Sunday Times web chat

Labour Party

You will remember I did a live web chat with the Sunday Times last Sunday. Here is the transcript

 

We will shortly be welcoming Mary Honeyball. Mary is an MEP representing London for the Labour party, and the UK Labour representative in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee in the European Parliament

 

Sunday March 27, 2011 12:57 ST Newsroom

1:02
  mary honeyball mep: Hello everyone. I’m pleased to be here answering your questions and welcome to all of you who want to talk about what is going on in the European Parliament as well as in the UK

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:02 mary honeyball mep

 

1:03
  ST Newsroom: Obviously we have a fair few questions focusing on the recent Sunday Times story regarding lobbying in at the European parliament. So let’s get in to them to start with…

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:03 ST Newsroom

1:03
  [Comment From Rankin Rankin : ] Mary, what’s your view on the MEPs scandal that the Sunday Times has been going so hard on?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:03 Rankin

 

1:09
  mary honeyball mep: The behaviour of the three MEPs exposed by the Sunday Times last week was totally and utterly indefensible. They were taking money for putting down amendments to draft legislation – effectively selling law making. There is, I understand, another MEP exposed today, Pablo Zalba Bidegain from Spain. The European Parliament took swift action against the three from last week. Ernst Stresser and Zoran Thaler have resigned as MEPs and Adrian Severin has been expelled from the Socialist adnd Democrat Group. The President of the Parliament Jerzy Buzek has promised zero tolerance on MEP corruption. The response from the European Parliament is absolutely correct – corruption can never be allowed in any circumstances.

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:09 mary honeyball mep

1:09
  [Comment From Guest Guest : ] Do you agree that the rules on ethics and conflicts of interest at the European Parliament are simply too weak? How to avoid scandals such as those that took place last week(today)

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:09 Guest

 

1:13
  mary honeyball mep: I think there are matters which need to be tightened up. At present there are no rules about lobbying and no proper register of lobbyists. This needs to change so that money may not be taken from lobbyists. However, I should point out that assisting constituents on matters which concern them, eg public health and environment issues, is part of the job of elected representatives and we must be able to continue to carry out our democratic mandate

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:13 mary honeyball mep

1:13
  [Comment From Rio Rio : ] Says in today’s ST that 67% of people think the EU parliament has too much power. What do you reckon?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:13 Rio

 

1:13
  [Comment From Rio Rio : ] And also, does anyone really have a clue how much power the EU parliament has? I think that’s our country’s real problem, how ignorant we are about the EU. With our natural cynicism about politics it means we are easily persuaded that it is power-hungry and greedy

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:13 Rio

1:16
  mary honeyball mep: I agree that sadly many people in Britain do not know a great deal about the EU. Regrettably the only EU news we hear and read seems to be about expenses and scandals and not about what actually goes on. The European Parliament does have the power, along with the Council of Ministers (member state governments) and the European Parliament to pass laws. For instance, the fact that you now pay less than you did three years ago for mobile phone calls from an EU country to the UK is as a result of EU legislation

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:16 mary honeyball mep

 

1:17
  [Comment From Sab Sab : ] Did you boo Adrian Severin this week then?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:17 Sab

1:19
  mary honeyball mep: Yes, I was in the European Parliament chamber when the news that Severin had been expelled from the Socialist and Democrat Group was announced by the President of the Parliament. I understand that Severin is still an MEP, though the Parliament President Mr Buzek was due to speak to him about his future

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:19 mary honeyball mep

     

 

1:20
  ST Newsroom: We had Douglas Carswell on earlier, who said that “Brussels, as a political capital of Europe, is largely built for, by and on behalf of politicians, corporate chiefs and the lobbyists who broker deals between them.”What are your thoughts on this?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:20 ST Newsroom

1:26
  ST Newsroom: Mary’s just having slight technical problems, but will be with us very shortly…

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:26 ST Newsroom

     

 

1:32
  mary honeyball mep: Am now back on line, my apologies for that brief interlude. As you know Douglas Carswell is a well know Eurosceptic. MEPs are directly elected by all of you and I hope everyone taking part in this web chat voted in the last Euro elections. As such, we represent our constituents and do our best as legislators. I wish this was more fully recognised. If you are interested in what I do, please visit my blog which I hope will give you a better idea of the EU than Douglas Carswell

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:32 mary honeyball mep

1:32
  [Comment From Ed M Ed M : ] As a med student, I’m very interested in the European Working Time Directive. Does the government have any plans to change its commitment (particularly within the NHS) to follow this?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:32 Ed M

 

1:34
  mary honeyball mep: I fully understand your concern as a medical student about the Working Time Directive. However, you should ask the Tory or Lib Dem MPs about that as they will have a better idea of government policy than I do. It is my understanding that nothing is due to chan ge

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:34 mary honeyball mep

1:34
  [Comment From Cbanxo Cbanxo : ] what is your opinion about anti-EU parties like the ukip? are their concerns about a too powerful union legitimate?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:34 Cbanxo

 

1:38
  mary honeyball mep: UKIP are not a mainstream political party in the UK. Their only base is in the European Parliament where you may be interested to know that they make very little contribution. I do not believe their concerns about a “too powerful” EU are at all legitimate. The fact is that the EU has competence over only a limited range of issues – agriculture, fishing, some environment and some justice and home affairs, some trade and some industrial aid policy. Since Britain is not in the euro, the EU does not have a lot of control there. Social security, health,economic management and many other of the really important areas are with members states. UKIP is scaremongering, playing on fear.

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:38 mary honeyball mep

1:39
  [Comment From impi impi : ] Has anyone ever offered you money to lobby Mary?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:39 impi

     

 

1:40
  mary honeyball mep: No never and I would not even contemplate accepting it

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:40 mary honeyball mep

1:40
  ST Newsroom: On a more domestic note…

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:40 ST Newsroom

     

 

1:40
  [Comment From Emily Seldon Emily Seldon : ] Were you marching for an alternative future yesterday? And what did you think of the UK Uncut protesters who occupied Fortnum & Masons? Not the ‘anarchist’ thugs, no one likes them, but the people occupying businesses they perceive to be tax avoiding

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:40 Emily Seldon

1:44
  mary honeyball mep: The vast majority of the people on the march yesterday were law abiding and peaceful demonstrators marching against the savage cuts being made by the Tory-led coalition. I think it’s very unfortunate that the headlines were grabbed by a very few violent thugs. I condemn those who occupied Fortnum and Mason almost as much as those who were violent and I fear it detracted from the message of the march that cuts will affect working people and create poverty.

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:44 mary honeyball mep

 

1:45
  [Comment From Ellen Ellen : ] Hi Mary, do you agree with having quotas on how many women can sit on corporate boards etc?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:45 Ellen

1:45
  ST Newsroom: And we’d like to add to Ellen’s question, how do you feel about female only shortlists for MPs?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:45 ST Newsroom

 

1:46
  ST Newsroom: (or MEPs for that matter)

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:46 ST Newsroom

1:49
  mary honeyball mep: Yes I do. It is important in the interests of fairness that we have equl numbers of men and women on company boards, after all half university places are now taken by women. The only way, I believe, to achieve this is by quotas as this type of change does not happen organically. Women are just as able as men, but the culture needs to change to make sure they get their fair share of the top jobs. Norway has a quota of 40 percent women in its boardrooms and profits have actually gone up since it was introduced. The same argument applies to all women shortlists for parliamentary seats, both in Westminster and Europe. I have always been a strong champion of all women shortlists and am pleased that there are now more women in the House of Commons

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:49 mary honeyball mep

     

 

1:50
  [Comment From Janice T Janice T : ] Would you recommend the system of PR that is used for Europe to be deployed in the UK? And are you in favour of voting reform?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:50 Janice T

1:53
  mary honeyball mep: I am very much in favour of voting reform and have been a member of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform for over 20 years. I will be campaigning for Yes to AV. There are many PR systems across the EU as not all EU countries use the same one. My preference is for the system we use to elected the Greater London Assembly – constituencies plus a top up list. That way you keep the constituency link. It’s high time we elected the House of Commons on a fair voting system where every vote counts

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:53 mary honeyball mep

 

1:53
  ST Newsroom: Ok we have time for one more question from Mary….

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:53 ST Newsroom

1:53
  [Comment From Leannne Leannne : ] If David Cameron reduces the number of MPs in the UK, will that also mean less of you guys?

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:53 Leannne

     

 

1:55
  mary honeyball mep: The two are not linked as they are separate elections. However, due to the enlargement of the EU, the UK has lost a number of MEP seats already. For instance, when I came into the European Parliament in 2000, before the 2004 enlargement, London had 10 MEPs. We now have eight.

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:55 mary honeyball mep

1:57
  ST Newsroom: Thank you so much for coming on Mary, and for being both honest and informative on issues relating to Europe and beyond. Thanks to everyone for their questions as well

Sunday March 27, 2011 1:57 ST Newsroom

 

1:57
  mary honeyball mep: Thank you to the Sunday Times and everyone who asked questions. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday

 

Live webchat this Sunday

Labour Party

On Sunday I’ll be participating in The Sunday Times’ live webchat from 1-2pm. This will give people the chance to ask any burning questions they have about my life and work as an MEP. I’ve never done a live webchat like this before, so I’m really looking forward to it. For those of you who aren’t able to follow the webchat, I will make sure that I get the full transcript up on the blog as soon as I can. I hope to hear from as many of you as possible on Sunday!

The Sad Story of Women Who Abort IVF Babies

Labour Party

This piece “Scandal of aborted IVF babies” appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times today.  It is, in my view, a rather tragic story about women who had undergone IVF treatment, both privately and on the NHS, and subsequently decided not to go through with the pregnancy.  Nearly half of these women are in the 18 – 34 age range.  It seems as if some of them were pressurised into a pregnancy she didn’t want while others were faced with relationship breakdown after the IVF treatment.

None of the women in the case studies in the Sunday Times was at all happy at what she had done.  The overwhelming emotion was sadness coupled with shame, which reinforces my strong belief that for the vast majority of women, abortion is extraordinarily difficult, perhaps the most difficult decision any woman may have to make.  

Unlike Ann Widdecombe, who was quoted in a further article inside the newspaper, I do not believe the women referred to in the Sunday Times, were treating their babies like “designer goods”.  Indeed, Widdecombe, as is her wont, went much further, stating: “If the law was being applied properly, people wouldn’t be able to get an abortion just because they changed their minds.”

Widdecombe is, as ever, showing not the slightest sympathy for the predicament of these women.  As a former Chief Executive of the lone parent charity Gingerbread I have seen single parenthood first hand and the loss of income and status which often goes with it.  I had rarely seen real poverty before working for Gingerbread and certainly had never come across it in such an unrelenting way before.  Widdecombe may also like to consider one of her other mantras – that children should be brought up in a family with two parents, a mother and a father, an obvious impossibility if the relationship has ended.  

There is also the question of who makes the decisions about having children.  The concept of reproductive choice is very new.  It’s only really the last two generations who have had such choice over when to have children, how many to have or whether to have them at all.  We are still finding our way with some women less able to cope than others.

I believe we need compassion and understanding.  Anti-abortionists like Ann Widdecombe will take every opportunity to condemn terminations, almost irrespective of the circumstances.  Her views are, I’m sure, the voice of a small minority.  It is, however, an extremely vocal minority which needs to be rigorously challenged.