Vera Baird QC MP and Ann Cryer MP on Equality

NPG launch


Women’s Parliamentary Radio  

April 2nd 2010


What they did for us! The Labour women’s fight for equality

The dissolution of Parliament brings to a halt thirteen years of a Labour government. It began in 1997 with Tony Blair and those historic 101 Labour women, many selected by the device of All Women-Shortlists. It meant in total Westminster had the highest number of women MPs ever, 120 and also Betty Boothroyd the Speaker.

This special two part documentary series looks at the Labour women’s achievements.

Vera Baird QC MP for Redcar talks to our reporter Linda Fairbrother, about the Labour women’s Equality Bill, which she has just steered through Parliament. It was a hard fought for piece of legislation that has eventually won the backing of all parties.

It sets out to create a fairer society for all combating discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity.

Ann Cryer MP for Keighley, who is stepping down from Westminster aged 70, has gained a reputation for plain speaking and doggedness. Her husband, Bob, was an MP and when he died she decided to stand too, she was then followed into Westminster by her son John, becoming the first mother and son MP team in Westminster.

Ann tells Executive Producer Boni Sones about her suffragette grandmother, the roots of her political passions, and her much acclaimed work on Forced Marriages and now first cousin marriages.


Vera Baird QC MP told us:

  • “It has been a great privileged to have my hand on the tiller of this Bill, it has been extremely good. The purpose of it is to try to require those who discriminate not to have the situation as it is now, whereby people bring an action in a Tribunal, what we require now in the public sector and some of the private sector is that they must engineer out inequality. There is a major change of emphasis here, and I am pleased to be part of a process which I hope will change society’s  concept of how equality should be dealt with. “
  • “We had unequal equalities in that you could discriminate in the sale of goods and services to somebody on the basis of their age but not race or gender. We needed to streamline and pull together the legislation that we have got already, we had passed a lot of legislation on race, disability and gender and more recently about age and sexual orientation too but they are all creatures of different ages, and we have now put them into a shape so that they fit together and that is more accessible. We have also made it a Plain English Bill so there is a straight forward explanation of the clauses and there is an Easy Read version intended for those with low literacy levels and with pictures too.”
  • “This Bill is powerful stuff, make no mistake our Equality legislation has made a massive difference over the years, the pay gap has gone down, the employment gap between disabled an able bodied people has gone down, it is now about 25 per cent and the race employment gap has gone down into the low teens. Our legislation has worked but it has reduced too slowly and we have significantly beefed it up now.  If you put a duty on a public authority to reduce equality you are going to have them watched by all around them, and if they fail they will have to pay a penalty.”
  • “We have wanted private sector employers to go along with it, and we have had an enormous amount of support from them. We started this consultation process three years ago with a discrimination law review, and there were 4,000 plus respondents, and we had the CBI, The Federation of Small Businesses, and The Engineering Employers Federation respond too. We also had a proper Public Bill Committee which took evidence, and I think this is why we have been able to engineer this to find acceptance wherever it goes. “
  • “Equality is not just for the good times it is more important when times are oppressive. I think employers now understand that they don’t have a conflict between their business interests and the interests of their employees to be treated equally. The Bill will not drive some demand for a massive pay increase during a recession, this is not about some sort of madness, but represents the drive towards some stable equality imperative for the individuals in work who need to achieve what they are able to. As we come out of recession we need to use the skills of everybody, not be held  back by bigotry and prejudice. “
  • “These rights have a very powerful economic resonance, but they are social rights too. It is about equality in our society, if society is more harmonious, more at peace with itself, we can make progress and proceed by consensus, we are creating a new social order.”


Ann Cryer MP told us:

  • “Women do live different lives, we have more caring responsibilities, with children, parents, grandchildren, and I think women have an ability to juggle things, and I think because we can do that, it is vitally important we have that 52 per cent of the population represented in parliament to boost women’s issues that affect their lives. The Speakers’ Conference report is making a difference even now.”
  • “The Labour Women in the party have championed maternity leave, the Sure Start scheme of childcare, flexible working, these have all been terribly important for women, and now we are getting a crèche here in 1 Parliament Street for MPs and staff who work here.”
  • “I feel proud of the changes I have got in legislation about grooming of girls, about forced marriages, those things I shouted for and saw into legislation. I think it only worked because there were women in the Cabinet and on the back benchers. I think women should understand what the 13 years of this government has meant to women because women here have been shouting on their behalf. “
  • “My real inspiration came from my paternal grandmother who was a member of the Women and Social and Political Movement in the Rosendale Valley, there was a real thrust for suffragettes in the NW from working class women. My grandma Diana Place, lived at Waterford, and was an active member there, and able to do this because she only had one child. My father was political too a member of the ILP and a pacifist, my mum was a Christian, so I participate in various Christian things too and my whole being is representative of what came before me in my family.”
  • “I have not doubted the direction of this Labour government. We have done so much that is good, and that has made the things I disagree with more palatable. I have always argued, and for the past six years I have been a member of the Parliamentary Committee and I meet the PM with my five members every Wednesday at 2pm. We raise subjects with him that we are concerned about, often we are not popular with him but we do have our say.”
  • “Many members of my constituency party agreed with me, and agreed for voting against the Iraq war. Nick Griffin, from the BNP stood against me at the last election, and that stimulated the doubters in my party to work for me, so we did very well in Keighley and I increased my majority at the last election, one of only two to do so.”
  • “During My campaign against Forced marriages, it was suggested I was a racist and that did upset me. I was arguing to defend Asian women, but it was really quite difficult at that time, and then it became flavour of the month and soaps on TV were running story lines about it. I managed to argue with Tony Blair to make government time and it came into force 18 months ago. Around 100 women have now benefited from the Forced Marriage and Civil Protection Act. “
  •  “I just get on with things, even last night I was working away doing two amendments on EDMs, I just get involved but I am not a workaholic, I do make time to enjoy my life. It was nice what was said about me when I said I was going to stand down, it was like reading my own obituary, but at the same time I said I wish they had said this five years ago, we have moved on a lot. I was a victim of the expenses saga, but I am now in the clear, and life has moved on. “
  • “I hope I will be remembered as the person who persisted in arguing for ten years against the abuse of women who were being forced into marriage. I understood it because I was a good constituency MP and these women were coming to me week after week to allow me to deal with their situation.   We put a stop on the entry visas for husbands who were not husbands, and women have a far better chance of arguing their corner and resisting family pressure to marry now.”
  • “My grandma, the Suffragette, would be pretty proud and agreeing with most of what I have done, but I think she would be suggesting how I might have done it better. She was like that!”



  1. is a web based broadcaster supported by all parties. It has over 100 interviews with women and male politicians of all parties which can be listened to online or downloaded as podcasts.


  1. has generated 58,000 hits a month 500,000 in a year. Our web stats show that our visitors are loyal, they return, tune in for some time and to more than one item. We have doubled our audience in a year.


  1. wpradio also carries international content and has interviews with women MEPs in Europe, and women politicians in Africa and the Middle East.


  1. Our supporters include Harriet Harman MP, Theresa May MP and Jo Swinson MP and many other female politicians listed on our site.


  1. The British Library archives all the interviews on in its new web collection.


  1. For more information contact Boni Sones OBE on 07703 716961.


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