Thursday, 18 June 2009

I Didn't Make That Up - Rage & Farce in Westminster




I swear I should have named this blog
... you couldn't make it up!

Don't worry - don't try to strain your eyes - I'll explain it all out. Last month, after this post, Emily Pulling, founder of the Breastfeeding Picnics, wrote a letter to her MP...

I'm writing to request you seek clarification from the Government on the details of how breastfeeding in public spaces is protected under the proposed Equalities Bill. Specifically, could you ask what would happen if a mother was asked to stop feeding her child, and leave a cafe? Would she have to leave, when asked, and then bring a claim after the event?
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I'd also appreciate you inquiring what protection a mother has if she is approached in the street, or on premises, from a passer-by and not the staff or owner of the premises? If a fellow passenger on the train, for instance, starts to demand she stop feeding and leave the carriage, what protection would the mother have under the Equalities Bill?
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As you know, if this took place in Scotland, the mother could have either staff, or passer by, charged for an offence liable to a £2500 fine. I'm greatly concerned that the proposals in the Equalities Bill are not equal to this and would ask that you seek clarification on my behalf.

Yes, you may indeed recognise the words.

Today, by post, she received the above letter from Vera Baird, QC, MP, Solicitor General at the Equalities Office. It came via her MP, Cheryl Gillan.

So let's just get that sequence straight shall we? Emily emails her MP, Cheryl, and asks for specific information on the breastfeeding section of the upcoming Equalities Bill. Cheryl forwards it onto Harriet Harman at the Equalities Office. Harriet forwards it to Vera, in the Equalities Office, who replies to the email, and sends Cheryl, the MP a detailed reply. Cheryl sends the reply, by post, to Emily.

Are we clear?

Good. Now, what does Vera's reply say? It thanks Emily for her support for the Equalities Bill, and tells Emily how encouraged she, Vera, is, by Emily's comments and how great it is that all the breastfeeding mothers are so happy about the legalisation.

No, I didn't make that up.


So, there's Vera, QC, MP Solicitor General... and unable to read. There's her secretary, one presumes, picking up a letter from an MP, glancing at it, seeing the words 'breastfeeding' and 'Equalities Bill' and puts it into the "fulsome praise for breastfeeding and the Equalities Bill" pile (a very small pile, one presumes) and then prints out a form letter of fulsome praise and thanks... and Vera signs it. Without, one presumes, noticing it is actually a letter requesting information and clarification, and that it actually says that this breastfeeding mother is GREATLY CONCERNED about the proposed Bill.


And there's Vera's secretary, posting the letter back to Cheryl Gillan, who spots the problems and acts... or not. No, what Cheryl Gillan does, or I presume, her secretary does, is looks at the letter and pops it into an envelope with a covering letter to EMMA PULLING, and sends it to Emily, thanking her for allowing her, Cheryl, to "raise this matter" with the Government.

No, I didn't make that up.

Isn't it just wonderful? Don't we have SUCH a responsive and responsible system of Government? That an MP can raise an issue on behalf of a constituent - without the MP bothering tho check what the matter being raised is, or if it was addressed in the reply? Who can even get the name of the constituent wrong? We should be grateful they go the address right I suppose. And that the Government minister the letter is sent to, can equally NOT READ THE LETTER and send back a form letter that actually talks about the original letter being a compliment, as opposed to a request for information on the basis of serious concerns?

I think not.

This is accountable, transparent and competent Government? It's not even as if Cheryl Gillan is a Labour MP - she's Conservative! You'd think given the current climate at Westminster, a Conservative MP might take the time to read a Ministerial response to a constituent who has raised serious concerns about current legislation. You'd think.


Although at least I now understand the Government's concern about the fall in educational standards. It's just terrible when the Government Minister's can't read - especially when they can sign their names.



It makes you proud to be British, don't it?

*sigh*

Emily, once she'd calmed down... rage barely covers it, I can tell you... fired off a letter to her MP:

Dear Mrs Cheryl Gillan,

Thank you for the letter you forwarded to me which I received this morning.

Unfortunately, apart from the fact that you have got my name wrong, you and Vera Baird QC, MP have not read my original request at all. The letter from Ms Baird thanks me for my support for the Equalities Bill, when my original email to you was a request for clarification on the actual content of the Bill.

So that you can reassess my enquiry, I will copy and paste my original email to you.

"I'm writing to request you seek clarification from the Government on the details of how breastfeeding in public spaces is protected under the proposed Equalities Bill. Specifically, could you ask what would happen if a mother was asked to stop feeding her child, and leave a cafe? Would she have to leave, when asked, and then bring a claim after the event?

I'd also appreciate you inquiring what protection a mother has if she is approached in the street, or on premises, from a passer-by and not the staff or owner of the premises? If a fellow passenger on the train, for instance, starts to demand she stop feeding and leave the carriage, what protection would the mother have under the Equalities Bill?

As you know, if this took place in Scotland, the mother could have either staff, or passer by, charged for an offence liable to a £2500 fine. I'm greatly concerned that the proposals in the Equalities Bill are not equal to this and would ask that you seek clarification on my behalf."

Yours sincerely

Emily (not Emma!) Pulling

The office were quick to respond:

Dear Ms Pulling

Firstly, I am very sorry to have typed the wrong name - and I do apologise for that mistake. Cheryl did send a copy of your email to the Minister, so sadly, the Minister made that assumption that you supported the Bill.

I will copy your email and re-submit that to the Minister and request that she focus on the point that you make below.

As soon as Cheryl has a response she will be in touch with you again, once again, sorry for the mistake on your name.

Kind regards

So, back to the bated breath for us! For those who've not been following it, the answer from Vera Baird should have been that yes, if asked to leave, the mother will have to go, and claim afterwards. And that there is no protection at all, from being asked to stop by a passer-by, or being harassed on the Underground, as Emily herself was last year. It will be fascinating to see if she has the courage to say so in her response, given the gushing self-congratulations she displays in the form letter where she states that Ms Pulling's comments are particularly welcome.

That would be the greatly concerned comment, eh Vera?

What is so depressing about this, is it's so familiar. Concerned Mums writing to their MPs to write the Government for answers, and getting garbage in reply. At least we keep catching them out on it, and can let others know.

Now, I hesitate to ask, I really do.... anyone else had this garbage? Or worse?

4 comments:

Toni Rakestraw said...

Gee, that sounds a lot like when I write my congressmen here in the States. Sigh.

The exception is that when I fired back a response to their completely unrelated reply saying they had either not read my initial letter or they did not take the time to address my points, I got no further response from them. At least someone replied saying her original concerns would be sent back to the minister.

Emily said...

You know what'll happen though, don't you? Cheryl will deny all knowledge of the cock up and blame Vera for sending the wrong letter. I can almost hear her now: "Those blasted Labour MPs don't have a clue, do they dear?" (Cheryl sounds a bit like my mother in law in my head).

Anyway, I can hardly wait for her reply.

Julie D said...

I've had EXACTLY THE SAME LETTER from Vera - via my (good usually) MP, Annette Brooke.

I came here to see what the next move might be, having used your template for the first letter, Morgan (thank you).

How about a second template for a reply if we are all going to get the same letter from Vera?

While we're on the subject, I also cut and pasted your letter about the Yarls Wood Ribena baby - so let's get ahead and write the next one too shall we?

Julie D

Morgan said...

I haven't had my 'response' yet via my own MP, and so until I do, I can't sort of 'react'. Make sense? You'll all be the first to know when I do!