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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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’Idealist minister fights for equality’

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The 20th January issue of War Cry, the paper of the Salvation Army, carried an interview with Meg about her beliefs and political career. For further details visit:

www1.salvationarmy.org.uk/uki

MEG MUNN MP talks to Nigel Bovey

 

SHE is the minister responsible for the introduction of civil partnerships, and Meg Munn is delighted at a job well done. ‘I don’t think there’s been any legislation that’s brought people so much joy,’ she says as we sit in the cupboard that passes for a ministerial office on the third floor of the House of Commons. ‘It has been overwhelmingly positive for many people. For me, it is one of the most wonderful things I’ve been involved with.’

The Civil Partnership Act came into force on 5 December 2005. By the end of September last year, 15,672 partnerships had been formalised. The Labour-supporting Daily Mirror reported the figure in terms of ‘tied the knot’. Was it the Government’s intention for civil partnerships to be seen as gay marriage?


‘No. The Government was clear about that when the legislation came in, which is why it is not called marriage. I don’t think most people see it as gay marriage.

Some Christians don’t agree with civil partnerships because they see them as condoning homosexual acts.


‘I don’t go along with homosexuality being a sin,’ says Meg. ‘I see a civil partnership as a mechanism to support two people who commit themselves to a loving and faithful relationship, who want to live together and who happen to be of the same sex. It promotes loving, faithful partnerships between people. It gives people rights and responsibilities. That doesn’t seem at all unchristian to me.’

Those rights and responsibilities are seen in the way that the law treats civil partners the same as a married couple in areas such as tax, employment, benefits, pensions and protection from domestic violence. Isn’t the common perception that civil partnerships are only for sexually active gay couples?

 

‘Probably,’ says the minister, ‘but unlike marriage, which has non-consummation as a ground for divorce, in a civil partnership the couple do not have to be in a sexual relationship.’


As a minister in the Communities and Local Government Department, Meg holds a ministerial brief which, as well as sexual orientation, includes other areas of potential discrimination such as faith and race.

 

‘Equality,’ she says, ‘is something that affects every area of government. I took the legislation through Parliament to set up the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. There’s also a review of the discrimination law taking place, and I’m responsible for the action plan from the Women and Work Commission, which is looking at closing the gender pay gap. I also deal with things such as domestic violence, sexual offending and human trafficking.’

The Salvation Army is among the groups campaigning against human trafficking. What is the Government’s view on the issue?


‘Trafficking is a growing problem. It’s impossible to say how many people are trafficked into the UK each year, but it would be thousands rather than hundreds. The Government is putting in measures which will identify the source countries, prosecute the perpetrators, tackle the demand (this links with our prostitution strategy) and provide help to the victims. We have opened the UK Human Trafficking Centre, in Sheffield, and a number of police operations are under way.

‘Public awareness of human trafficking is being raised. Alongside that I’d like to see a much greater recognition of the demand side of the issue - if men didn’t purchase sex from women, there’d be significantly less trafficking into this country. Wherever you get prostitution you get trafficking. In Sweden the Government has criminalised all purchase of sex. Sweden has very little human trafficking.

‘Legalising brothels is not the answer. I strongly object to any view that we should look at legalising something which exploits women. Very few young girls grow up thinking: "Oh, I’d like to be a prostitute one day."’


‘Women end up in prostitution because they’ve been sexually abused, because of drugs, because of all sorts of reasons. We need to do a lot more to tackle those causes.’


Meg is used to dealing with such gritty issues. After university she trained as a social worker and was assistant director for children’s services on York City Council when she was elected to Westminster. What made her want to become an MP?


‘I had a political family,’ she explains. ‘My father was a local councillor and my mum was active in the local Labour Party. I was brought up in an environment where if you believed in something, you went out and did something about it. So I joined the Labour Party when I was 15. When I think about it that is a shockingly early age; but then again, a lot of teenagers today get involved in campaigns. It just seemed natural to me. I wanted to change the world so I joined the party.’


‘I always wanted to do a job which would help people. After I qualified as a social worker I was a Nottingham city councillor. But after four years I gave it up to concentrate on my career. Then as I got towards 40 I started thinking about politics more.


‘I dipped my toe in the water by putting my name forward for a by-election. Although I wasn’t selected, people said positive things about me and I got to the point where I had to decide either to continue my career in social services or move into politics full-time. When the chance came to try for the seat where I grew up I knew that it was make or break.’


Was being in social work a good preparation for work as an MP?


‘Yes, very much,’ she says. ‘But when I first came into Parliament I wanted to strike the balance between using my experience and not being pigeon-holed as someone who talks only about social work issues. So I was on the Education Select Committee, and I take an interest in small businesses.’


Just as her politics started early, so did her Christian faith.


‘I was baptised in the Methodist Church and taken to Sunday school as a child. My parents always gave me the option to make my own decision about my faith. I didn’t get confirmed as early as I joined the Labour Party; I was about 17. There was no crisis moment. But I’d come to a realisation over a period of time that I did believe and that faith was an important part of my life.

 

‘Jesus, to me, is the Son of God. Following him is about a way of living out your life and forgiveness. God’s forgiveness and reconciliation are incredibly empowering - the most powerful things about Christianity.’


That faith, Meg says, also gives her a reality check.


‘As a politician I not only do things but I must also let people know I’m doing things - the world is caught up in publicity and celebrity. But I’m also aware that I’m answerable to God. I spend a lot of time reflecting, "Have I done the right thing? Have I, with the talents and abilities he’s given me, really done what I should have?"


‘Sometimes there are very difficult issues to deal with, such as the war in Iraq, and naturally I pray about them. My faith gives me strength, comfort and direction. That’s not to say I don’t get things wrong. When looking to the Bible for guidance, there are many modern-day subjects it doesn’t mention. I try to discern the essential truths and translate them into everyday life.’


In a business known for its scandals, compromises and back-stabbings, how easy is politics for a Christian MP?

 

‘You can do your job and keep your principles,’ says Meg. ‘In politics, as in most walks of life, you do your best work when you’re actually doing something which is in tune with who you are as a person. The difficult bit when you’re in government is that politics is inevitably about compromise - it’s about what you can get done. It’s not necessarily about what you would like to see happen tomorrow, because you’ve got to have the means and resources as well as the political will to do it.


‘The big thing about being genuine in politics is that if you’re really serious about getting things done, you have to engage with complex, even controversial, issues. It is easy to shout from the sidelines. It’s something completely different to work to bring about change.’


What would Meg like her time in Parliament to achieve?


‘When I set out I wanted to change the world. I now see it more as trying to change bits of the world. Sometimes that happens in small ways. I had a 17-year-old constituent who got blood poisoning and died after having his lip pierced. I worked with his mum and got legislation changed and practice changed. I still want to make people’s lives better.’


War Cry 20 January 2007

 


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