Jane Hutt MP
© Jan 2001
Jane Hutt1. What made you decide to go into politics?
In the early 70s I was very much involved in campaigning politics to do with the women's movement and community action but I suppose I first got involved with formal politics when I joined the Labour Party in 1979. The decision was partly due to the Thatcher era when I decided that I needed to try to influence things from inside as well as from outside. Around that time I was also approached to stand for the local County Council so I decided to give it a go. That is how I got into formal politics, but I joined a Party and become a political representative only as a means to achieve social and political change.
2. You have been involved in various committees and organisations. At what point in your political career did this involvement begin?
I have been involved in the voluntary sector since leaving university. In the early 70s I was actively involved in setting up the first Women's Aid Refuge in Wales. I went on to work for Women's Aid and was involved in various campaigns. When I became a Councillor, being Chair of Governors was part of the job, but through my work and the voluntary sector I continued to be involved in campaigns and setting up new organisations. During that time I saw how many women were leaving refuges with no further education or training opportunities. I therefore helped set up the South Glamorgan women's workshop and subsequently got funding for it through the Council.
3. Do/did you have a role model?
Before I became formally involved in politics, I was very friendly and worked with a woman MP, Anne Clwyd, so she was a bit of a role model. But I haven't particularly had role models. My view has always been that my reference group are the issues and the people that I represent and not looking up ladders or at role models. . . .
4. Is there a tradition of political involvement/policy - making in your family?
My uncle and my grandfather were both socialists and my uncle was himself a Councillor. Those two men had quite a big influence on my having a political belief. So there was that inspiration in my family, but not from my immediate family - although my father was very interested in policy-making but not on a political level.
5. Has your political career followed a smooth path?
Not at all. Initially, being encouraged to stand for the County Council was a great step forward because I was quite young and there were very few women in the Labour group in the Council. From that point on, it became clear that it was going to be very difficult to get into any position of real power so, in 12 years in local government, I never got further than chairing sub-committees of major committees. I was opposed in my attempt to chair the Social Services Committee. First, because there was an anti-women climate. There were very few women in the Labour group and the Council was very male dominated. Secondly, I was regarded as coming from the Left. So I never had a career in local government. I spent my time there trying to support campaigns and getting funding for organisations like the women's workshop or things in my own ward. During that time I managed to do many things connected, for example, with Equal Opportunities or childcare without being in a position of power in local government.
In 1983 I managed to get selected as a Parliamentary candidate for Cardiff North, a safe Tory seat. I had a very difficult time once selected because the sitting MP died and there was a bye-election. It was around the time of the Peter Tatchell, Bermondsey bye-election - and I had to cope with a press gang on my doorstep. That 1983 election was very bad for Labour and I came third. Cardiff North is a Labour seat now. I then had a family so I decided not to pursue the Westminster route.
I came out of local government in 1993 as I felt I was doing much more in terms of social and political change in my work than in politics. However, at the time of the Referendum regarding the (Welsh) Assembly, I decided I had better try again. I had supported devolution in 1979 - and felt, as before, that if we had said we wanted to make this different then we had to put ourselves forward to try and change from within. I had an extremely difficult time getting a seat. I tried 12 constituencies before being selected - but the fact that we had a twinning policy helped me get a seat. I imagine it would have been almost impossible to have got a seat otherwise because I lived in Rhodri Morgan's constituency so that seat was taken and obviously I supported him for that. So it was not at all a question of a straight forward political career. First, it was a miracle that I got selected. Secondly, I never expected to be put into the Cabinet.
6. Can you say a bit more about how the twinning system worked?
We had 40 seats in Wales which were 'first past the post', and another 20 seats through the additional Member list system. For the 40 seats we argued strongly that we should try to get equal representation of men and women in the Assembly. Previously the Labour Party in the UK had had a women-only shortlist which was very controversial and had eventually been challenged (ie declared illegal) so we had to work out a different system. Obviously I was very involved in the campaign within the Labour Party to find a mechanism that would enable more women to come through. We came up with a twinning mechanism where two neighbouring constituencies were put together. Party members could choose a woman and a man, one for each constituency. That was deemed a more appropriate way of achieving parity without discriminating against men. The scheme was very controversial and it was fought bitterly the then Secretary of State and Leader of the Labour Party in Wales, and by many forces within Wales, but it was also backed by women and lots of people across the party so it got through - just. It was very effective because it resulted in half the candidates being women. Now there are more women in the Labour group than men. It also had an influence on the other parties because they had to demonstrate that they were doing something as well - apart from the Conservatives who did nothing and they are the only group in the Assembly with no women at all.
7. Is this balance between women and men reflected in the Cabinet?
In the Cabinet, there is pressure now for parity of representation and equality. This outcome of the twinning scheme had an impact on subsequent decisions and when Alan Michael chose his first Cabinet it was 4 women and 5 men. When Rhodri took over he appointed another woman so it is now reversed with 5 women and 4 men. That has had a major impact on the whole of the Assembly.
8. Has this changed your agenda or how you do business?
It is very difficult to tell after just a year. I think the number of women has had an impact on the subject matter and issues we discuss. From the start, we certainly made sure that Equal Opportunities, social inclusion and the voluntary sector had a more visible place on the agenda. What has also been very important is the fact that we have a woman in the Finance Secretary's role. As well as the Cabinet, we have an all-party committee structure to scrutinise policy and we have women chairing these. Val Feld (ex Equal Opportunities Commission) chairs the Economic Development Committee so we have women not just in areas that might be regarded as women- friendly policy areas but also economic and financial areas. Women are playing a very powerful role. If we hadn't have had those mechanisms, we would have ended up with an Assembly that looked like local government in Wales or Westminster, which is entirely male-dominated. My experience of 12 years in local government was of not being able to contribute because of prejudice and discrimination. That system did not allow women to contribute in the way they do now, with confidence, in the Assembly. Everything is different because of it. It is hard to evaluate - but I am sure others are doing so. I think the most disappointing thing is that there is still much barracking and point-scoring in the plenary sessions. Strong tones of Westminster are creeping in when it comes to political debate and there is still a perception that we need the cut and thrust - that it is some way of evaluating performance as well.
9. Will the critical mass of women eventually change this?
I think it will change. It is significant that a lot of this behaviour is engendered by the one party that doesn't have any women in it at all. But also women are not all the same - they are a diverse group - particularly women who have managed to get into politics, coping with quite complex and challenging competitive arrangements to get there. Women are now able to make a contribution because there are so many of them. However, it is still early days for many women to have risen to a position where they can influence policy and debate at a fundamental level. But what is coming out of the Assembly is definitely influenced by the fact that there are more women. To what extent is difficult for me to judge. It needs to be judged from outside. I get much positive feedback from people outside who I think regard me as being different from former Ministers of Health in Wales. I also get a lot of criticism from others who would perhaps like the old style.
10. What are your current priorities?
Being Minister for Health and Social Services is recognised as probably one of the most difficult jobs because of the difficulties with the Health Service. My priorities have been to ensure that we have much more joined-up government where users and people working in the Service can influence the policy-making more than ever before. This is the mechanism by which we should be governing. More open government, and consultation and participation of communities and people in how we shape the Services. This is the process by which I want to achieve change. One of the big challenges in Wales, because of our poor health statistics, is tackling health inequalities. Ill health is concentrated particularly in the Valleys and in some rural areas. Turning that round is one of my major policy objectives. And moving towards a primary care- led health service - which is a community health development model - as opposed to everything being focused on hospitals and waiting lists and the end result being a poorly managed primary care health service.
For the first nine months, I was also chair of the Equal Opportunities committee but I have handed that over to a colleague because it was just too much. However, integrating Equal Opportunities and social inclusion into a health and well-being agenda is another major policy priority. Some of it is quite soft and qualitative but some of it is about redistributing health resources. It is not just about how we run the health service but also about the determinants of ill health and how we influence it across education, economics and other policy arenas. That's my agenda, which is pretty challenging really.
11. Have your priorities changed since coming into the Cabinet?
Not really. One of the things that's been very good about all this is that I've had 30 years' experience of working at the grassroots level in organisations, setting up organisations, policy development. Before coming on to the Assembly, I spent 4 years on a Health Service Trust as a non-executive director and my time in local government and social services means I've had much social services experience. I feel it has just all come together. I haven't been daunted at all by the job. I have been very clear from the word go. Obviously I have learnt a huge amount about the difficulties of achieving change but my priorities are very much the same, guided by the users, the people at the sharp end of the service, and not just by politicians. Of course, in the Assembly, because we are a minority administration, I have to ensure that I'm negotiating change every step of the way with other political parties, as well as reflecting the priorities of the Labour manifesto. It's a learning process but I feel clear that my principles and policies that have driven me for 30 years are what I can now put into practice.
12. Does the fact that there are so many women around mean that Equal Opportunities is being taken into account in other Departments?
We have a statutory obligation in the Government of Wales Act to integrate Equal Opportunities across all policy areas. We really are going to be held to account so I felt I could influence that from the word go by ensuring that people had this on their agendas. With the Assembly, we do have the opportunity for joined-up government and for dealing with cross-cutting issues which is very exciting. Equal Opportunities and sustainable development are clearly regarded as two cross-cutting themes that everyone has got to be addressing. Of course, we all know that that is the aim but delivering it and making sure it is actually integrated is very difficult. Equal Opportunities still needs champions, of which we have many in the Assembly. Many of us have done this work before and are banging away all the time. I have to ensure it is integrated into my portfolio but also ensure that, through my role in the Cabinet, it is being brought out across all the other policy areas. I work closely with the chair of the EO committee - who is a woman and also the Finance Secretary - so it is a continuation of what I did before.
13. Is there anything else you would like to say?
The issue for me always has to be 'why are you in politics?' For me, it is not about a career. It is about achieving change. My reference groups have been women and excluded communities so having these as my guiding force keeps me on the straight and narrow in terms of where I are going and why I are doing it. Now I feel that I really have an opportunity to try and represent people properly and to continue to listen and learn from them in order to deliver change. That is my political philosophy.
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