All 1 Baroness Deech contributions to the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021

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Thu 25th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
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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

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Department: Cabinet Office

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
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 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, whose constituent I used to be when I lived in Vauxhall. As three previous speakers mentioned their Tottenham connection, I should mention that, rather than fight the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, I stood as the candidate in Tottenham. I fought Tottenham, and Tottenham fought back.

If I may, I will rattle through my congratulations. First, I congratulate the Attorney-General, whose forthcoming happy event has given rise to this debate. Secondly, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, whose good sense, patience and quiet determination have brought about this change. Thirdly, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Noakes, whose brilliant leadership and eloquence have infused this whole debate and raised its tone.

Fourthly, I congratulate all the speakers at Second Reading, in which I did not take part. They showed what is best about this House—how it can be a revising Chamber where party allegiances are secondary to the determination to get things right, and thank heavens they did get things right. It would have been deplorable if we, as a revising Chamber, could not even revise a Bill whose original wording did not make sense.

Why does it matter? I was taught as a child “Sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words will never hurt you”, but this is not about insults. It is not even primarily about the rights of women and transgender people; it is about the control of language. Totalitarians of all stripes know that controlling language is a crucial step in gaining control of society. If you determine the vocabulary, you often determine how people think. Orwell spelled it out in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He said that

“the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

That, of course, is part of what is happening.

Incidentally, I do not think that the agenda being pursued by those seeking to control our vocabulary is driven by any sympathy for transgender people. On the contrary, it seeks to use trans people as shock troops in pursuit of an extreme form of egalitarianism which aims not to give equal rights to all of us, despite our manifest and manifold differences, but instead to deny the existence of those differences.

Happily, today that agenda has been rolled back. I hope that we have sent a message to those in the Cabinet Office and those who draft legislation in the future that will be as clear and robust as a message that was sent—as I discovered when I was responsible for Customs and Excise—by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise back in 1865 to a hapless clerk whose wording they did not like. They wrote:

“The Commission observe that you make use of many affected phrases and incongruous words ... all of which you use in a sense the words do not bear. I am ordered to acquaint you that if you hereafter continue in that ... way of writing and to murder the language in such a manner, you will be discharged for a fool.”

I hope that that message has hit home loud and clear today from this Chamber.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords—or, taking a cue from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, how long will it be before I ought to say “My peers”?—these amendments are less about maternity leave, although even that word is now suspect, than they are about the proper use of language to reflect and protect those to whom it refers, some of whom have a special status within the law. If I can cut straight to the solution, it is this. The Interpretation Act 1978 says that

“words importing the feminine gender include the masculine”,

so if the words “mother” or “woman” are used in this Bill, which incidentally and memorably Joshua Rozenberg has referred to as the “Suella Braverperson Bill”, an individual trans person—a man who had given birth— would be covered by the words “woman” or “mother” in the same way that allowances granted to men in other areas of the law include women in their remit. So there is no reason why “woman” should not be used, although I accept that there is a consensus around “mother”.

As drafted, the word “person”—as distinct from “woman”—in this Bill could only be of application to a person born a woman who transitions, gives birth, is a Minister, seeks maternity leave and is bothered about terminology. This number is too small to count. Set against that the worldwide population of women who feel that obliteration of their being is offensive. Human rights organisations have called for the retention of gender-specific language in law because, by neutralising the language, the actual issue is also neutralised. The international NGO Plan International, writing about the needs of girls and women, calls for their protection to be maintained by using the right terminology. It may not be true of women in this House or country, but the status of many women around the world as mothers and child-bearers is all-important and must not be overlooked.

Going wider than the Bill, the use of neutral language is confusing, as has been said, for those who have little command of the English language. In health situations, one risks not reaching them by using phrases such as “persons with cervices”, “menstruators” and “persons with vaginas”. How would noble persons, otherwise known as noble Lords, like to be referred to in health communications as “persons with prostates” or “sperm producers”? As for the threat to free speech, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that it certainly exists: if you try talking at UCL, KCL, Warwick and many other universities, including Cambridge, about Zionism, Israel, Jews, genetics or social mobility, you will be shut down.

Existing law is entirely in favour of retaining the words “mother” or “woman”. The McConnell case was about a man who started IVF treatment just six days after obtaining his gender recognition certificate, which was granted because he had made a declaration that he intended to continue to live as a man until death. He had not had a hysterectomy in part because, reportedly, he had not ruled out the possibility of having children. Section 12 of the Gender Recognition Act says that the status of a person as

“the father or mother of a child”

is not affected by the acquisition of a gender under that Act—so the court ruled that it was correct to list the man as the mother of his baby on the birth certificate, having regard to the rights and welfare of the child. As such, in this Bill we can speak of “mother” without in any way limiting the status of a trans person in a new gender.

Other laws confirm this. Section 33 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 defines a mother as:

“The woman who is carrying or has carried a child”.

The Equality Act 2010 refers repeatedly to “man” and “woman”, “male” and “female”. In Section 13, it says that a “protected characteristic” includes a woman who is breastfeeding and that, when a man is treated differently and might regard that as discrimination,

“no account is to be taken of special treatment afforded to a woman in connection with pregnancy or childbirth.”

Section 60 of the Immigration Act 2016 prevents the “detention of pregnant women”. Regulation 12 of the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 refers to

“a child born to a woman during her civil partnership with a man.”

As such, by supporting these amendments, let us reinforce clarity, precision and dignity in language, preserve the special status of women in childbearing and motherhood, follow precedent and simply show some common sense. I thank the noble person, Lord True, for all that he has done in this respect, and I hope that he does not get trolled. I commend these amendments to your persons’ House.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I am not sure whether the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is able to join us.