Liberal Democrats

Jo Swinson's speech to Autumn Conference 2014

“The Ayes to the right 291, the Noes to the left 322.”…

With those words the Lib Dem benches in the House of Commons erupted as we realised we had just defeated Tony Blair’s government in a crucial vote on illiberal plans for 90-day detention without charge….

That was in 2005, and I remember Phil Willis turning to me and saying it wasn’t fair that all of us new MPs were getting the experience of winning a vote so soon after being elected, when he’d had to wait for eight long years since 1997 to savour such a moment….

I tell that story, because it’s worth remembering what it was like being in opposition. Yes, we could ask questions, make speeches and put the liberal case….

But when you think of how often we managed to win the vote as well as the argument, to actually put our ideas into practice, the number of occasions was vanishingly small….

Even on that occasion when we won on 90-days, it was nevertheless a bleak day for civil liberties, as the Commons still voted to extend pre-charge detention from 14 to 28 days….

So it has been a great privilege to be part of the Liberal Democrat team in government, making a positive difference day in, day out.

I’ve been lucky to be able to take forward a whole range of key Lib Dem policies….

As Minister for Employment Relations I’ve been working with Vince to protect vulnerable workers by raising and better enforcing the national minimum wage – increasing apprentice pay by more than £1 an hour and increasing penalties on rogue employers who flout the law.

In Consumer Affairs I led the government’s efforts to crack down on unscrupulous payday lenders, and I’m delighted that we are delivering the most radical changes to consumer rights for a generation….

For our Post Offices, building on the work Ed Davey started, we have now secured a total of £2billion of investment, to modernise and expand the network of nearly 12,000 Post Offices. …

We’re protecting community Post Offices that are often the last shop in the village, providing an essential lifeline to vulnerable people. …

More modern Post Offices with longer opening hours - a sharp contrast to the closure programmes of both Tory & Labour governments….

We’re driving transparency in business and leading on this internationally – with a new register of who owns companies, …making extractive companies publish what they pay to governments, …and better company reporting that’s simpler and more useful, …with companies publishing information about greenhouse gas emissions, human rights and the gender split of senior staff.

Instead of going back to business as usual as we rebuild our economy, we’re supporting alternative models …– taking forward Norman Lamb’s work on promoting employee ownership and boosting support for social enterprise, business models that work well both for the bottom line and for society….

As you know, in addition to my BIS role, I’m also Minister for Women and Equality….

I have been so proud as a Liberal Democrat to see through the delivery of Lynne’s fantastic legacy of same-sex marriage, so that people can express their love on equal terms. …And we’re going on to tackle other big issues for the LGBT+ community like homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying….

We have a whole programme of work to raise girls’ aspirations, especially encouraging them to study STEM subjects and pursue careers in science and engineering….

We’ve been getting companies on board with initiatives to close the pay gap, as well as getting women on the board of companies. …There’s now no FTSE 100 companies with all-male boards, and we’re within touching distance of the 2015 target of 25% of FTSE100 directors being women – up from just 12.5% back in 2010….

And I’ve continued campaigning for body confidence… – working with retailers, advertisers and voluntary organisations to promote positive body image for both men and women, …with all the health and self-esteem benefits that go along with it.

Conference it’s often said that women are good at multitasking …– it’s just as well, with such a wide-ranging brief.
…Of course there are limits to how much you can do when a newborn baby arrives …– and that’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to Jenny Willott who did such a fantastic job covering my maternity leave….

Jenny carefully shepherded the Consumer Rights Bill through the House of Commons, …kickstarted exciting new work to tackle gender stereotypes …and determinedly kept the Tories at bay on employment relations. …Knowing the role was in such excellent hands let me concentrate on my new job as a mum in those magical first few months, and for that I am hugely grateful.

…Conference, back in July, MPs were called to vote in Parliament on a procedural question to do with the Small Business Bill which I’m taking through the House of Commons.
…As they gathered at the entrance to the division lobby one MP had his hands full. …Literally. …He was carrying a little baby boy.

…With a few quizzical looks he proceeded through the lobby door and for the first time in Parliament’s long history, an MP was allowed to vote in the division lobby in the House of Commons carrying a baby.

…The history boys were of course Duncan and our son Andrew, …who incidentally was completely unaware of the historical footnote he was creating ..– and not quite sure about the Tories’ Chief Whip peering at him with great interest. … Don’t worry Andrew, you’re not the only one who’s suspicious of Michael Gove.

…What will have surprised some commentators, is that the first MP to take a baby to vote in the House of Commons was a man.

…After all, the media seems obsessed with women’s role as mothers, but often chooses to ignore men’s important role as fathers.

…The recent announcement of Rona Fairhead as prospective Chair of the BBC Trust was met with the headline “Mother of three poised to lead the BBC”. … According to the sub-editors, her business acumen, media experience and even her name were not relevant but her family situation somehow was. … It’s a depressingly common story for women’s professional achievements to be belittled, …while at the same time men are under pressure at work to act as if their children don’t exist.

…The post-war workplace revolution that saw women enter the labour market in record numbers has delivered economic growth and prosperity, and raised living standards.

…But it has been one-sided. …Women’s growing role in the labour market has not been matched by a similar change in domestic roles. …The vast majority of caring responsibilities still fall to women.

…Faced with this inequality at home, it’s perhaps not surprising that equality at work has been so elusive.

…And it’s not only women who are short-changed here.

…While ‘having it all’ might seem like an impossible challenge, …at least we recognise that women might want both a fulfilling job and family life. …With a paltry 2 weeks of paternity leave and popular culture that brands dads as hapless and bumbling,… men are written out of the family script with worrying regularity.

…Research clearly shows that fathers playing a more active role has a positive impact on a child’s development.

…Parenting is a shared endeavour. …But the current system prevents couples from making their own choices about how to split the caring responsibilities. …The assumption that mum’s role is to stay at home with baby while dad goes out to bring home the bacon has been entrenched in law.

…Well Liberal Democrats, we’ve changed that law to let families share parental leave, and about time too.

…Couples who have recently received the happy news that they’re expecting will be able to decide for themselves how to share time off after their baby is born.

…This could mean more time together at home as a family in the early weeks, …or dad taking additional leave later on in the first year, for example perhaps when mum returns to work. …Couples may decide that it makes sense for them for dad to take the majority of the leave.

…Different families making different choices that work for them. …And importantly applying to same-sex couples and adopters too. …These changes help to build a fairer society, creating opportunity for everyone.

…Shared parental leave isn’t the only radical, liberal change we’re making to the world of work.

…Our workplaces need a flexible culture shift to support our growing economy.

…So as of June this year all employees now have the right to request flexible working.

…We want to see flexible working become the norm, not the exception.

…For the employee who wants to go the extra mile volunteering in their community, but can’t commit enough because of rigid job hours.

…The long-serving member of staff approaching retirement, still keen to contribute but without a full-time commitment.

…The young person wanting to undertake some part-time education to enhance their employment prospects.

...The grandparent helping with childcare looking for flexible hours to fit around the school day.

…Conference, there are all sorts of reasons why people want to work differently,… and thanks to our reforms these people can request the right to transform their working arrangements.

…I believe this will herald a revolution in the way we work.

…20 million people now have the right to request flexible working.

…And the benefits are crystal clear.

…Businesses that use flexible working report a boost in productivity, a drop in staff absence and better employee relations.

... It makes good business sense and brings huge benefits for our economy.

…Flexible working is about giving people more responsibility and choice.

…And as liberals, it isn’t surprising to us that when individuals have more control over their lives, motivation andproductivity increase.

…Firms that embrace flexible working are more likely to attract and keep the best talent, and reap the benefits of lower staff turnover and reduced sickness absence.

…Conference, a lack of flexible working options forces people out of the labour market.

…Our society cannot flourish if we do not give everyone who wants to work the opportunity to do so

…Our economy simply cannot afford such a shocking waste of talent

We live in an increasingly dynamic, modern world where we are competing against emerging economies - rigid practices in our labour market will mean we miss opportunities and stifle our recovery.

…More flexible working will help us to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, where everyone has the opportunity to get on in life.

…Conference, it’s something of an understatement to say that it has not been easy within government to deliver these Lib Dem policies on flexible working and shared parental leave.

…The very idea of men caring for small children or mothers forging successful careers is anathema to many Tories, who’d apparently rather have a Call the Midwife version of parenting.

…They’ve said it will be a burden on business, even though the total leave entitlement remains the same and the only difference is that some women will transfer some of their leave to men.

…The subtext seems to be that employers can cope with women taking time out, but not men. …Frankly conference, that speaks volumes about how Conservatives see the role of women.

…Just as we have hit the Lib Dem accelerator pedal to modernise workplaces, so we have had to apply the Lib Dem brake in other areas.

…The proposals to fire staff at will, no questions asked, would have been hugely damaging to confidence in our economy.

…And despite positive industrial relations, with strike days at a historic low, the Tories seem determined to pick a fight with the trade unions. …

It’s Liberal Democrats that have been the voice of reason, working constructively with unions to improve working lives. …

…We should be proud of our business-led economic recovery, with a Liberal Democrat, Vince Cable, at the helm as Business Secretary. …

We have record numbers of people in work, with more than 2 million jobs created in the private sector since 2010. …

…Investing in apprenticeships, to deliver the skills companies need to grow and prosper

…Creating more confident consumers to support new entrants in established markets

…Improving transparency to restore trust in business…

…More flexible workplaces to ensure we stay competitive and give everyone the opportunity to work and get on in life.

…Unlocking untapped human capital to secure our recovery….

Conference, I’m proud to be a Lib Dem business minister in a Lib Dem-led department acting as the engine of economic growth.

… delivering Lib Dem achievements to make our economy stronger, our society fairer and create opportunity for everyone.

ENDS

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