Lord Cashman thanks ‘thousands’ for enduring ‘inhumane treatment’ in maiden Lords speech

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Newly ennobled Labour peer Lord Cashman has made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, paid tribute to his late partner and noted the sacrifice of many to improve the situation for people living today.

Lord Cashman, formerly an actor in Eastenders, and Labour’s newly appointed global LGBT rights envoy, noted that “thousands of generations” had endured “inhumane and degrading treatment”, leading to the situation allowing him to take his place in the Lords.

The new Labour peer spoke on the Modern Slavery Bill.

He also made a heartfelt tribute to his late partner of 31 years Paul Cottingham, who died after a battle with cancer three days before he was sworn in to the House of Lords.

Lord Cashman retired from the European Parliament in June, after a 15-year stint as a West Midlands MEP.

In August, he was elevated to the House of Lords.

At the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, Ed Miliband announced that Lord Cashman would serve as the party’s global LGBT rights envoy.

Lord Cashman was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the PinkNews Awards in Parliament last month, which was presented by Ed Miliband. Mr Cottingham also received a posthumous award for A Lifetime of Achievement.

Lord Cashman’s full maiden speech is available to read below. 

My Lords, I rise for the first time in your Lordships’ noble House, and in so doing I respect the normal courtesies of thanks and recognition. But this time it is so very different.

I seek no support, no sympathy in what I am about to say, because it is a matter of fact—though, to me, of huge significance. Three days before I was introduced to this noble House, my partner of 31 years, and husband of eight years, Paul Cottingham, died after a ferocious battle with cancer. Before he died, I spoke of maybe postponing my introduction to another time. We spoke, too, of him attending with the necessary medical assistance. It was not to be. But his insistence was that I enter this House, this noble House, and nobility it has shown me and Paul’s family. Kindness and understanding have come from all quarters: the catering personnel; Mr Phipps and the doorkeepers; the staff and officers; Nicola Rivis in Black Rod’s office; and your Lordships. That is why my thanks today are not part of the usual courtesy: they are as urgent and sincere as any I have ever felt. This is public life at its best. I thank the leader of the Opposition, my right honourable friend Ed Miliband, and his staff, particularly Anna Yearley and Rachel Kinnock, for the love, care and deep affection they have shown me; and—if noble Lords will allow me—the all-embracing care of my Labour Party family. I have found this truly humbling.

My journey to this House has been, in comparison to the lives of others, good. Yet I am fully aware that I have not achieved a place in your Lordships’ House on my own. Thousands of generations of people before me have made possible what I have today by their sacrifices and through the challenges, discrimination and persecution that they faced; minorities of all different hues, but all experiencing one thing in common—inhumane and degrading treatment.

As a gay man who grew up in the fifties—and after the ray of hope of decriminalisation in the 1960s there followed new legislative discrimination in 1988—I can never forget the sacrifices of LGBTI people, and the sacrifices they are still making, despite progress, today. It is through them and because of them, and other much maligned and misrepresented minorities, that I am here today. I do not take that responsibility lightly. Indeed, I am deeply honoured to have recently been appointed as the leader of the Opposition’s global envoy on LGBTI issues—a challenging task.

Of course, at times I will fail. However, if to succeed is our objective, then to fail in trying to do so should be understood. All human beings who imagine a better future, which we do with this Bill, and seek to achieve it, will fall short. It is the intention, the persistence and the weight of time and respect for it that matter most, especially when giving a voice to those who otherwise would remain unheard and unnoticed. That is why I wanted to speak in this debate today, because central to the issues we are discussing are human rights and civil liberties—or rather the denial of those rights.

I make no pretence at being an expert on the minutiae of the Bill, but since when has that ever stopped anyone offering their opinion? However, I have listened carefully to those who are experts and it is clear that there is room for improvement—as noble Lords have already outlined—in particular, in relation to overseas domestic workers; migrant workers; specific offences of child and adult exploitation; measures relating to the supply chains of UK companies; and coherence with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

It is worth reminding ourselves that these practices are not happening in some remote part of the United Kingdom or on the other side of the world; they are happening in our cities, our towns, our villages, in the things we buy, the services we employ and the people we subcontract. It is all around us: the exploitation of women, children and men—women, children and men who dare to imagine a better life, and seeking that better life are impoverished and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment. It has always happened in our society, and it has always happened to migrants in particular. It happened to generations of migrants who made their way to this beacon of democracy, fleeing wars, famine, persecution and wanton discrimination—like my own family, who crossed continents and then the Irish Sea—arriving not welcome, abused. It is happening still.

Those of us in public life should always be careful about the language we use. Each and every time migrants and minorities are defamed and misrepresented, there are consequences. If we dehumanise people, is it any wonder that others feel they have a licence to treat them as subhuman? The search for the scapegoat has happened for centuries and never more so than in times of economic downturn. However, I sense I am straying into the used bathwater of controversy so I merely say this. I have every hope that the Bill will address these abhorrent injustices. I therefore also hope that the Minister will take on board amendments to deliver effective and dissuasive measures across the board. Now is not the time to reinforce a hierarchy of equality.

Before I pay my final thanks, let me quickly put the Bill into a broader context. I believe that at the heart of everything we do, we should reinforce the concept of civil liberties and responsibilities, and universal human rights. The Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights were both born from the ashes of the Second World War—so too was the concept of the European Union—ensuring that all citizens would have a basic set of transferable rights; that borders would not inhibit those human rights; nor would one group, nationality or minority be bartered away for another’s short-term gain or short-term freedom.

I state that because it has become all too fashionable to argue for change without knowing what you actually want to achieve. The EU, born out of the ashes of the Second World War, has at its heart a small set of fundamental principles that must not be diluted. To do so, especially in times of economic downturn and crisis, would once again raise the ugly face of narrow nationalism, pitting nation against nation, minority against minority. In the end, it is always the individual who suffers.

Finally, I cannot help but reflect that I was born in Limehouse, east London, three weeks before my time, primarily due to my mother attempting to defend my father in a street fight outside Stepney East station. It has been a long road, with many a fight along the way, metaphorically, and I am sure that there are more to come, but the results have been worth it. So, as I began, I thank my dear friends Lady Turner of Camden and Lady Kinnock for agreeing to sponsor me into this noble House. They are two noble ladies with whom I have had the comfort and privilege to work with and admire and whom I hold in the highest esteem. I thank your Lordships.