Debates between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Hayman during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 25th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Hayman
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 25th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 View all Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, cannot bring herself, as a woman, to share in rejoicing that women will now be recognised in the Bill. There has been nothing in anything that any of us have said against trans people. This is about recognising that it is women’s place in society that also needs to be recognised alongside other groups.

I was going to make a speech saying that while I supported the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I preferred to change “person” to “woman”. I continue to prefer that but, given my noble friend the Minister’s gracious intervention in accepting the amendment, I have binned that speech. I could not be happier that we now have agreement on amending the Bill. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the time and trouble that he has taken on this matter. He has shown outstanding leadership. While I regret that I added to the burdens of his office since tabling my amendment at Second Reading, I hope that he will share our satisfaction with the end result.

Since Second Reading on Monday, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have been inundated with emails and messages thanking me and other noble Lords who spoke for taking part in the debate and saying things that they felt were becoming unacceptable to say in society. We have tapped into a huge well of unhappiness about how women have been eliminated from public discourse and policy. What the Government have done today will be warmly, probably ecstatically, welcomed but there is more to do. We are just at the beginning of the end of the elimination of women from public discourse and I look forward to the review that will follow. This is a great day for women and I feel privileged to have played a small part in it.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am glad to have had the opportunity, like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, to bin the speech that I was going to make and to welcome the Minister’s comments. I also was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for whom I have huge respect and who has done an enormous amount, has courageously spoken out on issues of discrimination. I was glad to hear her speak and that the case that she has argued has been put forward and heard.

For me, the message that has come from this debate is that it is tremendously easy to find ourselves in a horrible and destructive polarisation whereby we feel that we have to be on one side of an argument, at an extreme, and where it is difficult to make accommodations, understand and work through how we do the task that the Equality Act sets out of balancing and calibrating conflicting—or at least not obviously easy to reconcile—rights.

I have not received a lot of correspondence since my speech on Monday but I have had three letters from trans men who were worried that their rights were being taken away by this change of language. That would have been a serious issue. It now appears, unlike the argument put forward originally, that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was right and that no rights would be taken away from people whose sex at birth was female but who transitioned and gave birth. That is important because however small a minority is, we should protect their rights and the services that we give them. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one has to be on one side or another and it is not possible to accommodate in language—and language does matter—the subtleties of the issues raised. As I said at Second Reading, that process is not aided by legislating in haste. More consideration might not have got us into a situation in which people on both sides of this argument, if I may phrase it like that, have found themselves subject to abuse. I sometimes despair at the quality and cruelty of public discourse in current times.

I therefore take lessons out of this. I am an unreconstructed old feminist and of course I have been worried by some of the developments in language, and those seeping into issues regarding women’s spaces and women’s rights. That is not because I believe in any way that trans people are a threat to women. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is absolutely right about that. There is no evidence or reason to believe that. I firmly believe that we should accommodate, support and be kind and sensitive in our language to those people. However, I also believe that we have fallen from those standards in our services for women recently and that today is important for drawing that line in the sand.