Skip to main content

International Development (Gender Equality) Bill

Volume 573: debated on Friday 17 January 2014

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am extremely grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to move the Third Reading of this Bill. As you well know, navigating a private Member’s Bill is rather like navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, those mythical sea monsters noted by Homer and experienced by Odysseus on opposite sides of the strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Scylla was a six-headed sea monster on the Italian side of the strait and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. I am sure that you will appreciate that in this analogy, Scylla is the Whips and Charybdis the procedural hazards of private Members’ Bills, not to mention the amendments that can scupper such a Bill. I am extremely glad to say that such amendments as were tabled were withdrawn and I am grateful to all those concerned for giving us the opportunity to debate the Bill on Third Reading.

The Bill was originally No. 18 on the list for the private Member’s Bill ballot, so I must admit that when I first proposed it I did not really believe that I would be standing here today. It all arose because—as you will know, Mr Speaker, as the former shadow Secretary of State for International Development—I have taken an active interest in matters of international development for the 27 or so years for which I have been a Member of the House.

Last year and the year before, I had the opportunity to go to India where I noted the incredible work done by women on sanitation and water. I also have the honour to be chair of the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world, which I set up about five years ago. What struck me was the dignity of the manner in which those wonderful women, who lived on the streets as often as not, would go around and collect money—one or two rupees—from the slums of Delhi and Mumbai and aggregate that into millions of rupees that would then be used to build lavatory facilities that were not available through the municipal authorities. I had also known for many years that in Africa it is women who do much of the down-to-earth small business work in the marketplace and so on, including in the slums of Nairobi and elsewhere. I have therefore always wanted to try to help in this field.

Let me put on record my grateful thanks to the various organisations that have helped with this Bill, particularly the GREAT Initiative, Plan UK, WaterAid UK, with which I have worked very closely for many years, and Voluntary Service Overseas. The net result is that the Bill, which many would have thought had very little chance to begin with, has been greatly boosted by support, particularly from the Secretary of State for International Development who, sadly, cannot be here today. I am extremely grateful to the Minister of State who has come along today to help with the passage of the Bill.

I also want to put on record my great thanks to those on the Public Bill Committee, which went very well, and to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), who spoke in support of the Bill. I also thank the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and our own Prime Minister. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister appeared before a meeting of the Liaison Committee and one of the subjects raised was pertinent to the Bill. I mentioned to him:

“On the United Kingdom’s implementation of international agreements on violence against women and girls, the UN committee recommended that the Government encourage Parliament to implement its international treaty obligations and the recommendations of the UN treaty bodies.”

As he had put great emphasis on the matter during his appearance before the Committee, I asked him whether he thought that the Bill would establish

“a statutory benchmark for other countries”

particularly after 2015, when there will be important developments as regards the millennium development goals, so that

“we will be able to promote the ideas internationally”.

He replied:

“It is an absolute yes, because this is another brick in the wall of the whole argument that this should be the year when we really deliver a massive joined-up agenda on women’s empowerment and women’s equality all across the world. This helps us because the Bill will make Britain have a leading role in examining gender equality before we deploy aid and other resources”.

Does my hon. Friend accept that when half the population is effectively locked out of a country and prevented from being productive and from pursuing opportunities in education or anywhere else, there is no realistic and sustainable path to proper development?

I agree that the implementation of the Bill represents a social revolution. The scope of the Bill and the statutory duties it imposes on the Secretary of State, which the Government and the Opposition have voluntarily and willingly accepted, will put more flesh on the bones of the existing policies in legislative terms. As my hon. Friend notes, half the world’s population are women. It seems an obvious thing to say, but it is true.

Let me give one or two examples of the necessity for such a Bill and the basis on which I introduced it, linked to my personal experience—including an article I wrote in The Guardian when I came back from India, in which I said “Eat your heart out, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. I have been there and it is worse than you imagine.” The women deal with the problems on the ground, but they are estimated to account for almost two thirds of the people around the globe who live in extreme poverty. Women perform two thirds of the world’s work and produce 50% of the food but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property.

At the same time, all around the world, women are not participating in public and political life on equal terms to men or in equal measure. The evidence shows that despite all the great efforts made by the Secretary of State for International Development and the Department over the years, we are still not solving the problem. Only one in five parliamentarians worldwide is a woman, women hold only 17% of ministerial positions and, at a governmental level, women account for only 13 of 193 Heads of Government. Women from poor backgrounds, from rural and indigenous communities and from minority groups are particularly marginalised in decision-making processes and institutions. This is a unique opportunity in the post-2015 process that I described earlier, and the Bill will achieve as much as the British Parliament and the British Government can achieve by imposing a duty within the legislative framework of the international development statutes to put women’s rights at the heart of the international development agenda.

My hon. Friend will know that seven colleagues from the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, including my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), visited the Syrian-Turkish border last weekend and saw the international development assistance that this country is providing on an ongoing basis. Clearly the Bill is prospective, but will it have any retrospective impact, either in law or through the practical application of international aid?

It will not have legislative retrospectivity, but it will reinforce existing policies by adding a statutory duty, which, as those of us who are familiar with administrative law will know, is what makes it bite. The fact that it will be a legal obligation enhances it beyond mere policy making. My hon. Friend mentions our hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who of course is one of the Bill’s sponsors, as indeed is the Chair of the International Development Committee, along with Members from both sides of the House—their names are listed on the back of the Bill. I want to express my gratitude to them for their active support in pursuing these objectives.

Nobody could possibly be in favour of gender inequality, but can my hon. Friend assure me that this is not just another motherhood and apple pie Bill that will place a regulatory burden on the Department by pushing it in a direction which, according to common sense, it should be following anyway?

I could not agree more. It is not a regulatory burden at all; it is an amplification by statute of existing policies. It will help to generate self-help, enterprise and productivity in the third world, because it is women who are driving forward the whole market programme and helping to create micro-economic systems of enterprise. It is precisely for that reason that generating all the advantages of enterprise through women in the third world, who do all the work in the marketplaces, in the slums and so forth, will increase all the things that my hon. Friend advocates. He knows, as I do—I certainly advocate those things—how important it is to generate enterprise in those countries, because that will effectively balance the amount of aid that is necessary. The Bill is about providing a means of promoting enterprise, not over-regulation.

On that point, it would be a bizarre day indeed if my hon. Friend, who has battled for generations to stop greater regulation, were ever accused of seeking in any way to over-regulate the state. I certainly endorse what he says. Does he agree with the philosopher Jostein Gaarder’s point:

“A state that does not educate and train women is like a man who only trains his right arm”?

I thoroughly endorse that proposition. I am also glad to be able to refer to the historical fact that it was a member of my family, Jacob Bright—John Bright’s brother—who in 1869 became the first person to introduce a Bill in this House promoting the representation of women. Hume had made proposals for that, but the first Bill to promote votes for women was produced by Mr Pankhurst—Emmeline Pankhurst’s father, I think—and brought in by Jacob Bright. I feel that, in a way, I can follow in their footsteps by promoting the role of women in the world in this way.

In summary, the Bill places duties relating to gender on the Secretary of State before she provides humanitarian or development assistance under the International Development Act 2002. The Bill amends that Act to require the Secretary of State, before providing such assistance, to consider whether it will reduce poverty—I repeat the word “poverty”—in a way that is also likely to contribute to reducing gender inequality and, similarly, to take account of gender-related matters before providing humanitarian assistance overseas.

Basically, the Bill will help enormously through the very efficient work that is done by those who work in the Department, and I pay tribute to them for the great work they have done in this entire exercise. It is part and parcel of a social revolution. It will also play a very big role in our international development thinking, because in order for them to give effect to any particular policy they will have to have regard to those measures, as set out in statute. The Bill has all-party support, including from the leaders of the respective parties, and an enormous amount of assistance has been given by the Department. I hope and trust that when it goes to the House of Lords it will manage to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of all private Members’ Bills there. I hope that my noble Friend Baroness Jenkin will be interested in taking it forward, which I believe is the case. It has enormous support in all parts of the House and, I believe, in the country at large.

Of course, I entirely support the aims of the Bill—it would be extraordinary if one did not—and the whole House will want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) for the effort he has put into this work over many years. He is quite right that there is extraordinary and regrettable inequality, particularly in the developing world. It is absolutely right that the Department for International Development, in seeking to do its job, should try to construct its aims in such a way that reduces gender inequality.

However, on Third Reading it is important to scrutinise measures and look at the text of the Bill. It states:

“Before providing development assistance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of providing development assistance that is likely to contribute to reducing poverty in a way which is likely to contribute to reducing inequality between persons of different gender.”

I want an assurance from the Minister that, in a world in which we are placing ever more regulatory burdens on Ministers, his freedom of manoeuvre in the way he conducts his negotiations, provides assistance and runs his Department will in no way be compromised by a Bill that, despite its eminently good intentions, might have some unintended effects, as is often the case.

There is a danger, because many of the Bills that passed through this House under the previous Government, particularly—dare I say it?—on Friday mornings, were undoubtedly well intentioned. Nobody could support gender inequality, and everybody wants the Secretary of State to produce programmes that reduce gender inequality, but the House will understand what I am saying. We cannot view Departments like Christmas trees and load more and more fairy lights and baubles on to them to try to satisfy our own prejudices or make us feel good. It is a very comfortable feeling, but ultimately it makes it increasingly difficult to run these Departments, because every time a Minister is getting on with their job, civil servants are coming to them and saying, “You have to tick this box, that box and the other box.” Ultimately, it is not a very good way of running a Department. My right hon. Friend the Minister is a very experienced Minister who understands his Department intimately, and I am sure he can give me the assurance that this Bill will in no way affect his work.

The Bill also deals with humanitarian assistance. I have two daughters who work in international development—one works for War Child and one works for the International Rescue Committee. They are both in Congo at the moment. My family and I are utterly committed to international development. Humanitarian assistance is a part of the Department’s work that has to be carried out with great speed, and the Minister has to take action not because it ticks some box or fulfils some regulatory function but because it is about saving lives. New subsection (2) says:

“Before providing assistance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of providing assistance under that subsection in a way that takes account of any gender-related differences in the needs of those affected by the disaster or the emergency.”

Of course the Secretary of State will do that. It would be absurd if there were a disaster in Congo, Somaliland or anywhere else, and he provided assistance in such a way that did not help everybody. When he is grappling with such a disaster, I do not want some civil servant to be shuffling pieces of paper in front of him because he has to meet some provision that should obviously be met in any event.

We are all listening to my hon. Friend’s speech with interest, not least because of the experience of his family members, to whom we pay full credit. I totally accept that there is a distinction between the two clauses of the Bill. As he says, disaster relief or emergency assistance must clearly be immediate and instant. New subsection (1A), which deals with efforts to reduce poverty

“in a way which is likely to contribute to reducing inequality”,

must surely speak to the issue of education, which is the pathway towards reducing poverty. Surely education is the fundamental point of this Bill.

I am not opposed to the Bill and I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s point.

I want the Department to be run in a successful fashion. I want it to reduce gender inequality and to improve education in the third world. I want the Minister to do all these things, but ultimately I want him and his officials to be able to trust in their own judgment and not have to think about another Act of Parliament that may have unintended consequences and restrict their freedom of manoeuvre. We should trust the Secretary of State. This Bill is obviously going to become law; nobody here is going to oppose it. I merely want to get from the Minister the assurance that I requested.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to speak in this debate. I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) for being the seasoned and veteran campaigner that he is. He has battled long and hard to bring this Bill before the House of Commons, and we all wish it Godspeed and good will during its passage here and through the House of Lords.

In preparation for the debate, I looked at an article that my hon. Friend wrote in the New Statesman some time after the visit he mentioned. I must confess that I was surprised, but also delighted, to find him writing in such a modern socialist magazine as the New Statesman.

My hon. Friend might be interested to recall that Paul Johnson started out as the editor of the New Statesman, and we know what a great Conservative he is.

It is often said, is it not, that we all start out as communists, develop into socialists, and ultimately turn into Conservatives?

Obviously my hon. Friends on the Front Bench started out more right wing than Genghis Khan, but some of us have had an evolution as we have progressed. It is true to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone has evolved, if not in his journalistic practices then certainly in his political practices. It is testament to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) that they are addressing and supporting this issue in the House.

Gender equality is a basic right, and it does not need any economic justification. We can provide an economic justification for it, but we should not even need to go there. It is a harsh fact that women across the world continue to face daily abuse and seclusion for the sole reason that they are women. Any argument that promotes inequality has no place in the 21st century.

I spent last weekend with various colleagues from the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists on the Syrian-Turkish border. There are 600,000 refugees in Turkey at the moment. The British Government are providing international aid—particularly food aid, but also other types of aid that I will mention later—to the refugees, who are based in a variety of camps all across southern Turkey. I have not visited the camps in Lebanon or Jordan, where the position is genuinely different, but I can speak with some authority on the international aid being provided in this region. I was accompanied by a number of Members of Parliament, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who is a co-signatory to the Bill and served on its Committee and is an expert on the provision of international aid to the Syrian-Turkish border, together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) and my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), and for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown).

Over the course of four days, we saw the impact of international development on the camp that we visited, Nizip 2, which is approximately 40 miles north of Aleppo and 20 miles north of the Syrian border. It caters for people in northern Syria who are particularly dependent on aid and who have fled towns such as Homs and Aleppo. They are of all colours, races and descriptions; it is not only the opponents of Assad and the Alawites who have fled Syria. The camp is testament to the impact of the work of international aid, and it is important to bring that to the House’s attention. There were 17,000 people there, 9,000 of whom were living in tents. In some cases, there were as many as 15 people to a tent, albeit that they were very serviceable tents. That may sound like a huge number, but the people we met and talked to felt that their situation was much better than it would have been in Syria. The camp was also a container camp where people have, in effect, turned containers into homes, exceptionally successfully.

Of the 17,000 people in the camp, well over 10,000 are children and a vast proportion are women. I was extremely pleased to see wholesale and proper education of the young women and children there. I met a young man called Suleiman who was formerly an engineer in Homs. He had been a fighter in Homs and had lost several members of his family. He had fled north of the border to Nizip. As an engineer, he knew about maths. He was teaching year 7, 6 and 5 students in a makeshift classroom—it was another container; everything there is a container—so he had three class years similar to those in this country’s primary and secondary schools. The crucial point is that all the young girls were getting an education. It was not a restrictive education that entitled them to do only certain types of projects. It was fantastic to see integration in the classroom and no difference between young girls and young boys. There was positive encouragement for young girls to become whatever they wished to be.

I did a survey of the children in the class in the Nizip camp and asked them what they wanted to be. Most of the girls wanted to be one of two things. Many wanted to be doctors and discussed how they were going to learn about medicine, including in a practical sense: there was a surgery and hospital nearby. Many of the others wanted to be engineers. When I asked these young girls, who were 11 and 12 years of age—the equivalent of years 6 and 7—why they wanted to be engineers, it was fantastic to hear them say, “Because I want to go back to rebuild my country.”

Immigration and the state of Syrian refuges, 600,000 of whom are in Turkey, is a matter of discussion. The crucial point about international aid is that, by providing a site just north of the Syria-Turkey border, the international community is able not only to preserve the lives of refugees, but, more importantly, to provide an environment in which they are able to live relatively normal, healthy lives. I met dozens of Syrian refugees and they all told me that they were desperately keen to go home to their own country when the conflict in Syria abates. If it does, those men, women and children will have a chance to go home. Such international aid is outstanding and we should be very proud of the role it plays. The important point is that the women in the camp were given particular assistance.

I believe that this Bill will help. It is important that education improves. The young girls I met were 10, 11 and 12 years of age. The question the Minister needs to answer is: what happens to those girls, who are receiving a basic education in a container in a refugee camp, when they wish to have a university education? Given that there are 600,000 refugees in Turkey and that we are providing huge amounts of international aid to the children, I hope that, by utilising this wonderful Bill, that aid will provide assistance to those children so that they can maximise their education potential and address the gender inequality that has unquestionably existed for many a generation. This Bill will address the problems those children face. Primary and secondary education can be provided, but the problem starts when someone wants to be a doctor or an engineer and to rebuild their country. The Bill will make a massive difference with regard to the quality of their education aged 14, 15, 16 and 18.

On any interpretation, for too long women have battled for equality. They have fought generations of deep-seated injustice. We could name dozens of countries where that has been the case, but it is particularly true in places such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Nepal and central America, particularly Guatemala. One in three women worldwide will experience physical or other violence or deprivation during their lifetime.

The Bill’s background is the huge amount of gender-based violence, but that is merely one part of the oppression. Marginalisation is also an issue. Anyone who reads the international aid periodicals and journalistic articles will have read about marginalisation, which sounds like such a philosophical and normal term, but it is totally abnormal and abhorrent. It represents a denial of access to land, credit and banking facilities and other simple matters. There is plentiful evidence that some female farmers are denied access to seed and fertiliser in a way that male farmers are not. That is all about marginalisation: the weird way in which women are denied a fair chance.

It is not just that they are marginalised. Women are often told to leave the room when meetings are held, even though they are doing the work. In certain countries and according to certain traditions, the men expect women not only to take second place, but to do the work as well.

Certainly. Shortly before I came to this House, I travelled through Karnataka, in central India, on my way to the town Hampi and saw the impact of that exact point: the men running the society were requiring the women to do the work and forcing them to take a secondary position. We have to acknowledge that there have been problems in communities in India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I am reminded of the words of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who said:

“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword the other is the pen. Great competition and rivalry exist between the two. But there is a third power, stronger than both, and that is women”.

The most important thing is to harness the capability of the female sex.

On the question of violence against and harassment of women, my hon. Friend may know that I went to India last year with, among others, Baroness Royall and Lord Harries of Pentregarth. We visited a hostel where the woman running it had been beaten almost to death 18 times when protecting women she was looking after who had been violently abused since childhood up to the ages of about 18 to 20. People need to understand that such a situation is intolerable and that women need not only to be given a greater opportunity through empowerment, but to be protected from such abuse.

In generations to come, future Members of this House and of other Houses of Parliament and Governments will look back on the evolution of rights and equality for women and shake their heads in wonder that this was ever an issue—that we could have reached the 21st century and still be trying even partly to close the gap in some countries. The rights of women in many countries—all of which are known to those of us who take an interest in international aid—are as limited as they are non-existent, and the encouragement being given by the British and other Governments is absolutely vital.

We have often talked about India, including about the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and me and what we have seen in our travels. I have travelled five times through India—mostly as a backpacker and looking very scruffy, I hasten to add—and one is reminded of the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex.”

I could not agree more. It is still absolutely and manifestly wrong that, particularly in countries such as India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Somalia, Guatemala and in certain central American counties, women are deprived of their economic rights, as well as in a multitude of other ways.

Like my hon. Friend, I have travelled in India. I recently came back from a visit with my gurdwara to the Punjab. We went into the rural areas to visit schools and look at education, including an eye camp that the gurdwara supports. One thing that struck me was the importance of valuing women—having a fundamental respect for women and their value in society—and that has to start with education. That is why I am so glad that this Government are doing work on educating girls to get the fundamental importance of the value of women in society through to both boys and girls.

I do not know whether it is good or bad that my hon. Friend is the first female contributor to this debate, apart from your interventions, assistance and guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is wonderful to welcome my hon. Friend to the debate. It is good that a group of men are talking about the fact that it is manifestly wrong that inequality should be shown towards women, but I welcome her and totally endorse her point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who is no longer in his place, said there are two elements in the Bill. The second is effectively about disaster and emergency relief, and I certainly hope that the Minister will respond on that matter. None of us wants gender inequality to impede the impact of disaster and emergency relief: everybody should fully understand the Bill’s implication that no regulation should prevent an immediate effort to sort out difficulties such as those we have seen in the Philippines, Haiti and all manner of countries to which international aid has been provided.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone will correct me if I am wrong, but for me, however, the crucial element is in clause 1(2), which states:

“Before providing development assistance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of providing development assistance that is likely to contribute to reducing poverty in a way which is likely to contribute to reducing inequality between persons of different gender.”

All Members of the House—particularly, I hope, Government Members—know that the fundamental way of reducing poverty and inequality is through education. Without getting into a debate about education, which I would of course be disallowed from doing, the purpose of the reforms to the education system is to try to reduce inequality, and to promote economic and development aspiration in this country. Surely, the point about clause 1(2) is therefore that the purpose of development aid is to reduce poverty and, fundamentally, the way to do that is by providing education internationally.

In the light of what my hon. Friend said about the number of women who have spoken in this debate, I would point out that the Bill has four women sponsors, who are named on its back page. He and anyone else can see who they are.

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s point. I would have expected nothing less from him than gender equality in the preparation of the Bill. I am absolutely certain that he would not have missed such an important aspect of his own Bill.

In preparing my speech, I spoke at length to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) about the Bill and her work in Committee. She is detained on constituency business, but was very keen to be here to help navigate the Bill through. I also spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) about the Bill’s prospects and nature. I confess that I have not spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), but I certainly discussed the Bill with the other two. As is always the case on Fridays, constituency business often prevents us from being in the Chamber, even though we would very much like to be here. This is only the fourth sitting Friday on which I have chosen to participate—

It is rare to be abused so roundly and robustly by the most impressively coiffured Government Whip. We may miss his Movember amplification, but we cannot in any way miss his contribution to debates, even though when I last checked Whips were meant to be silent.

My hon. Friend speaks very eloquently on this issue, particularly with regard to education. May I, however, mention the potential transformative effect of microfinance for women who have already gone through the education system? It can obviously work for men as well as women, but tiny amounts of money in western terms—whether for agriculture, craft or occasionally something more technological—can completely transform the lives of women and their families by allowing them to start and pursue businesses, giving them real security and future potential.

My hon. Friend makes exactly the point that I was coming to. Without being too techie, estimates of the loss of growth owing to gender inequality in educational support range from 0.3% per annum in sub-Saharan Africa to 0.81% in south Asia. It is patently clear that better education and support for women provides a much greater ongoing economic impact.

There is ample evidence in all the periodicals of the economic implications of the denial of gender equality. For example, a World Bank study has found that managers could increase worker productivity by 25% to 40% where they eliminate discrimination against female workers. I have to confess that I was surprised by that change being so massive, but those are the statistics.

On any interpretation, gender inequality makes labour markets less competitive, stunts agricultural productivity and decreases expected rates of return. If all would-be entrepreneurs were able to use their talents and be given a chance, we can only imagine how massive the economic benefits would be. Whether in relation to such examples as the House of Commons or the presidents and chief executives of FTSE 100 companies, we can see how only a limited number of women are given a chance in this country—let alone in others around the world—and that must surely be addressed. We also have to be blunt in this House that in many developing countries, discriminatory laws and social norms are not only a reality, but a fundamental barrier. They stop female entrepreneurship, curb productivity and stunt economic growth. As Benjamin Franklin said:

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Investment in female education is not only critical for the future, but, I would suggest as a former human rights lawyer, a basic human right. As we know, that right is being denied to too many women. That is not only morally abhorrent, but economically damaging. When a young girl in the developing world is educated, not only does it open doors to a career and prosperity, but it provides numerous social benefits, such as knowledge about pregnancy, child care and nutrition.

We should consider the development that there has been through the millennium development goals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) made clear, it is fantastic that we are taking such a proactive step in this Bill.

To elaborate on an earlier point, microfinance can help with education. MicroLoan Foundation, a charity based in Chiswick in my constituency, supports women in setting up businesses in Africa. Its website states:

“With MicroLoan’s support, Esnart is able to send one of her three children to school.”

Not only does microfinance help through the economic empowerment of women, but it creates stronger families and helps with the education of children.

Access to work allows women to bring additional income into their families; drives down the rates of hunger, illiteracy and mortality; and raises productivity and economic growth.

To draw my remarks to a close, I return to the vital impact that international development is having on the young ladies in the Nizip 2 camp in southern Turkey and the education that is being provided. That was fantastic to see. The Bill will give those ladies a better prospect of gaining an education and going to university. It will make them more likely to become the doctors, and indeed engineers, that are so badly needed in the country that we hope will become Syria reborn. I was struck by how many of the young girls of 10, 11 or 12 in Suleiman’s class wanted to be engineers. They said, “I want to go home to my country and rebuild it. Give me the ability to do that.”

I rise to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash). He kindly supported me at various stages in the passage of my private Member’s Bill and I would like to repay the compliment. I congratulate him on his excellent work on international development and gender equality over a number of years. I want to make a couple of brief points.

Our aid and international development programme consists not only of bilateral aid, but of multilateral aid. Clearly, we have complete decision-making power over our bilateral aid programmes, and I would like to think that we could find a mechanism to bring into effect the tenets of the Bill in multilateral aid programmes. That is very important because a lot of our money is spent on multilateral aid. The same principles that will be enshrined for bilateral aid when the Bill has passed through this House and the House of Lords should be part of our multilateral aid programmes. If in the course of ensuring that our partners in multilateral aid programmes have regard to gender equality and relieving the poverty and suffering of women and girls, we persuade those countries to take such a view in their own bilateral aid programmes, the beneficial effects of the Bill will be multiplied several times over.

There is a welcome renewal of emphasis on the role of the private sector in development and particularly in agricultural development. Poor women and families across the world will ultimately be brought out of poverty not just through governmental aid programmes, but through free trade, proper legal systems, Governments who are not corrupt and the rule of law. People must have security in their own property so that they know that if they build a business or if they have a successful agricultural concern, even if it is only on a small scale, they will be able to reap the benefits for themselves and their families. We need to do everything that we can to support world trade and to support our businesses in their relations with the poorer nations of the world. A strong message must go out from this House today that, in trading with the rest of the world, our businesses should have regard to the empowerment of women.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this debate can be summed up by this phrase from a great philosopher:

“The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes”?

My hon. Friend makes a good point in a slightly humorous fashion. As always, he gets to the nub of the issue. I commend him on his excellent speech.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stone for introducing the Bill. It would be a remarkable achievement to secure the Third Reading of a private Member’s Bill having come only 18th in the ballot. That is testimony to the enormous respect that Members from all parts of the House have for him, as well as to the excellent propositions that he has put forward in this terrific Bill. I am very happy to support him today.

I am grateful that we have got to this stage in the passage of the Bill. We had a positive, lively and celebratory Committee stage and it is good to get to Third Reading. It goes without saying that the Opposition fully endorse and support the Bill. I acknowledge the changes that were made in Committee to ensure that it would be workable in practice.

May I make one point that I had meant to mention in my speech? The Secretary of State attended the Committee, which is very unusual, so I would like to place on the record my thanks to her for that.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We welcome the approach of the Government on violence against women and girls in particular and on gender equality more broadly. I believe that the measures in the Bill will be extremely helpful.

Before I turn to the substance of the Bill, I thought it might be helpful to the House if I clarified a couple of points that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) put to the Minister that are central to the argument over why the Bill is necessary. The Bill speaks to two scenarios. The first is where there is a broader programme of poverty reduction and the second is where there is humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian assistance relates not just to the period immediately following a disaster, such as that in the Philippines, but to the weeks and months that follow because such operations have a long time lag.

The consideration of gender equality can literally be a matter of life or death. In the light of recent conflicts and humanitarian disasters, for example, we have seen alarming reports of women finding themselves at extreme risk of exploitation and of serious and sexual violence. It is right for the Department to give due consideration to that point. The basis of all successful humanitarian interventions is effective planning, and DFID has also been doing good work in that regard. I believe that is why we have been a successful partner in work around the world. Awareness of gender issues is required, and we know that women, much more than men, are at risk of violence in lawless conditions. It is therefore right to have the dual provisions in the Bill.

We know that gender inequality is one of the defining issues of our time. It is core to development now and will be as we go through the post-2015 process. As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) rightly pointed out, we live in a world in which women shoulder 66% of the burden of work but own only 1% of the property. It is a world in which women account for two thirds of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty and the 774 million people struggling with illiteracy; in which, tragically, an estimated 1.6 million daughters each year are not born because of a deep-seated preference for sons; in which one in five adolescent girls continue to be denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, conflict and discrimination; and in which one in three women are subject to violence, whether at a time of armed conflict or behind closed doors. We know the disproportionate impact of conflict on women, yet less than 3% of signatories to peace agreements are female. The House should also remember that only one in five national parliamentarians are female.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the women who had helped him in the preparation of the Bill. The Opposition should draw attention to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who I know was intensely involved in helping the Bill come to fruition, not least in Committee.

The fact that we live in the world that I have described places a moral duty on all of us to do more. Manifestations of inequality, brutality and cruelty still occur on a daily basis, which is why we welcome the Bill. In government, Labour started the journey of prioritising gender equality in development work—from DFID’s first ever gender policy document in 2000, which highlighted the importance of women’s empowerment beyond just regarding them as instruments of poverty reduction, to the three-year gender equality plan launched in 2007, which imposed specific responsibilities and embedded expertise across DFID’s delivery of programmes. In fact, one reason why we welcome the Government’s approach to the Bill is that at that time, there was concern about that action plan coming to an end. I believe that the Department has a genuine commitment to gender equality, from the Secretary of State downwards, and we support it in its work.

Some of the biggest global challenges that we face will require the empowerment, participation and achievement of all global citizens, both men and women. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that equalising access to productive resources between men and women could raise output in developing countries by as much as 4%, which is critical considering that more than 800 million people worldwide do not have adequate access to safe and nutritious food.

Reports documenting the impact of Typhoon Haiyan have emphasised the links between gender inequality and heightened vulnerability in the aftermath of environmental disasters, yet analysis last year by Development Finance International and Oxfam found that gender-related spending had fallen behind investment in other millennium development goals. That goes to the heart of why the Bill is important—it will set a standard for the rest of the world to meet.

I recently held a round table in the Punjab about female foeticide, and also talked about violence against women, economic empowerment, the absolute importance of education and other issues. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a third-world country will never have a chance to develop fully until we address gender inequality and until it uses the skills and talents of half its population?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, which I have made before. When I came into the post of shadow International Development Minister, I believe I became the first male Member of Parliament, either in government or in opposition, to have responsibility for the brief of the prevention of violence against women and girls and gender inequality, since it was divided out as a separate area of responsibility within DFID’s work. I say that because we increasingly need to encourage men to have confidence to speak on those issues. This debate is a good example of that. Holding back women in society is not just holding back women, it is holding back society. It affects not just the development of women but the development of nations, which is why we absolutely need to make the case for this being a mainstream issue, not just a “women’s issue”.

Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that targeted initiatives for women need to be complemented by action to bring mainstream attention to gender equality and women’s rights across all development interventions. A focus on gender equality is often characterised by tokenism and hollow gesturing. That is why I believe the Bill is important—it is not a box-ticking exercise, it is about a shift of mindset in how we engage in these complex issues. I hope it will address them by putting the well-being of women and girls and the achievement of gender equality at the forefront of everything that we do. Gender inequality is so deeply entrenched in our global society that only through embedding those principles into each and every thing that we do can we hope to address the structural inequalities that affect millions, if not billions, of women and girls each year and that reproduce gender inequality generation after generation.

The scale of the challenge that we face must not be underestimated or ignored, and I welcome this landmark Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Stone on his hard and dedicated work. The Bill sets out one further commitment, and it is one that the Opposition are proud to support.

I am pleased to speak in support of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash). I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who had fully intended to speak today, but who was at the Syrian refugee pledging conference in Kuwait this week and has unfortunately returned with something of a lurgy, which has prevented her from attending. I am pleased to be able to step in at short notice.

The fact that the Bill has reached this stage is a testament to the dedication and determination of my hon. Friend. Very few Members could have managed to get it through in the way that he has, by bringing all parts of the House together both in the Chamber and in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are hugely grateful to him for championing this important issue and for all the time he has given to it.

I believe that the Bill can have a lasting impact on generations of girls and women around the world. My right hon. Friend and I feel strongly about the subject, because changing the lives of girls and women is a core priority for the Department for International Development and the entire coalition Government. There is no doubt that, over the past few decades, the world has made significant progress on gender equality. More girls are now going to school; women are living longer and having fewer children; and women are participating more in the labour market.

However, there is much unfinished business. As has been said, women do 60% of the world’s work but earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 2% of the world’s land. By 2020, 50 million girls will have been forced into marriage before they have even reached their 15th birthday. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic, and one in three women have experienced violence in their lifetime, which is a terrible statistic. I believe that that is the greatest unmet challenge of our time, not some sideline issue. It is a matter of basic human rights—the right of girls and women to live a life free of violence, to have an education and a voice in their community, to choose who to marry and when, and to have control over their bodies.

Gender equality is also a critical building block for progress towards other development goals. Around the world, people recognise that where open societies and open economies prevail, and where everyone has an opportunity to participate, people and communities are more prosperous, healthier and safer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister refers to that as the “golden thread” of development, and time and again we see that investing in girls and women leads to incredible returns, not only for them but for their families, communities, economies and countries.

We know that women with more years of schooling have better maternal health, fewer and healthier children, and greater economic opportunities. When a woman generates her own income, evidence shows that she reinvests more of it in her family and community than men do. Getting more girls into secondary education is shown to boost a country’s economic growth.

All this is absolutely right—and obvious. Why does it need an Act of Parliament to tell the Secretary of State to do this? Surely she is doing it already.

I will come to that point, but I say to my hon. Friend that there is value in embedding in everything we do an understanding of the issue, so that there is never any excuse for relegating it to a lower priority than it should enjoy. To that end, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stone for putting in all the effort for this simple, nearly one-page Bill, to ensure that that is the case.

The UK is already helping to give millions of girls and women voice, choice and control, for instance by supporting girls to complete primary and secondary education, to have jobs, incomes and access to markets, to live lives free from violence, and to have universal sexual and reproductive health rights. By 2015 we are on target to have saved the lives of at least 50,000 women during pregnancy and childbirth, to have enabled 10 million more women to use modern methods of family planning, to have improved access to financial services for more than 18 million women, and to have helped 10 million women get access to justice through the courts, police, and legal assistance.

We are supporting efforts to end the disgusting practice of female genital mutilation worldwide through a new £35 million programme that aims to reduce the practice by 30% in at least 10 countries over the next five years. We are also determined to do more to end violence against women and girls. Last November, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched an international call to action on violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies—something that has already been mentioned. The result was Governments and aid agencies around the world signing up to a ground-breaking commitment to make the safety of girls and women a life-saving priority in our response to emergencies. That is exactly the kind of process now embedded in the Bill.

The advisability and advantages of an Act of Parliament include the fact that it imposes a duty that is voluntarily accepted by the Government and the Secretary of State, and endorsed across the House. It also acts as an encouragement and opportunity for other legislatures to regard it as a benchmark, and a lot of the advantages of the Bill will be derived from that.

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. So much of the power that the United Kingdom is able to exercise, through the Department for International Development, is the power of example. Where we lead, many others follow. For instance, where we have led in assessing multilateral organisations, or in a review of how to respond to a humanitarian emergency, others have followed. I share my hon. Friend’s confidence and wish to see other countries follow that process of priority setting and giving attention to women and girls, and that is exactly what the Bill is attempting to embed.

I am proud of all the world-leading work that DFID is doing on girls and women, but we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. Although we have come a long way on gender equality, there is so much further to go. There are still too many girls and women whose potential is wasted, and it will not be easy to reach them. We are talking about some of the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world—in many cases, the unseen and the unheard. We must keep up the pressure, the resources and the visibility of our actions to achieve better outcomes for women. That is why we all think that the Bill is so important. It will give our commitment to addressing gender inequality in countries where we provide development assistance a statutory footing, and enshrine it in law. If passed, the Bill will mean that a Secretary of State for International Development must have regard to reducing gender inequality before making decisions to provide development assistance under the International Development Act 2002.

Such a duty will bite not simply in the act of providing development assistance, but in the work that takes place beforehand—for example, in the preparation of a business case by officials that informs the eventual approval decision of a Minister. In other words, right from the outset the Bill sets in train a proper approach to the priorities that need to be addressed. That is crucial because gender equality is not something that can be just tacked on to our development programmes and humanitarian assistance, and it cannot be an afterthought if we want to get to the root of the problem. In that respect, perhaps I can address the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), and reassure him confidently that as far as I can see no perverse consequences will ensue from the Bill. Indeed, to use modern jargon, it reinforces “best practice”—that is perhaps not a turn of phrase he uses, but he knows what we mean.

The Bill shapes ministerial leadership and does not in any way impede it. As we have heard, we already feel that there should be a keen focus on women and girls when taking humanitarian action, because as we know, women and girls are susceptible to rape used as a weapon of war, and that is the sort of humanitarian peril we try to address in our assistance.

The Bill will not introduce any significant costs. It is about ensuring that Ministers and officials fully take into account the interests of girls and women—as well as those of others—in administering the United Kingdom’s bilateral aid programmes. If the Bill is enacted, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will ensure that training and other measures are put in place in the Department to provide the necessary support for officials for the sort of actions and thinking that they need to adopt to implement the legislation.

Finally, this Bill comes at a timely moment. Many in this House will be aware that the deadline for the millennium development goals for tackling global poverty is fast approaching. The old ones expire in 2015, and a new set will be designed and implemented. In May 2013, the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel reported back on recommendations for that post-2015 development agenda. The panel, co-chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, alongside the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia, put forward a bold and ambitious vision for ending extreme poverty by 2030. At the heart of their report was a clear and powerful message that to defeat poverty we must leave no one behind, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, race or disability.

It is important that this ambition is not watered down in the final set of goals, which will replace the MDGs in two years. As negotiations get under way, the UK will push for a standalone goal on gender, with ambitious targets to tackle critical issues, such as ending child marriage and securing equal rights for girls and women to open bank accounts and own property, as well as integrating gender throughout the goals. I believe that the Bill, if passed, will set an example and put the UK in a stronger place to exercise influence in other forums, including those of multilateral organisations where the UK has a voting presence and to which we contribute significant funds.

Where half the population is locked out, prevented from being productive and from pursuing opportunities, there is no sustainable path to development. We urgently need irreversible gains in protecting the rights of girls and women and an end to violence against them. Improving the lives of girls and women is already a top priority in every area of our international development work. The UK is helping millions more girls and women to have voice, choice and control, and we are working to drive social transformation and shift discriminatory practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital cutting. The Bill—perhaps known for ever hereafter as Bill’s Bill—is another important step forward, enshrining our commitment to gender equality in law, and Her Majesty’s Government are proud to support it.

I will simply say how grateful I am for the remarks from Members on both sides of the House. I am delighted that the Bill is about to have its Third Reading. I have no more to say, other than that I am extremely glad that we have now reached this point.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.