House of Lords
Thursday, 3 March 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.
Apprenticeships: Network Rail
My Lords, Network Rail has a direct funding contract with the Skills Funding Agency, as can any company with 5,000 or more staff. The Skills Funding Agency encourages and supports these large organisations, enabling them to increase the number of apprenticeship places they offer and address their wider skills needs.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that it is urgently necessary to increase the status of apprentices in our country? Does she further agree that professional institutions, be they in engineering or nursing, by adopting a graduate-only approach to membership of those institutions, are making it very unattractive for people to pursue apprenticeships? The way of entering used to be apprenticeship, further education, practical experience and then fellowship.
My Lords, I agree with pretty well everything my noble friend has just said. Apprenticeships should provide a pathway into the nursing profession as they always did. The Government are working with professional bodies and have made it clear that they expect apprenticeships to be a line into any professional standards and to be suitable recognised by the relevant professional body.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the excellent scheme that Network Rail operates in its training and apprenticeships but, bearing in mind that the Government are proposing much longer passenger franchises and that there is also a large number of contractors and suppliers in the industry, will she ensure that the apprenticeship schemes that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was talking about can be extended to other parts of the industry?
Yes, my Lords, I can. Already more than 200 forms of apprenticeships are being extended across the country. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, whose knowledge of his industry is so good, will know that we are working very hard to extend exactly what he has asked for.
My Lords, can I draw my noble friend’s attention to the success of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, in which I declare an interest as its honorary president? It has successfully built up a programme of training for all levels of staff, including large numbers of apprentices, for which it has secured the support of a large part of the industry and its supply chain. This is something that might be an exemplar to other similar organisations.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is a desperate shortage of civil engineers in this country. I believe that in the core team of civil engineers on the Crossrail project there is not a single member under the age of 60. In looking at these schemes, will she give some priority to civil engineering because the need is serious and desperate?
My Lords, does the noble Baroness recognise the importance of apprenticeships across big organisations, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has said—not only Network Rail—and where the Government’s funding is focused. Will she ensure that the quality of those apprenticeships is maintained and not in any way diluted to ensure that the speed of getting people through does not in any way denigrate the apprenticeship qualification?
My Lords, will my noble friend undertake to ensure that her department works closely with the Department for Education in considering the recommendations trailed in the press today from the excellent Professor Alison Wolf in relation to vocational education? Will she look in particular at the package of incentives which may be necessary to deliver high quality apprenticeships for young people over and above some of the perhaps less well founded quasi vocational qualifications?
Will the noble Baroness allow me to go off the rails for one moment and generalise on apprenticeships overall? The coalition Government have announced that they will provide 75,000 new places between now and 2014-15, which seem to be focused on adults. There does not seem to be any other kind of provision for 16 to 18 year-olds. But more to the point—
The question is coming. I have been asking my colleagues here why I seem to attract heckling. More to the point, the Government have decided to axe Train to Gain, which provided 575,000 jobs, and the future jobs fund, which provided 100,000 jobs to people who were out of work for more than a year. My question is—
My Lords, the number of new apprentices in this past year is 279,000 of whom quite a few are very young. As the noble Lord knows, we have a very special pay arrangement which was set up by his Government to ensure that we attract youngsters. I am so delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, has asked a question because it has given me the opportunity to say once again how marvellous his programme is for attracting apprentices into business, but that the aggressive tone he uses on the programme might not be attracting people into nursing and the quieter causes that we still so very much need in this country, including the youngsters to whom he is referring.
Railways: Light Rail Vehicles
I am grateful to the noble Earl for that fairly short Answer. I am sure he will be aware that a light rail vehicle called the Parry People Mover has been operating in Stourbridge at probably 99 per cent reliability all the way through the winter, which is much better than most other trains. Will he encourage this company and others to continue to develop these light railways, which use low-weight, low-emission vehicles that are much more reliable? They can be used on many branch lines and other places, and costs could be reduced. They are an alternative to the welcome announcement made two days ago about the intercity express programme, where I understand that the procurement costs for that particular train were £30 million for the department.
My Lords, it took two to three years for the department to approve one vehicle which, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, has proved very satisfactory in service. Will the noble Earl ensure that, in the future, his department and the safety authorities get a move on and get something done?
My Lords, my noble friend has rightly raised an issue about the time taken for approval. However, I have to say that Mr Parry is a bit of a pioneer. The vehicle comprises some very new and pioneering technology so there are a lot of issues to be resolved.
May I remind the Minister that Mr Parry has been pioneering this technology for at least 30 years? Many congratulations are owed to him on his persistence as well as his genius. Could I add to the various qualities of the Parry People Mover which have been listed by other noble Lords the fact that it is entirely made in Britain? That distinguishes it from many other forms of transport.
Will the Minister give us an assurance that, in considering passenger travel, the strength of the rails will not be reduced so that they cannot take freight as well? We are trying to remove as much freight as possible from the roads on to rail. I am thinking especially of routes such as the Conwy Valley line where it is essential that the rail link is sufficiently strong to carry freight.
My Lords, given the number of places in the country where a light rail solution to transport needs would be most welcome, does the noble Earl accept that the issue of ride quality is fairly marginal, given that we are talking about the short distances to be covered? I hope that he will show some enthusiasm for making progress in this respect and not wait on the report of the McNulty study.
My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear that, personally, I am very enthusiastic about light rail vehicles. One of the advantages of the Parry People Mover is that it is extremely energy-efficient. But I also have to point out that Network Rail had to undertake improvements to the line to achieve an acceptable ride quality for passengers.
The Minister will be aware that a number of branch lines were closed many years ago under the Beeching programme and other stupid cuts. Does he think that the light rail vehicle might be a way of reopening such lines on an economic basis? I mention, for example, the line that runs from Penrith to Keswick in the Lake District.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that the last time the railways got enthusiastic about getting cheap and cheerful, lighter vehicles to try to reduce costs, we ended up with a generation of pacers about 30 years ago. Whatever happens with this project, the technology certainly has to be a great deal better than that.
Israel and Palestine
My Lords, at a time of great regional uncertainty, the quick resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is more vital, not less. We need to show that legitimate aspirations for statehood can be met through negotiations. The entire international community, led by the Middle East quartet, should now support the 1967 borders as the basis for resumed negotiations. The result should be two states, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both, and a fair settlement for refugees.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is this not exactly the right time when the Netanyahu Government could now display some wisdom by responding to the EU part of the quartet’s suggestions for a freeze on settlements and the immediate resumption of talks with the Palestinian Authority, to lead to a solution equitable to both new states?
My noble friend is quite right that now ought to be exactly the right time. It ought to be very much more the time than was the case even a few weeks ago. However, we have to face the reality that obviously the Israeli Government feel extremely nervous and uncertain about what is to happen in Egypt, while we are urging more decisive action and firm decisions. Still, that does not deter us at all from pushing very hard on this central issue.
One month ago, today on 3 February and later on 11 February, I asked in this House whether the Government would upgrade the status of the Palestinian general delegation in London. Does the Minister agree, when I ask that question again, that it would in fact be a small but important signal of the Government’s support for a Palestinian state as the result of a two-state solution?
I agree it is a very important matter, worth considering, but I am afraid my answer at the moment to the noble Lord is that we are still looking at it—in a positive light and in light of the need to upgrade the negotiations and get momentum behind them—but we have not reached a decision yet.
Does the Minister agree that whatever the effect of the unrest, the fundamental fact remains that it is the United States that will have the key role, if it so chooses, in the peace process and, further, that our own potential role is hampered by the fact that many Israeli politicians and military people stand the danger of being arrested in this country if they were to come? What are the prospects for Clause 151 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which at least would allow the DPP to interpose his judgment, rather than that of a magistrate, before a private prosecution takes place?
As the noble Lord knows, the Government intend to amend the law so that a private individual cannot obtain an arrest warrant under universal jurisdiction without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are quite pleased with progress—the legislation passed through Second Reading in early December and we expect the Bill to have Royal Assent before July. The problem has been recognised and action is being taken.
Does the noble Lord agree that the recent civil unrest and changes in the region provide a unique opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians? Does he agree that, if they are finally joined by other democratic nations in a fully negotiated settlement, that would be best for all the people in the region?
I strongly agree and I am very pleased to hear the noble Lord, whose views I greatly respect and who has stood up often as a somewhat lone voice in public affairs in these matters, say what he has just said. It is an extremely valuable contribution.
Does the Minister agree that the civil unrest referred to in the Question was started in Tunisia by an unemployed guy being refused a licence to sell vegetables and that the people in countries with unrest at the moment are more concerned with their civil and economic rights than with the Israel-Palestine issue?
The noble Lord is right to say that the effects of civil unrest are rippling through the entire region, both north Africa and the Levant, and even touching the Gulf states. These are very important matters, but I do not think that he would disagree that one problem is the continuous poison, as it were, of the Israeli-Palestine dispute and that, if that could be settled, we would at least be on the way forward.
Does the Minister agree that the greatest risk to the Government of Israel would be a vacuum in the peace process at a time of great ferment in its Arab neighbours, who may be pushed by such a vacuum in a more radical direction, which would make the search for peace more difficult? Does he not feel that the best contribution that could be made in the near future is for either the quartet or the United States to put some ideas on the table and seek to engage both parties in a discussion of those ideas?
That is exactly what we would like to do and are seeking to do. The noble Lord, with his experience, has just reaffirmed my earlier point that, although this is what we must now do, the pressures are pressing the opposite way inside Israel, where there is increasing nervousness at the uncertainty and the difficulties afflicting their neighbours. We are dealing with a tricky situation, in which the persuasion we need to get Israel and Palestine negotiating on a new and sensible basis is working one way—and we are pushing—but Israeli fears are working the other way.
Will the noble Lord accept from me that his reply to the Question is 100 per cent right, and I support it? What is rather more strange is that I support the noble Lord, Lord Wright. Is it not imperative that the Government should come to a conclusion about the issue he raised forthwith? We should not simply accept that the situation should go on indefinitely.
The noble Lord is clearly in a supportive mood this morning and I am grateful to him for that. He is right to say that recognition of the Palestinian representation here is an important issue. We will seek to come to an early conclusion and I take note of his concern that we should do so.
Not necessarily. The reality we all have to face is that there are plenty of arms in the world and these arms can be obtained from anywhere, in various forms. We control very carefully our exports of arms, in a very tightly regulated way, and we do not believe that merely creating substantial unemployment here and damaging our well regulated industry, paving the way for less regulation and possibly worse and more dangerous arms in many countries in the Middle East, would help one iota towards peace and stability in the area.
Does the Minister agree that in fact we have two sets of circumstances here? On the one hand, there is the sustained and absolute refusal of Israel to stop building settlements in the Occupied Territories—no matter who asks, including the United States—and that makes the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state less likely. Combined with that, as a result of the unrest we have the possibility, no matter what the root causes are, of elections that may well lead to the establishment of Governments in the Arab countries with a mandate against the Middle East peace process based on a two-state solution. That toxic combination makes the issue very urgent now. Does the Minister believe that there is a very short window of opportunity for the resumption of these negotiations?
I agree strongly with the noble Baroness’s analysis. The dangers are very great from all these developments. We have said several times in these exchanges that it does not take a genius to see that the Israeli Government are much more worried by the uncertainty, and therefore pushing them toward negotiation is going to be tougher still. However, there is a little window for us to push to try to achieve something, and we are going to do so very hard indeed.
Health: Care and Compassion?
My Lords, the department has asked the Care Quality Commission to conduct a series of unannounced inspections on NHS trusts, and will report on its findings. The department wrote to NHS chairs on 15 February to raise awareness of this report and to ask them to assure themselves that their own organisations were up to standard. Similarly, the chief nursing officer also raised the report findings at her February meeting with strategic health authority directors of nursing.
I thank the Minister for his Answer, which is very helpful. We in this country are blessed with a National Health Service staffed by very dedicated and committed people but, as this report highlights, there are instances of neglect and a lack of care for the elderly. The best way to prevent cases like the 10 listed here happening again is to ensure that everyone in the National Health Service, if possible, reads the report. It is available online at www.ombudsman.org.uk, but can the Government find ways to help to distribute the report so that everyone working in the health service can read it?
My Lords, I understand and applaud the noble Lord’s reason for making that suggestion. I will overlook the issue of cost, but I am not sure that his idea would necessarily have the desired impact. What is needed here is for local leaders to take charge. That is why the chief executive wrote to every chairman and chairwoman in the NHS asking them to share the report with every member of their board, so that they can examine the services in their particular organisation and assure themselves that these situations are not happening on their watch. Nevertheless, I am certain that boards around the country will wish to take heed of the noble Lord’s suggestion.
Does the Minister recall the number of legitimate complaints that were made during the period of office of the previous Government about bad treatment within the health service? Nothing was done with urgency. Will he recognise that when there are legitimate complaints, delay causes deaths and great suffering? When there are such complaints, they should be dealt with speedily and deeply.
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will recognise the contribution that my noble friend has made to raising awareness of these very troubling issues, and I pay tribute to her. She is right, which is why our proposals for the NHS place a great deal of emphasis on strengthening accountability at every link in the chain, so that the complaints that she has referred to are dealt with speedily and someone is held accountable for what has happened.
My Lords, will the Minister please say whether it is the Government’s intention to respond to the previous Prime Minister’s commission on nursing, which reported in March 2010? There were 21 commissioners, and I declare an interest as one of them. The report made 20 recommendations, 17 of which relate directly to the ombudsman’s report and, if implemented, would go some way to curing some of the types of incidents that were reported. There is a great need on the part of both the employers and the employees, and it was good to hear the Minister say that a letter has gone to the employers. Would it be possible to have an answer to the commission so that we could see the implementation of some of these recommendations? I am ashamed to be named a nurse when such dreadful care and lack of supervision have been identified. We have a responsibility here. I ask the Minister to look at the supervision of untrained staff and the regulation of assistant nurses.
My Lords, I will look and see where we are on a formal reply to the commission’s report. Again, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in leading the nursing profession. She is absolutely right that strong nursing leadership at every level, from ward to board, is essential to ensure high-quality care. Ward managers make a critical difference, matrons provide strong leadership on wards and all nurses, I believe, must aspire to continuous quality improvement. That is why we expect directors of nursing to review this report with a view to addressing any areas of improvement in their own organisations.
My Lords, we warmly welcome this report and the actions that the Government are going to take upon it. However, how will a fully competitive market in healthcare ensure that older people are looked after properly, with care and compassion?
Perhaps I may elaborate on an answer I gave earlier about our reform proposals, which have at their heart the strengthening of accountability. There will be accountability: for outcomes, through the outcomes framework, to ensure that NHS providers focus first and foremost on quality; through GP commissioning, which will bring commissioning closer to patients and ensure that it is clinically informed; and in strengthened local accountability, not only through the health and well-being boards in local authorities but via the public, through Health Watch, which will ensure that the NHS focuses on what is important to patients and citizens.
Charities Bill [HL]
A Bill to consolidate the Charities Act 1993 and other enactments which relate to charities.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Verma, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No.2) Regulations 2011
Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 2011
Road Vehicles (Powers to Stop) Regulations 2011
Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2011
Marine Licensing (Licence Application Appeals) Regulations 2011
Marine Licensing (Notices Appeals) Regulations 2011
Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011
Greater Manchester Combined Authority Order 2011
Motions to Refer to Grand Committee
Postal Services Bill
Committed to a Committee of the Whole House
Postal Services Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Postal Services Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 8, Schedule 1, Clauses 9 and 10, Schedule 2, Clauses 11 to 37, Schedule 3, Clauses 38 to 41, Schedule 4, Clauses 42 to 50, Schedule 5, Clause 51, Schedule 6, Clause 52, Schedule 7, Clause 53, Schedule 8, Clauses 54 to 64, Schedule 9, Clauses 65 to 71, Schedules 10 and 11, Clauses 72 to 89, Schedule 12, Clauses 90 and 91.
International Women's Day
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure once again to open the debate to commemorate International Women’s Day to look at the global and domestic challenges that women face in this centenary year. I thank all who are taking part. The number of speakers today shows that there is an understanding that these debates are about issues as they affect women and, as a consequence, society as a whole. I look forward, as I am sure we all do, to the six maiden speakers who will contribute to this debate. Over the next week, International Women’s Day will be celebrated by women around the world, portraying the stories of ordinary women struggling for equality, for their rights and for the ability to participate fully in society—politically, socially and economically. The day also gives us the opportunity to celebrate the advances made and to identify the achievements that still have to be made.
Empowering women and girls is the most effective way of enabling women to participate fully in society, and has been the motivation behind the many declarations made and conventions and conferences held, which have provided a series of mechanisms and instruments to promote and embed gender equality. In 1979, the adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—CEDAW—committed all member states who signed up to it, including the UK, to end discrimination in all their actions and in their legal and benefit systems, and to ensure equality and equal opportunities between women and men. That should be the blueprint for all our actions.
The world conference of 1995 in Beijing, after much controversy and opposition, led to the important declaration that women’s rights are human rights. The aims of the millennium development goals are to reduce poverty, to promote gender equality, universal primary education and a reduction in maternal mortality in developing countries. However, at the current rate of progress, none of these will be achieved.
In spite of all the commitments made and conventions signed up to by the nations of the world, discrimination remains entrenched and pervasive. Too many women continue to be subject to violence, exploitation and intimidation, to be the innocent victims of war, to have no control over their own fertility and health and to have no income or assets. They continue to represent the majority of the world’s poor, earning just 10 per cent of the world’s income, even though they work two-thirds of the world's working hours.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women represent between 70 and 75 per cent of the agricultural workforce but own just 1 per cent of the land, and still too many Governments deny women the right even to own land. Poverty and the hidden costs of education deny many girls the possibility of going to school, creating a situation in which in Nigeria, for instance, 4 million girls have no access to primary education. Nor should we forget that globally nearly 20 per cent of women die from HIV/AIDS and nearly 15 per cent from poor maternal services, and large numbers of women do not have access to contraception. It is all too easy to put to the back of our minds that one woman dies every minute from complications resulting from pregnancy and childbirth, having been denied good or any maternity care: 350,000 deaths each year. Maternal health is a human right and no woman should die through neglect when giving birth.
DfID's new framework for improving reproductive, maternal and newborn health in the developing world is to be welcomed. We await the details and the level of expenditure so that these aspirations can be put into practice. All these deaths are preventable with the provision of good maternity services and the right for women to have control of their own fertility.
Human rights and equality are two sides of the same coin and should underpin all decisions and actions taken by Governments and public bodies, promoting the dignity and value of each individual and groups of people. However, too many Governments around the world condone or ignore the extent of women's poverty, the extent of violence against women, and the extent of the subjugation.
That is a very gloomy picture, but there is hope on the horizon. After nearly four years of negotiations, the UN member states voted unanimously last July to establish for the first time a mechanism for effectively monitoring all agencies and country programmes as they affect women and girls: UN Women. They will have the task of ensuring that Governments across the world's developed and developing nations meet their commitments to CEDAW, to delivering gender equality goals, and to all aspects of women’s rights.
More than two-thirds of activists working on women's projects across the world say that ending violence against women must be the top priority for the new agency, and that it must look to seeing a full implementation of Resolution 1325 and to reducing the number of women who are the victims of war; 75 per cent of rapists in the DRC are armed fighters. To succeed, however, this new agency needs the political and financial support of the international community. So far, that support is limited. UN Women is already suffering from a $300 million shortfall in funding. We have to make sure that this is not yet another example of a commitment that is forgotten before the ink on the paper is dry.
The previous UK Government played a big part in establishing the new agency. I fully accept that this Government are committed to its future, which leads me to ask whether the UK is a leading donor and, if so, can the Minister indicate the level of funding that we are contributing? A key aspect of the agency’s work will be to encourage countries to develop strategies to increase the number of women involved in public and political life. Political decision-making remains largely the territory of men. It is one of the most striking examples of inequality between men and women, with just 19 per cent of the world’s parliamentary seats being held by women. Women’s engagement in pubic decision-making at local, national and international levels is a matter of democratic justice and a means of ensuring better government accountability to women and more focus on issues of concern to women. If we accept that that is so, it is certainly not acceptable that the UK is ranked 52 in the international league tables on women's access to political power, with a meagre 22 per cent women's representation.
Lack of women's representation and participation has been attributed to several factors and constraints. Some of the constraints include political structures that inhibit women's participation and some that relate to family and other responsibilities. To understand the reasons fully we have to be prepared to look at the traditional arrangements of political parties and government structures and, if necessary, remove obstacles to women's participation. We have to think beyond mere numbers and be much more forceful in demonstrating the impact of women's contribution. I still find too many people asking why we should be concerned and why there should be more women in decision-making and leadership positions. However, for women to be able to influence decisions that affect their lives and those of their families, they have to be directly involved. I say with the greatest respect to our male politicians that I doubt whether we would have seen the great advances that have been made in the strategies tackling violence against women if pressure had not been exerted by female politicians.
Just as the time was ripe for a review of women on boards, perhaps the time is right for a detailed analysis of why women are in such a minority across the whole field of decision-making, focusing particularly on women's place in the political arena. Gender equality is a crucial component of social progress and economic growth. Nevertheless, women in the UK continue to be disadvantaged across a range of economic activity. They experience a full-time pay gap of 15.5 per cent, 64 per cent of low-paid workers are women and women's average personal pensions are only 62 per cent of the average for men. What is disturbing is that there seems to be little prospect of improvement—rather, the opposite.
As a result of the deficit reduction measures, women face a triple jeopardy—cuts in jobs, cuts in services and benefits, and filling the gaps where services will no longer reach. Women are without doubt the biggest casualties of the cuts. Women's jobs will be more heavily hit, with 300,000 jobs likely to go in the public sector and 50,000 jobs in the NHS, the majority of which will be women’s jobs. We are already seeing big cuts in the support paid to mothers—including cuts in childcare, with the expected closure of 250 Sure Start centres, which will affect 60,000 families; and cuts in social care services for children, the disabled and the elderly. These all make it harder for women to combine work and family life. At a time when they are most needed, many support services such as refuges, domestic violence projects and women-only organisations are at risk of closure or have already had to close down because of decisions that are being taken that appear to misinterpret statutory equality duties. These services are vital to help women flee violence and rebuild their lives.
The determination of women’s economic independence has always been an important criterion in establishing women's equality. That will be seriously undermined by the cuts in tax credits, child benefit, housing benefit, the restriction of the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only and the proposed introduction of a universal benefit to be paid to the main earner, who in the majority of cases will almost certainly be the man in the household. It is more than 30 years since women successfully campaigned for the concept of moving benefits from the wallet to the purse, with child benefit replacing the then family allowance, for the first time giving money to a mother in her own right. I would hate to see that principle disappear, and I hope that consideration can be given to how we can make sure that that does not happen.
We have to have a vision of a society in which women and men enjoy equality at work, at home and in public. We need a vision of a society in which gender equality is based on the belief that a just and democratic society results from men and women having the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life. In spite of the advancements that still have to be made, over the past century the world has for many women has been transformed, and gains are continuing to be made. That reminded me of a quote from a great male champion of women’s empowerment, Nelson Mandela, who said:
“When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat”.
We all have a responsibility to make sure that the water continues to boil.
My Lords, as usual, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has hit the nail right on the head with her eloquence and sense of occasion.
In recent years, and at my age, I can certainly report on and register the many global and domestic changes that have taken place in the lives of women, not only in this country but in many parts of the world. As I watch my television, I can only wish that women’s influence could have been used to prevent the terrible events resulting in so much innocent suffering for so many people today.
I was indeed lucky in 1979 to have represented this country as a member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. At that time, the commission was nearly half way through the United Nations Decade for Women. I do not believe that the commission achieved a great deal, but it was an invaluable experience for us as we gained a woman friend in almost every country in the world. Some of those friendships were with me for life.
Many are the tales I could tell about the mid-decade conference held in Copenhagen. The British delegation, under the leadership of Lady Young, was incredibly lucky to benefit from our wonderful British ambassador, Dame Anne Warburton. Some time after, Dame Anne tied in with my Cambridge life when she became the splendid president of Lucy Cavendish College. I am very proud of the fact that I am an honorary fellow of Lucy Cavendish. That college, for mature women students only, is most superbly represented in this House by a past president, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. My memory goes back to a time when Lucy Cavendish was far too small to be recognised as a college. It was a perfect example of the courage and insight of a small but brave group of women whose efforts resulted in the full recognition of the need for such a place. Today, Lucy Cavendish College stands proudly as part of Cambridge University.
In this world of politics and committees, one is able to observe, and occasionally venture to suggest, a new or different idea—but not very often to succeed. For instance, I still vehemently wish that brothels could, in this country as in others, be legalised. If this ever happened, it would be very important for health reasons, and could aid crime prevention. I also very much hate burkas, but that is for another day. Parliament is a showcase of successful women. I think of the pleasure it gives me to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and at the same time, my sometime bosses, the noble Baronesses, Lady Chalker and Lady Bottomley—and, after all, even if she is younger than me, I am the baby of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.
Perhaps I may end by paying humble tribute to the many, many women who never hit the headlines but who through their efforts broaden our horizons every day.
My Lords, perhaps I may say what a privilege it is to follow my noble friend Lady Gould and the noble Baroness, the great Lady Trumpington. Much has changed in the past hundred years. The fact that so many women can participate and are participating in this debate in our House is a matter of note and of huge celebration. It is also significant, if we just look around the Chamber, that those women come from different cultures, religions and ethnicities, and all add their voices to the richness that we now have in this House. We are going to be delighted to hear seven maiden speeches today, all from women of real distinction who have each made a significant contribution to our country and our lives.
Much has changed, but much of that change has started with the creation of a legal framework which enables the rights that people have to be enforced in such a way that they can be honoured in the countries where they are promulgated. To do that, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say, we need lawyers. We need good female lawyers. As the House will know, I had the privilege of being the first woman to be appointed as Attorney-General in the 700-year history of that great office. With my honourable friend Vera Baird, we became the first all-female law officers team, and I have the privilege of being in the first all-female shadow law officers team, with my honourable friend Catherine McKinnell. I would like to tell your Lordships that that was because of our own innate and unique ability, but I fear that that is not the case.
It is very easy to forget that, until 1919, women were not allowed to practise law. I would like to remind your Lordships that 1922 was the first year when women started to practise, and in 1913 the Law Society refused to allow four women to be admitted. When the case went before the Court of Appeal in a very famous—I should say infamous—case of Bebb v The Law Society, the court upheld the Law Society’s decision to refuse admission. I would invite the House to remember the name of Mr Justice Joyce, because he found that women were not persons within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843. Therefore, it was not until 1919, when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, that women could practise law. Indeed, Maud Crofts, who was involved in that famous Court of Appeal case, having studied, attended lectures, sat exams, and graduated with first-class honours from Girton College, Cambridge, was refused a degree by the University of Cambridge because of her gender. Perhaps it is not surprising that it has taken us 700 years to have the first, somewhat limited Attorney-General who happens to be a woman.
Since that time much has changed. Sixty per cent of those now being admitted to the Law Society as solicitors are women, but 23 per cent of the partners are not. Women have made a huge contribution to the creation of law. The House will have heard me speak on so many occasions on the issue of domestic violence, to which one in four women in our country is subjected. Two or three women die every day as a result. We made changes by working together across the House. Noble Lords will know that a 63 per cent reduction in domestic violence has been possible between 2003 and 2010, and that we have reduced the economic cost by £7.5 billion. Women and women’s voices have helped to make that difference.
I know that I have only limited time, but I want to say to the House that without women raising their voices with the great men that we see in this Chamber and elsewhere, change will not be possible. The framework needs to change, because there is much for us yet to do.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for this debate. She will not be surprised if I start with my perennial gripe. As I look around me, I see no woman on the Bishops’ Benches. I trust that that anomaly will be resolved before long.
I shall concentrate on two areas. The first is about women in prison. At any one time there are around 4,200 women in prison, representing around 5 per cent of the total prison population. Most are not serious offenders. In 2009, 61 per cent of imprisoned women received sentences of six months or less; 37 per cent had no previous convictions, which is more than double the figure for male prisoners; 63 per cent are in prison for non-violent offences; and around a quarter of the women imprisoned each year are jailed for shoplifting.
Women in prison typically have a wide range of serious welfare problems. They are five times more likely to have a mental health problem than women in the general population, with 78 per cent showing signs of psychological disturbance when they enter prison. That compares with a figure of 15 per cent for the general population. Seventy-five per cent have used illegal drugs in the six months before entering prison, and 58 per cent have used drugs every day during those six months. Thirty-seven per cent have previously attempted suicide. More than half of imprisoned women have suffered domestic violence, and one in three has experienced sexual abuse.
It would be far preferable for most of these highly vulnerable women to receive supervision in the community combined with help to address the problems connected with their offending. That was a strong message of the review by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. Her report states:
“Community solutions for non-violent women offenders should be the norm”.
It also recommends:
“There must be a strong consistent message right from the top of government, with full reasons given, in support of its stated policy that prison is not the right place for women offenders who pose no risk to the public”.
One of the results of that report was the establishment of a network of women’s community projects with funding from the Ministry of Justice. It is important that these projects are run by voluntary organisations in partnership with the probation service. They operate as one-stop-shop centres providing a range of services and have proved highly effective in keeping women out of custody by providing the support and help that they need to avoid reoffending. More than 2,000 women have been referred to the projects since they were established.
I understand that 11th hour discussions are taking place on the possibility of some continuing central government funding, but these projects are still unclear about whether any further central funding will be available to them after the end of this month. I would be grateful if the Minister could make an early statement on the amount of central government funding being made available for the continuation of these essential projects, the duration of that funding and the number of women’s centres that will receive it.
The second aspect of my contribution relates to women and equality. It is here that I refer to the one body that has been assigned with this task, the Equality and Human Rights Commission—the EHRC. Key issues need tackling if we are to achieve true equality in Britain. The time is short, so let me pose some key questions.
What plans does the EHRC have to take enforcement action following startling revelations of extreme pay gaps, including a gap in annual basic pay between women and men of 39 per cent? This gender pay gap rises to 47 per cent for annual total earnings when performance-related pay, bonuses and overtime are taken into account. Secondly, women in some of the UK's leading finance companies receive around 80 per cent less in performance-related pay than male colleagues. We must ask why. Thirdly, what action is the EHRC taking following the Speaker’s Conference on political representation, particularly on the lack of ethnic minority women in local and national politics? What action is the EHRC taking with regard to broadcasters following the successful age discrimination case taken by Miriam O'Reilly against the BBC? Does the EHRC plan to look again at the fact that the equality duties do not apply to employees of the BBC and Channel 4? Could we be told if the EHRC has been constantly blocked from taking legal action? The EHRC is at the heart of the equality debate and we need some clear answers to these important questions.
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing it. It allows me an opportunity to depart from my usual area of expertise and experience and indulge my passion for gender equality and human rights. Yes, I was a passionate campaigner for women's liberation, long before I was a freedom fighter for disabled people!
I want to highlight the work of women seafarers and the global domestic challenges that they face. The lives of seafarers are not easy. They work, often far from home, in a harsh and often hostile environment. For most of the time they are out of sight and out of mind from the rest of us. We benefit from the fact that more than 90 per cent of world trade still depends on their skills and expertise. If we think about seafarers at all, it is almost only to curse their incompetence following an oil spill or when our ferry is delayed.
Seafarers are almost unique in that they must live and work together within the confined space of a ship, often for months at a time. Imagine arriving for today's debate and staying in this House for the next six months and not seeing your families or friends until September. Goodness me—it puts overnight sittings into perspective!
For women, living and working on board ship requires dedication, tolerance and self-belief. Often they will be the only female on board. Despite these obstacles, there are some remarkable women seafarers. I pay tribute to and celebrate Captain Inger Klein Olsen, who was recently appointed master of the cruise liner “Queen Victoria”. She is the first female captain in the 170-year history of Cunard. I hope that her example will serve as a role model to other women seafarers. Unfortunately, for every tale of such success, there is one of sadness. Last year, 19 year-old cadet Akhona Geveza was lost overboard from the container ship “Safmarine Kariba”. Her body was recovered four hours after she had reported being raped by a ship's officer. Although this was a UK-registered ship, not a single Brit was serving on board and there has been no investigation by the authorities here. The seafarers' union, Nautilus International, has called for a full investigation into the death of Cadet Geveza. Surely that is the least that we should do in response to the tragic death of this young woman.
Many women are employed on cruise ships. While there are good employers, tales of bullying and sexual harassment continue to taint the reputation of the cruise industry. Women from developing countries often secure employment only after making payments to dubious agencies. These women are exploited even before they have set foot on board.
Such problems can be effectively tackled only at an intergovernmental level. Seafarers, especially women seafarers, need protection and support from their Governments. Therefore, I was concerned by DfID's announcement on Tuesday that it will stop voluntary core funding to the International Labour Organisation. The ILO has a vital strategic role in protecting seafarers' rights and in getting Governments and the shipping industry to adopt the policies of equality and protection from abuse and exploitation that we all take for granted. The ILO is an organisation that the shipping industry cannot ignore. I hope that the Government will ensure that its vital role in working towards equality for women seafarers is protected. For, while the experience of Captain Olsen demonstrates amazing progress, the global and domestic challenges facing women seafarers remain substantial.
My Lords, I welcome the debate today and congratulate the noble Baroness on her instigation of the celebration. I am all too conscious as I read the list of firsts for women in public life that although the first woman priest to be ordained was listed, neither the first woman dean nor archdeacon was mentioned—an indication no doubt of the present glass ceiling, which has already been referred to, that prevents a woman from sitting on these Benches. I trust that the General Synod of 2012 will rectify that matter.
The UN Secretary-General has said that,
“equality for women and girls is not only a basic human right, it is a social and economic imperative”.
I have had the privilege over many years of working alongside and witnessing the struggle for human rights among women and by women. The first reconciliation group that I attended along the so-called Peace Wall in Belfast was the initiative of women. In Bangalore in India a street community that proudly declared itself “Now a People” in the local language was providing basic healthcare, education opportunities and welfare through its partnership with the seminary. Those are two small yet significant and hopeful signs that have brought further recognition of women's rights and a measure of social and economic well-being.
However, significant challenges still remain. During a number of visits to Zimbabwe, I frequently met women and girls engaged in the struggle to maintain dignity, autonomy over their own lives and a hope for a better future. One group of sixth-form young women shared with me their dreams. “I want to be a doctor”, said one. “I want to be a pilot”, said another. “I want to build the planes she flies”, said a third. “Bishop”, the head teacher said to me later that morning, “Most of these girls will be dead before they are 30. If AIDS, domestic violence or hunger does not get them, they have a one in 10 chance of surviving into their 40s”.
This is a profoundly serious issue. Sometimes it is illustrated only by the gift of filmmakers and other artists. I draw your Lordships attention to a remarkable film, “Buddha Collapsed out of Shame”, in which the producer tells the story of a young girl living in the ruins of the Buddhas blown up in Afghanistan some years ago. The little girl wants to go to school. She needs a notebook and a pencil. To get it, she must sell eggs. She is jostled in the market and drops four of the six eggs and has enough to purchase only the notebook. Determined not to be denied her schooling, she steals her mother's forbidden lipstick to use as a marker. On her way home from her first—indeed, only—day at school, the local boys of her age accost her, discover her lipstick, accuse her in adult language of being a whore and place her in a pit to stone her. The genius of the director lies in his capacity to keep the viewer guessing whether that is some ghastly contemporary Lord of the Flies game or whether it is for real. Of course, it is for real—all too real for all too many women and girls. Children mimic adults.
Governments rightly take credit for progress in peacemaking and human rights, and the development of education and health programmes, but rarely, if ever, is progress made without previous grassroots activity on behalf of—and, frequently, by—those most affected. Grassroots or community activity is the basis of genuine change. Welcome though the Government's intention to target the poorest of nations is, which will result in saving more than 50,000 women's lives in pregnancy and childbirth, it is regrettable that aid to Burundi, Niger and Lesotho has been withdrawn, while that to India, which is now a burgeoning economy, has not.
It would be tragic if work in our country to secure the well-being of women and girls facing domestic violence, discrimination due to single parenthood or the removal of educational opportunity were cut without due regard for the consequences, particularly in this highly significant centenary year for women.
My Lords, I am trembling at the batting crease, waiting to face the Opposition’s fast bowling, but am relieved that the traditions of this honourable House mean that interruptions are not considered cricket.
With great pride, I have moved from Lord's NW8 to the Lords SW1, and I thank everyone for an incredibly warm welcome—from the doorkeeper is to the highest officeholders among your Lordships. I also thank very much my two calming supporters, my noble friends Lord Coe and the Minister, Lady Verma. I know the doorkeepers by the football teams that they support. I must declare an interest as a former director and now a vice-president of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. Sadly, no doorkeeper is a Wolves fan, but on the Floor of this Chamber, I can reveal two Wolves supporters: the Lord Speaker—who perhaps is in the changing room now—and my very kind mentor, my noble friend Lady Perry, both of whom, like me, are former pupils of Wolverhampton Girls’ High School, where cricket was our main summer team sport. What a very strong batting line-up, you might say.
My father was director of physical education for Wolverhampton and my mother taught gymnastics at local schools. With that sporting background, I again declare an interest. Not only do I understand the LBW law in cricket, I actually understand the offside rule in football.
Our debate today presents an opportunity to emphasise the challenges that women have to face in gaining acceptance and recognition in the world of sport: in participation, funding, media coverage and representation at board level. My challenges in sport began at the age of seven with garden cricket with my brother and his friends. I was not allowed to bat for three years—“Girls don't play cricket”. When I eventually got to bat, the boys could not get me out for three days so, in the middle of June, they decided that it was the football season.
The challenges were out there for me at an early age, and the challenges are out there nowadays for most young girls who want to get involved. As Peter Evans, Midlands regional development manager for baseball, softball and modern pentathlon—what a mixture—has written, it may seem simplistic, but if you provide an activity for girls with good-quality coaching and proper clothing that combines a cool image and a fun environment, they will thrive and commit themselves wholeheartedly. It is sport that will help to tackle issues such as obesity, self-esteem and prejudice.
The image and profile of females in sport could be helped enormously if more women were represented on the boards of sports governing bodies—providing, of course, they merit such an appointment and are not merely the statutory women. The 2010 Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, found that only one in five members of national governing bodies are women. One quarter of sport governing bodies have no women on the board at all yet, ironically, almost half the staff of 44 out of 47 Sport England-funded NGBs are female.
The business case is unarguable. The presence of suitably qualified women will provide a balance of skills and perspective. The England and Wales Cricket Board, if I dare mention cricket on a day like today after what happened to the English team in Bangalore yesterday—I hope there are some happy Irish people in the House today—is a shining example of an NGB which offers recognition, given that two out of 10 of the board’s non-executive members are women.
The MCC at Lord’s—the home of cricket—which is a private members club with a public responsibility for cricket, admitted women as members in 1998 after a mere 211 years. I was there at Lord’s to hear of the victorious result. One very sad, senior MCC member saw me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “My life will never be the same”. I certainly would not advocate a quota system. I do not believe legislation is the route: no breaking of the glass ceiling—more a level playing field.
Greater media coverage for women in sport will assist development and improve sponsorship opportunities. When I was an active journalist—last century—I tried to get a better profile for the England women’s cricket team and, as a result of that, because he read about us in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Jack Hayward sponsored the England women’s cricket team for five years and developed the first women’s world cup cricket, two years before the men’s.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for giving me the opportunity to speak to this Motion. It may only be by persistent persuasion that women will overcome the problems that I have highlighted, but in challenging economic times we need companies, charities and philanthropists to invest in the potential of women in sport who, after all, are 50 per cent of their market.
My Lords, it is with great pleasure and pride that I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, in the batting order. I congratulate her on her sparkling maiden speech and welcome her to your Lordships’ House.
She and I met years ago on a cricket pitch—Lancashire v Warwickshire—and I have admired her sporting achievements for years. She is involved not only in international cricket but in international hockey, and she is a keen golfer and squash player. She is vice-president of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, a board member of the England and Wales Cricket Board—one of the first two women—and was elected to the MCC general committee in 2004, the first women in the 217 years of the club’s history. She has been and still is involved with many charities, and was an outstanding president of the Lady Taverner, which raises money for disabled children to do sport and in which I declare an interest as a member of that organisation. She was the first female TV presenter. She has won the Guild of Professional Toastmasters award for after-dinner speaking. She has trodden for years where women have not been accepted. How appropriate for this debate today.
Let me turn to her cricket. She captained England when women played for the first time at Lord's in 1976. At the Oval that year she scored 179 against the Australians. She has 30 test centuries. Of the great cricketers elevated to your Lordship's House, their averages were as follow: Lord Hawke seven, Lord Constantine 19, Lord Harris 29, Lord Sheppard 37, Lord Cowdrey 44 and the noble Baroness 46. Resolute in defence, aggressive as a bat, she is a remarkable woman and a great friend who will bring a great deal of humour and common sense to your Lordship's House and will be a real asset in so many ways.
Turning to the global and domestic challenges for women, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Gould on yet again leading this debate. I will focus on some of those women who are truly challenged—those who have no voice to speak for themselves. Women suffer in wars they have not created, where they suffer violence and rape. Women are trafficked both in this country and abroad and are rendered powerless and degraded. Women suffer torture and genital mutilation. It is trafficked women I shall focus on today, and I shall ask the Minister to update the House on government policy on trafficking and on what progress has been made on the signing of the European directive.
Let me start with a case study which typifies the horror and shame of trafficking. Take the young woman from Romania trafficked at the age of 17. She was given a fake passport and promised a job cleaning in hotels. She was forced into prostitution, sometimes being obliged to have sex with men 12 times a day. The relationships were often violent. Her earnings were kept by the trafficking ring. She was arrested for prostitution, and then taken into custody where she was safe. Eventually the trafficking team was arrested and given the longest sentence for trafficking in UK history. Sadly, some women are never found once they are trafficked. It is reckoned that up to one in seven sex workers in Europe may have been forced into it through trafficking and that 84 per cent of victims of trafficking in Europe are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some European estimates suggest that between 1990 and 1998 more than a massive 253,000 women and girls were trafficked for the sex industry in the then 12 European Union countries. Sexual exploitation is not the only exploitation. Domestic servitude is also a reason for trafficking.
The joint project between the European Women's Lobby and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women recommends that the focus should be not only on the victims of trafficking but on the responsibility of those who buy women into prostitution and on taking specific action on women's human rights. They call for Governments to address the political will to create measures against trafficking and sexual exploitation and to implement effective sanctions, so I am eager to know what we in the UK propose. Trafficking of helpless victims should be treated as a serious criminal offence. Criminal gangs must be sought and punished. I ask the Minister how far the Government accept this and what will be done.
My Lords, I rise to speak for the first time in some trepidation and in awe of the excellence of the debate and the many unwritten conventions by which this House regulates itself. The welcome I have received from noble Lords and from the attendants, doorkeepers, officers and staff of this House has been generous and supportive, and I thank those who helped my family on the day of my introduction. I particularly want to thank everyone involved in the briefing and induction process for new Peers. It makes this new girl feel that any ignorance is hers alone.
I have a particular interest in education through my time as a Cambridgeshire county councillor with the education portfolio, then as the skills champion and deputy chair at the East of England Development Agency, and my 20 years working in higher education, including as senior bursar of Lucy Cavendish College under the presidency of my noble friend Lady Perry, who was referred to by my noble friend Lady Trumpington.
This debate honours the centenary of International Women's Day, and I start by marking the contribution of my cousin, the late Lady Stocks of Kensington and Chelsea. I remember from the early 1960s this doughty—and, to be frank, to an 8 year-old, scary—lady whose debates at Sunday lunch were always impressive. At an early age, she showed me that women could do anything they set their mind to. Unusually for a primary school girl, I understood the importance of Cross-Benchers and the role of Life Peers.
I was later shocked to discover—children often fail to understand that their elders were once young—that this eminent Peer of the realm had started her own career as a rebel. One hundred years ago she was a suffragette marching to Parliament to demand that women should be given the vote. She dedicated her life to the education of women and she showed me, in the words of John Stuart Mill, that women must,
“stir up the zeal of women themselves”.
I suspect that she also helped to create the rebel in me, occasionally to the amusement of my much-loved late father, Tim Brinton, formerly of another place.
Globally, women still bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty. A UNIFEM report last year said:
“Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and … control of assets”.
I would like to focus on a smaller group of women. Those with disability are known to be further stigmatised and experience even greater poverty, less education and worse health than their non-disabled peers. I will give just one example. In rural Tanzania, as many as one in 10 pregnant women develop obstetric fistula after an extended labour. Tragically, 90 per cent of these women lose their babies and are then confined to home with the debilitating results—uncontrolled leaks and resulting health and hygiene problems. Women find themselves outcasts in their own community. Obstetric fistula can be treated by a simple, free hospital operation and rehabilitation in Tanzania, but it was difficult for the health professionals to identify women who needed help because they were invisible. Without treatment, the women became disabled and unable to take any part in their society, all for the want of transport to hospital.
As a result of lateral thinking and using modern technology, Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation Tanzania, an NGO that works with CBM UK, the disability charity of which I am a trustee, developed a scheme called M-PESA with the phone company Vodacom. Regional representatives locate women with obstetric fistula and alert the NGO, which transfers money via a text message on a mobile phone to pay for a woman’s bus fare to the hospital. This really is a case of “for the want of a nail the kingdom was lost”, or, to turn it positive for this project in Tanzania, “for the want of a bus fare, a woman’s life is returned to her, and her family”. Projects such this, funded either by private or public funding, lie at the heart of the best in world development, and I am encouraged that maternal health is one of the key objectives of this week’s DfID review. However, I hope that the guidance is not drawn so tightly that low-cost projects like this, which are truly life changing, are excluded in future because a bus fare might not count as maternal health.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for instigating this debate, and I look forward to many more. I am humbled that I am able to play a small part as a servant of this House and look forward to contributing in future.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak in today’s debate on a very important subject, but first I am delighted to pay tribute to and to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to your Lordships’ House, and I thank her for her wonderful contribution today. Her experience through her work in the media, business, education and the public sector will be a great asset to this House. I am also delighted to learn that we share a love of football—but in my case it is Middlesbrough, so I say that in the loosest sense of the word—and swimming, but perhaps sadly not her love of cooking. It was wonderful to hear her passion and warmth in promoting the rights of disabled women, which is also close to my heart. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to the noble Baroness’s future contributions.
I raise the particular issue of disabled women’s participation in society, especially in sport and physical activity. Through research from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, for which I chair its commission on the future of women’s sport, we know that the drop-out rate for non-disabled women in sport is around the crucial age of 16. If we could only encourage British girls to take part in just two hours of physical activity every week, they would be less likely to be teenage mothers or involved in abusive relationships and would be more likely to stay in education. Who would not want that for any young woman?
However, we know that it is considerably more difficult for disabled women to achieve inclusion in sport. A recent report from the Office for National Statistics looked at social participation across a range of themes, including a European barometer of public opinion. The biggest barrier for anyone wanting to participate in physical activity is time. How many of us in your Lordships’ House today could say that? The second biggest barrier to participation is being disabled. I am very lucky in that I can say that in my life I have rarely experienced discrimination due to being a woman, but if discrimination were a top trumps game, disability would receive nearly maximum points. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was told several times by a variety of people, including a nurse and a doctor, that people like me should not have children.
I have in my work with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, of which I am trustee, seen this even more starkly around the world. The charity uses sport as a tool for social change across a range of countries and projects. In the past couple of years I have been fortunate to visit projects in India, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and have seen the issues that face disabled women internationally.
On a recent visit to the image project in Rajasthan, I spoke to girls who had polio. It is a great worry that girls aged 14 and 15 are living with this condition. They had been abandoned, ignored and abused just because they were disabled. They were living in a school that doubled as a children’s home for many of them. So many girls were living there that they were sleeping 20 to a five-bedded room. They were sleeping on the floors in the corridors and the teachers had to sleep on the roof because there was nowhere else for them. The teachers experienced discrimination because they were working with disabled children and they found it difficult to live in their own communities because of the work that they were trying to do.
Sport and physical activity played a crucial role in helping all these young women adapt to their impairment, to feel valued and to get access to education. It also gave them an opportunity to contribute to local society. It gave them skills that enabled them to have a job and to be able to change the way in which the local environment thought about them. Because where they lived was so inaccessible and they had few wheelchairs, they needed to be introduced to physical activity so that they could be strong enough to live their everyday lives. One of the most dramatic and upsetting things that I have ever seen was the girls having to crawl along the corridors between their bedrooms, study rooms and the kitchen because they did not have enough wheelchairs. They had to share the wheelchairs and take turns to use them. When visitors came they were brought out in stages because they could not all come to meet me together. For someone who takes the use of a wheelchair completely and utterly for granted, that was a devastating experience.
When I spoke to the girls, their aspirations were simple. They want to be treated like non-disabled women in their local community. The dream of full inclusion and equality, and to have the same rights as a man, was a step too far. When I asked one of the girls whether they believed that they could achieve that, they looked at me and said, “No, not in my lifetime”. Whenever the battle for true inclusion for women perhaps gives the impression that we are close to the finish line, this is a stark reminder that there is still a long way to go. Today, I ask what steps we can take to ensure that disabled women receive more support, whether through international aid or other sources, to ensure that they have a chance to succeed. I know that we can all do more to make this better.
My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to join the debate, and my reasoning will possibly become evident later. Over the past 40 years, I have had the good fortune to employ a number of women in senior executive positions, and I have to say that I have found women in business to be very focused, determined and ambitious. Indeed, in top management positions, they seem to place little importance on building ego and simply get on with the job in hand in a very efficient manner.
About two years ago, I was asked to give an interview to two lady journalists from the Daily Telegraph. The interview was supposed to be about entrepreneurs, enterprise, young people and all that stuff, but it came to an abrupt halt when they brought up the subject of women in work, pregnancy and childcare regulations. I have found that a bit of sensitivity arises when someone like me speaks out on these matters. It tends to spark off in some people a kind of knee-jerk reaction and they do not seem to hear or want to hear what I am saying. Regrettably, what was reported in that newspaper did not reflect my sentiments, so I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gould for tabling this debate as I will be able to air the point I wish to make—and this time I have Hansard to fall back on for the record.
My point, very simply, is that I believe that employment regulations for women, whereby the prospective employer is not able to inquire about the interviewee’s status regarding children, childcare, or indeed their intention of becoming a parent are counterproductive. And I think that some women may agree with me on this. As things stand, regardless of the current laws and regulations, interviewers are forced to play out some kind of psychological charade. They know their obligations under the law, but effectively in some cases they make up their mind in advance about the prospect of employing the person sitting in front of them.
I say that, when being interviewed, women should be forthcoming by declaring their status regarding children and childcare so as to pre-empt any “unaskable” questions in the mind of the interviewer, and then to focus on the most important thing: explaining what skills they can bring to the company and why they should be employed. I, for one, would be very impressed with a person who settled the matter at the outset, telling me how they are going to organise their life in order to do their job, but more importantly, how they are going to get on with the job in hand and what they are going to bring to the party. Such people would jump up in my estimation.
As I have already said, I have had the pleasure of employing many women in executive positions over the years. The managing director of my French operation had three children—in fact, she had one of her children while she was employed by me. She controlled that market much better than I could ever have done. The same could be said for the lady who ran my Hong Kong branch, a job she did so well that I seconded her to the UK to head up my manufacturing operations worldwide. Additionally, those noble Lords who are familiar with the television programme with which I am associated will know that for the last two years running, a woman has won, one of whom is now on maternity leave. She has done a very good job and, of course, the position is open for her when she returns. Perhaps I may also add that my assistant on the programme, Karren Brady—the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe-Flint, will appreciate this—has spent the whole of her working life in football at the highest level. She was the youngest ever woman to be a public company director and has openly managed her life around her children without ever feeling the need to keep it a secret. I could not finish without mentioning Margaret Mountford, of course—my noble friend Lady Scotland will appreciate this—who, trust me, is a person.
Sometimes the law can be foolish and counterproductive. I urge women going after jobs to be bold and upfront during the interview process. Let me leave noble Lords with this final thought: while I have been talking and referring to the “interviewer”, the person most probably imprinted in noble Lords’ minds is a man. This should not be assumed. I have to say that the scepticism—the charade that I spoke of earlier—is played out equally by both genders.
My Lords, I start my maiden speech today by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on once again securing this important debate. I am conscious that there are many eminent pioneers both in this Chamber and outside who have led the way by campaigning on these important issues. In my own party, for example, I mention my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon, who introduced last year’s debate on the same subject. My noble friends Lady Morris of Bolton, Lady Ritchie of Brompton and the Minister have all been active for many years in championing the cause of women, and particularly women in Parliament. I would also like to thank the staff of your Lordships’ House. It is well known that it is not the Government, the Opposition or the Whips who can tell you what is happening. If you really want to know what is going on, you have to ask a Doorkeeper.
I most enthusiastically thank my supporters. My noble friend Lady Shephard of Northwold was in 1992 appointed the first Minister with special responsibility for women’s issues; she has encouraged me and many other women. It is also, of course, a very special pleasure to thank my noble kinsman Lord Jenkin of Roding for his support and advice; the most pertinent, which I hope to follow today, is to speak “loudly, slowly and clearly”.
However, I have two other noble kinsmen who are both relevant to today’s debate. My great-grandfather, Sir Willoughby Dickinson, Liberal MP for St Pancras North, was an early and prominent supporter of women’s suffrage. He was incensed that his sister, an eminent doctor, did not have the vote. He first introduced a women’s suffrage Bill in the other place in 1907. In a speech, he said:
“I regard this question of the women’s franchise as part of the movement of civilisation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/12; col. 720.]
In the early part of the last century, women’s suffrage was not a universally popular cause, and his support for it did his career in the Liberal Party no good. On 10 January 1918, he wrote about the events in this place on that day:
“The House of Lords has passed the women’s suffrage clauses by 134 to 69, so this job of mine is finished”.
Although the struggle for women’s votes was finally won, the battle for women MPs had only just begun.
My great-grandfather later became a Labour Peer, Lord Dickinson of Painswick, and with great pride he watched his daughter, my grandmother, take her seat in 1937 as the MP for Hemel Hempstead. That same grandmother, Joan Davidson, who later sat in this House as Baroness Northchurch of Chiswick, was the only Conservative woman MP returned to Parliament after the 1945 election.
Although I stood as a candidate in 1987, my own active involvement with the issue of women in Parliament began in 2005. After the general election of that year, a mere 9 per cent of the Parliamentary Conservative Party were women. More and more Conservatives were at last starting to realise that this was not just an issue of representation, it was one of credibility—the credibility not just of the Conservative Party but of politics as a whole. Together with a small group, I co-founded Women2Win, a pressure group of Conservatives to get more women elected to Parliament. Women2win is still active and support is growing. Today, 22 per cent of MPs are women, a greater percentage than ever before, but still stuck towards the bottom of the international league table. I am especially proud, of course, of the 49 Conservative women MPs elected last May, up from 17 in the previous Parliament.
I must point out that none of this would even have started without the support of men, men like Brooks Newmark and David Cameron. But it was my own husband who pointed out something crucial right at the beginning. He said that women never make much progress until we succeed in persuading men that things have to change. Well, we still have some persuading to do. At this point, I should make it very clear that I am against positive discrimination; I want only the very best to represent us in the House of Commons. However, we still have to be vigilant to ensure that there is no discrimination against women candidates. In last year’s debate, my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market rightly drew attention to the fact that fewer women apply for the job than men. That has certainly always been the case, but we now have a greater critical mass and we have momentum. With so many more role models on both sides of both Houses, I believe that more women will come forward to be considered. It is crucial that these women, whatever their party allegiance, are supported and mentored. They need to know exactly what they are in for, and this is an area in which women in this House can also play a part.
Finally, on a more personal note, I end by paying tribute to a group still mainly made up of women, even in 2011. This is a group that does not receive universal sympathy. They are largely unsung, but never invisible. They are always relied upon, but rarely recognised; a group of people who put up with much, but without fuss. They do not merely keep the political show on the road, in fact, if it was not for them, it would never get out of the garage. I know all this because I have been a member of this group—the spouse of a Member of Parliament—for the past 20 years. As we celebrate the 100th International Women’s Day, I salute this band of few heroes but many more heroines.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for this debate today. It is my good fortune to be able to congratulate Anne, the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, on her moving maiden speech. She has done much to help women in politics and she is going to make a great contribution to this House. You might wonder why I am so convinced of this. When I entered the House 30 years ago, her grandmother, Lady Davidson—she was always known as Lady Davidson, and to many of us as Mimi, although her title was Baroness Northchurch—was an active Member. She told me one day at tea in the Peers’ Dining Room that, when she became a Peer, which was quite a long time earlier, the Dining Room was full of small tables. She said that Members needed to be able to talk to one another, and it is because of her intervention that the Long Table exists today. I am convinced that this practice of Members taking the next seat, irrespective of party, provides a unique means of communication and discussion and makes a significant contribution to the work that we do. I had always imagined that it was an age-old tradition, but no, it was all due to Lady Davidson.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, has special historic connections with this House: three of her grandparents were Peers, and her Uncle Andrew, Lord Davidson, was a Deputy Chief Whip. Other well known and much loved kinsmen were her first cousin Richard, Lord Acton, and Davina, Baroness Darcy de Knayth. Of course we all know her kinsman the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, as a valued Member of the House.
Women2win is well known and successful and carries on the idea that Lesley Abdela started 30 years ago with the 300 Group, for which I was one of the shadow people before it was set up. There was a cruise to Denmark on which ever so many women came to learn how they could become MPs—and I hope that some of them made it. Women2win is taking a very progressive view on this. Each generation of women benefits from the efforts of those before them and faces the new challenges that continue to arise.
I intend to remind some of the Members of the House of a few of the achievements of women here, and also of the support that these women have given and continue to give to others. Women could not become Members of this House until after the Life Peerages Act 1958. Harold Macmillan created four women peers in that year: Lady Elliot, aunt of the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne; Lady Ravensdale and Lady Swanborough, whom I never knew; and Lady Wootton, who is always listed as the first woman life Peer. She was probably the first to take her seat. She and Lady Elliot were still active Members of the House when I was introduced, and very forceful characters they were too.
Other notable people included Lady Hornsby-Smith, who wrote to every newspaper that referred to Peeresses and blew their heads off, saying that we were women Peers; and Lady Vickers—1974, of the blue rinse—who told us that trousers were only acceptable on Fridays, as that was considered a day when you could go to the country. Lady Wootton sat regularly on the Woolsack until about the age of 90 and died in 1988. The present longest-serving Member of this House is the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who took his seat in 1945. Women, of course, were not allowed then. The longest-serving woman Peer, since 1970, is the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, was given her peerage in 1972, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkender, in 1974.
Some women Peers have faced great personal tragedies, such as the assassination of their husbands in the cases of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, Lady Airey of Abingdon and Lady Ewart-Biggs; and recently, there was the very tragic killing of the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove.
In 1981, I was in a list of 15 with four women; Lady Ewart-Biggs, Lady Lane-Fox and the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, were the other three. Lady Lane-Fox has a special respiratory unit named after her at St Thomas' Hospital. She had not been expected to live from the age of five, but she was one of the first Peers to use an electric buggy in the House. I think that she may have had polio, and she had severe breathing problems. She made a great contribution to the Lords and society.
Beryl, the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, was an aeronautical engineer, and hugely successful in helping women into science and engineering. She was also chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I have been assured that I can have an extra second or two because I was congratulating a maiden speaker. The 1981 list was published in April and was the first political list for many years. I was described in the press as “the most unlikely Peer”, and a more sensational newspaper headed the piece: “Fair Dinkum Dame Edna's made it!”.
It is only thanks to your Lordships passing the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, on the last day of the last Parliament, that I am still in this place, as faulty legislation in 2006 failed to confirm the right of members of the Commonwealth to sit in the House of Lords. I am most grateful for the support from all sides of the House, and I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who I see is in his place.
We have had many remarkable women Members, so many of whom have made interesting and unique contributions. Dora Gaitskell always sat with a hat on, and no matter how often people suggested that she take it off, she would just pull it tighter on her head. Lady Castle refused to wear her tricorn hat for her introduction, and of course no one wears a hat for introduction now.
There have been women Leaders of the House of Lords—first Lady Young, and four more since: the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay, Lady Amos and Lady Ashton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who is in the Chamber today. The first woman Chief Whip, for Labour, was Lady Llewelyn-Davies, and since then we have had the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Anelay. I know that there is no time to say more now. However, we have set a great example. We continue to work for, and hope to benefit, the women of the next generation. We should all bear that in mind and continue this work.
My Lords, I have often gazed down from the Public Gallery in some wonderment at this golden Chamber, and so it is with much humility, gratitude and a little surprise that I rise from these red Benches to speak. It is customary to thank the staff of the House and I genuinely want to do this, as in all the years that I have worked here they have always assisted me and, more remarkably still, never once arrested me—long may their indulgence continue.
I also thank my two supporters: my noble friend Lady Kinnock and my noble friend Lord Alli, of Norbury. Their support over many years has been so extraordinary to me on a personal level that it has provoked a reaction in me that borders on the devotional, so I will just leave it at that.
Another noble friend whom I would like to mention is the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. His is a story of rags to riches. From a poor working class family in the north of England, the noble Lord left school at 14, joined the Royal Marines at 17 and was wounded in the preparations for D-day. His membership of the Co-operative Party remarkably propelled him to become Prime Minister at the age of 21, pipping Pitt The Younger by three years. He was Prime Minister of the Tyneside Youth Parliament, before being demoted to be MP for Enfield. When I was studying A-level politics, I discovered that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, was my mum’s cousin. Given that I could not get into the Parliament and my class wanted to come and visit, I nagged him to show us around the place, and I have been hanging around ever since.
It is 14 years since I gave a maiden speech in Parliament and, not wishing to sound like a scratched record, I had genuinely hoped to break new ground and move beyond the limited territory of equalities issues. No such luck. Although this debate has been characterised by genuinely enlightened contributions on both sides, I have to be honest and say that we have been having these debates for so long, I sometimes find them claustrophobic, as though I was trapped inside a box—a small box. A small box with a tick on it. But I should not complain. I am great at ticking boxes. I tick loads of them. My dad is black, my mum is Jewish, my grandparents were Scottish, Irish, Hungarian, African-American and native American Indian—there are more ticks on my census form than on my mum’s German shepherd dog. I have tick-borne disease, but all these ticks make me think one thing—tick-tock.
At the current rate of progress, it will take 200 years to achieve an equal number of women in this Parliament. Come on, boys and girls, I know we don’t go in for revolution, but 200 years? This timeframe is, frankly, lazy. What happened to our work ethic? How long do we have to wait? How many speeches do we have to make? How many clauses do we have to debate? Although the previous Labour Government did what all Labour Governments have done and introduced groundbreaking equalities legislation for women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, gay people, older people, religious groups—basically, everyone—I am still shocked at how much ground is left to break.
Maybe that is because I grew up in a country where the head of state and the Prime Minister were both women and it was an article of faith to me that, in this country, unlike so much of the world, women no longer faced an uphill struggle. The facts presented in this debate prove that I was a misguided young woman. I thought that promoting equality was a matter of us tying up a few loose ends, not actually questioning the whole system. But since I have spent most of my adult life working inside a parliamentary rabbit hole, I realise that we must question the system. I have concluded that Britain is a wonderful country; and I prefer British politics to virtually all others. But having worked within the system all my life, I can say with clear-eyed conviction that our system needs radical repair. Our system is needlessly failing not just women—although they face the brunt of the problems at the moment—but failing children and men as well.
Repair is required in three principal areas. First, recognise that the equalities debate is for everyone, not just those of us with tick-borne disease. For example, all men in Britain today who desperately want to see their children more than they do, would benefit from greater gender equality at work and around childcare responsibilities. If the average man understood what gender equality meant for him, the average man would be a feminist.
Secondly, a gender analysis is the most effective way to reduce the harshest inequality of all: the inequality between those who are nurtured from birth, on the one hand, and those who are effectively abandoned, whose lives are thrown away before they reach the age of three.
Thirdly, the most effective way to improve outcomes in our system is to implement an old wives’ tale and listen to what our grandmothers said. They said that prevention is better than cure. This was the theme of my wonderfully ill-fated London mayoral campaign last year, the failure of which, thankfully, allowed me to wash up on these noble red Benches. I am ashamed to say that, at the time when I was harping on about early intervention, I had not read what I think is one of the most important contributions that any two Back-Benchers have made—they are men, but never mind; I shall give them credit. Graham Allen and Iain Duncan Smith’s report on early intervention is genuinely groundbreaking and I commend it to everyone.
Given the time limitations, I have discarded half my speech, but I want to tell your Lordships one last anecdote about a social worker that I heard of during the mayoral campaign last summer. The social worker was talking about Baby P, the 17 month-old boy whose 50 injuries included a broken back, broken ribs, his teeth kicked out, the tips of his fingers sliced off, his nails ripped out and so forth. The social worker noted that our entire country was united in an outpouring of grief and rage at the suffering of that poor soul. How different their responses would be, said the social worker, had Baby P survived. If Baby P had survived his horrific childhood of constant abuse, all the research indicates that, as an adult, unless he received intensive and expensive help, he would almost certainly have become a sex abuser, wife beater and paedophile. The whole country would have been united in an outpouring of rage against this monster and demanded that he be hanged by the neck. We need to reflect on the madness inherent not just in this system’s responses but in society’s responses to the ills around us.
I conclude by mentioning the fantastic EQUALS campaign, spearheaded by Annie Lennox—and why is it that we politicians have to rely on pop stars so often? That campaign pointed out that there is no doubt that women’s rights have come a long way since 1911, but women still only hold 19 per cent of the world’s parliamentary seats, only 9 per cent of the world’s leaders are women, women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work, produce over 50 per cent of the world’s food and yet only earn 10 per cent of the world’s income and own less than 1 per cent of the world’s property.
This House is renowned as a place of reflection. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing this debate, and on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, I hope that we can stop ticking boxes, start to think outside the box and secure gender equality for all.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to be the first of your noble Lordships to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady King, very warmly on her superb, engaging, entertaining, splendid maiden speech. Knowing a little about her illustrious career before joining your Lordships’ House, I knew that we could expect a speech reflecting the passionate commitment of the noble Baroness to fundamental values and passionate advocacy for justice, equality, poverty reduction and human rights. These passions were reflected, inter alia, in her membership of the International Development Select Committee in another place from 1997 to 2001 and her membership of many aid and advocacy organisations, including Oxfam, Amnesty International and UNICEF.
It is said that it was at Haverstock comprehensive school that Oona King first showed political ambition, telling her careers teacher that she wanted to become Prime Minister. Apparently, she was advised to become a librarian instead. I am sure we are all delighted that she stuck to her guns and pursued a political career. Her maiden speech in another place was acclaimed as,
“a truly first-class maiden speech”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/97; col. 173.]
I am sure the House will agree that the noble Baroness has achieved a repeat performance, treating us to another truly first-class maiden speech here today. We greatly look forward to benefiting from her passion, commitment and experience on many further occasions.
I now join all other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on this very timely debate, providing an opportunity to highlight some of the challenges confronting women today, as well as some of the initiatives, especially those undertaken by women, to address them. I will focus on challenges confronting women in just one part of the world, women who are largely off the radar screen of international awareness; those who live in the regions in Burma which I visited last week, the Shan, Karen and Karenni states. Their challenges and their suffering are replicated in many other parts of the world, especially areas affected by war and the aftermath of conflict.
The ethnic nationals of Burma, including the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Rohingya and Kachin peoples, comprise 40 per cent of the total population. Last week colleagues from Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust and I met the Shan leadership and were informed that the situation for the Shan people remains dire, as also for their Karen and Karenni neighbours. Military offensives by the brutal ruling military junta, the Orwellian-named State Peace and Development Council, continue unabated and have forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee from their homes into hiding or exile. Women are especially vulnerable, particularly those who are pregnant or caring for young children or the elderly, as they suffer the acute deprivations of life in hiding in the jungle. Unable to build shelters or light fires for fear of being seen by SPDC soldiers, they are constantly wet in the rainy season and suffer from severe cold at night. They live in constant fear of capture and abuse. A 17-year-old girl from Central Shan State told us:
“SPDC military troops would often come to my village. One day they caught my father, beat him and forced him to work for them as a porter. My dad never came home again. My mother was pregnant. We were forced to leave the village and my mum only lived for five days, then she died. I was on my own”.
I have recorded literally hundreds of such tragic stories, but in this centenary year of International Women’s Day, it is important also to appreciate responses by women with initiatives to alleviate suffering and to remedy root causes.
One example of such a response is the excellent organisation SWAN, the Shan Women’s Action Network, which undertakes advocacy and provides aid. For example, SWAN published Licence to Rape, a well researched document that exposed the SPDC’s policy of the use of rape as a weapon of war. SWAN has established several programmes to provide help for women, including crisis support and maternal and child health programmes. We visited some of its programmes, which we are privileged to support, and we are always deeply impressed by the dedication, courage and professionalism of the very committed women who give their lives—and indeed often risk their lives—to help women suffering in so many ways from the inhuman policies of the Burmese military junta.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on the recent reviews. In so doing, I express appreciation of DfID’s funding for SWAN and the retention of Burma as a country that DfID will continue to support. Will DfID also continue to support cross-border aid for displaced people suffering inside Burma? The previous reassurance on this issue gave great comfort to the thousands of people suffering inside that tragic land, and such help is still greatly needed as SPDC offensives continue and even more civilians will be driven from their villages to become exiles in their own land or to flee into in foreign lands.
This example of the challenges for women in Burma today is just one illustration of the perennial and continuing problems for many women in so many conflict zones in today’s world. The inspirational work of SWAN is just one example of the many responses by women for women that it is appropriate to acknowledge and celebrate in this centenary year of International Women’s Day.
My Lords, I feel doubly fortunate to be able to make my maiden speech in this debate to mark 100 years of International Women’s Day, first because it was introduced by my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, and secondly because I have been proud to call myself a feminist for some 40 of those 100 years. I was also fortunate to have as my supporters two formidable women, my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. I am grateful to them, to noble Lords from all sides of the House and to all the staff for their warm welcome and helpfulness.
I doubt whether many noble Lords have heard of Burtersett. It is a small village in beautiful Wensleydale where my grandparents lived during my childhood and which, as a keen walker, I still visit regularly. In taking this title, I wanted to acknowledge the county of my birth and my mother’s side of my family.
However, today I also want to remember my father who I know, as a refugee from Nazi Germany, would have been particularly proud to see me here. In remembering him, it saddens and angers me how we as a society often treat many of today’s seekers of asylum. Female asylum seekers are a group of women who are particularly challenged in both a global and a domestic context. The Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested that the treatment of asylum seekers often,
“falls below the … common law of humanity and of international human rights”.
The committee also expressed particular concern with regard to pregnant women. The national equality panel, of which I was a member, drew attention last year to,
“significant levels of hardship and even destitution “.
among asylum seekers, revealed by small studies but hidden by larger income surveys.
I want to use the rest of my speech to draw attention to another example of hidden poverty—that of women within families. Although domestically and globally women tend to bear the main brunt of poverty, this is often overlooked in our very proper concern with child poverty. Yet female and child poverty are closely linked, not least because women still typically manage poverty and, in trying to protect their children from its full impact, they act as poverty’s shock-absorbers.
I hope that I will not alarm noble Lords unduly when I say that I was once nearly thrown out of your Lordships’ House when sitting below the Bar. I was working for the Child Poverty Action Group, an organisation that I am now proud to serve as honorary president. The occasion was the consideration of a Social Security Act, and I squealed with joy when it was announced that the Government were withdrawing their proposal to pay family credit through the pay packet. The reason why we campaigned so strongly on that issue, with support from women of all political parties and none, was that the evidence indicated that, if money for children was transferred from the woman’s purse to the man’s wallet, it would be less likely to be spent on the children. Moreover, such a transfer would deprive mothers of an important independent source of income over which they had independent control. Unfortunately, this is a battle that we seem to have to fight periodically, as successive Governments overlook the importance of how income is shared within families. It is an issue that we face yet again with the proposed universal credit, as my noble friend Lady Gould has warned.
A number of research studies show that low-income women are more likely to go without basics than men living in the same households. Just the other week, I helped to launch the publication of a study of black and minority ethnic maternal poverty for Oxfam and the Angelou Centre in Newcastle. The study reveals considerable deprivation and, in a few cases, what the researcher calls “economic violence”, in which the woman has so little access to money that her freedom is severely curtailed. Other research illuminates how the stress created by poverty can undermine mothers’ ability to provide the kind of parenting that they want to. This can get overlooked in policy debates, which sometimes give the impression of blaming poor parents.
I have had the privilege, as both an academic and campaigner, to be able to draw attention to the reality of women’s poverty over the years. A colleague in the department of social sciences at Loughborough University reminded me of our responsibility to speak truth to power. I hope that I will fulfil that responsibility on behalf of women who are in fact better placed to speak that truth—and, with support, are more than able to do so—but who do not have access to power. As one such woman, involved with ATD Fourth World, said:
“We are powerless … not taken seriously, our voice not respected. I want to be heard, respected, my experience valued, not derided. Our voice can raise awareness of poverty and break the barriers down”.
My Lords, once again the whole House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing today’s debate and for giving us the opportunity for a cornucopia of maiden speeches from six quite remarkable women.
It is a real privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, in what I am sure the House will agree was a thoughtful and forceful maiden speech, a combination that is often difficult achieve. The noble Baroness came to your Lordships’ House in January. It is interesting that, like many of us, she has taken a title that reflects her pride in her origins. She comes to us as emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University after a career as a campaigner and an academic, which strikes me as a dangerous combination for the government Front Bench.
The noble Baroness’s links for many years with the Child Poverty Action Group, including eight years as director, have continued and she is now the honorary president. She is currently involved in two studies on poverty and social exclusion. Her whole career as an academic and her writings have focused very much on the areas of poverty, the social security system, citizenship and social justice. It is a body of work that I know she has brought to bear in a political context, and she has contributed much to Labour Party thinking in these areas over the years. Her work on feminism and equality is renowned and has made today a singularly appropriate day for her to make her maiden speech. I am sure that she will continue to make many valuable contributions to your Lordships’ House over the coming years.
I wish to say a few words about one particular aspect of recent events in the Middle East, which have made us all hold our breath from time to time. We have seen many striking images involving women and girls taking their place, marching and protesting side by side with the men. In these countries where the public sphere is so often dominated by men, this could be a real game-changer. There is a Facebook page called “Women of Egypt”, which has shown that is it not only not the preserve of men but not the preserve of middle-class women either. The photographs show a wonderful variety: grandmothers and young girls, veiled women and those with bare heads. On International Women’s Day, it is appropriate to reflect on how the role of women in the creation of these, we hope, new democracies in the Middle East and north Africa can be developed and enhanced. This is no small challenge in countries where women’s representation in national Parliaments is less than 10 per cent and where formal participation in the workforce, even now, is less than 30 per cent. There is institutionalised disadvantage and cultural prejudice. We cannot take it for granted that gender equality is an inevitable consequence of a move to a more democratic state.
As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, said, we need a legal underpinning for what is happening. One key component is for these changing countries to make special provision in their new constitutions to enshrine the rights of women. In Tunisia, women are present on each of the commissions which have been established to oversee the transition. By contrast, in Egypt, there are no women on the constitutional committee. That is in a country where the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights reported in 2008 that 83 per cent of women have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment, so no one need think that the disappearance of one man in a regime will change the culture overnight. We need them to get the constitution right as part of that building block.
It is very instructive to look at South Africa, where there were equal numbers of men and women on the constitutional committee and where women are acknowledged to have played a key role in dismantling the apartheid regime, particularly in ensuring that the consultative and inclusive processes involved women. That meant that sufficient focus was given to human security—to access to food and water, health, education, and personal safety.
There is much that we can do. I have been interested to read about the work of Lesley Abdela, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, mentioned previously in another context. Lesley Abdela has worked in post-conflict regions across the world. When she was working in Iraq, she helped to develop an approach on phrases that can be used in constitutions to guarantee the rights of women. Those can be translated quickly into Egyptian Arabic and into other languages and can play an important part. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on top of this and following it through, and there is of course a role for the EU and the UN.
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has a good track record in this regard. Five years ago, it helped to set up the Network of Arab Liberals, with HQs in Cairo and Casablanca. Several of my colleagues have made visits financed by the programme and Network of Arab Liberals members have been invited to party conferences. I know that these links which have been established between Liberal International and the Arab world are just one example of a whole network which already exists and which can be mobilised to move this region into the new phase of its history. We must all use the connections that we have to ensure dialogue, with women talking to women and young people talking to young people. We have an opportunity now to develop and nurture these new-born democratic structures. We must not let it slip by.
My Lords, I, too, join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for her ability in securing this debate, which gives us this welcome opportunity to comment—alas, all too briefly—on the global and domestic challenges women still face today.
On the UK front, I shall comment only on women on boards. It really is shaming that although it is almost 100 years since women had the right to vote and 40 years since the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, the percentage of women on the boards of the FTSE 100 companies remains as low as 12.5 per cent. If no further decisive action is taken, it has been estimated that it will take another 70 years to achieve gender balance on those boards. Although some of us might have preferred compulsory targets right now, the report by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, requiring these companies to set and publish 25 per cent targets for the percentage of women to be on their boards by 2015 clearly makes economic as well as equal opportunity sense as a next step.
Today, there are more women than men enrolled in universities in this country, and importantly, women in their 20s out-earn their male peers even if, as we all know—and we all know the reasons why—women still face a powerful glass ceiling as they move up that ladder. Yet, as a recent McKinsey report has found, companies with more women on their boards vastly outperform their rivals, with a 42 per cent higher return on sales and a 66 per cent higher return on invested capital. At least the Davies report contains a clear message that legislation will indeed follow if this voluntary approach fails, so let us congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and keep a close eye on what the Government intend to do about it.
Education on the same basis for male and female children is crucial to maximise the contribution women make for their own, their children’s and their country's benefit. In the UK, that has been the situation—with some uneven areas, of course—for many years. At the global level, particularly in developing countries, sadly the picture is very different, yet we all know it is in our interests to invest in girls and women’s education there too. Certainly, we can all be proud of the wide-ranging international aid work done in many areas of social need by organisations such as Save the Children, UNICEF and PLAN International.
Particularly important for its focus on girls’ education is the quite excellent report by PLAN International’s “Because I am a girl” programme, which highlights the role that girls and women can play in economic growth and the missed opportunities of failing to invest in their futures. PLAN’s report showed that countries with the lowest number of girls in education lie at the bottom of the human development tables. Further, it found that an extra year of education increases a girl’s income by 10 to 20 per cent and is a significant step on the road to breaking the cycle of poverty. With education, girls have a chance of a better life for themselves and for their children and one which will lead to a more prosperous community, a better workplace and a wealthier nation.
I am glad to say, too, that DfID's approach under the previous Government to this whole area has been encouraging and I gather it continues to be so under the coalition. Your Lordships will have seen the two major reviews from the department, published this week. In his covering letter, Andrew Mitchell, the coalition’s International Development Secretary, commits the Government to securing schooling for 11 million children in developing countries over the next four years. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is a firm commitment because, if achieved, DfID will certainly deserve our congratulations.
If that phrase “Education, education, education”, which we remember, is an acknowledged No. 1 priority for future generations of both sexes one other, equally vital, issue must be tackled for women and girls if they are to achieve equality and human rights. The UN Security Council’s Resolution 1325, aimed at fighting gender-based violence and conflict, among other issues, has apparently been much discussed this past week at the meeting in New York of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Although some progress is recognised, only 24 out of 195 countries worldwide have adopted a national action plan for women, peace and security. To put it bluntly, until it is no longer acceptable anywhere in the world for an army, whether a nation's official army or any rebel military group, to regard rape and violence against women and children as one of the spoils—indeed, the rewards—of war, we shall not achieve Resolution 1325 or all the objectives that we are fighting for.
My Lords, we have this afternoon heard many eloquent and passionate contributions about the challenges facing women at home and across the globe. It is a privilege to be able to join in. This is an issue to which I am delighted the Commonwealth will also be turning in a few weeks, when the theme for this year’s Commonwealth Day on 14 March is “Women as agents of change”. That title is spot on, particularly in the developing countries that I shall talk about. Women are so often drivers of societal change that investing in their advancement in education, healthcare and equal opportunities is one vital key to the acceleration of economic and cultural progress in the developing world.
The other agent of change is, of course, the free press. Here I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and a director of the Telegraph Media Group. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, in introducing this debate, was quite right to point out the issues of involving women in the decision-making process. That is nowhere more true than in the media. One of the most significant ways in which we can seek to ensure the continuing advancement of women is to see to it that their voice is properly and effectively heard in newspapers and magazines, and in the broadcast media, for that voice is the engine of progress. That means getting more women into journalism in developing countries. The more women reporters there are, who have direct experience of improving the position of women, the louder and clearer the message of how to foster lasting change will be heard, even in countries where there is still a great deal of repression. That change will embrace so many crucial issues including poverty, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. I say to my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint that it might even cover the coverage of sportswomen in the media.
Over the past few years there has been welcome progress in this area. India has started to promote women into senior positions in the media and Sri Lanka has had several women editors both in the past and, indeed, today. Pakistan is almost unique, particularly for an Islamic country, in that at one time or another almost every major newspaper has been edited by a woman. In many African countries, women are increasingly involved in positions of influence, particularly in the broadcast media. Let us celebrate that.
However, there is still a great deal more to do. While the average percentage of women journalists worldwide is estimated at 38 per cent, it is as low as 6 per cent in places such as Togo or Sri Lanka—despite the fact that there have been many women editors in the latter—and only just above 20 per cent in much of sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries, being a woman journalist brings real peril. In February of this year, Rwandan editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and her reporter Saidath Mukakibibi to seven, while their newspaper Your Voice was closed for six months, for criticising the president. These two courageous women are just the most recent examples of women journalists who have spoken out against brutal regimes and, undoubtedly because of their sex, suffered unduly and disproportionately harsh reprisals in an attempt to discredit them.
No wonder that in so many developing countries with traditional societies journalism is seen as too risky a career for young women, many of whom are actively discouraged by their families from taking up the trade. To counteract this, some forward-thinking media organisations, such as the Deccan Herald Group in India and Wijeya Newspapers Ltd in Sri Lanka, are increasingly implementing measures to alleviate these cultural concerns, including organising transport to and from offices, providing chaperones for women reporters interviewing men, and providing security in war zones.
On top of that, there needs to be substantial ongoing investment, in financial as well as cultural terms, in encouraging women into the media, ensuring that they are adequately trained, and enabling them to engage with their peers on issues not just of general concern but specifically those that impact on the health, welfare and prosperity of women. As we mark International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the progress that has been made in this area, understand the real scale of the challenges ahead, and determine to redouble our efforts to ensure that the voice of women in journalism is heard ever more loudly.
My Lords, I feel very privileged, not just to be present here as a new Member, but also because I shall have the honour of speaking for more then three minutes, which is more than I ever had in my 15 years serving in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, I will keep my contribution brief because I am keen to be back in Wales tonight to vote for further powers in the Welsh Assembly referendum.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, I would like to start by remembering Viscountess Rhondda. She was a Welsh suffragette who burnt a postbox to draw attention to her cause. She was imprisoned and went on hunger strike; she was such a nuisance, though, that they let her out in four days. She was never allowed to take up her seat in the House of Lords, as she would have been had she been a man. There are other feisty women from Wales like Jemima Nicholas, who repelled the French invasion of Fishguard, but I am glad to see this tradition of feisty Welsh females is alive and kicking in the House of Lords.
Despite this, my noble friend Lady Kinnock and I were only the sixth and seventh women in the history of Wales to be elected to full-time public office in 1994. It is great to be back together again, and I thank her and my noble friend Lady Royall for being my supporters. I thank noble Lords and staff for the warm welcome that I have been given since entering the House. It was particularly lovely to be greeted this morning by a Welsh-speaking policeman on my way in. It is a very different experience from entering the European Parliament as the youngest Member in 1994. In fact, I was just about to hit my mid-life crisis. I am happy to say that, on coming here, it suddenly abated.
We have come a long way in 100 years. Personally, hitherto, I think that I have probably benefitted career-wise from being a woman, but I recognise that that is exceptional. I, along with other women, have a responsibility to help others who have struggled because of their gender.
Women’s representation in politics in Wales has changed dramatically since 1994, but it took the establishment of the Assembly and the introduction of a gender-equal selection method by the Labour Party to go from probably the worst representation in the world to one of the best. We had more women in the Cabinet than we had men. That was absolutely unique in the world. Much thanks for this achievement must be given to my noble friend Lady Gale, who worked tirelessly as the general secretary of the Labour Party. She gained recognition and the accolade of Welsh Woman of the Year for her great work in this area. I thank her for tutoring me not just through my entrance into this place, but through the past 15 years. Recent political selections, however, for Westminster and the Assembly have demonstrated that unless we keep the foot on the pedal we will revert to the previous trend.
Economically and educationally, women are more powerful than ever. The Economist has stated that over past decades women have contributed more to the expansion of the world economy than technology or emerging markets. This fact is generally ignored. Now, however, we are experiencing the most severe recession since the great depression, with dire consequences for women across the globe. There is a real danger that we will see a pushback on the gains that we have seen in recent decades.
The European Commission, in its 2009 report on inequality, stated that the economic slowdown was likely to affect women more than men. In the past, women’s concentration in the public sector has helped protect women from the initial impact of a recession. Not this time. Almost half the women who work in Merseyside are employed in the NHS, schools or the caring professions. In Greater Manchester, the figure is two out of five. Cuts to children’s services are likely to make life very difficult for many women.
How was the recession caused? Literally, it was a manmade disaster. Women need to be included in formulating the response. So far, there is not much sign of that. All 27 out of 27 central bank governors of the EU are men.
These great upheavals, however, offer us opportunities. We can learn lessons from elsewhere. If you look at what has happened in Iceland, for example, you can see that this has fuelled the transformation in the way that the economy is driven. It has turned the key levers of finance over to women. It has a female Prime Minister. A woman heads up two of the major banks there. In Iceland, risk awareness, profit with principles, emotional capital and sustainable growth are not fashionable buzzwords, but are accepted as a part of good business.
We have come a long way since Viscountess Rhondda took her stance. Of course, we can go further, but let us not let the centenary pass without recognising the immense strides that have been taken in the past century. I thank my noble friend Lady Gould for introducing this debate, and I look forward to making many more contributions in this House.
My Lords, I offer warm praise for the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely—that is, Ely in Cardiff. We were fellow Labour Members of the European Parliament for 15 years, as she has said. She is, and will remain, a deeply cherished and admired friend. In 1994, when we both became MEPs, she was, as she said, the youngest Member. I never ceased to be impressed by the way that she juggled travelling to and from Brussels and Strasbourg with caring for two young and delightful children. Her fine maiden speech has shown her qualities of energy and passion for justice and she is a formidable feminist. She is forthright, feisty and steeped in politics. Her father was a very political vicar in Cardiff. She grew up in Ely, often sharing the vicarage with needy members of her father’s flock. Today she has shown that energy and passion, which I have grown to love, and her determination to continue to fight for justice, which I know will be valued by us all on all sides of the House.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, not just for initiating the debate but for her unrelenting and unwavering support and fight for the rights of women. In 1911, women and men celebrated the first International Women’s Day. At that time, life expectancy for women in Britain was 55. They did not have the right to vote and certainly my grandmothers lived a life of toil and drudgery with little education or healthcare.
Gender discrimination is pervasive and pernicious and to varying degrees women and girls simply do not enjoy equal access to resources, opportunities and political power in any region of our world. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty and violence and make up most of the world’s poor and illiterate people. The millennium development goal targets will not be met in any of the countries where the needs and status of women are a low priority. Does the Minister agree that gender equity, given the multiplier effect it has on the MDGs, is the most important linkage that we need to address?
I have met many wonderful women across the world who courageously oppose discrimination and tyranny and who face terrible reprisals for their pains. Surely no history, religion or cultural tradition can justify any tolerance of the injustice and inequality that millions of women face. We see what Hillary Clinton has called a “pandemic of violence” against women. Mass rape is routinely used as a weapon of war and far too often impunity prevails. I have met and talked to women in Darfur who have been raped and abused as they collected firewood outside their camps, and to women in the eastern Congo who have been raped on their way home from market. What does one say to such tortured, impoverished and war-weary women who know that they have no judicial redress and that they will live with that stigma for the rest of their lives? The women that I met in the Congo had been brutally raped and left for dead. Dr Mukwege operates in the Panzi hospital on something like 3,500 women a year who have been raped. On his lapel he wears a badge which says, “Don’t stand idly by”. I will never forget those women or, most of all, the concern that they showed not for themselves but for what had happened to their missing children.
In south Sudan last week the all-party parliamentary group met parliamentarians, including a number of women, who looked forward to a future which guaranteed a secular state with a strong commitment to equal treatment and positive measures to ensure the selection and election of women. However, that new country will face enormous challenges and expectations are high. In south Sudan a 15 year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than she does of finishing primary school. We visited the hospital in Juba where the major cause of death in childbirth is haemorrhaging. Many women die but there is no blood bank in that hospital with which to save them. In the north we met women in Khartoum who told us about a retrenchment of fundamentalist views and an even greater imposition of draconian laws driven by a religious ideology intent on oppressing women. Will the Government urgently respond to these concerns? These are surely strong reasons why we need the United Nations women’s agency to be up and running. It is simply not acceptable for the Government to postpone making a firm funding pledge until the board meeting in June when UN Women will present its first annual plan. How is UN Women meant to prepare, hire staff and open regional offices when it has no predictable funding from donors such as the UK in this transitional period? Equity for women is clearly a matter of justice but we should confirm today that it is also a political, economic and social imperative.
My Lords, I fear that I need to remind noble Lords and noble Baronesses that this is a timed debate and that we will run into difficulty if speakers take longer than their allotted time. That will eat into the time that the Minister has to respond to so many splendid speeches, so I hope that speakers will be succinct.
My Lords, after hearing so many truly inspiring maiden speeches and many terrifically moving speeches, I want to look inwards a little into what this House, and the women in it, can do given the increased number of talented female Peers who have entered the House. It falls on our shoulders to ensure that no subjects debated in this House should be regarded as “boys’ subjects”. On 12 November last year, this House debated the defence and security review. That debate had a similar number of speakers to today’s debate—some 40—but less than a handful of women spoke. However, almost nothing will affect our sisters throughout the world more than our attitude to war and conflict. Not even our attitude to trade and aid is more influential than how we choose to deploy our military strength, or, indeed, whether we choose to develop or deploy it at all. That should be a burning issue for debate among us women as women throughout the world directly suffer the consequences of our action or lack of action.
I was extremely pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady King of Bow, say that we should not let everything remain the same and that things have changed far too slowly. I suggest that we have been far too slow to change our attitude to war and conflict. The arms trade treaty that was published in draft in February offers a tremendous opportunity to effect world change. I hope that the UK’s contribution to that treaty will continue to be as energetic as it should be. However, the draft contains no direct reference to the effect of arms and small arms, particularly on women. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, spoke movingly about the effect of conflict on women in places such as the DRC. That treaty would be strengthened with that sort of reference.
Many of these problems can be solved by women themselves. They have the knowledge to do so, but the problem, as many speakers have said, is political representation—19 per cent representation across the world is not nearly good enough. No matter what approach we take to other issues, it will only ever be a sticking plaster to cover those problems until women themselves are in a position of power in their Governments to solve them.
I, too, commend the work of Lesley Abdela, who was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Gardner of Parkes and Lady Scott of Needham Market. Lesley Abdela has worked her whole life to improve women’s political position throughout the world. Even now, she is working on the Egyptian issue. She should certainly be in this House, but that would take her away from her front-line job; perhaps it is lucky for the women of the world that she is not here.
Lastly, I shall comment on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mWomen initiative, which is putting mobile phone technology into the hands of women. An all-woman technology delegation has gone this very week to Liberia and Sierra Leone to promote putting technology into the hands of women to enable them to communicate better. It is a particularly useful initiative, because communication is the first step on the road to political power.
My Lords, many of you will have heard of HeLa cells, but perhaps not. HeLa cell lines are human cancer cell lines that were first grown in 1951 and which, 60 years later, are still growing in laboratories worldwide. They have been and still are used for research into finding cures for diseases. Research using HeLa cells has led to the development of vaccines for polio and the treatment of cervical cancer, to name only two areas. The cells are also used to treat diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, leukaemia and many others. Some 18,000 patents have been registered using modified HeLa cell lines, and have provided industry with hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue. Several Nobel prizes have been awarded to scientists who used HeLa cells for research. Each and every one of us has benefited from cures for and the prevention of disease as a result of research on HeLa cells.
HeLa cells are so called because they were originally obtained from Henrietta Lacks—without her consent. She died at the age of 31 from an aggressive form of cervical cancer in Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. She was a black woman descended from slaves. She was born in poverty, lived in poverty, was uneducated and, being black in the southern USA, was treated as an inferior human being. A few months before her death, she attended Johns Hopkins Hospital because she felt a growth and was suffering pain. The doctor who saw her took two specimen samples of tissue from her growth—one was for pathology diagnosis, the second he passed to a scientist carrying out research in growing human cells outside the body. Most cells obtained from other tissue samples died after a few days, but not Henrietta Lacks’ cells. Their number doubled within 24 hours and kept doubling, even in subsets, every 24 hours. They have been doing that ever since for the past 60 years. Tons of HeLa cells have been grown in laboratories worldwide over the past 60 years. Henrietta Lacks was recognised last year by a tombstone near where she might have been buried—no one knows exactly where she is buried.
It is time for humanity to pay back the debt to Henrietta Lacks. How? Every two minutes in the world a woman dies of cervical cancer. More than 500,000 women develop cervical cancer every year, the majority in countries in Africa and Asia. To a majority of young girls in the world, a cervical cancer vaccine to prevent that disease is not available because it is too costly for those countries to buy and set up programmes such as those we have here. There is an opportunity for us to do so today, and the Minister, without any cost to the UK Government, could launch a UN fund to which we should all contribute—including the industry, which has made billions of dollars in revenue. We should launch a global Henrietta Lack fund to treat women with cervical cancer and prevent it developing.
My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on securing this debate. It is a real privilege to participate in it with so many distinguished noble Baronesses. I confess that until recently I did not know that there was such a thing as International Women’s Day. When I found out about it, I was a bit disappointed, because to my mind every day is women’s day. If it is not, it should be.
Women are different from men, and I state the obvious because we as women are underselling that fact as our USP. In the recent report by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, about women on boards, the most interesting aspect, which did not get enough attention when the report was published, was not that more women should be on boards but that having more experienced and successful women on boards is important to business. The answer, it seems, is that more of us equals more commercial success.
I will not repeat the evidence in that report, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, referred, but it showed that we women bring not just equal ability but something different to the table. When we get on to those boards, or arrive anywhere, what is it about us that makes a difference? The noble Lord, Lord Sugar, perhaps gave us a clue when he talked about his experience of women executives being more focused and lacking in ego in the way that they made their contributions to his organisations. Perhaps we will never have a clear answer to the question, and the simple fact that we make a positive impact might be reason enough.
However, something is getting in the way of us achieving the access that we need to make a difference in more of those major corporations—a difference that would be in everyone’s interest. There is recent evidence from research taken among women managers already working in big organisations that low self-confidence is creating a barrier to their chances of reaching the boardroom. However, the same cannot be said for all women. Indeed, increasing numbers of younger women in particular are aspiring to run their own businesses.
It seems that when we can control the criteria that determine our success, little gets in our way. I do not think that we as women need more self-confidence in our ability, we just need to be more confident that the choices we make and the priorities we have as women reinforce what makes us different, and therefore valuable. We also need more confidence that those who control the channels of opportunity, especially in big business, want successful and able women from all backgrounds to put themselves forward.
Finally, I will mention a small group of women in Nottingham who I know well. So that they know I am talking about them, because they tell me that they are following my progress, I shall share with noble Lords the name they jokingly give themselves. They call themselves the riff-raff girls. Between them they have won battles with cancer, and they have coped with widowhood, some of them at a young age when they still had young families, with the loss of close family members in tragic circumstances, some of them including their children, and with the other kinds of everyday trials and tribulations that ordinary women with modest incomes face and cope with all the time. What makes these ladies so special—and I stress the word “ladies”, as these women, most of whom are pensioners, are most certainly not riff-raff—is their zest and joy for life. These women face challenges every day, but they never let that get in the way of having an honest good time. I would like to dedicate my speech in this debate about women to those very special ladies.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton for instigating this centennial debate and for all her work on behalf of women over many decades, including her expert chairing of the Women’s National Commission, which I, too, had the privilege to chair between 1999 and 2002 before handing over to the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser.
It is a very great shame that, as we celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day, we also acknowledge the demise, in the past few months, of the Women’s National Commission, a body that has represented the entire women’s voluntary sector since the Wilson Government, and through all Governments until now. I have to say to the Minister, who I know takes her brief very seriously, that abolishing the WNC will be seen as short-sighted, not only in the years to come but now, with the Government’s current promotion of concepts such as the big society, which we know can work only if it is organised and driven by women.
In the course of 100 years, women’s lives in this country have changed out of all recognition. Hugely improved health and education systems, universal suffrage, access to family planning, and some control over economic independence through entry to the labour market, all add up to incredible progress. Yet before we become too self-congratulatory, we have only to look at the hard facts in any area of UK life to pull us up short. In the political arena, for instance, we see that, since women gained the vote, there have only ever been 32 female Cabinet Ministers—32, my Lords, in 82 years. I am proud that 21 of those were Labour Cabinet Ministers, and that former Cabinet Ministers are taking part in this debate, but the shortness of the list is derisory, spanning as it does two centuries.
In the world of work, women are still vulnerable, despite many advances. The present speed and scale of public sector cuts is not helping that vulnerability. The recent labour force survey finds that the cuts will lead to hundreds of thousands of job losses for women, as my noble friend Lady Morgan has said, because women form 53 per cent of the jobs in public sector services that have not been protected from the cuts. These are all held by women. It is clear that, despite the coalition’s expectation that,
“all sections of society who are able to contribute to deficit reduction should do so”,
women are bearing the brunt of the present cuts.
Finally, I briefly mention the world of the boardroom, as mentioned by several others this morning. I very much welcome the report of my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch, Women on Boards. It is a vital contribution to the debate on achieving more women in decision-making roles in our economy. Since the crash of 2008, a much wider pool of executive talent is needed more urgently than ever. As my noble friend points out, only 12.5 per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies are presently women. This is not a statistic of which any of us can be proud. Does the Minister agree that companies and CEOs will take the problem of a lack of diversity on company boards seriously only if the spectre of legislation casts its shadow over them? Would she also give the House some idea of how the Government intend to respond to my noble friend’s 10 recommendations, especially as boards and chairmen are being asked to announce their goals in response to his report within the next six months?
This has so far been a positive, expert, useful and sparkling debate, with wonderful maiden speeches. If we ask ourselves how women have fared in the past 100 years, the reply of Mao Tse-Tung, when he was asked what the lessons of the French Revolution were, would suffice: “It is too soon to tell”.
My Lords, I am delighted that your Lordships’ House is debating the global and domestic challenges of women to mark this year’s International Women’s Day. I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould.
I will focus on widows around the world who are poor, illiterate, unable to find work, and disadvantaged. In 2008, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, widely known as Chatham House, conducted a survey on widows. It found that discrimination against widows is widespread, and a global problem, as they are treated worse than the general female population.
I declare my interest as the founder and chairman trustee of the Loomba Foundation, a UN-accredited global charity that has raised awareness of the plight of widows around the world since 1997, when it was established in the UK. Last year, we commissioned a comprehensive research study on widows, which revealed that there are over 245 million widows, and 500 million children, who suffer in silence. One hundred million widows live in poverty, struggling to survive, and 1.5 million children of widows will die before they reach their fifth birthday. It also revealed that widowed women experience targeted murder, rape, prostitution, forced marriage, property theft, eviction, social isolation, and physical and psychological abuse. Children of widows face horrors such as child marriage, illiteracy, loss of schooling, forced labour, human trafficking, homelessness and rape.
Without a doubt, it is a huge problem that has not been adequately addressed by the UN or any nation so far. Unfortunately, the number of widows is increasing in the world, mainly through poverty, HIV/AIDS and conflict. We can see that the conflict in Libya will sadly leave many women as widows. In Afghanistan, due to the war, there are more than 2 million widows in a country with a population of just 26.6 million. Afghan widows are often displaced from their homes by their in-laws.
I am happy to say that, through our tireless campaign, last year the United Nations declared 23 June as International Widows Day, which was initially launched by the Loomba Foundation here at the House of Lords in 2005. The UN-recognised International Widows Day is an effective platform for national Governments, NGOs, corporates and individuals to focus on to highlight the plight of impoverished widows throughout the world. It is, indeed, the commencement of a journey to restore widows’ rights and dignity, and to empower them, that will also enable the UN to meet the millennium development goals on extreme poverty, healthcare, education, equality and empowerment. For too long, widows have been neglected and sidelined in the policy-making process. They must be at the heart of this process.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, not just for opening the debate in such a splendid way but for bringing it to the Floor of your Lordships’ House today. She mentioned the 1990 UN Conference on Women, which I was very privileged to attend as government co-chairman of the Women’s National Commission. It is worth reflecting that although that was just 16 years ago, much of the debate at that time was around the fate of the girl child, recognising that in some parts of the world simply to be born female was almost an automatic death sentence. We might feel 16 years later that we have moved on, and in many ways we have. Looking at the Government’s programme on UK aid over the next four years, which other contributors have mentioned today, it is very encouraging to see that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has the theme of the needs of girls and women going through that document and statement. Others have mentioned individual parts of it—the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, mentioned it in her remarks. I was pleased to see that the Government intend to focus on issues such as the number of women whose lives are lost, some at a very early age through pregnancy and childbirth.
We have been fortunate in this country in successive Secretaries of State at DfID who have grasped the agenda and kept the focus. The Government have set priorities for women’s health, for example. Women need to be assisted to become more economically able through programmes that sometimes seem to us in the West rather small steps, such as allowing and enabling women to set up very small-scale businesses through which they can sell some of what they produce to get them out of the downward cycle that ultimately for many leads to ill health for them and their families, and all too often death. These are big issues. In some ways they make the needs that we try to fight for as women in this country almost insignificant when we are still talking of so many millions of people, particularly women and children, for whom every day is a battle for life or death in one way or another.
Having set that down as my opening remarks, I will move on to some domestic agendas. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that coming out of the UN Conference on Women was something that we described back in 1995 as the mainstreaming of issues for women through government departments. I would like her to take that on board. I am sad that the Government have decided that the Women’s National Commission should be abolished, and I hope that they will reflect on that. I also hope that my noble friend will take back to the Government what has happened to the the need that was identified in 1995 to look at every policy that a Government produce and ask how it impacts on women. To benchmark women is not an expensive exercise; it does not need a big budget, just a change of practice. All government departments would benefit from reintroducing that and making sure that it works.
Having represented a very rural seat—sadly no longer there—in the heart of God’s own county, Devon, for many years, I am familiar with the needs of women in rural communities. Many of the issues that I hope will be at the top of the Government’s priority list domestically are domestic violence and the difficulties of women, particularly in remote rural areas where they do not take their part in society even now, as many of us are able to do. Rural isolation is a big problem for many, particularly women. If you live in a very remote farmhouse that is accessible only by private transport and you are the victim of domestic violence, it is difficult to get out of the house and seek help, even if you are strong enough to do that. I hope that the Government will take on board the need to identify those women in their locations and that they will benchmark that in the way in which they have given priority to overseas aid.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Gould for this debate today. She really is an inspiration to us all.
I want to speak about the global challenge faced by one woman in particular. She is one of the most remarkable people it has been my privilege to meet. Her name is Sarah de Carvalho and she is the key founder of Happy Child International, an organisation that was established in 1993 to help street children in Brazil. Its aim is to rescue, restore and reintegrate these children into their families and society and to save them from dangerous and violent street life, especially child prostitution.
Sarah began her work by establishing a mission in Belo Horizonte, which is in the south of Brazil. After 18 years of operations, this mission is now completely self-funding and has a local team of 60 staff. The mission has so far rescued more than 8,000 street children. The model of Belo Horizonte is now being replicated in Recife in north-east Brazil where girls as young as 10 are engaging in prostitution for the price of a meal—approximately £1.50 in our terms. Many of their clients are from Europe, and political recognition of this fact is needed to really tackle the global problem of child prostitution, which sadly is on the rise.
I witnessed the phenomenon of child prostitution when I visited north-east Brazil a few years ago. The sight of these young vulnerable children being used by their pimps to entice men who had arrived on the rich tourist cruise ships is one that I have never forgotten. This memory is just one of the reasons why I have become the proud patron of Happy Child International. Currently there are no projects to help the young girls who inevitably have their babies in the street. That is why the plans for the Recife mission include a maternity unit.
Another major reason why I am patron of Happy Child International is Sarah herself. I said earlier that Sarah is remarkable, which is a great understatement. She is totally dedicated to her work raising money for her projects to house homeless girls and teach them how to form proper relationships with other human beings. She works with individuals and organisations to do this. Sarah and her team have brought hope and happiness to children who have had little other happiness in their young lives. It is more than 200 years since slavery was abolished in the UK, yet children are still enslaved in Brazil to enforced prostitution, violent gangs and abuse by adults. Happy Child International believes that there are 12 major evils facing a Brazilian street child: violence, poverty, prostitution, fear, criminal gangs, abuse, drugs, exploitation, abandonment, loneliness, despair, and finally death.
Despite efforts of the Lula Government and the current Government, Brazil still contains far too many street children. In the run-up to two important future events in Brazil—the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016—the prospect of more young girls becoming prostitutes is high. That is why Happy Child International is determined to continue its work in Recife. It is also planning to open a third city mission in Africa, which links in with the fact that most of the Brazilian street children today are the descendents of African slaves, mainly from Angola and Mozambique.
About the future, Sarah says:
“Our work in Brazil and Africa over the years ahead will be tough and the challenges many, but nothing compares with seeing a life transformed from the hopelessness of the streets to a life of stability, love and opportunity”.
On International Women’s Day, let us celebrate this woman and this organisation, which are making a difference in a difficult world.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate and thank the noble Baroness for securing it, as it celebrates the victories and challenges that women have faced and are facing across the globe. I congratulate all noble Baronesses on their excellent maiden speeches, which highlight the great contribution that women have made to society.
Over 100 years ago, here in Britain, women fought and died to get the vote, to get their voices heard. In 1955, my dear friend and mentor Lady Lothian, who was fondly known as Tony, co-created the Women of the Year Lunch, to celebrate women's professional achievements. I was proud to be chair of the lunch for five years, and I am pleased to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, now presides over the lunch.
In the 1960s, the feminist, bra-burning, women's lib movement set the scene and signalled the beginning of real change towards equality. Huge advances were made; hard-working women such as my mother and many others made sacrifices for their daughters in order for them to succeed. We are all aware that it has taken longer for some individuals and organisations to embrace change. Nevertheless, real change has been made, and many women have crossed that invisible barrier. They are educated, influential and powerful in many areas of society. But we all know that there are still many women yet to make that quantum leap. Some are facing numerous challenges—of abuse of every kind, trying to keep their families together, watching their sons dying from gun and knife crime and wars. But many have not given up hope; they are fighting back; they are survivors and nurturers. Some have set up projects to change young people's attitudes, and are succeeding.
Despite all this progress, here we are in the 21st century, on the eve of the centenary of International Women's Day, witnessing an avalanche of imagery and media promotion of highly sexualised behaviour by women. Children and young people are being influenced so strongly to believe that fame, riches and happiness can be achieved by using sex as a commodity. We all know that the sexual exploitation of women is ageless but, in recent times, the globalisation of the media—and that includes the internet—has led to an explosion of the sexual objectification of women. Women are being encouraged, paid and enticed to portray themselves in more and more explicit sexual ways, and the media are all too happy to give them the platform to do so. There are even websites where young girls advertise for sugar daddies. I am sad to say women have been commercialised and used both to objectify women and to make money.
Of course, many of the organisations which employ women in this way are owned and run by men. The odd thing is that many of the women involved will argue that they are liberated and free to choose what they do. But I believe there is a strong element of powerful persuasion at work which makes many women consider that this path is the only way in which to become successful, especially nowadays in the pop music industry, where some of the performances and videos are so sexually explicit. Recent studies have shown that many young girls are so heavily influenced by the success of glamour models, footballers’ wives, pop singers and talent show singers that they aspire to join their ranks rather than follow a career in teaching, law, medicine, science or technology. They just want to be rich and famous. Of course, the reality is that glamour, fame and fortune, social gratification and success are rarely the reward.
My main worry is that, while all this is happening, children and young people are soaking up the imagery and accepting the messages and culture they portray as the norm. In the era in which we now live, children and young people are losing their innocence far too early as they are exposed relentlessly to this sex-object culture. I am sure that the valiant women who over the decades fought and sacrificed to win equality and recognition for women's place in society would be appalled by the way in which many women in the 21st century allow themselves to be exploited, degraded and manipulated.
I believe we have opened a Pandora’s box. Things have been taken to the extreme and, sadly, I have no answer as to how we can reverse the trend in the sexual objectification of women, and how to protect our children against its influence. But I do know that the global and domestic challenge is for women to join together and lead the fight against it, and to put frameworks in place to address the problem—to go all-out to promote positive role models, and for women to stop allowing themselves to be exploited by the culture of sexualisation for the sake of their daughters and their granddaughters. If they do not, where will it end?
My Lords, I, too, must start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for initiating this debate, and by congratulating all six of today’s maiden speakers for treating us to such inspiring and interesting maiden speeches.
I want to raise two questions about women and the United Nations. The first concerns Security Council Resolution 1325, about the role of women in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction. This is an issue that I have raised in your Lordships' House before, because I have been concerned that the Government have not been doing all that they could do to help to implement the resolution—for example, by nominating sufficient well qualified women for specialist posts. I am pleased that the Government have published the national action plan on implementing the resolution, but several NGOs, not least the United Nations Association of the UK, still have concerns. One of these is the perceived lack of senior-level leadership behind the plan. Can the Minister reassure the House on that point? The second concern is about cross-departmental co-ordination, which is an obvious need. What mechanisms will be used to achieve this? Thirdly, can the Minister say what funding has been specifically allocated to backing the action plan?
The question of funding also lies at the heart of the second issue I want to raise—the resourcing of the new agency, UN Women, which the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould and Lady Kinnock, have mentioned. Leading NGOs, including UNA-UK and Voluntary Service Overseas, have called on the Government to clarify their position as a supporter of this new agency and to commit the resources which will allow it to fulfil its purpose. I strongly associate myself with these requests and ask the Minister to make it a matter of urgency to clear up this uncertainty over the financial viability of UN Women. The agency has, after all, only just been launched and provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UN to improve the livelihoods of women around the world.
Despite the advances and advantages of life in the 21st century for all of us in this Chamber, globally 1,000 women still die each day in pregnancy or childbirth. Violence against women accounts for more deaths among women between 15 and 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. In Peru alone, a country with which I am proud to be associated on behalf of VSO’s projects on access to justice for victims of domestic violence, an astonishing 50 per cent of women and girls have been subject to violence during their lifetime—the majority of them when they were aged between 10 and 17. Only five months ago, there was a powerful joint statement by the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Development Secretary, declaring an expectation that the new agency, UN Women, would be,
“a beacon for strong, positive leadership to promote women's rights across the whole UN system”.
But we cannot expect only other Governments to provide UN Women with resources to fulfil that purpose. The sad truth is that it is already facing a shortfall of $300 million. Its target budget of $500 million is in any case only a fraction of the more than $3 billion allocated to UNICEF, and VSO for one has calculated that a more realistic budget would be at least $1 billion a year. Even that would still account for just 4 per cent of all UN spending.
I share VSO's view that the emphasis the coalition Government have placed on women and girls as target groups in development policy is to be warmly welcomed. But will the Minister today undertake to respond positively to the Godmothers campaign being spearheaded by VSO to secure an annual core funding commitment of £21 million from the UK Government to the new UN Women agency? That would represent just 0.2 per cent of the UK's overseas aid budget, so it cannot be dismissed as just an extravagant demand in times of financial restraint. It would show the kind of leadership that could help leverage similar commitments from other major donors.
My Lords, in this centenary year, it gives me the greatest pleasure to congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for instigating this annual debate. She contributes on women's issues whenever she gets the opportunity and shares her passion and wide knowledge with the House.
It is always good to take stock once a year and see where the country has come from and where we hope to be going in the years ahead. I wish to honour again Emmeline Pankhurst and her brave army of suffragettes who endured so much in their efforts to ensure universal suffrage and for the first time entitle women to cast their votes in the ballot box. I went as a five year-old with my grandmother to the polling station and was left outside as I was not allowed in. She told me with great force that I must always use my vote because she had had to wait so many years before she had had the opportunity. As a result, I have treasured that right and always pass the message on whenever I am on the doorstep.
Over the years, women's role in society has changed out of all recognition, with women now holding high office in every sphere of society and public life. That has been accomplished in spite of expectations that it can be done while mothers juggle all the responsibilities of bringing up a family. I marvel at the dexterity of so many energetic young women as they appear to manage it all and still look a million dollars. I wonder, however, if too much is expected. Some may thrive on their hectic lives, but for some, the pull of motherhood at home with young children can put an enormous strain on the rest of the family. There should be much more flexibility so that, particularly with children under school age, mothers can enjoy those few cherished years before children fly away. I am always sceptical about the phrase “Yes, you can have it all”. Giving birth is a precious gift that only women have and rearing children should be regarded as an important qualification for future employment. Skills are acquired along the way so it is not surprising that a large number of women start their own businesses and nearly always make a huge success at them. I am sure that such women would have much to add to the boardroom.
Quotas are anathema. They are so patronising and demeaning to women, who should be appointed because they have the talent and skills required by a company rather than just because they are women. Each generation has its thrusters. I support them wholeheartedly and we need them to carry on the thrust forward. I hope that we will always be compassionate: a society where family life will be respected so that everyone flourishes and not one where everyone is in a straitjacket and expected to fit into a narrow uniformity. This country flourishes on its diversity and it is our responsibility to ensure that it remains so.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend on opening the debate, which she has done for more years than I care to remember. She commands such respect and affection that the other Labour Peers appointed with her, all two of us, have always supported her in this debate on International Women's Day.
In the early days, we discussed challenges such as the barriers to women in the caring professions, now reinvented as the big society. As others have reminded us, today we have a report on the barriers that women face on getting onto the boards of the FTSE 100 companies. That illustrates the progress made in our expectations of women, but also confirms that many barriers remain. But is that all that women really need or want in the world of business? Surely, it is also important that women should be where the action is, playing their part as executives in a business rather than as the token directors on the board.
The boards of our major companies are important in today's world, but tomorrow's world of business is rapidly emerging. Surely that is where we want our best brains and those special skills that women bring—skills about which my noble friend Lord Sugar and the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, spoke. New business models are springing up everywhere in finance and in searching and using the internet. There are new business models incorporating climate change, new science, and the so-called experience economy. I hope that the Minister agrees with me that that is where women must be to play their full roles.
Other speakers have shown that in today's world there are special dangers for women. When women joined the armed services they were not expected to fight on the front line, but in today's conflict who knows where the front line is? As a result, we are slowly learning of the extra bravery shown by women in our Armed Forces.
As others have said, sexual violence itself has become a tool of war. Women reporters must also show this extra bravery. The noble Lord, Lord Black, told us how women reporters encounter special abuse, especially when things are in turmoil. Among all the excitement, who noticed that a woman CBS reporter was sexually assaulted in Cairo? You cannot just leave this to men. It is equally important to report the impact of revolution and change on the lives of women as on the lives of men.
As my noble friend Lady Gould said, the Labour Government recognised the special dangers and barriers that women face because of their gender. Do the new Government recognise and acknowledge these barriers, and will they continue the good work of the previous Government?
My Lords, first, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Gould for initiating this debate and for her tireless work for women over many years.
The theme of this year's Commission on the Status of Women that is currently taking place at the UN is:
“Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women's equal access to full employment and decent work”.
That seems like a good starting point for today's debate in terms of how the UK is measuring up to those goals.
Overall, the past decade has been a great success story for girls in education. They do better than boys at basic standards of literacy and numeracy at age 11 and are leaving boys behind in terms of their attainment at GCSE and A-levels. In addition, in 2008-09, for the first time, more than 50 per cent of young women entered higher education, compared to only 40 per cent of young men. However, behind those statistics are some major causes for concern, because, in the UK, women continue to be underrepresented on courses for physical science, technologies, mathematical and computer science and engineering. In fact, in some areas, we are going backwards. For example, five years ago, 24 per cent of computer science students were women, whereas now the figure is only 19 per cent. Meanwhile, women increasingly dominate more traditional female subjects such as teacher training, where they now make up 76 per cent of students and where 85 per cent of primary school teachers are now female, and nursing and nutrition, where women make up 82 per cent of students. Women are also overrepresented in arts and humanities degrees.
I have talked a lot about students, but these same issues run throughout the education system. A recent report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which looked at the career aspirations of 14 to 18 year-olds, found that the top three jobs that girls believe that they would be working in were teaching, childcare and beauty. At a time when we have much to celebrate about women's success in education, there are also considerable concerns about the subject choices that they make and the consequences for their future careers. Of course, there are numerous reasons why girls make those choices. Parental aspiration and peer pressure clearly play a role, as do the media and celebrity portrayals, but in terms of practical politics, there are things that the Government could be doing now to open up new opportunities for girls at school. I have time for just a few examples.
First, there is evidence that career and subject advice in schools continues to stereotype pupil choices and needs to broaden the offer, both academically and vocationally. Secondly, more needs to be done to encourage young men to become primary school teachers. That could help develop alternative role models and perhaps facilitate better teaching of science and technology at that early age. Thirdly, a programme to raise the educational attainment of working-class girls should be introduced to help to break the cycle of early motherhood, low parental skills, low family income and high unemployment. Fourthly, the Government should rethink their plans to abolish coursework and re-emphasise exams at GCSE level, as that will disadvantage girls and measure a very narrow set of skills. Finally, the Government should reassess their priorities for funding higher education to ensure that our arts, humanities and social sciences retain their rightful place in the spectrum of courses on offer and at which, currently, women excel.
The Commission on the Status of Women has set us a challenge. It is an issue on which the UK should be leading the world. Let us hope that we can continue to make progress in broadening opportunities for women and not have to look back at the past 20 years as a high point of women's educational achievement.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing this important debate and giving us an opportunity to contribute. I also congratulate all the women who made such excellent maiden speeches today.
Last Saturday, I was a guest at an event organised by the Association of Turkish Women in the UK, an umbrella organisation. It was a fundraising event for Mor Çati—it means “purple roof”—a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence in Istanbul. It receives no government funding and relies on volunteers. Violence against women and girls is shockingly universal and one of the most widespread human rights violations around the world. It is widespread in rich and poor countries. In Turkey, as in other parts of the world, in the past few years the protection of women has improved from a legal perspective. However, it is in practice, through education and enforcement, that we really need change.
Some say that countries such as Turkey, seen as a patriarchal society where domestic violence is seen as a way to maintain power in relationships both in public and at home, have higher incidence of violence against women. Although the issue of violence against women has received relatively more government and public attention in recent years, many Turkish women still do not have the courage to express their need for help. The Mor Çati Kadin Siginagi Vafki, the Purple Roof Women's Shelter Foundation, established in 1990 in Istanbul, was the first women's organisation in Turkey involved in the protection and support of women experiencing domestic violence.
The year of 1987 holds special importance for the women's movement in Turkey. For the first time, a group of feminists organised a resistance campaign following a judge's comment, in turning down a woman's claim for divorce, that:
“a little ‘whip’ on the back or on the belly is of no harm to women”.
As your Lordships can imagine, this caused widespread anger and demonstrations, and was a catalyst for bringing women together to organise and campaign under the banner of, “There is no legal violence”. A solidarity network was created with the support of doctors and lawyers. In January 1989, a telephone helpline was created offering legal and practical support for victims of violence. Eventually, the Mor Çati refuge was established. There is consensus that crimes of so-called honour emanate from cultural and not religious roots, and they can be found worldwide, mainly in patriarchal societies or communities. Honour, for men, is connected with women's behaviour because they are seen as the property of the family and of the community. When women violate those standards, that is deemed a direct blow to the man's sense of identity.
In 1990, together with a small group of Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Kurdish women, I set up the first domestic violence project for women from those communities in London. It was in the aftermath of a number of high-profile cases where women were attacked, and in a few cases killed, by their husbands. One woman was stabbed to death in the street in Hackney outside her house when her husband was let out on bail after attacking her. She was not told that he was going to be released. That cost her her life.
It was a struggle, and no exaggeration to say that we were subjected to threats and intimidation from men from those communities, who were threatened by our work. I was accused of working to separate women from their husbands, but we persevered. We secured premises and funding. Today, Imece, the Turkish-speaking women's project in Islington, which is still going strong, remains one of my proudest achievements. It has helped thousands of women and has saved many lives.
Much has improved in the intervening years in increased public awareness, zero tolerance and prevention—letting women know that they can get help. In London a few years ago, I was moved by the case where a Kurdish father was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering his 15 year-old daughter, Tulay, because she fell in love with a man. In passing sentence, the judge told the court:
“He killed his own daughter because he believed that she had shamed him, his conviction today shows that the true shame was, and always will be his to bear”.
Her body has never been found.
My grandmothers had marriages arranged for them at the age of 14. They had no schooling. My mother went to school until she was 12, and she was the first girl in her family to go to school. She had an arranged marriage when she arrived in the UK. For me, just one generation later, to be here in your Lordships' House, is considered astonishing.
I pay tribute to the generations who have gone before me, who made it possible and make the sacrifices. They gave me a passion to fight for equality and social justice. Ending violence against women is one of the five priority areas that UN Women will be focusing on, and for the millennium development goals. We must not take our foot off that accelerator.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for initiating this important debate, and congratulate all the women who today have made their maiden speeches.
One area has been an ongoing issue throughout history and continues to have a huge impact on the lives of many women. I refer to rape of women during conflict. According to Amnesty International, rape is now used as a deliberate military strategy. Figures for the number of rape victims are never accurate, as many women feel too ashamed to report rape, but the Alliance for Direct Action against Rape in Conflict and Crises has estimated that a minimum of 2 million women in conflict zones were subjected to rape between 1990 and 2006.
In 2010 the UN estimated that there have been 11,000 rapes of women and men and girls and boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, looking into this issue in east Congo where both government and rebel troops use sexual violence as a military strategy, reports one victim saying to her, “A dead rat is worth more than the body of a woman”.
Last week for the first time a military court in east Congo, investigating a case of mass rape, sentenced a senior commanding officer to 20 years in prison, finding him guilty of crimes against humanity for sending his troops in to rape, loot and brutalise the population of Fizi on New Year’s Day. Unusually, 49 women appeared to testify and eight other soldiers were also sentenced. This is a start, but we have much more to do.
The UK is a member of the UN Security Council. We can take a lead on ensuring that all perpetrators of war rape are brought to justice as war criminals. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which has already been referred to, addressed for the first time the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women. It emphasises that rape is a war crime and all states need to prosecute those responsible, regardless of amnesties. Resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflicts recalls the inclusion of rape and sexual violence offences in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and stresses that all member states should comply with their obligations to prosecute persons responsible for such acts. Despite these resolutions, a recent report, Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War, led by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, found that,
“the elaborate framework of international and national and political legislative instruments are stumbling at the point of implementation and falling short of their promise to protect women”.
Will the Minister urge the Government to push for urgent action through the UN to ensure that all perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to justice?
We can also help to strengthen the justice systems of fragile states through training, diplomatic measures and post-conflict reconstruction of judicial and military institutions and law enforcement. I welcome the latest trials in east Congo, but we need to develop ways of supporting victims and witnesses through international advocacy and a witness protection fund to support many more women who need our help.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and thank my noble friend, Lady Gould, for introducing it and the manner in which she did so.
We should be considering, it seems to me, how far we have come and how much we owe to previous generations of women. The last century saw really major advances in women’s rights. At the beginning, women did not have the vote, they had only very limited access to higher education—women were felt not to need education—and had few career opportunities. If women had jobs, those would be of low status and low paid and women were expected to leave those jobs if they got married. Equal pay was a far-off dream. Women did not have control over their own bodies and there was limited access to birth control centres, which were only available if one was married or about to be married. Abortion was an impossibility, leading to a growth in back-street abortionists with the resultant damage to women’s health and even lives.
A great deal has changed. Access to work and basic rights at work have meant that women have achieved a degree of independence they did not have before. They no longer have to stay in relationships that are unsatisfactory. It has become possible to have a career and to have children, as maternity leave and childcare have become available. Of course many improvements could still be made, but this should not detract from the gratitude we should feel to previous generations of women who achieved so much.
The media in this country have done a great deal to bring politics and politicians into disrepute through emphasis on the misdemeanours of a few. This has resulted in some younger people turning away from politics and political involvement. That is wrong. Previous generations of women achieved what they did through organisation: they became involved in politics; they joined unions; they came out on strike for equal pay; they became politicised and campaigned for changes in the law to deal with discrimination. They were successful in securing legislation which outlawed discrimination against women in a whole range of activities. The campaigns still continue, of course, and there are now signs, I am glad to say, that younger people are participating.
Such campaigning is becoming essential, since the times we are now facing are going to be particularly difficult for women. The Prime Minister is now in favour of something called the “big society”, but what does it mean? It is apparently about getting people involved and working together in communities, and a great deal of support is promised to voluntary bodies. However, the biggest group of voluntary organisations is the trade union movement, which is not mentioned. Trade unions exist to fight for the rights of their members, who are ordinary working people, but the coalition Government appear to threaten a number of these rights. This is apparent from recently issued proposals dealing with the rights of employees.
Cuts in public services will mean cuts in job opportunities. Some 65 per cent of the jobs in the public sector are held by women. Welfare benefits, including benefits of particular concern to women, are also to be cut, along with child support, tax credits and perhaps housing benefit. Women, particularly low-paid women, tend to be more reliant on public services. Social care for the elderly may be affected as local authorities seek to cut back on expenditure. Carers are mostly women. It is all very well to talk about volunteering, but not if this is intended to take the place of public sector services in which women have been employed. Are they to work for nothing as volunteers in public service work for which they should be paid? How are they to live? Are they to live on benefits, which are now being reformed—or should I say reduced?
These so-called reforms may well cancel many of the advances made in the last century. There is every indication that the present generation of young women will not be content to be hassled out of the workforce and back into a traditional, home-based environment. They will do what previous generations have done—organise and insist on their rights.
One can scarcely talk about women’s rights without a passing reference to the amazing events occurring in the Arab world. This is a region that has been notorious for its neglect of basic human rights, particularly of women. At our meetings we have often lamented the appalling oppression of women in countries where extremist religious views have dominated. It was wonderful to see, therefore, TV films of protesters in Egypt and Tunisia where women appeared to be playing a role in the struggle for freedom and democracy. We have yet to see what eventually happens in the region. The dominant demand is for democracy, but there can be no democracy if women’s human rights are denied. The women we saw on TV clearly recognised this, and we must all wish them well.
My Lords, I would like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for yet again initiating this debate. I had the great pleasure of serving under her leadership when she was the chair of the Women’s National Commission when I was a commissioner, which I must say was a wonderful experience.
I congratulate our new noble Baronesses, who are clearly good feminists and fantastic additions. In particular, I would like to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady King, who was once one of my students. I am basking in the reflected glory of her excellent speech.
I would also like to declare an interest. I am the honorary president of the Muslim Women’s Network, which only exists thanks to the great care and support given to it by the Women’s National Commission. Our network spent two years helping a very disparate group of Muslim women to get together to find ways of becoming an organisation which is now working effectively right through the UK, and it is a matter of great regret that other organisations such as ours will not find their feet because there is no WNC to help them.
I want to speak about the experiences of Muslim women in this country and, in particular, about the problem that the hijab or niqab—the covering—has been seen as an emblem of subordination that has been used to identify Muslim women as a category as submissive, as if women were forced to cover because some bloke told them to do so. As a third-generation Muslim feminist, I can assure your Lordships that I am not likely ever to cover, because my grandmother fought against the veil. However, I feel that it is right for women to choose how they dress and to be respected for the way that they dress. To reply to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, many Muslim women cover in order not to be the object of the gaze or to be assessed as pretty, ugly, naked or dressed. It is a way for them—I am talking about young women born and raised in this country—to make a public statement about denying the right of all women to be sex objects. They do not want it. This ought to be giving respect to that rather than otherising a particular category of women because of their dress code.
This otherisation also, I might say, hides a vibrant conversation going on among Muslim women about their Islamic rights and entitlements. That debate is raging not only across the internet; I have supervised three British-born girls who were initially non-Muslim—I did not convert any of them—who looked at the question of Islam and feminism. There are now three theses on the subject at the University of York, among many others. The importance of recognising and understanding Muslim women’s contribution to changing Islamic law has been ignored and not understood because of the label that is given to Muslims who cover.
To help Muslim women in this country, I shall ask the Minister something that I have asked about before in this House. Would it be possible to ban the arrival of concubines from other parts of the world as wives of men who are already married to Muslim British citizens in this country? The second wife has no status but is a threat to the first wife. Secondly, is it possible that all Islamic marriages should be registered and recognised as civil marriages, so that if the marriage fails women have a comeback in law to defend their position and their children? Such registration would also protect those who are vulnerable to unilateral divorce because divorce would be subject to the courts.
My Lords, like every other noble Lord today, I thank my noble friend Lady Gould for introducing this debate. Four and a half hours are a tribute to how seriously we all take it. I also congratulate the six new Members of our House who have made their maiden speeches today. They made a phenomenal contribution and will add to the great expertise that exists in your Lordships' House.
I shall talk about an organisation called Women for Women International. I have a sort of interest to declare in that my wife Hannah sits on its international board. There is a remarkable woman called Zainab Salbi. She is Iraqi, and when she was 15 years old, because her father was a pilot for Saddam Hussein, her mother was able to get her out of the country and she went to the United States to go to university. When all the trouble started in Bosnia in 1994, she went to see what was happening there. She was so aghast at what was happening and, in particular, at the plight of women in that country that she set up this organisation.
Today, Women for Women International specialises in post-conflict zones and the issues of women in particular. Various countries are now part of the Women for Women group: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Each country has been subject to great ravaging and terrible consequences, particularly for women. It is those women that Women for Women International seeks to help. It works on an interesting basis in that women, in particular, in the West, and some men, are assigned a sister in these countries. They make a donation of £20 a month and are asked to write letters to their sister to tell her that she is recognised and that there is somebody in the West who cares about what is happening. To date, there are 275,000 such sisters around the world who are receiving money and £53 million has been received by the charity.
What happens to these sisters? These women are trained and taught about their human rights, but most of all they are taught how to run a small business and how to generate income. When that happens, they become self-sufficient and can provide for their families. Women for Women also gives microloans which have been tremendously successful. Ninety-eight per cent of these microloans have been repaid. Last May, my wife and I went to Bosnia and Kosovo, which was a harrowing experience. Those conflicts may have ended 15 and 10 years ago, but to the people who are living there, it is as if they ended yesterday. We saw terrible issues which are the result of ethnic cleansing, rape and murder. Women there, particularly Muslim women, who have no confidence in themselves, are now in business. They are rearing chickens or growing mushrooms or tomatoes. The best thing we saw there was the beekeepers of Kosovo. One woman had been trained to raise bees in hives. She started off with three hives that were given to her and now has 10. She has a business and is generating €5,000 or €6,000 a year and is now training 10 other people to do the same. It was a marvellous example of how this system works. You could see the hope that these women were getting in those still terrible circumstances.
Next week, on 8 March, it will be the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Women for Women International around the world will be linking hands across bridges from our own Millennium Bridge in London to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge in New York and other bridges around the world.
I end with particular thanks to someone who is not in her place but who is very dear to all our hearts: our Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She has been gracious enough to host several receptions for Women for Women International in the River Room. They have been tremendous successes, and I know she does that for lots of other charities. I am sure that every Member of this House will thank her for what she does.
My Lords, like everyone in this debate, I rise to say how indebted we are to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing this opportunity to talk about these important matters. It has been a particularly good debate because of the contributions and the maiden speeches. Having six noble Baronesses giving maiden speeches in a debate on International Women’s Day must be a triple-word score in politics, although the fact that it still has to be done in the House of Lords is perhaps a limitation that shows that we still have a little way to go.
My contribution is on conflict. I was moved to speak in this debate while attending a NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting last week. We got a briefing on events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a horrific presentation. The presenter made a point which got me thinking and motivated as regards this area. He said that it is now more dangerous to be a women than to be a soldier in modern conflict. That is a profound statement, which should make us take note. The days in which gallant knights galloped off to a lonely field to settle their differences “like men”—whatever that meant—are clearly gone. Conflict in the modern era has put civilians in the front line and no macho talk about smart weapons can disguise the brutal reality. While combatants may wear armour, drive around in protected vehicles, carry weapons and empty their payloads from 10,000 feet, women and children on the ground are unprotected in their homes, schools and marketplaces. Increasingly, we are seeing how they are being used as tools of warfare, a point to which my noble friend Lady Ritchie powerfully alluded. Women are in the front line, yet their voice and presence are insufficiently felt.
My argument is not to introduce a quota approach to encourage tokenism, but to say that women and mothers are the prime victims of modern warfare and that their voice desperately needs to be heard—not for the sake of women, but for the sake of humanity. Balance in international relations means that women must push for peace more vigorously. All too often men seem to be incapable of resisting the urge for war. We need more women in the military, not to change the decor but to change the debate. As men, we need to hear the powerful voice of women.
I am in politics and I suggest that we all are because we abhor violence and want to create a free, safe and just society in which to raise our children where the rule of law operates and there is the democratic operation of government agencies. We need that voice to be heard more than ever and to be heard where it counts. This is not a criticism of men about opportunities for women. It is a call to women to take up their responsibilities in public duty in order to influence the debate at the highest echelons of the military and in politics.
We are talking today about International Women’s Day. It was of course pre-dated by Mother’s Day, which is an even more important date in the calendar. Today, we think of Mother’s Day in terms of chocolates, cards and flowers, but it had a very serious purpose when it was first proposed by Julia Ward Howe, who we remember as the great American poet who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She came out of the horrors of the American Civil War and called for a congress of mothers to unite in the international community. She wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. I believe that the sentiments in it are even more relevant today than they were then, for the reasons which I have stated. I will close with those words:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts …
Say firmly … Our husbands will not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons will not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs …
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.
Blood does not wipe out dishonour, nor violence indicate possession …
Arise then women of this day”.
At that point, I arise. I join all others in thanking my noble friend Lady Gould for placing this debate on our agenda for today and remembering that it is the 100th anniversary, which makes it even more important than it has been in any other year. I shall return to a subject that has been mentioned once or twice already.
The new UN Women agency came into life on 1 January. It was launched on 24 February by Michelle Bachelet, who was previously the President of Chile and is now the head of the agency. In her speech, she outlined in broad terms some of the areas of work for which the agency will take responsibility. She said:
“In addition to our role of mobilizing, coordinating and leveraging the efforts of others, UN Women will focus on five areas … Expanding women’s voice, leadership and participation … Ending violence against women … Strengthening women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peace processes … Enhancing women’s economic empowerment; and … Ensuring gender priorities are reflected in national plans and budgets, including capacity to support CEDAW reporting. I am determined that UN Women will offer a new dynamic to the global dialogue on gender equality, and bring new energy, drawing on multiple talents, and bringing together men and women from different countries and communities in a shared endeavour”.
When I read that, it sounded to me a bit like the global big society.
On 10 January in this House, I asked a Question which sought to elicit from Her Majesty’s Government their plans to provide financial support for the new agency. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who is in her seat, was nice in her response and very positive, but she did not mention anything about what sort of money could be expected.
Prior to my Question in January, in November 2010 in another place, a Question was asked about the possible expenditure and commitment to the new agency. The Minister in the other place replied that a decision would be made when the review of overseas aid expenditure was completed. That review was completed and published this week and we still have no word on the future funding of UN Women. In February, again in another place, the Minister advised that they were waiting now for the strategy to be agreed. While the UK is part of the executive council and that debate, I am confused as to why there continues to be a delay on announcing what our commitment will be.
Along with others, I welcome the Government’s publication, UK Aid: Changing Lives, Delivering Results. There is much in it that demonstrates a good commitment and it makes many worthy statements. For example, it says:
“We will … Help immunise more than 55 million children against preventable diseases … Save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth and 250,000 newborn babies … Enable at least ten million more women to use modern methods of family planning by 2015”.
These are laudable statements which are agreed by all, but they cross over the commitments we have already agreed and signed up to under the millennium development goals, so there is nothing new about them.
My argument is that demonstrating a strong and good commitment to the umbrella agency of UN Women and bringing a global and overarching approach to our work is much more likely to achieve the goals stated both in UK Aid and outlined in the millennium development goals. So what is the Government’s financial commitment to UN Women going to be? The international community has recognised that there is a need for an annual budget of $500 million. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has already mentioned that that budget is currently $300 million short. The United Kingdom has traditionally given £21 million per annum to UNICEF, and I would argue, along with others, that that ought to be our contribution to UN Women.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing this important debate. International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to draw attention to the achievements made by women, often through adversity. The last 100 years is filled with numerous examples of the contributions to world history made by remarkable women such as the suffragettes, led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Rosa Parks’s actions played a symbolic role in the American civil rights movement. Following her brave act, a chain of events culminated in the United States electing a President of African origin in the 21st century.
I welcome the launch of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. I am confident that this new body will improve results and efficiency when dealing with this important issue. The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day this year is equal access to education. As a former visiting lecturer, I value the importance of education in giving people greater opportunities. Although there has been an increase in the number of girls who are entering tertiary education as a whole, this improvement is not reflected in poorer regions such as, for example, sub-Saharan Africa. Women have historically been deprived of chances to gain access to and further their education, and this has contributed to inequality in the workplace.
Individuals should always be employed and promoted on merit, but in spite of the large number of talented and able women across industries, very few senior positions are filled by them as a comparative ratio to men. Despite this worrying trend in commerce, women have made impressive strides both on the global political stage and in their own countries. As an employer, I have always believed in promoting staff on merit. The gender of the person is not material. I read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, with interest and would appreciate it if my noble friend the Minister would respond to it.
On average, women account for close to 18 per cent of the seats across all chambers of parliament in democracies around the world. Women hold 22 per cent of the seats in Latin American and Caribbean legislatures alone. Notable progress has also been made in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Rwanda where women account for 56 per cent of the Members in the lower Chamber. This is particularly impressive for a nation that was ravaged by war in the not-so-distant past and reflects the fact that women continue to play a pivotal role in upholding peace in formerly unstable regions.
Although this debate is a cause for celebration, I feel it is pertinent to draw attention to two particularly harrowing cases. The story of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, has resulted in the death of a Pakistani politician who spoke in her defence. Most noble Lords have probably seen the picture of Aisha, an 18 year-old Afghan girl whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband. These cases serve as a reminder that women are still facing oppression in certain parts of the world. In regard to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan under which Asia Bibi was prosecuted, it is my view that the conviction was totally wrong as Islam regards Muslims, Jews and Christians as people of the book.
Under Islam, women were given certain rights over 1,400 years ago, including the right to own properties and control their earnings. Islam has also given women the right to inheritance; they have a right to choose their husband and no one can impose a decision on them against their will. They can also apply for a divorce in the event of a matrimonial breakdown.
I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum, which is an active organisation. We have established a women’s group, as we believe in the empowerment of women, and it looks at various issues concerning Muslim women in the country. It is important that a woman is educated and given every opportunity to succeed: an educated woman will play an active role in the advancement and the well-being of her children and her family as a whole.
I care about issues relating to women. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House, and elsewhere, on matters concerning women that include their maternal health, education, human trafficking, domestic violence and rape as a weapon of war.
My Lords, as the last Back-Bench speaker in this debate, I too thank my noble friend Lady Gould not just for this debate today but for her dogged determination, year on year, to make sure that we have this debate. I well remember the first one, when we were tolerated in a supper-break debate lasting one hour and had to scurry round trying to get speakers, with not one man in the Chamber. We have come a long way and owe due credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for the work that she has done in that regard.
Perhaps the biggest compliment and thanks that she could be paid is to have six maiden speeches in the Chamber today—all feisty speeches—and we all look forward to the participation of those new Members in many debates across a very diverse area in this House. With 44 speakers on one topic, you would have thought there would have been repetition. However, I have sat through the whole debate and there has been no repetition, because we are not just talking about women but society as it is, both domestically and internationally. There is no area that covers women that does not trespass on society as a whole, whether it is children, men or whatever it may be.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, mentioned that because this is the centenary year, we should commemorate the work that has been done for us by those women who had a much more difficult ride than we have had in getting the women’s case across. I agree with that very much. I have been looking around London as a non-Londoner this week, as I have been travelling to and fro, and I have been absolutely astonished at the lack of visual demonstration of the achievements of women in the streets. You can walk up Whitehall and see many statues and commemorations—one of my favourites is the one with the ladies’ coats and hats on the hooks, gone off to help in the Second World War but coming back into society—but there is a distinct lack of statues that commemorate the work of women.
We have our debates in this Chamber, but what happens outside also counts. A few years ago in this debate, I talked about a statue for Sylvia Pankhurst—an extremely controversial character—on which I do not think we will get unanimity. She did a lot for women, not just in fighting for the vote with her mother and her sister, but in the whole area of women’s emancipation, particularly in the East End of London in regard to education and women’s control over their own bodies. I am working with a group to reinvigorate that campaign for a statue for Sylvia and hope that this time next year, when we have our debate again, I will be able to report progress on that. I was extremely disappointed to hear that one of the remarks from within this House—although not from Members of this House, I do not think; at least I hope not—was, “Really, how could we have a statue out there to Sylvia Pankhurst so near the House, when she was never a Member and never had much to do with it?”. She arrived in what is now our car park at the front from Holloway prison, where she was on a starvation strike, to come and talk; she skipped in through the passages to the then Prime Minister to talk about how we could get the vote for women. The vote for women was an extremely powerful measure in this country and we want it for all women. I hope we have some success in that area.
The Speaker has inaugurated a series of schools outreach programmes. I have been into seven sixth-forms in October and November last year. I was uplifted by the approach of young girls and how they see their lives, but I was also very depressed in some of the schools. In all our talk about emancipation, we have to work hard to make sure that the next generations coming up are not forgotten. For some of them, their aspirations and their confidence in themselves have not moved on one iota from when I was a young woman, when I was scared stiff to stand up and speak for myself and think what I could have for the future. The outreach programme is very important; I have learned from it that perhaps things in some areas need a lot of work. We must continue to strive to lift the vision of young women to make sure that they have confidence in themselves to play a full part in society.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate and a very fine way to celebrate the centenary of International Women’s Day, to mark the huge achievements to date and discuss the old and new challenges that remain. Six formidable maiden speeches have enhanced our debate and it is clear that the six noble Baronesses are going to add a huge amount to debates in this Chamber; their knowledge and expertise will be invaluable as we scrutinise and revise legislation. We have also had two young women at the Table today, which must, I think, be a milestone in this House and we all celebrate that.
I pay tribute, like so many here today, to my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton for yet again taking this important initiative. This debate, now an annual event, is always a pleasure because it brings together women, and some men, from all of our Benches to discuss issues that have an impact on women’s lives in this country and the wider world. There is much that we agree on and I pay tribute to the fine women that we have in this Chamber and their achievements and also to the women who came before us in this House. I used to work for Lady Castle, but I also think of Lady David, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Carnegy of Lour, to name but a few, all of whom I really revered and of whom I was very fond.
I am delighted that there has been a focus on international issues. It is women who drive development on the ground; it is women and girls who so often do the hard work in the fields, in social enterprises, using micro-loans, in situations where there is conflict, often in fragile states and, of course, in nurturing families, sometimes in desperate or violent situations. It is all too often the women of this world who suffer. The many statistics we have heard today are stark. The fact that women earn just 10 per cent of the world’s income and work two-thirds of the hours is just one of them. The human stories and the human misery about which we have heard are even more stark. I could weep and they make me even more resolute to act, not just for our girls and young women, as we have just heard from my noble friend Lady Dean, but for women all over the world.
Like many noble Lords, I received an excellent briefing from VSO entitled The Godmothers: Keeping UN Women on Track. I have a very high regard for the work of VSO and I hope to do a placement with them in the Whitsun Recess, treading in the footsteps of many noble Lords and Baronesses who have seen first-hand their work in the field and the impact that gender inequality has on the lives and livelihoods of women, from poor health outcomes to lack of access to income-generating opportunities. Women are too often held back simply because they are women. That is why, like so many other noble Lords, I believe that the UN women’s agency is important, working globally to empower women to improve their lives and addressing the underlying causes of gender inequality. It has a huge task and I know it is one that the Government support. That is why they continue to target women and girls in development policy.
Like my noble friends, I am concerned, however, about funding and I applaud the Godmothers campaign led by VSO calling on the Government to commit £21 million in annual core funding—just 0.2 per cent of the UK overseas aid budget—to UN Women. We look to the UN to assist women in conflict throughout the world. At the UN on 19 June 2008 seven of the 20 nations were represented by women when the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1820 and demanded the immediate and complete halt of sexual violence against civilians in conflict zones. It was a very important moment, under the presidency of the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. So it is not just the technical ability and expertise which women bring, it is also the emotional intelligence that can contextualise and give voice to the aspiration of women across the globe.
On all sides of this Chamber we are involved in various aspects of civil society. We all applaud volunteering and we celebrate the work of our charities. On these Benches, however, we believe that the Government are an indispensable partner for the voluntary sector and the bedrock of a strong society. In government we had a proud record of supporting the third sector, and throughout this House we welcome people who want to volunteer. Platform 51, for example, which we used to know as the YWCA, does a great job of volunteering both within its own services and with other organisations, supporting girls and women to make positive changes in the world around them and encouraging them to give back to society.
Mr Cameron has said that he wants to make it easier for people to volunteer, and that is great, but we must not forget that people need to earn a living. They cannot do jobs for free unless they are wealthy or retired, or unless via endless juggling of family commitments they can find a few hours a week. Traditionally, of course, it is women who are at the forefront of the voluntary sector, and it is they who are now suffering disproportionately from the painful cuts that are being inflicted on the charitable sector—or the “big society”, as the Government like to call it.
Not only is the big society being asked to step in to pick up the pieces when services are cut, but the scale and speed of the cuts are severely affecting the voluntary and community sectors themselves. They are confronting two enormous problems, and it is often women who are desperately trying to find solutions. Concern has been expressed by the heads of charities, the CEO of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and countless non-political people up and down the country. The NCVO has set up a brilliant website so that people are aware of the problems in their local areas, and it is chilling to see the number of cuts that have been made since the site went live on 24 January.
I know that the Minister will say that the cuts are being made because of the deficit left by my Government, a Government of whom I am extremely proud and who did a huge amount for women. I must refute those arguments before she makes them. We agree that there is a large deficit and it must be dealt with. That is why we had, and have, a plan to halve the deficit in four years. However, the Government had a choice about how to deal with the deficit and they have chosen to cut it too far and too fast. They have chosen to hit local government with bigger cuts than other government departments, and they have chosen to front-load so that the heaviest cuts fall in the first year rather than being spread evenly over four years. This is having a profound effect on women who work and volunteer in charities, who work in public services and who benefit from services.
As noble Lords will know, I come from the Forest of Dean in the south-west where there are many rural areas. Women in rural areas, as well as in urban areas, are being hit by a huge cut in bus services, by cuts in respite care if they are carers or being cared for, by cuts in luncheon and other clubs if they are elderly, by cuts in youth centres and services if they are young, by cuts in the EMA if they are teenagers, by cuts in Sure Starts if they are young mums and by cuts in libraries, including mobile libraries, which are so important for women living in isolated areas.
Women and men in rural areas are also being hit very hard by the rise in fuel prices. From these Benches we call upon the Chancellor to reverse the VAT rise on fuel that has added nearly 3p to the cost of a litre of petrol. That would profoundly help women and men all over the country, especially those in rural areas.
Many noble Lords have raised the issue of domestic violence, and I note that the excellent charity Women’s Aid has warned that government cutbacks could be catastrophic for victims of domestic abuse in the UK. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for her practical and excellent work. Noble Lords all around this Chamber are concerned about domestic violence and I ask the Minister, who I know shares these concerns, to do her utmost to ensure that emergency safety accommodation places and support for victims of domestic abuse are protected from the cuts. The Government cannot hide behind the fact that they are providing the money to local authorities; those authorities are having to make dreadful cuts, and it is often women who are living in very violent situations who suffer.
Next week on International Women’s Day I am having lunch here with an extraordinary woman and her children. She was attacked by her husband with an axe when she was asleep and, among other injuries, she lost an eye. She has benefited greatly from the support of many charities, including the Castle Gate Family Trust at Gloucester prison, of which I am proud to be the patron. Many of those charities are now struggling to survive despite the fact that this amazing woman, having been a beneficiary, is now working with them, which is absolutely terrific.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, rightly spoke of the situation in Egypt and the evolving situation in the Middle East, as did many other Peers. Like others, I note that there is not one single woman on the constitutional committee in Egypt and I very much hope that our Government, the EU and the UN will do their utmost to try to ensure that where there is democracy-building in the Middle East and new institutions being built there are women, and to encourage these new, emerging democracies to ensure that women are on those terribly important bodies.
Finally, I mention the very welcome report by my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch. He was a champion for women on boards when he was in government and was tasked by this Government to do further research and write a report. I know that some people—including the Fawcett Society, for which I have huge respect—will be disappointed that he did not recommend a quota system but if headhunters and company chairmen fail in their task to recruit a proper proportion of women on to boards, there must in time be legislation and quotas. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not hesitate to legislate, if necessary?
We know from all the research and evidence that having more women on boards is not just a matter of addressing an unacceptable inequality. It is about enabling boards to achieve better outcomes for their companies and for wider society. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gould that just as the time was right for this report on women in the boardrooms, perhaps we should now be doing more work and taking more action on the participation of women in the whole field of decision-making at all levels. Women must have access to power and participate in decision-making if the necessary changes in our global society are to be made.
Today, in addition to celebrating the achievements we have made and discussing the challenges here and in the wider world, we have had a superb lesson in social history. I will certainly remember the name of Mr Justice Joyce: I might even stick pins in him from time to time. Despite political and policy differences around the Chamber, we are united in our pursuit of a vision of society in which men and women have the same opportunities, rights and obligations wherever they may live. This is our responsibility. To realise that vision, we have to raise our voices, as my noble friend said. That is what we are doing today and what we can and must continue to do.
My Lords, it is an enormous honour to respond on behalf of the Government to what has been an absolutely magnificent debate—a treasure trove of priceless experience, commitment and vision. All noble Lords’ contributions have ensured that the marking of the centenary year of International Women’s Day has rightly highlighted and focused the continued need to mark this day with both celebration and a need to remain proactive for positive change. I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for securing the debate, a responsibility she has taken for quite some time. Over the years, she has worked tirelessly to ensure that the cause of equality for women is enhanced at every opportunity. We pay tribute to her and to all men and women who share our common vision.
We are particularly privileged that several noble Lords chose this debate to make their maiden speeches: the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Heyhoe-Flint, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, Lady King of Bow, Lady Morgan of Ely and Lady Lister of Burtersett. Their contributions were moving and insightful and I have no doubt that this House will be enormously enriched by their experience and wisdom.
Like my noble friend Lady Brinton, I see myself as a bit of a rebel. Sometimes it is better to shake loose the shackles found among our cultures, more so in some cultures. DfID supports the excellent work that she mentioned in Tanzania. My noble friend Lady Heyhoe-Flint and I share the love of cricket, she as an excellent player and I as an avid spectator. It is crucial to raise the profile of women in sport—that is a must—and to see increased diversity on sporting bodies. My noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington said, absolutely rightly, that there must be more women in political life. I congratulate her on all the work that she has done through women2win. I completely agree that unless men are signed up to this, we will make slow progress.
I am sure that I share the frustration of the noble Baroness, Lady King of Bow, but I am not as pessimistic. We are making slow progress, but it is progress. Unless we persist with the equality agenda, nothing changes. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that we have prioritised the NHS, schools and early years provision. I understand completely her concerns. We are extending free early years education and care for children from the age of two through to four. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, eloquently spoke of the need to tackle poverty at home. It was right to raise the need for a cultural shift. To make a difference in society we need to make those cultural shifts—particularly me, I am afraid; I see it so often in the BME community. Along with her, I am a true Midlander. I have come across some feisty women from the Midlands who have made some incredible societal changes.
We have heard so eloquently in many of the contributions today of the great progress women have made in this country over the past 100 years. However, as every noble Lord has acknowledged, even as we reflect on the hope of our history we must also face squarely the reality of our present, a reality still marked by unfairness and hardship for too many women in this country and across the world. Yet women’s strength, skills and wisdom are humankind’s most untapped resource. The challenge for us, and what this debate has addressed so effectively, is how we can overcome the barriers women continue to face to ensure that this rich resource can be effectively tapped in ways that benefit us all. I am proud to be part of a Government wholeheartedly committed to that cause. We are unwavering in our dedication to build a society where no one is held back because of who they are, or where they come from. I can say that with personal conviction. I will battle always to ensure that equal opportunity becomes a norm.
In December last year, we published the first ever cross-government equality strategy, setting out our new approach of how we will, right across government, take action to tackle inequality. It is an approach aimed at changing culture, attitudes and tackling the causes of inequality, because we recognise that this is the only change that lasts.
Although it will be impossible to articulate responses to all the contributions that we have heard today, I will try to cover many of the themes of this debate through this speech and the notes I have made as I listened carefully to all contributions. I pledge to write to noble Lords about any questions that I am unable to answer today.
I begin by focusing on the international perspective. Many noble Members have drawn attention to the plight and immense challenges that women face worldwide. Last week, I attended the 55th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. All the other Ministers I spoke to, from EU and Commonwealth partners and elsewhere, shared our conviction that promoting gender equality is vital for meeting all the millennium development goals. Indeed, experience tells us that when women have the power to make their own choices, the chains of poverty can be broken and families can grow stronger. Yet women remain, in many parts of the globe, deprived of the most basic of human rights.
I share in the joy of noble Lords that UN Women—the single, new and powerful agency working for gender equality and the empowerment of women—was launched last week. The new agency will play a fundamental role in eroding the vast inequalities of opportunity that women face across the world. I attended the launch and was able to set out the UK’s high ambitions and congratulate the executive director, Michelle Bachelet, who I think will provide excellent leadership.
I assure noble Lords that the Government will continue in our efforts to make certain that real action is delivered for women, and that the agency is managed in a way which will command the confidence of the financial contributors whose support it needs. To this end we will announce core funding for the agency once its strategic plan outlining key priorities, a clear results framework and strategy for delivering results is available in June. In the mean time, we are in close contact with UN Women and are offering transitional funding and any other support the agency may need to ensure that it gets off to the strongest possible start.
For our part, the UK Government have committed to reaching 0.7 per cent of GNI in aid from 2013—a pledge we will enshrine in law. We have pledged to put women and girls at the front and centre of our development work. On Tuesday this week, following a review of Britain’s aid programme, the Secretary of State for International Development announced plans to provide 50 million people, many of them girls and women, with the means to help them work their way out of poverty. For example, economic empowerment of girls and women will be our priority. By 2015, we will create 150,000 new jobs for women in South Africa and 83,000 new jobs for women in Zimbabwe. In Pakistan, we will provide 897,000 women with microfinance. Central to these plans is our commitment to give women greater choice and access to family planning and safer births. We have announced that the UK will save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth by 2015 and enable at least 10 million more women to access modern family planning. We are further ensuring that efforts to retain girls through primary schools and into secondary school are integrated in all our education programmes in developing countries. By 2015, the UK will be supporting 11 million children, many of them girls, to go to school in the poorest countries. We will make sure that at least 700,000 girls are supported through lower primary school.
I feel it is important to touch on where I see the role of women in recent events in the Middle East, as we have heard in all the news reports very little on that. History tells us that the active participation of women in conflict resolution is indispensable to the struggle against dictatorship and tyranny. We are closely co-ordinating with the UN, EU and leading international NGOs in the Middle East to prepare for a possible humanitarian response. Our partners all have clear gender and equality policies which will ensure that the rights of women are protected, and that their participation is an integral part of conflict resolution processes.
However, as this debate has so effectively highlighted, while we focus on helping women and girls abroad, we must not take our eyes off the ball at home. Many noble Lords have also put forward their concerns about the degree to which we will be able to make genuine progress for women in these challenging financial times. I do not believe in sugar-coating the situation we are in. We inherited a financial and economic situation of great seriousness as a result of dangerous debts and a deficit that is simply not sustainable. Cleaning up this mess requires making incredibly tough decisions and we take no pleasure in doing so, but they are decisions that I believe any Government working in the national interest would have to take. However, we have been very clear that we must do it in a way that protects the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, as the Prime Minister has consistently said. This includes women and their families, who we know greatly depend on public services. That is why, for example, we are lifting 880,000 of the lowest-paid workers out of income tax, the majority of whom are women. It is why we are protecting the lowest-paid public sector workers—the majority of whom are women—from the public sector pay freeze and increasing child tax credits for the poorest families, protecting against rises in child poverty.
However, we are not just about giving our people a Government who are more affordable. We are in government to lay the foundations of a fairer and stronger society. At a time when women are on the verge of making up half the UK workforce, we are working hard to address the obstacles they continue to face at work. Within weeks of coming to power, we asked the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, to look into ways of improving female representation on the boards of listed companies. As many of you will know, his report, which the Government have welcomed, was published last month. We will engage with business when considering his recommendations. Likewise, we encourage regulators, investors and executive search firms to take forward those recommendations that fall to them.
We have committed to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees—our aim being to make flexible working practices a normal, everyday part of the modern workplace. We will also promote a system of flexible parental leave that will help both parents strike an appropriate balance between their childcare responsibilities and their careers. We want to give parents the option to choose what works best for them and we will launch a consultation on this shortly.
The Government are also of the firm belief that if you do the same work as a man, you ought to be paid the same wage as a man. So we are working to promote equal pay through using transparency. For example, through the Equality Act 2010, we have stopped pay secrecy clauses being used to hide unfair behaviour in paying men and women differently. We are also currently in the process of developing a voluntary approach to pay reporting, aimed at private and voluntary sector organisations that employ 150 people or more. We will be consulting shortly on whether stronger measures are necessary in cases where there has been shown to be gender pay discrimination.
Let me turn to an issue that has been a persistent cause of concern—violence against women. The Government’s ambition is no less than to end violence against women and girls in all its grotesque forms. Achieving this will be no easy task and will require more than the piecemeal initiatives that we have seen thus far, which is why we have pledged to implement across government a more integrated strategy on violence against women, which we will be publishing shortly. We have already taken considerable measures to provide women’s services with a more secure future for them to continue their vital work in this area. While we expect local areas to continue to provide the majority of funding to these services, we want to lead by example. Therefore, in January of this year, we announced that a total of up to £3.5 million per year for three years will be spent on supporting rape crisis services. We are further committing an extra £28 million of Home Office funding for specialist services over the next four years. For the first time, the strategy will bring together work to tackle violence against women in the UK with details of the international approach to tackle this global problem. This includes the appointment of Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone as the overseas champion to lead on the UK’s international work.
However, the truth is that we will not be able to make true progress on gender equality if we do not have more women in decision-making roles. The Home Secretary will be talking to the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that the issue of women’s representation in the House of Commons is considered when we look at our constitutional reform agenda. In the mean time, we have set a new aspiration that by the end of the Parliament at least half of all new appointees made to the boards of public bodies will be women. Last month we also published our proposals for increasing access to elected office by disabled people. Disabled people, many of whom are women, are dismally under-represented in both Chambers. Under our plans, disabled people will have access to a fund to help them overcome the barriers they face, which is just one part of a planned £1 million package aimed at improving their access. We are currently consulting on our proposals, and we hope to launch the scheme later in the year.
However, it is not just on elected positions where we are focusing our work. We want to work more closely with women and women’s organisations to help inform government policy making, which is why we made the decision to bring the core functions of the Women’s National Commission within the Government Equalities Office and within government. I know that many noble Lords here today have been very closely involved with the WNC. I want to say to them that the work and commitment of its former chairs and commissioners have been invaluable and much appreciated. However, to achieve our goals, we must do so in partnership with men. I pay tribute to all of those men who have shared our common goals and who help and support women to fulfil their full potential, including noble Lords who have participated in this debate. We want advice to be closer to Ministers and to provide real influence on decisions that the Government take. More importantly, we want there to be real democratic accountability for that advice. That accountability can reside only with elected politicians. We will shortly be launching a consultation which will set out the details of our new approach.
I will now attempt to address some of the issues raised by noble Lords today. Noble Lords will have to forgive me as my own scribbles are usually very unreadable, so I am afraid I have some from the Box, but I will start off by responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. I absolutely agree with her. It is crucial that we do all that we can through our work, here in the House and outside, to ensure that young girls and women today feel that they can fully participate in our decision-making processes. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I share so many common areas. Both of us are desperate to ensure that the equality agenda is never let onto the backburner. The noble Baroness made a point about my mentioning the financial crisis. I had to do so because unfortunately it is what we have inherited. It is a backdrop that we do not particularly feel very comfortable with but we are having to deal with the crisis. I hope that noble Lords around the Chamber will agree that, unless we come to this together, this crisis will not be resolved quickly or easily.
I should like to say a word about the impressive record of my noble friend Lady Trumpington during World War II at Bletchley Park. When I entered this House, I was absolutely daunted to speak to my noble friend, but I have found, in the four and a half years I have been here, that my noble friend has provided me with great insight and skill on how to deal with difficult customers. My noble friends Lady Ritchie and Lord Bates, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and others, spoke about rape in conflict areas, and about Resolution 1325. The UK has intensified its efforts to secure improvements for women affected by conflict. In December we worked closely with our partners at the Security Council to agree a strengthened accountability mechanism to combat sexual violence in armed conflict. The UK’s action plan, which was jointly delivered on Resolution 1325 by the FCO, MoD, and DfID, will be monitored jointly. As I said, I find it difficult to read my writing.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Gould of Potternewton and Lady Royall of Blaisdon, talked about the casualties of the cuts. I have dealt with that within my speech, but we have protected healthcare and have put in additional resources to give social care extra money to ensure that the beneficiaries predominantly will be women. On the question about progress and the remaining challenges and problems facing particular groups, particularly the poor and the disabled, in response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould, Lady Scotland, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, Lady Heyhoe-Flint, Lady Jenkin, Lady Gardner, Lady Morgan of Ely, and Lady Benjamin, an overarching theme has emerged from today’s debate, in particular that noble Lords have stipulated that, although progress has been made, there is an awful lot that we have to do to get better representation in business, public and political life. To that end, I hope to reassure noble Lords that this Government are fully committed to ensuring that we stay on course as best we can. I am sure that we will be held to account at this Dispatch Box if we do not.
The noble Lord, Lord Sugar, the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe of Idlicote, Lady Heyhoe-Flint, Lady Crawley, and my noble friend Lord Sheikh, raised the theme of women in business and on boards. I think that I mentioned and outlined it in my presentation. I have been told that I have two minutes so I shall skip.
On DfID spending, we are proud to say that we have supported what was an agreement in all three main political parties to make sure that 0.7 per cent is enshrined in law. We are determined to keep women and girls at the heart of all the work that we do internationally and at home. Some of the questions asked through the bilateral and multilateral reviews were because we genuinely want to focus on programmes that are working well and want to make sure that we strengthen those programmes. We hope to give other donor countries a blueprint to work from.
I have been told that I have to sit down, so I shall say this quickly. I have pledged to write to noble Lords whose questions I have not answered. In conclusion, it has been an extremely informative and well supported debate. This is one of the most enjoyable debates we have and it is one to which noble Lords always contribute so well.
My Lords, I reiterate the Minister’s last point. It is one of the most enjoyable debates that we have annually. I seriously thank everyone who has participated. It has been so stimulating, knowledgeable and absolutely inspiring. I, too, offer my congratulations to the six maiden speakers. Their speeches were varied and powerful, and we certainly look forward to hearing some more. I also congratulate the Minister who so competently tackled her daunting task. It gets more and more difficult as each year passes and the number of subjects discussed widens.
The range of knowledge in this Chamber is phenomenal, whether it is about women seafarers—that was a new debate that we had not had before but I should be interested in having more discussions—business, boards, politics or sport. It is fascinating how many women are football supporters, including myself. Perhaps we should start to compete with the men who somehow think that it is their subject. We heard about trafficking, violence against women, poverty, education and the vagaries of our political predecessors and women campaigners. We commemorated some remarkable women and organisations. Many speeches highlighted the position of women and girls, disabled women and women journalists in the developing world and the issues of rape in conflict and conflict resolution. I could go on as I am sure that I have missed out an awful lot of subjects.
I always hope that after these debates those who have not been in the Chamber will read the report of them. It is valuable for them and for all of us to follow through the points raised today. There is no question that we are united across the Chamber to further and better the rights of women. How we do it may vary but the aim of us all is there. It only remains for me to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
News Corporation/BSkyB Merger
My Lords, with leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. The Statement is as follows.
“I would like to make a Statement about News Corporation’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB. I would like to start by thanking both the OFT and Ofcom for their detailed, thorough and independent analysis, which has been produced to a very challenging timescale. My decision today relates to the issue of plurality of news provision, and not competition or market power issues, which were ruled on by the EU Commission on 21 December 2010.
Earlier this morning, I announced that the independent media regulator, Ofcom, had advised me that undertakings in lieu offered by News Corporation would address the plurality concerns that it had identified in its report to me of 31 December 2010. I also announced that the OFT considered the undertakings to be practical and financially viable for up to 10 years. In light of this independent advice, I am proposing to accept such undertakings, instead of referring the matter to the Competition Commission.
As the Enterprise Act 2002 requires, I have today published these undertakings for public consultation. For the sake of transparency, I have also published all the advice that I have received from Ofcom and the OFT, together with correspondence between myself and News Corporation, and a timeline of the process that I have followed, including details of all the meetings I have held. I hope that honourable Members will have time to study these undertakings during the formal consultation that will start today. However, it may help if I outline the main points.
The undertakings would ensure that Sky News is spun-off as an independent public limited company. The shares in that company would be distributed among the existing shareholders of BSkyB in line with their existing shareholdings. News Corporation would therefore retain a 39.1 per cent stake in the new company, although it will not be allowed to increase this shareholding for 10 years without the permission of the Secretary of State. In other words, even if the proposed News Corp/Sky merger goes ahead, News Corp’s shareholding in Sky News will remain the same as at present.
The new company would have a 10-year carriage agreement and a seven-year renewable brand-licensing agreement with the newly merged News Corp/Sky so as to ensure its financial viability. Unlike the board to which Sky News currently reports, the chairman would be required to be an independent director. Unlike at present, the board would have a corporate governance and editorial committee to ensure compliance with the principles of editorial independence and integrity in news reporting. For the first time, the requirement for the company to adhere to Ofcom’s broadcasting code would be enshrined in the new company’s articles of association. In short, the editorial independence of Sky News would be better protected than it would have been, not only if Sky News had formed part of the buyout of Sky shares, but even than it is right now.
The principles of the arrangements are clear and set out in the proposed undertakings. There are still some detailed provisions of carriage, brand licensing and certain operational agreements that will need to be finalised, and the terms ensure that such agreements will need to be approved by me. In deciding whether or not to approve them, I will again take the advice of Ofcom and the OFT, as appropriate. The merger cannot, of course, go ahead until I have been satisfied on all these matters.
I also want to draw the House’s attention to the issue of the long-term sustainability of these undertakings. The OFT has said that the undertakings are likely to be practically and financially viable in the short and medium term, but expressed concerns about whether the undertakings would be viable over the longer term. It stated, however, that the appropriate timeframe in this market was for me to decide, with Ofcom’s advice.
Ofcom has considered the impact of a 10-year carriage agreement in the context of the media industry and has expressed the view that in a rapidly changing media and technological environment, a carriage agreement of 10 years is a long-term measure. I agree with its independent view of that given the difficulties of predicting with any certainty how the plurality issues will develop over a longer timeframe. However, I will of course only reach a final conclusion on this and other aspects of the undertakings after the consultation is complete.
Consequently, on the basis of the independent advice I have received, I have concluded that a referral to the Competition Commission would not be merited at this stage, and instead propose to consult on the undertakings in lieu, the final version of which has also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on my department’s website.
In line with the legislation, I am opening a consultation period during which time all interested parties will be able to express their views on the undertakings. Once I have considered representations, I will reach a decision on whether I still believe that the undertakings should be accepted in lieu of a referral. If, after consultation, I am still of the view that the undertakings address the concerns about media plurality, I will accept them and not refer this merger to the Competition Commission.
I would add that, quite separately to my consideration of this merger, I have carefully noted Ofcom’s point that there is a potential weakness in the current public interest test with respect to media plurality, namely that it can only be applied when there is a commercial transaction to consider. This wider question is one that I intend to consider in the context of the forthcoming review of communications regulation that I announced earlier this year.
Throughout this process I have been very aware of the potential controversy surrounding this merger. Nothing is more precious to me than the free and independent press for which this country is famous the world over. In order to reassure the public about the way that this decision has been taken, I have sought and published independent advice at every step of the way, even when not required to do so by law. After careful consideration, I have followed that independent advice.
The result is that, if this deal goes ahead, Sky News will be able to continue its high-quality output with greater protections for its operational and editorial independence than exist today. For those who have concerns about the plurality of news provision, I hope that this will be a welcome step forward. As such, I commend this Statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for this Statement. For those of us who have been watching the progress of the referral to Ofcom with some interest, it does not come as a great surprise that we have received a Statement of this nature today. A cynic might say that it would be very surprising if the Christmas social engagements between the Camerons and the Murdoch clan, and the subsequent lobbying, did not have an outcome such as this, although I know that the noble Baroness will have no knowledge of that and I do not expect her to comment.
In November last year we had an excellent debate on the case for maintaining a broad plurality of media ownership tabled by my noble friend Lord Puttnam, who regrettably cannot be with us today. What was noticeable about that debate was the degree of well informed consensus around the Chamber that the proposed News Corp takeover of BSkyB would not serve the public interest. Indeed, I was struck by the passion of noble Lords’ belief in the principle of media plurality as a central issue of our democracy—so much so that the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, made it clear that, for the Liberal Democrats, upholding the principle was,
“a significant marker for our involvement in the coalition”—[Official Report, 4/11/10; col. 1784.]
I hope to hear him reaffirming that fact this afternoon.
In preparing for the Statement, I have reread the debate and the many concerns expressed, and have tried to measure them against the package that we have before us to see whether we can be reassured that they have been addressed. Unfortunately, many of the earlier doubts remain, and I hope that the noble Baroness can reassure us on some of them today. For example, even if we take Sky News out of the equation, does not the BSkyB takeover still represent a concentration of media power on a scale that would not be allowed anywhere else in the developed world—not even in the US? On the basis that News Corp’s share of the national press circulation is estimated to increase to more than 40 per cent by 2014, what are the implications for cross-media dominance in the years to come?
A major concern not answered by this deal is that the strength of BSkyB's financial dominance will allow it to bundle or cross-subsidise its newspaper output, potentially driving competitors out of the market. What steps does the department intend to take to ensure that that cannot happen? That is even more of a pressing issue with the development of internet news and pay-to-view tablet initiatives, in which Murdoch is taking the lead. Surely that underlines the fact that a plurality of news outlets is no longer just about the big TV news broadcasters and that the offering of Sky News as a token sacrifice does not address the real issue of concentration of media power.
There is another reason why sacrificing Sky News might not be the answer. The views of citizens and their access to information are shaped more widely than just by watching news programmes. The nature of entertainment and cultural output matters just as much, as does whether the programmes on offer have, for example, a concentration of American rather than UK origin. Those things matter in shaping how we see our world.
In our previous debate, several noble Lords spoke of Rupert Murdoch as an honourable man, and I have no reason to doubt that, but where might this decision and the promises made lead us in future? How can we stop BSkyB falling into others’ hands in years to come? The spectre of Russian oligarchs, or worse, cannot be discounted. How can we be sure that the deal today will be watertight and stand the test of time?
These decisions, once taken, are virtually impossible to reverse. Surely the sensible thing to do is to err on the side of caution. Will the Minister comment on whether the decision could in due course be reversed if it is subsequently shown not to be in the public interest?
In addition to those questions of principle regarding the deal, we have some specific questions about the detail of Sky News governance. For example, who will appoint the Sky News board and chair? What steps would News Corp have to take if it wanted to change its shareholdings or governance arrangements? Are there any constraints on who might buy the remaining shares in Sky News? Finally, what is to stop News Corp in setting up a rival news station to Sky—let us give it a name picked at random, Fox News—and thereby let Sky decline in its impact and status over time?
The Minister set out today the short period of consultation which will follow this announcement. We, too, plan to study the undertakings carefully and consult widely before coming to a view on whether this package is in the public interest. We will listen to the views of the regulator and to the other media organisations which may be affected by the decision. At the end of the day, our decision will be made by applying the public interest test in the knowledge that to get this decision wrong could have wide implications for our democracy for many years to come.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for those questions, and I will try to answer most of them.
Given our debate in the House initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, to which I replied, the Opposition's stance is no surprise, as it was clearly set out then. The noble Baroness started by voicing doubts about competition. This matter was settled by the EU Commission on 21 December.
On bundling, there is absolutely nothing new. If Mr Murdoch had wanted to bundle he could have bundled a long time ago. He would have had an opportunity before to bundle the 39 per cent control that he has, plus the Times and other newspapers, and obviously is not interested in bundling.
On the control of ownership, the basis of the undertakings is that News Corporation will not have control of Sky News; it will have only 39.1 per cent of the shares. The majority of the board, however, including the chairman, will now be independent. Should News Corporation wish to acquire more shares in Sky News following the merger, it would have to get the Secretary of State’s consent to this for a period of 10 years following the merger.
The noble Baroness quite rightly raised questions about future financial worries. The 10-year carriage agreement and the brand-licensing agreement underpin the undertakings and will ensure the viability of Sky News. Both those agreements must be agreed by the Secretary of State, so their terms will be subject to additional scrutiny.
The Secretary of State has made clear throughout his dealings on this that he has been committed to a fair, thorough and open process. I hope that the Statement has made clear that he has not reached a final decision and will not do so until after the consultation period when all parties have had the chance to contribute.
If any questions or points of detail remain that I have not answered, I will, of course, write to the noble Baroness and put a copy of the answer in the Library with all the other documents. I am grateful for the interest that noble Lords on the Back Benches will show on this matter, and I look forward to answering any of their questions.
My Lords, is not the trouble with Mr Murdoch’s assurances that, frankly, we have been down that road before, and not very happily in the case of the Times newspapers, so will need to study those assurances with very great care?
As I understand it, the new company will be loss-making, will have a 40 per cent News Corporation shareholding, and will rely for two-thirds of its income upon News Corporation.
Who from outside does the Minister believe will be investing in this new company, and will she confirm that the undertakings that Mr Murdoch has given do not prevent him eventually taking back control of Sky News? Lastly, does she agree that this further concentration of powers—as the noble Baroness from the opposition Front Bench was saying—on advertising and cross-subsidy will pose a danger to many other media companies in this country? Is that really in the public interest?
My Lords, I am very pleased that my noble friend, Lord Fowler, asks these questions. It gives me an opportunity to inform your Lordships’ House further, following the Statement.
I clarify yet again that this is not a final decision. The Secretary of State has announced that he is proposing to accept the undertakings offered by News Corporation. There will now be a consultation period, which will close on 21 March, after which the Secretary of State will decide whether to approve the merger. Ofcom’s report on the proposed merger stated, and the Secretary of State agreed, that:
“We consider that the revised proposed undertakings would address the plurality concerns identified in our report of 31 December 2010”.
On the question of who outside might bid for the shares, I am afraid I have absolutely no idea. No one has told me anything about who might buy. The figure quoted by the Secretary of State was that 65 per cent of Sky News’ income will come from Sky. We have no idea about the rest. The concentration of power will be less because the new Sky News will not have a Murdoch as chairman or on the board. The chairman and the board will be independently chosen.
I shall not repeat the excellent points made from the Front Bench by my noble friend Lady Jones, but I shall follow some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said. In particular, great emphasis has been put in the Statement on the independence of Sky News and of the chairman and the directors. Who is going to appoint them? Will the Murdoch family surely not want some say in how the independent chairman and directors are appointed? I would welcome an answer on that.
Bearing in mind some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not only do we all recall, I am sure, the failure of the so-called independent directors of the Times, who were a somewhat useless set of people, but I remember, and I am sure many of us will, the so-called independent directors of the Observer, who were set up to put some kind of limit on the unreasonable power of the late Mr Tiny Rowland. The independent board is very much emphasised in this Statement, but I have not yet understood how it will be achieved, particularly if you have, as the Murdoch family will have, a 39.1 per cent share. Is the Murdoch family going to take no responsibility and want no power over the appointment of the independent directors?
Finally, how long is the arrangement to last? I understand the viability point about the 10 years. Perhaps I ought to have declared that some time ago I headed up the Office of Fair Trading for many years. I notice that it has usefully expressed some concern about the feasibility and viability of this arrangement and about whether it can last. We must all be concerned, as my noble friend Lady Jones indicated, about who may purchase. It might be some other undesirable person or group of persons whose viability and concern one would want to check.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, makes very valid points. He knows about independence and Ofcom from having been chairman of the OFT. We either have to believe in this country that we have independent appointments or we do not. The way in which this country is run means that many bodies have independent board members and independent chairmen; it is not government and the Murdoch family. Paragraph 3.3 of the paper states that the new chairman will be independent.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, mentioned 10 years. The Office of Fair Trading stated that the Sky News company, which was not part of News Corporation, will be viable for at least 10 years. That is a long time in this market, and I remind the noble Lord that it is difficult to predict with certainty what the media world and plurality will be like in that time.
My Lords, alas, I fear that there is quite a lot of scepticism on the part of a number of your Lordships and concern about plurality. I accept that an independent chairman will be an improvement, but, by way of helping to reassure myself, I ask about the guarantee for 10 years that this sum—I believe it is 65 per cent—will be provided for the needs of this independent organisation. Will it be available every year or will it be a lump sum? If it is provided on a yearly basis, my concern is whether any condition might be attached—perhaps a delay in paying the sum. Might there be a way in which that could happen?
Understandably, there is a certain amount of scepticism about some of the details. As I say, this is not a final decision; we are still consulting. The point about plurality came clearly from Ofcom. Its conclusion was that,
“we consider that the revised proposed undertakings would address the plurality concerns identified in our report of 31 December 2010”.
At the moment, I cannot give the noble Baroness the details of how the money will be given.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness indicated, when we debated this issue in November, with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber there was an overwhelming feeling that this merger should not be allowed to go through. Having read the Ofcom letter and having listened to the Statement, my overall concern, which was expressed from the other Benches, is that nowhere in the Statement or in the Ofcom letter is the question addressed of the overall media power that this organisation will have following the BSkyB merger. That seems to be a huge lacuna in the Statement and the Ofcom letter, which is dealt with simply by reference to the fact that the European Union competition authorities have looked at this issue and have passed it, and that therefore we do not need to worry about it. Looking at the faces and nods around this House, it is something that we should worry about. However, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, these undertakings are now going out to consultation, and the devil, as always, will be in the detail.
Various noble Lords have indicated their suspicion about independent directors. I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, grinning at the comment about the independent directors of the Times. I am not sure which way he was grinning, but he was certainly grinning.
I understood that. Perhaps I should move on swiftly. There clearly is suspicion about the role of independent directors. Various people have mentioned the Times and the Observer, but even going back to the takeover of the News Chronicle by the Daily Mail, the record was rather poor. Undoubtedly, these undertakings will be looked at with huge scepticism.
Apart from being very light on the issue of overall media power, both the Statement and the letter from Ofcom are extremely light on how the new Sky News will be financed. My question for the noble Baroness is: is it intended that all the money will be put up by News Corporation for the next seven to 10 years? If so, will we have satisfactory undertakings that, despite the fact that it is retaining only 40 per cent of the business, it will continue—
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Razzall started off by asking about the merger and how the House had expressed a contrary view. The whole point of debate is that people should be allowed to express whatever view they wish. What we are looking at now are the reports from Ofcom and others on how to advise the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is now putting the issue out to further consultation. The overall power of News Corp will actually be lessened because it will no longer control Sky News. It is to be a separate body and thus more independent.
On financial robustness, the 10-year carriage agreement and the brand licensing agreement that underpin these undertakings will ensure that Sky News will be financially viable. Both those agreements must eventually be underpinned by the Secretary of State, so their terms will be subject to additional scrutiny.
My Lords, my personal affection and respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, make me accept from her that this is not a final decision. May I put it to her that if it does not bear close similarity to the final decision when it is made, noble Lords across the House are prepared to be utterly astounded with delight and shocked to their roots? Can I also put it to her that what she has told us this afternoon means that Sky News will by owned by the people and interests who own BSkyB, including 39 per cent by Murdoch interests? Does that not make the same mockery of independence that is evident elsewhere in the Murdoch empire, including the Wall Street Journal and our own Times in this country? Is it not clear that the Secretary of State has accepted this arrangement as a quid pro quo for allowing Mr Murdoch to take complete ownership of BSKyB, and is it not evident that this is a handsome pay-off for the support given by News International to the Conservative Party during the election?
I cannot say anything about the final decision that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, has asked for. This is still open to consultation until a certain date, and it will be very interesting. The Secretary of State will then look at it all. There will be independent shareholdings. The Murdoch press will own 39 per cent, but the rest will be open to the public. It is a little unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, to criticise the Secretary of State. He has made this absolutely clear right from the beginning. Everything is published and available in the Library—papers of every meeting are available for scrutiny by anyone who wants to do so. If people have been worried about anything at any stage, he has always seen them. So I think he is being a little tough.
My Lords, I have a brief question to ask my noble friend. As I understand it, the situation is that the shareholding is limited to 39.1 per cent at the point of entry into this system, but we hear that the Secretary of State will have to give permission if further shares are to be brought in. Can my noble friend tell us on what grounds that permission would be given, because that is a very important factor?
My Lords, I should like to follow up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. What pressures can be exerted by BSkyB for an accelerated reduction in the subsidy paid to Sky News over the coming years, thereby reducing the quality of news output by Sky News?
My Lords, can I press the Minister on a concern of mine, which is about retaining the quality of journalism on Sky News? Is the Minister satisfied that there are sufficient guarantees that News Corp will continue to fund Sky News properly, particularly considering the relentless forward march of new technology, which will necessitate considerable investment over future years? Just as a final thought, I have a feeling that the Telegraph must be thinking that it scored an own goal today.
My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter is worried about continuing openness. News Corporation shares in Sky News will be unchanged as a result of the merger, and the independence of Sky News will actually be increased. It has an independent board and a new independent chairman, and we hope that they will keep the high quality.
My Lords, this Statement, frankly, is largely about the price of shares and ownership of BSkyB, and little to do with democracy in our society. Is the Minister aware that the investigation into the Murdoch press on phone hacking has now been extended to the Sunday Times. The argument that it was simply one paper and one rogue reporter is no longer true—a number of papers owned by the Murdoch press and a number of their employees have been involved in withholding evidence and illegal practices. Is she happy to extend a major part of our television services to the Murdoch press? Will she consider extending the consultation period until the criminal inquiries have been completed?
My Lords, I spent a great deal of my political life being involved in forestry, and I made my maiden speech in the other place 41 years ago on the subject. I introduced the Private Member’s Bill that required the Forestry Commission to move from simply producing timber to multipurpose forestry, and I served for eight years as chair of the Forestry Commission. Given that, I was not exactly happy with the Government’s proposals, which I regarded as ill judged, to sell off the Forestry Commission estate. However, I was thrilled and amazed by the response of the British people. I did not expect them to share the appreciation of trees and woodland as fully as I did. The fact that over half a million individuals have signed a petition against the Government’s proposal—the petition is still there; lapsed, but growing each day—was symptomatic of the feeling of the British people. I was quite frankly staggered that I ended up addressing meetings of thousands of people, deep in our forests, who were objecting to the Government’s proposals.
However, that is in the past. The Government, thankfully, saw the light, and they retreated. We are all grateful for that retreat, because it gives us an opportunity now, in a calmer atmosphere, to debate the long-term future of a long-term business. As the House knows, we are talking about an industry that thinks in terms of decades, as a minimum, and occasionally in terms of centuries. It is right to take stock and see where we are.
Over a number of years, we in Britain have had a healthy partnership between the public sector and the private sector in forestry. Twenty per cent is owned by the state and the remainder by the private sector. I think that this is about the right balance, and both sectors receive support from the public finances. This balance is right because the state can do some things more easily than the private sector can. On access, for example, I remind noble Lords that the Forestry Commission estate is the largest single provider of countryside access, with 40 million day visitors per year. I remind the House that under the CROW Act almost all the freehold land is legally open for access on foot, and that on almost all the land there is de facto access on cycles for mountain biking and general recreation. Access is given wherever possible for horses as well. This is much easier to provide where the land is being supported by the general public through taxation than it might be for a private owner. I concede that straightaway, and it is one of my arguments for why we need to retain a sizeable public sector ownership of our forestry.
The issue is not only access. In terms of biodiversity, 26 per cent of the forestry estate is designated as SSSI; and of those sites, 98 per cent are designated as either favourable or at an advanced stage of recovery. Forty-five per cent of the estate is within national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. There are constraints on the production of timber, yet the Forestry Commission estate still produces 60 per cent of all the timber produced from woods and forests in this country. In addition to that, there is the storage of CO2 as well.
As for timber supply, although I have long argued for multi purpose forestry, it is also still very important to produce timber. What has not come out in debate on the Government’s proposal to sell off the Forestry Commission is how opposed most of the big users of timber were to it. Modern timber-using industry needs a high level of capital investment and, usually, a great deal of labour. It is imperative that those users of timber are guaranteed a supply 365 days a year, every year. The private sector, quite understandably, will not give those guarantees of supply. When timber prices fall—and it is a highly volatile market—the private sector simply withdraws timber from the market. That makes sense to the private timber owner but not to the timber user in a highly capital-intensive, labour-intensive industry.
I accept that one cannot stand still. As chair of the commission, I was for ever pushing the commission to see if we could find better ways of meeting more public benefits and of doing so in a better way. That was an obligation that I felt we had to the taxpayer and to our customers as wood users. I was pleased, for example, to persuade Parliament to agree to a regulatory reform order that allowed the Forestry Commission, as a government department, to do all sorts of adventurous initiatives. We were allowed to form joint ventures with the private sector, and we have done so with effect. There is much more opportunity for us to continue with that as we progress. While I am open about the way in which we go forward and how we manage and utilise our assets in the state sector, I hope that the Government will be as open as they look ahead with their proposals.
We were all pleased—certainly on this side of the House, along with the overwhelming majority of the British people, including 82 per cent of the Government’s own supporters—that the Secretary of State announced on 17 February that they were dropping their wilder proposals to sell off 85 per cent of the Forestry Commission estate. That was a vast amount, but there still remains the question of the 15 per cent. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance about that 15 per cent today. Is it still the Government’s firm intention, after they receive the report from the committee of experts, to sell off that 15 per cent? Before the Government throw back at me the fact that we did that I should say, yes, we did. It makes sense to reshape your estate. But we sold about 2 per cent of the forest estate, a net sale, over 13 years. The Government are proposing to sell 15 per cent over four years. The effect will be dramatic in many parts of the country and it is clearly not what the British people wish.
I say this to the Minister. The Government may feel that the protests and the protesters have gone away, but they have not—they are still there. The forests campaign network is having regular meetings because it wants to hold the Government to account on this issue, and it does not want the sale of the forestry estate asset.
I shall conclude my remarks by asking the Minister a number of straightforward questions. The Government intend to set up the panel of experts, which we appreciate will be widely drawn. Will he give us an assurance that it will meet in public, that its records will be public and that its members will be drawn from throughout the regions of the country?
On an organisational matter, the Forestry Commission is currently being pressurised by Defra to reorganise its administrative structure. This would encompass huge areas, stretching from the north-east of England right through to the east coast. I firmly believed that the way forward for the Forestry Commission was to move to regional and local bases. I thought that the Government shared that idea, with the big society. Will the Minister look at this and suggest to Defra that it work with the Forestry Commission so that the reorganisation is put on hold until we have the report?
Defra has also put proposals to the Forestry Commission that it should come up with a new vision. I have seen a copy of that vision and, frankly, it is disturbing. It mentions all sorts of proposals for the commission that I agree with, but at no stage does it mention any role for the Forestry Commission estate. Will the Minister have a word with his Defra officials on that issue?
This is a very short and rushed debate, in time allocated to the Opposition. There is sufficient interest in this topic within this House, where there is a great deal of knowledge, and I ask the Government to give us some time in government time so that the House can debate this issue and play its part in the forestry debate.
My Lords, I respectfully remind noble Lords that Back-Bench contributions in this debate are limited to two minutes and that those two minutes are already up when it says two minutes on the clock. If any noble Lord exceeds that, he risks restricting my noble friend’s ability to respond to your Lordships.
My Lords, those who expect a rational debate on this, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, has mentioned, will be totally disappointed that we are limited to two minutes, which was the decision of the Labour Party. The recent debate on forestry has neither been measured nor rational, which is in large part due to the Forestry Commission itself.
I ask my noble friend Lord Henley to justify the role of the Forestry Commission today. It is funded by the taxpayer and has always made a loss. With its huge inbuilt advantages, it competes with the private sector for land in the production and sale of trees and timber yet, at the same time, it totally controls what the private sector can do, often through its overbureaucratic and costly regulations. The private sector must have an approved management plan to plant and manage woodlands in order to obtain grants from the Forestry Commission, which are often delayed. That only adds insult to injury for the private sector.
I recall that when we privatised water my late friend Nicholas Ridley, Lord Ridley of Liddesdale, made the bold decision to break up the river management authority organisation and separate the regulator from the producer. I hope that my noble friend will be equally bold in looking at the Forestry Commission. Who, for instance, would support the idea that the Bank of England should not only be the Bank of England but should run high street banks? Why is the Forestry Commission any different? It is not. It is acknowledged by everybody that we need to plant more trees in the UK but there is no way that those trees will be planted by the private sector unless it can be assured that it can produce managed, sustainable woodland at a profitable price. With the present structure of the Forestry Commission, that will not happen.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for securing this debate and declare an interest as the past president of the Ramblers. I was so delighted to hear the news, here in this House, on Monday 28 February that Clauses 17 to 19 and Schedule 7 had been withdrawn. Thank goodness that common sense prevailed. Now we can see the wood from the trees as we make future plans, because I am sure that the Minister will agree that the issue of access to woodlands was at the heart of those clauses.
We all know that access to the Forestry Commission estate facilitates not just walking but social interaction, play, relaxation, discovery and enjoyment among all backgrounds. Therefore, it is key that this access is maintained. As an avid walker, I can vouch for the fact that walking has been proven to improve moods. It has also been shown that it reduces the risk of certain cancers and strokes, and that it reduces diabetes and so on. By cutting off access to one of England’s most loved places to walk, we cut off a key way of exercising those benefits.
Walking in a group can be a tonic. It is a sociable activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation. The Ramblers’ research has found that this benefit is valued by participants in group walks. Believe it or not, walking a mile burns around the same amount of calories as running a mile—although, of course, it takes longer—and can be so wonderfully enjoyable. Improving public spaces and promoting walking as an active means of transport will help to reduce health inequalities as well as combating climate change.
It has been proven that walkers in the English countryside spend over £6 billion a year, generating income of over £2 billion and supporting a quarter of a million full-time jobs. I hope that my noble friend will keep all these thoughts in mind when the Government are making any future plans that affect our heritage and, most of all, the well-being of generations to come. Let us all make access a priority. Then, if we go down to the woods today, or tomorrow, we will not be in for a big surprise.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for creating this all-too-short debate. Secondly, I declare some interests: I was an independent member of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee from its beginning and for several years; and, more generally, I have a significant and international engagement in research in conservation biology. It is against that background that I make just one substantial point.
The UK is formally committed not just to preserving biological diversity of plants, animals and ecosystems in the UK but also, going further, to restoring the lamentable and well documented declines and losses seen over the past century. This necessarily requires co-ordinated overview of actions which would be greatly impeded under the suggested free-for-all of privatising the Forestry Commission estate.
The Government’s plans are in this sense, to a degree, incompatible with commitments that successive previous Governments have given. Furthermore—and, admittedly, more speculatively—it is quite likely that the proposed privatisation will lead to significant deforestation as land is cleared for property development or agriculture, which could cut against our commitments under climate change legislation.
In short, I am of the strong opinion that this is a thoroughly bad idea.
My Lords, the future of the state forests is clearly of great importance. I acknowledge the long-standing commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Clark, to it. I would be the first to recognise, as a countryman, that forests and woodlands are much loved and treasured by our nation. I am proud to be wearing the Red Squirrel Survival Trust tie, a species dependent on forestry.
Regrettably, the Government appeared not to be explicit enough to reassure so many that the enhancement of the state-owned forests was always the first priority in any transfer of ownership. Following the recent appointment of a group to assess the regulations governing forestry and woodland management, I would expect people who have practical knowledge of the countryside, and the timber industry in particular, to be fully represented. I hope that all of us can unite in co-ordinated and rigorous action to counter the all-too-many alarming diseases among tree species.
I also draw attention to the substantial amount of woodland which is managed privately. Of course, there is no ideological opposition to private ownership, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, has said. Under the previous Administration, 25,000 acres of Forestry Commission land was sold. There are many examples of flourishing private woodland. There are also many examples of England’s community projects, and these are a continuing success. There are other public organisations which also manage woodland. Epping Forest, for instance, managed by the Corporation of London, provides a much cherished environment close to the capital.
One of the most important issues that should have come out of the last few months of debate is the position of the Forestry Commission as both the industry regulator and a major operator in that industry. This must at least be a matter for scrutiny. The unique arrangement of the Forestry Commission being the main commercial operator in the field and also regulator of its competitors presents a clear conflict of interest.
My Lords, the future of forests can be summarised by the ABC of accessibility, biodiversity and conservation. Whatever plans emerge in the future, the public clearly want accessibility to be a priority. Biodiversity has recently received more attention from the Forestry Commission, but there are those who believe—and I share this view—that more needs to be done to take us beyond the monocultural forest of conifers and spruces.
The Secretary of State has emerged as a champion of biodiversity at the recent international conference in Japan. She needs to ensure greater biodiversity in our forests. We lecture the world about the evil effects of deforestation. Therefore, we should set an example to the forest nations and adopt the highest principles and standards of conservation and sustainability.
The Liverpool poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in an evocative poem, “Binsey Poplars”, laments:
“O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!”.
I commend the poem to all who aspire to manage our forests accessibly, biodiversely and—if I may say so—conservatively.
My Lords, that is a splendid poem.
Like the majority of the people of this country I think that the Forestry Commission does an excellent job in the management, stewardship and protection of our forests, and like the majority of people in this country I want the public forests remaining in public ownership to remain in public ownership.
I say to the noble Earl that the Forestry Commission had absolutely nothing to do with the recent public debate about forests. It was not allowed to say anything. I think that it should have been able to speak out. I am very pleased that the Government are responsible for appointing the independent panel. I wish to ask some further questions to the many that have been asked. Will the panel travel round the country, taking views from people on the forests in which they live or about which they care, because forests are about not just woods and trees but communities as well? I live in a very strong community.
My next question concerning a conflict of interest has already been raised. I am somewhat perplexed about this because in 1992 the Conservative Government created the authority and enterprise sides of the Forestry Commission. Those are clearly demarcated with different offices and staff. In my view there is no conflict of interest but I would like further clarification from the Minister on that.
As we know, a consultation on jobs is going on with the unions. I hope that that will cease until we know exactly what the outcome of the independent panel will be. How many jobs are in dispute and are the subject of consultation? Might those jobs be got rid of speedily? The Secretary of State has said that she wants the Forestry Commission to do more in terms of biodiversity and access. Therefore, it would be foolish to have even fewer people working for the Forestry Commission.
My Lords, this is a bit like Punch and Judy—up you come, down you go, that’s the way to do it. However, it is absolutely clear that the debate that we have had over the past few months has been narrow, divisive and based on ill judged proposals. That is not the way to do it, but thanks to the sensible government decision that has been taken we now have a real opportunity to have a broad-ranging, inclusive, constructive debate about the future of forests and woodlands in this country. However, it all depends on the panel of experts, how it is set up, who is on it and their terms of reference. It has to be broadly based and I am confident that that will happen. Its terms of reference must be as wide as possible, not just about the future of the forestry estate but about the work of the forestry commissioners and the Forestry Commission in the widest sense, including the future of woodlands and forests in this country.
My honourable friend Roger Williams pointed out in the House of Commons debate yesterday that 80 per cent of the woods and forests in this country are private, of which 40 per cent are not managed properly or not even managed at all. That must be the basis of the whole debate but it must not under any circumstances be based on an assumption of disposal. We have to start with a clean sheet. As regards the terms of the panel’s operation, it must be able to look outwards to the knowledge, expertise and wishes of the people. It must be open and involve people throughout the country and do as much of its work as possible in public. I hope that it will hold a series of constructive seminars around the country in which people can take part. We have a real opportunity now to get away from the oppositional debate that we have had towards an inclusive project aimed at building a consensus for the future—not just for the next four, five or 10 years, but one in which the Forestry Commission, the forestry commissioners and our woods and forests can go ahead on a basis of 50 years, because trees take quite a long time to grow.
I shall celebrate two important forests that are in my area, namely Delamere and Cannock Chase, both not far from where I declare my interests as a farmer, although the farm does not have any appreciable woodland.
Delamere and Cannock Chase consist of 2,500 hectares of forest, wetlands, heathland and grassland including internationally important bogs and sites of special scientific interest. They are multipurpose forests with a high degree of public recreational use, providing an impressive network of walking, cycling and horse riding trails, and attracting around 1.25 million visitors per year. In addition, they host popular attractions—for example, outdoor concerts, one of which drew 15,000 people to Delamere over three nights and helped boost the visitor economy, because all the local accommodation was booked up. Another example is provided by Go Ape, which provides adventure activities that employ seven seasonal staff and remits surpluses of around £50,000 to the Forestry Commission.
Attention should now turn towards management and getting the best use out of what we have. It cannot happen without resources; and the 30p per annum that each of us contributes to maintaining the PFE represents tremendously good value for money. The proposed cut to 17p per annum per person and approximately 500 redundancies will not only impact on management but affect many local communities.
The best starting point for the newly announced expert panel should be to dust off the comprehensive public consultation carried out by the previous Administration. Here will be found ideas to reinforce the priorities of the Forestry Commission, provide social benefits to urban populations, and make a bigger contribution to the UK’s climate change strategy.
The nation’s trees are under attack from pests and diseases—red band needle blight, sudden oak death, bleeding canker of horse chestnut and pine lappet moth. Research into these threats is woefully underfunded. Forest activity needs to be energised, not debilitated.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a farmer and woodland owner. It is clear that our woodlands are important to the people of the UK. In some areas, the timber they produce can be a vital part of the rural economy. The income forests provide from shooting is also important in some areas. Equally, as regards climate change, CO2 is locked up in timber, and if that timber goes into, say, housebuilding, it remains locked up. Also, wood that is used to create heat or energy is carbon-neutral. Woodland also hosts numerous species of flora and fauna. Woodland is an important part of our landscape and cultural heritage. Finally, woodlands, because they contain all these benefits, are a vital resource for access, and thus the spiritual and physical health of our nation.
However, the real problem is that whatever use they are put to, woodlands require expensive management. Of all the benefits that they bring, only timber and possibly sporting income are capable of paying for that management. The situation in the private sector—some 80 per cent of woodland cover—is even worse. The employment of woodland workers is not an allowable business expense. It is the fiscal equivalent of employing a butler. It is true that one can possibly get a tax-free income after a tree has grown for 50 years or so—or rather one’s children can, which is not perhaps such an inspiring motive—but when woodland is managed for public benefit, we are entering the realms of charitable giving. The trouble is that in forestry, the tax system does not recognise expenses incurred in producing marketable or non-marketable goods
The point is that we desperately need better and more focused management of our woodlands to provide all the outcomes that we clearly value. Please can the new panel of inquiry look carefully at how we can better encourage proper woodland management? That is the key to successful and multipurpose forestry in this country.
My Lords, it is great that thanks to the brave decision of the Secretary of State, the forestry debate can now focus much more on management than on ownership. I follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on that very point.
About 50 years ago, I wrote a report for the Council of Europe on national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest. In the process of gleaning evidence for that report, it was borne in on me how vitally important it is to be sensitive to the requirements of the forest when considering their management. Forests and woodlands vary in type and size. One size does not fit all. Therefore, management has to be acutely aware of their individual and specialist needs.
That leads me to comment with a word of caution about the recent emphasis, which has been made in some of our exchanges, on public access and recreation. If that is overdone, it will destroy the very thing that we all want to preserve. It is incredible what damage can be done by walking or trampling feet, whether human or horse, and even more if it is done in the name of motorsport or motorcycles. This is not what forests are designed for. They are primarily designed for biodiversity, for the production of timber, and as we now understand, for the valuable role they play in relation to climate change. So I hope that we will be careful how we use our forests, and recognise that the greatest benefit is in experiencing the wonderful quiet, the silence, and the beauty. Let us preserve that.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my admiration to noble Lords all around the House for managing to make so many telling points within the rigorous confines of a two-minute deadline. I am fortunate in that I have slightly longer, but I none the less share the frustration that noble Lords feel in having to deal with such important issues in such a short time.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere very much on initiating this debate, and on his starring role in recent forestry campaigns, which have been so happily successful. My noble friend, through his previous work as chair of the Forestry Commission, and also throughout his long parliamentary career, has been an unmatched champion for our countryside, for the rural economies of our country, and for the natural environment.
As I was not able to be in the House on Monday when the Public Bodies Bill was debated, I take this opportunity to give my thanks to the Government for removing the forestry provisions from that legislation and to express my delight at the dramatic turnaround in their approach to their forestry policy. The Government’s original proposals, as we know, unleashed a tidal wave of public concern. Like others, I pay tribute to the various campaigns which immediately got under way. I recognise in particular the national petition organised by 38 Degrees, which was so astoundingly effective, but I recognise equally the local and regional campaigns up and down the country, which had such an important influence on Members of Parliament, and indeed on public representatives throughout our country. The campaigns attracted celebrity support as well, and support from people of different walks of life. My noble friend Lord Clark said that he was, in a way, astonished at the scale of the reaction, yet there were reminders during the campaigns of how long the history of public support for our forests is. Some looked back, for example, to the campaigns by Octavia Hill and John Stuart Mill in the 19th century to save Epping Forest.
Certainly, if this was the big society in action, it was very impressive, although ironically for the Government, who see the big society as their cherished idea, in this case it was the big society standing up to and opposing what the Government were doing. The public certainly showed that they were passionate about the future of our forests, and many noble Lords have expressed passion for our forests in the debates that we have had in this House. In considering the Public Bodies Bill and in the debate today, various forests around the country have been mentioned: the Forest of Dean, the forests in the Lake District, and the forests of Delamere and Cannock Chase, which my noble friend Lord Grantchester mentioned. I share that passion for my local forests and woods in the north-east of England—Chopwell woods, Hamsterley forest and, a bit to my surprise, Kielder, which is a very large forest, described by the Minister as containing serried ranks of conifers. I remember being dismayed in the past at some of the very large ugly plantations in areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Huge changes have occurred in forestry policy over the years, thanks in no small measure to the work done by my noble friend Lord Clark at the Forestry Commission and by the commitment of the previous Government to make forests an amenity for all our citizens, as well as being important in terms of timber production. That has been seen in Kielder, as elsewhere, with the many sites of special scientific interest and habitats for endangered ospreys and the red squirrel. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, on wearing his red squirrel tie. I do not know whether he has headscarves or other items that might be more suitable for women supporters of red squirrels, but certainly the cause of the red squirrel is one that is dear to the hearts of many of us in this House. It reminds us of one of the most important aspects of this debate which is the promotion of biodiversity. Indeed, that point has been made tellingly in some of the briefings sent to us by outside organisations, particularly the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which speaks effectively on the importance of biodiversity. I commend the succinctness of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool in saying that our watchwords should be accessibility, biodiversity and conservation. These are important watchwords when it comes to how to approach this debate.
I took the Minister to task at an earlier stage for his categorisation of forests and the categories of forest that Defra came up with in its original proposals. It is wrong to try to oversimplify whether forests are commercial, heritage, mixed, or whatever. I believe strongly that each forest has to be looked at on its own merits and that we have to look at them not only for what they mean for timber production but for nature conservation and wildlife, public access and amenities, and for what they contribute to the rural and regional economies in terms of tourism, timber production and related issues. All forests should be considered in that way and I hope that the Government will now accept that as the way forward.
While I disagreed with Ministers’ oversimplification of forest categories, I agreed with the point that he and his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, made in our debate on the Public Bodies Bill. It is a challenge to reconcile the valid different interests which seek to use our forests, whether ramblers, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, sports interests, wildlife interests, general tourism, and so on. They all need to be reconciled within our overall international environmental commitments.
A number of issues were raised to which I hope the Minister will respond. My noble friend Lord Clark mentioned the issue of the 15 per cent and I hope that the Minister will respond to that. On Monday, concern was expressed that repeated sales at 15 per cent could result in the serious whittling away of the public forest estate. In response the Minister mentioned that a substantial public forestry estate would be retained. In order to reassure people, particularly given the extent of public concern, a definition of what constitutes substantial will need to be given, so I hope that the Minister will respond to that.
Questions have been asked about the composition of the panel and how it will operate. I echo those concerns that it should operate in public and be as inclusive as possible. That has to be the message that results and one of the lessons learnt from the experience of the past two months. My noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon mentioned concern about jobs. We are concerned about cuts in expenditure in terms of managing our forests in all our interests.
I have to conclude, and time is frustratingly short, but we owe it to the public who have shown such strong feelings on this matter to come back to these issues many times and to be vigilant in the months ahead. In the mean time I look forward to the Minister’s reply and his answer to the points that have been made so tellingly today.
My Lords, I start with a brief comment on the length of the debate. We are limited to one hour, but that is, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, entirely a matter for the Opposition. A request was put in that this debate could be held on some other occasion in what is referred to as “government time”. I am not so sure that there is such a thing as government time in this House, but I am sure that the usual channels will discuss this in due course.
I go back to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool when talking about his ABC of accessibility, biodiversity and conservation. Those three are very important, but we should add others. The first and most important one to remember is that the public forest estate, which covers some 18 per cent of English woodland, is there to produce timber. That was what it was set up for back in 1918, 1919 or whenever. Timber is its primary role, but it has the other duties of accessibility, biodiversity and conservation as well. It also has a very important role against climate change as a storer of carbon, as my noble friend Lord Eden mentioned. That, again, is a role that we should remember.
To return to the question of accessibility raised by the right reverend Prelate, one should underline—and I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for doing so—that there are competing demands in the whole accessibility question. This point came up in our debate on Monday on these matters, when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised the question of motorsports. The noble Lord is a former Member for a Birmingham seat, so he has a great interest in motorsports, which make use of the public forest estate—it is very important to them. Within accessibility, we have competing demands from those who want to work, those who want to ride and those who want to drive, whether in motor or horse-drawn vehicles. All of those compete with each other and cannot use the land at the same time, and all of them compete in biodiversity and conservation. All these things cannot go together, so very difficult decisions have to be made. That is something that we will take into account in any decision.
A lot has been said in the previous six months about the future of the public forest estate, but a lot of that has been based, dare I say it, on speculation rather than fact. I say that having listened to some of the speeches today, in particular to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Clark. Although he never seeks to mislead the House, he talked about selling off the entire forestry estate, which was never set out by us. What we set out in our consultation document, which has since been withdrawn, was very different indeed. It might have helped if the noble Lord had read that and studied it in detail. I refer back to the same point made by the noble Lord, Lord May, who was one of the signatories of that great letter that we received—or which came to the papers. I think the noble Lord will find that he signed that letter before our consultation document came out that has since been withdrawn. As my right honourable friend announced on 17 February—so we have now moved on—we have ended that consultation on the public forest estate and withdrawn the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill. So we can now have a rational debate, and I hope that it will not be based on misinformation, or whatever.