THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle Price “rose on the floor of the House of Commons” during a debate on maternity rights.
It is a great privilege to follow Ms Harman, who has blazed a trail on so many of these issues in the time that she has been a Member of the House. It is also a reminder that although she has been such a powerful advocate for women, we still have so many outstanding injustices to tackle, with the Bill tackling one of the most outstanding ones.
It seems staggering that in the 21st century we are still having to legislate for fair treatment and equality for women. We should not demur from grappling with these challenges as soon as they materialise. All of us here who are women Members of Parliament continue to encounter discrimination, whether on our own part or when fighting for constituents. Those challenges are reflected in our having a Minister for Women and Equalities, and indeed a Women and Equalities Committee. Of course, we must tackle the fact that not all unfairnesses and injustices can be dealt with by legislation; most today are behavioural and practical in their nature. However, by holding this debate, shining a light and taking action ourselves, we can give the best possible leadership to all employers in the country—and all women in the country, to show that we are on their side.
I very much welcome the Bill as an advance in women’s rights, but I felt moved to table amendments because of representations that I have had from women about its language. I fully understand the challenges that the Government faced in bringing forward this legislation. Clearly, the need to amend existing legislation made the job more difficult, and the use of language was not especially easy. None the less, I felt it important that we reflect on that.
The fact that we are holding this debate today explains why women are anxious about protecting their rights, and why they become very sensitive about language used. We see more and more how our sex is being dehumanised by non-gender-specific terms. A lot of women do not mind. Particularly for younger women, who perhaps have not gone through the fights that some of us who are a bit older have, it does not really matter, but for a lot of women it genuinely does cause distress. It is important that we in this place at least reflect on that, challenge ourselves and ensure that we do use the most sensitive language that we possibly can in tackling these issues.
We shall discuss my amendments in Committee in due course, but I must say that I find it difficult to be challenging my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General on this, because there has been no greater champion of equality than she. I was reassured by her opening comments that, whatever the language in the Bill, it does not reflect any more long-term view. However, the Government need to be sensitive about these issues, because in making a big leap forward in advancing rights, we do not want to alienate anyone with discomfort about the language used.