Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness UddinMain Page: Baroness Uddin (Non-affiliated - Life peer)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I too was unfortunately unable to take part at Second Reading but congratulate my noble friend Lady Noakes on her brilliant speech on Monday. Did she really expect to be here today listening to this debate?
Like my noble friend Lord Cormack, I think that the cross-party ad hoc group that came into being shows what can be achieved. I pay tribute to my noble friends Lady Nicholson, Lady Noakes and Lord Lucas, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, among many others. Perhaps I may be permitted also to publicly thank Karen Wilmot for her tireless efforts. I hope that my noble friend Lady Nicholson will give her some well-deserved time off this weekend.
My right honourable friend Suella Braverman is indeed my friend. I wish her, Rael and baby George well—as indeed would the majority of people throughout this country. This is exactly my point. The overwhelming majority of people in our country sometimes wonder what we are all about—or, more accurately, what the drafters of this Bill were thinking, or, more pertinently, who they were listening to. What concerns me most is when the Government appear to listen to the noisiest groups and seem to want to satisfy those small, vocal activists rather than the overwhelming but perhaps silent majority.
So, instead of appealing to my noble friend the Minister, I congratulate him. One of the pleasures of being a Member of your Lordships’ House is being present in the Chamber to witness great speeches and intense debate, and to watch and learn from the skill of Ministers in dealing with situations, marrying up the briefs that have been prepared for them with the need to be nimble and articulate. I watched with admiration how the Minister worked tirelessly to pilot the UK trade co-operation Bill through this House. He was on top of his brief, was always courteous, stood his ground and day after day, week after week, did a magnificent job on behalf of the overwhelming majority of people in this country.
In the same way that he deployed an abundance of common sense to pilot that most difficult, complicated and politically charged piece of legislation, I was going to appeal to him to stand back and focus on the amendment, focus on what is clearly the right thing to do and focus on serving the overwhelming majority of people in this country. But I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord True, as I am sure that he led the discussion to ensure that common sense prevailed. I hope that this lesson has now been learned.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister, and I am most grateful to him for the time and effort that he has taken to meet our cross-party group of Peers and to make himself available in such an understanding and courteous manner. I am delighted that he has been able to accept the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas, which I wholeheartedly support. I also thank my noble friends Lady Nicholson and Lady Noakes for their wisdom and leadership, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Winston, and my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Cormack and others on the cross-party group who have been so steadfast in their efforts to address this most sensitive and difficult issue.
In my view, anyone who gives birth is a mother. Respect for motherhood is important. As Aristotle said, the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. The use of the term “pregnant person” undermines the case for women’s equality and seems to marginalise women in the context of their biological role. I apologise to noble Lords that I was unable to be present at Second Reading, and I thank the Committee for allowing me to speak in this debate.
I support women’s rights. Indeed, having worked in the City some 30 years ago and having seen the progress that women have made in what used so often to be a man’s world and no longer is, I regret that there is some perception that standing up for the rights and roles of women in some way denigrates other groups. I am not transphobic. I respect anyone’s right to own their own sexuality, but balancing equalities must not become the sort of topic that in the name of equality marginalises other groups’ rights. I echo the words of so many others that the rights of minorities must be respected. Again, I am grateful that my noble friend the Minister has been able to accept my noble friend Lord Lucas’s amendment, and that the House seems to have been able to make a real difference on this most important debate.
I shall finish with the words of Gandhi:
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”
I believe we have moved a step closer to passing that test today.