Cheers Stroud!

4 08 2009

It’s just soooooo nice, when a local newspaper reports properly!
And we need cheered up sometimes, and this is very cheering!
Reporters who can report!

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Mind The Gap

23 07 2009

This is a ps to the previous post.
Vera’s office have been busy little bees, and this version has been sent out to the MPs who prompted for a proper response. Not by Vera, or by the office bod I got mine from, but by Michael Foster MP, also at the Equalities Office. Michael, Deputy Lieutenant for East Sussex, btw, is also a law bod. However, he’s listed as being interested in Poverty & Animal Welfare. One wonders why he’s answering Vera’s mail?
Anyhows, here’s his response to Julie Kirkbride, MP:

Dear Julie,

Regarding [letter from constituent]

Thank you for your letter of 23rd June to the Vera Baird QC MP on behalf of the constituent Ms Goodwin concerning the Equality Bill. I am replying as the Minister responsible. I am sorry for puting you to the inconvenience of having to write a second letter as our first reply did not fully answer your constituent’s concerns. This was due to an administrative error.

On your constituent’s first point, if a mother was asked to stop feeding her child and leave a cafe, she will know that the law is on her side and this should give her the confidence to challenge the cafe owner by pointing out that he or she is treating her in a discriminatory manner. However, if for any reason she feels unable to do this, she can bring a discrimination claim against the cafe owner before the county court. Information and help on bringing a claim can be obtained from local Citizens Advice Bureaux, local Law Centres or the Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline.

With regard to her second point, the Equality Bill provides protection across specific areas – work, goods, facilities, services, public functions, premises and associations/private clubs. As is the case with discrimination law now, it therefore does not apply to exchanges between individuals in a personal or private capacity such as passers by in the street.

I hope this information is helpful to your constituent

Michael Foster DL MP

So it’s his ‘area’ now, is it? Vera no longer in charge?
Anyway. I’d like to draw your attention to a gap.
It takes place here:
“..discriminatory manner. ……………..However, if for….”
Spotted it? Between the sentence 4 and 5 above? Second paragraph, starting “On your constituent first point…” that sentence and the next.
See that tiny gap? Here’s what is in it:
“I’m telling you to go, you can’t do that here.”
“You can’t throw me out. It’s my right to stand here and feed my baby.”
“Look love, this is a private Mall. You can’t do that there, stop feeding now, and go into the toilets, or leave.”
“I’m telling you, it’s unlawful for you to throw me out. I will not stop feeding my baby, you are breaking the law”
“Look love, stop shouting, people are looking, let’s move away from here.”
“I’m not moving anywhere, I know my rights. You can’t stop me feeding my baby, I’ll sue.”
“Right, move on now, right this second, or we’ll have to throw you out.”
“Don’t touch me, I am not going, I am not stopping feeding my baby. Let go of my arm NOW!”
“Charlie, call through to control, and get the police here now. Right lady, let’s move off outside the doors here, you’re on private property and you must go right now. The police will be here, and they will deal with you.”
“I’m going to sue you.”
“Fine, sue us. But get off the property right now, or we’ll have you charged for trespass.”
Quite a lot to fit in a little gap, isn’t it? Of course, she now has to collect evidence that this has happened, find a lawyer, sort through the funding and finances, and issue a claim. So the gap is quite a bit bigger than above.
Let’s try the same gap, in Scotland
“I’m telling you to go, you can’t do that here.”
“You can’t throw me out. It’s my right to stand here and feed my baby.”
“Look love, this is a private Mall. You can’t do that there, stop feeding now, and go into the toilets, or leave.”
Mother picks up mobile phone. Dials police. “Hello, I’m breastfeeding my baby in the St Enoch Centre. Two Security guards are telling me to stop feeding my baby and leave the premises, please can you help me?” Police attend and defend the mother, cautioning the two security guards that they may be charged and fined. Also arrange to speak to employers about re-training.
Sheesh. Bit different, huh?
Lets now look at the sentence a bit further down.
“As is the case with discrimination law now, it therefore does not apply to exchanges between the individuals in a personal or private capacity such as passers by in the street.”
Let’s see how that pans out, shall we, between Edinburgh and Westminster?
Edinburgh:
“I’m sorry, I have children in this park, I’m not having them exposed to this. Stop that immediately.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I find that offensive, and you’re in sight of my children, stop it right now.”
Mother phones police. “Hello, I’m in Princess Street Gardens, and I’m being asked to stop feeding my baby by a very annoyed woman who is shouting in my ear. Can you come and help me?” Police attend and defend the mother, cautioning the other woman that she may be charged and fined.
Westminster:
“I’m sorry, I have children in this park, I’m not having them exposed to this. Stop that immediately.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I find that offensive, and you’re in sight of my children, stop it right now.”
“But I’m not doing anything wrong?”
“You’re being obscene, and you’re doing it in front of my children, and I want you to stop and go away. I’ve never seen anything so disgusting in my life, why don’t you have some common decency and use a blanket, I don’t want to see this and I certainly don’t want my kids to see your saggy breasts.”
And on it goes… Mum either has to shout back, stay her course with the tirade, or get up and leave.
Ho Hum.
An awful lot not in their letter, ain’t it? Wonder how old that baby is, in his letter… we better get that clarified!
Of course, that’s what we think would happen… what we suspect. We still don’t know for sure, as no one will answer the question….





Hypothetical Breastfeeding Protection

23 07 2009


Morgan to Unicef UK: If a mother is asked to leave a cafe, must she go?


Unicef UK: It is true that is this Bill becomes law as it is, a cafe owner could ask a woman to leave the cafe, but the bill would make that request unlawful.

Morgan To Vera Baird: If a mother is asked to leave a cafe, must she go?

Vera Baird: NO

Morgan to Equalities Office: If a mother is asked to leave a cafe, must she go?

Equalities Office: It is not for us to provide a yes or a no answer to a hypothetical questions as you have requested.

I’m so tempted to start this post with .. imagine a world where..? 😉

So here we go, back to the Equalities Bill slog. Whereby, dear reader, we’ve had the Forces of Enquiring Minds, battling with the Forces of Brick Wall (Government division) for Quite Some Time.

Last week, we thought we have a crack on one of the bricks, when Vera Baird QC, MP, Solicitor General, finally replied to the question on all our lips with a very firm:

“NO”

But when asked to quantify this statement, refused to carry on the email discussion, and directed me to ask it via the Equalities Office. Which I did. Letter here.

The Equalities Office replied, yesterday, the day after Parliament went into Summer Recess. Coincidence, I’m sure.

This is their full reply:

Dear Ms Gallagher,
I am responding to your e-mail of 12 July to Vera Baird QC MP and your subsequent e-mail of 15 July to GEO enquiries.  I apologise that you were sent a standard reply to your previous requests for clarification on what protection breastfeeding mothers will have under the Equality Bill which did not answer all your questions.
Turning first to your e-mail of 12 July, the Equality Bill, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, makes absolutely clear that breastfeeding mothers are protected from discrimination in relation to provision of services to the public, whatever their baby's age.  So a woman who is breastfeeding her baby in a restaurant or on a bus cannot lawfully be asked to leave, or get off, for that reason.
I believe that the clause in the Bill which caused you concern was clause 16(7) which introduced a "reasonableness" test which was intended to be used to judge whether discrimination had taken place.  We listened to representations by interested stakeholders and recognise that this clause would have had the unintended consequence of potentially allowing discrimination against pregnant women or new mothers if this could be shown to be reasonable.  Therefore on 9 June, we tabled amendments to clauses 16 and 17 of the Bill which prohibit pregnancy and maternity discrimination - one of which was to remove clause 16(7).  These amendments were briefly debated on 16 June and agreed, and therefore now stand part of the Bill.  We believe that these amendments will improve legal clarity without any risk of a loss of protection and will represent a return to the level of protection given under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (as amended).
You specifically asked for an answer to the question "if she is asked to leave the premises by a person in authority must she go?"  It is not for us to provide a yes or no answer to a hypothetical question as you have requested.  However, if this was in a café for instance, the person asking a woman to leave because she is breastfeeding would be acting unlawfully.  It would therefore be open to the woman to challenge the café owner.  However, if for any reason she did not want or felt unable to do this, she could bring a claim of discrimination against the café owner.
With regard to you 15 July e-mail, at your request, we have noted that you do not support the Bill.  With regard to the Bill making it unlawful to turn a woman away from a restaurant for instance because she is breastfeeding, this is what is covered by clause 16 (now clause 17 in the Bill as republished on 7 July.  This can be accessed electronically from the following link: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmbills/131/09131.i-vii.html). 
As and when the Bill is enacted, before it comes into law, guidance will be produced to explain what the Bill means and will cover matters such as these.  You should be aware however that the section 3B of the Sex Discrimination Act which makes maternity discrimination unlawful already protects a breastfeeding mother in the same way as clause 17 of the Bill does.  It is this that we are making clearer in the Bill.
I hope this provides the clarification that you seek.
Yours sincerely,
 Kate Stasik Government Equalities Office
Let me take you through that:
July 12th,  I ask this question, to Vera Baird:
"Could you please confirm that under the provision of Clause 16 in the  proposed Equalities Bill, that if a mother who is breastfeeding in  England & Wales is asked to leave premises providing her with goods or  services, she must leave? I do not wish to hear an answer that states  you think that as it is (note IS, not will be) an offence to do so, no  person in authority on those premises would ask a mother to do so. I’m  not interested in that response. I’m interested in the answer to the  question: if she is asked to leave premises by a person in authority…  must she go? The answer is either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’: if that helps you  narrow down and formulate your response."
July 15th, Vera replies:
"NO"
July 15th I reply:
"Thank you.  At least we're getting somewhere. 
I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t see your acknowledgement that I do not support the Bill.

Could you now please explain where in the Bill it explains the recourse available to the mother refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so? This needs to be passed on to mothers who have been asked to leave, so they know what to say if the person in authority states the police will be called if they refuse to leave the premises.

As other reputable sources involved in the Bill being formulated, such as UNICEF UK, has stated that yes, under the law the mother would have to leave, you can understand why it is so pressing to get the details correct from the highest source.”

July 15th Vera replies with ‘take it to the Equalities Office’. I do.

July 22nd Equalities Office replies:

You specifically asked for an answer to the question “if she is asked to leave the premises by a person in authority must she go?” It is not for us to provide a yes or no answer to a hypothetical question as you have requested. However, if this was in a café for instance, the person asking a woman to leave because she is breastfeeding would be acting unlawfully. It would therefore be open to the woman to challenge the café owner. However, if for any reason she did not want or felt unable to do this, she could bring a claim of discrimination against the café owner.”

Do note the repeating of the Government line – it’s unlawful for them to ask a mother to leave. Do note I asked them NOT TO SAY THIS TO ME, as I knew that answer and was not interested in it.

Do note the refusal to answer the question asked. Again.

Complete refusal to actually answer the damn question.

Anyone would think I was asking the most pertinent question, the way they duck and dive and refuse to answer it.

Apart from Vera, of course. Who has replied in a way that cannot be quantified, verified or understood. Well, she is a lawyer…. isn’t that so unfair to lawyers? It feels mean to lambast all lawyers, on behalf of Vera. I ‘ll try again.

Well, she is an MP… isn’t that so unfair to MPs? Harrumph. We have really good MPs working for their constituents…. let’s have another crack it it.

Well, she is an Government Minister… isn’t that so unfair to Government Ministers?

Probably Not. But still feels mean.

Okay, try this… well, she is Solicitor General.

Yeah, that works.

*sigh*

Also very cute how they filled the answer up with lots of things I’d not asked. I especially liked the “I believe the clause in the Bill which caused you most concern was 16(7)…” That’s an amazing amount of telepathy at work there! Exceptional. You don’t think they just shoe-horned it all in, to make to look at how reasonable they are in listening to concerns? Notwithstanding it’s not a concern I’d raised with them at all? Yes, I think so to.

HOWEVER.

However…

Don’t miss out on what’s really important in this reply. What’s actually going to make it easier for MPs to now put real pressure on about getting answers. Don’t miss the bits THAT ARE REAL GIVE AWAYS:

You should be aware however that the section 3B of the Sex Discrimination Act which makes maternity discrimination unlawful already protects a breastfeeding mother in the same way as clause 17 of the Bill does. It is this that we are making clearer in the Bill.”

“Therefore on 9 June, we tabled amendments to clauses 16 and 17 of the Bill which prohibit pregnancy and maternity discrimination – one of which was to remove clause 16(7). These amendments were briefly debated on 16 June and agreed, and therefore now stand part of the Bill. We believe that these amendments will improve legal clarity without any risk of a loss of protection and will represent a return to the level of protection given under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (as amended).

There is no new protection. There is no new protection. Repeat after me: there is no new protection. When the Bill came out of committee, Clause 16 became Clause 17. That’s why she’s talking about Clause 17 being what is already in the Sex Discrimination Bill.

Nothing in the Bill is ‘new’.

AND

".... the Equality Bill, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, makes absolutely clear that breastfeeding mothers are protected from discrimination in relation to provision of services to the public, whatever their baby's age."
So... once again, the whole six-month fallacy nailed.  Despite the briefings to MPs, despite the discussions in committee.  They are continuing to answer questions without dwelling on the schism of how mothers claim after the event, depending on the age of their babies.  But it's so important they've put these two points - no new protection, just a clarifiying of existing protection, and no age limit - into this response.
Although, of course, they've kept to 'premises'.  Still no protection in public spaces Mums, just somewhere where there are premises and good and services.  Another little sleight of hand - good at it, ain't they?
I'm going to get this info back to the MPs who are working with their constituents on this - Alastair Burt, Simon Hughes, Cheryl Gillan, Annette Brooks and Ed Davy.  I'll also see if the tabled questions by Cheryl have been answered.
Watch This Space.






Vera Baird Responds

15 07 2009

BAIRD, Vera wrote:

NO 

----

Yes, that’s the entire reply. But at least we got one!

I sent the following:
Thank you. At least we’re getting somewhere.

I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t see your acknowledgement that I do not support the Bill.

Could you now please explain where in the Bill it explains the recourse available to the mother refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so? This needs to be passed on to mothers who have been asked to leave, so they know what to say if the person in authority states the police will be called if they refuse to leave the premises.

As other reputable sources involved in the Bill being formulated, such as UNICEF UK, has stated that yes, under the law the mother would have to leave, you can understand why it is so pressing to get the details correct from the highest source.

Many thanks

Morgan Gallagher






Dear Vera Baird QC,

11 07 2009

Charity, The Queen Victoria Memorial, The Mall, London
It’s taken me two days to start writing this: I’ve nearly lost the will to live with it, honest.
*sigh*
So here we go… as you will recall, dear reader, on actually reading Clause 16 of the Equalities Bill, as opposed to the spin around it… Serious Questions Were raised In Our Minds. Namely, where was this protection for breastfeeding in public spaces at all?
So, I suggested that everyone write their MP, as I did, pointing out how worried they were by the implications in Clause 16, and asking for clarification on one thing: if a mother was asked to leave premises, did she have to go? Answer that she did, came via Unicef UK, a ‘supporter’ of Clause 16 who was involved in discussions about this Bill at Government level.
The MPs sent the letters for clarification, to Harriet Harman at the Equalities Office, and they were replied to by Vera Baird, Solicitor General, QC, MP, C.R.V.W. (Can’t Read Very Well). Vera sent a form letter back to everyone, thanking them for their support for the Bill and saying how great it was they agreed with the Government.
Lots of Mums then got very annoyed, including Emily Pulling, who replied back to her MP about the MP not noticing the sleight of hand, and how she wanted An Answer.
Emily’s MP, Cheryl Gillan, was also then quite annoyed, it seems. She replied back to Vera Baird, and repeated Emily’s request for clarification. Vera Baird, Solicitor General, QC, MP… again sends the “Thank you very much for supporting the Equalities Bill” letter. She even rearranges the opening paragraph slightly, to show she’s done something a wee bit different.
So… she is sent a letter by an MP, asking her to address the issues she did not address the first time… and she responds with the same letter.
Honestly, I can’t even laugh. Seriously, it’s just not funny anymore. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, this was the Government that when MPs wrote about Baby C, gave their MPs false information about meetings that had happened with myself and others. Lying to MPs is seen to be quite a big thing… but strangely, here we are, a few months later, and Government Ministers are ignoring MPs requests for clarification on a Bill they want the MPs to vote for!
Cheryl Gillan, bless her cotton socks, didn’t take this lying down. She immediately tabled questions to the Government, on the Bill! Thanks Cheryl, we do appreciate that!
Here’s the letter Cheryl sent back to Emily, with Vera’s “I have my fingers in my ears and I’m going La-La-La loudly” reply….
Dear Ms Pulling,

I have received a response from the Solicitor General at the Government Equalities Office dated 1st July, 2009, in response to further enquiries made on your behalf. As you will see from the comments, despite requesting further clarification from the Government, the Minister has chosen to repeat her initial comments. I am sorry that the Minister has not been more forthcoming in replying to you.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance to you.

Yours

Cheryl Gillan
She then tabled the following questions:
What protection does a mother have who is breastfeeding her child in a public place and is asked to desist by another member of the public who is not a person in authority under the provisions of the Equality Bill?

What recourse would a mother who whilst breastfeeding her child in a public place and being asked to leave and then left the premises have under the proposed provisions of the Equality Bill?

Will the proposed provisions of the equality Bill provide protection for a mother who whilst breastfeeding her child in a public place is asked to leave by a person in authority?
These are fabulous questions. They go to the heart of the issue – public space. Not ‘premises’, where goods and services are being delivered. Thank you Cheryl!!!!
There is an expectation that MPs will receive a written response within 7 days of posting. Tick tock tick tock tick tock We’ll keep you posted. They should be answered by the 13th.

So, on to Vera. How do you solve a problem like Vera? How to you catch a cloud and pin it down? Well, I suggest it’s time we write to Vera, directly, and register that we are COMPLAINING about Clause 16, and REQUESTING a clear answer on the issues.
Those of you who have received Vera’s letter via your MP, should also cc your email to your MP. I’ve not had any response from my own MP yet, so I’m going to write the following:
To: Vera Baird, Equalities Office,
vera.baird@geo.gsi.gov.uk
bairdv@parliament.uk
Dear Vera Baird QC,

I’m writing to you in your capacity as Minister at the Equalities Office and have cc’d this communication to my MP, Alistair Burt.

Myself and several friends have requested information from the Equalities Office via their MPs. All, except myself, have been sent by return a letter from you, as this is your area of authority.

Without exception, your return letter has not answered their points, or even acknowledged their enquiry. Even when prompted again by an MP to respond to the request for information, you responded by once more sending the same form letter. In fact, when faced with several letters stating concerns about the upcoming Equalities Bill, you responded to these concerns by thanking the sender for their support.

Therefore, let me make this communication exceptionally clear.

THIS IS A LETTER OF COMPLAINT. I wish to register my objection to clause 16 on the Equalities Bill. I wish you to know, as the Minister involved, that as a breastfeeding mother, I am stating that I DO NOT SUPPORT Clause 16 of the Equalities Bill. If you now send me the form letter thanking me for my support, I’ll know you hold your electorate in the utmost contempt. It is a basic tenet of communications with Ministers, by either MP or voter, that you bother to read, and respond to their communication. I expect you to respond to me clearly and competently. I expect you to acknowledge that I have registered with you that I do not support Clause 16 of the Equalities Bill.

THIS IS A REQUEST FOR CLARIFICATION. I repeat the request that has been forward on to your several times over the past few weeks, by several MPs acting on behalf of their constituents, and which you and your office have utterly ignored.

Could you please confirm that under the provision of Clause 16 in the proposed Equalities Bill, that if a mother who is breastfeeding in England & Wales is asked to leave premises providing her with goods or services, she must leave? I do not wish to hear an answer that states you think that as it is (note IS, not will be) an offence to do so, no person in authority on those premises would ask a mother to do so. I’m not interested in that response. I’m interested in the answer to the question: if she is asked to leave premises by a person in authority… must she go? The answer is either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’: if that helps you narrow down and formulate your response.

I look forward to an early reply.

Yours faithfully


Morgan Gallagher

You may wish to write to Vera on your own behalf, or to ask your MP to re-prompt her to actually bother to respond to your first letter. 🙂

Now, some interesting things to say about all this. First of all, the photo of the statue at the top, is what the Royal Family see when they are on the Balcony at Buckingham Palace. I thought it was ‘apt’ for another wrangle with politicians.

Secondly, there have been a couple or three MPs signing the epetition. Including Clare Short, who is the MP for Birmingham that covers the Cathedral (which is hosting one of our regional Breastfeeding Picnics).

Unicef UK, who had been asking mothers to write into the Equalities Offices and congratulate the Government… no longer appear to be doing so. Seems to have disappeared off the website, anyone able to find it? Can’t help thinking the “thank you for your support” letter being churned out by Vera Baird’s office was set up to deal with all this ‘praise’…

Gosh, I do hope there is some good news on this soon, or even just a response. It’s such a grind having to force the powers that be just to read their bloody letters!

EDIT: July 12th

My MP, Alistair Burt, confirmed he’d had the ‘thank you for your support’ form letter and had been drafting a response back to Vera Baird requesting a more appropriate response. This is exactly what I thought had happened. Nice that at least one MP, had actually read the incoming response, and compared it to the letter that instigated it. Well Done Alistair!!!!! Maybe with Alistair & Cheryl on the case, we might get a response. 🙂 If you haven’t done so – please prompt your own MP. I know it feels like pushing a rock up a hill, but we need to keep making people accountable. Flagging as the responses are so stupid and incomprehensible is how they wear us down!





I Didn’t Make That Up – Rage & Farce in Westminster

18 06 2009



I swear I should have named this blog
you couldn’t make it up!

Don’t worry – don’t try to strain your eyes – I’ll explain it all out. Last month, after this post, Emily Pulling, founder of the Breastfeeding Picnics, wrote a letter to her MP…

I’m writing to request you seek clarification from the Government on the details of how breastfeeding in public spaces is protected under the proposed Equalities Bill. Specifically, could you ask what would happen if a mother was asked to stop feeding her child, and leave a cafe? Would she have to leave, when asked, and then bring a claim after the event?
.
I’d also appreciate you inquiring what protection a mother has if she is approached in the street, or on premises, from a passer-by and not the staff or owner of the premises? If a fellow passenger on the train, for instance, starts to demand she stop feeding and leave the carriage, what protection would the mother have under the Equalities Bill?
.
As you know, if this took place in Scotland, the mother could have either staff, or passer by, charged for an offence liable to a £2500 fine. I’m greatly concerned that the proposals in the Equalities Bill are not equal to this and would ask that you seek clarification on my behalf.

Yes, you may indeed recognise the words.

Today, by post, she received the above letter from Vera Baird, QC, MP, Solicitor General at the Equalities Office. It came via her MP, Cheryl Gillan.

So let’s just get that sequence straight shall we? Emily emails her MP, Cheryl, and asks for specific information on the breastfeeding section of the upcoming Equalities Bill. Cheryl forwards it onto Harriet Harman at the Equalities Office. Harriet forwards it to Vera, in the Equalities Office, who replies to the email, and sends Cheryl, the MP a detailed reply. Cheryl sends the reply, by post, to Emily.

Are we clear?

Good. Now, what does Vera’s reply say? It thanks Emily for her support for the Equalities Bill, and tells Emily how encouraged she, Vera, is, by Emily’s comments and how great it is that all the breastfeeding mothers are so happy about the legalisation.

No, I didn’t make that up.


So, there’s Vera, QC, MP Solicitor General… and unable to read. There’s her secretary, one presumes, picking up a letter from an MP, glancing at it, seeing the words ‘breastfeeding’ and ‘Equalities Bill’ and puts it into the “fulsome praise for breastfeeding and the Equalities Bill” pile (a very small pile, one presumes) and then prints out a form letter of fulsome praise and thanks… and Vera signs it. Without, one presumes, noticing it is actually a letter requesting information and clarification, and that it actually says that this breastfeeding mother is GREATLY CONCERNED about the proposed Bill.


And there’s Vera’s secretary, posting the letter back to Cheryl Gillan, who spots the problems and acts… or not. No, what Cheryl Gillan does, or I presume, her secretary does, is looks at the letter and pops it into an envelope with a covering letter to EMMA PULLING, and sends it to Emily, thanking her for allowing her, Cheryl, to “raise this matter” with the Government.

No, I didn’t make that up.

Isn’t it just wonderful? Don’t we have SUCH a responsive and responsible system of Government? That an MP can raise an issue on behalf of a constituent – without the MP bothering tho check what the matter being raised is, or if it was addressed in the reply? Who can even get the name of the constituent wrong? We should be grateful they go the address right I suppose. And that the Government minister the letter is sent to, can equally NOT READ THE LETTER and send back a form letter that actually talks about the original letter being a compliment, as opposed to a request for information on the basis of serious concerns?

I think not.

This is accountable, transparent and competent Government? It’s not even as if Cheryl Gillan is a Labour MP – she’s Conservative! You’d think given the current climate at Westminster, a Conservative MP might take the time to read a Ministerial response to a constituent who has raised serious concerns about current legislation. You’d think.


Although at least I now understand the Government’s concern about the fall in educational standards. It’s just terrible when the Government Minister’s can’t read – especially when they can sign their names.



It makes you proud to be British, don’t it?

*sigh*

Emily, once she’d calmed down… rage barely covers it, I can tell you… fired off a letter to her MP:

Dear Mrs Cheryl Gillan,


Thank you for the letter you forwarded to me which I received this morning.

Unfortunately, apart from the fact that you have got my name wrong, you and Vera Baird QC, MP have not read my original request at all. The letter from Ms Baird thanks me for my support for the Equalities Bill, when my original email to you was a request for clarification on the actual content of the Bill.

So that you can reassess my enquiry, I will copy and paste my original email to you.

“I’m writing to request you seek clarification from the Government on the details of how breastfeeding in public spaces is protected under the proposed Equalities Bill. Specifically, could you ask what would happen if a mother was asked to stop feeding her child, and leave a cafe? Would she have to leave, when asked, and then bring a claim after the event?

I’d also appreciate you inquiring what protection a mother has if she is approached in the street, or on premises, from a passer-by and not the staff or owner of the premises? If a fellow passenger on the train, for instance, starts to demand she stop feeding and leave the carriage, what protection would the mother have under the Equalities Bill?

As you know, if this took place in Scotland, the mother could have either staff, or passer by, charged for an offence liable to a £2500 fine. I’m greatly concerned that the proposals in the Equalities Bill are not equal to this and would ask that you seek clarification on my behalf.”

Yours sincerely

Emily (not Emma!) Pulling

The office were quick to respond:

Dear Ms Pulling

Firstly, I am very sorry to have typed the wrong name – and I do apologise for that mistake. Cheryl did send a copy of your email to the Minister, so sadly, the Minister made that assumption that you supported the Bill.

I will copy your email and re-submit that to the Minister and request that she focus on the point that you make below.

As soon as Cheryl has a response she will be in touch with you again, once again, sorry for the mistake on your name.

Kind regards


So, back to the bated breath for us! For those who’ve not been following it, the answer from Vera Baird should have been that yes, if asked to leave, the mother will have to go, and claim afterwards. And that there is no protection at all, from being asked to stop by a passer-by, or being harassed on the Underground, as Emily herself was last year. It will be fascinating to see if she has the courage to say so in her response, given the gushing self-congratulations she displays in the form letter where she states that Ms Pulling’s comments are particularly welcome.

That would be the greatly concerned comment, eh Vera?

What is so depressing about this, is it’s so familiar. Concerned Mums writing to their MPs to write the Government for answers, and getting garbage in reply. At least we keep catching them out on it, and can let others know.

Now, I hesitate to ask, I really do…. anyone else had this garbage? Or worse?




Smoke & Spin

9 05 2009
I mentioned earlier this week about the UK Gov finally stating in their press release that breastfeeding would be covered in the upcoming Equalities Bill.
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I had hoped to be able to take some time and get some answers from my MP, amongst others, as to what the Bill actually proposes. Unfortunately, I’m finding more and more comment and opinion pieces, all over the internet and mothering forums, on how ‘great’ it is that breastfeeding is finally going to be protected in England & Wales, and even suggesting MPs need letters telling them to support the Bill.
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In light of this, I think it’s important to make some things very clear to you all about the wording of the bill. And note, this is the wording of the bill itself, not the wording in media press releases or shiny Government published leaflets.
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Breastfeeding is mentioned in 2 places in the proposed new Bill, Clause 16 and Clause 17. Clause 17 is actually pretty good – it’s about protection in the workplace, so that a Mum must be treated equally if she is breastfeeding. Fab.
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Clause 16 is about treatment outside the workplace, and reads:
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16 Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: non-work cases
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(1) This section has effect for the purposes of the application to the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity of –
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(a) Part 3 (services and public functions);
(b) Part 4 (premises);
(c) Chapter 2 of Part 6 (further or higher education);
(d) Part 7 (associations).
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(2) A person (A) discriminates against a woman if A treats her less favourably because of a pregnancy of hers.
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(3) A person (A) discriminates against a woman if, in the period of 26 weeks beginning with the day on which she gives birth, A treats her less favourably because she has given birth.
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(4) The reference in subsection (3) to treating a woman less favourably because she has given birth includes, in particular, a reference to treating her less favourably because she is breast-feeding.
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(5) For the purposes of this section, the day on which a woman gives birth is the day on which.
(a) she gives birth to a living child, or
(b) she gives birth to a dead child (more than 24 weeks of the pregnancy having passed).
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(6) Section 13, so far as relating to sex discrimination, does not apply to anything done in relation to a woman in so far as.
(a) it is for the reason mentioned in subsection (2), or
(b) it is in the period, and for the reason, mentioned in subsection (3).

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(7) In this section and section 17, a reference to a woman being treated less favourably is a reference to her being treated less favourably than is reasonable.
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Notice the reference to breastfeeding in public spaces there? No, me neither. All I see is one line that says categorically “We mean breastfeeding is part of this.” Which is nice…but, and oh this is a lovely big but.. I do see specific mention of 26 weeks. That’s six months. This is the confusion that Downing Street spin sparked last year, when they made an announcement that it would finally be legal to breastfeed a baby under six months in England & Wales. Total claptrap as it is legal to breastfeed in public spaces in England & Wales. When challenged, the Gov admitted that there was no limit to Maternity protection per se. And their press release says ‘no age limit’. Keep that in mind, I’ll get back to this.
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The issue is not about it being legal to breastfeed in public spaces, the issue is about being protected from inteference whilst you are going about your lawful business – ie, feeding your child.
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So where is breastfeeding in public spaces in Clause 16, the very Clause to be used about breastfeeding in public spaces? I’ll tell you where it is, it’s in the examples:
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Examples
• A café owner must not ask a woman to leave his café because she is breast-feeding her baby.
• A shopkeeper must not refuse to sell cigarettes to a woman because she is pregnant.
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So there we have it. Compare it to the Scottish wording:
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2. The purpose of section 1 of the Bill is to safeguard the right of a child under the age of two years of age to be fed milk in a public place or licensed premises, where the child otherwise lawfully permitted to be. Accordingly, the Bill does not affect Scottish licensing law, nor does it prevent a business from excluding breastfeeding on its premises where the lawful custom or practice is to exclude children generally. Where a child is lawfully permitted to be in a public place or licensed premises, that child may be fed bottled milk, and the child’s mother (or any other woman who has charge of the child) will be entitled to breastfeed him or her if she so chooses. Any person who deliberately prevents or stops (or attempts to prevent or stop) a person from bottlefeeding or breastfeeding a child in such circumstances will be guilty of an offence, liable on conviction to fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale (currently £2,500).
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Wee bit different, ain’t it?
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In Scotland, you interfere, and the mother picks up her mobile phone, phones the police, the police come and explain to the person trying to stop the feed, that they are committing an unlawful act which if convicted, will result in a £2500 fine. Mother carries on feeding and is not thrown out of the cafe. Do note this law safeguards the right of the child.
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In England…? What? Well, if I read it right, and I’m not a lawyer… this is what the proposed Equalities Bill says…
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108 Jurisdiction
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(1) A county court or, in Scotland, the sheriff has jurisdiction to determine a claim relating to.
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(a) a contravention of Part 3 (services and public functions);
(b) a contravention of Part 4 (premises);
(c) a contravention of Part 6 (education);
(d) a contravention of Part 7 (associations);
(e) a contravention of section 102, 105 or 106 that relates to Part 3, 4, 6 or 7.
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So, what, the mother thrown out of the cafe, then sues for damages in a county court? This is exactly that has been said is already the case in England & Wales. And has been stated repeatedly, by the Gov, they are just making a bit clearer, and ‘strengthening’ the understanding.
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“This type of discrimination has in fact been unlawful for more than thirty years, and the mother – with a baby of any age – could challenge the owner under the Sex Discrimination Act.” Barbara Follett, July 2008.
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So where is the new protection? What is the new protection? Mentioning it under ‘six months’ Maternity provision? That’s not new, that’s clarifying another way to do things.
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What, in fact, is protection in the eyes of the UK Government, as far as England & Wales is concerned? The ability to claim in a civil court, under your own responsibility and cost, for damages after the event? Or to prevent the event happening in the first place?
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Incidentally, after six months isn’t even in a civil court, if I read it correctly…it’s a Sexual Discrimination tribunal! And we all know how easy, cheap and emotionally smooth those are, for women who’ve got 16 suitcases of files proving they’ve been discriminated against at work! Never mind can prove they were thrown out of a cafe for breastfeeding. What’s the cafe owner going to do, sign a piece of paper stating that’s why he threw her out? Need I repeat this another time?
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Oh, and don’t miss out on the last few words of section 7…. treated less favourably than is reasonable. One wonders what a county court would deem to be reasonable in a case of breastfeeding in public? You don’t think how much breast might have been exposed, may impact on that, do you? Heaven forfend it was an over the top bra motion, and no pashmina!
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I said I wasn’t a lawyer, and I’d not wanted to post on this yet. That’s because I’d asked my MP, Alistair Burt, to clarify all this stuff, by asking directly. Alistair and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, especially Yarl’s Wood, but he is an exceptionally hard working MP for his constituents and he will follow through doggedly on requests for clarity. His office has responded and is on the case… but there simply hasn’t been time to get decent answers out of the Government. So I’d wanted my fears about this proposed new legislation confirmed, so I could bring you answers, not questions.
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However.
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In light of all the publicity sweeping through breastfeeding protection circles, trumpeting this Bill as a glorious new step… I felt it was only right to bring my questions to you all, and ask you to do the same: get your MP to ask the questions about what this Bill actually means. It is really important we challenge what is going on in this Bill, and get a really good sense of what it actually means, before going off on a lovely relaxed break from campaigning as it’s all sorted. I don’t believe it’s all sorted one bit – I think we are being fooled into putting our feet up and putting the kettle on, whilst we still need to be outside The House, demanding protection for our babies to have the right to feed free from interference.
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You can write your MP here, put in your postcode and it will give your your MP’s name and you can then click to email them direct. I know some of you struggle to formulate letters, so you could use the following, personalised for you:
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Dear
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I’m writing to request you seek clarification from the Government on the details of how breastfeeding in public spaces is protected under the proposed Equalities Bill. Specifically, could you ask what would happen if a mother was asked to stop feeding her child, and leave a cafe? Would she have to leave, when asked, and then bring a claim after the event?
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I’d also appreciate you inquiring what protection a mother has if she is approached in the street, or on premises, from a passer-by and not the staff or owner of the premises? If a fellow passenger on the train, for instance, starts to demand she stop feeding and leave the carriage, what protection would the mother have under the Equalities Bill?
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As you know, if this took place in Scotland, the mother could have either staff, or passer by, charged for an offence liable to a £2500 fine. I’m greatly concerned that the proposals in the Equalities Bill are not equal to this and would ask that you seek clarification on my behalf.
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Yours…
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I’d so love to find out I’m wrong, and have egg all over my face…!
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Why is this important, really, challenging them on this? Isn’t that fact that they’ve mentioned breastfeeding at all, a triumph?
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I’d argue not. I’d argue that they’ve been put under huge pressure on this, and they have had to sit up and take notice. But that they have no intention of actually making real changes. This smoke and mirrors Bill is about reducing the pressure. And it’s working: so many people are going on about how great it is. Also, and this is really important, the chances of this Bill being passed are very slim. As soon as a General Election is called, this bill is dead.. and the Bill has serious, serious flaws in it that will require a great deal of work.
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My worry is that all this trumpeting will create the impression that the work is done – we are there, we have protection, and that’s it’s already happened. And even what’s in this Bill, is unlikely ever to be passed. Although that doesn’t appear to matter, as it’s all in law already, right?
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And whilst we all put our feet up, make the tea, and chat about how wonderful it is… somewhere, a young Mum will find herself thrown out a shopping mall for breastfeeding her six week old baby. And she’ll stand there and say “You can’t throw me out, I’m protected.” and the security guards will escort her off the premises regardless. Far fetched? Two weeks ago, Emily Pulling was breastfeeding her six week old baby in a shopping mall in London. She was approached by a security guard. As it happened, baby finished before the guard arrived. Emily asked why the guard was approaching her. The guard said “Oh it’s all right now, you’ve stopped anyway…”
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We’ll see you in Westminster on Monday July 20th.
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EDIT: 13th May, 2009
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I had cause to write to UNICEF UK, and complain that they were asking mothers to write their MP and asking them to support the Equalities Bill as it was introducing breastfeeding protection. I said to UNICEF UK, what I said above, that as far as I could see, there was no new protection, and if a mother was asked to leave a cafe, she would have to go. UNICEF UK replied that this was correct.
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So we do have confirmation that indeed, under this legislation, which is already in place anyway, if a mother is asked to leave premises, SHE MUST DO SO.
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My point to UNICEF is my point to all and any breastfeeding support agencies who make public statements about supporting Clause 16: you are setting back the date, significantly, on getting proper protection for babies and mothers in England & Wales. Every time any agency says up front it is supporting Clause 16, you are saying It Is Good Enough. And when we ask for more, we’ll be told “Everyone was happy with this legislation.” It will be used to close down any dialogue and to resist pressure for proper protection. It may be a generation before we get back on track.
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It is perfectly feasible to state you are happy that the Government is taking breastfeeding protection seriously, and you support Clause 17 wholeheartedly, but that Clause 16 is not good enough. It is perfectly feasible to respond to overtures from the UK Government about improvements, without rolling over dead and letting them tickle your tummy.
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Please spread the word, that if a mother supports Clause 16 she is supporting a law that means if she is asked to leave a cafe for breastfeeding, she has to do so. No one should sign up for this, without knowing that is what they are doing. In my opinion, none of the breastfeeding protection agencies should be mentioning this Bill, without making this fact expressly clear, and stating that this is Just Not Good Enough.
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Dear Morgan,
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Thank you for your email about the Equality Bill.
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UNICEF UK welcomes the breastfeeding provisions in the Equality Bill as we see them as an important step towards realising objective 5 of the Breastfeeding Manifesto to develop policy and practice to support breastfeeding in public. Legislation is only one part of the framework required to encourage a supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers however we believe these clauses send out a message that breastfeeding is an important and natural practice.
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The Equality Bill is anti-discrimination legislation whereas the law that was introduced by Elaine Smith in 2005 in Scotland introduced a criminal offence which made it illegal to prevent a child being fed milk (artificial or breast) in a public place..
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UNICEF UK welcomes legislative measures that lead to a more supportive environment for breastfeeding. For this reason, in 2005 we supported David Kidney MP’s attempt to introduce legislation in England and Wales that was similar to Elaine Smith’s Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Bill. His Bill did not become law however we continue to support attempts to promote and protect breastfeeding through legislation and other means.
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It is true that if this Bill becomes law as it is, a café owner could ask a woman to leave the café, but this bill would make that request unlawful. This is not the same as what parents in Scotland have, which is an absolute right to feed a child under 2 years milk (breast or formula) in a public place. By welcoming this provision in the Equality Bill we are not suggesting that there is not more work to be done. Far from it, we are actively working to create a better understanding of the importance of breastfeeding in Parliament and Government. To coincide with National Breastfeeding Awareness Week we have published
The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative: Improving the health of the UK through breastfeeding which outlines the barriers to breastfeeding as well as the work of the Baby Friendly Initiative to overcome these. It you would like a hard copy of this briefing paper please send me your address
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Regards,
Senay
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Senay Camgoz
Senior UK Policy and Parliamentary Officer