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Women: Contribution to Economic Life

Volume 752: debated on Thursday 6 March 2014

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the contribution of women to economic life in the United Kingdom and worldwide.

My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to open this debate marking International Women’s Day. I am delighted that so many noble Lords are speaking today, and that we have a maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Palumbo as well. These debates, which have become an annual event, always demonstrate the enormous range and depth of experience of Members of this House. They are always constructive and thought-provoking. I am very much looking forward to noble Lords’ contributions.

On Saturday 8 March we will mark the 103rd International Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate women’s social, economic and political achievements. But while we celebrate the contribution of women to our economy, society and culture, we remain well aware of the barriers to full equality both here in the United Kingdom and internationally.

In 1911, on the first International Women’s Day, women in the United Kingdom were still campaigning for the right to vote, to work and to hold public office. On that day, more than a million women and men attended rallies calling for equality.

Three years later saw the outbreak of the Great War—a centenary that we are about to mark. The First World War saw a social revolution that would have profound and lasting effects on women in the United Kingdom, but it built on earlier changes—people moving into towns and cities, the extension of education to girls and increasing prosperity. In the Great War many women found themselves for the first time in paid employment. Women began taking on the vital roles left vacant when men were conscripted into the military. They worked in munitions factories, agriculture and transport. This movement into the workplace by women saw a far more fundamental change. Women began to expect more from life and society. They began to question the status quo. They asked why they could not do the same jobs or have the same education as men.

However, gaining that greater equality has been a long, slow process and we are not there yet. Women’s lives have of course changed greatly since the first International Women’s Day and the Great War, but we need to focus on challenging the unfairness and prejudice that can still stop women making the most of their potential. Women and girls are still expected to do more in the home than men and boys. The pay gap remains. They are less likely to take leading roles in business and public life. Yet we have also seen major shifts in all areas of women’s lives over the 100 years since the Great War. Today women run FTSE 100 companies, bring home gold medals and go into space. We need to tackle the multiple barriers that can hold women back—for their own sakes, for that of their families, including their daughters, and for the economy. This debate focuses on women’s contributions to the economy, at home and abroad. It is only by full participation that their contribution will be truly measured. There are many reasons why women face a greater range of challenges to fulfilling that economic potential, even if the landscape is transformed from earlier times, and even across the generations living now.

Of course, we need to encourage our daughters as much as our sons from the start. I certainly recall my mother being determined that I and my sister had the same opportunities and ambitions as my brother. Today, girls in the UK are outperforming boys at school and university: last year 24.8% of GCSE exams sat by girls were graded A* or A, compared to 17.6% of those sat by boys. Many girls are highly ambitious and want to get ahead, with over half of them saying they want to be a leader in their profession one day. The assumption in 1914 was that a girl’s only real aspiration should be marriage and motherhood. Of course, there are still some deeply ingrained social and cultural assumptions about girls’ abilities and interests. We hope that both sexes—girls and boys—will value family life. We can bring about that greater equality that we wish to see through a fundamental rethink about how men and women live their lives so that both sexes have the opportunity to fulfil themselves through both work and family—should they wish that.

We know that girls’ sense of their own self-worth and potential can cause them to limit their aspirations. In the United Kingdom, over 80% of girls feel that they are judged more on how they look than on what they can do. Sometimes their sense of what is appropriate for girls closes their eyes to other opportunities. At A-level, the subjects that can lead to some of the highest-paying careers, particularly maths and science, remain dominated by boys. In 2013, almost eight in 10 physics papers were taken by boys. Only 30% of women with STEM qualifications now work in science, engineering or technology occupations, compared to 50% of men with STEM qualifications. We need to help make the next generation of girls consider science, technology, engineering, maths or business as their potential route to achievement. Whatever route they wish to take, we wish to encourage girls to fulfil their potential.

We know that women still carry the greater responsibility for home and for children, which is why the home/life balance also has to be addressed. We are making changes that are designed to shift the ground further in favour of equality in the workplace. Flexible parental leave will allow families to share their caring responsibilities and help to end the automatic assumption that the woman will be the one to remain at home. Extending the right to request flexible working to all will help to challenge the presumption that flexible working is the preserve of women and that those who make a request are less committed to their employer.

As was flagged up yesterday in the question from my noble friend Lady Jenkin, we are acutely aware that once women have children, their ability to work may be severely hampered. That is why we are also helping with the costs of childcare by increasing free early education places for three and four year-olds to 15 hours a week and have extended that to disadvantaged two year-olds. As I mentioned yesterday, we are taking a range of other measures as well.

We are also aware that women’s caring responsibilities range wider than their children to older family members and others in need. This was an area we sought to address in the Care Bill, and through a number of other measures.

We are seeing girls outperform boys at school, although not always in subjects that will lead to the brightest of careers, and we are seeking to assist men and women to stay in work when they have families. What happens when women are in work? Two in three girls think that there are not enough women in leadership positions in the UK, and for many of them this lack of role models affects their sense of their own ability to succeed.

We are seeking to encourage women to aim high in the corporate world. Our Think, Act, Report initiative provides a simple framework to help companies think about gender equality in their workforces on key issues such as recruitment, retention, promotion and pay. There are now more than 170 major companies supporting the initiative, representing more than 2 million people.

At the top, we need change, hence the importance of the work being led by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to increase the number of women on boards. We now have more than 20% of FTSE 100 board posts being held by women, up from 12.5% two years ago, with only two companies, Antofagasta plc and Glencore Xstrata plc, still without a woman in post. Bear those names in mind, because I will probably mention them again on Monday when I am answering a Question from my noble friend Lady Seccombe about women on boards—unless, of course, there has been a change over the weekend.

However, we need women at every level, and we need women entrepreneurs. More than 14 million women are now working—more than ever before. Businesses set up and run by women contribute £70 billion to our economy. We have also acted to encourage and support more women to start their own businesses. The Women’s Business Council has made recommendations to improve the health and competitiveness of our economy, focusing on four key areas it has identified where girls and women face particular challenges or difficulties.

We know that more needs to be done so that at every level of every business we see women as well as men, and women in large numbers. It is not just in business where we need to see women. We need to see them running media organisations, as professors in universities, and in public life everywhere.

In terms of public life, the 2010 general election had a record number of women candidates and there are now more female Members of the House of Commons than at any other time: 147 women, including six Asian women MPs where previously there were none. But that is not enough and it is nowhere near 50%. We now have 182 women who are Members of this House. As I said earlier, they are disproportionately active in our House. It is worth bearing that in mind for those making any appointments.

In 2012-13, 37% of new public appointments made by Whitehall departments were women, and our aspiration is that 50% of new public appointees should be women by the end of this Parliament. However, we know there is much more to do to ensure that our institutions are fully reflective of the communities that they serve, so that women and girls fulfil their potential for their own benefit and for that of their families, but also for our economy.

We know how our lives have been transformed by comparison with those of our mothers, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers. We are also very active, as noble Lords will know, in seeking to address the position of women worldwide, which we do through the FCO, through DfID and through other engagement. Right now we therefore have parliamentarians, Ministers, NGOs and officials beginning to gather in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women. Some noble Lords who are speaking here today will soon be making their way to New York, and we wish them well. It is important work that they will be doing. They will be seeking to ensure that the millennium development goals, which will be replaced in 2015, include a stand-alone goal on gender equality, as well as to ensure that gender is mainstreamed through all the goals, because we will quite simply not address the excluded—the poorest—without doing this.

Just as we work to ensure that women in the UK are fulfilled in their lives, and contribute to our economy alongside that, we recognise that gender equality elsewhere is vital not only for the women themselves but for their families, their societies and their economies. This is why DfID puts women and girls front and centre in its work. That is because, in the words of the proposed MDGs, we aim to leave no one behind.

DfID’s strategic vision for girls and women aims to unlock their potential to stop poverty before it starts. It seeks to empower girls and women by crystallising our aims under the headings of voice, choice and control. This means girls and women having a voice in decision-making in their household, community and country and in politics, business, the media and civil society through their participation, leadership and collective action. It means that they should have the choice to complete education and benefit from paid work and opportunities to earn a sufficient income and over whether, when and with whom they have sex, marry or have children. It means having control over their own bodies and mobility, including their safety from violence, and over income, productive assets and other resources, including food, water and energy, with equal legal rights, access to justice and freedom from discriminatory social norms. This also encapsulates what we seek in the United Kingdom.

What does this mean in practice in terms of DfID’s work? I would like to illustrate this from a visit that I have just made to India. Let me take the example of a couple of villages in Madhya Pradesh, which I visited with DfID officials. Sanitation has just been installed in these villages. In the case of one of them, the main defecation field was around a school. That was where people used to come but the schoolchildren were enlisted and showed huge enthusiasm for their task: to monitor their elders and betters, blowing whistles to summon help whenever an adult followed their usual patterns and began to use the field once again as a toilet. It took some months to retrain the adults but the children were delighted with the success that they had achieved. The women also noted that they were now safer in not having to go out into the field at night, while their children were more healthy and therefore in school. Sanitation had brought a wealth of benefits, including to the economy of that village.

In the second village there was a nutrition centre providing ante-natal care along with food for pregnant and lactating mothers and children up to the age of three. Those assisting the pregnant women and cooking the meals were women: paid directly, grouping together in self-help groups, opening small bank accounts, saving up and then being able to access loans. The ones who we met had used their loan to buy a buffalo for each woman to benefit her, her family, and the village’s economy. Within a year, those loans had been paid off and they were considering their next plan. I tell the House this to illustrate how such interventions can provide both independence and greater equality for women, and improve their ability to contribute to supporting their families—by feeding them and keeping children in school—their communities and their countries.

I conclude by looking forward to our debate today. Whether we debate the United Kingdom or the wider world, we know that we have not yet secured equality and that while we celebrate what we have achieved, we note the barriers that remain to the full participation of women at every level of society and in every aspect of our economies. I expect that this debate will shine further light on how far we have to go but also on what we have achieved. I beg to move.

My Lords, I warmly welcome that comprehensive speech from the Minister. It is a great pleasure to participate in today’s important debate, but I have to say that it is a good job that we got it in before the various recesses. I do not wish to begin on a sour note but I have to reflect that there will be little parliamentary business between now and the general election, perhaps maximising the time for political mischief-making and minimising the time for us to do our job. As a parliamentarian I regret that, but perhaps it is a consequence of the coalition being unable to agree upon a common programme. However, I shall return to today’s business.

It is clear from all the facts and figures that we will hear today that women’s participation and influence matters. Women, especially those from poor backgrounds in the developed and developing worlds, are marginalised within decision-making processes and institutions. As VSO points out in its excellent document Women in Power: Beyond Access to Influence in a Post-2015 World, there is clear evidence that where women participate and influence decision-making, it is leading to more efficient, effective and responsive decisions for women; it helps progress towards gender equality; and it helps to transform the deep-rooted social norms and attitudes that act as barriers.

There is a desperate need for action in a world where women account for two-thirds of the world’s poorest, perform two-thirds of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property. These women are making a huge contribution to our economic life, and without them their families, communities and societies would crumble. That is one of the many reasons why it is crucial that the post-2015 development framework must include the issue of women’s participation and influence in public and political life.

I am delighted that gender is being mainstreamed and that the overarching message of the new framework is, “No woman left behind”, which encompasses women and girls from all over the world. Too often we separate the problems of women in the developing world from those in our world, whereas in reality our problems are often common and the difference is sometimes only in degree. Women in this country and throughout the European Union suffer economic inequality; likewise in Africa, India, Asia and America. Women are subjected to domestic violence all over the world. We are always horrified when we read of domestic violence on other continents, yet too many often forget that domestic violence is a reality in our own country, with one in four women subjected to domestic violence during their life. Yesterday we read of the terrible report that about one-third of all women in the EU have experienced either physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

When it comes to women’s representation, it might seem shocking that only one in five parliamentarians worldwide is a woman or that women hold only 17% of ministerial posts, yet these figures almost mirror the reality in our own country, a mature democracy where women have had the vote since 1918. We know that where women are in positions of influence and power they make a difference, so we have to do much more to address the barriers. I am proud of the actions taken by my party over the past 15 years so that now 81 out of the 257 Labour MPs are women—more than the Conservative and Liberal Democrat women MPs combined—but that is still not enough. It is great that in the selections that have taken place in our target seats 54% of them have gone to women.

I know that many Lib Dem and Conservative noble Baronesses speaking today, notably the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, are doing everything they can to improve their female representation in Parliament, and I pay tribute to them. I have to say that leadership on this has to come from the top, and having only five women as full members of the Cabinet is not a good example. Our commitment is to have a Cabinet with 50% women. It probably will not help the cause of the noble Baronesses opposite to know that they have the support of our Benches, but I assure them that they do. It is our duty to do everything that we can to work for a more gender-balanced society in every way, using the talents of all. I had hoped to achieve this for my daughter but, while my generation has brought about change, standing on the shoulders of our mothers and grandmothers, we have not done nearly enough, so I now hope to make progress for my future granddaughter, who is not yet coming but will one day, I hope.

A 21st-century society in which just 23% of MPs are women, with one female judge in the Supreme Court and only four female CEOs in the FTSE 100 is almost intolerable, and every time I see the family photos of the G8, G20 or European Council, I want to scream.

All these things matter in terms of the economic life of our country and the world. Women’s empowerment goes hand in hand with economic empowerment. In the UK, too many women do not feel empowered. Millions are still struggling to fulfil their economic potential, and our economy suffers. It is estimated that gender inequality in the workplace in the UK costs 5% in lost GDP. As I think we will hear from my noble friend Lady Thornton, affordable childcare is one of the biggest barriers to women entering and remaining in the workforce, and today we heard more about the care crisis, exacerbated by cuts, which affects carers, who are predominantly female, and those they care for.

Shattered economies can be rebuilt with the help of women. I am not suggesting that our economy is shattered, I am talking about other places, but our economy is not doing so well. Last week, I was at a presentation of the work of Women for Women International, a brilliant organisation that helps women survivors of war, giving them support and confidence to rebuild their lives through learning new skills leading to economic activity, which in turn helps to rebuild society. These women are empowered in every way.

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be in Pakistan with a CPA delegation, part of a partnership programme that has been established for women parliamentarians of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. We spent time with the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus which, as well as continuing its work promoting pro-women legislation in the national Parliament, intends to work closely with women legislators in the provincial assemblies to promote education and child and maternal health. Women’s lives are improving, albeit slowly, and there are some excellent laws on protecting a women’s right to inheritance, acid throwing, honour killings and equal marriage rights, to name but a few, but there is an enormous gap between intention and implementation. There needs to be a change in culture, a change in mindset, especially of the men, but this is a long process, and it is a barrier to the real empowerment of women.

As in every country, education is the key. You educate a man, and you educate an individual; you educate a woman, and you educate mankind. In Pakistan, the literacy rate is 46% and only 26% girls are literate, but action is being taken and there are plans to increase the 2% of GDP spent on education to 4%. In this country, I believe it is more than 6%. Of course, as in so many developing countries, there are many barriers to girls’ education in Pakistan: culture, safety, sanitation and distance in rural areas, to name but a few. We visited a senior girls’ state school in Rawalpindi, which was a real delight. We met the girls, their teachers, parents and local officials who are working with the Punjab schools reform road map. This is a huge programme supported by DfID, spearheaded by Sir Michael Barber, DfID’s special representative on education in Pakistan, and, of course, supported by Mohammad Sarwar, who is now the governor of the Punjab and who was formerly a Labour MP. I pay tribute to the phenomenal work of Sir Michael, which is making a real difference to children in Pakistan and will improve the future life chances of those children, their country and, I believe, the world. The results are deeply impressive, with an extra 1.5 million children enrolled in school, a daily student attendance rate of more than 90%, 81,000 new teachers hired on merit and 90% of schools with basic facilities.

Pakistan is a country with many challenges, not least in relation to security, but its democratic institutions are developing and deepening, and last year saw the first smooth transition of power from one civilian Government to another. To be a female politician in Pakistan takes courage—and money, I should add—but not as much courage as women politicians in Afghanistan. We met with two extraordinary, passionate women MPs who are strong and courageous advocates of women’s empowerment in every way. They live in a country where women’s literacy is 14%. I think about 40% of girls now go to school, but it is still a country where schools are systematically destroyed by the Taliban, and where women’s newly found freedoms are constantly threatened, as we heard in Questions. They must not be allowed to slip.

I should say in passing that I am deeply dismayed by the threat to women’s freedom on our own continent. The new Bill in Spain would reverse the changes of 2010 and allow abortion only in cases of rape or where women can prove that having a child would pose a severe risk to their physical or mental health. This is an outrage.

The women of Afghanistan literally risk their lives for women’s empowerment through democracy; they are prepared to die for it. Yet, to our shame, only 64% of women voted in the 2010 general election, and only 42% of women voted in the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. There is absolutely no doubt that democracy leads to freedom and empowerment for women. Women in our country died for the vote and, all over the world, they are still giving their lives for democracy. The situation in Ukraine is complex, but there is no doubt that a thirst for democracy, justice and freedom was the catalyst for many of the protesters in Independence Square. As women and men who enjoy the freedoms of democracy, who understand that it must be nurtured by votes in order to flourish, and who understand the power of the ballot box, we have a duty to encourage women to vote in all elections, to give them a voice and to ensure that those in power then develop and implement the policies that will empower women and have an impact on their lives. We who have a voice have a duty to work with others to break down the barriers that prevent or inhibit women from achieving positions of power and influence in the private and public sphere, including in our councils, parliaments and assemblies.

I will finish with the words of Emmeline Pankhurst, which are as relevant today as they were more than a century ago:

“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half”.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate, particularly following the noble Baroness and my noble friend. I strongly endorse their comments and the approach of trying to balance the huge opportunities in the developed world for women—transformational experiences, compared to our mothers and grandmothers—with the serious concern about the marginalised and underprivileged, not only in the West and the developed world but all around the world. It is that tension that we will have to address.

Last night in another place, a reception was held by Coca-Cola. I did not myself attend, but I will share with noble Lords the comments made by the global chairman of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent. When asked about the future, he said:

“The real drivers of the post American world, I believe, won’t be China, won’t be India, won’t be Brazil, won’t be any nation. The real drivers are going to be women: women entrepreneurs, women business, political, academic and cultural leaders, and women innovators. The truth is that women already are the most dynamic and fastest-growing economic force in the world today”.

I share that sense of energy and optimism. Time and again, we have seen new conquests. We have had the first woman Prime Minister; I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, complained about having only five women in the cabinet but, to me, geriatric as I am, that seems a mass. I think that I was the eighth woman in the Cabinet, and it was extraordinary to have two women together in the Cabinet. We have had the first Appeal Court judge. Many women firsts are in this House, such as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. We have had the first woman chief constable and prison governor, and our second female Lord Speaker. The dramatic change is extraordinary; the question is how that can then be broadened and deepened.

May I intervene on what the noble Baroness has said, because she is a rarity herself? Female Members of this House who were previously Tory Members of the other House stand at half the percentage of the Lib Dems or Labour. There have only been eight since the late Baroness Thatcher, and the noble Baroness is one of them; there have been six Lib Dems and 16 Labour Baronesses. What is the problem among the Tories with sending female former Members of the Commons to this place?

I do not want to be unduly provocative. I know the answer to this question. It was the case that people came to the House of Lords as a sign of achievement, so, generally, only people who had been in the Cabinet would come to the Lords. If the noble Lord looks at the situation, a disproportionate number of Labour Peers kindly made way from their safe Commons seats for an individual of No. 10’s choosing. The noble Lord may think that this is harsh, but that has always been the nature of the journey from the other place to the House of Lords for Commons Members. However, I am pretty confident that we will see more. I do not want to go too far with this partisan view, because I feel quite strongly about it. As the noble Lord is an endangered man, I do not want him to become too emotional and irrational as I proceed with my comments.

We now have slightly more females in the Lords than the Commons but, again, 22.5% in the Commons compared with the 23 out of 600 when I started seems a long way. So much so—as I have been diverted—because for four years, when I was first in the other place, I only ever wore a grey, black or blue suit, with a little bow at my neck and four buttons on the wrist, on the basis that if nobody mentioned that I was not a man, I would not mention it either. As time has gone on, maybe because of our own children, I have now come out as a fully fledged battleaxe, and I plan to continue with my thoughts.

Of course, there have been very interesting developments in the church. The first female priest was ordained in 1994, which was extraordinary for the Church of England, and now something like 22.5% of the clergy in the Church of England is female. We are all on tenterhooks to hear from the right reverend Prelate, but we very much hope that by the time we have this debate next year there will be a female bishop; whether that will be a female bishop who is entitled to sit in this place I know not. I very much hope that before I get carried away I will see progress in what must be one of the greatest Christian faiths of the world, the Roman Catholic Church, which to me simply has no leg to stand on. In case any noble Lords think that I am presumptuous to speak of another faith, there is an internal battle within my family on this subject, and I know the strength of feeling that exists on it. There should be change, because neither parliaments, God nor business should define us by our gender; what matters is our humanity and contribution.

I will start on the economy and business. Many in this House know that I am slightly impatient with the simplistic figure of the number of women on boards, as it does not reflect what is happening to women in the workplace. Be that as it may, we have to give credit to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and I give credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who was one of the great champions of Opportunity 2000, and to many other women. However, I regret to confess that a man leading that cause with his energy has been even more successful. We seem to have reached a tipping point. As my noble friend said, in 2010 12.5% of FTSE directors were women and the figure is now 20.4%. Of course, if you look only at the non-executive directors, the figure is right up at 25%. Executive progression is the issue, and it is too easy to overlook that.

I applaud the Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, who has undertaken a great deal of work on diversity during her year as mayor, developing a toolkit for what the key issues are for women as they go through the workplace: flexible time, mentors, work-life balance—arrangements that technology can make much easier. I have been very interested by the mentoring. Men often ring me and say that they have been mentoring a woman and tell me how impressive she is, to which I say, “I am so pleased that you have met her and understand her. I’ve known her for several years”. Therefore, I do not know what the mentoring is doing for the women, but it is very good indeed for the men and has taught them a thing or two. There are four chief executives of FTSE 100 companies, and there will soon be two chairmen, but of course, much more needs to be done. We are learning more about how that can be achieved.

I will move to another area. Too much time is given to women on boards, and quotas, which are ludicrous. I will look at education. My noble friend is herself an academic by background. When I became a Member of Parliament there were no female secondary school heads at all in my constituency. Now 71% of primary schools have a woman head, and 37% of secondary schools have a woman head, but still only 17.5% are vice-chancellors. What is the problem? Many people would think that academia was quite a female-friendly environment. Of course—and these are factors that you see in business and elsewhere—you continually have to publish, promote yourself, assert yourself and be a peacock. As we understand, the real difference between men and women in the workplace is that women are far less likely to push themselves forward and to be assertive and confident. But to have only 17.5% of university vice-chancellors as women puts the issue about women on boards in perspective. Nobody is talking about having 30% female vice-chancellors, but I think that that is rather more important, particularly as we all agree that it is in education that people learn about gender, expectations and stereotypes. The first female vice-chancellor was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, Professor Lillian Penson, and it has been steadily going up. In Sweden, 53% of the vice-chancellors are women, while in the US it is 26% and in Australia 23%. As we now know, more than half of graduates are women. So I ask people to look at the issue of women on boards in the context of other professions and activities, and we could cover many other areas.

If we are to have quotas, there is only one quota that I care about. The last figures that I had—I hope that the Minister will be able to explore this further—was that there were 4,370 schools in the UK in 2011 that had no male teacher. I feel much more strongly about having one male teacher in every school than I do about quotas and percentages. Many noble Lords will know that in many schools in disadvantaged areas children have little experience of a supportive man, and this seems critically important.

However, the world situation is optimistic. Quite soon, there will be four more female millionaires, and in the UK female millionaires will outnumber male millionaires by 2020. By 2025, women will control 60% of the UK’s wealth; globally, women control £13 trillion, while 70% of all US and UK personal wealth is held by over-65s, and the majority are women. In China, one in three of the millionaires is female. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and overall I am optimistic.

But I need to go to the other end of the spectrum, because this is the contradiction in women’s matters. Many in this House speak about the problems of women in prison. Some 38% of women in prison are simply there for theft, or stolen goods; overwhelmingly, 81% are there for non-violent offences. Women in prison have huge and complex needs; there is suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and violence. It is appalling, quite apart from the estimated 17,000 to 18,000 children who experience their mothers being in prison, which is quite unlike the situation for men. Concern is frequently expressed in this place about that, and I am looking forward tomorrow to going to HMP Bronzefield, the largest female prison in Europe, with category A and young offenders, to see Pimlico Opera perform “Sister Act”. The degree to which people outside prisons are becoming involved—not only in education but in the arts, including the Watts Gallery, which does a great deal at HMP Send, a female prison—is exciting and special. But this is a highly needy and disadvantaged group.

Similarly, I commend to the House the comments of Dr Suzanne Clisby of the International Council for Human Rights, when she spoke at the UN about the appalling situation of female violence in conflict zones. My noble friend referred to DfID, and I am very pleased about her comments on that, because the work that it has undertaken on the theory of changing tackling violence against women and girls, which I urge interested noble Lords to consider, is highly regarded. Dr Clisby, like others, works at the gender institute of the University of Hull, at which I am so proud to be chancellor. This is an internationally regarded institution for gender studies, addressing in much greater depth than any of us can the topics that we have been discussing today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, mentioned her visits to two Indian villages. In India, the literacy rate for women is 65%. As she said, it is 26% in Pakistan, and I am very proud to have a niece working for DfID in Pakistan. I share the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on the work done by Sir Michael Barber, but who in this House knows that there are eight female chief executives of banks in India, including those of Merrill Lynch, the Bank of India, Credit Suisse, HSBC, ICICI, JP Morgan Chase and the State Bank of India? Again, it is a case of looking at the paradoxes and trying to chart a way through.

I hope that this debate, as with previous debates on this subject, will help us celebrate the successes, while taking nothing for granted, and re-energise our determination to ensure that women the world over and throughout our own country can maximise their potential and make the rich contribution that they so much want to make to not only the economy but society at large.

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate today on a topic of significant importance in this day and age and one which is dear to my heart. Like many, I have received a wealth of data and information to help support my arguments. I am delighted that my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, has chosen this topic for his maiden speech. I look forward to hearing what he has to say and wish him well.

As we have already heard, getting women into the workplace is an international problem. A report published in the Economist in October 2012 stated that in the next decade nearly 1 billion women are likely to enter the global labour force, but their economic potential is largely unrealised. If female employment rates matched those of men, GDP would increase by 5% in America and 9% in Japan by 2020. The impact would be even larger for developing countries, home to most of the world’s women who lack adequate education and support, both social and political. Increasing female employment would increase GDP significantly in countries such as India and Egypt, where female labour participation rates are below 30%. In Egypt, GDP would increase by 108% and in Britain by 13%.

When first elected as Leader of Somerset County Council in 2001 in the middle of the foot and mouth crisis, I chaired the Cabinet of six women and one man. My male colleague frequently made reference to the fact that he was the “token male” and obviously felt uncomfortable. His female colleagues, however, were perfectly satisfied with the situation. However, it was not long before the other men in the group started to whisper and plot to “get rid of some of these women and replace them with men”. There being more men than women in the group, at the next annual meeting they did, in fact, replace two of the women with men. The women were devastated as they had worked hard, got to grips with their briefs and done a good job. The replacement men were only satisfactory in their roles but terribly proud of themselves for their achievement in having got promotion to the “inner circle”, as they saw it. Sadly, behaviour such as this is typical of the ethos which exists in some workplaces. Why is it that some men feel so threatened by women? Is it that we are better at juggling—if you are to have a job and bring up a family, it is essential that you are an expert juggler—or is it some other reason?

Access to safe and affordable quality childcare is key to women fulfilling their potential in the workplace and contributing to the economy of our country. The report out this week from the Family and Childcare Trust reveals that families are paying around 4.7% more on average for part-time childcare than they spend on an average mortgage. This is an enormous sum and we should be doing more to address the issue of a ready, cost-effective supply of childcare. We know from Department for Education surveys that more women would return to work if they could access childcare that did not cripple them financially. One in five working mothers said that they would like to increase their hours if they could arrange,

“good quality childcare which was convenient, reliable and affordable”.

Parents in Britain use more than a quarter—26.6%—of their salaries on childcare, more than any other European country, except Switzerland.

The return of women to the workplace after having children is not without its personal costs. As a working mother I cursed school inset days and came to dread the school holidays. Racked by guilt that I was not spending enough time with my children, I searched around for clubs and activities that I hoped my children would enjoy so that they would not have to spend quite so much time with the childminder. I reduced my working week so that I got home earlier and could go out for walks and picnics to spend some quality time with them, but I was always left with the feeling that I had somehow let them down, although they never said anything to compound that feeling.

As a country we must do everything we can to encourage women to return to the workplace after having families. We can now see examples of employers who, instead of denigrating the fact that women go off to have families, are recognising that the skills gained in this experience far outweigh those of their male colleagues. Any woman who has negotiated with a three year-old determined to participate in a life-threatening activity and done so without the resultant tears and tantrums in a very public place can well deal with negotiations between her male colleagues’ testosterone-driven ego trips. Women also bring a different perspective to problem solving which, together with their male colleagues’ approach, often produces a more rounded solution.

Some women suffer discrimination in the workplace simply because they are women. Often it is women higher up the structure of their employers who attempt to keep their female colleagues down instead of encouraging them. They have had to struggle to get where they are and wish their counterparts to have the same experience. It is certainly the case that in many professions, in order for women to succeed, they have to behave and act like their male counterparts to be taken seriously, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley so graphically demonstrated to us.

The Government are keen to encourage young people into the STEM subjects at school, but young women need to be aware that they will have a struggle on their hands. In a large hospital in the south, of 439 consultants, 74% are men and only 26% are women. In that hospital there are 53 dieticians but only one is a man. In the nursing profession only about 10% are men. This speaks volumes of how the health service views the roles of men and women. Does this also say something about how difficult women find it to juggle families and high-pressured careers? It is certainly the case that women find it easier to have careers in the NHS than in engineering, for instance.

Many women work in small businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses believes that it is vital to support female entrepreneurship. In the UK alone, 150,000 additional start-ups would have been created each year if women had started businesses at the same rate as men. The FSB has worked to promote female entrepreneurship and to look at the barriers particularly faced by women in starting businesses. Nearly half the businesses established in the past two years in retail, hotels, catering and leisure were primarily owned by women. Of the businesses that are members of the FSB, 26.9% are female-owned. The sectors with the highest proportion of female-owned businesses are: health and social work, 45.5%; education, 44%; and personal services, 42.5%. These businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. Without the services provided by these small businesses, many other women would be unable to go out to work at all.

On the international aspect of our debate today, I am indebted to my noble friend Lady Falkner for the following figures. She regrets that another engagement prevents her being present today and taking part in the debate. In response to questions to the FCO, my noble friend received the following information on the role of senior women. EU Permanent Representatives: nine men, no women; NATO Permanent Representatives: eight men, one woman; UN agencies heads of mission, New York: eight men; no women; UN agencies heads of mission, Geneva: seven men, two women; heads of mission to China, Russia, France and the US: 31 men, one woman; heads of mission to Germany and Italy: 17 men, no women; heads of mission to the 11 BRICS countries: 93 men, seven women. This really is not good enough.

We all know that women are perfectly capable of filling their place in society at all levels. We must do everything we can to make sure that no barriers are put in their way to prevent them achieving and assisting our economy in benefiting from their considerable skills. I look forward to the contributions from your Lordships during the rest of the debate and I hope that at the end of the day we can take some positive steps in going forward.

My Lords, the noble Baroness could well have said, “Bishops’ Benches: 26 men, no women”, but I am glad that she did not, although I am sure that others will.

I rise with an appropriate hesitancy as the first male speaker in a debate in which only 22% of the speakers will be men. The majority of those listening are also women, which is a pity. However, I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, whom I can only describe as a fellow Daniel in the lion’s den on this occasion. Indeed, those who inhabit these Benches might be seen as somewhat handicapped in advocating the fuller involvement of women in the wider life of our society. As we are regularly reminded, ours are the only Benches from which women are currently excluded. I hope that I can say something today about that and about the wider significance of the struggles of the church over the full involvement of women in its life. I want to speak specifically about the Church of England only because that is, obviously, the organisation that I know best.

Perhaps I may give the House an update on the gender-specific character of the Bishops’ Benches. The question for the Church of England in recent decades has not really been, “Should women be able to be bishops?”. That was settled quite a long time ago. The delay has been due to the questions over whether and how to accommodate those who do not wish to recognise and receive the sacramental and spiritual ministry of female bishops. Some Members of your Lordships’ House will perhaps think that such views simply should not be accommodated at all, and I can understand that feeling. However, the reasons why the church has wrestled with the question of how to accommodate those who do not wish to accept the ministry of women bishops is twofold. The first is, quite simply, that we are a national church—a comprehensive church—in our self-understanding, and that leads to a deep instinct to keep on board as wide a range of people as possible. Deciding how that is done and how the limits are set is quite tricky for a national church. Secondly, the great majority of Christians alive today belong to churches where women are not ordained: the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches and many of the more conservative Protestant churches. Therefore, looked at internationally, what is very much a minority opposition to ordained women and women bishops in the Church of England is actually a majority position in world Christianity.

Those are the reasons why our discussions and processes have been rather drawn out, but there is now an agreed way forward and we are confident that final proposals will be before the Ecclesiastical Committee later this summer, with, we hope, final parliamentary approval before the end of the year. The first women bishops should be appointed during next year, perhaps early next year. They will subsequently appear on these Benches, perhaps by some fast-tracking mechanism if that can be agreed through the parliamentary process.

I began by setting this out partly to provide the House with up-to-date information on this matter and partly because the catalyst to the rapid progress which we are now seeing in the church has a wider relevance to today’s debate. Until 2012, the Church of England had tried, for the first of the reasons I gave earlier, to accommodate opposition to the ordination of women by framing proposals which restricted the authority of women bishops in their dioceses on the face of the church’s legislation. This rightly elicited the criticism that in some sense the resultant women bishops would have a second-class character about them, with an authority which was restricted as compared with their male counterparts. For some, that was an acceptable compromise as a way to get the legislation through. However, it failed in its purpose because a small but significant group of synod members who favoured opening the episcopate to women felt that the proposal lacked a certain inner integrity. I was among those and for that purpose I abstained in the vote in November 2012, when the legislation narrowly failed to achieve the necessary majorities.

In the subsequent discussion, an honest assessment of what we were doing and where we are has produced the right conclusion in my view that the only way forward was a simpler proposal which opened the episcopate to women, essentially without any qualification. Such provision as may be made then for those who are not prepared to receive the ministry of a woman bishop would be made pastorally by the woman bishop herself under her proper authority, with guidelines from the House of Bishops to try to achieve a certain consistency across the Church of England. My point is that it was when it was realised that there could be no reservation or disguised discrimination attached to women bishops that the log-jam suddenly cleared and the way forward appeared. The woman bishop will have in her diocese exactly the same authority and jurisdiction as her male colleagues. Really, we should have seen that much earlier, as I am sure many Members of your Lordships’ House will think. I think that that is why the process has ended up being rather drawn out.

I suggest that in other areas of our national life, our economy, to define that word in its broadest context, will have seen parallel struggles for women to be accepted in their own right, with their own particular gifts and talents, rather than simply being expected to conform to the established ways and practices as laid down by decades or perhaps centuries of male dominance. The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, referred to that in relation to the other place. I am sure that other noble Lords will refer to that themselves. Speaking personally, I have two daughters who are both making their ways successfully through two of our leading professions, but there has always been the subtext that, “As long as you conform to a man’s world, we will give you every opportunity”. There is still quite a lot to be done sensitively to adapt our national life and professional life to the talented women whose gifts we so much need. Our experience in the church suggests that these issues ultimately need to be addressed head on, without too much compromise and the resultant disguised discrimination.

Let me conclude with some remarks about the wider contribution of women to the economy of the church; that is, the “household” of the church—the word “economy” in its original derivation means “household”. I would not want my earlier remarks about women bishops to be detached from the wider contribution that women make to the life of the church. Much of that is done on a voluntary basis and there is nothing wrong with that. Armies of people care for the parish churches of this land, which comprise nearly half our grade 1 listed buildings. There is all the cleaning and adornment of those buildings, and the wonderful skills of flower arrangers, which so often are neglected but actually adorn our churches. I always remark on that each Sunday as I go around my diocese—although not while we are in Lent, but I shall look forward to doing that at Easter.

Alongside that there is the wide range of pastoral work with women to the fore, including the gathering and distribution of food through food banks, which are now such an important, if ambiguous, feature of our society, and in which local churches and Christians are usually involved. I want to pay a deep tribute to all that work. Then there are the growing numbers of women priests, the first of whom were ordained just 20 years ago. We will have a splendid celebration this summer. Dare I say that I am contemplating ordering crates of pink champagne to distribute in my diocese? Today, about a third of all licensed clergy in the Church of England are women—a figure that looks likely to rise steadily to a half on current patterns of ordination. The number who are in charge of parishes, incumbents, is the figure given by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, which is about 22% but rising steadily. I should add that more than half our licensed readers who assist the ordained ministry, preach and lead services are women.

As we prepare for the consecration of women as bishops, perhaps the greatest challenge is to accept that through the progressive process of opening up the ministry of the Church to women, there has been, there is and there will be a progressive and deep transformation of the church and its ministry—the institution of the church in all its aspects. There is an awareness of these issues and careful work is being done in advance of the first consecration to the episcopate to try to avoid inadvertent pressure for these women simply to conform to established male stereotypes. We must acknowledge that the pressure will subtly be there in all sorts of ways. “God forbid!”, your Lordships may say. Women have transformed the economy of the church in all its aspects and I am confident that in the years to come they will continue to do so.

My Lords, I apologise if my voice waxes and rasps, but I am suffering from a severe case of man flu—let us be honest: is there any other kind? But it is a great privilege to participate in this debate and particularly to hear the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Palumbo, which will be interesting. We should all listen to it with a bangin’ drum ‘n’ bass dance track underpinning everything that he says.

In preparing for this debate, I looked up the variety of international days that exist. They are rich and varied and all incredibly important. It is worth mentioning a couple of them alongside 8 March, which is obviously the purpose of this debate. In two weeks’ time, 20 March is International Day of Happiness. I think that we will all enjoy that one. I was born on the International Day of Rural Women—an incredibly significant day. That was lucky and auspicious in many ways in that I only just, marginally, avoided being born, with more than a degree of irony, on World Sight Day.

I will limit my comments today to three areas of my experience: the law, London 2012 and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, for which my interest is declared in the register. The first is the law. I started many years ago as a solicitor in the City of London, where there were many schemes to try to get more females into the profession. There were many schemes but there was not much outcome at that stage. There were very few women as senior associates and even fewer as partners in City firms. I found out an incredible fact when I started: only a few years earlier, women solicitors were actually prevented from wearing trousers in their profession. That was extraordinary in the 1990s in this country.

Now, the picture is incredibly different. The figures between the genders are far more positive. There are female partners and many more female senior associates, and the work that the Lord Mayor of London is doing in her mayoral year with the project on diversity can only be a further positive action in this area.

When I went to London 2012, I had a clear approach and understanding of diversity and inclusion, and we embedded those right from making the bid, even before we had won the right to stage the Games. The key is for this always to be led from the top. My noble friend Lord Deighton was completely committed to equality, diversity and inclusion across the piece, not least in the area of gender. Look at our director team at LOCOG. Our HR director, comms director, strategy director and general counsel were all extraordinary and phenomenal females. Perhaps more significantly, our director of sport, that traditionally very male Olympic role, was Debbie Jevans. It was an absolutely extraordinary move. She took the sport programme for 2012 from the bid right through to Games time. We drove down into the heads, managers and assistants the need for gender equality throughout the organising committee, and it made a difference. Both in the organisation and at Games time, it absolutely made a difference.

Similarly, we wanted our volunteers, the Games Makers, to be truly representative of Great Britain, and gender was at the heart of that. Not only did it lead to the scenes of the fantastic Games Makers that we are all so well aware of, it gave more than just a nod to the phenomenal work done by volunteers up and down Great Britain, many of whom—the majority, in fact—are female.

I shall move on to those who were centre stage in 2012: the athletes. The first gold medal for Team GB at the Olympic Games was won by Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. I was lucky enough to be at Eton Dorney Lake to experience that golden morning. The person who became the face of the London 2012 Olympic Games was Jessica Ennis. What a phenomenal female she is in terms of sporting performance and her personality. She did not just focus on potentially winning gold at London 2012, she was part of driving ticket sales and maintained people’s interest in and connection with the Olympic Games.

For the first time female and male Paralympians were seen to be on an equal footing with their Olympic counterparts. Ellie Simmonds was such a draw for the crowd that the swimming pool was packed for all her finals. The roar for her final in the 400-metre freestyle event was as loud as it had been for anything during the Olympic Games. Ditto Sarah Storey, a phenomenal swimmer who turned to cycling. I was lucky enough to be in one of the technical cars down at Brands Hatch for the road race and I heard our chief technical officer come on to the radio and say, “She’s not only beating the girls, she’s whipping the boys”. Those were phenomenal performances.

Let us come right up to date with Sochi 2014. Team GB’s gold medal was won by Lizzy Yarnold, and Jenny Jones’s bronze medal was not just a medal—she is the first Briton ever to win a medal on snow. I am sure that the whole House would like to wish our women and men who are to start their Paralympic campaign tomorrow at the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games every success.

And so on to my time at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I joined the new board last January. It will be a phenomenal challenge for us across the piece. The board is ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve. I sit on a board of 10 people, two of whom are men.

I knew that the House would enjoy that. We are facing a challenge, not least in the area of enabling the opportunity for women to participate and punch through in the labour market. We are doing a big piece around what is happening with maternity arrangements and how they are shaping up in modern Britain. We are working wider than just the FTSE 100 around board-level appointments. But, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley said, it goes beyond that. It is not just about the board, so we are also going to look at what is called the sticky floor. It is one thing to look, quite rightly, at not just going through but smashing the glass ceiling, but you also have to look at that sticky floor—people, often women, stuck on minimum wage and unable to get up that next rung of the ladder. It is a crucial piece of work.

Again, we should not look at this area without putting 100% focus on education; what it does and all the influences and impacts within it. On that point, the importance of role models can never be overestimated or overstated. That is the case in sport but also in business, art, science, technology and music—right across the piece, and not least in your Lordships’ House. On a day such as today it would be invidious to single out particular Members, but I will. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, have blazed a trail through our courts for others to follow. It is so important to have role models so that people can say, “I could do that; there is someone doing that—that is a realistic opportunity for me”. While looking into this, I was surprised that the great win for the law of having the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, might not have happened as, when she was a young woman, apparently she considered becoming a nun. Many of your Lordships may not know that she is also an excellent rollerblader.

I should also mention my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint, who did so much for women’s cricket. She was absolutely a trailblazer at the time, putting women’s cricket right at the centre of the stage and enabling others to get involved with the game and for it to get to such a level that, this winter, England’s women won the Ashes. Let us be honest—England’s men fell somewhere short. That was phenomenal work.

Finally, it would be wrong not to mention the legendary noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. Who could have done more, not just for the economy but for our freedom, than all the women who were involved at Bletchley Park? What a phenomenal thing, which we should all feel not just such pride in but tremendous gratitude for, because it enables us to be the nation that we are today.

There it is: 8 March, International Women’s Day. It is a great day and one well worth being marked. It is a day to reflect, respect, celebrate and champion and, crucially, a day for us all to push ourselves even further to think what more we could do to enable every single person in this country to achieve their full potential—be that in sport, art, technology, science, maths or whatever it is—and to ensure that everybody, regardless of gender, class, background or belief has that opportunity to play their full part in our economy, in our society and in our United Kingdom.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Northover for bringing this debate forward and allowing me the opportunity to contribute today. I would also like to thank noble Lords too numerous to mention for their warm welcome. It is an honour to be speaking for the first time. I owe a debt of gratitude to the excellent staff who have helped me navigate my new life as a Peer. Throughout the past few months I have been gently admonished and warmly supported in equal measure. Finally, I thank my noble friends Lord Strasburger, Lord Alliance, Lady Suttie and Lady Scott of Needham Market for their support and encouragement, none of which is taken for granted.

While businessmen such as myself can be a little abrasive in their day-to-day dealings, I have chosen this Motion for my maiden speech for the cross-party nature of the issue. Despite recent stories demonstrating the numbers of women in work, there is still more to do to ensure that women can work should they want to. It is not just for women to make this case, we should all do so. I do not think anyone in this Chamber would disagree with this. The great imponderables of affordable childcare and flexible working still disproportionately shackle many women of working age. This will change only if we work together. I believe that the best solutions are found when people from all parties put their heads together and differences aside.

It will not surprise your Lordships to know that I did some research on maiden speeches before today. Indeed, it may not have taken me four months to deliver my own had there not been such a wealth of material available. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond—put it perfectly in her own, exceptional, speech. She said,

“the idea of cross-party co-operation on major national issues seems so incontrovertible”.—[Official Report, 19/11/97; col. 600.]

I believe in the role of this place, its personalities and its power to deliver on major national issues. It is often women who drive change and bridge partisan divides. Only last week, we were privileged to be addressed by the German Chancellor, a role model for pragmatism and progress, not to mention her thoughtful views on the future of Europe. I should also mention my dear friend Dame Tessa Jowell, who sits in the other place and had the foresight to work across party lines to make the Olympics such a success.

Twenty-five years ago, I started a nightclub in a disused warehouse five minutes from where your Lordships now sit, on the other side of the river. It did not open until midnight and served no alcohol. It was a difficult beginning and had all the problems of a late-night business, not least frequent visits from the right honourable Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. Building a business from scratch has been the biggest challenge of my life. Trying things out, making mistakes too numerous to mention, has been a difficult but also life-enhancing experience. Over the years, the business has expanded into live events, recorded music and digital media. What was previously a disused warehouse is now the proud headquarters of a global enterprise. It is this journey which has shaped my views on the topic of today’s proceedings.

The late-night entertainment and music industries are by their nature male dominated. While my own appearance might not immediately give this away, the world I inhabit is as muscular as you can imagine. At the Ministry of Sound, women occupy four of the nine most senior director positions and there is roughly a 50:50 male to female ratio at intermediary and junior levels. I do not hold up my organisation as an exemplar, but the empathy and common sense of women has played a key part in building my business over the years. The issue then becomes how to strike the right balance when women want to start a family. There are a plethora of rules and regulations, which are fine as far as they go, but there is a difference between following the rulebook and creating an atmosphere of empowerment. Recently, we have been in discussions with a woman to join the business in a senior position. She is uncertain, as she wants to start a family within two years. Our view is that she would be able to build her team within this timeframe and that her skills outweigh the perceived inconvenience of flexible working.

We will have done our job if starting a family is seen as career enhancing, not a problem, and something which goes beyond the strictures of HR—support rather than compromise. While I am sure there will be many excellent suggestions made in this debate, it is perhaps more difficult to legislate for the attitude to which I refer. If we can win hearts and minds, so as to encourage a more embracing type of behaviour, I believe that businesses of all types will change for the better.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak immediately after such an excellent maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo. It is great that he chose such a debate—it was rather bold of him—and very indicative of his business acumen that he should be contemplating the appointment that we would all welcome among his senior staff.

Today we have heard lots of statistics and a scattering of percentages, full of aspiration and achievements so far, and I commend my fellow Peers on the range of subjects that they have already covered, praising things that have gone well and expressing widespread concern for remaining issues. I will take a different, slightly lighter note.

I will begin by celebrating a single overarching triumphant professional success. The novelist JK Rowling has now earned her way to being the richest working woman in the country. She is currently worth £220 million and last year earned £45.5 million—not bad for someone who trusted to her own talent and began her first fiction at a table in a café in Edinburgh.

Now I want to celebrate some less well known names: a group of women, some of whom your Lordships may have heard of and others you may well not have. They do not earn a great deal of money—yet. Indeed, their chosen path has often involved denying themselves any kind of decent living as they struggle to get started. They are not household names—yet—but their influence is manifold, and I will explain why. I refer to the surprising blossoming and coming to top professional recognition of a whole swathe of women playwrights. This has happened in the past 10 years or so, encouraged by a background of arts funding in this country that allows for the experiment, daring and risk-taking that a fully commercial theatre world would never make possible.

I will name some names. The grandmother of them all is probably Caryl Churchill. She is now 74 and she established an international reputation in 1972 with her inspirational play, “Top Girls”, at London’s Royal Court Theatre. This sensational work broke new ground in dealing directly and vividly with the situation of women in society. Many of these young writers do the same. Nina Raine is the author of a searing, witty and critical look at the National Health Service. April de Angelis is the author of “Jumpy”, a play starring Tamsin Grieg, currently in the West End. debbie tucker green won an Olivier award in 2003. Polly Stenham’s first play, “The Face”, written in her early 20s, transferred to the West End and then to Broadway and won a shoal of awards. Laura Wade’s play “Posh”, a satire on a club not unlike the Bullingdon, was a West End hit. Lucy Prebble wrote “Enron”, a hilarious and clever take on the Enron scandal—you could not get a ticket. Lucy Kirkwood, Bola Agbaje and Abi Morgan are of that number, as are Sarah Daniels, Helen Edmundson—your Lordships get the idea. Rebecca Lenkiewicz was the first woman to have an original play, “Her Naked Skin”, performed on the National Theatre’s main stage. Moira Buffini’s play “Handbagged” is coming to the West End.

All those primarily young women write of the world they know and as women in that world. They are significant in two ways. First, they put ideas into circulation: ideas about women, their rights, lives, problems, humour and situations. Those ideas are not only entertaining in themselves but are challenging for the audiences who see them and spill out into the world beyond to families, communities and public life. They help shape and change national attitudes.

Their second significance is in contributing to the thriving cultural industry of this country. The turnover of the arts last year was £12.4 billion. Despite the economic downturn, the arts economy did not suffer; it kept on growing. There are many women among its leaders. Women run the Donmar Warehouse, the Tricycle Theatre, the Liverpool Playhouse, the Royal Court Theatre, the British Film Institute, Film4 Productions, the Whitechapel Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery, Tate Modern and the South Bank arts complex, and they do this with the overt and positive encouragement of their male colleagues. It is an ongoing and impressive story of creative and economic success.

There is a completely different story of success that I think we should remark on. It is totally unlike the bright lights of the theatre but it is a success that contributes some £119 billion to the economy, not in direct earnings and income but in economic value to the country. There are some 7 million carers in this country, many offering their care totally freely, others in receipt of a derisory carer’s allowance. Unpaid carers are the backbone of our health and social care system: it would collapse without them. Now, 58% of those carers are women. Women have a 50:50 chance of becoming a carer by the time they are 59; for men, it is not until they are 75. Many of them give up work in order to care. It is this cohort of women, mostly in their 50s, who, in giving up their working lives, indirectly contribute to the saving of £119 billion for the country. They deserve our respect.

My Lords, it is an immense privilege to take part in this debate. We are treading the courageous path of brave women and we are emboldened by their struggles and confidence. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I would have added Gurinder Chadha and Meera Syal—

—to her illustrious list of those who have contributed immensely to the arts.

I speak today in recognition of the centuries-long struggle by women to participate freely and equally in the workplace. When New York’s garment workers took to the streets on 8 March 1857 to demonstrate for a 10-hour day, better conditions and equal rights, they inspired the first International Women’s Day half a century later. Remembering their march, I also remember the more than 1,000 women who perished only last year in the Dhaka factory disaster. We continue to mark the day, not out of nostalgia but because we are still plagued by inequality and injustice in all our worlds.

Too many women want to work but are prevented from contributing as fully to the economy as they wish. I have spoken in this Chamber on a number of occasions about the fact that only a quarter of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are economically active. That is a terrible waste of talent. At Questions we spoke about the role of women in public life. I want to trade some statistics with your Lordships. There are about 300,000 Bangladeshi women who are British citizens and not one of them has made it to the Benches opposite. I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Jenkin and Lady Northover, will do something to address the lack of Bangladeshi women on their Benches.

This is not just a question of prosperity for our country but is about justice for women. We cannot have whole communities of women excluded from our mainstream institutions and workplaces. Over the past year, I talked with a number of women’s groups that visited Parliament and asked their views on why women feel excluded from the workplace. The reasons they provided are not new. Many face social, cultural and institutional barriers. Many say they are not qualified or educated enough or do not have access to adequate childcare. The Family and Childcare Trust revealed only this Tuesday that on average the annual cost of childcare exceeds the repayments on a mortgage. As childcare costs soar, women are pushed out of the workforce to care for their families or into other caring responsibilities. Many will never return full-time, at a cost to their career progression and our economy.

Many women, including those from minority communities, who care for children or adults with disabilities face insurmountable obstacles and prejudice that prevent them working. It has been mentioned that nearly 7 million carers—nearly one-10th of the population of England and Wales—provide unpaid care for a disabled family member or friend. We know that the majority of them are women. They make a huge contribution to the economy as well as enhance the quality of the lives of those for whom they provide care. We have come a long way in providing safety nets within the framework of the law and have countless examples of good facilities in the education and childcare sector. Yet so often parents hesitate to explore outside work, lacking confidence that those they care for are in safe hands. There is a huge disparity between the intentions and rhetoric of institutions and service providers on the one hand, and the reality on the ground and the experience of carers and people with disability or disadvantage on the other.

I speak from personal experience as the mother of an autistic son. We have struggled for more than three decades and I confess that it has been without any support or co-operation from the education system or local authority. I have been fortunate to have support from my husband and I managed, mostly badly, a full-time career. Too many others are not so fortunate and paid work and caring responsibilities are often incompatible. The National Autistic Society discovered that a third of carers under the age of 40 would like to work but feel unable to do so. I know that many employers have adapted good practice in enabling flexibilities in their workplace to accommodate carers’ particular needs but this is not universal. Do the Minister and her department have statistics on how many parents with disabilities or disabled children work in the department? What lessons, if any, can we impart to others as good practice?

There has also been remarkable progress about working hours even in this House. I recall my early experience of this House when motherhood and childcare were absent from Parliament’s cultural DNA. A number of noble Lords here today will recall when a number of us made our maiden speeches about family-friendly policies in the House. I think that began at 10.40 pm and finished about 12.40 at night. When I brought in my then seven or eight month-old son for one hour on the first day I arrived here, the following morning a newspaper reported it as a slur on the professionalism of the House. Little known at the time or since is that as I was breast-feeding the entire side of my shalwar kameez was wet and it got on to the table. I have often wondered what the newspapers would have made out of that. The following morning, the honourable Black Rod promptly came over as soon as I entered the House and gave me a key. He said: “Here, Baroness Uddin—a key to the House’s family room we have just made for you downstairs, off the Peers’ Entrance”. Needless to say, I have never brought my son in since then or used that room. It was such a harsh lesson. I am glad to say that children can now accompany noble Lords—their parents—through the Lobby when we divide. That is, even symbolically, a definite triumph.

Like thousands of others, my family had to adapt all aspects of our lives in light of our son’s autism. We encountered a system of social care unresponsive to his and our needs and unwelcoming of us as carers. Securing the support of social services demands the tenacity to navigate a labyrinthine system and strength to endure scepticism and delay. Accessing these services while caring for a disabled person can be a full-time job. Our failure to serve the needs of those with disabilities and those who care for them comes at a human cost and with misery, as well as causing economic disadvantage. We as a family just gave up and opted out of the system into the family support structure—which was often at breaking point.

That is not an option for all and there have been many tragedies. Let us not forget the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francesca Hardwick, a person with severe learning disabilities who suffered bullying and harassment. The failure of institutions and society overall to protect her family meant that Fiona Pilkington chose death for herself and her beloved daughter. In a civilised nation, that woman’s choice of suicide and death is a profound indictment of our support for society’s most vulnerable. How will the Government improve daycare for people with disabilities—autism in particular—to better enable their mothers and carers to pursue paid work where they desire, without putting into jeopardy the well-being of those they care for?

Finally, how do the Government intend to increase the employment prospects of Muslim women, who remain in the periphery of our society and are so poorly represented in the workforce, institutions and the boardroom? Will the Minister agree to meet the British Bangladesh Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, which is working towards addressing some of these goals?

As a House, we are vocally committed to freeing women from violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation but pay too little attention to the part that poor education and lack of economic independence play in these scourges. Debarring women or carers from opportunities for paid employment is a matter of not only individual interest but national prosperity. Without addressing these questions, we will hold a large number of women back from making their rightful contribution to our economy. Yes, we celebrate today the record proportion of women in the country who work and are in positions of authority. Long may that emancipation continue and widen. I salute those women who have blazed the trail of equality and justice for us all. Now we must be brazen about demanding the changes required. Above all, we must acknowledge that our economy and the fabric of our society will benefit exponentially when we are inclusive of all our countrywomen.

My Lords, in opening the debate today, my noble friend Lady Northover referred particularly to the role of women in the Great War—the First World War. That struck a particular chord with me because only last night I chaired a meeting where several distinguished academics—all women, happily—gave a lot of information about the role of women in that war. I had a general knowledge of that contribution but had no idea of its immensity—the numbers of women and different occupations that they undertook. For example, I had no idea that there were women war photographers, not very many but some. I had no idea that until things really got going, a lot of the food for the men, the catering, was provided largely by volunteer women. We know about the heavy industries in which women engaged, and all the other things.

Of course, that had a remarkable effect in helping forward the greater role for women in the workplace. I fell to thinking whether, 100 years later, a similar challenge faces us today. Obviously it is not cataclysmic, as in the First World War, but it strikes me that, looking at the whole economic future of our country, we face great challenges. We are a small country and there is no way that we can mass produce for the world in the way that we might have done years ago. We increasingly rely on high-quality goods and, above all, high-quality services, whether that is in financial services or the kind that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to in the arts, which also have an enormous economic impact.

Given that, and the fact that many countries in the world now are developing very fast—China and India, for example, apart from any of our older European neighbours, which we are both in competition with and sell to—it struck me that we need every ounce of flair, initiative and hard work that we can get to make our way in this new world. If we fail to utilise the full potential of women, not only are we wasting women’s talent, we are likely to find ourselves in difficulty as a country. That is my starting point for my contribution to this debate.

Clearly, we need to give encouragement to those who are already high flyers. In that context, like others before me, I was delighted to welcome the initiative of the woman Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, in trying to make a programme for her year of office that will help women, especially in practical ways.

Those who come to the top, such as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and others, do not come as a miracle, they come after a lifetime of career progression. It is very important that we look at the lower levels of careers to ensure that women are getting the support and encouragement that they need. In many cases, I fear that it goes back to our schools and our education system. That is particularly true in what is yet another horrid acronym, the STEMs—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—where I believe that the subjects are not taught well enough in schools and are probably not geared to the way that women look at things, and where girls, particularly in mixed classes, may find themselves overpowered by their male counterparts and do not see their role as being equally if not more important. We need to look very carefully at the education system in that respect.

Not everyone is going to be a high flyer and many people do a great deal in unpaid work. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned carers specifically. I deeply resent the fact that if you do work unpaid it is not regarded as proper work. It is high time that we got rid of this old attitude of, “You’re not working; you’re not paid”. The work may be very important indeed. It is not simply carers, it is in the upbringing of children. A lot of voluntary work is undertaken by women—probably more than by men—which can also have great economic value. It is important to pay tribute to those people, and I do so as a career woman who has not had those family responsibilities, but I can see what value they have.

I turn for a moment to the political scene. I am wary of quotas and all-women shortlists. I realise this is controversial. I would like from my party, or any other, come to that, for women always to be on the shortlist. It is often important that they can make their comments in front of the people and are not dismissed on the basis of a written CV. There are problems with being a candidate which may put women off. In all the talk about the scandal of MPs’ expenses that we have had for years, nobody ever seems to mention the expenses that are incurred by being a candidate. Rail travel or car travel, making arrangements if you are married and have children, can be quite expensive. There are practical difficulties that women face before they ever get to a seat on the Green Benches down the Corridor. I hope that my noble friend Lady Jenkin, who will look at all this, will take those points into consideration, because I think they are far more important at that stage in our political career.

I turn briefly to political life for women abroad. I want to share an experience I had some years ago, when the east European countries came out of communism and were developing their democratic structures. It was clear that the women, in particular, had no idea how to use that freedom. A friend of mine, Lesley Abdela, who may be known to others, the founder of the 300 Group, which I also supported, involved me in schemes she ran very successfully. They were workshops, usually at a weekend, in those various countries where practical advice was given by those with experience. I might talk about being a candidate or about the chairmanship, somebody else might speak about how you deal with the press, the media—all the things where you need some knowledge. Of course it has to be adapted to the local circumstances, but at least it gave them some idea of what was involved and how to set about it. On the question of quotas, they were always equally divided, but many of them, interestingly, did not want them because they were afraid of being considered less equal—token, only there because they were women. However, opinion was divided, as I am sure that it is divided in this Chamber.

That came to an end because the funding came to an end. If we really want to help women in countries where they are trying to make their mark, we should have something like that again. I leave that thought with the Minister to see whether something can be done in that respect.

Turning back, as a final thought, to our House, someone suggested, I think truly, that women are disproportionately important in this House despite our much lower numbers. It occurred to me, perhaps quixotically, that there might be merit in someone undertaking to look at all the respective careers of the women in this House related not to this House but to their outside careers, either past or present, to see what contribution that would make. I suspect that it would make spectacular reading.

I, in turn, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for tabling this debate today and join her in wishing others a very happy and progressive International Women’s Day.

When the noble Baroness opened the debate, she talked, among many other things, about the work currently being done which helps women who are rather towards the top of the employment field: getting more women on boards, et cetera. All that is very welcome and I am extremely pleased about it, but I want to concentrate my remarks on the situation for women who are rather further down. A woman who used to work in the Transport and General Workers’ Union used to say, “Stop talking about the glass ceiling. My women have not got past the skirting board”. An awful lot of women are in that position.

Back in 2004, I was asked by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to chair a commission of inquiry into the continuing gender, pay and opportunities gap—opportunities is an important word there. Eighteen months later, in February 2006, we produced our report, entitled Shaping a Fairer Future. We made 40 recommendations, many to government, many to employers and others; 98% of those recommendations were accepted. Our work took us across all four nations—we took evidence in Scotland, Ireland and Wales as well as in many places in England. Many people came to us. I felt as though I spent my life in the basement of the old DTI building, with no windows; it was quite a trying time. We took evidence from academics, from those involved in women’s organisations and from women themselves—younger women, older women and girls who were still at school. We came out with four main areas of concern, which plays to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who has just spoken. We said that education choices and careers advice was one of the first areas where it all starts to go wrong. Job segregation, lack of skills and training opportunities and poor quality part-time work were the others.

I will say a little about what we found, what we suggested and where I think we are now. The pay gap for full-time women as against full-time men, when we finished our work in 2006, was approximately 22%. Nowadays, it is 19.7% so it is going in the right direction but ever so slowly. If we compare the earnings of women in part-time employment as against men in full-time employment, the pay gap rises to over 40%. Some people would say that that is an unfair comparison but it shows us that the value of part-time jobs is generally pretty low. We decided at that stage that this was not a discussion about the legalities of equal pay, although those obviously can be talked about. We wanted to look at what the whole opportunity was for some kind of social change: for social programmes and a cultural shift in the workplace, which would enable more women to move forward.

Let me go back now to education choices and careers advice. We know that girls are doing better than boys overall. Nevertheless, many girls are still in the category of aiming low to avoid disappointment. That is something which needs to be addressed. There is a massive shortage of girls going into the engineering trades, and of course in order to go into those trades they need the sciences and good mathematics. First, we suggested that girls and boys should be in separate classes for those lessons. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, just mentioned that point. That was because girls get a bit overwhelmed by boys who, all the evidence tells us, talk far more than girls in classrooms, and because the teaching of those areas concentrates almost entirely on the ways in which boys look at these things.

Secondly, we discovered an organisation called Computer Clubs for Girls, which teaches girls about the ins and outs of a computer in a way that they appreciate. It talks about the different kind of programmes that girls would find interesting—and girls engage with that. They do not want to do computer programmes that are all about wars and fighting, which do not suit them, so special attention being paid to the different ways in which girls and boys think is important.

Thirdly on this area, we found that very few young women were ever advised when they were girls at school about the financial implications of the choices that they were making. Yes, we need beauty therapists and hairdressers but they will not earn quite as much money doing that as in many of the areas of employment where you find young men.

This brings me on to careers advice. At that time, the careers service was run by Connexions, which has gone now. We found Connexions to be a very mixed bag and that careers advice was just an add-on to the role of teachers. However, over the last year or so I have chaired a number of conferences on careers advice and, to a man and woman, everybody is really fed up and anxious about the standard and the system that we currently have. It has been devolved down to all schools, so that 4,000-odd senior schools are all doing their own thing and engaging with private companies to help them. There is no teacher interaction taking place. The Department for Education spends 0.04% of its budget on careers advice, so we are the only country in the developed world that spends more on careers advice for adults than for children, which is not terribly helpful.

All those points move us into the job segregation area. Women are vastly contained within administration, retail and caring services, et cetera. Even if young women leave school and get into half-way decent jobs, if they then have children where do they go? They go completely down the career path. There are many women in that position who can afford childcare for one child but do not earn enough to afford childcare for more than one. They end up working in the retail sector in the main where, because of the long hours which the retailers have to be open, those women have to accommodate a whole variety of shift patterns. However, those jobs are poorly paid and often have few progression opportunities and poor job satisfaction.

We end up where everyone is really a loser because the woman herself has gone down the pay scales and the job opportunities ladder, while the employer which she was originally with has lost somebody who they had trained up, even if only at a pretty small level. The Government also lose because the woman is paying less tax; she may not even be paying tax at all. Even in 2006, we calculated with the assistance of economists from what was then the DTI that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was losing between £15 billion and £23 billion a year in spending power from those women who had gone down that financial ladder.

One of the things we recommended, as I think I said at the beginning, was that there should be much better quality part-time job opportunities available. There is a really good organisation called Women like Us, which was started by two women at the playground gates who said to each other, and to their friends who were waiting for the children to come out of school, “There must be something better out there”. They went round to employers and persuaded them of ways in which they could provide decent quality jobs with part-time hours, which would enable women to move forward. That organisation has gone from strength to strength. It has been working with KPMG and others and engaging with a large number of companies. However, we need a government initiative to put pressure on employers by saying, “Let’s up the game here. We have all these women who have a much greater capacity to work”. Yet those women are stuck there doing the kind of retail jobs which are poorly paid, as I have said.

There is the whole question of retraining and reskilling. We find these women who have fallen out of their traditional path into jobs which are not giving them job satisfaction and then there is no opportunity for them to go anywhere because there are no retraining or reskilling chances. At the Budget a month after we launched the report in 2006 Gordon Brown, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, allocated £40 million to be spent on women-only training. That money has largely been allocated via the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and through the sector skills councils. In the five years of its running, it trained up and upskilled more than 25,000 women. It was academically researched three times by Leeds Metropolitan University and was found to be an excellent service, partly because the money which came from employers far outweighed the money which the Government put into it.

We then had all these women who were able to move on and expand their opportunities. It covered the textiles area; we also had women trained up as bus drivers and food workers; there were women in law, in the power sector and, interestingly, in the sector which includes engineering and manufacturing. That programme came to an end in March 2013, I am sad to say. I am not exactly sure how much of a chance women are going to get now, if that funding is not directly allocated to women only.

Finally, there is no silver bullet answer to any of this. There are a multitude of approaches to be made but government must have the political will to take the lead in encouraging employers and others to make better use of their female employees—not just those at the top on boards or those in the pipeline leading to boards. All that is important, as I have said, but those at the bottom may well have good ability too and a good opportunity to do rather more.

My Lords, I add from these Benches my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Palumbo on his excellent and refreshing maiden speech. He explained that his business was muscular; I have the sense that his contributions to this House will be as well. We welcome him warmly.

Back in April 2009, I had the strange experience of being invited to lecture at a university in Mecca. I was told that up to that point I was the first non-Muslim to be invited to lecture. The subject that was given to me, partly because of my involvement with Cambridge University, was excellence in higher education. I remember arriving by car and stopping outside the university’s marble halls, where I was met by the rector, who appeared to have stepped directly out of a David Lean movie and was very dramatic. As he took me into the hall, he said: “There will be about 4,000 people in the hall but of course no women”. I looked slightly surprised and he said: “They are watching on closed-circuit television from a separate campus 25 kilometres away”. I said: “Will they be able to ask questions?”. “Oh yes,” he said, “and they assuredly will”. So they did, and their questions were among the best and sharpest. The women are involved in the university, mainly as medical students, and it is in the medical field that they are able to study alongside men.

I recount that experience because, when we talk about the underrepresentation of women in certain sectors, we tend to think of barriers that are sometimes difficult to define and, for that reason, somewhat difficult to eradicate. When you have a barrier that is as physical and obvious as the one that I have just described, in a sense the problem is more obvious and the challenge more manageable. In Britain barriers to women realising their full potential are much less obvious and therefore harder to eradicate fully. I shall focus on two aspects: first, underrepresentation in the sciences at university level and in subsequent careers and, secondly, underrepresentation at board level, especially membership of executive committees.

First, on university and career levels, the Women’s Business Council, which has been referred to several times in this debate, in its very good report last June, Maximising Women’s Contribution to Future Economic Growth, shows quite conclusively that while girls outperform boys at GCSE and A-level, and the gap may be widening, when it comes to university places women take up only 13% of engineering places, 18% of technology places and 22% of mathematics places, while the figures are 89% for nursing, 85% for educational studies, 73% for linguistics and classics and 72% for language and literature. We know that there are a number of reasons why this is the case, and that they are interconnected.

Later today I shall be doing an interview for a webcast with Professor Dame Ann Dowling. Hers is a remarkable career. She is a non-executive director with BP, she heads up the engineering faculty at Cambridge University, now the university’s largest faculty, and she has recently been elected—the first woman so to be—as president of the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK. She publicly condemns the fact that fewer than 8% of UK engineers are women and that so few women actually study engineering. She sees this bald single fact as “stark”, “terrible” and a huge loss of talent. Light-heartedly, she urges parents to buy Lego for their daughters and to encourage them to mend bicycles and to get mucky. Much more seriously, though, she says that one of the problems is an A-level system that allows young people to ditch maths and science at 16. The failure to take the opportunity at university level, and subsequently in careers, will be affected by role models, and I think that Ann Dowling is an important role model for young women in this area. She has had, and continues to have, a brilliant career.

In her report for the Women’s Business Council, Ruby McGregor-Smith points out the inadequacy of careers advice to girls at schools as being another important factor—they are simply not well informed about the opportunity that exists for the sort of career that Ann Dowling has had. The Ofsted report on careers advice is very important; it urges government and business to encourage girls into STEM subjects and careers. I ask my friends on the Front Bench what the Government really intend to do to take forward rapidly the priorities that emerged from the Ofsted study.

What actually can be done? Let us look at a few of the aspects of this issue. Unless the UK brings more women into work, into STEM careers and into the boardroom, it is calculated that it could forgo 10% of GDP growth by 2030. This really must not happen. The 30% Club, to which I belong, calculates that any man starting work at a FTSE 100 company is 4.5 times more likely to reach the level of being an executive than any woman. Currently only 20% of FTSE 100 boards have female board members. More tellingly and, I believe, more importantly, only 70% have female executive directors and only four have female CEOs.

My right honourable friend in the other place, Vince Cable, urges now that we should really look at all-women shortlists for boards, and reference has been made to that proposal already in this debate. As we all know, there are problems with such a course. Among other things, the Equality and Human Rights Commission would have to advise on the legality of such shortlists. I do not know what General de Gaulle’s position was on female equality, but he was famous for saying frequently that the French, in choosing between liberté, égalité and fraternité, have an instinct always to go for égalité. To achieve that égalité sometimes involves a changing balance with liberté. In charting the way forward and realising the potential contribution of women to the UK economy, we will need to consider that balance between, if you like, the volume of liberté and the power of égalité. What is clear is that for us as a nation and as an economy, the present underrepresentation of women in the workforce and in the boardroom must not continue. It is in fact deeply damaging and, essentially, intolerable.

We may be dealing with attitudes that are absolutely intractable. The phrase has been used that many of the attitudes that lie behind this are “hard-wired” into both genders. There was a little illustration of this the other day with Chancellor Merkel, who has already been referred to today as a role model—indeed she is; what an extraordinary political career and achievement—as the phrase that is used to describe her is “Übermutter”. It has never occurred to anyone to describe her as an “Überfrau”. Now there is a role model for you.

Whether it is hard-wired or not, how deeply set some of the attitudes are may be an acceptance of things too easily by many women and girls and an inability to see things as they are by far too many men. The fact is that this is unfinished business. If we as a country are to be as competitive as we have to be, this is something that has to be addressed and changed.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on making it possible for this annual debate to be in government time in this important centenary year of the start of the First Great War. This is the year we begin a four-year commemoration which will highlight many of its shocking and horrific events. I hope noble Lords will forgive me as I take a moment to look at what this meant for women and how it altered the status of women for ever.

My earliest memory of my family and other families is of the sheer number of women in the world. Of course, in my family I had my mother, my very special mentor and most loyal supporter, but there were many more women who were either widowed or unmarried. I think that most families had maiden aunts and maiden great aunts; I certainly had two. The 1914 war left a generation of young women who never married, who were sometimes referred to by the appalling term “surplus women”. The scale of the war meant that the number of young men had been decimated and as a result there were just not enough chaps to go round.

These were the times when very little paid work was available for women and voluntary work was only for the rich. Single women often had to take on roles in domestic service just to get by. My mother, for example, had gained secretarial qualifications, but just as she thought that she would be able to put them to use in 1918, her father told her there was no way that she should even contemplate finding paid employment as all available jobs should be offered only to the returning troops. In many instances, contracts of employment during World War One had been based on collective agreements between trade unions and employers that decreed that women would be employed only for the duration of the war.

Marriage for my mother later meant, of course, that there was no possibility, either within the tax system or social convention, of being employed. For single women, the outlook was bleak. Some remained at their childhood home and ended their lives as unpaid carers to elderly parents. Others took on roles as housekeepers or companions to elderly, usually difficult, ladies, whose demands were inflexible and harsh but at least that provided a roof over their heads. It was not a time to be a surplus woman.

My father went through the First World War spending most of the years in the trenches or in a military hospital. He entered the war as a fit young man, and five or so years later emerged described as C3—the lowest grade of fitness—having had three bouts of rheumatic fever. He went on to serve in Ireland, but was forced to leave because his employers refused to hold his position any longer. The Army insisted on a form of medical treatment before discharge but, as he was under such pressure from his employers, he felt unable to accept it. The result was that when he died from heart-related disease, I was 10 years old, my brother was 15 and my mother was not entitled to any form of pension for his military service. It was certainly no time to be a widow.

My father never spoke of the horrors and tragedies he witnessed, so my mother was not able to pass on to us any of his experiences or the awful conditions in which the troops who survived had lived. As regiments were wiped out, together with his bouts of illness, he went from regiment to regiment. I can only be grateful that he survived to have a happy, but short, marriage and to give me a few years of love and real affection.

The war as it progressed opened unthought-of opportunities for many women. Between 1914 and 1918, an estimated 2 million women replaced men in employment, an increase in the proportion of women in total employment from 24% in July 1914 to 37% by November 1918. These women kept the home front firing by providing weapons from munitions factories and food through working the land. It was not easy, but these women enjoyed the sense of freedom and independence that this gave them.

When the armistice eventually came, many of these women did not relish a return to the home. This emancipation of women during the war had given them the impetus to start fighting for real equality. Women started truly to educate themselves, seeking more independence from husbands, fathers and families. Indeed in 1918, after much campaigning and violence by such doughty fighters as Emmeline Pankhurst, the vote was awarded to women over the age of 30 who owned property and this, thankfully, was extended 10 years later to universal suffrage.

It is hard to believe that, in spite of opportunities for women during the 1914-18 war, only two, outside domestic service, were employed in the House of Lords by 1918, and they were in the Library. Believe it or not, the number had increased to only five by the end of the Second World War in 1945, which can hardly be thought of as progress. Today the figure stands at 224 women out of a total of 587 employees.

What changes we have seen in the opportunities for women since the unsatisfying and inhibiting lives they led in 1914. Happily, we are living in an age when if they have the expertise, the determination and, best of all, a supportive family, women can hope to achieve much of their dreams. Families are as important today as they were in 1914, and long may they continue to be so. Of course there is much to do, but I am thankful that I am alive today and not in those dark, miserable days which left not only an untapped, precious resource for this country, but many women unfulfilled and depressed. We should not forget.

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab): My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on creating the opportunity to debate today women’s contribution to economic life and on her presentation of the subject since the Equality Act.

Listening to the many speakers before me, I was forced to recall the names of those who also went before, such as Harriet Tubman, the underground railroad fighter, and Rosa Parks, who went from the back of the bus to the forefront of the American consciousness, causing the breakdown of the power of enslavement. We trust that the work of these women will never be forgotten because they were the cornerstone at that time of building a strong foundation without boundaries and bearing witness through self-expression in poetry, music, art and, most of all, their writings. These formidable women include Sojourner Truth, who exclaimed, “Ain’t I a woman too?”. I dare today to bring to the attention of the House those who I have identified as forerunners in the struggle to combat the double discrimination of gender and race.

Being a woman and black is challenging. The struggle for women in their many roles, as mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters, is with us today. Black women continue to use their talents, teaching and political will to contribute towards the building of a better world. Despite facing double discrimination, they have striven to gain a place in the technological world and continue to seek to prevent technology replacing human and social values. As women, however unkind the insults—and there are many—they continue to be in the orchestra of life. For they recognise that every woman, black and white, has an instrument to play in the struggles of today.

Today in Britain, we mark over 100 years of the women’s day movement. However, historians and other interested parties can cite the earliest women’s day activities six years prior, in the USA, and the first formal conference taking place in Copenhagen in 1910, when over 1 million marked the IWD—as it became known—in Austria, Denmark and Germany. In 1914, for the first time, the IWD meeting was held on 8 March, a Sunday—the day on which most women were able to dispense with their housework. Back then, women used the occasion to demand the right to vote, the end of sexual discrimination in the workplace, and the right to hold a position of public office. We ask ourselves, 100 years on, what has changed. Some might say, “Two out of three can’t be bad”. Although I continually hear the phrase, “It’s a man’s world”, I am heartened that, during my lifetime, there has been a quantum leap in the roles that women play in every strata of society. Yes, we need more.

I will cite the names of some role models, although I am sure that they have been mentioned before: Christine Lagarde, Angela Merkel, Dilma Rousseff, Joyce Banda, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, Malala Yousafzai and Indra Nooyi. They are real role models, and they continue to guide others. In that group, there are only two black women. These names, and many more, will still produce the same answer as to the far-reaching global impact that women are making in society today, which we had hoped for but I feel sure had not imagined when the International Women’s Day was in its genesis.

Closer to home, I have seen huge strides taken by women within my own community. It was not so long ago when the first and second generation of African and Caribbean heritage took on the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. They began, as a defence against prejudice, to start their own businesses in this country. Some of them suffered criminal attacks on their businesses. They continued to try in every walk of life. They were most successful in setting up cottage industries in the beauty industry, especially in hairdressing. You may not see them much on the high street, but they are thriving and bringing their perceptions to the wider community. Anyone looking with my eyes will see that the white community copies and takes note of what they are doing. They are beavering to become self-sufficient. They have been at the forefront of some of the new hairstyles. They have gone into manufacturing the products needed for hair care, and have taken steps in producing all the beauty products needed, despite lack of funds. They have also been amazing in the health service.

When the late Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister and encouraged people to set up businesses, the women in the black community came together and set up their own care homes. Today, some of them still exist, but they have different stories to tell. You will find that black women have entered the medical, legal, accounting, arts and science arenas, and also politics. I remind noble Lords—I hope your Lordships have not forgotten her—of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator. She became the first black woman to sit in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom and, later, the Leader of this House. While Leader, she invited me into her office to show me a letter which she had received. Because the author is no longer with us—she has died—I will not name her, but in that letter she said that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was a disgrace to this House. Some of your Lordships may have seen the letter, because I was so appalled that I advised her to frame it and pop it on her desk. There is also my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, who became Attorney-General. Those two women are high fliers and role models for the whole community.

Today, I ask us to remember together that being black does not prevent you from being a woman. Our greatest problems are with women; I hate to say this, but it is true. Where there are woman head teachers, teachers complain about the treatment they receive. I ask us to keep the ideals of International Women’s Day in our hearts and in our practices. Let us celebrate those women who have excelled, regardless of race or creed. Most importantly, I call on men and women—on all of us—to help to foster and support the hopes and dreams of a young girl, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece or a neighbour. We heard earlier that both world wars robbed us of our men. We do not know who we will need tomorrow.

The legacy of those women in 1914 will stay bright and burning way beyond 2014, with your Lordships’ help. I am sure that I have brought a sombre note to this Chamber. That is not intentional, but I find that black women are contributing much to society and they are never recognised. I end by asking the Minister to share with us the Government’s plans for ensuring that there is growth for all women, black and white, to take their place as equal partners in tomorrow’s world.

My Lords, I share with other Members of your Lordships’ House the belief that this is a vital debate, and it is excellent that it has now become an annually established feature of our parliamentary diary. I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Palumbo on making his maiden speech and on its quality.

I also thank the Minister, my noble friend Lady Northover, for introducing this debate, but I make no apologies for returning to a theme which I have persistently raised over the years and to which many Members of your Lordships’ House have already referred—namely the underrepresentation of women in both UK business and UK political life. I persist with this because in both areas the situation is not good. In this debate some noble Lords have made complacent speeches indicating that some progress has been made, which they warmly welcomed. Of course we warmly welcome it, but the fact is that it is not fast enough.

The 2011 Davies report, which noble Lords have mentioned, recommended that the proportion of women directors should reach 25% by 2015. Although that goal is modest enough, it is going in the right direction. However, the report was far too timid in suggesting how the target should be achieved, as there was to be no compulsion. When Davies reported, as other noble Lords have said, 12.5% of directors on FTSE 100 boards were women, almost all of whom were non-executives. Three chief executive officers were women. The record of FTSE 250 companies was, and remains, very much worse.

At present only four women chief executives head up FTSE 100 firms, and only one chairs a board. There has been some increase in the number of women directors but they have largely been non-executives, and their numbers still fall far short of the Davies target. Moreover, grade for grade, senior women are paid far less than their male counterparts. The Chartered Management Institute found that, in 2012-13, male directors received average bonuses of nearly £64,000, while female directors got £36,000. Not surprisingly, male directors’ pay rose by 5.3%, and female directors’ by a meagre 1.1%. That was reported in the Guardian on 20 August 2013.

Progress will not be made until Norwegian-type quotas are imposed—although many are opposed to them, particularly distinguished women who have broken through the glass ceiling and reject quotas for others because of their own ability. One way or another, quotas are coming. Lloyds Bank is to increase by 1,000 the number of jobs for women in its top tier of management. John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, has urged his member firms to use targets. The current Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, has made this a particular issue, as has been mentioned.

Quotas work not just in Norway but in the UK. I always raise the example of the imposition of quotas, following the Patten report, to rebalance the recruitment between Catholics and Protestants into the police force in Northern Ireland. That was achieved well before the 10-year target period. However, it also had a very beneficial if unintended result—that the proportion of women recruited rose from 12.45% in 2001 to nearly 27% by 2011. I have cited that in aid on four occasions in this House, asking Ministers if, in winding, they would comment. Commendably, there was an equal gender balance of two male Ministers and two female. Equality was maintained, furthermore, as none of them responded to me when winding.

I pursued the matter in writing. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, belatedly replied, confirming the Northern Ireland figures, but she added that other factors may have contributed to the increase in women’s recruitment and cited the 2004 and 2011 gender action plans in Northern Ireland. That is all to the good, as it only adds to the argument for the need for positive and robust action. Her reply in fact confirmed and did not negate the case that I was making.

Last year, after the Queen’s Speech, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, gave me a more considered reply, on 11 June, for which I was grateful. He quoted the 2013 Cranfield study which said that FTSE 100 firms were on a trajectory to reach the 25% target by 2015 and the 34% one by 2020. Since then doubts have been raised by PricewaterhouseCoopers, in its audit, about whether this progress will be maintained. It may well be that this country will slip down still further in the international league among developed economies.

I turn to my second point, about politics. I had also asked the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, if the Davies target applied to the Cabinet. He replied:

“Your second question was when the target of 25% women on the boards of listed companies would apply to Cabinet membership. I can confirm there are no plans to introduce any such target”.

Well, quite. Women Cabinet membership has fallen since 2010, and to add insult to injury, last week’s Sunday Times reported that female Ministers, including some in the Cabinet, have smaller offices than their male counterparts. Average office size is 657 square feet; the average for men is 715, and for women 482. That is a small but telling point.

All three main parties are bad at promoting gender equality. The least bad is Labour, thanks largely to the indefatigable crusade of its deputy leader, Harriet Harman MP. All-women lists for the selection of parliamentary candidates—that is, quotas—have been a big help in that regard; but as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, there is still some way to go. The Tory record is very bad, with four of its 2010 intake of women MPs not restanding. My own party’s record is even worse, I regret to say, with too few women MPs.

It is no wonder that there was such a stark contrast between the coalition Government Front Bench and the Opposition Front Bench: pale and male on the former, and a much better gender balance on the latter, as recent TV broadcasts and press photos revealed. The coalition has also reduced by half the number of women Permanent Secretaries since 2010. It is clear that the battle for gender equality will not be won on the playing fields of Eton, or even those of Westminster School.

Can my noble friend say, in winding, if she agrees with me that gender imbalance in business life must continue to be robustly addressed if the Davies targets are to be achieved—if necessary, as our honourable friend Dr Vince Cable has said, by the introduction of targets? Further, does she also agree that the Cabinet should lead by example and in the next reshuffle aim at 25% female representation? It is not likely to happen, but we jolly well should try.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Northover on leading the debate. She is a role model herself, both in what she has done for the development of her party, and as a working mother.

My area of focus today is women’s contribution to the UK economy. I will start with some general principles. I suspect that the first will command general agreement. No one should be excluded from achieving their ambition at work just because they are female. That is, as it were, the overarching principle.

My second point is that we should not be surprised if women choose to operate in some spheres more than others. The Library circulated figures showing the distribution of the male and female workforces between sectors. These showed females featuring especially strongly in health, education and real estate. The figures may reflect some lingering results of past discrimination, but do not expect any great change in future. Women are not identical to men and do not need to have identical ambitions.

My third principle is less commonly accepted. Not all women have to be out at work. Children need love and attention, and stay-at-home mothers provide these needs often making an enormous contribution elsewhere, for example to the voluntary sector—everything from organising school events to raising money for good causes.

My fourth principle, perhaps the most contentious, is that if you allow for the proportion of women who do not want to work full time, it would be unwise to expect the numbers of women at the top to be 50% in every sector. The key thing is that women should have the opportunity to get on. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Holmes on his cheering illustrations of what can be done by providing opportunities. I suggest that speakers in debates such as this one would do well to heed such principles, some of which are frequently ignored.

I welcome the steps that government and Parliament are taking to help women—and I entirely support the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, whom I look forward to hearing from.

I now turn now to some more specific issues. The Government are right to encourage flexible working and make it both possible and economic for women who want to be in the workplace to be there while they bring up their children. I am very pleased that our forthcoming reforms will allow both parents to share up to a year’s leave to look after their newborn children. The changes will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their children and help mothers to return to work at a time that is right. We are also increasing childcare support to ensure that parents can work. The Government are investing an extra £200 million of support for families on low incomes. In addition, the tax-free childcare scheme will contribute 20% of working parents’ childcare for parents not receiving universal credit, as announced in March. Other support is also available.

Some of your Lordships will know of my passion for enterprise and for encouraging small business. I have spoken before about the array of support that this Government are giving our 4.9 million small businesses, such as the £2,000 off national insurance that will boost jobs from next month and the increase in rates relief for small businesses. All this will help the growing number of women running and playing a pivotal role in such businesses. Less well known is the childcare business grants scheme. If a person intends to set up a new childcare business, they can get a small grant to help with the costs of getting trained and registered, to access a business mentor for support and advice on starting up a business, and to access business advice on the childcare sector. All this encouragement of family-friendly enterprise is to be commended. As my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville has already said, the Federation of Small Businesses has reported an encouraging trend, with nearly half of businesses created in the last two years in retail, hotels and catering being primarily owned by women.

Our economic recovery is fuelling growth and innovation, and it is exciting to see the contribution of women entrepreneurs. But we also need to give women the opportunity to contribute to the workforce in middle life and even into their 60s. This is an issue about which I feel especially keenly. I have been struck as a new Peer both by the contribution women Members make in all parts of the House and how often they demonstrate slightly different strengths and skills. This House has a key role in scrutinising and revising legislation. Women are very good at thinking about the practical application of new rules and looking at them through consumers’, administrators’ or business eyes. I have been trying to do just this during our debates on the Water Bill.

When I go on radio or TV to talk about the role of women, I am asked about quotas and discrimination and what can be done to achieve equality in the workplace. Attention is focused on the perceived need for high-profile female figures in the Cabinet, running top companies or running the BBC. This is an obsession of the chattering classes. Elite women, many present in this House, who might fill such roles, can usually look after themselves to a great extent. Very little attention is given in these interviews to the needs of the great majority of working women, some of whom will provide the pipeline for top roles in future. These women want help with finding opportunities for a better life and to be able to combine a family and the chance to have a successful career. They want to contribute better to the UK economy and to be better, happier citizens and parents. So the framework for maternity leave and flexible working is important and represents a substantial and important investment by the Government. The expansion of pre-school education is another huge and important investment. But women also want good jobs to go to, a decent boss and to be able to get on. Employers, large and small, know that their female colleagues are a skilled and loyal resource. Women are also the majority of customers in many consumer-facing businesses, so have relevant insights for success.

In my own career in the Civil Service and then for over 15 years as an executive at Tesco, a good retail employer, I found four things that worked well. First, it is important to make a point of including female staff in training and development on an equal basis, even if special arrangements have to be made. Mentoring has a place, and role models, as so many noble Lords have said. In an organisation of any size, leadership training is especially important as women are often very good managers, but sometimes lack confidence. Secondly, this understandable lack of confidence is one of the biggest barriers to female advancement. Men think they are ready for the next challenge a year before they are ready, women a year too late. Interestingly, I have also found that women are also less aggressive about seeking pay rises, which may partly explain the 10% pay gap among full-time employees highlighted by the Library note.

For these reasons, women can also benefit disproportionately from good management—clear objectives, appraisal, feedback and, most important of all, encouragement and praise for good work done. Focusing systematically on the female pipeline in a business or agency and ensuring that you give women core jobs in the business, and not just in female-friendly divisions such as HR or marketing, so that they develop a skills base for top jobs, is also vital—like the director of sport we heard about in London 2012.

Since change takes time, it is worth looking back a bit to my own experience in steering the Food Safety Act 1990 through this House. All three lead officials were women, and so were the Ministers, including my noble friend Lady Trumpington, still here in her 90s, demonstrating brilliant development of the female talent pipeline by the party. I have found female networks helpful in establishing some surprising connections and friendships and showing the breadth of knowledge needed for advancement. I remember the Tesco women directors in Asia meeting in Shanghai, 50 of us in total and only two of us, myself and the Irish-born commercial director from Thailand, of non-Asian origin. Networks are also vital for the exchange of good practice, and I found managing children was the most popular topic for best practice exchange. I used to share my wisdom on juggling my domestic arrangements, which was a cause of great hilarity. News bulletins can keep you in touch when you are on maternity leave. Without them, you miss out completely as businesses change.

Such things are also very easy in our digital age—and that brings me on to my final point. The workplace has changed a great deal with the advent of new technology. I remember having to take my children into Downing Street as I had a crisis on a Sunday and external e-mail barely existed in the 1990s. Now parents can bathe their babies and settle down on their tablets to complete their urgent work. That is a very helpful change.

Obviously, we need to make sure that new technology provides new flexibility and does not become a new form of slavery, on the go 20 hours a day. I have a friend who is a senior City lawyer. She has agreed to leave her BlackBerry behind when she goes on holiday with her family. The internet, especially when we all have broadband—a day that I hope will arrive very soon—is changing everything: the workplace, our relationships, who wins in business and, of course, most important of all, the way our own children learn and play.

I do believe that women make an enormous contribution to the UK economy. However, in closing, I wish to touch on an aspect of good management practice, which is to set criteria and deadlines for success. Accordingly, I look forward to the day when progress has been such that there is no need for a debate on the role of women in our economy, and I hope that we get there soon.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Royall spoke about looking forward to speaking to her grandchildren. I have reached the ripe old age where my grandchildren ask me what the biggest change is that I have seen during my life. When I compare the life of my mother with that of my daughter and granddaughters, I have little hesitation in saying, “The contribution of women”. But although this change has been enormous, there is still a long way to go. It is in the spirit of discussing what is yet to be done that I, too, welcome this women’s day debate. Most of my career has been in business and it is here that there is much to do, and much benefit to gain, as many have pointed out. I think that this is captured in the United Nations theme for this year’s International Women’s Day—“Equality for women is progress for all”.

Some have tried to show that companies with women on the board produce better financial results. I have always been rather sceptical of this because so many other factors affect the financial results of a business. It is getting the combination right that matters. Businesses with a greater gender diversity reflect society, and a good business serves society. Perhaps this is why greater gender diversity benefits the financial results of these businesses. It is this attitude of serving society that enables businesses to embrace diversity rather than just help women to fit into a male-dominated culture. As others have said, men, too, benefit from flexible working hours and spending time with their families. Embracing this culture of diversity enables women to flourish, and their flourishing talents, knowledge, skills and abilities benefit the company and the nation.

So how do you do this? For the answer I am grateful to the Chartered Management Institute for its Women in Management paper. As did the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, the paper points out that this issue is not just about women on boards; it concerns women in all parts of a business. It is about unblocking the career pipeline and allowing women’s talents to flourish. As my noble friend Lady Prosser said, it is not just a matter of a glass ceiling that has to be broken; it is getting round an obstacle course—barriers, as the Minister put it. Enabling women to overcome this obstacle course and these barriers is the mark of a business that truly embraces diversity.

Like the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo—I welcome his maiden speech—I support employers who embrace flexible working for men and women. They understand that results are more important than merely being present. This means creating supportive networks and mentoring opportunities for female managers and providing them with management training and qualifications throughout their careers—for instance, providing them with training and career development when they are in their 40s, when there is less family pressure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, pointed out.

Women’s ambitions and the way they get results can differ from men’s. For example, many women prefer to work in transformation and interactive management. They work better in less hierarchical businesses. This may mean challenging corporate cultures. A company that believes in diversity will understand this and provide mentoring support for this kind of career development. This may mean a more varied career structure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, indicated, and redefining workplace cultures, but being true to yourself and redefining success is the hallmark of many of today’s successful businesses. The Government have recognised this. In January this year, ACAS published a guide to handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner—a guide designed to help employers and employees with their statutory rights regarding flexible working. WISE—Women into Science and Engineering—mentors women entering science and technology in all of this. The Women of Influence initiative also supports female scientists in this way. This flexibility is invaluable.

Many have spoken of role models. An interesting bit of research by the Chartered Management Institute looks at the importance of role models. We need to replace the tired old role models, many of them men, with women such as Karren Brady or the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who is in her place. There is a lack of female role models, not only in the public eye but also in the workplace. Part of management training is for line managers to set a good example and be a good role model in their wider organisation. After all, this is how you engage people and improve their performance. In this regard, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said about engineering role models, I congratulate the University of Sheffield, which has built a magnificent new building for its graduate school of engineering and named it after Pam Liversidge, one of the world’s leading female engineers and the first woman to be president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers—a wonderful role model indeed.

An important part of embracing gender diversity is to close the gender pay gap. The Office for National Statistics tells us that in full-time work the gender pay gap increased from 9.5% in 2012 to 10% in 2013. Others—my noble friend Lady Prosser quoted Oxfam in this regard—put the figure as high as 19%. Whoever is right, the gap is there. It would be very helpful if the Government could give us the official figures, as there is so much dispute over them.

The Chartered Management Institute tells us that the average bonus given to male directors was double the average given to women, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, pointed out. Some say that this is due to women pursuing a different career path. Others point out that big bonuses encourage the short-term interests of managers rather than the long-term interests of the business. The gap is less pronounced at lower levels because women are the majority of the workforce at entry level, but they lose out on top positions and top pay. It seems to me that the way to tackle this is to measure and report on equality of pay and the percentage of women and men at junior, middle and senior levels. Some organisations may want to set targets to close these gaps. Yes, there is a useful joint government and business-led initiative called Think, Act, Report, which encourages employers to do this. It is designed to help companies to consider gender equality in a systematic way on issues such as recruitment, retention, promotion and pay. I hope that the Government will do more to publicise this scheme and encourage all employers to use it, and perhaps even name and shame those who do not.

Does the Minister agree that companies now face a financial imperative to hang on to women who are coming into the workforce? Some do so at graduate level and many are highly qualified, but many leave in their 30s because the workplace culture has been developed and designed by men and does not work for women. What a waste, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, put it. That is why it is becoming an economic imperative to make sure that women remain in the talent pipeline. We should do so by providing ways around the barriers—ways that are all part of a culture of gender diversity. That is yet another reason why gender diversity is a feature of a successful business.

My Lords, I begin by thanking everyone who has spoken for a fascinating and invigorating debate. We also listened to an excellent maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo of Southwark.

While other noble Lords were listening to the interesting speech to Parliament of Angela Merkel—another of our icons—I was at a reception at Clarence House given for WOW by the Duchess of Cornwall at the start of the 2014 Women of the World festival, being held this year at London’s South Bank. One of those present was Nimco Ali, an FGM victim, and many noble Lords will have seen her conversation with the Duchess reported in last Friday’s press. The Duchess has herself been appalled by this horrendous practice taking place in this country. Apparently, over time, some 66,000 girls have already been forced to have this illegal operation performed on them.

The good news is that, when combined with the strong views already expressed by your Lordships in today’s Question on FMG, the recent promise by Michael Gove to ensure that in future, schools, teachers and governors—all those responsible—will ensure that preventing FGM taking place on their pupils becomes a top priority. This should mean that this illegal practice will, at the very least, decrease considerably over the next few years.

I began begun my comments in this International Women’s Day debate with the example of FGM because if Britain can set an example here, after many years of brushing the issue under the carpet, it may indeed be a vital lead that other countries, too, may wish to follow—albeit perhaps not immediately in some cases. That is why I particularly want to congratulate the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, not just on securing this important debate today but on her success in broadening its title to include women’s contribution to economic life not just in the UK but worldwide.

Without doubt, one of the best initiatives was the Davies report, Women on Boards, published in February 2011. In 2010, when the noble Lord, Lord Davies, was asked to lead this strategy, women made up just 10.5% of board members on FTSE 100 companies, and 6.7% of those in FTSE 250 companies. Although, as the noble Lord himself says, there is obviously still a long way to go—not least, as other noble Lords have mentioned, because the vast majority of appointments were non-executive board members—by 2013, women accounted for 17.3% of board members at FTSE 100 companies, and 13.2% of board members of FTSE 250 companies. That represented an overall increase of 50%. The important route whereby this success is being achieved is for companies involved in this project to recruit and nurture female as well as male executive talent and ensure that they have adequate mentoring support en route to top-level jobs. The added requirement is that companies report yearly on the success of their policies, which then forms the basis of the yearly published progress report from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. It is that yearly basis that is so important. Thus everyone can see exactly what success is being achieved. My hope is that success here may well prove to be an incentive to other countries to follow—not necessarily by following an identical path but in ways that suit their particular circumstances.

Of course, earlier action in Britain is also needed to achieve our own targets, which again may prove to be a useful example for others to follow, not least during our children’s education. One such area is crucial—careers advice, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords. Sadly, a recent Ofsted report has indicated that considerable improvement is indeed needed here. Some time ago, in 1975, in my role as the first deputy chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, one of my major concerns was the advice that girls were getting, which was limited to, for example, hairdressing and secretarial careers—the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, mentioned this area—rather than the wider careers advice that boys would get. I suspect that there is still more than an element of that attitude in the advice that girls are getting today. Certainly, for both sexes, careers advice should be based on the individual child’s abilities and aptitude. Equally, other aspects are important, too, such as what local job opportunities exist and the range of better-paid jobs that are needed in today’s environment. Within a school’s structure itself, one definite improvement would be to have more local employers appointed as school governors. Also, given that not all teachers are necessarily well informed about local job opportunities, visits to different kinds of businesses and employers should be part of every school’s curriculum.

The third and last issue that I want to address is flexible working, which has already been mentioned by other noble Lords. I emphasise that what is still needed here is for these opportunities to be available equally—I stress, equally—for men as for women. Again, this may be useful for other countries to consider. A much more active campaign is now needed for two important reasons. The first is because men are taking and enjoying a far more active role as fathers, which of course also means that mothers have greater freedom to return to work. The second reason is the new opportunities created by the amazing technological changes in communications, which has also been touched on in this debate. Nearly all jobs can now be organised flexibly. To illustrate the situation, if we need to get in touch with, say, a plumber, we all know that the person answering our phone call will almost certainly be living on another continent and using a mobile phone.

So if UK employers, large and small—and I suspect that the small employers are already among the most pioneering here—were to accept this changed situation, decide which were the very few roles that could not be worked flexibly and reorganise the rest on a flexible basis, not only would this better suit modern family lives but it would cut employers’ costs, as less office space would be needed, with much of the business done at home or on the move using mobile phones. It would be interesting to hear whether the Government have any plans to encourage this.

Again, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate. I very much look forward to listening to the remaining speeches and to hearing what gems we can expect from the Government in the future.

My Lords, we often talk about it being a privilege to speak in these debates but never has it been more genuinely so than today. We have heard some exceptional speeches, and I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Holmes. I was not alone in the Chamber in listening absolutely raptly but I also had a tear in my eye.

I was not going to mention politics—or at least the representation of women in Parliament today—but I have been name-checked more than once, and rather generously, in this debate and I have to say that it is not me who has done the work; it is those who step up to the plate and put themselves forward. All I can do is provide encouragement and support in my own party. Here, I pay tribute to others in my party who have come before me, including the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who has just spoken. She was an earlier pioneer in this field, as were my noble friends Lady Morris and Lady Seccombe. Talking about the pipeline, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe did earlier, I hope that I am not spoiling her chances but I happen to know that the granddaughter of my noble friend Lady Seccombe is in our pipeline and I wish her much success in her journey.

I was slightly stung by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, picking on my party. We should pay tribute to the fact that we went from 17 to 49 women MPs at the last election. It is true that four of them have announced that they are retiring for various reasons, but that is virtually the same proportion as applies to the Liberal Democrats and pretty much the same as applies to the Labour Party. This is all something that the APPG for Women in Parliament needs to look at—not only with a view to making politics a more attractive career for women but looking at retention as well.

I end this little section by saying, as I always do, that if any women are watching, listening to or reading this debate and they think they might be interested in a career in politics—with any party but particularly with the Conservative Party—please find your way to me. It is not difficult and I will respond immediately to any e-mail or call.

Since I made my maiden speech in a debate on this subject three years ago, I have spoken often on related subjects. In preparation for this debate, I reflected again on whether the glass is half full or half empty, and whether it is a little fuller today than it was when I made that first speech in this Chamber three years ago. I think that the answer is that it is like the curate’s egg: good in parts.

To put the debate in context, the past 50 or 60 years have seen a remarkable phase of economic growth both in this country and across the world. Four of the reasons for this are the growth in free trade, the introduction of free-market models by countries in the Far East, the introduction of IT into the economy and, of particular relevance today, the introduction of the female half of the human population into the labour force of developed countries. This has been an event of enormous social consequence and also enormous economic importance, so, from that base, let us have a look at where we are now.

Businesses with diverse workforces which harness and retain the capabilities of women as well as men are stronger performers and are better attuned to their client and customer base. Statistics show that if women were represented equally in the workforce, the UK could increase GDP by 10% by 2030. The next generation of women must feel that all areas of our economy are accessible to them and they must grow up believing that they can reach their full potential. The Inspiring the Future programme, supported by both Miriam Clegg and Samantha Cameron, successful businesswomen in their own right, together with other programmes such as Speakers for Schools, are doing good work in this area. As Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of Mitie and a great business role model, said,

“by creating opportunity for all, raising aspirations and enabling people to maximise their talents, we will deliver stronger economic growth”.

Women already in business have an important role to play. As we have discussed, active female role models evidence the positive impact of women in business. We have many women in this House and a number speaking today who provide that role model, and I have been very impressed listening to their perspective.

Incidentally, when I looked at the speakers list for today, I was a bit disappointed that there were not more men on it. We very much welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, in his maiden speech, and I have to say that the other six noble Lords have more than made up in quality for the lack of quantity. The truth is that we all know that, without buy-in and support from men, things change very much more slowly.

Younger women need role models, as has been said, and the business community as a whole needs to encourage women at every level. There are many fine examples of best practice. Liz Bingham, Ernst & Young’s managing partner, says:

“We need senior women in business to lift as they climb and to encourage young female talent up through their organisations”.

Here, as well as paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who has been mentioned by many others, I pay tribute to Helena Morrissey and others active in the 30% Club, who are having a major impact with their very effective and high-profile campaign.

We have heard a bit about entrepreneurship, which is becoming increasingly popular with young people who are attracted to the idea of working for themselves, and there are encouraging figures on start-ups. However, the gender gap is here, too, as my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville pointed out. If women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, we could have an extra 1 million female entrepreneurs, but they are only half as likely as men to take this opportunity. So what are the barriers and how can women be supported to overcome them? Financial institutions should ensure that their services are better marketed for women. Schools and business organisations should work together to ensure that students, and indeed mature women returners, know that starting their own business is a viable option and they should be well supported with advice through the process.

Entrepreneurship is also increasingly a popular option for women in the developing world. The flexibility allows women with limited transport options and obligations keeping them at home to earn a living with all the knock-on benefits. One entrepreneur I want to tell your Lordships about today is Zada, a 50 year-old widow from rural Afghanistan. She runs a small business making jewellery by hand. As a woman, she was not allowed to make the decision to start a business herself. She had to get permission from the men in her life—her adult sons—to attend a course at the Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery. I declare an interest as Zada was trained and supported by Future Brilliance, of which I am a trustee.

Zada, who is unable to read or write because of Afghanistan’s limited schooling opportunities, is a pioneer in this new scheme, creating a network of skilled Afghan artisans who will set up businesses and spread their knowledge when Afghan security is handed back to its own Administration. The advantage is that these jewellery makers will be able to work from home. Zada will be able to expand her business and employ more women. Therefore, in terms of maximum return on capital employed, taking just this one woman and investing in her is potentially huge as far as the economy of her local village is concerned. Zada is an inspiration to the young women in her village, as Victoria Beckham, now a successful businesswoman herself, is to young women in the UK. Again, the power of a strong role model should not be underestimated.

Another major barrier to women entering the workforce in the developing world is lack of choice over their sexual and reproductive health and access to contraception. Nearly 15 years after the introduction of the MDGs, we are still way behind on some of the targets. On International Women’s Day on Saturday, 800 women will die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, 128 women will die from an unsafe abortion and 222 million women will still have an unmet need for family planning. If we continue at the current rate of expansion, it will take another 500 years for women in parts of western and central Africa to access the contraception they want. This is not only morally wrong but also has a massive economic impact.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Bill Cash and my noble friend Lord McColl, as well as NGOs and Ministers, including the noble Baroness responding to this debate, and supporters from every party, for steering the International Development (Gender Equality) Bill successfully through both Houses and on to the statute book earlier this week. This is a positive outcome for us all to celebrate, particularly the women and girls in the developing world for whom this legislation has the potential to be a real game changer.

Noble Lords have talked about violence against women here at home and internationally. It is another issue that prevents women from entering the workforce. The report published this week, and referred to earlier, from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights confirmed that one in three women across the EU have experienced such violence. Worldwide, the figure is higher. Women living with the threat of physical and sexual violence will never reach their full potential. The financial consequences of violence against women are not just borne by the victims but felt by their communities and the economy as a whole. The cost to the UK economy caused by violence against women and girls has been calculated at £40 billion annually. While an economic argument should not be needed, it clearly makes financial sense to do what we can to prevent it.

I shall end on a word about the impact of austerity measures on women. It is important for us all, and for the Government, to acknowledge the fact that because many women are in low-paid and part-time jobs, and in the majority of cases have to manage a tight household budget in challenging circumstances, they have borne and continue to bear the brunt of the very difficult economic circumstances in which we as a country find ourselves. But these difficult decisions to get the economy back on track are there so that there will be jobs for their children, and our children, and so that they can look forward to a secure old age.

Women clearly can and do make a massive contribution to the UK economy and the global economy. This is not just an issue of women having a choice. Female participation in the UK workforce and across the world is a necessity, without which we will never achieve a successful or sustainable economy. With the focus of the Government, good business practice and engagement with educational institutions, we can ensure that all women are aware of their options and know their value.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for arranging this debate and for extending the nature of the debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, on his maiden speech. Following the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, perhaps I may say, for political balance, that our door also is always open to any women listening to this debate. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is inspiring change and to celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women. However, it is also necessary to focus attention on areas requiring further action. While positive gains have been made—we have heard a lot from noble Lords today—the world is still a very unequal place and women are still not achieving their full potential. This debate is about the contribution of women to economic life and I would like to concentrate on a group of young women in the UK who would like to contribute but for many diverse reasons are not doing so.

One of the most serious social problems that has faced successive Governments and has had cross-party consensus is the large number of young people who are not in employment, education or training—NEETs. The perceived view is that this is mainly a young male issue but the figures show a different story. There are significantly higher numbers of young women who are more likely to become and to stay NEET. The latest figures show that 500,000 young women aged 18 to 24 are NEET. That is over 90,000 more than young men over the course of last year and is 20% of all young women. This gender gap has remained persistent over time.

On average, in the past five years, there have been 100,000 more young women in that age group who are NEET than young men. These young women also stay NEET for longer. Even though there are more young men between the ages of 16 to 18, that figure changes in the 18 to 24 age group. Being NEET at such a young age has a significant impact on young women’s long-term outcomes. Evidence shows that double the number of women work in low-paid jobs and that they are more likely to remain trapped in low pay. One in four women is now earning less than the living wage, which is why it is so important to strengthen the minimum wage, and to tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts and agency working, which are the jobs where women are concentrated.

The recent ONS figures show a welcome increase in the rate of female employment but there are still more than 900,000 young people unemployed with more than 250,000 of them being unemployed for more than a year. While employment has increased, so, sadly, has the gender pay gap, which is now one of the highest in the EU. Women are still not getting the fair pay that they deserve. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Young Women’s Trust, which has evolved from the YWCA; it recently published a report, Young Women—the Real Story, based on its polling and focus groups with young women and on published data to find the facts and not the myths about being young and female in England and Wales today.

The report shows that, contrary to the popular feeling that young women have never had it so good, many face loneliness, thwarted ambitions and emotional and financial insecurity. It found that one in three young women feels that they are judged unfairly when they ask for help. One in four felt that they had no one to turn to when they could not figure out their problems by themselves. More than 50% had suffered from stress and 30% had self-harmed. One-third believed that paid apprenticeships in engineering and building trades were only for boys and more than one-third had never had any careers advice.

I know that these issues are not limited to young women. The recent report by Barnardo’s, Helping the Inbetweeners, which is the cohort just above NEETS, showed similar findings. But the outcomes for young women are much worse and evidence shows that it does not get any better as they go through life. We know that more women are working part time, and in temporary and insecure work.

The young women whom the charity works with are often struggling to make ends meet. They move in and out of part-time casual jobs and do not find any help to give them the skills, experience and support that they need to achieve their ambitions. The Young Women’s Trust talked to a 22 year-old from London called Sonia. When she was 14, she was made homeless after her father died and her mother sadly turned her out. Despite sleeping on floors and sofas, and in hostels, she went to college and qualified as a nursery nurse. But she has not been able to find a job and has been unemployed for three years. Her aspirations of working with children are different now: she just wants any job. She says, “I don’t really know where I’ll be in 10 years, time because it is difficult to see into the future if you are not really starting now”.

Despite these realities, the public debate about NEETs often centres on young men because on average they tend to do worse at school and more are unemployed. But that ignores the gender gap and the fact that far more young women are economically inactive than young men and therefore are even further from the labour market. There is a tendency to think that we know why so many young women are out of work, education or training. The perception is fed by the media, which generally attribute the problem to fecklessness, personal choice, young motherhood or the benefits system—we can take our pick. However, the reality is more complex and we need a more nuanced understanding of why this is. That is why the Young Women’s Trust will be undertaking a major piece of work in 2014 to find solutions so that all young women can find the quality, sustainable work they need to secure their future. We need to challenge the voices suggesting that it is because women make wrong choices.

In this debate, we have heard that academic girls outperform boys at school and more go to university. But what about the 36% of girls who in 2012, if you include English and maths, did not achieve five GCSEs at grades A to C? That is more than 100,000 girls who did not achieve the qualification level necessary for further education or training, or for starting employment. If they do on average achieve better grades than boys, it is still in subjects which lead to lower-paid jobs. That is why I am so concerned about the changes to the way in which young women get careers advice and guidance.

Here I shall echo some of the words of my noble friend Lady Prosser and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I readily acknowledge that careers guidance for young people was in need of reform and Connexions had serious failures. I also support the Government’s extension of the statutory duty to year 8, and to 16 to 18 year-olds in college. According to a survey by Careers England, since the Government decided to give responsibility to schools for careers advice without any funding, eight in 10 schools have dramatically cut the advice that they provide.

The Education Select Committee report says that the quality and quantity of careers advice and guidance has deteriorated at a time when it is most needed and called the decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools regrettable. Even the director of the CBI has questioned the laissez-faire approach of the Government. Barnado’s says:

“There is still too much gender-stereotyping in careers guidance”.

Much more needs to be done to encourage diversity of aspiration for all children, regardless of gender. I know the Government will not change their mind about what they have done on the careers service, but there is one small change that could make a difference. I believe that the Government should have adopted the Education Select Committee’s recommendation that there is a requirement in the statutory guidance for schools to publish an annual careers plan to include information on the support and resources available to their pupils in planning their career development, which could be reviewed annually.

Apart from issues of transparency and accountability, it would also ensure that a school would have to look at whether it was offering non-gender specific advice. We need to stop girls being told that their future lies in a default setting of beauty or childcare. We need to encourage diversity of aspiration regardless of gender so that all girls can fully contribute to the world they live in.

Finally, I have a request for all you noble tweeters. As I said, the Young Women’s Trust is campaigning to raise awareness of the reality of young women’s lives. Its #everydaySHEro campaign celebrates the ordinary women that make our lives that bit easier, better or just more fun. So please join in and nobly tweet your own #everydaySHEro and help celebrate everyday women’s contributions to society as part of International Women’s Day.

I thank my noble friend Lady Northover for initiating today’s debate to mark International Women’s Day, which has now become a calendar date. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Palumbo of Southwark on making a brilliant maiden speech today.

Today’s topic, women’s contribution to the UK economy and worldwide, is an important subject which is very close to my heart. I have always supported such issues both here and in other parts of the world. We all know that since World War II, many women have come forward to play a big role in the development of the UK economy by working in factories, retail, business and many other sectors. In addition, they have contributed to the development of these sectors by supporting their families. I am pleased to highlight this indirect contribution, which is often forgotten. Their contribution has been considerable and, without a doubt, has made a huge difference to the UK economy.

There is no dispute that women make a large contribution to the UK economy. I would like to focus on the contribution made by women in the clothing industry. I have been involved in the clothing industry for well over 40 years, starting from a market stall and going through different phases of retail, wholesale and the import business.

When I started my business in 1964 from a market stall in the north of England, I clearly remember that the clothing business was run mostly by men. We had assistants who were women but most of the wholesalers and manufacturers were men. I saw this trend going on until the late 1980s, when some of the high street multiple retailers started employing women buyers and heads of sales departments. It is a shame that it has taken so long to appreciate that women have the same ability as men in developing business strategy.

To give an example, recently the Financial Times reported:

“Where once men made up the majority of power players at the world’s big department stores, recent poaches and promotions have thrust five British or British-based women into the spotlight: Stacey Cartwright, the new chief executive of Harvey Nichols; Marigay McKee, president of Saks Fifth Avenue; Alannah Weston, deputy chairman of Selfridges Group; Averyl Oates, fashion commercial director of Galeries Lafayette; and Helen David, fashion director at Harrods”.

Those are just a few examples; internationally, the list of women is longer. There is a need for more women to come forward and take up positions in the fashion clothing industry so that they can contribute even more.

There is sufficient evidence that many companies, whether in the fashion business or any other business, do not have equal numbers of women and men on their boards. For example, there are 15 members of the Marks & Spencer board, only five of whom are women; at New Look, out of eight board members, there are no women; at Debenhams, two out of eight board members are women. This disparity is widespread: for example, at the moment only 20.4% of directors of FTSE 100 companies are women, falling to 15.1% for FTSE 250 companies.

A report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, called Gender Diversity and the Impact on Corporate Performance, found that companies with at least one woman on their boards had better stock market results than companies with all-men boards. I am convinced that if proper education and training is given to a woman she can match a man in productivity and competitiveness. Therefore, I would like to ask the Minister to take the necessary steps to ensure that the right education and training is provided and that there are appropriate systems in schools from an early age.

During my life, I have seen the contribution made by women to the UK economy and around the world through the fashion industry. They could still increase their contribution if the Government would provide vocational skills and training in the areas of designing, making garments and business management. It would provide a huge opportunity for young girls and women to achieve much more in their lives, thus adding to the economy both nationally and internationally.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister to convince the Government that, to get more women to contribute to the UK economy, they should, through the Department for Education, institute an early focus on practical, industry-focused skills and knowledge development. This process should also include early work experience placements that involve learning high-level skills. I urge the Government to make this as important as academic topics.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for putting this debate on the agenda. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for taking a slightly different view from him over both garment workers and the education of women, which has been widely discussed.

In this country, the gender pay gap remains wide and has shown very little sign of shrinking. In the labour market, the gender pay gap is about £5,000 between women and men with the same education, from the same universities and doing very similar jobs. I therefore think putting the burden merely on women and their need to train and to participate is perhaps slightly misguided. I suggest to noble Lords that the difficulty that women face is that the labour market is gendered. That is to say, in this market women come as inferior bearers of labour: it is not what they do but the fact that they are women that undermines their ability to compete equally. The reasons for that are multitudinous, but include the reality that most women provide the work that they are offering to the labour market free of charge at home for men who subsequently are often in charge of appointing other women.

Women’s skills become invisible. We are the cooks, the cleaners and the carers. We are the ones who raise the children because we know how to do it. We are the educators and we train our children in all kinds of ways, but this work is completely invisible because it is assumed that we are somehow naturally cooks and carers. As someone who had to learn to cook from cookery books, I can tell you that it ain’t easy and I am still struggling.

The important thing is to begin to understand the gendered nature of the labour market and to try not to change women but actually to celebrate the notion of difference. So long as women participate in the labour market as quasi-men—manning the desks and being part of the manpower—they are simply attempting to become like men. However, they are not men because they always bear the burden of domesticity. That is the case even for women who are not married and those who do not have children. They are always seen as potential wives, and particularly as potential mothers. There is nothing so deskilling as motherhood. It is assumed that the moment women look after children, they themselves become childlike and lose any qualifications they have. If they return to the labour market, it is always assumed that at any point they are about to pop off to look after their children. They are therefore viewed as being not as good as the men. We are only ever going to be quasi-men.

Much has been said about providing employment for women. I would like to talk about minority women, particularly in west Yorkshire, where I have been working with many home-based producers. The double burden borne by minority women is increased by the moral economy of kin: the reality that minorities rely on one another, particularly woman who were first-generation migrants to this country. They relied extensively on men to be the gatekeepers and those who opened the way and helped them. Often, those women became home-workers in the garment industry. They worked all hours of the day producing goods for men—men against whom they could not strike, from whom they could not ask for any kind of wages, and against whom they could in no way defend their rights, not even their historic Koranic rights, which give them independence of income. Many men I talked to told me that the duty of Muslim women was to obey their men. They completely forgot all the other discussions in the Koran which demand, for example, wages for housework and for suckling babies. All of that is forgotten. The moral economy of kin demands that women should work all hours for virtually no wages. Once the garment industry began to relocate to where women’s labour was even cheaper, the women began to work in restaurants and in shops producing trinkets and jewellery. They did whatever they could, but that did not improve their experience or living conditions.

My hope is that the younger generation of women—those who have been born, raised and educated in this country and who are able to fend for themselves and speak the language—will do better. However, the problem for minority women is that they have different names and religions, and they face a very unequal labour market. When you go to work as a Muslim woman, you carry the whole burden not only of inferiority but, for younger women now, of Islamophobia. They cannot compete as equals. I know of women who have changed their names. I know of women who go to job interviews having discarded their hijab. They do that because Muslim women are desperate to work and are qualified to do so. In fact, many more Muslim women are doing engineering and the sciences than are other women, so there is a real need and demand among minority women to work.

The difficulty is that not only do these women face a gendered labour market, it is also a highly racialised and Islamophobic one. It seems to me that the only way forward may be through the use of quotas, to use that evil word. The only way we will get Muslim women into work at all stages is by setting quotas so that those with the same qualifications—they could even be asked for better qualifications because they often have them—are provided with the possibility to progress. Otherwise, the majority of Muslim women in this country, and perhaps, as has been mentioned, many other minority women, will stay on the sticky floor without the opportunity to move.

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Baroness for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important topic. International Women’s Day is a suitable and fitting time to acknowledge women’s contribution to the economy of this country and to countries all over the world. We have already heard many excellent speeches, so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I reiterate points that have already been made.

Everywhere women play a significant role. However, their invaluable contributions are not always recognised and acknowledged, and all too often are still taken for granted, as the noble Baroness has already alluded to. It is a sobering reflection that even today, in the 21st century, there is not one single country where women have the same socioeconomic and political opportunities as men, and too many countries still have a patriarchal culture and discriminatory practices, with too few women in public and political leadership positions, thus limiting their ability to contribute.

This weekend, I am going to New York to take part in the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where the priority theme will be “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”. In considering this theme, we will also be looking ahead to the post-MDG agenda. As my noble friend the Minister has already said, it is very important that we support the recommendations of the UN high-level panel, so ably co-chaired by our Prime Minister, in calling for a stand-alone goal for women because equality for women is progress for all.

To contribute to their full potential, women not only have to be able to access education, healthcare and family planning, they need to be able to lead lives free from the threat of violence. Seven in every 10 women report that they have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. This is not something that just affects women in developing countries. Even here in the UK, two women die as the result of domestic violence every week, which is a shocking statistic.

In many countries it is hard for women to enter the public workplace because it goes against the societal norms and values. We have recently had discussions in this House about women in Afghanistan, to which my noble friend Lady Jenkin has already alluded. There it is estimated that 87% of women suffer from domestic violence and that the attitudes of the Taliban—that a woman’s place is in the house or the grave—still prevail. I salute all the brave Afghan women who have come forward to stand for parliament, to run organisations, to become lawyers, doctors, engineers and diplomats, and to enter many other professions. I know that many of them are very concerned about what will happen with the drawdown of the ISAF forces and I hope that consideration will be given to the security of women human rights defenders at the NATO conference this autumn so that the progress which has been made in Afghanistan does not roll back.

War can provide opportunities for social change. As has already been highlighted by my noble friend Lady Seccombe, this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. In that war, an estimated 2 million women replaced men in employment. My grandmother, the wife of a naval officer, went to work in a factory producing parts that were desperately needed at the front, and came up against the unions, who said that she and the other women were working too fast. However, at the end of the war, the majority of the women returned, not entirely willingly, to domesticity. The lessons learnt in World War I contributed to the mobilisation of women in World War II to an unprecedented degree. However, again, in the post-war era women were pushed backwards. I give the example of my mother, who worked for the Malcolm Clubs, which set up messes for the RAF overseas. She was one of the first women into Germany as the Allies advanced and then ran the whole of the Far East for them, going to Hiroshima weeks after the bomb had dropped. However, her managerial career was forced to end with the war, and the only line of work that she was able to pursue back in the UK was as a secretary.

We see similar trends today. In Egypt, for example, women were shoulder to shoulder with men in Tahrir Square to create the revolution, only to be pushed out once it had taken place. In the election that followed, only 2% of representatives elected were women.

Here in the UK, the rise in female participation in the labour market has been the defining trend for women of the past 50 years. Today, the increased participation of women in the labour market is vital to the formal economy and to families, with female earnings key to maintaining living standards by counterbalancing flat, and recently declining, wages from male employment. Today, 72% of working-age women are economically active compared with 84% of working-age men. However, women are considerably more likely to be working part-time than their male counterparts and are less likely to be self-employed. We still have a long way to go. As has already been highlighted, there is a gender pay gap: in 2013, hourly earnings for full-time women employees were still 15.7% less than men’s, and 19.1% when part-time employees are considered too. There also still seems to be this issue of the glass ceiling. Although we have some wonderful examples of successful businesswomen in the House, women still account for only 17.3% of FTSE 100 board directors. Why is that?

As we have already heard, girls today are a third more likely to apply for higher education. It would appear that it is when they have a baby that women’s careers can level out, as some women decide not to return to the workplace or to go part-time, thus stepping off the career progression ladder. Although many companies go out of their way to be supportive to mothers by offering flexible working and part-time packages, others do not. Anecdotally, I have heard of firms refusing to take employees back on a part-time basis. There are companies, especially in the City, who require very long working hours from their employees, which discriminate against women by making it difficult for them to get home to see their children. What is the Government’s attitude to this? Should companies be allowed to regularly demand very long hours from their employees, and how does this sit with the European working time directive?

I began my remarks by talking about how women’s contribution to the economy has not always been appreciated. Women also play an invaluable role in supporting the economy through their unpaid work, saving the UK Government an enormous amount of money. Childcare experts recognise that the care and attention a child receives when young will affect their health, behaviour and ability to learn throughout their lives. A stable family gives a child the best possible start. In most families, it is the mother who is the linchpin of the family and has a significantly greater responsibility for unpaid childcare and domestic work, which, when valued at the minimum wage, equates to about 20% of GDP. Some 58% of unpaid carers are female. Of course it is hard to set an exact cost, but its economic value was estimated at £119 billion in 2011, a huge contribution to the UK economy.

Women also make an enormous contribution in the charitable sector by working as volunteers, as my noble friend Lord Holmes mentioned. Time is short, so I will pick just one example: the hospice movement. According to Help the Hospices, most of the funding for hospice care comes from local fundraising, with only a third of the cost being met by government. More than 100,000 people volunteer in local hospices across the UK, without which they could not be run. A study in 2006 estimated the economic value of their volunteers to be over £112 million.

We should celebrate the contribution women make to their economies, especially as regards unpaid work. If women achieved greater equality, it would help their economies. I end with the words of Hillary Clinton:

“I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century”.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, on an excellent and entertaining speech. He has moved from the Ministry of Sound to the Parliament of Speech. His speech adds to the many we have had and is an excellent addition.

It is always a great joy to take part in this annual debate as we are surrounded by noble Lords who have actually improved the lives of women in this country—whether that was last year or 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago when they were active in the women’s movement. I would also mention the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s National Commission, Ministers who have moved departments to be more women-friendly and Back-Benchers who have applied their specialisms to ensuring that women’s progress is an onward march.

I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for initiating this important debate to mark International Women’s Day. I will look specifically, and briefly, at the UK. The topic of women’s contribution to our economy might not seem overtly controversial, until we remember that only a few months ago we had the disgraceful episode of the Twitter trolls coming out from under their stones when it was suggested that women’s faces on bank notes might be a good idea. Anyone who suggests that women’s struggle for equality is now accepted in the UK has only to read about the experience of the victims of that Twitter episode to know that that is not the case.

The contribution of women to the economy is a story of some good news—we would be churlish not to admit the progress that we have all made—and quite a lot of not so good news. The good news is that women’s leadership role in the economy in terms of female directors of companies, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is at last growing, albeit from a very low base.

I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch for his report, which raised the bar for our expectations for women on boards. His proposal fell short of quotas—of which, I put my hand up, I am a big fan; I have seen what all-women shortlists and quotas have done to transform women’s activity in the Labour Party and, therefore, the Labour Government’s moves, measures and initiatives aimed at progressing women—but was that companies should achieve a target of 25% female membership of boards by 2015. In 2010 women made up only 12.5% of the members of corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies. Since the publication of my noble friend’s report, that has grown to 20.4%, an increase of 7.9% since 2010. He will for ever be an honorary sister.

However, before we get too excited, there are still all-male boards in the FTSE 100, hanging on by their fingertips, even if it is now down to only two. That is, of course, a nonsense. As Helen Cook, HR director of RBS, said recently, an increased gender balance on boards has become “a commercial imperative”, with boards with more women achieving “better financial results”. The Credit Suisse research report of 2012 found that over the previous six years stocks in companies with women on the board outperformed the stocks of companies with no women on the board. The study also found that the difference in share price was more marked after 2008—we all remember 2008—with stocks of companies with at least one woman on the board tending to perform better than male-only boards in markets where share prices were falling. It took an unprecedented worldwide economic crash to begin to convince men that women make economic sense.

Professional career paths and women’s tendency to produce children—shock, horror; hold the front page—continue to clash at some point in their lives, but there is at least some gradual but very good news coming from the boardroom floor. Have we finally moved on from the time when it is easier for a woman to become a bishop—or, in my religion, a cardinal—than a board director in a British company? Well, we shall see.

There is also some brighter news when it comes to female entrepreneurs. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that, in 2012, 19% of small and medium-sized enterprises were either run by women or had a management team that was more than 50% female. In 2010 only 14% of such businesses had a female majority leadership. However, much of the groundwork for that increase was laid in the actions and incentives of the previous Government in encouraging women to run their own businesses, and our party’s pledge is to back more women to start their own businesses in 2015 by cutting business rates.

I am grateful to the Federation of Small Businesses—it is not often I say that—for its timely briefing for this debate. Its figures drill down into different sectors where women are at the helm. We have heard about the retail sector. The federation tells us that nearly 50% of small firms established in the past two years in the retail, hotel, catering and leisure sectors are owned primarily by women. It also makes the important statement that it is vital to support female entrepreneurship, and that 150,000 additional start-ups would be created each year in the UK if women started businesses at the same rate as men. We will grow ourselves out of these times of austerity only if women’s contribution to the economy is recognised and encouraged in these ways.

When it comes to labour market activity, 67% of women are now active in the labour market. This is the highest figure since 1971 and is to be welcomed. On the higher education front, we see that women now constitute 60% of all new university graduands. That is not particularly new but represents a complete change from a generation ago when less than 40% of graduands were women. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked in his excellent speech, why do the executive positions in our professions, especially in science and engineering, not reflect the massive improvement in women’s skills over this generation?

There are so many encouraging signs for women in the economy but—a big but—the economic experience for millions of women across the UK has been far from positive. It is just not good enough that, according to ONS figures, women working full-time in the category “professional occupations” earn only 80% of what men in that category earn; in the category “director”, women earn only 75% of what men do; and in the category “skilled trades”, women also earn only 75% of what men do. This latest publication of figures from the ONS shows that there has been very little change in that gap since 2007. That is just not good enough. Of course, those figures only address women in full-time work. As we know, and have heard from many noble Lords in this debate, a larger percentage of women work in part-time jobs than is the case for men. Those jobs are often unstable, multiple and badly paid. In the last four or five years they have been on the increase.

My late mother’s long illness with dementia brought me close to the social care sector. My conclusion is that we need to respect the caring professions more than we do at present as a country. Some 1.5 million people, mostly women, are employed in the adult social care sector. Of those, 300,000 care workers are on zero-hours contracts and up to 220,000 do not earn the minimum wage. When we brought my mother home from hospital to die, her care assistants were the first on the scene. They dressed and soothed her bed sores with great love and attention, as if she had two more decades to live and not just two more days. Her eyes lit up when she saw them and they were there at her funeral. The status of caring, be it by family or care assistant, is an issue we have to grasp.

That comes to my noble friend Lady Prosser’s statement about the value of women’s work. We have to grasp that point if we are to be an economically credible country. It is not acceptable that women still struggle on in low-wage, temporary and insecure work. One in four women now earn less than the living wage. More women than ever before work in temporary jobs because they cannot find a permanent position. Women make up the majority of zero-hours contracts. Our aim must be to see women take their proper and rightful place in the economic future and prosperity of this country as we move away from the austerity of the last five years and into better times.

My Lords, I am proud to speak in this International Women’s Day debate. I thank my noble friend Lady Northover for securing it as it gives us an opportunity to highlight the topsy-turvy world of women. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Palumbo on his excellent maiden speech. I am thrilled that he chose to make it today as we celebrate this important event.

There has not been a better time for women to blossom and excel in a wide range of professions. In so many careers, women are striding forward and shaping the way their professions are delivered in areas which in the past were dominated by men, from test driving a Formula 1 racing car to being an award-winning architect. We now have a senior woman leading judge—mind you, she is the only woman among 12 Supreme Court Justices. We have the first woman to command a major Navy warship, Commander Sarah West, who took up her post just this year. All those women are making substantial contributions to the UK and global world and are wonderful role models.

Since my dear friend, the formidable Marchioness of Lothian—Tony to her friends—founded the Women of the Year lunch nearly 60 years ago to celebrate the achievements of women, many women have fought their way to the top of their profession across the spectrum, despite the barriers placed in their way. Over the years, those women have paved the way for the younger generation, which is now benefiting from their hard work, perseverance and determination.

The toughened glass ceiling still exists; it is very much in place; and there is much, much more to achieve and undiscovered territories to charter and to conquer. However, I am an optimist and like to focus on the bright side of life, so I point out that women are now leading the field in many professions, such as primary school teachers, in medicine as GPs, and in the veterinary world, where more than 60% of vets are women. Almost a quarter of senior positions in advertising are held by women, and they make up half of that world-leading industry which brought in £100 billion for the UK’s economy in 2012. At present, we have a female Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf. Mind you, she is only the second in the City of London’s 800-year history. She is determined to make a difference and has set up the Power of Diversity programme to identify and promote the steps that the City at all management levels must take to maximise the energy and innovation that diversity can bring to business to create an inclusive labour market.

Speaking of diversity, women from culturally diverse backgrounds are still far behind in the race for equality and are battling to break through the many barriers and the many layers of glass ceilings that they encounter. They are even further behind than their white counterparts. There are very few in any senior positions, and that includes the nursing profession and the media—despite the fact that women make up a third of the senior positions in the media—or in the legal profession. The list goes on and on.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, highlighted in her speech, if you are black and a woman, it is a double whammy. In saying so, my mother would never have dreamt of being in my position today when she came to Britain back in 1958. Yes, who would have thought?

Whatever cultural background you are from, sadly, there are still gaps where women do not feature significantly, such as the upper levels of higher education where, despite the fact that women students outnumber men at university, only 17% of the UK’s vice-chancellors are women. Amazingly, only one Russell group university has a female vice-chancellor, and only 20% of all university professors are women. I am proud to say that the University of Exeter, where I am the Chancellor, so declare an interest, is leading the way, because 40% of the executive board are female. Our chair of council and one of our deputy vice-chancellors are both women.

Thankfully, a great deal of work is now being undertaken by universities and schools which aims to counteract early-stage gender stereotyping and engage young girls from all backgrounds academically and, later, professionally. There is also much being done to address social mobility to bridge that widening gap, especially in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths. I believe that this will go a long way to giving young women confidence and a sense of pride—to feel worthy and develop the ability to assert themselves, learning to seize opportunities to achieve success and take on roles from which they might normally shy away.

There is another area where there is a distinct absence of women: in top banking positions. Unbelievably, not one woman has ever served in the CEO position in a major bank. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia is ahead of us here because it announced just yesterday that its National Commercial Bank has appointed a woman in the top position. How long will it take us here in the UK to make such an announcement? I hope it is not too long because recently I was encouraged to hear that Lloyds Bank is setting up an initiative to attract women into senior positions in the banking world to address this inequality. Who knows? This could create a wholly different way of doing business that helps bring back trust in the banking world.

Women are finding it tough to juggle family life and childcare, which is very expensive, as we have heard time and again, and to hold down certain types of careers. So many are delaying having children because they want to establish a career first but those who decide to have a family early find that when they return to the workplace, having found adequate childcare, they have to start from scratch and not where they left off. Perhaps companies should be encouraged by the Government to set up some sort of re-entry scheme and make it available to these women to assist them to restart their careers, because those women’s talents are needed in the workplace and their skills are beneficial to the economy, if given a chance. I would be interested to hear my noble friend’s views on this idea.

Today, “housework” has another meaning for many women because, with the new technology available nowadays, women can work from home more easily. Many are now setting up successful businesses, which contribute to the economy, while being there for their children. One such original business is The Parent Zone, which was set up in 2005 to provide information that would help parents to keep their children safe in the digital world, as many parents find it difficult bringing up their children in this new age world. The Parent Zone has grown from strength to strength, supplying 1 million copies of its magazine to schools to help parents keep children protected. The need to do so is getting worse rather than better because too many children are becoming sexualised before their time, due to the adult material that is easily available online, including pornography. The Parent Zone is educating and influencing parents and contributing to society in a positive way.

However, it is not just the women in the workplace or those who run businesses from home who make a huge contribution to the global economy. There are also the women who are the unsung heroines of our economy and who contribute indirectly. Yes, we must also celebrate the contributions of the women who make a conscious decision to stay at home and care for their children. Interestingly, in Germany two-thirds of working women stay at home for the first two years of their children’s lives and are proud and happy to do so, yet here in Britain I often hear women use the phrase, “I’m only a housewife”. I say to those women that they should be proud of themselves because they are just as worthy as anyone and are contributing to the country’s future and long-term economy.

So let us not forget those women who stay at home and undertake the difficult task of childcare, managing the household and nurturing, guiding and motivating their children. They can be the best role models to their children. Even though it is a job that is not always celebrated, acknowledged or financially rewarded, it is invaluable and serves as the backbone of our society, giving children the confidence to take up their place in our global world and contribute in a positive way. I applaud them for choosing to forgo their careers and become some of the country’s biggest economic assets that benefit society.

I always pass on a philosophy that my beloved mother instilled in me: to encourage girls and young women to look far beyond the horizon with high self-esteem and a positive attitude, never taking no for an answer and never ever giving up. A whole new world awaits young women today who are now setting out on the pathway to a successful career. I am confident that the tide is turning and outdated prejudices are being swept away as business and industry realise that talented, hard-working women are a fantastic untapped resource.

I say to women everywhere: celebrate International Women’s Day with pride. The world needs you now more than ever, so be prepared to step up to the mark as you take your place and secure that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Do not be afraid to press the reset button and change the world. Have no fear about speaking out for the sake of good. Please do things the ethical way, though, for the future well-being of all the world’s children and our beautiful, delicate planet. Here’s to women across the world and to the men who believe in us.

My Lords, I congratulate the speakers in today’s debate. I thank the Minister for landing us this debate and getting it extended to cover the whole world. We have benefited from her contribution about her brief and that of my noble friend Lady Royall, and indeed from the experience of women across the world. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, on his excellent maiden speech; we look forward to hearing more from him, as I am sure we will as time goes on. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on giving us, as it were, an update on the position of women bishops. I certainly look forward to sharing a glass of pink champagne with him—that is probably the best offer of this debate, actually. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, that I very much enjoyed his speech and was very inspired by it, and I do not think that I was alone in that.

I shall be concentrating on the contribution of women to our economy and the barriers that we face. I will be looking at what the Government could and should be doing to make the world a better place for women and make it easier for them to work. I come from a background where there was really never any question that women worked, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, mentioned. We had to go out to work in our family. When I grew up, it was only really middle-class women and those who lived in salaried families for whom the choice was available to stay at home and be homemakers and full-time mothers.

Although I agree with the Minister, who was quite right to say that our lives have been transformed and are quite different from those of our mothers, guess what—I do not think that that much has actually changed in the past 60 years regarding the economic imperatives for going out to work. Going out to work is not a choice for millions of women in the UK or indeed for millions of women across the world, working in factories and fields and from home. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, rightly paid tribute to the work involved in childcare and caring, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin.

My grandma Edna had 11 children. During the Second World War she worked on the railways. She had to work, and was able to because of the provision of proper state-run nursery care. Her eldest daughter, Jean—my mother—had seven children. Leaving aside the contraception and family planning issues in my family, which have kept us all entertained over many years, she also worked. She ran two successful businesses. The option of being a full-time homemaker and mother was never open to her—and I am not sure she would have dreamt of taking it if it had. In this 2014 International Women’s Day debate, I pay my tribute to Jean and to Marie, Eileen and Alma, who are her sisters, for their contribution to our economy over the whole of their lives, and it is on their shoulders that I stand today—to use the image used by my noble friend Lady Royall. I do have a granddaughter. She is only six months old, but it is also for her future that I speak today.

Sometimes when we say from these Benches that the Government seem out of touch with the lives of women, it is because of this component. There is sometimes a lack of understanding of life as it is lived by millions of women for whom going out to work is not a choice and for whom childcare is essential. Today it is very expensive. Almost all women will have caring responsibilities at various times in their lives. We do not have to look very far to see the lives of ordinary women. I know that some of the women who clean our offices have other jobs. They go from here to work in supermarkets and other places to support their children through school and to pay increasing rent and travel costs. Their hard-working life is very typical and very common today, which is why, for example, the national minimum wage, which was fought against and opposed by the Conservative Party at the time, is so important. It is why trade unions have an important, vital role to play in supporting women in their fight for decent pay and conditions and in protecting their rights at work.

As the Minister said, there are more women in work today, which is indeed a cause for celebration. There are also more women who want to work who are not able to do so because jobs are not there, or they are too badly paid or, as my noble friend Lady Prosser said, training opportunities do not exist. Women Like Us is a brilliant organisation, and it is also a social enterprise—noble Lords may remember that I am very keen on social enterprises. More social enterprises than small businesses are headed by women, and they have a better survival rate than small businesses.

Women often have to look after their family and undertake other caring responsibilities. There are millions of women who give up their jobs to look after sick and ageing partners, parents and relatives and whose reward for their unpaid, loving care is not celebration or gratitude but to find it more difficult to re-enter the job market and often not at the level that they left it. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Bakewell celebrated our millions of carers.

The question I shall address today is what the Government are doing to make it easier, better and more equitable for women to work and how they match up to those challenges. It will be a bit of a report card. On Tuesday, we saw a headline story which asked the question: “What does childcare really cost?”. A report by the Family and Childcare Trust suggested that the cost of having two children looked after, even part-time, is more than the average mortgage. Over recent weeks, there has been mounting evidence of the impact that increasingly high childcare costs are having on family budgets and our economy, yet the Government seem to be in denial about this.

I dispute the rosy picture painted by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, about the childcare situation. The cost of sending a child under two to nursery part-time—for 25 hours—is now more than £109 per week in Britain or £5,710 per year. The cost of a full-time—42 hours per week—nursery place for a child under two is almost £10,000. Over the past five years, childcare costs for under-twos have risen by 27%, meaning that parents are paying £1,214 more in 2014 than they did in 2009, and I remind noble Lords that wages have remained the same. This is a good example of the cost-of-living crisis facing ordinary families. Ironically, I heard yesterday of a nursery in south-west London which is putting up its fees and citing the cost-of-living crisis as the justification in the letter that it sent to parents. Perhaps it has missed the point there somewhere.

The average cost of an after-school club is now £48.19 a week, or £1,830 a year. Despite the legal obligation in the Childcare Act 2006 and Scotland’s early years framework to ensure enough childcare, only half—49%—of local authorities have enough childcare for working parents. Only a third—33%—of local authorities have enough childcare for children aged five to 11, and this has worsened in the past five years. Three-quarters—75%—of local authorities do not have enough childcare for disabled children; that was more than adequately amplified by my noble friend Lady Uddin.

Even Fraser Nelson of the Spectator, not someone I would normally quote, asked whether:

“Expensive child care is robbing Britain of its female talent”.

He says:

“In this way, the British economy loses out on the talents of a significant chunk of our high-skilled female population. It’s a form of economic self-harm. Making childcare tax-deductible would, in a great many cases, be a game-changer”.

Of course, it is above my pay grade and that of the Minister to comment on matters of tax and spending. However, it is interesting if even a right-wing commentator thinks that the inadequacies and costs of childcare are robbing the UK economy of female talent. My honourable friend Lucy Powell MP said recently:

“Early years places have fallen by 35,000 since 2009 and just half of local authorities report they have enough childcare for working parents”.

Last month, the IPPR highlighted that high childcare costs are stopping many mothers from working and that increasing maternal employment rates would benefit families and the economy to the tune of £1.5 billion a year. It is not cost-effective not to have effective childcare. There is also a question of flexibility of working practices which support working fathers. In Germany and Scandinavia we can see fathers changing the working culture so that they, for example, take the Friday off to undertake childcare responsibilities, even at a very senior level. Would the Minister care to tell us what the Government are doing to encourage working fathers to take their fair share of childcare among the Civil Service?

The Government are reducing work incentives for the lowest earners by cutting tax credit support and creating a two-tier system in universal credit. The Resolution Foundation has reported this will see the poorest families lose £1,000 a year to help pay for childcare. Unlike the current Government, on these Benches we completely understand how important it is that we address the issues with childcare and enable more parents, especially mums, to return to work or work longer hours.

Turning to older women, I think that there is much to celebrate about the labour market position of women over 50 in the UK. The employment rate for women in this age group is high compared with many other European countries, and it is increasing. The employment rate for women aged between 50 and 64 has increased by 14 percentage points over the past two decades, the greatest increase in any group. However, many older women will not recognise the rosy picture painted by these headline statistics. Half of the women aged 50 to 64 work in the delivery of public services, which means that they have been hit by the cuts disproportionately. Redundancies, pay freezes and increased contracting out of services feature prominently in the stories the TUC gathered from older women as part of the Age Immaterial project. Part-time work is prevalent among women over 50 and the majority of them earn less than £10,000 per year. The problems of low pay, lack of job security and weak employment rights are exacerbated for those in precarious forms of work such as zero-hours contracts, as has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Crawley.

I very much welcome the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, recognised that women are experiencing disproportionate effects of the austerity agenda. Indeed, the coalition Government have removed support for childcare, capped maternity pay and have chosen to give a tax break to married couples where one spouse does not work or works a few hours. I do not think that there is any evidence that less than £4 a week is a good or appropriate way to encourage people to marry. In five out of six cases the benefit will be paid to the husband. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, many families will face a £200 penalty if mum returns to work full-time. In December the official figures revealed that the gender pay gap had increased in 2012-13 for the first time in five years. Under Labour, the pay gap fell by 7.7%.

I will glance at our record. We introduced the national minimum wage, which has had such a disproportionately positive effect on low-paid women. We opened 3,500 Sure Start centres to support parents and young families. We increased maternity leave to nine months and extended total maternity leave to a full year. We doubled maternity pay, and from 2009 gave millions of parents with children under 16 the right to flexible working. We introduced working tax credit and child tax credit and legislated against maternity and sex discrimination in the workplace.

What will we do when we are elected next year? Under David Cameron, one in four women earn less than the living wage, but I am happy to tell noble Lords that we will make work pay for women by allowing firms to claim back a third of the cost of raising their staff’s wages to a living wage. We will strengthen the minimum wage and tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts. We will give every working family 25 hours of free childcare for their three and four year-olds, 38 weeks a year—an increase of 10 hours on the current offer. We will deliver a primary childcare guarantee, which will ensure that the parents of primary school pupils are able to access breakfast and after-school clubs through their school between 8 am and 6 pm. We will back more women to start their own businesses, which my noble friend Lady Crawley mentioned. Private firms will be able to claim back a third of the cost of raising their staff’s wage to a living wage. This evidence shows that we still think that the Government are out of touch with the lives of many women.

We have had some magnificent and fabulous speeches today, from my noble friend Lord Haskel, the noble Baronesses, Lady Seccombe, Lady Howe and Lady Afshar, and my noble friend Lady Howells. On the issue of parliamentary selections I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady Jenkin, that we tried a woman on every shortlist in the 1980s and it did not work. It was tokenism. The only way to increase the number and representation of women—I say this to the Liberal Democrats, and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, agrees with me on this—is to have all-women shortlists. That is the only way that you will persuade your parties to select women and increase the number of women. We would welcome that and would support noble Lords in doing it.

I struggle to give better than five out of 10 for the Government’s support for working women and their families. That five is because the Minister has great words to say and very good intentions, which I hope will be translated into the policies of her party. However, on this International Women’s Day 2014, the UK Government need to do better.

My Lords, the debates in the House of Lords for International Women’s Day are always outstanding, and this one has been no exception. There is such huge experience and commitment among your Lordships in this area that it is a great privilege to respond. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Palumbo, who chose to make his maiden speech in this debate today, and whom we welcome as a significant contributor to our House. One can see how far-sighted he is when he speaks of employers recognising that starting a family enhances, not compromises, what an employee can contribute.

It is also good to have so many male contributions to the debate today, including from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, who flagged his optimism that we might soon see women on his Benches, possibly by the time of this debate next year. I was also very pleased that my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond participated, despite his case of extreme man flu. My eldest son has a habit of catching such flu, and although he beat it this autumn, when he sent me an e-mail from Nigeria saying, “Mum, I have acute typhoid”, it required my daughter to say that if he is well enough to send the e-mail, he is probably all right. Cross fingers—he probably is.

We have marked International Women’s Day for over a century. The lives of women in this country have been transformed over that century, as my noble friend Lady Seccombe so clearly showed, and as other noble Lords have remarked. I was very touched by the speech of my noble friend Lady Seccombe. In this year, in which we mark the centenary of the First World War, she is right to remind us not only how it changed lives in terms of women’s engagement in the workforce but in terms of the mental and physical suffering that ensued from that appalling conflict—indeed, in her own life.

As noble Lords’ speeches have made clear, inequalities persist. Women earn less, and we have by far the larger responsibility for children in the home and for care of elderly relatives, as well as working. Women are less likely to be in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, less likely to be on boards on the top of companies, in our Supreme Court or among our judges, as vice-chancellors of universities, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley pointed out, or as editors of newspapers, and so on. Indeed, we see progress, but sometimes it seems glacial, although it is good to hear from my noble friend Lady Benjamin about Exeter. I note what my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville flagged on behalf of my noble friend Lady Falkner in relation to the diplomatic service. I assure noble Lords that I shall make sure that that is heard very loudly in the FCO.

I spoke in my opening speech about the action that we are taking right across government to promote equality. We know that girls are outperforming boys at school, so by investing in education, expanding our apprenticeship programme and improving careers advice, we can help young women to open their eyes to opportunities that they may have believed were unobtainable, and help them to make ambitious choices. Introducing shared parental leave will help to end the assumption that women will be the main carer for a child, helping families to juggle their home and work life and lessening the negative impact on careers of time spent out of the workplace.

We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, about the impact of having children. Noble Lords are right about the importance of addressing the need for childcare that is affordable, flexible and of high quality. My noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, particularly emphasised the issue of childcare. As I said, we have extended free childcare for all three to four year-olds to 15 hours—from what was offered by the previous Government—and we are also offering that now to disadvantaged two year-olds. We are also helping with the cost via a tax-free childcare scheme, which is worth up to £1,200 a year from 2015. There is an extra £200 million for childcare subsidies through universal credit, and we are working to improve supply through grants to childcare businesses and setting up childminder agencies.

I recall the cost myself of having three under-fives and working. As I did the other day, I pay tribute to the party opposite for the work that it did to improve the quality and availability of childcare during its time in office. However, I point out that costs rose considerably in the 2000s. What we have sought successfully to do, as the Family and Childcare Trust’s figures bear out, is to stabilise those costs. As for provision, providers show that there are sufficient places and, in fact, vacancies; that said, we know that there is much to do, which is why we have put a great deal of effort into this.

In regard to working fathers, a point flagged up by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I was personally speechless when the media criticised Edward Davey for taking paternity leave when his new baby arrived. As the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said, with regard to trolls, we have a long way to go.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Uddin, flagged the need to support carers, generally and in the workplace. We are implementing the recommendations of the report, Supporting Working Carers: The Benefits to Families, Business and the Economy, which was published in 2013. We are improving support for business and developing the market in care and support services, and the Care Bill will help to provide protection and support to those who need it most, including carers. But the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, is right to emphasise the contribution that carers, from the family or not, can make. My noble friend Lady Benjamin, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and others are right to emphasise the contribution of those who are in unpaid work. It is still work and it still contributes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, rightly urged us to address the value and engagement of those who are nowhere near the glass ceiling but are, rather, around the skirting board, as she described it. The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, flagged the minimum wage, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. They will have noted that my right honourable friend the Business Secretary has expressed his sympathy with the proposal to raise this. I do not want to get into a competition over this by saying, “We did this and you did that”, but I would point out that, in raising the tax threshold, we have disproportionately benefited women, and I am very proud of the fact that we have done that.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Howells, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin rightly urged us to ensure that what we do is inclusive of all groups, whatever their religion, race and background. We agree with that. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, flagged the particular challenges facing Muslim women. We pay tribute to the work that she and others are doing in that regard, and hear what she says.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Nye and Lady Prosser, spoke of the pay gap, which is a worldwide problem. The noble Lord wanted to know the relevant figures. In the United Kingdom, the pay gap is narrowing steadily. It was 25% 10 years ago and is now 19.7%. The pay gap is linked to the occupations in which women traditionally work and these sectors tend to be lower paid. We have addressed many of the issues around that in this debate. From October 2014, employment tribunals will require companies that lose an equal pay case to undertake a pay audit. We must, indeed, continue to work very hard to close this gap.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley mentioned women in the penal system and highlighted their situation and her proposed engagement with them. As she mentioned this, my noble friend Lady Jolly whispered to me that she used to provide evening classes in maths and science in Dartmoor, so there we have some STEM engagement.

All noble Lords are right to emphasise the need to address the position of women across the board. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin flagged a problem that occurs at every level—that is, violence, which may be physical or insidiously mental. We are extremely exercised by this. The Government have set out their approach to the action plan on violence against women, which will be updated on 8 March, on International Women’s Day. We have ring-fenced £40 million for specialist domestic violence and sexual violence support services, and we have extended the definition of “domestic violence” to include 16 to 17 year-olds and coercive behaviour. We have announced the rollout of domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, and we have introduced domestic homicide reviews and relaunched the “This is Abuse” campaign, aimed at teenage boys and girls. I remember answering a Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, on that area.

We continue to work with the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I am very happy to agree that he is a noble sister; I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, described him as that. He is remarkable and has done a great deal to promote equality in the boardroom. He has tried to ensure that talented women take their rightful place at the top and, once there, provide a different view, which helps business maximise its potential, coming back to the point that my noble friend Lord Palumbo made.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley rightly flagged that we must not concentrate on women on boards to the exclusion of women at every level. We fully agree with that and other noble Lords echoed that point. My noble friend Lord Watson flagged that my right honourable friend Vincent Cable has requested that the EHRC should look at the legal possibilities of quotas for companies. No doubt this will be passed to the board of my noble friend Lord Holmes. I look forward very much indeed to hearing what the outcome might be. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has also made clear, quotas have to be a possible backstop if we do not see enough progress.

My noble friend Lord Smith has been a doughty and invaluable campaigner for better gender equality, and I personally value his support enormously. His determination that we should have no complacency in this matter rings in my ears. I would say to my noble friend Lady Jenkin that I think he is actually targeting my party and his party. However, perhaps I may pick him up on one point regarding the reports on office size, which seemed to indicate that women Ministers were undervalued. In this particular case, it is a bit of a red herring. The position gets somewhat distorted by adding in my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary’s room, which is 10 times the size of that of any of his Cabinet colleagues. I happen to know that my right honourable friend Justine Greening chose a smaller room in the DfID building because it was in the new part of the building where most of the officials were, when she could have had the very large, beautiful office that my right honourable friend Alan Duncan has. However, she chose not to have that office in order to be with the officials. It is always worth flagging these points.

I will volunteer immediately, but I think that my noble friend Lady Warsi will be in front of me. Of course my noble friend Lord Smith is right.

By providing support to women wishing to start and grow their own business, both at home and in the developing world, we could see equality in business, and equalising the economic participation rates of men and women could add 10% to GDP by 2030. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe had some very useful perceptions in this regard. Women-led SMEs already add £70 billion to the UK economy. We agree that there is tremendous potential here.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley mentioned that women were less likely to be peacocks, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe mentioned that men apply for promotion a year before they should, while women apply a year after they should. Having just read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, this seems to be a worldwide challenge. That, again, is why my noble friend Lord Palumbo’s far-sightedness, which Sheryl Sandberg shares, of recognising and promoting the contribution that women make to businesses, is indeed so important.

My noble friend Lady Fookes and the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, flagged the challenges of getting women into STEM subjects. We are working very hard on this. Last night I was very encouraged to attend a reception hosted by the DPM for female apprentices. The enthusiasm of these women was palpable. One of the things that they emphasised was that they had a battle against their schools when they tried to head down the apprenticeship route. They asked that schools should rate apprenticeships as highly as they rate universities. This is indeed what we are seeking to do through new careers advice in schools. I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, that last night I met a remarkable apprentice who happens to be black and is apprenticed at Dr Martens. I can show the noble Baroness on my telephone some rather inadequate pictures of the stunning silk and fake crocodile Dr Martens shoes that this young lady had designed and made in the space of two days. I had no doubt that she could sell them worldwide.

My noble friend Lord Holmes gave a moving speech and reminded us strongly of how outstanding are our sportswomen. I noted that there were four winning individuals or teams at Sochi, and that three of them were female. However, that did not stand in the way of national delight and enthusiasm. It did not, and I would make that point to the media.

We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, just how fantastic the contribution of women can be in the arts, as outlined in the cases she mentioned. I recognise not least the contribution that JK Rowling makes both to the UK Exchequer and to the fantasy life of children and adults. It was absolutely wonderful to see a dyslexic child, who had never read a book all the way through before, sit in a corner and not move until they had read all the way through a Harry Potter book.

I pay tribute as I always do, and as my noble friend Lord Smith has, to the party opposite for what it has done to encourage women to enter politics. I think that my noble friend was actually attacking my party rather than my coalition partners. I have fought long and hard in my party over many years, but we have a particular challenge because we have no safe seats—if only we had. That is why I am very glad that, at least in the House of Lords, 31% of my party’s Members are women, making us the largest group. I am also glad, astounded and impressed that in five of the six Liberal Democrat seats where MPs are standing down, we have managed to select women. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Brinton for her sterling efforts in that regard.

We all know that we must do more at every level. I have seen what a transformative difference Labour women MPs have made and, just like the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, I have seen a transformative difference made by women parliamentarians working together in Pakistan. What we have heard about the position of women worldwide reinforces the need to have a stand-alone goal on gender in the MDGs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, made clear.

My noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond, like others, reminded us of some of the barriers faced by women elsewhere. I certainly saw what he referred to when I visited Saudi Arabia. The women are corralled into a small area in the university, unable to participate alongside men unless they are medical students. They are unable even to visit the library. I saw the horror on male faces as I was allowed to walk through the university. As I have mentioned before, the position of women came home to me even in my western-style hotel in Riyadh, where there was a swimming pool. I went down to the pool with my swimsuit but was turned away because it was not the “women’s hour” to swim. When I asked when the women’s hour was, I was told, “There isn’t one”.

Given the situation of women around the world, I am very proud of our work overseas. In our international development work, the UK has put girls and women at the heart of its approach. DfID’s strategic vision for women and girls has set ambitious targets to enhance the economic empowerment of girls and women in developing countries. I laid out the principles in my opening speech. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out, women do so much of the work yet have so little of the property. The imbalance is extremely striking. Two-thirds of women are illiterate and one in nine girls is forced into marriage before her 14th birthday.

Overseas, we are indeed battling against violence. Women cannot fully participate if they are subjected to violence, which they often are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out. She will know of the efforts that we are making in that respect with a £25 million research and innovation fund looking at what works in preventing violence against women and girls.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, raised the issue of FGM. I am very proud of what my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone is doing in combating this overseas, and it is having an effect, too, in the United Kingdom. That is extremely welcome. It is the first time that there has been a commitment of £35 million to combat FGM overseas. I know that I am running short of time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned concerns in relation to Pakistan, and my noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lady Hodgson mentioned Afghanistan. Probably all three of them will know of our very strong commitment to supporting women and girls right across the board in terms of schooling, engagement and reproductive health. That commitment in Afghanistan continues and I can write with further details if they wish.

My noble friend Lady Fookes asked about women’s political participation and leadership. DfID supports that in a number of countries and, again, I can write with details. However, I will point out that the CPA, IPU and Westminster Foundation have continuing programmes along the lines that she mentions. I know that the CPA is asking right now for a volunteer to do the type of training to which she refers in April in Kenya. Perhaps she would like to volunteer.

In conclusion, this has been a very wide-ranging and informative debate. I was enormously struck by what my noble friend Lady Bottomley said when quoting the chief executive of a company, which I shall not name, who said that the future was not with the BRICs but with women. That is most cheering and a very positive note. I hope that I have made clear the Government’s determination to do everything in their power to transform the rights and opportunities available to women and girls in the UK and overseas. As I predicted, it has been an excellent debate. It has also been constructive and thought-provoking. It is encouraging to have so many women and men seeking to drive forward the gender equality that we all need to see for the benefit of women, families, communities and countries.

Motion agreed.