not totally comparable, but there are plenty of other, similar examples of how we treat men and women differently. Adverts that apparently objectify women do not, it seems, do the same for men.