Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Another important Bill

Not so long ago I wrote about Baroness Cox's Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, For a while it did not seem to be getting anywhere. But the times they are a'changing even among front benches and government ministers. Theresa May, as that posting mentions, referred to Sharia courts specifically as something that needs to be looked at very seriously. We are awaiting the list of people who will be in that commission that will be looking at the problem.

Gerald Howarth MP wrote on ConHome that Baroness Cox should be appointed to lead the investigation into the courts and how right he is. Who has done more to alert the peers, the government, the civil service (with inadequate results, needless to say) and the public in general but she to the sheer wrongness of the system.
Caroline Cox, the independent Peer, is one of the most highly regarded parliamentarians in the Lords. The nature of her humanitarian work requires her to spend half her life in a jungle or a desert – or part-way up a mountain. It means that she is often required to enter war zones under fire, visiting people off the radar screen and largely out of sight of the world’s media.

She is no less keen on promoting human rights at home. In 2013, she established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on ‘Honour’-Based Abuse, of which I am the Vice-Chairman. The group has heard countless testimonies of women oppressed by intense community pressure, by inequalities in access to divorce or by the implicit sanctioning of domestic violence.

In October, Lords debated Baroness Cox’s Private Member’s Bill to protect vulnerable women from religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination. Read the Hansard, and you’ll soon lose count of how many peers speak of her expertise and compassion. She is respected by parliamentarians of all parties and, more importantly, trusted by women’s groups who support victims of abuse. For years, she has been raising these issues in parliament, instigating debates, representing the oppressed, and holding our Government to account.

In other words, Baroness Cox is the go-to expert on the very issues which Theresa May is hoping to explore in the forthcoming review and I very much hope she will be appointed as Chairman or, at the very least, given a position on the panel.
In the meantime, the Bill has progressed, largely by lack of opposition or even desire to amend. On December 11, therefore, the order of commitment was discharged and the Bill is proceeding directly to Third Reading.

According to the rules amendments can be put down at that stage as well but it is considered to be bad form (to use the Baroness's own words in private conversation) to do so unless they are ones that had been put down before. Second Reading showed that the House is largely on her side and the few who oppose the Bill find it hard to come up with rational arguments. We may assume tentatively that the Bill will get through the House of Lords and will go to the Commons. There, the situation will be more difficult: HMG will be able to control the amount of time allocated to it and lack of it may well kill the Bill again. Arguments such as equality of women and the wrongness of a parallel legal system in one country might not have a chance to be aired. Still, getting this far is an enormous achievement.

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