Interview in Evening Standard on my work for women

Labour Party

I am interviewed in today’s Evening Standard by Political Editor Joe Murphy on my work in Europe on women, and especially on the need for more women on company boards. You can read the interview here.

Here is the interview:

Britain risks looking like a “dinosaur” if David Cameron blocks tough quotas for women in company boardrooms, Labour’s Euro-MP for London said today.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Mary Honeyball said heavyweight nations such as France and Germany were dismayed that the UK Government has forged an alliance with tiny states such as Latvia and Malta to stop quotas.

She said: “We are going to look like dinosaurs if we stand in the way of action to promote women without even waiting to see what the detailed proposals are.

“What David Cameron has done in putting together this strange alliance of small countries is not going down at all well. It does not make us look powerful or impressive. It just looks like Britain is being prehistoric and difficult.”

Ms Honeyball, who represents the UK Labour representative in the Women’s Rights committee in the Strasbourg parliament, is backing European commissioner Viviane Reding who is drafting plans to force listed companies to reserve at least 40 per cent of their non-executive directorships  for women by 2020 or face fines.

UK ministers prefer a voluntary target of 25 per cent of FTSE 100 seats by 2015 but Ms Honeyball said: “I don’t think that is ambitious enough. Quotas have really worked well in Norway and France and now it is just accepted. But there is a culture in this country and when you have so few women on board it becomes  difficult to break through.”

The MEP compares the controversy with the row over all-women shortlists in the Labour Party in the 1990s. “There was serious opposition and even legal action to stop it, and then there were all the jibes about Blair Babes and women who only got to Parliament through quotas. But that has all gone away now because women MPs have shown they can get on with the job.”

She would like Ed Miliband’s shadow ministerial team to come out fighting for Ms Reding’s plan when the details are published. “They are keeping a bit quiet at the moment.”

The MEP, a leading campaigner at Strasbourg against sex traffickers, revealed how her efforts to protect young women were reinforced by the horrific discovery that an old school friend who vanished in the 1970s had been one of the victims of serial killers Fred and Rose West.

Lucy Partington went missing in 1973 and her fate was not known for another 20 years. Ms Honeyball,  an 18-year-old growing up in Cheltenham, was among school friends questioned by police baffled by her disappearance.

“I knew her quite well in our last two years at school,” said the MEP. “After she disappeared there was no news at all for all those years. I don’t think any of us in our worst nightmares dreamed what had happened to her.”

In fact Lucy, a cousin of novelist Martin Amis, had been abducted while waiting at a bus stop that the young Mary also used. But that was not known until her remains were excavated from the Wests’ basement in 1994.

“I heard the news on television and they showed a photograph taken of her at the time she disappeared,” she said. “I immediately phoned a friend we were both at school with. Your first reaction is to think ‘this cannot be possible’, but then it sinks in over time and it is something that stays with you forever.”

Ms Honeyball, an MEP for 12 years, has used her contacts in Europe to campaign for tougher laws against people traffickers who bring thousands of young women and girls into London as sex workers. She praised the Metropolitan Police for making serious efforts to prosecute the criminals behind the trade but says the police in some of the countries where the women originate do not bother.

“All crimes are  underground, but sex trafficking is deeper underground than most,” she said. “But it is such a London issue because this is where many women and girls from eastern Europe end up. Political pressure is needed to make other countries treat this as the serious crime it is.”

She is also trying to ban sex ads in local newspapers, which she says are often used by the criminal gangs who have coerced women into prostitution. “I sympathise with local newspapers that are struggling, but that’s no excuse for taking adds that are actually part of a trade that is not only morally unacceptable, but also criminal.”