The House of Commons was packed for the impending start of the debate on the Brexit Bill – even the Prime Minister had arrived early – when my Conservative colleague Nusrat Ghani introduced her 10 minute rule Bill.
These are Bills where, as the name suggests, an MP is given 10 minutes to seek permission to introduce a Bill, and one other MP is given the right to speak for 10 minutes in opposition to it. Often they are unopposed at this very early stage in their life.
Nusrat brought forward a Bill to try to tackle the scourge of so-called honour-based crimes.
She wanted to prohibit the term “honour killing”, to pay for the repatriation of bodies of UK citizens who are the victims of these crimes, and to allow the prosecution of someone in a third country by British courts when the victim is a UK citizen.
You might think all of this is, on the face of it, worthy of support. So did I, until I noticed that these provisions only applied if the victim was a woman. If the victim was a man then, as far as the Bill was concerned, we shouldn’t care.
So I stood up in front of the packed House to say that I opposed the Bill on the grounds that it discriminated against one gender, and that the provisions should apply to all victims of “honour” crimes regardless of their gender.
So what was the reaction of those MPs who are always the most sanctimonious when it comes to promoting gender equality? Did they welcome my stand for gender equality? No, they jeered and shouted me down!
That’s right. I was jeered and heckled for arguing that men and women should be treated equally. I always thought that was what the equality agenda was all about – but clearly not.
I pointed out that, according to official sources, around a quarter of all victims of ‘honour’-based violence were men and argued that they should be just as important to us as female victims.
One MP shouted out to me that Nusrat Ghani had mentioned male victims in her speech. Indeed she had, but unfortunately she hadn’t mentioned them where it mattered – in the Bill!
I had to tell them to look at the screens to see the title of her Bill which we were debating – “Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence Against Women) Bill” – which clearly excludes men.
But why? Why did it need to mention either gender in the title? Why could it not just apply to everyone equally? We don’t have separate crimes of male murder and female murder – we just have murder.
So why not the same here? Of course we should all oppose women suffering from ‘honour’-based violence, but surely we should equally oppose ‘honour’-based violence against men too.
I had hoped this would go without saying and be obvious. Not in the House of Commons, it seems.
The most amazing part of this was the number of colleagues who came up to me afterwards to tell me that a) of course I was right in what I was saying and b) that I was incredibly brave to have stood up and said it.
I asked them all “Why is it brave to stand up and argue that men and women should be treated equally”?
Answers on a postcard, please.