All 2 Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne contributions to the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021

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Mon 22nd Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
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

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Department: Cabinet Office

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 22nd February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her determined and timely action in flagging up the wording in this Bill. I thank the Minister for his sensitive and careful acceptance of the comments that several noble Lords have brought to his attention on the use of the word “person”, as opposed to “female”. As other noble Lords have noted prolifically in this important debate, the drafting of the Bill has eliminated females from the very act that only a female can carry out.

As a former Member of Parliament, of the European Parliament and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have fought all my political life to bring females in to all aspects of politics and in to all circles of political power and responsibility at all levels of society. As a former director of the world’s largest children’s charity, a senior consultant to another six or seven of the world’s largest NGOs serving children, and a former World Health Organization ambassador, I know well that the child to be trafficked, abused, enslaved or sold is the one who has been successfully detached from its mother. In this Bill, this detachment begins before conception.

The knowledge that, both before and after birth, a mother is needed for the foetus to be safely developed in the womb and securely delivered with a safe birth, underpins the Children Act and all child’s rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which were framed and intensively discussed, debated and agreed by our former, late, much lamented and loved colleague Baroness Faithfull, whose work for children seemed eternally enshrined in British law. This Bill betrays her heritage, as much as it betrays that of Professor Bowlby, with his attachment theory for babies and children throughout their beginnings.

This is something that successive British Governments have always known about and supported. Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed in 1976 and ratified by the UK in the same year, states that:

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that: The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society”—

that comes out of the European Convention on Human Rights, of course—

“particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children. Marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses. Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth.”

The Government are right to put this Bill forward because, as Article 10 goes on to say:

“During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.”

Nothing could be more suitable than that. However, we also have CEDAW, ratified by the UK in 1986 to

“provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them”,

and to

“ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.”

Nothing could be more appropriate for this Bill, which our Government have correctly put forward, save that both those great statements mention women—mothers, females, not persons. In the dictionary, “person” means man, woman or child.

Today this House is talking about a female activity. I find it astounding that half a million years of human knowledge, custom and practice is cast aside for the sake of today’s unwillingness to recognise reality; to discard “mother”, “female”, “woman” in favour of a mythical being, the neutral “person”, the very neutrality of the word negating females. Those successfully impregnated by males for conception are females. Maternity is not a male activity, nor can it be hijacked by a change of wording. While wishful at all times of supporting mothers at any stage of their responsibilities, I cannot sit silent while we wipe the female out of a piece of maternity legislation which is designed for her.

Of course, we want our laws to be understandable to the ordinary person. That means everyone who votes and those who are not yet old enough to do so. One of our most wonderful authors, Shakespeare, has a lot to say about motherhood and mothering. He refers to breastfeeding several times, for example in “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth” and “The Winter’s Tale”, in which he presents the heavily pregnant Queen Hermione. In “Pericles”, Queen Thaisa vividly gives birth to a princess during a storm at sea. I will give an example, from Shakespeare, of what happens when you lose the word “mother” or “female” and replace it with “person”. It makes a very interesting distinction. This is from Sonnet III:

“Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;”

Now let me use the wording of the Bill:

“Thou art thy person’s glass and it in thee

Calls back”—

what can it call back? It cannot be “the lovely April of its prime”. I suggest we can only offer that it calls back “the flat and gloomy February of our time”.

If, despite his kind words, the Minister is unable to offer any real sweetness to salve our strong concerns, would he be willing to accept a full debate on language used in legislative drafting, in other governmental organisations and institutions, and in those which are sustained by funding from the Government, such as schools? The concerns of this House today about language cannot be easily ameliorated, as the present debate so clearly shows. I deeply and profoundly regret the drafting and the misgendering of women in the Bill.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne 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)
As regards the amendment, which I support, I am very happy to go along with what has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. From my point of view, if there is no vote I certainly will not press one.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I thank him immensely for all that he has done to bring us to this situation, but my first thank you must go to my noble friend Lord Lucas, for giving us the amendment that the Minister has felt able to accept and for putting it down with others. We all thank the Minister for his tremendous work, in the last few days and earlier, in ensuring that the detail of the Bill is as perfect as it can be. He first gave attention to the Explanatory Notes, which he revised and improved. Then, he most generously offered a review, which was a wonderful offer. We are all looking forward immensely to discussing that and participating in a debate later. Today, he has really broken the tape as the winner, in that he has accepted the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas.

I was fortunate enough to put my name down in time for one amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I support many amendments, including that which says,

“leave out ‘person’ and insert ‘mother’”.

As Shakespeare says,

“Why not a mother? When I said ‘a mother,’

Methought you saw a serpent: what’s in ‘mother,’

That you start at it? I say, I am your mother;

And put you in the catalogue of those

That were enwombed mine”.

It felt a little like that on Monday. When we used the word “mother”, it was as if people were alarmed by the concept. It had to be a “person”. Today, “All’s Well That Ends Well”, which is where that quotation comes from. I thank the Minister immensely.

The first person to thank, from our Back Benches, must be my noble friend Lady Noakes, who opened up the entire debate on Monday by putting forward her regret Motion. That was a timely and correct Motion, which enabled all of us to open our hearts and minds, and discuss this from all corners of opinion. We thank my noble friend Lady Noakes immensely for doing this for us and for not taking it to the vote, because it has brought us to today’s happy moment, when we have something that nearly all of us—I hope all of us—will fully support, which will give the right maternity allowances and so on to the Attorney-General, whom the Bill aims to support.

The wonderful thing about the acceptance of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas, is that it follows the accurate criticism on Monday and in the other place that this Bill was designed to help one person only. Now, with the alteration of the wording from “person” to “mother”, it embraces everyone. It embraces the whole of maternity. It may not name everyone in it, but it opens the door to us having further debates and enlarging maternity support. There are certain pockets and gaps in maternity provision for women in the United Kingdom even now. The criticism of the Bill was correct that it was just for a single mother, but now it is not; “mother” is for all mothers, and that is wonderful. I am really happy about that.

Many others have been working in the last two or three weeks and, as soon as the discussion began several weeks ago, a large group of us coalesced. We coalesced with almost no special drilling, organisation, APPG horrors or anything like that. Yet, as we have already heard today and will hear more of, members of the group have been working together from all corners of the House. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Young, Lord Winston, Lord Triesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—wonderful Members of Her Majesty’s Opposition are working together with us. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Lucas, and there are many more people on this side too, whom I can name, such as my noble friends Lady Noakes, Lady Altmann, Lady Eaton, Lord Balfe and Lord Polak. We have the Cross Benches, such as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who apologises for not being here today, because she is in another committee. She has been and will go on being magnificent. We are still to hear from the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Hoey, who are non-aligned. We have already heard from others, such as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. This big cluster is growing every day; I cannot name everyone. It is safe to say that we have built on the work of the other place and of Sir John Hayes and Andrew Rosindell—forgive me for not remembering their constituencies. We have had a lot of help from across the Cross Benches and both sides of the House.

This is a beginning. It is a wonderful beginning and the first step in clarifying some of the legislation that appears to have become rather muddled recently. We in the House of Lords have the time, duty, knowledge and obligation. We are people of public service, and we can do all that is possible to make certain that everything that comes through this House comes out again in perfect condition, suitable for the population of Great Britain and elsewhere.

I thank the Minister once more and, just to make him laugh, tell him that the debate that he leads this afternoon has a hashtag. Guess what it is. It is all over the web and the House of Lords. The hashtag is #MumsTheWord.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. I add my voice and thanks to the Minister for his earlier remarks and his acceptance of the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I also express thanks to those noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully in changing the language that was originally proposed for the Bill, in moving amendments to give effect to the widespread view of Members of your Lordships’ House about that issue.

During the Second Reading of the Bill, all were struck by the virtual unanimity, across all parts of the House, in opposing the use of the word “person”. Like others, since participating in that debate, I too have received many emails from women who have expressed real concern about the original proposals and what they meant. One of the things that came out of the debate, more than anything else, was the feeling that it is important to draw a line in the sand on this issue and that it is time to stand up to some of the—if I may say—intimidation and marginalisation that goes on when people try to express what in my view is a perfectly reasonable position.

If it is not possible to talk about a “mother” or “woman”, rather than a “person”, in a Bill of this nature, when would it ever be considered appropriate? Reassurances might have been given that this is to do with legal drafting guidelines, that the Bill is perfectly competent and legally effective, that what is said here cannot be taken as a precedent and so on. I fully respect the sincerity and good faith of the Minister in the arguments that he advanced in the previous debate, but we know that the danger is that, if we had missed this opportunity to resist and rectify something that is palpably wrong, albeit for what might have been seen as plausible reasons, in the future it would have been used as an argument to further do away with appropriate and proper references to “woman” and “women” plural in legislation and elsewhere.

This legislation is very narrow in its application to the circumstances and situation of the current Attorney-General. Again, we wish her and her family well at this important time. It is a pity that the Government found themselves in the position of incurring such controversy on such an issue. I hope that the lesson has been learned. The way in which your Lordships’ House has reacted and taken action is to its enormous credit.

There are a number of wider issues that I and other noble Lords raised during our debate on Monday, and the Government have agreed to come back to the House before the Summer Recess to report on many of them. That is welcome and I look forward to the report. Like other noble Lords, I might have preferred the Bill to refer to “woman” rather than “mother”, but I recognise that the Government have moved today on this most important issue, and I thank the Minister for listening to noble Lords.