Committee (and remaining stages)
My Lords, the hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask that all Members respect social distancing. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in the group to a Division must give notice, either in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments in the usual way and, when putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group. We will now begin.
Clause 1: Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
My Lords, I will speak also to the other amendments in my name.
We discussed this issue extensively at Second Reading. Almost everybody who spoke from all around the House was clear that the use of the phrase “pregnant person” in the Bill was unacceptable. Amendment 1 and the consequential amendments substitute the word “mother”. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, laid out at Second Reading, last year’s judgment in the Court of Appeal in the McConnell case makes it clear that anyone who gives birth is a mother under English law. That is a word that signifies a role—a word that honours the millions of women who undertake it, and honours equally those mothers who do not own to the label “woman”. It is a word well understood in statute and in law generally, and one that should cause no upset to the Government’s legal team. If I was writing the Bill, I suspect I would have chosen “women”, but I can understand and see that “mother” may be an easier word for the Government to choose, and I am delighted that there are indications that they may be looking in that direction.
Words matter, especially on the long road to equality. The use of the word “person” in the Bill as it is now erases the reality that, overwhelmingly, maternity is undertaken by women and not by men. To leave “person” in place would be a step backwards in women’s equality, uncompensated by gains elsewhere and inconsistent with government policy. I am among a large group of Peers of diverse politics but a shared determination to see continued progress towards equality for women and to oppose attempts to roll that back. There is a great deal to do, and this amendment is just a grain of sand in the balance—but it is a grain on the right side of the scales. I beg to move.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I thought it might be helpful if I made a brief statement at this early stage. The Government have listened carefully throughout Second Reading and in the various discussions I have had with noble Lords of differing opinions outside the Chamber. The Government recognise the strength of feeling on this issue and the desire of your Lordships’ House to give effect to this strength of feeling. The Government recognise the concerns that have been expressed, articulated today by my noble friend in his remarks when moving Amendment 1 and by many others in the debate on Monday, that in meeting the legal requirements of legislative drafting there may be more than one acceptable approach.
The amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seek to change the drafting of the Bill to substitute the words “mother or expectant mother” in lieu of the word “person” in various places in Clauses 1 to 3. The Government accept that such an approach to the drafting of the Bill would be legally acceptable and that the intention and meaning of the Bill would be unaffected by such a change. As a result, the Government will accept the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
My Lords, in speaking to my amendments, I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement, as well as his willingness to talk to noble Lords on numerous occasions over the last four days. I also welcome the review he is announcing alongside the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I had already decided to put my support behind the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I prefer the term “woman” but, as he said, I am very happy with the substitution of “mother” for “person”.
I always wanted to see the Bill delivered so that the Minister can get her maternity leave, but I also wanted it to be clear and respectful to women. I am delighted that we have come to this outcome. There is no doubt that the use of the word “person” rather than “woman” or “mother” is not a technical issue that should ever have been decided by parliamentary counsel. It goes right to the heart of the Government’s attitude towards women, their rights and their ability to speak clearly about situations where their sex matters. In recent months we have increasingly heard about the Government’s concerns about free speech in this country. However, when it comes to issues to do with sex and gender, they have been remarkably silent.
I know that many noble Lords have received countless messages, mainly from women, since our debate on Monday—I have had over 200 messages. What comes through is their fear about the hard-won rights of women and their marginalisation in recent years. I was struck by the comments of one senior NHS consultant, who said:
“Language matters and sex-based rights depend upon that language … You are … aware of what happens when women have … tried to express similar concerns”
to those that noble Lords expressed on Monday. She continued:
“What happened to Rosie Duffield was disgusting, but the silence from her colleagues was also chilling and very disturbing.”
Other comments I received were:
“If we can’t speak meaningfully about sex, we will never end sexism, violence against women and girls, or misogyny”,
“I have campaigned for equality across the board all my life and yet now I’m dismissed as a bigot and a transphobe for even trying to raise concerns at all.”
I too find it chilling that those who speak up for women’s rights can find themselves accused of trans hate and subject to horrific abuse, particularly if they are women. That really is a sign of free speech under threat.
At Second Reading, I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because she was one of the two speakers who disagreed with the general theme of our debate. She referred to the importance of the language used in legislation remaining inclusive and referred to trans men believing that using the word “woman” excludes them and therefore removes their rights.
As Louise Perry pointed out in this week’s edition of the New Statesman—actually, in relation to the Brighton NHS trust’s adoption of gender-inclusive language—one risk is that if you exclude one group to include another, you impact on their rights. It goes much wider than health, of course. How is erasing women from the language of the law somehow inclusive? Where is the equivalent pressure to change references to men in public health campaigns? Prostate Cancer UK does not come under fire for transphobia for talking about it as a men’s health issue.
It is women’s safety, dignity and inclusion that are compromised when organisations do not feel confident in maintaining the ordinary privacy of separate spaces for changing and washing. It is women’s specialist services, such as rape crisis centres, that are being replaced by mixed-sex services—the latest example being very recently in Brighton, with the contract being withdrawn from Brighton Women’s Aid.
It is women’s specialist services and charities where the staff are afraid to speak up for fear of losing funding. It is the women in the workplace who feel threatened if they speak up for their rights under the Equality Act. It is female academics who are being no-platformed and silenced because they are seen as “the wrong kind of feminist”. It is the women MPs in the other place who get the hate and abuse. That is not inclusion.
I support trans rights, and I support women’s rights. Sometimes, there can be a tension between them. That is why the Equality Act 2010 was so carefully drafted to recognise that, with separate characteristics and principles for reconciling and balancing rights when they come into conflict. The legislation uses the word “woman” not just in terms of defining the protected characteristic of sex, but throughout the Act in all sections related to pregnancy, maternity and lactation.
All institutions have a responsibility to avoid discrimination in relation to each of the nine protected characteristics as laid out in that Act, but it is increasingly common to find in the equality policies of many public bodies that the Equality Act characteristics of “sex” and “gender reassignment” have been replaced by a single word: “gender”. The protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity are often forgotten. How can those organisations then assess how their policies impact on people in relation to sex and gender reassignment, when they collapse the two categories into one?
Furthermore, many are advised by organisations that tell them that even thinking about the possibility of a conflict of rights is transphobic. The result, of course, is that single and separate-sex services, which are enshrined in the Equality Act 2010, are coming under increasing attack, not least from the misleading guidance issued by many government bodies, local authorities and the EHRC.
I am very grateful to the Minister. This is a turning point and an important moment, but there is much more to do to protect women’s rights and the other rights enshrined in the Equality Act. I will certainly not move my amendment, but I thank all noble Lords who have given enormous support to this cause; I am very grateful.
My Lords, I had expected to speak to my Amendment 13 but, in view of what the Minister said, it would be detaining the House unnecessarily to go into a long explanation. I had thought to define the word “person” as either an expectant mother within 12 weeks of the expected week of childbirth or, as a mother, a person who has given birth to a child within the previous four weeks. In view of the Minister's acceptance of the word “mother”, however, I see no further need to proceed with my amendment and will not move it.
My Lords, due to the rules of procedure of our House, I was unable to take part at Second Reading but, having listened very carefully to the whole debate and reread some of the speeches, there are some points not made on Monday that I think should be drawn to your Lordships’ attention. My colleagues will deal with the detail of the debate and the Bill.
We are in familiar territory because powerful campaigns have common characteristics and patterns. A classic campaign identifies a minority group—preferably one about which the majority population knows little—ascribes to it characteristics and motivations which make it a threat and repeats those assertions, preferably with the backing of a neutral body or experts, over and over until they become received wisdom. It is what happened to migrant communities in the UK in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, it was lesbians and gay men. Today, it is the turn of trans people. I say in what will be the continuing theme of my speech: there is no evidence, and no evidence has yet been offered, that trans people are a systemic and significant threat to women.
We see a reliance on campaign techniques with which some of us are very familiar. When this House was debating changing the law to allow gay adoption, or enable civil partnerships—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will remember it well—we were sent documents which purported to be research. In those days, they came from organisations such as the Christian Institute. These days, the alt-right has become a lot more savvy. It supports campaign groups and individual academics to produce documents that look like research—noble Lords will have got one during the recess—but, on closer inspection, they are just the same dodgy dossiers as in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his speech on Monday recorded at col. 652, was full of passionate assertions based on that document and others, but if you examine his speech closely, there is no actual evidence of any threat from trans people to individual women or women’s rights. It is just an opinion —admittedly, widely repeated.
On Monday, I listened to the phrases carefully crafted to make it appear that the people using them are not transphobic, just protecting women. We heard that again today from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As a lesbian who lived through Section 28 , I know what it is like to be portrayed as a member of a group that constitutes a threat to women, children and families—it was unsafe to let us into changing rooms, because we could pose a threat—all without any evidence. That was an experience of classic homophobia, often expressed in exactly the same arguments and phrases as we hear today. This time, no matter who the messenger—the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, or the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—and regardless of their record on other equalities issues, the effect of what they propose is the same. It is to limit or deny a minority group—in this case, all trans people—access to services and public spaces.
Another trope was on show on Monday: people supporting amendments, like other people in this wider campaign, stated over and again that they are being silenced. Week in, week out, that claim is repeated in national newspapers and on the BBC and other broadcasters. They are not being silenced; it is just that some of us have the temerity to disagree with them and call them out for what they are doing. They state that they are hounded on social media. They are, but anyone listening to the debate on Monday would have thought that was all coming from one side of the debate. I invite noble Lords to look at my Twitter timeline. I assure them that they will be astonished by what people claiming to be feminists are capable of saying and doing in threatening other women.
I am not surprised that these proposals and amendments have some support in your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, is on record as having consistently opposed LGBT equality since 1994. Other noble Lords read the Times, which in each of the past two years has published over 320 articles about trans issues, almost all of them full of gross misrepresentation. Others will have been approached by women—female friends and colleagues—who are scared by the never-ending messages that trans people are a threat to them. That is understandable, given the deluge of this incessant campaign. But I stress again that the evidence behind it is not there.
As a Member of your Lordships’ House, I have worked hard to improve the position of women, in all their diversity. That includes lesbian mothers in the days when they were considered not fit to be mothers. I have worked hard on women’s reproductive rights, so that women and girls, here and abroad, have access to safe, appropriate healthcare. My commitment to women’s health and dignity is undiminished. I ask noble Lords who listened to the strong allegations and assertions made on Monday to note the lack of credible evidence for trans people being a threat.
The wording of the Bill is already inclusive. Amending it would be a deliberate decision to exclude trans men and others from services. That is the first and thin end of a dangerous wedge. When people like me were in the firing line, we depended on allies. Today, trans people are under sustained, unwarranted attack. For those reasons, if I get the opportunity, I will vote against these amendments and I strongly urge noble Lords who may well have listened to the debate on Monday to go back and ask themselves the question: where is the real evidence of trans women in particular being a threat to other women?
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.
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.
I will say one other thing. I was very struck by a letter in the Times the day after the publicity about the Brighton NHS trust’s change of language, which was, in my view, ludicrous but well intentioned. In many instances, it is not the communities and individuals who are themselves affected by these issues who take an extreme line on language; it is those who choose to be their advocates and take extreme positions. I end by quoting that letter. It read:
“Such attempts to control language may backfire spectacularly on transgender people like me as the public tires of being told what they are expected to think. If even the facts of life are deemed to be transphobic, then perhaps transphobia has lost all meaning.”
We must be careful with our language and respectful of minorities. We have made an important stand but it should not be seen as having defeated anyone, least of all transgender people. It should be seen as a victory for women’s rights.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She is of course right: minorities must always be carefully guarded, as long as they behave legally, but majorities have their rights too. It is important that that is recognised. We need to live in a more mutually tolerant and respectful society.
I am very glad not to be going—metaphorically—into the Division Lobby tonight. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord True and his ministerial colleagues for recognising the overwhelming view expressed in the debate at Second Reading on Monday evening. Those speeches were made not because the people making them were intolerant; rather, because all of us were concerned about the role of women in society and the way in which some people have sought to marginalise it. It seemed, to me and to others, quite absurd that a Bill with “maternity” in its title contained not a single reference to “woman” or “mother”.
I rather share the views of my noble friend Lady Noakes, who set us off on a very good path on Monday night with her regret Motion, which she did not press to a Division. If we were to put one word in, my marginal preference would be for “woman”, but there is no more wonderful word in the language than “mother”. I am happy not to join the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in pressing his amendment, to which I am a signatory, but rather to accept with due gratitude the Government’s recognition and incorporate the Winston-Lucas amendments throughout the Bill—because that is what it amounts to.
The problem with a Division is that it would have sent out unfortunate signals, most of all signals that the Government were not prepared to recognise the obvious. They have now done so; for that, many thanks. I am one of that group of colleagues who has met my noble friend Lord True on two or three occasions this week. We have been grateful to have sometimes robust discussions with him. He has clearly listened and talked to his ministerial colleagues. For me, the most powerful lesson of this week is that it is a wonderful illustration of how your Lordships’ House can reach across parties. We must recognise that we were a group made up of Members from political parties, the non-aligned and the Cross Benches, who had a common aim and a common purpose: to entrench toleration in this particular legislation. Not a single one of us opposed the Bill itself. There were, of course, those who criticised the Bill on Monday for not going far enough or being inclusive enough; those were valued comments and doubtless we shall come to them again.
However, the thing that united all but two of the speakers on Monday was the problem of language. We are possessed of a wonderful language in this country. To anaesthetise it in the way originally suggested in the Bill was not really good. By the way, I noticed in the Times this morning that our colleagues in France are also having problems with inclusive language and all the rest of it, so this problem is not limited to our country or our time. We do not have an academy to protect our language in the way the French do, of course, but it is a rich and marvellous language. Quite soon, we will commemorate the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, which will give us another chance to recognise how rich, varied and wonderful our language is.
There is no more powerful word in the language than “mother”. The fact that it will now be in the Bill gives me great pleasure. I have not been deluged by letters—partly because I am very new to email—but I have had a number of them, some of which were heart- rending, from women who felt that they were being marginalised and not recognised. They rejoiced in the fact that they had, as one of them put it to me, some champions in the House of Lords.
This is not the end of the matter—it is not even the beginning of the end—but, as the greatest of Englishmen in the last century, Churchill, said, this is the end of the beginning. It is important that we review how language is used in legislation. It is important that we look at all the kindred aspects of toleration and how women can be properly recognised, having fought so hard for freedom. It is important that that can now be entrenched and not put aside or marginalised. This has been a good illustration of how colleagues can work together with a common purpose and a common aim. I am glad that we have, to some degree, realised that today.
My Lords, first, let me say that I am more than grateful to the noble Lord, Lord True. At one point at Second Reading, he expressed a real sense of humanity, which is important here. Of course, like him, I recognise that “maternity” comes from the Latin “mater”, meaning “mother”, so it would be fairly ludicrous to exclude the possibility of “maternal” and other such words not being feminine.
Like other speakers, I have basically ditched my speech. I want to say just a few, hopefully relevant, things. In my life, there are four issues that have been really controversial and because of which I have received particularly extraordinary adverse and hostile press. The first was when I first discussed the possible causes of chronic fatigue syndrome with Professor Simon Wessely, who is now interested in helping the Government on mental health issues. That issue produced a storm of deeply unpleasant letters. Another is that being a Jewish member of the Labour Party who did not leave the party, that did not lead to anything other than some rather uncomfortable correspondence as well. I am proud of my Jewish heritage, as I am very proud to be British. In a way, this week we have seen a particularly good piece of common sense prevail in this country.
Noble Lords might remember that I raised the issue of bicycles on pavements. The amount of hostile stuff I received was unbelievable, including a few death threats. But perhaps the biggest single thing has been the question of transgender, which I first discussed about three years ago on the “Today” programme with John Humphrys. I had a lot of very unpleasant correspondence. I do not know who it was from. I presume it was from people who had a different sexuality, but I do not know for certain because I did not meet any of them. Many did not sign their name or give me an address, so it was impossible to know.
I was very upset to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, speak in the way she did, because we have agreed on many issues before. I have a massive respect for what she has done. I remind her that I was probably the first person, not only in this country but in Europe, to offer any in vitro fertilisation—it was free, of course—to lesbian couples. I am proud of that. It was important. I am certainly not a bigot or opposed to people’s different sexuality, and that certainly applies to transgender.
One thing I want to suggest is that, clearly, we will come back to this issue. We have forgotten something completely in this discussion that we really need to consider. It is all very well to speak about words, but they are often not being used correctly or with their proper definition. As a scientist and biologist, I recognise that there are very different views on gender, sex and sexuality, and they need to be stated very clearly.
For example, when it comes to sexuality, perhaps the greatest single biologist who has written on this and researched it endlessly is Professor Roger Short, a fellow of the Royal Society, who is now long retired. His work is really important—I dare not use the word “seminal”, but noble Lords will understand what I mean. He has shown, in various important pieces of research, that sexuality is not a single issue. We have genetic sex. Each of us has around 30 trillion cells in our body, which will be either XX if we are female or XY if we are male. That is something fundamental that develops from the moment of embryo genesis. Indeed, what I showed in my work many years ago was that, within three days of fertilisation, a male embryo’s metabolism is more active than that a female embryo. We even thought about trying to use this as a way to determine whether a woman would have a male or female baby during the in vitro fertilisation process, but the figures were not discrepant enough for that to be scientifically useful.
There is also gonadal sex. It is very clear that somebody who has a testis is at least male, while somebody who has an ovary is female. An ovotestis is exceptionally rare. It happens a few times, but invariably all those who have given birth with that kind of intersex have been female. They have all been XX and they predominantly all had an ovary.
There is germ cell sex as well, because we have cells in our bodies that are either sperm, in the case of a male, or eggs, in the case of a female. Those do not change, except in some rare situations. In reptiles, changes of temperature can affect the sex of an egg. It is true that marsupials and some weird voles, Microtus oregoni, seem to be able to dictate their sex to some extent with the environment. However, that is quite unique and does not occur in most mammals and certainly all humans, as far as we know.
Hormonal sex is also important, and it starts before birth, not simply at puberty. Testosterone starts to have an influence very early on in the womb. It is important to realise that women, too, produce the male hormone. In fact, if they do not, the chances are they will be infertile, and they certainly will not be as good at debating in the House of Lords than if they did have testosterone. Somehow, testosterone seems to create a feeling of wanting to express yourself in some way. I make that as a rather ludicrous aside, but noble Lords will understand what I mean.
Most important for me, which I tried to refer to last Monday, is the importance of brain sex, which is determined well before birth in the very early stages of development. We know that all sorts of influences on the foetus inside the womb—that unique connection with its mother—affect that baby in the very early stages of its development. If the woman has high levels of cortisol and is anxious, those babies are likely to be born with depression and problems with fearfulness. They will have more problems as they grow up with all sorts of different traits associated with that effect during pregnancy.
It is also possible that our brain sexuality might even be affected in the womb in the same sort of way. In fact, that increasingly seems likely; there is various evidence for it. In many cases, it is possible that a dying twin—very often we have two embryos in the uterus, not just one, but one does not survive—produces enough of a particular hormone of one sort or another that might affect the sexuality of the other twin. That certainly happens in many mammalian species and probably in the female human as well. These things are important because they affect the development of a child.
When we came to this issue of “chestfeeding” on Monday, I was staggered to think that it should be seen as a substitute for breastfeeding. It is not, because we know from all sorts of animal models that there is a very big difference between how you breastfeed and how you simply groom or cuddle the baby. That is something we need to consider very carefully, because at some point we will have to come back to debate what are impossibly difficult issues. As Roger Short said:
“It is a fascinating but incredibly complex subject which leads to a logical series of events”,
but he also says that sometimes it is very difficult to understand. We have to recognise that.
I do not want to go on any longer, but one of the reasons why I support the Bill so heartily is that it has nothing to do with gender: it is about women, the uterus and the connection with the baby before and after birth. That is a unique, special environment, which we know from when that environment is challenged in different ways, as it was, for example, in Michael Meaney’s work in Canada, when the babies of women exposed to the desperate storm in the late 1990s were, as a result, born with poor cognition in many cases. We have to understand that there are many things we still do not yet to recognise, but it seems critical that we should recognise the need to praise maternity, support mothers and do all we can for women who are pregnant, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In conclusion, I simply thank some of my noble friends. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, has been wonderful in helping this argument through. I am very grateful, of course, to my noble friend Lord Hunt. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who started this with her amendment, was hugely important in getting all of us to think about it. In spite of what has been said, I think that the standard of debate on Monday was exceptionally high. The result is a credit to the House of Lords. Once again, I thank the Minister for being so flexible and helpful in his discussions with us to get this kind of result.
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.
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.
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.
My Lords, we are all lobbied nowadays and I am sure that from time to time your Lordships have been bombarded with vast numbers of strikingly similar emails which are collectively less than convincing. But rarely in my time in the House have I received quite so many communications of different sorts in such a short period that have been so measured, and which have come from all quarters, as I have about the language in this Bill.
This is not a party political matter, or even really a political matter at all; I was going to say that it is about tone, but of course it is more than that because it strikes at the heart of who we are. Life is often about achieving balance between different priorities, all of which are important in their own way. I recognise that the rights of trans people are important, and perhaps the fact that they are a tiny minority and often remain hugely misunderstood adds to that importance. But I share the view of other noble Lords that in this instance, the rights of mothers trump those of the trans community.
Legislating gives us the opportunity to take a little more time and to get things right. We do not always achieve that, but the manner in which legislation passes through both Houses, in particular through this House, gives us a breathing space to make corrections where they are needed. Today is a great example of what can be achieved when the Back Benches are united and well led, and when we have a Minister who is prepared to listen to the arguments and recognise a good case—and then, perhaps more important, is prepared to fight our corner with his ministerial colleagues. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord True for the careful way in which he has addressed the debate both on Monday and today, and for the robust representations he has made on behalf of the House to his governmental colleagues. I also thank my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for their tremendous input through their amendments, in particular my noble friend Lord Lucas for achieving the amendment that has won the day.
Most of all, however, I want to thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her leadership in this matter. It was her tremendous speech on her amendment to regret on Monday that opened the way to this debate and argument being moved forward to a successful conclusion. For that, the whole House will want to thank her.
My Lords, I echo the sentiments just expressed by my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I do not think that I have ever done this before, but I circulated to a number of people the speech made by my noble friend Lady Noakes. It was outstanding and my only regret is that I was not able to be present to participate in the debate on Second Reading.
This is an important matter. In the 38 years or so that I have been associated with both Houses of Parliament, I have seen a steady decline in respect for both Houses and for the proceedings in Parliament. It is important that we should produce legislation which carries consent and that uses language which people find acceptable and is made as understandable as possible. I cannot imagine—not that any of us are allowed to go to the Dog and Duck or the Rover’s Return, or indeed to any pub—people in the pub referring to “a person” who is pregnant rather than “a woman”, or to “a person” who has given birth to a child, as opposed to “a woman”.
I have to say to my noble friend Lord True that he has done a great piece of work today because I know, having spoken to him earlier in the week, that there were a number of difficulties that needed to be circumvented in order to bring forward his proposition today that he would support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas. Like others, I would have preferred the use of “woman” to “mother”, but I am not going to argue about that. My noble friend has done a brilliant job and I share the view that, had my noble friend Lady Noakes not taken her stand, this legislation, I fear, would have gone through in its original form.
I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who we all respect enormously, that I think that she has gone off the rails a bit here. If the argument is that any Bill should avoid words that are not gender-neutral, the very title of this Bill, which includes the word “maternity”, would not have been able to pass that test, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, pointed out.
I was intrigued by the Government’s argument that they were simply following the procedure established some time ago by Jack Straw. Parliamentary counsel’s drafting guidance, which is perfectly sensible, states that it is necessary to avoid
“nouns that might appear to assume that a person of a particular gender will do a particular job or perform a particular role.”
It is clear that in the case of childbirth, referring to “mothers” or “women” in this context is certainly not contrary to that drafting guidance. I therefore congratulate my noble friend Lord True, who on this occasion has proved to be the midwife delivering common sense.
I should say to noble Lords that my name is down to speak to Amendment 32, but in the light of the Minister’s generous acceptance of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas, I do not consider it necessary for me to detain the House by speaking to it.
My Lords, I was pleased to hear from my noble friend about the drafting rules, as I have tried to fathom them out over the past 24 hours. I thank the Minister for coming round to our view. It is the first time in some while that he and I have agreed. I also thank my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. Without their persistence on this issue, we would not be where we are today.
However, there is the unfinished business of maternity leave not only for Members of the House of Commons, who are Members of Parliament, but also for their staff and for Members of the House of Lords who become pregnant, and other Ministers. I would like the consultation on these issues to be brought forward quickly, so that everyone is in line and has the same support, and the same rules apply.
Further, I am supportive of trans people and it is important that we have respect for language in every way; that is why I accept the language to be used in this Bill. It would have been better to have used the word “mother” rather than “woman”, but be that as it may, I am happy to accept the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Morrow.
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister’s announcement today and I want to pay tribute to him for his constructive and helpful approach during the week. He is a man who is not afraid to meet and to listen—the hallmark of a good Minister. Much that was going to be said undoubtedly will now not be, and I am aware that that applies throughout the House. However, I do want to make a few brief remarks.
It is difficult to understand why a Bill that relates to maternity leave does not once use the word “woman”. That, as we would say here in Ulster, is quite bizarre. While I support all the amendments, I am down to speak to just one. I have stated that my colleagues and I fully support the legislation; indeed, everyone who has spoken, irrespective of their views about the wording, supports the Bill itself. It is just regrettable that the wording did not come up to the standard that some of us felt we could have supported.
A Bill being fast-tracked always raises my suspicions, and I do wonder why this Bill is being fast-tracked. I know that sometimes there are very good reasons, and I think we all accept that this Bill has to be got through. However, unfortunately, this Bill, which is about ensuring the rights of pregnant women, was quite disrespectful to women in its original wording, in that it referred to them as “persons”. In all good conscience, I could not have supported the language used throughout, which made no mention of “women” anywhere.
The terminology stands in sharp contrast to all other UK legislation affording maternity rights and protection. I refer to the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. Some advocates of inclusion and diversity in Parliament, with whom I would not always agree, have rightly opposed the move towards gender-neutral language, on the basis that you cannot grant new rights to certain groups by taking away the rights enjoyed by others. The Bill would, regrettably, have anonymised and dehumanised the status and life experience of women. But we know that has now been changed, thanks to the Minister’s constructive approach. I believe listening is the sign and hallmark of a good Minister, and the noble Lord, Lord True, has certainly done that.
My Lords, this Bill will now pass unamended and I welcome that. But we recognise that our debate has touched on wider issues and that we are likely to return to them, in spite of our agreement on the government concession, on other Bills.
When I first joined this House a quarter of a century ago, it was dominated by men, most of them hereditary Peers. A Conservative woman Peer told me the hereditary Peers in her group treated the women Peers as if they were “day boys”. Having been at a boarding school myself, I knew exactly what this meant. In my first Session, I objected to some sections of that year’s defence review, which included women in the section on “equalities”, but gays in the section on “disciplinary problems”. When I dared to refer to great commanders of the past whose sexuality might have been called into question if aggressive efforts had been made to investigate them, I was attacked from both the Labour and the Conservative Benches and thought it wise to apologise before the debate wound up. Happily, this House and the country as a whole have moved on a great deal since then. We have all become more inclusive and openly diverse. None of us, I hope, wishes to return to the attitudes or the language of that earlier generation.
It is not only in Britain where we have moved towards gender-neutral language in political discourse. In Germany and France, which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, similar changes have been debated and carried into effect. There have been similar protests over attempts at political correctness—although I am not aware that people in France or Germany have taken over the term “woke” from its American origins. The general direction of change has been towards gender neutrality in language, where possible, to remove the implicit biases against women and LGBT people that were often embedded in language.
We all appreciate that this is a sensitive area where passions can easily be aroused. The last thing we want in this country is to slip towards the aggressive culture wars that have been stoked up in the United States, with partisans of opposing viewpoints more interested in the battle itself than in finding common ground, with well-funded organisations feeding the fire. We have all seen American battles spill over into British debate, from the student rebellions and protests that the Vietnam war provoked, to those over Black Lives Matter and opposing interpretations of each country’s history, glorious or inglorious. I hope all of us wish to resist sliding down the road that has led to such bitter divisions in American society, stoked by rival lobbies and highly partisan media. I hope we are all committed to an inclusive society and inclusive language. I also hope we are united in wanting to avoid moves to secure equality for women and moves to provide equal rights to LGBT people being pitched against each other.
As a former university teacher, I am also concerned about the possibility of freedom of speech in British universities becoming another battleground between cultural radicals and cultural conservatives. I am not persuaded by any evidence I have seen so far from Policy Exchange or elsewhere that there is any real threat to freedom of speech in our universities—any more than there was at the first lecture I gave nearly 55 years ago, when I found myself faced with a student demonstration. I am aware there is guerrilla warfare under way in some American liberal arts colleges—but that is over there, and we have no need to imitate it here.
Last week, a well-known professor published an article in the Daily Mail saying he was part of a secretive and persecuted minority in British universities. He lacks self-irony; secretive and persecuted minorities rarely get published in the Daily Mail. Matters of freedom of speech, women’s rights, gender-sensitive language or inclusiveness for lesbian and gay communities can easily be exploited by populists and hard-line lobbies. Those of us who care about an open society, and tolerant and democratic debate, will want to unite in resisting their attempts to do so. I note that the very concept of an open society is now under attack—in the United States, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere. We must all defend it in Britain.
The 2007 legislative guidance was a move in the right direction. I see no reason to change that guidance. I look to the Minister to continue to defend these open and democratic principles. I assure him that in doing so he will have strong support from the Liberal Democrat Benches, and sharp criticism if he should falter.
My Lords, I am glad to be following the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I welcome the Government accepting amending the Bill. I listened very carefully to the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, today and the comprehensive tutorial on development from the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
This Bill concerns maternity allowances for Ministers. For a group to be protected by the law, they must be properly identified in the law, and all I would like to say is that I feel that this amendment is a start.
My Lords, I too warmly welcome the Government’s decision to accept my noble friend Lord Lucas’s amendments. I join everyone in this House who in the last debate offered the Attorney-General their best wishes. Having a child is one of the most magical moments in a woman’s life and it is right that a Minister should be allowed to take maternity leave.
I particularly thank the Minister for his understanding and his realisation that many women felt offended. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, would say, had the testosterone to start this most important debate.
It would have been ironic if, having spent years as a commodity broker, asserting myself and my rights as a woman in a male-dominated environment, I had found that 30 years later women had become a neutral object, neither man nor woman but a person. This is the ideology of the madhouse—or, to put it another way, we might as well have declared that biology was to be struck from the school curriculum. It is a plain fact of human existence that only women can become pregnant and that therefore this piece of legislation could not have been gender neutral. It would have amounted to acquiescing to the obsessive “woke” culture infesting so many aspects of our lives.
There is another issue. As my noble friend Lord Cormack and others pointed out, it is also a matter of language. English is not my mother tongue—or maybe I should say my “person’s tongue”. In fact, it is my third language. Maybe it is for that reason that I appreciate its beauty, its richness and, compared to other European languages I know, its greater flexibility. English is a language that adapts itself to law, to business and to humour better than most others. That is why so many want to learn English. Our schools and universities are a huge source of income and soft power.
Things have moved on a lot since the gender-neutral protocol in 2013 but not all for the better. We are on a slippery slope towards the complete debasement of our language. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said in his passionate speeches, words and phrases such as “chestfeeders”, “birthing bodies” and “menstruators”—my autocorrect does not even recognise that last one—are truly unacceptable. I am not sure whether many foreigners will want to continue sending their children to learn English in the UK if we allow this kind of gender derangement to run riot through our language. It is bad enough to see grammatical mistakes, even commonly on the BBC, but corrupting the English language to this extent and demeaning women with reference to a gender-neutral person was just a step too far. I am delighted that the word “person” has been changed and will be “mother” in the Bill. Let us not continue down this dangerous path.
My Lords, it is right both that we get the wording in legislation right and that no offence is caused. The problem is that what was acceptable yesterday is not necessarily acceptable today. I very much welcome the helpful stance taken so early in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord True, on behalf of the Government, and I hope that will relieve anxiety.
I once caused offence to a colleague in your Lordships’ House in a short intervention because I used the word “man” on two occasions and she forgot that I had used “persons” on three occasions in the same speech. It was a no-win situation. A distinguished law professor at my first university, long before my time, used to say that according to the Interpretation Act 1889, the word “man” embraced “woman”. I have not looked that up and I do not know how relevant it would be today.
What is important, as the Minister said at Second Reading, is that the Labour Government in 2007 and successive Governments have sought to avoid gender-specific pronouns and usages in drafting legislation. I do not think we should overthrow that legislation. I hope the Minister has met the concerns expressed by the mover of the first amendment. The Committee will not mind my reminding it that when there is a departure from the traditional wording by parliamentary draftsmen, the courts are minded to probe deeply into the possibility of different meanings. Taking on board the observations of the Minister, I venture to advise the Committee of the dangers of departing from traditional drafting. Concern about any particular word or words should be looked at, not in this Bill but rather in a review of drafting practice more generally. That is the right place to ensure that we keep our drafting up to date.
I add that, further to the Minister’s speech at Second Reading, when I introduced the Law Officers Bill in the other place in 1997 there was no restriction whatever on the ability of the Solicitor-General to exercise all the functions of the Attorney-General. He may want to reconsider his remarks to remove any dubiety.
My Lords, like others, I would have preferred the unapologetic word “woman” to “mother”, but I warmly commend the Government for listening and especially the noble Lord, Lord True, on his patience in talking to some of us. I am delighted to take this as a win.
As we have heard from colleagues, the most gratifying part of all this has been about opening up a broader debate. Second Reading opened a Pandora’s box. As others have said, our inboxes have been bursting with relief and gratitude that the debate happened at all. People who usually sneer at the House of Lords—a lot of my colleagues are not keen on this place—were cheering, which was disconcerting. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, are now considered national heroes, let me tell you; I am expecting statues to be put up soon. I personally commend the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for showing real leadership on this question.
However, we should be careful about too many congratulations because the truth is that we are in a privileged place. In this House, at least, we cannot be cancelled for raising the issue. It might be an affront to democratic accountability that we are here for life, but I am delighted that we have used that wiggle room to say something that has become unsayable. How extraordinary and sad that saying that women give birth is so contentious, and that we are told we are brave for saying it. I feel a bit queasy when people say they commend our courage for speaking out, because we are safe here. We are not facing the kind of threats that Professor Selina Todd, a history professor at Oxford University, has when she needs security to give her lectures because she is gender-critical.
All those emails that we receive show just how frightened people are to speak out. Mostly it is not physical fear but fear that they will be dubbed bigots because they are progressive people—and who wants that? They are frightened that their defence of sex-specific services and the use of sex-specific language will see them closed down. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, when he says that free speech is not under threat. I think it really is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, in some ways associated those of us making these arguments with deploying the same tactics as those who campaigned against immigrants or lesbian and gay rights in the past. That itself becomes a form of demonisation, which has a chilling effect, but I reassure the noble Baroness that this is not an argument for bigotry; it is for women’s rights. She fears that this is stating that trans people are a threat to women, but that is not what I am trying to do at all. What is a threat to women is a particular brand of trans identity ideology. That does threaten women, but that is not the same as trans people.
There is a shocking consequence for service provision that I want to mention. I have spent hours in this House discussing the Domestic Abuse Bill and will carry on doing so. However, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, it is not only free speech that is under attack but services as well. This week, three specialist domestic abuse agencies lost funding due to local government gender-neutral policies and language. The fate of RISE, a mostly women-only refuge and domestic abuse service in Brighton, means that they have lost £5 million in contract work and will likely have to close, after council chiefs set up a tender intentionally non-gendered so that any women-only organisation would fall short of the new demands. When I expressed shock at this, I was told that I was anti-trans women, which I am not.
Of course, there are tricky questions surrounding this issue. It is a challenging moral and ethical area, and there are difficulties when rights appear to clash with one another. I do not always know how best to discuss what makes someone a man or a woman, or how to create an environment in which we can freely discuss gender identity. I worry about protecting transgender people from discrimination and unfair treatment and I do not want polarisation either. How do we deal with that? We deal with it by grown-up conversation. We need free speech, no demonisation, no calling people phobic or anything else. We need open debate, and I am proud that there have been open debates on this here on Monday and today.
One novelist recently wrote:
“In order to think clearly, we must be able to speak clearly.”
She finished by saying that if the abuse of language and the concerted attempt to cancel womanhood continued, and if the establishment continued to pander to notions such as the statement that it is only women who can get pregnant, we would lose the war on words, and that would be a fatal undermining of precious freedoms that women had achieved. Well, today we did not lose the war on words, and all credit to the Government for that. It is very good news, but there is no room for complacency because this is only the start.
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 thank the Minister for his personal assurances and commitment to improving the Bill, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her leadership and intervention.
The Government have acknowledged the significance of women’s role in giving birth. Language is imperative in setting out law. I would have preferred “woman” but support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as this honours mothers. I will say a quick work about feeding babies. Both my husband and I have chests, although mine is slightly adjusted, so it was me who ended up breastfeeding my five children. So I take great exception to the word “chestfeeding” and hope that we will not descend to the farce that has got us here.
Women like me have entered public life and carried on birthing children and experiencing great financial stress. This has reminded me of having to attend a Labour Group AGM on the third day after my daughter was born in 1992. I was immediately informed by the then leader, who is now the mayor of the council, that my baby was not entitled to enter the building and, more importantly, our shared office. I was similarly vilified in a national newspaper for bringing my eight month-old son to this House for one day in 1998—although subsequently sentiments changed towards other colleagues and mothers, thank God, who were regarded as heroic for bringing in their newborn babies and children.
It was a farce that led us to refer to a “person”, not a “woman”, no matter the explanation. While I appreciate the miraculous advances in medicine and science, not least the discovery of Covid-19 vaccines at such speed, I do not foresee that in my lifetime men will be birthing babies. Apart from anything else, it would certainly speed up population control. Until then, we should ensure that we provide women with the necessary support, and I support this Bill very strongly.
Due to House procedures and unforeseen circumstances I was not able to participate at Second Reading. I am glad of this opportunity to do so at this stage, as I welcome and support this Bill very much. I thank all noble Lords across the House for their powerful contributions. Like many other noble Lords, I would like to see the Government give further urgent consideration to improving maternity pay and conditions for all women in other professions, including local authority councillors. I have spent most of my life working first in the NGO context and then as a contracted social worker, not entitled to the luxury of full maternity pay. This has been the experience of hundreds of thousands of women, including Members of this House who have been pregnant during their time here.
Equal access to work is not the reality for many, and despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, our statutory maternity pay is a mere £152 a week, which is probably not enough to cover nappies these days. Over 50% of women from ethnic minority backgrounds work in insecure and low-paid sectors. I have strived for equal justice and whenever I have been in a decision-making position, I have taken action on employment rights, including maternity pay for staff, which is an essential element of workers’ rights.
The very first time any women within the NGO sector had full maternity rights provided was in 1982. I managed a women-led organisation, and I negotiated with the then GLC women’s committee, which had the foresight to support this—much to the angst of the local union, which argued that unless all NGOs were paying their maternity entitlement, one organisation should not be an exception. But I stood my ground, with the support of women locally and other women’s organisations, and maternity payments are still preserved in that organisation 36 years later.
This is really important. I persisted with that organisation. Despite the fact that they were all minority women, they were entitled to proper wages because unless you have proper wages it is no good relying on measly packets of maternity pay. This is a very important factor. Working conditions for minority women remain appalling. The incredible coalition that has been evident throughout these discussions on the Bill has been so powerful. We must now strengthen our resolve to ensure that we do not revert to accepting anything less than the best possible financial care for women, expectant mothers and mothers. We should do everything possible in our deliberations. We have raised hope for women across our country that we commit to making sure that they also are given their fullest maternity entitlement.
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.
My Lords, it is a privilege, as it always is, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. I think that she and I have two reasons to celebrate today. The first, of course, is the change that has taken place as a result of the Minister’s statement, to which I will return in just a second, and the second thing we celebrate is that we are both from Tottenham, and it is one of those rare days when people from Tottenham will be celebrating as well. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, will know exactly what I am talking about.
I join others in expressing my thanks to the Minister. We have not always been on the same side of debates, but I have been enormously impressed, as have other noble Lords, by his willingness not just to listen but to argue his case and then to come to a conclusion, which I am sure is his conclusion, which he has urged on other Ministers to make the Bill a better Bill. I appreciate that and I thank him for it, just as I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for moving the amendment, which I fully support, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Nicholson, and all others who have provided not only a lot of good sense but a very educative process for the House. I appreciate that a lot.
A number of noble Lords have been quite rightly appreciative of the role on all these issues of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I am afraid that I am going to break ranks a tiny bit with her, and I hope that one day, if not today, she will forgive me, because when people tell you that you that because of the sorts of things you are likely to say or the things that you have said you are going to be called out, it is important to know what you are being called out about and whether it is true. I said at Second Reading, and I know it is true of very many colleagues across the House, that we have been involved in various fights—led by women’s organisations, I have to say—for the extension of women’s rights. I deeply appreciate those who led those fights, and I am grateful for the chance to have taken part.
The same is true about LGBT. I cannot recall one of the significant campaigns that have come from that community for which I have not had 100% support. That is also true about the rights of trans people, so I do not accept in any sense that by raising these issues we somehow have turned our backs on that history, or on the commitments which we have adhered to or that we have made, or that we are engaging in grievous stereotyping. I completely accept, for example, that trans women are under threat, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, but it is also true that other people and other groups are under threat and I do not think we do any of them any service if we play them off one against another.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said that we would be alarmed if we saw some of the things that have been written and said to her, so let me say that I deplore that as well. That kind of nastiness and incivility is deeply damaging to our political life and social life, and I deplore the fact that the noble Baroness has been on the receiving end of that kind of diatribe. But I hope she will accept that when we talk about evidence, there is genuine evidence on all sides. My noble friend Lord Winston made a point about some of the occasions when he has been on the receiving end. I can confirm that, on some issues, for me in the Labour Party the anti-Semitic abuse was completely intolerable at one stage, as I think it was to all people of good will. You do not accept that that behaviour should be meted out to other people, and I do not expect to be on the receiving end of it either.
The truth is, there is a huge amount of evidence. The most important evidence—referred to with great care by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who has also played a huge role in this, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox—is that organisations and individuals are having their capacity to act on behalf of people who suffer from discrimination stripped out by being denied the kinds of funds they have had for a long time to conduct that fight. That is all real evidence. It is as real as the evidence on any side of this. I have received a large number of very pleasant emails, but I am afraid to say I have also received a significant amount of abuse on social media.
The language is an issue. Getting the right language in our legislation is always an issue, for reasons I will not repeat because noble Lords have made the point very clearly. It is urgent at the moment, not just because of this Bill but because, for example, the basis on which the ONS has decided to collect data on biological sex—or rather, not to collect this data in the census—now means that a number of leading quantitative social scientists believe we will have inadequate data and an inadequate track back through data historically. We have been given almost no time to comment on the wording of the census, yet that wording, which guides so much social policy, so much of our understanding of our country and should guide a great deal of our debates in this House, will now be poorly defined. I suspect too that it will be poorly used in policy-making. I hope the Minister will comment on how we might rectify that problem.
I started my speech, as has every other speaker in the House, with the words “My Lords”. When the Minister replies, I suspect he will also start with the words “My Lords”. We are in an institution which is named after the male Members and not the female Members. We do not raise the issue—I am not intending to raise it as a specific, sharp problem—because it is a matter of historical convenience and we like traditions. On occasion, we use language which I suspect would be thought offensive or inappropriate in other circumstances.
We of all people should be extremely sensitive to the way in which the people of this country speak, what it is they expect from us, how they quite rightly expect not to be patronised, and how they expect what we do to be intelligible. We should not abandon that, and that is why the language is vitally important. I thank noble Lords for having listened to what I have said. We have a long way to go to get this right but let us applaud the start we can make today.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Triesman. We have a special connection—in fact, it seems we have two. He was the general secretary of the Labour Party when I was expelled, although the credit for that is always claimed by Mr Anthony Blair and one or two other people. I subscribe to my daughter’s feeling that the only thing wrong with me being expelled was that it was 20 years too late. Our other connection is that I spent five years as chair of the Tottenham Conservative Association; if anyone ever took on a hopeless cause, that is it.
I first thank the Minister for the concessions that are being given, but I would like to ask one genuine question. Lots of people have said they prefer the word “woman” to “mother”. Can I ask him why the Government prefer “mother” to “woman”? They must have debated and discussed it, but no one here seems to agree with them. Obviously, I am not going to divide the House or anything like that, but I would be interested in that.
Another thing, which probably cannot be debated but should be borne in mind, is that someone got the Government into this mess. This came about because the people drafting the Bill messed it up: it is as simple as that. This is not a policy that is wrong; it is a drafting measure. I hope that steps will be taken to ensure that we are not put in this position again, because it is a pretty awful position to be in.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referenced the article by Louise Perry in the New Statesman. It is an excellent article which brings this whole debate into focus. She says:
“the number of people who will benefit from this move is truly tiny: specifically, we are concerned here with trans or non-binary people, who are biologically female, and able to bear a child following any surgical or hormonal interventions … and decide to do so, and care about squabbles over vocabulary.”
There are a lot of qualifications in there. She goes on to apply some figures to a much more serious problem: the number of mothers presenting at maternity clinics who do not have a full knowledge of the English language, let alone these ways of interpreting it, which would mean nothing to them. As she says, “the first maternity appointment” for a person who does not speak good English—I am not talking about no English—takes “twice as long” as it does for those with a good command of the language. As she says,
“Now try adding terms such as ‘chest-feeding’ and ‘birthing person’ to the official forms.”
In other words, you are making great difficulties. I draw attention also to the work of the psychologist Rob Henderson, who describes much of this as “luxury beliefs”:
“ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class”.
There is a wider issue here. We need to be careful to make our legislation and policies relevant to all citizens, particularly citizens who are not necessarily as wealthy as the rest of us.
At the beginning of my career, as a lay trade union official I was told that one of the golden rules was that you should never get further ahead of the membership than they could see and understand what you were signalling them to do. On issues like this, I regret to say that we are tending to get a bit too far ahead of ordinary people and their desires. We are, after all, a Parliament for everybody and not just for a few.
Maybe in 20 years’ time—this was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, among others—this issue will come back to us, having developed more maturely, such that we look at changing the language. That point is far from where we are now. I close by mentioning that my daughter, who is going to have a baby in a few months’ time, thinks this whole thing is “hilarious nonsense”.
My Lords, as a signatory to many of the amendments, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I am obviously happy that they will not need to be pressed, although personally I would have preferred the use of “woman” rather than “mother”. However, like everyone, I welcome the change. As I think I have said before, when I first looked at it, it seemed amazing that a Bill about maternity, which involves women and mothers who can have children, should not have included those words, so I very much welcome the change.
To add to all the blushes of the noble Lord, Lord True, my admiration for him has escalated even further. The way that he handled our sometimes difficult meetings with him, and the way that he has handled this Bill overall, has been an example of what a good, listening Minister—and, indeed, a listening Government—should do. But whether that helps his promotion prospects, I am not so sure.
There are so many people to thank. There is no point in going through all of them again but, without the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, we would not be here today. Her amendment expressing regret at Second Reading really opened everything up and, even if I had not come to the Chamber that day thinking that what was happening was a nonsense, I would have gone away thinking that it was a nonsense if I had listened to her.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for so diligently getting us all together over Zoom. I also learned an enormous lot from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I found it really fascinating. Today, we have seen Parliament at its best in dealing with the Committee stage of a Bill.
I want to make three points. First, we have to remember that drafting Bills should not be left just to civil servants. Clearly, government and we in Parliament decide on the wording of a Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, the drafters have got it very wrong here and it needs to be looked at. I hope that the review, which I presume the noble Lord, Lord True, will talk about in his summing up, will look at some of that and at how we can get this right in the future.
Secondly, I genuinely hope that the Government will now use this as an opportunity to start challenging those who have been attacking women and will speak up for the protection of women’s rights based on sex. That is absolutely crucial. There has been too much silence from both the Government and the Opposition, and it is very important that that message goes out today.
Finally, we in Parliament and in your Lordships’ House have today sent out a very clear message to women in the country that we will defend their rights and speak out. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, said, we are in a special position and must speak out when sometimes others are afraid to do so.
For me, as a fairly new Member of your Lordships’ House, this has been a wonderful exercise in working together. The cross-party nature of that work has proved successful. I hope that we can continue that because, as has been said very clearly, this is only the beginning of this very important issue, and I hope that the Government will have learned from it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, and look forward to hearing from him about the review, because that is very important; it cannot just end here today.
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.
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.
I am not sure whether the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is able to join us.
My Lords, yes, but my IT connection has been playing up and is weak. I note the lateness of the hour, coming at the end of so many fine speeches. I have listened to them and been inspired and educated; I very much agreed with so much of what has been said. I also laughed at times. It has been an extraordinarily good debate but at this late stage in these proceedings, almost everything that I wanted to say has been said—though not by me.
As such, I say simply that I would have voted for both amendments. But since we are not going to vote, I will simply thank those responsible for what has been an excellent day in this House: my noble friends Lady Nicholson, Lady Noakes and Lord Lucas, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and almost everyone else concerned with this debate. Most of all, I thank my noble friend Lord True, whose heart is always in the right place and whose mind always works so deftly and wonderfully well on our behalf, and clearly in this situation. What follows will be far more important than anything I can say, so this has simply been a very good day for the House of Lords, and an even better day for women and mothers.
My Lords, this afternoon, we have heard once again from many noble Lords who are concerned about erasing women through the use of gender-neutral language. However, as liberals, we remain of the view that wording that excludes or removes the rights of any one group in favour of another is a problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the rights of one group conflicting with another, but the compromise that his Government and successive Governments have reached shows that gender-neutral language does not do this. That is why it was used: to avoid excluding certain groups. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, made some important points about our own use of language in this House, and I am grateful for his final comments, in which he expressed concerns for trans people and the poor census officials.
I am deeply sorry for anyone receiving abuse on social media. We on this side of the argument, including myself, have been on the receiving end of some over the last few days, but nothing like as much or as horrible as that which I know that my noble friend Lady Barker and others receive on a regular basis. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman; there is an important issue there about our society and its use of social media. The Prime Minister spoke about finding some protection for MPs, especially women and BAME MPs, from this hate-filled abuse. I hope that he will extend that more widely when the online harms Bill starts its legislative journey.
The reality of this change in language in this Bill is that some people, perhaps very few in number, will be affected. I was very moved by the speech of my noble friend Lady Barker; she is right that the law is there to protect all members of our society. Over the years, equal rights have been granted to the nine protected characteristics because they need protecting, not least against those parts of society that not only do not understand them but may even want to do them harm. I note that our trans community is at extremely high risk of being victims of domestic abuse and violence.
As a woman who campaigned for women’s rights over many years and joined the “Reclaim the Night” marches in my student days, I could certainly not support language that I felt totally excluded women, but I just do not believe this to be the case. For all the reasons that my noble friend Lady Barker has outlined, we now risk impacting the rights of trans men and non-binary and intersex people through the revised language.
I am, and will always be, happy—even proud—to be referred to as a mother. However, if I were Freddy McConnell’s mother, I would want to respect his wishes and refer to him as a father to my grandchild because, legally, he is recognised as a man. It is factually incorrect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, has asserted today, to suggest that only women can become pregnant. It has been legally recognised that men and non-binary and intersex people can also get pregnant, so it is vital that the Bill is fit for this purpose and can function in a real-world context. The only way to achieve this would have been for the Bill to retain its original drafting and to refer to “person”.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to Mr McConnell’s case, where a trans man who had gained legal recognition as a man became pregnant and then gave birth to a child. Mr McConnell specifically objected to being recorded as the mother on the child’s birth certificate. It is worth looking at this case to understand the potential consequences of changing the wording from gender-neutral language, given that many noble Lords have referred to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
The case was heard first by the High Court, then the Court of Appeal. It is worthy of note that both courts found that the rights of the child are paramount—so they should be—and that Mr McConnell was legally male, and socially and psychologically the father of the child. The case revolved on how the parent who gives birth to the child should be registered. Society and science continue to develop, so terminology used when laws were drafted and enacted may be superseded by scientific or social progress.
Their court ruling applied to the case before them, but Parliament could legitimately take an informed view and change the policy on registering births. The language that the Government currently use for registering births requires Mr McConnell to be identified as the mother of the child for that purpose. The mechanism was for a legitimate aim and the process was a proportionate means of accomplishing it.
The Bill before this House relates to benefits accruing to those who give birth, not to registering births, and extending those benefits to government Ministers and some opposition spokespeople who currently do not have them. Let me say that again: it does not deal with the registration of births. The process for the registration of births is not proposed to change under the Bill; I am concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, drew the conclusion that an issue relating to the law on birth registration certificates can have a direct read-across beyond that narrow matter.
The judges in the original case and the appeal recognised that this was complex and, importantly for this House and another place, that Parliament had not dealt well with all the issues it should have done in the past. Us trying to do so in what amounts to two working days in your Lordships’ Chamber in one week—and at very short notice—means that there are risks and problems.
The law should deal practically with how our society currently works. We know that people who are legally male can give birth, due to advances in medical science as well as the law. While some may find this baffling or even immoral, the reality is that it is legal and it happens. The scope of the Bill does not extend to either legal gender recognition or restrictions on fertilisation and embryology.
Changing the language on birth certificates would resolve a number of these issues, which is where discussions were beginning to go when things were calm and the language warriors had not got started. That was actually prompted by the changes to marriage certificates during the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, but this would require changes to statute law and is clearly not feasible now.
However, as the courts made clear in this case, this remains a political issue. If Parliament wants to persist in using gender-neutral language because trans men, non-binary and intersex people can give birth while living as men, there is absolutely no reason why Parliament should not ensure that the legislation does so. Doing so does not erase women giving birth and being called mothers.
I want to end by asking those who have proposed and succeeded with their amendments today whether, in their congratulations to one another on their success, they will undertake to help to protect the rights of our LGBT community, many of whom have felt a very chill wind in our United Kingdom today. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire commented, given the threat that LGBT people face in Poland, Hungary and some of the Baltic states at the moment, we need to protect their human rights. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, for her comments in support of the trans community.
From these Benches, we are proud to stand up for the LGBT community, but we are also proud to support the Bill because it starts to give Ministers and opposition spokespeople some, though not all, of the maternity and parental rights that they deserve.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate. Many amendments have been laid before us for consideration. I will keep my remarks brief.
There may be many amendments in this grouping but they all have exactly the same concern: that of the language used, particularly the use of “person”. As has been pointed out many times, this is at odds with other legislation covering maternity rights and protections—including the Equality Act 2010, which we now know uses “her” and “woman” specifically. Noble Lords have said that they cannot understand why “woman” can be in the Explanatory Notes but not in the Bill. The concerns expressed by Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House, both at Second Reading and today, could not be plainer.
In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was clear that “mother” is properly understood in statute and should therefore be used in the Bill rather than “person”. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath talked about the importance of using language that respects women and the need to support them. We must strive for rights and true equality for all members of our society. My noble friend Lord Winston spoke today, as he did at Second Reading, about the important but sometimes difficult area of understanding what we mean by “gender” and “sexuality”.
It is clear that noble Lords support the Bill’s aims, and that maternity leave will be available to the Attorney-General shortly and to other Ministers in future, but, as has become extremely clear, language is very important. I know that the Minister has been generous with his time in listening to noble Lords’ concerns about the language used in this Bill. Clearly, he has listened and appreciates the depth of feeling among many Members of your Lordships’ House, with his acceptance on the Government’s behalf of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Winston.
Today, many noble Lords welcomed the statement made by the Minister at the beginning of the debate and thanked him for his remarks. However, as I said, it really is a shame that the Government did not give the Bill—a Bill with such importance for women parliamentarians, and which has the potential to encourage more young women to join us and take up a parliamentary career—more detailed consideration in the first place. Many changes could still be made to improve the Bill; we look forward to working with the Government in the near future to make these further, much-needed improvements.
I end by wishing the Attorney-General and her family all the very best.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and thought-provoking debate—as indeed it was at Second Reading earlier this week. I find it increasingly difficult to recognise myself in the mirror in the mornings; I found it similarly difficult to recognise myself listening to some of the things said about me in this debate.
It won’t last.
Let me say in that respect that being a Minister of the Crown is a high honour but duties come with it. The first is to answer to Parliament and your Lordships’ House, and to carry out faithfully the collective agreed policies of the Government. For all the kind words that people have said about me—I am grateful, of course—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, put her finger on it when she just spoke: I am here in this debate merely as the voice of the Government, and it must be heard peradventure that the proposals and points I make are not my ideas but the considered and settled position of Her Majesty’s Government.
I thank each noble Lord who spoke. Of course, I was struck by the passion with which everyone spoke on these issues, from whatever perspective. Again, I agree with all that was said about tolerance and humanity. I have nothing to add to what I said on that subject at the outset of my response at Second Reading.
Some of the subjects we have touched on elicit particularly strong views. I am grateful for and endorse what was said about the importance of respect and sensitivity, which have been shown by all your Lordships as we have debated the Bill and the complex issues that have arisen from it.
The Government have been clear throughout the debates on this Bill, both in your Lordships’ House and the other place, that it is an important step forward—a step, but not a complete step—in at last making provision for Ministers who become mothers to take paid maternity leave. I would not want us to lose sight of that, or—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, just said—the important message that it should send about participation in public life by women.
The Bill will end the wholly unacceptable situation where a pregnant woman would have to resign from Cabinet in order to recover from childbirth and care for her newborn child. It is long overdue. I repeat my thanks to the Opposition Front Bench for their constructive support all through. I am pleased that through the Bill we will be able to make similar maternity leave provision for Opposition officeholders, which is also long overdue.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have recognised and sought to respond to the strength of feeling on several issues, none more so of course than the use of language in its drafting, which has occupied many of your Lordships today. I will obviously address that, along with some of the other points raised in the debate.
I turn, first, to the core amendments. I have already set out the Government’s position on the amendments laid by my noble friend Lord Lucas and that the Government will support those amendments if he moves them. I was also asked to clarify the Government’s position on the interaction between these amendments and those tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whom I thank for the way in which he spoke and his appreciation of the Government’s position. The amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Lucas seek to amend the same parts of the Bill. This House clearly cannot accept both sets. The Government have indicated that they will accept those tabled in the names of my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Winston.
As I have said, the Government accept that the approach to the drafting of the Bill set out in my noble friend’s amendments would be legally acceptable and that the intention and meaning of the Bill would be unaffected by such a change. It continues to be the Government’s view that the terminology of “mother” is preferable in a Bill that is about maternity leave and is, as a number of noble Lords have also argued, more inclusive. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for intimating that he will not press his alternative amendment.
On the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas—Amendments 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30 for the record, so that there is no doubt which the Government are speaking of—I indicated the Government’s position earlier in the debate and I reiterate those points. For the reasons that I set out earlier, we are prepared to accept the amendments. The Government do not take such a decision lightly, but do so recognising the strength of feeling in this Chamber and beyond on this matter. The amendments do not interfere with the core aim of the Bill. They allow us to focus on the positive step forward that this Bill represents and to move swiftly to Royal Assent, thereby enabling Ministers to go on paid maternity leave now for the first time on a statutory basis. Again, if my noble friend Lord Lucas presses his amendments, the Government will support him.
Many speakers obviously raised questions of language and drafting. Our debates in this House have shown that the use of language is a complex and important issue, arousing strong feelings on all sides of the Chamber. It is an issue that warrants proper consideration such that we can arrive at a durable, well-supported approach that can be applied, as many have argued, to future legislation.
Let me say more about how the Government propose to consider these matters outside the passage of the Bill. In the light of the concerns raised in your Lordships’ House, the Government will review their approach to this matter. The review will explore the various approaches to drafting legislation on subjects that prompt these questions around language. As in this Bill, the most obvious area is legislation relating to pregnancy or childbirth, but there will be other related subjects where similar issues arise for the drafting. The review will consider those as appropriate.
In the context of this review, we will of course also look closely at the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, at Second Reading regarding the use of “mother”, given the ruling of the Court of Appeal to which he made reference—I listened also of course to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I believe that this can sometimes provide an appropriate solution, as in this Bill, but it is important that we ensure that all drafting approaches are properly thought through, as many noble Lords have argued, so that we can have full confidence that they could apply more broadly to future legislation. The Government will also look at the practices adopted by other English language legislatures. The conduct of the review will also be informed by Parliament’s views on these matters, including the debates that we have had on this Bill. We all have an interest in these matters being considered in a timely fashion so that any conclusions can be applied to legislation that may come before Parliament.
Several noble Lords asked whether Parliament could have a debate on this issue. As I stated previously, this would be a matter for the Chief Whips in both Houses. However, I would hope that it would be possible to facilitate a debate, subject to parliamentary time being available, when the review has concluded.
The Government have been clear throughout this debate that we must not countenance the erasure of women from our public discourse or our legislation. It is in this spirit that we will undertake the aforementioned review, guided by the point made by a number of your Lordships that we must not erode women from their rightful role in our society.
We do not propose that the review should revisit the 2007 decision to adopt inclusive drafting conventions more generally. As I said at Second Reading, whatever the concerns expressed in this debate, there has not been a call—even in this debate in your Lordships’ House—for the wholesale overthrow of the drafting conventions used since 2007, when the Government moved away from, for example, using “he” to embrace women. As many noble Lords have acknowledged, that was seen as demeaning to women, and the Government continue to believe that change was right.
As part of listening to the debates on this Bill, I hope that the Government’s commitment to review the language used in drafting our legislation will assuage some of the concerns in this area that noble Lords have spoken of, and does show our willingness to engage with Members of this House on this issue.
I want to confirm and underline what I said about the further work—it has not been much discussed today, though the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about it in winding up—seeking to resolve wider issues around parental leave relating to paternity, adoption, shared parental leave, absence for sickness and other reasons, as well as the question of unpaid roles, which I know is an issue of interest to Members of this House. As I said at Second Reading, that work will proceed. As I also said, we are in consultation and Her Majesty’s Opposition will be kept fully informed on the development of the proposals in advance of publication. The Government will continue that work following the passage of this legislation, with a view to laying the report before Parliament as soon as it is practical to do so, and will in any event update Parliament before the Summer Recess. Although it has not attracted much attention today, I think that there is an underlying feeling in your Lordships’ House that this is the first measure in a programme of improvement for women in political office. I reiterate that.
I was asked a very specific question by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, who raised again the Law Officers Act 1997. I am sorry—it is a frailty in me—if the noble and learned Lord was displeased by my remarks on Monday. I actually agree with him that, by virtue of that legislation, the functions of the Attorney-General can be exercised by the Solicitor-General; that is absolutely right and the Government agree with him. However, the point I made on Monday is that, when it is a planned, ongoing leave of absence over an extended period, as is the case with maternity leave, it is important that the position of Attorney-General as the chief legal adviser to the Crown is occupied alongside the Solicitor-General, which is an important office in its own right. I am sure that, on reflection, the noble and learned Lord would agree that it would be asking a lot of the Solicitor-General to do the work of two people for six months.
In conclusion, I thank all those who have spoken in the debate for having done so with clarity, dignity and conviction. I hope that all have recognised that the Government have listened to what has been said today and that they are willing to engage with the House on these matters going forward. The Government would have preferred for the Bill to pass through your Lordships’ House unamended, but as always it is for your Lordships to decide whether that is to be the case. Now that this matter is close to being resolved, we are keen to ensure that the Bill is sent to the other place swiftly for their consideration so that my right honourable friend the Attorney-General can go on maternity leave safe in the knowledge that the security the Bill provides to Ministers seeking to go on maternity leave is available for her benefit as soon as possible.
Therefore, as I stated previously, if it be the will of the House, my noble friend Lord Lucas having moved his amendments, the Government are content, following the debates and the consultations which we have had—for which I have been profoundly grateful—to send the Bill back with Clauses 1 to 3 amended to replace “person” with “mother or expectant mother” where appropriate, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Lucas. I am therefore grateful to noble Lords who have tabled other amendments for indicating their intention not to move their amendments to ensure that we can collectively achieve that aim.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord True, to all his colleagues in Government and to the officials in his team for their decision to support my amendments. It has been a most particular pleasure to be part of the diverse group of Peers that brought these amendments forward. This is, as many noble Lords have said, the beginning of a process—the next step forward in the equality of women.
Along with my noble friend Lady Altmann, I can look back at the City in the 1970s and discussions as to whether we would be taken seriously as advisers if we fielded a woman in the team. One memorable morning, we boys tipped up in our red braces, full of confidence. Our principal opponent was a woman, and she wiped the floor with us. That answered the question for us. One of the pleasures of this House is that the woman concerned is now my noble friend Lady O’Cathain.
We are currently faced with a full-on attack on women’s sex-based rights—a misogynistic and bullying campaign which seeks to diminish women’s rights in the name of the rights of trans people. Trans people are an entirely natural and expected part of the human family. The explanations of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, of the complications of our biology makes that quite clear. It is also clear that we have a great deal to do as politicians in making space in the way the world is run for the needs of trans people and in removing discrimination and hateful behaviour towards them. Many who have spoken today have played their part in that. However, the same strictures apply to women, and there are rather more of them. To my mind, the way forward in advancing both trans people and women lies in conversation and in men doing a large part of the giving way.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for her willingness to engage with her usual courage and clarity. We need openness, listening and honest exploration. It may start out as a rough process—as she notes, it is a bruising world out there on Twitter, on both sides—and there are some fundamental confusions of language in the area of sex and gender that need sorting out. I believe, however, that a committed conversation, such as, I hope, the promised review will enable, will get us to a set of arrangements that is congenial to almost all. I beg to move Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 3 agreed.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 5 agreed.
Amendment 6 not moved.
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 7 agreed.
Amendments 8 and 9 not moved.
Amendments 10 and 11
10: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out “person is pregnant and it is no more than” and insert “expectant mother is within”
11: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “mother”
Amendments 10 and 11 agreed.
Amendments 12 and 13 not moved.
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 14 agreed.
Amendment 15 not moved.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed.
Clause 2: Ministerial leave: amount and payment of allowance
16: Clause 2, page 2, line 8, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 16 agreed.
Amendment 17 not moved.
18: Clause 2, page 2, line 13, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 18 agreed.
Amendment 19 not moved.
20: Clause 2, page 2, line 16, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 20 agreed.
Amendment 21 not moved.
Clause 2, as amended, agreed.
Clause 3: Ministerial leave: other provision
22: Clause 3, page 2, line 34, leave out “person” and insert “mother”
Amendment 22 agreed.
Amendment 23 not moved.
24: Clause 3, page 2, line 35, leave out “person” and insert “mother”
Amendment 24 agreed.
Amendment 25 not moved.
26: Clause 3, page 2, line 41, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 26 agreed.
Amendment 27 not moved.
28: Clause 3, page 3, line 2, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 28 agreed.
Amendment 29 not moved.
30: Clause 3, page 3, line 3, leave out “person” and insert “mother or expectant mother”
Amendment 30 agreed.
Amendment 31 not moved.
Clause 3, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 4 to 6 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 32. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
32: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
If any Minister or Opposition office-holder who would otherwise be covered by this Act gives birth after 22 February 2021 but before this Act is passed, she is eligible for the benefits set out herein.”
I will be half a minute. I tabled this amendment in order to help the Government in general and the Attorney-General in particular when there were noises abroad that her pregnancy was far advanced. It is unfortunate when we have to take legislation so quickly and, save in real emergencies—and this is not one—I wish that both Houses had a little more time. The amendment would have enabled that. However, I am delighted at the way in which things have gone this afternoon and, therefore, although I do not wish to silence anyone who is down to speak, I should say that I have no intention of putting this to a Division.
Amendment not moved, Lord Cormack?
In which case, no further speakers can speak on the amendment.
Amendment 32 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate.
My Lords, this is not the occasion for another lengthy intervention, but I of course express my gratitude to speakers from all sides during the course of the Bill and to all those who have had the opportunity to talk to whatever their views are throughout its passage. It has contributed to a good outcome and all who have spoken have done so with sensitivity and clarity.
I also thank the officials and all those who worked tirelessly on the Bill: my private office, the Bill team, Cabinet Office legal advisers, the drafters and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, and all others who have provided me and, more importantly, us all in the House of Lords with the support necessary to respond so ably to the challenging questions that your Lordships posed throughout the Bill’s passage.
On behalf of all of us, I end where I began—with good wishes to my right honourable friend the Attorney-General on her forthcoming child. It seems to be a baby that has provided almost as much occasion for debate in Parliament as any since 1688. I wish the child and mother profoundly well, and for the child a long, happy and prosperous life. I hope we can now move on with the process of reform that the Bill begins.
My Lords, I can be very brief because a lot of thanks have already happened. I start with the same thanks to the Attorney-General for starting us off on this. I perhaps should not say this, but I doubt that this was the thing in her mind nine months ago when the Bill was triggered. However, where we have got to is very good. I hope we will see the report in due course, as my noble friend Lady Goudie and others said.
I thank the Bill team—I bet they have never had to do one quite like this, with the last-minute adjustments. It is good of them.
I will say personal thanks to my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock for the first of her outings on a Bill. I told her it would be simple and short; she will not believe me again.
I thank the Minister. I know it is not good for his career to have thanks from me, but he will just have to put up with that. He really has listened. He has taken time with us and done so with great courtesy and charm. Most importantly, he has made movement.
I thank the House for what it has done. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who said that it has been a good day in the House of Lords. I agree.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
House adjourned at 5.27 pm.