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6 Mar 2003 : Column 1030—continued

Peter Bottomley: Such education should probably start in the home. The chief rabbi said recently that many people first experience unconditional love given by adults around them too late in life; and that adults need to love young people enough to say "no" at times. I do not say that I have been a particularly good parent. I have spent too much time at weekend family policy conferences, talking about why parents should be at home with their children.

It is clear from surveys in my constituency that young people need care, control, support and love. I may be better at caring, others at controlling. It is a mixture of the two that matters. I refer to social assets and cultural strengthening—the American sociologist the late Robert Merton used the term social capital. Individuals who do not come from extended families need communities that will incorporate the child of a lone caring parent who comes to or moves around this country, just as they would the child from a large family with many cousins who regularly get together. There is a strength in intermediate groups—an expression used by Archbishop William Temple.

I am sorry that I was not present for the start of the debate. I was involved in a good cause elsewhere. It has covered what has been called everything from the womb to the tomb.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): My hon. Friend means, from the womb to the afterlife.

Peter Bottomley: I must be modest in my aspirations.

I do not want to extend my contribution but will comment on the possible merger of equal opportunities bodies. If that must happen, I hope that the result is

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called something like the "Fairness Commission". Equality comes from fairness and equality. Equality by itself is just a word that does not add up to treating people fairly. When will the colour of a person's skin mean the same as the colour of their eyes or hair—something that is noticed but which says no more about them? When will the stage be reached when being a woman or man—although there may be many overlapping roles and some differences—does not dictate one's role in life, outside some essential differences in caring? When will someone who has physical or mental handicaps find that their abilities matter more than their disabilities? When will the stage be reached when we no longer generalise and say that a man who thinks that he is half-qualified for a job imagines that he is over-qualified, whereas a woman who thinks that she is half-qualified believes that she is disqualified?

Too often we tell people that they must push themselves forward. Men and women do so but in general, the man wins the opportunity, opens the door and goes through while others wonder what is on the other side. We can make progress partly by example, partly by exhortation, partly by experience and partly by education. The progress that we make in this country is nothing compared with the progress needed in places such as Iraq, Zimbabwe and the Great Lakes region. We have achieved much, but there is still so much more to do, to make people's lives better.

5.23 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I am answering this debate as a representative of the majority population of the world—as I learnt from the excellent Department of Trade and Industry brochure, "Does sex make a difference?", published to mark international women's day. It clearly does. I was interested to discover that there are fewer women than men in the world. For every 100 men, there are 98.6 women.

I may not look like a shadow. I may not even look like a deputy shadow. But I am the deputy shadow Minister for Women. My boss—my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman)—is elsewhere, pursuing her responsibilities in international development.

I was extremely interested by what the Minister for Women said. What struck a particular chord with me was her mention, in the section of her speech on women at war, of the important contribution from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the Pacific countries generally during the second world war—indeed, from wherever women were contributing to the war effort, not just in Britain. As an admirer of Australia who has many family members there, I too feel that we should recognise the contribution made by the countries I have mentioned, and, of course, the huge contribution made by those back at home—the women.

I was delighted when the Minister spoke of the millennium goals at Doha. She referred to the importance of access to markets and to medicines, and the need for reform of the common agricultural policy. In fact I found it hard to disagree with much of what she said, which was deeply worrying. She did, however, prompt me to point out that a huge effort is being made to help people who do not work here to understand Parliament, and also to promote understanding of the

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scientific community. Some of that is due to Government initiatives, but much of it is not. I commend the Royal Society for its pairing scheme. I was lucky enough to be paired with Dr. Lisa McNeill of the Southampton Oceanography centre. I learnt a great deal about the world of science and about Dr. McNeill's specialist subject, marine geology. I hope that she began to understand the political process here.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) pointed out that there was no substitute for Members of Parliament actually going to see how the rest of the world lives. The more we live in an ivory tower here, the more we will deserve to be ignored. We should not blush when we go and see what is happening elsewhere. Indeed, today's debate has been characterised by contributions from those who have travelled, and gained enormous insight and experience as a result.

The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) told us a good deal about her own experience. I know that the Deputy Minister for Women will have a lot to say about that speech, because much of it was directed at her.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) made a brave speech about transsexuals. He is, of course, entirely right. One of the guiding lights that led to my interest in politics was the importance of treating minorities properly in a democracy. Was it Ben Whitaker, who once represented Hampstead, who founded the Minority Rights Group in the 1960s? I subscribed to it during my years as a teacher, and learnt a huge amount. That undoubtedly coloured my appreciation of the importance of protecting minority rights in a democracy—including the rights of those who wish to hunt foxes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) made an important speech about the role of women in Parliament, and the difficulty women experience in entering the House, whatever their party. She challenged us to think about how members of all parties, but particularly mine, can encourage more women to go into politics. She touched on positive discrimination. I thought that I was the last person in the world who would allow those words to pass my lips, but I see no alternative to some form of that if the barriers are to be breached. Fortunately, however, that is a problem not for me, but for my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). Of course, we must also learn to respect the autonomy of associations.

Ms Dari Taylor: The hon. Gentleman says we must now rely on the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I can tell him, as a long-term member of the Boilermakers Union—which sees me, most definitely, as an honorary boilermaker—that I could never have achieved equality or equal treatment without the men in my union. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he has a very big role to play.

Mr. Key: My role may be big, but the hon. Lady's charm is deceitful. I suspect that charm as well as ability has got her where she is today.

We learned much from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) when she courageously decided that she had had enough. I was

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very interested in one of her comments. The House may remember that she called for politics to be conducted differently. She said:

We should all remember that in future. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) also has things to teach us. She said:

When Mo Mowlam left the Government and Parliament, she said of the comments that were made about her:

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for the rights of women, was referred to earlier and has produced a report on women in politics. Its briefing paper concluded:

No one could take exception to our behaviour this afternoon. The debate has been very constructive and interesting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove contrasted the problems in this country with those in Kenya and described how women there are treated like cattle and beaten by their husbands. A similar situation existed in this country not so long ago. I am sure that many people know that the origin of the everyday phrase "a rule of thumb" is that a man could not use a stick to beat his wife that was thicker than his thumb. The term is not that old.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) has a deep knowledge of the people whom she represents. When I hear her speak, perhaps on "Today" after some especially appalling tension or incident in her constituency, I often think that she talks a lot of common sense. That is good for politicians. We did not agree on signing up to her early-day motion on gender equality in the Church of England, but I was really making the point that the House should not initiate change in the Church of England. Change must come if the Church wills it—we will not get on to disestablishment for the time being. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] Do not tempt me!

The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) spoke of her personal experience in Eritrea. She talked about water, VSO, solar energy and the British Council. I am grateful to her for sharing her experiences.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) was, as ever, an example to us all. She spoke with no notes and much passion. What a refreshing change that is in this Chamber. We are all guilty of not living up to her standards. She seeks always to change hearts and minds; I wish I could change hers on Iraq.

The hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) spoke with huge authority. We have come to respect what she says. She talked of gender awareness

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and spoke about Mrs. Fawcett. The hon. Lady is no longer present, but when she reads the report of the debate, she may be interested to learn that my first act as a Minister in the newly created Department of National Heritage in 1992 was to list the Fawcett hall, which is only 10 minutes from this building. That was the first occasion on which the criterion of historical importance was used to list a public building—my little footnote to her history.

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