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Baroness Jay, Leader of the House of Lords
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

DAVID FROST:

Margaret Jay was catapulted into the frontline of government three years ago when she was plucked from a relatively junior Health Minister's job and promoted to Leader of the House of Lords, it was a particularly challenging appointment, her job involved steering through legislation that would make most of her fellow peers redundant. This weekend it has emerged that she's had enough and she'll be stepping down from the frontline come the election and she's here now. Margaret welcome.

MARGARET JAY:

Good morning David.

DAVID FROST:

We've heard the news and it's been confirmed from your office but we haven't heard it in your own words, you have really decided, it's true is it?

MARGARET JAY:

Yes I have all kinds of reasons for doing it, all of them positive I must say and not least the fact that Imy daughter's expecting another child which will be another grandchild for me in the spring which is lovely and really, you know, there were all kinds of reasons why I want to do other things, you know before I went into government in '97 I always thought that I was only going to probably be there for a few years and now at the end of this Parliament, having been given, as you rightly, that irresistible challenge of taking the House of Lords Act through the House of Lords I now think there are other things to do. I'd been doing many other things before I was a

DAVID FROST:

What would you like to do?

MARGARET JAY:

Well you know and I worked for the Health Service for 25 years, did lots of things on the international scene, I even was on the Advisory Board of the Met Office because I, I'm very interested in climate and all of those areas. But I don't want to go backwards but I think there are other things that I'd like to do.

DAVID FROST:

And given this is a cynical old world, I mean the first thing people say, well is it her decision or was she pushed?

MARGARET JAY:

No, no, absolutely my decision and, you know, something which I've been thinking about for quite a long time, as I say, I've never really expected to stay in government for more than three or four years and the end of the Parliament seemed a good time to move on.

DAVID FROST:

And obviously you'll be remembered obviously for the House of Lords Stage 1 and Stage 2 coming up, as you leave it what exactly is your timetable at the moment for House of Lords Stage 2?

MARGARET JAY:

Well we've been working very hard on this, behind the scenes the government has and the Cabinet Committee, we've been thinking about what we will want to put in the manifesto for the next stage of reform, everybody's committed to that next stage and I think the proposals will emerge during the election campaign.

DAVID FROST:

So it'll be part of the manifesto or whatever?

MARGARET JAY:

I hope that's exactly what will happen because we are very, we have, as I say, been working very hard and we have some very clear ideas about what we'd like to happen next.

DAVID FROST:

And you'd, and you would like this idea that's proposed of 88, 87, whatever it is, an element of elected?

MARGARET JAY:

Well we've always said since Lord Wakeham did his Royal Commission that we thought the main ideas which he had which was for this, what was described as a mixed House, partially elected, partially nominated, was probably the best way forward and he had a lot of other very good ideas about making the second Chamber more representative of the country as a whole and thinking of ways of doing that and I think there are many ideas in the Royal Commission which the government will want to follow through.

DAVID FROST:

And the, and the hereditaries who stayed on for the interim period would go when Stage 2 happens?

MARGARET JAY:

Yes.

DAVID FROST:

Yes, they would go?

MARGARET JAY:

Yes.

DAVID FROST:

And all life peers will remain?

MARGARET JAY:

Well both are things, as I say, which I'm not really prepared this morning to go into the details of the proposals that would be in any detailed manifesto commitment, but I think as you said, we did agree with Lord Wakeham, we did agree with him that that was the kind of broad way forward and we needed to look at the details of the way in which that was done.

DAVID FROST:

Well as you said if it's in the manifesto it should happen within five years time?

MARGARET JAY:

Well that's right and we are very much committed to further reform, there's no going back on that.

DAVID FROST:

And I see in one of the papers today some of the hereditaries who lost their places are trying, want to come back as people's peers?

MARGARET JAY:

Oh, well, I mean that might be very much a way forward, one of the things we did do in the first House of Lords Act was to set up this advisory committee, if you want to call it that, that Non-Statutory Appointments Commission headed by Lord Stephenson, Dennis Stephenson, and he's working at the moment on the list, which of course is entirely independent of the government, of cross-bench peers who would be, you can call them people's peers but would be people who were selected not by the Prime Minister or through the Honours system but actually by this panel.

DAVID FROST:

Would you still carry on taking part in House of Lords business after the next election?

MARGARET JAY:

Oh well I will anyway, before we know what's going to happen, as it were, about life peers, I would have anyway gone being a member of the House of Lords and there are an enormous number of things I'm interested in, as I was saying to you before, I've been, you said a rather a junior post I had in the Health Service, but I was a Minister of State in the Department of Health, I've been involved in the Health Service for 25 years, you know I've been involved in international organisations, I was working with the World Bank before the election, you know, and obviously areas of broadcasting and other media interests that I've had, so certainly I want to go on being involved, it's not a question of dropping out and just retiring totally to my garden.

DAVID FROST:

And you mentioned the Ministry for Women, the Minister for Women, yesterday in your, in your speech and you said "that I can't pretend it's a revolution but we've made progress" and so on, and India Knight made a list today of other things that could be done, what would be your progress report on that?

MARGARET JAY:

Well I think we have done very well, I mean I think we have put a lot of the women's issues in the frontline and of course if you look at things like the improvements in maternity pay and all of those things which have happened under the first term of this government but very, very important economic changes, things like the minimum wage have made an enormous difference to all women who are working. All women who have children have benefited by the record increases in child benefit, we've tried to improve things like nursery places, improved enormously child-care for women but can I just say one thing because I think in a sense it does apply to me, I talk a lot as Minister for Women about the so-called work-life balance because we've got the majority of mothers who now work outside the home as well as looking after their families and if you have the work-life balance out of kilter and I think mine has been a bit in the last few years you do want to get it back. I can't go round the country talking to people and saying you should sort out your work-life balance if mine is dependent on voting at 11 o'clock at night every night.

DAVID FROST:

Well that's one of the different things, particularly for women, isn't it. And in terms of other things that India Knight said in the Sunday Times "I want to know why there isn't a national child-care register, why Tampax and nappies aren't free if you're poor, why there aren't more refuges for battered women, why it's still so hard to go back to work because of the pathetic child-care provisions" are they fair points to attack?

MARGARET JAY:

Well she's certainly right about the thing about balancing life after you've had a baby and as you probably know we've at the moment got a huge green paper consultation going on which exactly looks at all of those issues about how do you make life easier for women just after they've had a baby, should we try to extend maternity leave, should we have ways of making it easier to work part-time, all of that is out for consultation now, we're getting the results back at the beginning of March and whatever time there may or may not be a general election that's in plenty of time I think for that.

DAVID FROST:

Do you think in fact that the very fact that two figures stepping down at the next election are yourself and Mo Mowlem for instance is that a sort of microcosm of the fact that like you said about voting at 11pm, that the Houses of Parliament still are in their rules and regulations and timings, unfriendly to women?

MARGARET JAY:

I think so, I think this is one of the things where we could look quite hard at what's happening, for example in Scotland and Cardiff, in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, where they are working much more family-friendly as it's called, hours, and they're obviously doing good business. I don't know why still we're locked into this pattern of doing things and the House of Commons they have made changes, they have got more morning sittings now, they have stopped the business of voting after 10 o'clock but in the House of Lords, as you know, progress moves very slowly.

DAVID FROST:

Right and what about the thing here about, talking of women, I mean that we're going to have a statue of Mrs Thatcher, Lady Thatcher, in the Member's Lobby, is that a step forward for women?

MARGARET JAY:

Well Mrs Thatcher was after all the first woman prime minister, we should certainly recognise that.

DAVID FROST:

What was your greatest achievement and what was your greatest regret?

MARGARET JAY:

My greatest achievement? Well I think it would be hard not to say that, I wouldn't say it was my personal achievement but what the government did in fulfilling our hundred-year long commitment to get rid of the hereditary peers, getting rid of that particular part of Tory vested interest I think was something I was particularly proud of. I suppose if I had one regret it was what you were talking about just now, which is that in the time that I've been Leader of the House of the Lords and it is only three years which isn't a very long time, we haven't made much progress on changing the ways in which we work and that's something I would like to see change more rapidly.

DAVID FROST:

Do you regret any of those quotes about grammar schools and stuff?

MARGARET JAY:

Oh no I mean you know I think one of the problems about being a woman in public life, and it's across the whole board, it's whether or not you're in industry or you're in whatever area it may be, is that people will always focus on your personal side of you, you know they talk about what you wear, who you were or were not married to 30 years ago, that kind of thing, in a way that they don't about men and I think it's one of the things which we do have to look at. I am concerned about the way women in public life are always looked at in terms of, you know, what was she, look like, what was she wearing.

DAVID FROST:

Oh well Margaret Thatcher had to do, have her hair absolutely right?

MARGARET JAY:

Exactly, yes.

DAVID FROST:

But so would you say the battle with sexism is won in your eyes?

MARGARET JAY:

Not at all, not at all, I mean I have to say that if you'd asked me five years ago before I became Leader of the House of Lords, had I felt sexism had been an issue in my life I'd probably have said no, but the experience of the last few years has certainly made me very clear that that's a battle which has to go on.

DAVID FROST:

Margaret thank you very much.

MARGARET JAY:

Thank you David.

DAVID FROST:

Margaret Jay.

END

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