Something extraordinary happened on the Committee corridor in Parliament today. A government Secretary of State turned up to a session led by veteran troublemaker Bill Cash to accept a bill that the Tory MP was pushing. More extraordinary still to those unfamiliar with the range of subjects that Cash takes an interest in is that this had nothing to do with Europe: it was his Gender Equality Bill.
Cash has been plugging away at this Bill, which lays a statutory duty on the International Development Secretary to ensure that women and girls are supported and promoted through UK aid. It’s something that Cash is passionate about after visiting a number of developing countries and speaking to women who have been victims of oppression, and in spite of coming very near the bottom in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills this year, he decided he was going to resort to other methods to get the Bill through Parliament. He approached Justine Greening, who was very keen on the idea, and her department has helped Cash draft the legislation so that it is legally viable. It finished its committee stage in the House of Commons this afternoon, and Greening made the unusual move of attending the committee (normally this sort of thing is the pleasure of a junior minister) to offer her support. I chatted to her after the committee, where she seemed very cheery, if slightly dazed that she had just, on behalf of the government, agreed with Bill Cash:
‘This is what I had already made a policy priority for the department, which was to have women and girls as a priority, to promote women and girls and make sure that we support them through our work. The point about Parliament approving this Bill is it’s not just a DfID opinion, it’s the representatives of the people and in terms of going to other countries and being able to say that this is something that our Parliament wants, that’s hugely important.’
Normally when Bill Cash crops up in the news, it’s because he’s causing trouble. But MPs have many facets, and Bill Cash’s Gender Equality Bill is another example of that.