Catch up!

Orals

I had two questions in Equalities Orals this week: one was on human trafficking and the other on keeping women out of prison.

The human trafficking question is raised because of the coalition decision not to opt into the European Directive on Human trafficking at this point. We have deferred this until we see final proposals. At the moment we cover almost all of the things in the directive. The piece that is different is extra territorial jurisdiction. We believe that if trafficking is taking place in another country – then that country has the jurisdiction to make the arrest etc – whether the trafficker is of that nationality or British. Equally – if a trafficking offence occurs on our soil – then we already have all the legislative powers we need to arrest them etc – regardless of their nationality. So – we are keeping a watching brief at this point.

On women in prisons on short sentences – our whole aim is to keep women out of the prison system altogether – unless they need to be imprisoned because they are a danger to other people (this view applies to men too). Vast numbers of women are on really short sentences – four months for example. The consequences of a woman being in prison can be out of kilter with the sentence – loss of home, children in care and so on – which ultimately result in a cost to the family and a cost to the state.

A network of programs for women only has been running, run by the voluntary sector, which had an initial fund of £10million. In Wales, for example, these programs have been so successful that the local probation service is going to fund them when the initial money runs out.

We also have a program to support women on remand so that rather than wait in prison for their court trial – they are mentored and supported – thus not entering the prison system, not losing home and kids, and turning up when the court date arrives.

Arup

Was keynote speaker at a reception for Arup (big civil engineering firm) who are working to ensure more women go into the science, engineering and technology fields and encouraging women in urban design. They produced their research on the effect on living space and places that an absence of women has – ie the spaces are about mens lives and men’s needs. Not that one is right and the other wrong – but an observed and researched piece of work on the consequences of the almost complete absence of women from these decisions over history.

This chimed so much with my own experience when I was Chair of Transport at the London Assembly – and the decisions were very much who has the biggest airport or the longest train – and how to get a double buggy on a bus or the height of hanging straps on the tube or the public transport provision for domestic journeys were all second order. It’s not that one is right and one is wrong – we need both big infrastructure projects and soft measures to have equal weight.

Community Service Volunteers ‘Make a Difference Day’

To celebrate all the brilliant work volunteers do I went to Muswell Hill police station to visit the volunteers who staff the front counter – the result of one of my earliest campaigns locally along with local people. Makes me very proud to see how they are flourishing five years on. Then went out on the best with two ‘special constables’ who have exactly the same powers as an ordinary police officer. They had both been specials for some years – and when asked why – the answer was as you would hope ‘to give back to the community’.

Hornsey Carnival Halloween Dance

Went to give out the cheques – the money that Gordon Rathbone and his team had raised from the parade earlier in the year and the door to door selling of the programs. Hornsey Carnival has been going for decades – and it is on the back of volunteers again – who raise this money for charity. This year’s carnival was the first one I was unable to attend as I had to represent the Government at Gay Pride – but it is one of my favourites. I think it is because as the parade goes through the streets of Hornsey and Crouch End and the children and parents come out – it is one of those rare occasions when the community, the organisations who work so hard in it and all – take part in celebrating publicly all that goes on.

I also got to judge the fancy dress competition and I was meant to give a speech. I could only croak a few words as have laryngitis – but they forgave me. Some of the organisations that received cheques were: Hornsey Centre for Cerebral Palsy, Action for Kids, North London Hospice and many more. A total of £1500 was given to various good causes.

So – congratulations to all who work so hard to make this happen every year.