House of Lords
Thursday, 5 March 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
Gender Equality: Developing Nations
My Lords, the United Kingdom has prioritised girls’ education as one of the four pillars of our strategic vision for women and girls. Since 2010 the UK has supported more than 10 million girls and boys in primary and lower secondary schools. We are working to ensure that gender equality is central to the post-2015 development framework, with a dedicated gender goal, targets throughout the framework and data broken down by sex and age.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. The education of girls and young women and their equality is linked in one way or another to the welfare of widows and how societies around the world treat them. I declare an interest as founder and chairman of the Loomba Foundation.
An estimated 245 million widows and 500 million children around the world suffer injustice in silence. More than 100 million widows live in poverty, struggling to survive, and 1.5 million widows’ children die before their fifth birthday.
Due to conflict, war, poverty, lack of adequate living standards, nutritious food, clean drinking water and healthcare, the number of widows is increasing in the developing world. How will the Minister ensure that the importance of the plight of widows is included in the framework of the UN millennium development goals for 2015-30?
My Lords, I commend my noble friend for his work in this extremely important area. DfID supports a range of projects to assist widows—for example in Bangladesh and Pakistan. We recognise how especially vulnerable widows can be. As my noble friend knows, we place great importance on gender equality and on the principle of leaving no one behind in the new framework which it is hoped will be agreed at the UN in September. This is clearly vital in seeking to eradicate extreme poverty.
My Lords, as the Minister knows, millions of marginalised girls are literally risking their lives to get a safe, high-quality education. In Pakistan, the schooling of girls has been outlawed by the Taliban. In Afghanistan, girls have been attacked in their classroom and a schoolgirls’ bus was bombed. In Congo, girls have been raped by soldiers on their way to school and, as we know, 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria were abducted by Boko Haram.
Will the Minister tell the House how DfID is supporting the efforts of UNESCO and UNICEF to focus more effectively on marginalised girls, in line with the aim that she just mentioned of leaving no one behind?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right about the risks girls often take in seeking an education. I hope that I can reassure her by saying that one of our focuses now is to try to ensure that the most vulnerable girls and boys are able to get into school safely, and not only to primary school but to progress on to secondary school. The very fact that they can get there is an indication that they have actually succeeded in primary school.
My Lords, I have recently returned from Sierra Leone where all the schools have been closed for almost nine months. This has had a devastating effect on the education of girls in particular, many of whom will never return to school now and among whom there are very disturbing reports of increased rates of sexual exploitation, early marriage and teenage pregnancy. Can the Minister assure me that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to support the outstanding efforts on the part of both UK government bodies and NGOs, which I was privileged to witness in that country, not only right until the end of the Ebola outbreak, which is far from finished, but also in the longer term for rebuilding education and health in that very needy country?
I thank the noble Baroness for her tribute to the work that we are doing in Sierra Leone, and I also pay tribute to that work, which has been outstanding. We are trying to get Ebola down to zero cases because that is crucial. We want to see the schools reopen, and at the moment we are focused on how to rebuild within Sierra Leone. However, she is quite right to talk about the special vulnerability of women and girls. We are seeking to protect them and ensure that the risks that she has talked about do not come to fruition.
My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on getting these 5 million girls educated. Andrew Mitchell was the first Secretary of State to focus on it, along with Justine Greening and the rest of the DfID team, and it has been so effective. What are the Government doing on early and forced marriage, one of the related topics here and which came up at the very successful Girl Summit that took place in London last year?
Again, I thank my noble friend for her tribute to the work that has been done within DfID. As she has said, last year we had the Girl Summit which focused on both FGM and early and forced marriage. These are clear abuses of girls’ rights. We have already invested significantly in both areas and I trust that that will continue in the future.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in the forthcoming negotiations on the SDGs in New York, the UK will resist attempts to weaken the draft standalone goal on gender equality? Does she share the view that it is vital that it should include strong language on women’s rights and be underpinned by progressive targets that tackle discriminatory social norms?
My Lords, the law is unequally applied in Bahrain between Sunni women and Shia women in areas such as inheritance, divorce, child custody and domestic disputes. What are the Government doing to address these issues with the Bahraini Government, and if they have had any discussions, what are the timescales for addressing these terrible injustices and inequalities?
There is inequality for women everywhere. The Foreign Office, as part of its work particularly on International Women’s Day, is engaging with those countries where these problems are particularly acute. In the case of Bahrain, the ambassador is holding a round table with a number of Bahraini women from all walks of life to discuss these issues.
Sexual Violence against Girls and Women
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to foster greater public understanding about the prevention of sexual violence against girls and women in the light of the publication of the What is Consent? toolkit by the Crown Prosecution Service.
My Lords, the new consent guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service supports the Government’s aims that every report of rape be taken seriously, every investigation conducted professionally and every victim given access to the support they need. It complements the Home Office’s teenage relationship abuse and prevention campaign, “This is Abuse”, and the materials developed to support better teaching of sex and relationship education in schools.
My Lords, I commend the Government for introducing these new guidelines, on the back of some very high-profile and unpleasant cases. Does the Minister agree with me that there are some very depressing surveys that show that one in three boys still think it is okay to hit a girl and to force her to have sex? Even more revealingly, a student survey in the colleges of Cambridge showed that 77% of students there had experienced sexual harassment and violence. Is it not time to have a consistent approach to educating boys and girls in what the law is and what is acceptable behaviour, and to try to combat sexual violence against women and girls in this country?
My noble friend is absolutely right in that regard. Of course, that is the purpose of the website, “This is Abuse”, which is targeted at young people. It has been viewed by some 2 million young people. That is the purpose behind the new campaign, What is Consent?, which sets out what is involved: the capacity to consent, the freedom to consent and the steps taken to obtain consent, which must be present in all relations of a sexual nature. The noble Baroness is also absolutely right that more needs to be done.
My Lords, part of the problem is that young girls who are manipulated and sexually abused have been groomed to believe that they are in a consensual relationship. While there can be legal arguments about what consent is when a case gets to court, surely it is even more important to protect those young girls before any such abuse takes place. Let me press the Government again: given that the value of sex and relationship education is widely understood and known to be effective, why are the Government refusing to ensure that it is compulsory in all schools?
I think that best practice is happening in most schools. It is certainly compulsory in all state schools. There was a case related to certain freedoms being given to academies, which covered this. However, the expectation is not that academies can somehow disregard this, but that they will use their freedom to improve on the minimum standards for the teaching of sex and relationship education that were set out by the Secretary of State in 2001.
My Lords, what are the Government doing to develop programmes for parents? One issue I have come across in my work in this area is that parents are very confused about what their children can and cannot do and what kind of advice they themselves should be giving. Do the Government want, or does the Minister know of any, support programmes from which parents can get help and education in this area?
There is a range of helplines and support services, as well as rape help centres, but I totally accept that the role for parents is very strong and profound and that parents need to be aware. As the noble Baroness said earlier, much of this grooming takes place online. That is something that parents need to be especially vigilant about, not just in the context of rape but of all kinds of child sexual exploitation.
My Lords, will my noble friend accept on behalf of the Government the recommendation made by two all-party groups on refugees and migration, under the chairmanship of Sarah Teather MP, that women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be held in immigration detention?
My Lords, will the Minister undertake to talk to his noble friend Lord Nash about what I believe is a widespread concern that this is treated as a freedom in some schools? Does he not agree that the time has come to ensure that all girls are protected and all boys receive the proper education to help prevent violence?
That is something that should be done. Of course, the quality of that education is monitored by Ofsted as well. It is something that should happen in all schools. It is a crucial part of this, and schools, along with parents and the wider community, have a vital role to play in making sure that young boys in particular are educated about the limits and the need to obtain consent.
My Lords, perhaps I might raise a matter that is, in many respects, a background to this Question. Will the Minister tell the House, with regard to the last available period for which data are kept, first, what percentage of complaints of rape actually led to trial in court and, secondly, what percentage of those trials ended in conviction?
I am very happy to set those details out. Up to September 2014, there were 72,977 recorded criminal offences. The number of rape prosecutions was 3,891 in the same period. There is a lot of detail behind that. I do not have the time to go into it at this point but I am happy to write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, several of your Lordships have drawn attention to the importance of early education in sex. Will my noble friend tell us what the arrangements are for the initial training of teachers in this subject, how consensus on what is appropriate at different ages is identified, and what INSET—in-service training—is also available in this?
The guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Education sets out that age-appropriate education must be provided to young people. There are steps that could be taken to improve on that. There are a lot of examples of best practice around the country, which schools have to draw on.
Women in Sport
My Lords, the Minister for Sport has made the participation of women in sport one of her top priorities, along with raising its profile. Last year the Government hosted their first national women’s sport conference, where Sport England launched the campaign This Girl Can. We wish to inspire women at all levels of ability and we seek increased media coverage, sponsorship and participation at professional level.
I thank my noble friend for that reply and celebrate the fact that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Royal St George’s Golf Club have at last opened their doors to women members. What are the Government doing to encourage more participation in women’s golf so that we can have more 18 year-old women like Charley Hull competing for the world’s biggest prizes in women’s golf?
My Lords, at grass-roots level Sport England is investing £13 million in the England Golf Partnership to get more people playing golf. The partnership has also launched specific programmes to attract new participants, such as Get into golf, and the reports are that 45% of participants in the starter programme are women. There has just been a BBC documentary about Charley Hull, the extraordinary golf player.
My Lords, it is wonderful to see in the modern era of sport that governing bodies such as cricket’s have finally issued real contracts to women, but in other sports such as football there is huge disparity between the men’s and the women’s game. We only have to see the recent England v Germany match at Wembley to see that the public embrace women’s football. I pay tribute to the tireless work of Kelly Simmons at the FA. In the USA some of this inequality has been tackled by the Title IX legislation. Is it not time that we had our own version in Britain?
My Lords, first I think that the noble Baroness has been an extraordinary inspiration for sport and women in sport. The Americans have had that experience in the higher education sector. In this country, participation rates for men and women in higher education are 61% and 53% respectively, so the gap is less than in other sectors. We wish to concentrate our efforts on ensuring that a much broader cross-section is able to enjoy sport.
Following on from the noble Baroness’s previous question, I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing the England football team well as they prepare for the World Cup in Canada in July. However, have the Government made any representations to FIFA about the fact that they will play on artificial pitches? That would never be contemplated for their male counterparts. In this instance, it is not a case of wanting a level playing field, but the same playing field.
My Lords, I will certainly take up the point. I am not aware of the different playing pitches. I think grass is a very good surface to play on. I wish the football team extremely well. They are currently ranked sixth in the world. I hope that they win.
Will my noble friend bear in mind that the Commonwealth Games gives enormous encouragement worldwide to the full participation of women professionally in all sports? Of course, that is a reflection of the wider fact that the Commonwealth, as a total system covering almost a third of humankind, places absolute gender equality at the very top of its priorities.
My Lords, I thoroughly endorse that. The Commonwealth Games is a great celebration of countries and sport. Interestingly, at the last Winter Olympics, 58% of medallists were women, and 66% of the Sochi Paralympic medallists were women. I have not got the figures for the Commonwealth Games, but I hope that they were equally encouraging.
My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Birmingham City Ladies professional football team on their great exploits, in contrast, perhaps, to the men’s team? Coming back to my noble friend’s comments about a level playing field, the Minister will note that the Premier League has concluded an extraordinarily lucrative agreement with the TV companies for the next period of agreement. The Premier League has shown great reluctance in, shall we say, helping other parts of football from that largesse. Would he meet the Premier League to encourage it to give more resources to women’s professional teams?
My Lords, I would be very pleased to arrange such a meeting. But it is important to say that the Chancellor announced a new £50 million package of government money for improvements in grass-roots football. That will include, for instance, further money for new coach educators, which will be important for women. As part of what the government investment is doing, Premier League and Football League clubs are also sharing an ambition for about £200 million of total funding. But I do think that, across a range of subjects, professional football could do a lot better for women and some spectators.
My Lords, I certainly wish them extremely well. The women’s cricket team are currently ranked second; they won the last two Ashes, so they are a great team. Increasing sponsorship is also an important part of how we raise the profile of women’s sport. Kia Motors has sponsored women’s cricket, which is an example of what we need to do. Newton Investment Management is going to sponsor the women’s boat race. Some very important innovations are coming forward.
My noble friend the Minister will know that the English women’s football team beat Finland 3-1 last night, yet if you look at the sports pages of our national newspapers, you will find no mention of it in the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express or the Mirror. There was a tiny piece in the Guardian and a tiny piece in the Independent. If you look at the sports pages on a daily basis, hardly ever will you find a mention of women’s sport. For women to be empowered in sport, they need to have coverage. Will the Minister agree perhaps either to write to or meet our newspaper editors to suggest that they cover women’s sports?
My noble friend makes a very important point. Improving the media profile of women’s sports is one of the five key goals of the Women and Sport Advisory Board, set up by the Government. The broadcasting companies—BT Sport, BBC Sport and Sky Sport—are getting much better, but I certainly think that the broadsheet newspapers need to up their game.
Lake District National Park Authority
My Lords, national park authorities are independent bodies and, as part of their responsibilities to review their services and assets, it is right that they consider the sale of land, enabling the proceeds to be reinvested to enhance the national park. The Lake District National Park Authority owns less than 4% of land within the national park. As with all our national parks, who owns the land is not the determining factor in its beauty or value to the public.
My Lords, Stickle Tarn, Coniston Water, the River Derwent. Are we really selling off treasured public spaces—some of the most beautiful land in Britain—to fund the building of visitors’ centres? Will not the Government intervene to stop this?
As the noble Earl knows, the Government have no powers to direct national park authorities to dispose or not to dispose of a particular piece of land. Furthermore, it would not be right to intervene, because they must be allowed—and, indeed, encouraged—to take responsibility for their own affairs. To put it in context, the eight sites offered for sale total 59 hectares, equivalent to 0.6% of the Lake District National Park Authority’s land holdings.
My Lords, it is the turn of this side; I live there. Is it not shocking that parts of the national park—one of the most beautiful national parks—have to be sold off as a result of government cuts? Is there not a problem that, in a further sale of the land, the Lake District planning people might well give a more relaxed permission in order to get half the money? Is it not rather unhappy that we are doing this at all? Surely we should adamantly say that the Lake District is not for sale to the highest bidder.
I agree with much of the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s point, but the national park has assured me that this is not about cuts. It routinely reviews its assets and makes disposals where appropriate so that the proceeds can be reinvested into the acquisition, improvement or maintenance of other properties. It is worth saying that between 2007 and 2010—three years during which the noble Lord’s party was in government—it made sales totalling £1.9 million. In the five years from then, sales have totalled £1.8 million.
My Lords, I am sure that we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, many more happy years in one of the most glorious parts of England. However, is not what really matters here the integrity of the landscape and that there are no further incursions into its tranquillity? Can my noble friend assure us that whatever transactions take place, both the integrity of the landscape and its tranquillity will be preserved?
My Lords, there has not been a very satisfactory process here. The national park authority made the decision to sell these pieces of land in secret. People discovered it only when an advertisement appeared in the Westmoreland Gazette, giving them precisely one month to make bids. Surely there should be public debate about which of the 168 pieces of land owned by the national park authority should be sold if it has to sell any. Once it decides to put some forward, there should be consultation of a sufficient length of time to allow community groups—such as the Langdale Valley Association, which wants to register Stickle Tarn as a community asset—to be consulted. This takes time. Will the Minister have words with the national park authority to ask it to withdraw these proposals for the moment, to give time for public consultation and for the Langdale Valley Association to prepare its bid?
My Lords, I know that my noble friend is intimately involved in these matters. I assure him that I have obtained confirmation from the Lake District National Park Authority that it recognises the legitimate interests of stakeholders. It has consulted and continues to consult widely in a number of ways ahead of any final decisions. That includes liaison with parish councils, public notices advertising its intention to invite offers for some of the properties, direct consultation with a number of neighbouring landowners and so on.
My Lords, I have spent most of my life living in the Lake District National Park, which formed the greater part of my former constituency. Can we have an assurance that there will be no interference at all with existing rights of way? What is the position on the maintenance of those rights of way and bridleways which the national park carried out previously? Can we be assured that the new private owners will maintain them to the previous standards?
My Lords, I find this whole process and practice deeply shocking. I was not aware until quite recently that this could be done. As has been said, the Lake District is a glorious part of our country. These public spaces are for all the people of our country. I understand that the Lake District National Park has cash-flow problems but I baulk at the idea that this land can be sold, notwithstanding what has happened in the past. What would happen in the case of this land being sold, then resold at a profit? Would the Lake District National Park get any of the benefit? Secondly, I again ask the noble Lord for an assurance to this House that this plan will not—indeed, cannot—lead to any change in the planning restrictions on the land. Such a special area must be protected.
I can assure the noble Baroness on her latter point that there will be no change to the planning restrictions on that land. On her former point, I hope that noble Lords heard what I said earlier. The Government have no powers to intervene over disposal or otherwise of land. It is not for central government to know about retained rights over the land going forward.
Women: Economic Empowerment
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a pleasure to address the House today in celebration of International Women’s Day. My noble friend Lady Garden and I started the day at a reception for British businesswomen at the British Library. The list of speakers today is really impressive, with a fine record in women’s rights and achievement over the years, following the record of many Members of this House—too many to mention —who have campaigned hard and achieved so much for the rights of women.
Today we should remember two noble Lords who died over the past year. They both, in their time and in their fields, played a key role in women’s rights. Baroness Miller of Hendon was a stalwart member of this House who received an honour for her services to women’s rights. She was an entrepreneur and a campaigner for more women MPs. Baroness Platt of Writtle was a trailblazing aviation engineer. I read that when she completed her engineering studies at Cambridge in 1943, women did not receive the same honours as their male counterparts. As such, she was not awarded a degree, only a “title of degree”. I am in no doubt that it was this injustice that propelled the noble Baroness to dedicate her life to the advancement of women in science and technology careers.
These two women fought in the hope that their work could be the spark for the aspirations of women and girls today and future generations. It is because of women like them that the journey of gender equality in this country has ultimately been one of progress. Nowhere is this journey of progress more evident than in the theme of today’s debate—women’s economic empowerment, at home and abroad.
The breakthroughs that we have achieved since International Women’s Day first came into being over a century ago are nothing short of remarkable, but the coalition has also made quite a few significant breakthroughs in recent years as well. On coming into office five years ago, one of the first commitments that we made as a Government was to put women at the heart of our economic recovery and long-term plan for growth. We made this our priority because promoting equality of opportunity and equal treatment is not just the right thing to do—it is the key to promoting growth. Five years later, our plan is working. Today there are more women in work than ever before. There are more women running their own businesses than ever before. There are record numbers of women at higher levels of management. Indeed, thanks to the tremendous work of my noble friend Lord Davies, for the first time in the history of our country we have a woman on every single FTSE 100 board. On top of this, the latest ONS statistics show that, for both full-time workers and overall, the gender pay gap is at its lowest point in history. All around the UK, women are breaking new ground and succeeding in careers previous generations could only dream about.
There is a consensus in the country which certainly was not there when I was growing up; and if you should ask any number of men and women whether they believe that their daughters should have the same opportunities as their sons, the resounding answer you would get is “of course”. These parents will be the gender equality ambassadors for a whole new generation of girls and their impact should be seen right across the economy. Our challenge today is that, in spite of the progress I have talked about, this consensus is still yet to be fully grounded in the running and practices of our economy and places of work. As a result, many women continue to face barriers at every stage and at all levels of their economic life—barriers around pay, promotion, choice, and work-life balance.
It is particularly fitting that we are having this debate as the 59th UN Commission on the Status of Women is about to get underway in New York and as we mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. Written in 1995 at the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women, it was signed by 189 Governments from across the world, all pledging to end gender inequality across 15 different areas, including economic empowerment. While we have much to celebrate, we cannot ignore the fact that there is not one country in the world that can say that it has achieved this ambition. It is a reminder of how pertinent it is that we push for real change so that we do not find ourselves uttering that infamous phrase “We’ve made progress, but” in 20 years to come.
We in Government remain more focused on this task and the progress we have made over the past five years gives us a strong platform to work from. We know that if we are to fulfil our ambition of creating an economy that creates opportunities for everyone, then we need fundamentally to rebalance it. It means a paradigm shift around how men and women operate their lives, how businesses invest and how workplaces operate. Above all, it means focusing our efforts not just on professional women and the few near the top, but to make sure we give all women, regardless of their age, background or stage they are at in their career, the opportunities to pursue their own choices and happiness in life.
Our ambition starts with sweeping away the archaic rules and assumptions that can make it near impossible for women to balance work and family life. Last year, we extended the right to request flexible working to all employees and next month will see the introduction of shared parental leave so mothers and fathers can decide for themselves how to balance their family and work life. But even with these changes, we know that we will still continue to see women drop from the labour market unless we do more to make work pay. So we are expanding the amount of free childcare available to make it easier for people to take time off to look after their babies and then return to work. From next month, we are investing an extra £750 million in tax-free childcare worth up to £2,000 per year for each child. This is in addition to our offer of 15 hours a week of free early years education for every three and four year-old as well as for two year-olds in those families most feeling the squeeze. This comes on top of a raft of measures, such as raising the personal allowance threshold and increasing the national minimum wage to its highest ever rate, to ensure that women on low and middle incomes can keep more of the money that they earn.
Women should not have to choose between their job and their families, and all these changes will help them to find a balance that works for them. Supporting more women to set up their businesses is another way in which we can help them to achieve greater flexibility between work and family life. We are stepping up our efforts to invest record amounts in support and training for female business mentors and to encourage greater female take-up of the Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme. We also want to make sure that starting a business is an option for everyone, so we have introduced a new enterprise allowance, offering expert business mentoring and financial support to people living on benefits. Our message is simple: if you have drive, determination and a good idea, we will do everything we can to help you get that idea off the ground.
We are also determined to tackle the ongoing injustice of gender pay and doing all that we can to reduce the pay gap further and faster. It is, however, a complex problem to solve. It is not as simple as demanding that women be paid the same as men for equal work. Thankfully, the Equal Pay Act 1975 means that cases of outright discriminatory practices are illegal and few and far between. When they happen, we have been very clear that these employers should be dealt with through the full force of the law. Reforms we brought in last year will now mean that companies found guilty of pay discrimination will be required to produce pay audits, to give greater confidence that such discrimination will not happen again.
However, the causes of the gender pay gap are multiple and far more deeply embedded in our culture and in our labour market for them to be solved by changing laws alone. A major factor can be explained by career choices, which remain strongly gender-biased. More women than men choose to work in the caring professions of social work, nursing and teaching, which historically have had lower rates of pay. This gender bias starts early. A 2013 report showed that half of state coeducational schools did not see a single girl progress to A-level physics. That is scandalous. That is why we are pouring our efforts into working with schools and parents to open up young women’s eyes to a much wider range of careers—hence our support for fantastic schemes such as the Your Life campaign to encourage more girls to study subjects in traditionally male-dominated and higher-paid areas like science and engineering.
Of course, that cultural change we are looking for in the classroom also needs to happen in our places of work. Many companies are doing fantastic work to support their female employees, but the fact remains that this kind of corporate support is still not translating into the wholesale shift in attitudes that we need. Institutional discrimination, the old boys’ club and unconscious bias are still in full swing in many places of work. We are working hard to promote greater pay transparency and introducing measures and guidance to help companies to identify and tackle their own pay gaps. For example, through our Think, Act, Report initiative, we are encouraging firms actively to look at how their female employees are faring, take action to address any issues and report publicly on their progress. More than 270 companies have signed up so far, including major employers such as BT, Tesco, Specsavers, Unilever and BAE Systems. That means that more than 2.5 million employees are working in organisations signed up to Think, Act, Report. In December we announced a range of additional measures to ensure that we keep up this momentum. These include free pay analysis software and new simplified guidance that will shortly be available to employers to make calculating their gender pay gap easier and quicker. There is also £2 million of funding towards helping women move from low-paid, low-skill work to higher-paid, higher-skill work.
These are just some of the measures we are taking across Government to improve the prospects of women and girls at every level and in every field. But that work does not begin and end at home. We know how important it is that we use the UK’s position as a leader in development to improve the lives of women and girls across the globe as well. I recently read that a girl in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school. No other fact could so eloquently underline the responsibility that we have to take action, but, as well as there being a strong moral imperative, experience has shown time and again that in development there are few better options than investing in women.
We know that in the Ivory Coast alone an increase of just $10 in women’s income achieves the same nutritional and health outcomes for children as an increase of $110 in men’s income. That is exactly why we have put girls and women at the centre of our development efforts and our engagement with the world. Through the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund, we have raised £355 million with the aim of getting up to a million girls into school in some of the most difficult parts of the world. We have provided nearly 27 million women with access to financial services, such as savings, credit and insurance.
We are helping more women find work through skills and leadership training and business development. For example, our Zardozi project in Afghanistan—“zardozi” means “embroidery”—has created jobs for 6,500 women in the handicraft and textile sector and supported them to set up their own businesses and to become entrepreneurs. I could go on providing hundreds more examples and statistics but I am sure your Lordships have your own to bring to the debate. You may, however, be asking yourselves, “What does all this actually mean for the lives of women and girls?” so I will end by giving examples of two exceptional women our programmes have supported.
The first is a young girl, Immaculate, from Uganda who was forced to leave school after her father died. Determined not to give up, she heard about one of our programmes and walked for three days in a bid to win a scholarship to go back to school. Her efforts paid off and she ended up winning that support to return to education. A few years later, she is now a highly articulate woman determined to become a teacher and to put back into her society what she herself had been able to draw from. The second is a 28 year-old woman, Angelique, from Rwanda. Like most Rwandans, she makes her living from cultivating land, but she has less than a quarter of a hectare of farmland to support her family of three. However, thanks to UK support, she found employment and opened her first savings account. With her first salary, she bought school uniforms for her children, and with her second and third salaries she bought a goat so that her children would not have to go hungry again, and she is now planning to use her savings to build a house for her family. These women are symbols of everything we are trying to achieve and our reason for doing more.
This House has been at the forefront of the journey that women’s rights has taken in this country and across the world, and we look to noble Lords to help us continue that journey.
My Lords, I fully agree with so many of the principles that the Minister has talked about. Of course, we have all been fighting, arguing and campaigning for women’s equality for so many years, but I want to talk not about the women she has talked about but about those who have really suffered because of the Government’s recession and austerity programme. In spite of the Minister’s words, that programme has seen a widening of the gender pay gap in the UK, which has gone down to 26th in the world from 13th, according to the World Economic Forum gender gap analysis, perhaps because of the increase in the cost of childcare, which interestingly points to the future—over the past five years the cost of childcare has gone up enormously, and many women are having to give up work because they cannot afford it—discrimination because of pregnancy, and perhaps the attack on access to justice, which undermines the rights that have underpinned much of women’s progress in the workplace over many years.
I want to mention in particular a group of women we never talk about, or very rarely talk about: women who, for many reasons beyond their control, find themselves vulnerable and homeless—women who have been overlooked for far too long, who have become marginalised people in society, not from choice but because of circumstance, and who find themselves in a downward spiral of chaos and exclusion, and get little help.
Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK. Government figures show that the number of people sleeping rough has risen by 55% since 2012. Perhaps we could find out why that is the situation. There are currently over 10,000 women in homeless services, and many thousands more who are hidden homeless and are on the streets, at risk. Homeless women who are roofless and with few belongings will not often show up in a headcount of rough sleepers. The hidden homeless may be sofa-surfing, staying with family or friends, or trapped in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go. Others may be squatting, living in crack houses, and some unfortunately engage in prostitution. St Mungo’s, the homeless charity, feels that unless urgent action is taken now, the numbers are likely to increase, and too many women will not get the right help to escape homelessness for good—a situation not assisted by the cuts to public services, restrictions on welfare, rising housing costs, or a lack of housing supply.
Women’s homelessness can occur after prolonged experience of trauma, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It can follow a cycle of mental health and substance use, and myriad other problems. Half have experienced domestic violence, 70% have mental health needs, and 27% have a combination of mental and physical health problems and problems with substance misuse.
A classic example comes in evidence from a St Mungo’s client, who I will call Ann. She said: “I became homeless because I got pregnant at 14, mum threw me out and after that I got married. My husband raped me and beat me up. So I ran to London to escape him and have been on the streets ever since”. She fled and has been on the streets because her local refuge had to close down through lack of funding. No doubt we will hear from the Minister that £10 million has been put into refuges for the next two years. The problem for Ann and her refuge is that the money comes far too late.
In my own area of Brighton and Hove, evidence from the Brighton Women’s Centre—I declare an interest as a patron—shows that almost half of its clients are mothers, and of those, 67% have had their children taken into care or adopted. So not only are they grieving for their lost children, but in many cases they are also grieving for their own lost childhood. Much of the complexity of homeless women’s needs is rooted in histories of violence and abuse stemming from childhood. These problems are intergenerational. We have to make sure, and work has to be done to make sure, that they are not passed on to the next generation.
So much hurt could be prevented by ensuring that the troubled families programme addresses the risk factors that increase the likelihood of girls becoming homeless in adulthood. Research by Crisis found that many of those homeless women are marginalised in labour markets, and there are examples of women losing their jobs once they have no registered place of abode. None of the women Crisis interviewed were in full-time employment, and only 3% were working part time. But its research goes on to show that the majority of these women wanted to work; they wanted a job. The potential for meaningful occupation, training and employment to boost self-esteem and help recovery from homelessness cannot be underestimated.
Making matters worse for many of these women is the fact that they experience stigma and shame because they are homeless and are judged by societal expectations of women to be good mothers and maintain good homes. A perceived failure to live up to those expectations, and not having a job and not being part of society can be significant barriers to recovery. Unfortunately, the histories of far too many of these women are full of missed opportunities for getting the right help at the right time due to insufficient co-ordination and inappropriate and erratic interventions that leave needs unaddressed and recovery unachieved.
The building of trust and relationships is at the heart of creating a change to empower these women to maintain control over important decisions. However, both national and local government too often fail to understand this. To achieve that trust there has to be a co-ordinated response across the various departments that respond to the relevant challenges, be they drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, mental health services or children’s and adult services. This interrelated challenge means that it is difficult for women to progress in one area without the others being addressed. Co-commissioning across a local authority is key to better co-ordination and the provision of services that can have a positive impact on these women’s lives. Responding to women with vulnerabilities can, if it is done in this way, make real financial savings.
Commissioners should invest in cost-benefit analysis of services to prevent or resolve homelessness. They should look at the savings that can be made by recognising women’s organisations as partners in meeting local needs and should engage and involve them from the very beginning in the commissioning process and early interventions for families in need. Organisations that deliver a range of social and economic benefits over the short and long term to vulnerable and marginalised women and girls, such as my local women’s centre, have proved that every pound they invest in support and care saves more than three and a half times that amount in real terms. We ought to spend much more on the whole question of prevention.
In conclusion, holistic, gender-sensitive support needs to be provided, staff need to be better trained to enable them to provide gendered responses and we need to engage in innovative approaches, partnership working, multiagency case management and cross-boundary initiatives working with peer support groups to address past and current trauma by providing access to counselling in a safe and secure environment. But most of all there has to be preventive support in advising women on how to avoid homelessness, as I said. The longer a woman sleeps rough, the worse her problems become and the more costly it becomes to help her off the streets and to make her life worth while so that she can contribute to the economy of this country.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a trustee of UNICEF UK and a patron of Christian Blind Mission.
Five years of coalition government has meant that 2.3 million women overseas have been helped to get jobs and more than 5 million girls have been helped to attend school. As we know, education levels are a key indicator of the ability to obtain self-sustaining jobs and careers. Those statistics show our commitment to and responsibility for the most vulnerable women and girls in the world. It is not by chance that we have committed 0.7% of GDP to international development. That is part of our achievement in this area and it is important that it continues.
I shall focus my speech on the subject of women’s position in the international economy. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the UN, said:
“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”.
This rings true in so many parts of society but is particularly apt for today’s debate. Many studies on economic development have found what Annan put so succinctly to be the truth—namely, where women succeed and are given economic opportunity, society succeeds. Today, I want to recognise how far women have come, but discuss equally how far we have to go.
As my noble friend Lady Jolly said, the world truly has changed for women, especially working women, even within the past few years. The PricewaterhouseCoopers 2015 Female Millennial report notes that women today are more educated than ever before: they earn more bachelor’s degrees and tertiary degrees than men. They are more confident than ever before, too: just under half of all women beginning their careers believe that they can rise to the top with their employers. They are more able to choose from a wide range of opportunities than their predecessors. However, while we should celebrate their successes, it is important to hold them under scrutiny.
Companies today are more aware and place a higher importance on recruiting women than they did even just a few years ago. Another international study conducted by PwC found that 64% of CEOs have and utilise strategies to increase diversity and inclusiveness in their businesses, and a further 13% plan to form such a strategy. This is a significant improvement on a similar survey conducted four years ago, in which only 1/10th of CEOs voiced plans to change their companies’ recruitment and retention policies to increase women’s presence in their companies.
Yet, we are not seeing results from these initiatives. Improvement to the wage gap has been stagnant across OECD countries, and although more women than ever before serve as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, they still stand as just 4.8% among the body of their peers. Women continue to face difficulty in advancing their careers. In a separate international study of “millennial working women”, it was found that nearly three-quarters of women feel that companies are “all talk” when it comes to equality. They felt that although their companies speak about diversity and inclusion, access to opportunities is not yet equal for women. More than that, it was found that women grow increasingly discouraged about their chances of promotion or of furthering their careers as they progress in them. The percentage of women who believe they are capable of rising to a senior level with their current employer falls by 10 points in just a seven-year period. When the level of talent of the women in today’s economic market is so high—higher than ever before—these statistics are disappointing, to say the least. I do not mention this to temper excitement over the gains that women have made in economic empowerment, but merely to insist that we can and must do better.
I turn now to the economic advancement of women in much different circumstances—women who are not trying to advance professional careers but simply trying to survive and support themselves and their families. For the poorest women in the world, economic empowerment is often just a dream. Up to 45% of women living in the poorest parts of the world have absolutely no say in how their household income is spent, even when it includes their own income. In Bangladesh—a country in which almost half the population survives on $1.25 a day, and in which the disparity of treatment and status between men and women is astounding—situations like this are not uncommon.
However, we should note the groups of organisations that are trying to combat this—the microfinance service providers, in particular the Grameen Bank, which is a microfinance titan and the originator of the micro- financing scheme. Grameen began its operations in Bangladesh just over 30 years ago and exists because, in the words of its founder, Muhammad Yunus,
“the financial system … only serves the top one-third of the world; two-thirds are left out”.
Grameen holds particular significance in our debate today, as nearly all of its 8.4 million clients are women, and women make up the majority of the bank’s management board. Through its microfinancing program, Grameen empowers women to start and sustain small businesses, to support themselves and their families. The benefit of this is felt especially by widows, many of whom are left without resource or recourse after the passing of their spouse.
A recent study by the World Bank found that microfinance, especially microfinancing for women, is beneficial in alleviating poverty and raising income and education levels. With only a 10% increase in women’s borrowing, household spending and women’s participation in the labour force both improve—and improve at higher rates than with a similar increase in men’s borrowing. My hope is that the Grameen Bank continues on this path of achievement and sees similar success in Glasgow, where Grameen UK has opened its first branch. We need microfinancing projects for women here in the UK too.
The final group of women I would like to highlight today is women with disabilities, who face even greater hurdles when seeking economic empowerment. A recent survey by the World Health Organization found that, across the 50 countries studied, only one-fifth of disabled women were employed, compared with one-third of women without disabilities. Many factors contribute to this disparity, but inaccessibility of workplaces, transportation to workplaces, discrimination and lack of education are prime concerns. These factors are amplified in developing countries, where disabled women’s inaccess to accommodation for their disability can severely restrict their ability to receive education, hold a job and participate in society.
To illustrate these key points, I want to share with noble Lords the story of Abena, a Ghanaian woman living with a disability as a result of a childhood bout of polio. She was supported by Christian Blind Mission: given a tricycle that transformed her life and the lives of those around her. CBM is the major disability charity in the world. It runs this initiative aimed at raising awareness of the link between disability and poverty. Abena says:
“I realised that I could not walk. But I was so serious to go to school because the children would go to school and come with their books and be reading. So I would crawl to school. Sometimes at the school the children were playing, jumping and I will be sitting down looking at them. I felt like I am alone. So I decided to stop the school. I said, ‘This one is a waste.’”.
She later reflected:
“I was feeling like I’m not a human being. I felt frustrated and lonely. But when I received the tricycle it was better. I decided to go into trading. I used the small capital I had and bought some groundnuts, biscuits, and I sell pure water. I will use the profit and buy the things again I had. So I think this one is very good”.
Abena has now become a disabled women’s organiser for the Disabled Society in Builsa South district, her area of Ghana, and works to inspire and encourage other disabled women to take on work and lead their lives normally. Abena’s case so aptly shows us how, with a little bit of empowerment, a woman’s life can improve drastically.
John Stuart Mill, in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton in 1869, said:
“The most important thing women have to do is to stir up the zeal of women themselves”.
Abena is testimony to that.
My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on bringing attention to this urgent and wide-ranging issue. As a research scientist at Oxford University, and now founder and CEO of a biotech company, I shall focus on just one aspect: the importance of science for women’s economic empowerment in both private and public sectors.
At a national level, graduates of both genders in the so-called STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—are perhaps unsurprisingly on higher starting salaries. However, there is a clear gender discrepancy. Just over 10% of science-based business owners are women, compared to 33% for other types of businesses. Of the FTSE 100 companies in STEM sectors, 13% of board directors are female, compared to 17% in non-science-based organisations, while fewer than one in 10 of STEM managers is female.
When it comes to apprenticeships, the gender disparity is particularly stark. In IT and telecommunications roughly 10% are taken by women, in engineering less than 4% and in construction just 1.4%. So in the private sector, whether it be founding a company, sitting on a board or taking up an apprenticeship, women are woefully underrepresented in the very occupations that in general would be among the most economically empowering.
The public sector, too, presents problems. While sexist views may be suspected but hard to prove in the corporate world, overt prejudice against women has been explicit in academia, sadly. Back in 1997 a report was published in the high-impact journal Nature from the Swedish Medical Research Council. This clearly demonstrated a gender bias in peer review of grant applications. Astonishingly, women with the highest scores on their objectively measured publication record were judged subjectively to be about as good as a low-average man.
Meanwhile, in January 2005, the then president of Harvard, Larry Summers, sparked uproar at an academic conference when he said that “innate differences between men and women” might be one reason why fewer women succeed in science and maths. Sadly, the situation has not improved. In a paper published more recently, in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there was still an objectively demonstrable bias, this time by the faculty, in both the biological and the physical sciences in terms of perceived competence and hireability of men over women.
Another major hurdle for women in the academic science sector in particular is the lack of any type of structure in the first stages of their career. This will have devastating implications for having children. Typically, a research scientist in a university will gain tenure, and hence any kind of job security and structure, only when they are in their mid-30s. Those women wishing to start a family, as might be expected, in their 20s are therefore faced with an unpalatable set of options.
This is an important thing to grasp about science research: it is at this stage that a young post-doc scientist, having become finally independent of their thesis supervisor, now needs to be maximally productive in publishing their own all-important peer-reviewed papers, which will in turn serve as the gold standard for obtaining a lectureship. Therefore, the choices would be: first, have no children; secondly, defer having children beyond your biological optimum; thirdly, have a child and give up research science altogether; or fourthly, have a child and inevitably take time out just as your male competitors are forging ahead with their publications. Very rarely would a man have to make these choices.
In addition, the situation is not helped by the meagre and often prohibitively expensive childcare facilities available in universities. Moreover, a frequent complaint is that in the national audit of science research in universities—the so-called REF—the one-year dispensation allocated against your track record for having a child is just not enough. One rising star in her 30s, who has a toddler, summed it up:
“Quite frankly it is exhausting and I am not surprised that many women decide to quit science … I don’t feel anywhere near as competitive or productive as my peers can be or I used to be. It does make you wonder if it is all worthwhile”.
It is no surprise, then, that women are once again underrepresented in senior science university posts. I first flagged this issue back in 2002 when, as requested by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I prepared a report on the recruitment and retention of women in science, published as the SET Fair report. Looking back at data from that time to the most recent statistics published in 2012-13, there has been some improvement. Across all STEM areas the percentage of female academic staff has increased from 35% in 2002 to 42% some 10 years later. However, currently just over 2% of all women academics are professors, compared with almost three times as many males, so the situation is still not good enough.
In general, women hoping to flourish in science-based careers face a wide range of difficulties. In a survey of more than 100 employees in the science-related public and private sectors, an astonishing 70% of women stated that they had experienced personal and professional barriers to entry and progression in science. These barriers varied; while some that the survey flagged cannot be readily addressed, such as the need to live in geographical proximity to their partner, others can, including the lack of resources and funding—particularly for childcare—institutional sexism and male-dominated informal networks.
A big problem often is lack of awareness of current initiatives that would help to combat these problems. One example that includes both university and industry is so-called WISE—Women in to Science and Engineering —which aims to improve the gender balance in the UK’s workforce, pushing the presence of female employees to 30% by 2020. WISE launched an ambitious, industry-led campaign in September 2014 to ensure that women in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing have the same opportunities to progress in their career as their male counterparts. They invited a cross-section of businesses to tell them what had made the most difference to the retention and progression of women in their organisation. The result has been 10 recommended steps, which, interestingly enough, all relate to mindset and the need for changing attitudes, particularly in the corporate world.
Meanwhile, for women in science-based academia, the Athena SWAN programme addresses gender equality in UK universities. Athena SWAN has been developed to encourage and recognise commitment to combating this underrepresentation and to advancing the careers of women in science-based research and academia.
In addition, Sheffield Hallam runs Women in Science, Engineering and Technology—WiSET—based within the Centre for Science Education. This aims to widen the participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, maths and the built environment. It has developed and delivered a wide range of innovative projects, resources, schemes and activities for more than 10 years now, based on gender and occupational segregation at all levels of education and employment. It works from a local to an international level and provides resources and runs events to encourage participation in science, as well as supporting those already working in the STEM subjects.
Sheffield Hallam was also one of the universities involved at the start of Aurora. This is a national scheme aimed at developing future leaders for higher education. It was launched in 2013 as a women-only leadership development programme. Aurora aims to encourage a wide range of women in academic and professional roles to think of themselves as leaders, to develop leadership skills, and to help institutions maximise the potential of these women. These are innovative development processes for women up to senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent.
These are all really impressive initiatives that could change the prospects for women in science since I published SET Fair in 2002. So why is there still a problem? Why is it not unusual to read in the press of a “female scientist” but not of a “female politician” or “female lawyer”? It is as though the fact that a woman is a scientist is still unusual and worthy of note. Perhaps that is at the heart of the problem. Clearly, for the real economic empowerment of women in science, attitudes still need to change. I recommend the following initiatives.
The excellent schemes just mentioned for helping women in science need much more publicity and co-ordination. Presumably this could best be achieved by central government. Moreover, it is surely only the Government who could bankroll a sufficiently well resourced scheme for funding a truly realistic—not just a token effort—large number of ring-fenced fellowships and/or return-to-work allowances for pump-priming a career for those returning from childcare. The same benefits currently available to women should be extended to men if they choose to share the burden of maternity leave traditionally taken by women—for example, the allowances in REF and in fellowship applications. This might encourage male scientists to share parental responsibilities more, as they could be less concerned about the long-term effect on their career, and we could move towards an equal future where both male and female scientists were competing on equal grounds.
Within the private sector, the L’Oreal Women in Science awards have shown how awareness can be raised of the achievements of individual women in their research, but we now need other companies, particularly those in science and technology, as well as smaller biotech companies, to take up the challenge of new initiatives for promoting the appeal of science to women as well as celebrating the benefits that they bring. For example, only last week I attended a gender-diversity summit in Luxembourg, organised by KPMG, where the advantages of female representation in the corporate world were stressed over and over by the men attending as well as the women. It would be wonderful if science and tech-based companies were to organise similar events, and from them develop constructive programmes.
Finally, none of these initiatives—neither those already in train nor those just suggested—will have any effect at all without one single, essential ingredient, which has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. That is the essential ingredient of a woman who chooses to do a degree in science. Schoolgirls need to be aware not only of the thrill of doing research at the bench but of the wide variety of career options that will open up to them with a science background, even beyond the lab bench, such as patent law, media, politics and teaching. What a shame it would be if they were deterred from such exciting prospects by the perception—indeed the reality—that a major obstacle to realising their true potential in science was their gender.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate regarding the significant role that women’s economic empowerment has both nationally and internationally. Women’s economic empowerment is often talked about in terms of quotas or targets, but this is the language of charity, of welfare and of equality for equality’s sake. As someone who did not need a quota or a target to get on in the business world, I can assure the House that it is not, and should not be, about those things.
When I became the CEO of Birmingham City Football Club, people thought it was tokenistic, that I was window dressing and that hiring a woman was a gimmick. It was only once they realised that I had a serious plan to turn around a failing business and put that into practice that attitudes changed and people understood that I was there because I was qualified, up to the job and could do it well. After all, that is what they would assume about any man who was taking over. If I had my time again, people might still ask whether I had enough experience to do the job but, if they did not feel the need to ask about my gender, that would be progress. Let me be clear: we are on the path to progress. My mother’s generation did not even enjoy equal rights before the law. Some professions and institutions were completely closed to her. We now need to move on from changing the law to changing perceptions, attitudes and culture.
This debate is important for women but it should be important for everyone interested in the success of our country. Women’s economic empowerment is about success, not just for us but, more importantly, for UK plc. It is about not missing out on half the talent pool which is available to do the top jobs in this country, to lead our companies in the global economy and to start new ones and grow them too. It is about diversity of thinking, different perspectives on the same issues, new skills, new mindsets and new ideas. We need to challenge existing ways of doing things, and empowering women is a great way of achieving this. A good board should have a variety of executives with different backgrounds and bodies of expertise. A starting point should be more women. Boards are there to challenge the executives, to ask the difficult questions and to hold them to account.
So how do we get half of our companies, our boards and even our Governments to be run by women? First, I want to say that I am proud to be a Conservative Peer because I am proud of my party’s record on women’s economic empowerment. Under the previous Government, there were 21 all-male boards in the FTSE 100. Now there are none. In 2010, women made up only 12.5% of the members of corporate boards of the FTSE 100; this figure is now 22.8% and I want to see it increased further. I am not saying that boards with no women should be made to appoint some on the spot, but they should at least be made to answer why they do not have any.
I am also pleased to say that there is a record number of women in work. Our long-term economic plan has helped to increase the number of women in work to record highs—with 14.4 million now in employment, an increase of 796,000 since 2010. As an active business mentor and as this party’s Small Business Ambassador, I am pleased that there are also more women-led businesses than ever before.
On our journey into the world of work, women and their employers need to know that any career door can be open to them, as they start to move away from thinking of certain industries as male-oriented. I know how necessary this is, coming from a background in football. That is why I am pleased that we are increasing the number of women who take up careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. The “Your Life” campaign is working with businesses to support more women in these industries—for example, Airbus is committed to recruiting 25% women engineers. We are also providing a £10 million fund to help women progress as engineers.
It is not all down to government policy. Some of it is down to culture and attitudes—even the attitudes of women themselves. As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg said, women systematically underestimate their own abilities. If and when they succeed, they typically do not attribute that success to themselves. This needs to change and I hope that I, and many others, can be an example to other women. I have been lucky enough to work with boards which have looked at what I have done, not at my gender. This is the attitude that we need to foster. We do not need to stack the deck in favour of women; we just need to tell them—and tell the world—that women can do anything they want. Where they lack the tools, Governments should provide them.
Someone said to me recently that, in society today, it is not okay to be a bit racist or a bit homophobic, but it is still okay to be a bit sexist. I am delighted that this debate is taking place as a means to stamping that out.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate. It has become a set piece each year and it is important that we have it. It reminds me how privileged all the speakers in this Chamber are in that we have a voice. With that, comes a responsibility to speak for the women who do not have a voice at any level in our community and our society today. I think that we will see a concordat across the Chamber, as we usually do, about the principles and the purpose of this event, but that we will disagree on how we achieve it. It is important to air and discuss that disagreement. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Make it happen”. That is a very profound theme because we can talk all we like, but making it happen is more difficult and challenging, and we have to do it.
This week we will also have the Women of the World Festival on the South Bank, a marvellous festival that has grown in size since it began. I should like to congratulate the BBC “Woman’s Hour” programme on transferring itself to the festival and broadcasting from it each day. If we have seen any steadfast support for women over the years, it has come from Jenni Murray and her team at “Woman’s Hour”.
Some 20 years ago—it does not seem like it, but it is—as a young and new Member of this House, I asked this question: when will women achieve equal pay? We had Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act, which is 40 years old this year, and we have still not achieved equal pay. Without that Act, I wonder where we would be—probably in an even more inferior position than we are today. I am reminded, too, that in the other place the majority of Members on the opposite Benches to the Labour Government of the day opposed both of those Acts, as indeed they opposed the 1997 Labour Government’s National Minimum Wage Act 1998. All three of these Acts have been a big help, not for women like us in this Chamber, who have enjoyed enormous opportunity and privilege, but for the women who do not have a voice.
The noble Baroness, in introducing the debate in such an interesting, wide-ranging and enjoyable way, referred to the fact that there is now a woman on the board of every company in the FTSE 100. The instigator of the policy on that was a Labour Peer, my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch, and all credit to him. But going back to the theme of my contribution to this debate, I will say that one swallow does not make a summer. This annual debate really gets my juices going and reminds me of years ago, when I was a bit more of a firebrand than I am today.
In 2010, we were concerned about the gender pay gap. We called for a requirement to be put on medium-sized and large companies—not small ones—to publish information about average wages based on gender in their companies. The coalition decided that they did not want any legislation or regulation, but to encourage companies to take up a voluntary code. Although we tried to get that changed, the Government did not accept it, but we have made progress: four companies are now doing it. That is an average of one a year since the year we tried to introduce the requirement. I raise this, perhaps a bit unfairly on the Minister who is to reply to the debate, to ask whether, when an amendment is tabled next week asking companies employing more than 250 people to publish their average wages based on gender, the Government will accept it. Remember that the theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Make it happen”; that would help to make it happen. The pay, opportunity and empowerment gap needs a whole range of initiatives—legislation and regulation, yes, but also a lot of others. I am not stupid enough to think that legislation is the whole answer; it is not.
I have the huge privilege of being president of the charity the Abbeyfield Society. Indeed, one of its former presidents is in the Chamber and will speak later in the debate: the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone. She did a wonderful job as president and I look forward to her contribution. The charity provides housing and accommodation for older members of our community.
Over the past week, in the lead-up to this debate, a Resolution Foundation survey has revealed that 930,000 care workers are paid less than the living wage. I have chosen this theme for the debate because it is an area that is in the public eye, it is an area that will grow, and it is one of the last big areas of employment where employees are undervalued and underpaid. We read in the press only about the abuse that takes place in a minority of cases. As I say, it is an enormous area of employment. I never thought that I would thank the Times, but let me put this on the record. Last year the Times chose the Abbeyfield Society as one of its Christmas charities of the year, and the Telegraph followed that up. I thank both those newspapers for showing the work that these underpaid and undervalued members of society provide.
The Alzheimer’s Society says that 670,000 unpaid carers are women working for people with dementia. Some 82% of older people’s care home managers are women. It is the biggest area of women’s employment that I can think of. In Abbeyfield, 85% of our staff are women, of whom 26% are in senior management roles. The average number of women working in the care sector is much higher than in most other areas of employment in Britain, so it is a very important area for us to get right. Our first woman CEO, Natasha Singarayer, is an inspirational leader. Under her leadership, in only the last 12 months or so, this smallish charity provided 8,000 older people with homes. Of our 9,000 staff and volunteers, over 80% are women. We have a responsibility for them and we have a responsibility for the people that we care for.
Last year I was proud—as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, will be—that we were the first national care organisation to pay the living wage. Our 1,500 directly employed staff are now all on the living wage. Of course, some asked why, because in some cases it meant a pay increase of over 20%. But we asked: why not? We expect our staff to give first-class care to our people; we expect them to respect them. How can we expect that if we do not respect our staff in their own right? It was the right thing to do. We have gone a bit further than that; we have said that by March 2017 all our direct staff must be on the living wage and all our suppliers must pay their staff the living wage, too. I give this example because we will not be required to do it by legislation or, probably, by regulation. Depending on the outcome of the election, if it was the coalition’s policy, it will not be government policy either. This is where an organisation has taken responsibility itself, and it is where companies must take responsibility.
I said that today was a day of celebration: it is. In particular, I celebrate and congratulate a Peer on our own Benches—my noble friend Lord Soley. Why him? He is making it happen for women. He is the chairman of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, which he helped to establish. A 15-foot statue will be erected right opposite Parliament, in the grounds of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Mary Seacole was the daughter of a Scottish father and a Creole mother, born in Jamaica. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton. The location of that statue is important and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is also important. The statue has a disc behind it that comes from the very site of a British hotel in the Crimea where Mary Seacole set up her nursing station. She applied to the British authorities five times to go there and they refused, so she made her own way, as women with determination will. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, and his colleagues managed to get the team of artists building the statue into the Crimea just two months before the Russians went in. The disc will come from the site of the British Hotel, as she called it—from the site that overlooks the valley where the charge of the Light Brigade actually happened. Although she was not born in Britain, in my view Mary Seacole is one of the great Britons.
It reminded me that we had a debate some time ago about a statue of Sylvia Pankhurst. It is still a dream of mine that we should have that, as well as a statue of the Special Operations Executive women, which we do not have in Britain. We have too few statues and commemorations of women. That is my dream—to commemorate the women who have gone. But the biggest legacy that we could have in commemoration of those women is making sure that the thousands of women in Britain today who do not have a voice are treated fairly and that the Government—whatever Government—stand up and make sure that they are treated fairly and that equal pay is not still a factor in Britain 40 years hence.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many excellent speeches by so many strong and experienced women.
The evidence is overwhelming: when more women are in work, economies grow. An increase in female labour force participation and a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labour participation result in faster economic growth. Evidence from a wide range of countries shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women through their own earnings impacts positively on their families and children.
My own maternal grandmother was a very poor woman. She had no education. She had seven children to feed and clothe. She baked bread every day in her village and took in laundry just so that she made enough money—a small amount but it was enough—to feed her seven children. That was in the early part of the previous century, but there are still millions of women like my grandmother all around the world today, who take part in what is called informal employment and do not have the privileges that we enjoy. In south Asia, for example, over 80% of women in non-agricultural jobs are in informal employment; in sub-Saharan Africa it is 74%. Women comprise an average of 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries; this varies considerably across the regions from 20% or less in Latin America to 50% or more in parts of Asia and Africa. That is the reality today.
We know that women and children also bear the main negative impacts of collecting and transporting fuel and water. According to the UN Women figures, women in many developing countries spend more than one to four hours each day collecting biomass for fuel. Another study of water poverty in 25 sub-Saharan African countries estimates that women spend at least 16 million hours a day collecting drinking water; men spend 6 million hours a day and children 4 million hours.
Like many noble Lords, I go into a lot of schools, speaking mainly to girls who come from deprived backgrounds. They are very interested in talking about the sorts of issues that impact on women and girls around the world. We also have problems in this country with young girls who come from different backgrounds who are not encouraged to go into further education and reach their full potential. One thing I always tell these girls when I go into schools and colleges is, “Do not let anyone tell you what you cannot do”. Many of us, including me, had it drummed into us what was not appropriate for a girl to do, but I always tell them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, said earlier, “There is nothing you cannot do. If you focus, get the right education and are determined, there is nothing you cannot achieve”. We need far more positive messages like that for young girls in this country from all backgrounds.
We know that social institutions, as I have mentioned, affect female participation in economic life. A more proactive approach from donor countries such as ours is needed to address the roots of gender inequality. It is entirely right that the approach by donors has been to improve women’s access to education and health—as we heard from my noble friend Lady Jolly—including birth control. That is very important, but it is not sufficient. The root causes of gender discrimination in some of the countries I have mentioned, with very strong social and cultural institutions, also need to be addressed. For example, the enrolment of girls in primary schools can rise without it ultimately increasing female participation in the labour market if traditional customs forbid women from working outside the home. Where such customs go against women being in authority, the enrolment rate in universities may rise without that having any effect on the number of female managers or women starting up businesses outside traditional roles. It is therefore important to increase the effectiveness of country and donor policies. Measures to address institutional inequalities must be put in place.
Even when there are strong customs influenced by culture and religion that have adverse effects, positive changes in favour of women are possible. In Turkey, a country that has seen huge economic development and success, a recent project had the motto, “We Are Equal and We Are Together At Work, At Home, Everywhere”, which was very ambitious. The project aims to create decent work opportunities for women and the development of inclusive and coherent policies to promote women’s employment in Turkey. The UN Women’s regional office for Europe and Central Asia signed a partnership with one of the country’s largest industrial conglomerates, Koç Holding, a significant holding in Turkey that manages companies involved in finance, energy, tourism, food and IT. These types of initiatives are beginning to break down customs and traditions in encouraging women to play a full role in the economic development of their country. Increasing numbers of women are now active in the workforce, bringing greater prosperity not only to their families but to the country. As a footnote, I say that this is by no means widespread. It is a great start, but there are still traditions that have not been broken down that prevent women going out to work, particularly once they are married.
I am going to talk about violence against women, because it has a huge impact on the ability of women to participate in the workforce and community. This is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights worldwide, affecting a staggering one-third of all women. The effects go way beyond individual women to negatively impact across whole communities. Action Aid reports that violence against women and girls is one of the biggest barriers to ending poverty and inequality. It maintains and reinforces women’s unequal status and is really so disempowering, making women more vulnerable to future violence and driving increased inequality and poverty.
Before I came into your Lordships’ House over 25 years ago, I had experience of establishing the first domestic violence project and refuge for women from a Turkish and Kurdish background. In those days, one felt insecure talking about violence against women in the community of which I am part. It was not recognised; it was not addressed; and to talk about it was seen as taking women away from their husbands—I was accused of that many times and faced threats for doing it. Establishing the project, which is still going strong after more than 25 years, is one of my proudest achievements. It has brought huge success and educated a whole community. Sadly, it is still needed, but it has become quite entrenched and well respected. IMECE, the Turkish-speaking women’s group based in north London, is still there and has been doing fantastic work for more than 25 years—it celebrated its 25th year last year.
This debate marking International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to ensure that women’s rights are high on the agenda of global leaders. I commend this Government on keeping this issue high on the international agenda and hope that whoever is in the next Government—I am not going to be party political, because I think that we all want the same thing and are all committed, which is why we are taking part today—will do the same.
Later this year, world leaders will agree on a set of sustainable development goals. Key charities are urging the United Kingdom Government to ensure that, for the first time, a globally agreed target on addressing all forms of violence against women and girls is secured, with a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Will the UK Government commit to an ambitious action plan to meet this goal? As one of the major donors in the world, we need to lead by example on this. I would like to see a greater focus on women’s economic equality, with SDG targets to recognise, reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work and to secure equal rights to economic resources and assets and access to decent work and a living wage. There should be equal pay for work of equal value to ensure women’s full and equal participation and influence at all levels of decision-making.
Each day around the world, hundreds of millions of women collect firewood and water for their families. They cook, do the chores and take care of the elderly, the young and the sick; and all the time, they try to scrape a living from the poorest paid and most precarious jobs. Women’s labour is vital to sustainable development both within the home and outside it, and for the well-being of their own society. Women make up roughly 60% of the world’s working poor, despite their low rates of participation in the labour force overall, but their work is undervalued and mostly invisible. On a global level, we urgently need an agreement to guarantee women’s access to decent work opportunities and to reduce and redistribute unpaid care responsibilities that fall disproportionately on women, just as they do here in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that economic policies work for women, not against them.
We are already doing a lot of promotion, but we need far more of it to promote women’s voices and leadership at all levels. There should really be no more summits: we see these summits when countries are in conflict or when we are trying to nation-build. There are always these summits, but women have to be there. How many summits have we witnessed where women were just not at the table? How on earth is this going to work when half the population is excluded? As I mentioned, violence against women and girls works against these goals, so will the Minister tell me whether the Government will champion these goals in the way that I have described?
I also make a plea for refugee women. Will the Government please continue to prioritise survivors of sexual violence through the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme? Will they significantly increase the number of resettlement places in the United Kingdom made available to Syrian refugees? We were told that this number is still several hundred. We know the scale of the refugee crisis for the Syrian people; thousands have been taken in by other wealthy countries while we have only taken in hundreds. This is surely not the right way to go: we should be leading by example.
Violence against women and girls is still endemic in Afghanistan, affecting women across Afghan society. A report just last month from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission showed that it is increasing, with 4,250 cases of abuse reported to the commission in nine months. The report followed numerous cases of violence against women making headlines in the country, including, among other practices, beheading, gang rape, execution and the exchanging of women and girls to settle disputes. A significant feature of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan is the violence and threats faced by women human rights defenders. These women in civil society surely need greater support and protection. We have a responsibility, as one of the largest donors to the countries that I have mentioned, to ensure that we attach serious conditions of greater equality and power for women, and that we do not simply allow aid to be received without the acceptance of these key principles respecting the human rights of women and girls.
In conclusion, I commend the BBC for screening “India’s Daughter” last night in face of pressure by the Indian Government, which have banned it. The film exposed the horrific attitudes towards rape and violence in that country. Surely the best way to combat such violence is to shine a light and hold Governments to account. Will the Minister tell us whether, as a major donor to India, the Government are doing this?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend. I was looking at her maiden speech again only recently in preparing for today, and she has a track record of supporting women in particular who need economic empowerment, have mental health problems or are in prison. I applaud her comments. Speaking about Turkey, she will be concerned, as I am, about Safak Pavey, one of the bravest MPs from the Republican People’s Party in Turkey. She is an LSE graduate, like me, a human rights campaigner and the first disabled woman to become a Member of Parliament in Turkey. She is a reminder, as has previously been said, of the huge privilege that we, as a generation, have of being able to speak freely and openly; we constantly have to remember that life is very different in other parts of the world.
On the first International Women’s Day, a hundred years ago, life expectancy for a woman in this country was about 55. Today it is about 83—a dramatic, life-changing experience for all of us. Of course, in Swaziland life expectancy is 51, in Somalia 52 and in Sierra Leone 39. In our debates, we must constantly be mindful about the paradox and contrast with other parts of the world. Some 774 million adults cannot read or write, 493 million of them women. Sixty per cent of women in the Arab states, south and west Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate. In Mali the figure is 29% and in Pakistan 40%, while Afghanistan has equally appalling figures. We all know that newly literate women have a positive ripple effect on all development indicators. Literacy does not save lives or fill hungry mouths, but it is a central component in women’s empowerment. A woman who is able to keep her own business records is more likely to be able to manage her income and expenditure, and to manage her family size. The children of a literate mother are more likely to complete their education, all the more so in a technology-driven world where smartphones are ubiquitous. Illiteracy limits women to only basic levels of engagement. The disparity is growing greater, all the more so for women with disability—and I endorse the comments made on that by my noble friend Lady Brinton.
I warmly applaud the leadership from our Secretary of State for DfID, Justine Greening, and the work she had done consistently to focus on girls’ and women’s rights. Having a woman in that role, to me, is extraordinarily important. When my noble friend Lady Chalker held that office, it was the same. The redoubtable Clare Short, as many on the Benches opposite will know, relentlessly campaigned for women and children. The Secretary of State has consistently highlighted the targets, and reported back on progress; women should have control over their own bodies and a voice in their community and country, they should live free from the fear of violence, marry who they wish and when, receive an education and a job, and choose how they spend the money they earn—and how strongly I agree with those points about microfinance and women having control over their budgeting. The recent Girl Summit on female genital mutilation and the work that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has done with Angelina Jolie on putting an end to sexual violence in conflict are, again, examples of how giving a focus and a profile together with a determined programme backed by resources is critical. That would not be possible without that 0.7% commitment of GDP to aid.
From talking about the parts of the world where there are deep concerns, I will just say a little more about the other end of economic opportunity. I am hesitant to speak at all in this debate without the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, being here. She came into the Chamber briefly and I wonder whether she has lost her voice, as I cannot recall a debate on this subject without her contribution. Although the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has done a lot on this, I do not think he would say that the campaign for female empowerment started with him—although, my goodness, the way he has brought forces together to achieve change is quite remarkable. As has been said, in 2010 12.5% of board members were female. The figure is now 23%. The changes are remarkable. The last FTSE 100 company without a woman on the board was named and shamed and now they all have one. Some have several. In our own House, we have my impressive noble friend Lady Harding, who is one of those leading figures. The first female CEO of a FTSE 100 company was not until 1997, but we now have three. The first female FTSE 100 chair was in 2002 and we now have three. We now have 22 female heads of state in different fields, including Angela Merkel in Germany.
In our lifetime we have seen these dramatic changes. In my lifetime I never thought there would be a woman Prime Minister. We have had a woman Prime Minister, we have had women Leaders of the Lords and the Commons, and we have had women Speakers in the Lords and the Commons. These are all achievements that I doubted would ever be reached. We have a great deal to be excited about, but none more so, at long last, than the church that I belong to, which has overcome all the obstacles to women bishops—and how wonderful that is. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will speak about this at greater length, and I do not mean to steal his thunder, but the installation of Reverend Libby Lane last month as Bishop of Stockport is absolutely splendid. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this time next year when we have this debate, we might even have a bishop of our own in the Lords, although my campaign now is to get the bishops to remove their white dresses and just have the splendid purple, but I do not want to lead the House down a false avenue in this particular regard.
Women have done well, I believe, under this Government. There is always more to do. The gender gap is closing. There are record numbers of women in employment—numbers that are very favourable compared with anywhere else in the European Union. The tax cuts, the help with childcare, and more to come, all mean that this is a good time to be a woman in the United Kingdom. It is splendid to hear from a great role model, my noble friend Lady Brady, who shows what can be done with energy, ability and a positive attitude.
There are always going to be areas where women’s interests need to be properly considered. I have been thinking about the effect of policies to increase employment into the late 60s and how that may exacerbate gender income and class disadvantages for women. Professor Sara Arber at the University of Surrey has recently been writing in a very earnest way about this, and the noble Baroness’s points about the Abbeyfield Society and the vast number of carers are equally important.
Let me just finish on a topic which the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, has covered far better than I ever could. With all the concentration on the number of women in boards, I have long been far more concerned about the inadequate number of female vice-chancellors. I want the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and anybody else who wants to join him, to focus their efforts on working out why we cannot have more women vice-chancellors and what the obstacles, hidden pressures and prejudice are against this progress. My excellent noble friend Lady Perry might well be able to tell us the answer to all these matters later on.
I always regard this debate as enjoyable and enlightening. I think we are privileged, as I say, to be in this House, but we know that our job is to make life so much better for other women, not only in this country—a liberal and civilised country—but in so many other disadvantaged and very often very disagreeable countries around the world.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to take part in this debate. I remember when we had to argue very hard to have a debate on International Women’s Day and to persuade the usual channels—of, I have to say, the party of the noble Baroness—that this was a noble topic to take up. I am thrilled that now we all take it for granted but it was a real struggle in those early days. Given that the previous Government had women as Chief Whips for such a long time, we were able to establish it without any discussion at all. This has followed what the other House is doing in simply having a debate every year, so we can all bring to it the things that really matter to us as women. It is good that the men also contribute.
As a woman in politics, I go back to what it is that has given me all the privileges and opportunities that I have had. A lot of it was my family, but for two years after my degree I went with Voluntary Service Overseas to work in Kenya and that changed my life. It made me see that I had a responsibility to make a difference—and that I could do that. There were things that I could do that I had never dreamed of doing, certainly not growing up in Sunderland. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who will speak later, did as well. In my cohort, I was one of only 6% who went on to higher education. I went to Kenya soon after that. There was no internet in those days so you could not keep referring to what was going on back at home. My father by then was a Member at the other end, and he used to send me the Guardian Weekly, so that I could keep some basic sense of was going on in the West, but actually I was taken over by what was going on in developing countries and what our role was.
I am giving this long account to explain why today I will speak about international development and what is going on in the developing world; I will not be tempted by the things that I have heard from colleagues speaking about this country. I have the enormous privilege of having kept in contact with VSO throughout my life and of now being involved with it again in governance. VSO now works in around 30 countries in the world. From that, we have learnt, taken evidence and built up a good means of understanding what is happening in communities in the developing world and of knowing—not guessing—that women’s economic empowerment has such a major effect on families and, of course, on local communities. The whole community benefits. This is particularly true for women in communities where men are absent or are unable to work, particularly in places where men are travelling to work in southern Africa. I will say a little about Mozambique shortly.
I want to say something about Kenya where I keep going back. I met some women’s groups that a volunteer was working with. The first group that she took me to see was able, through microfinance, to buy some goats. At first, they bought about half a dozen goats but by the time I went, there were about 200—goats are good at reproducing. Those goats were now supporting the women to care for more than 200 children in the village who were orphaned through HIV/AIDS. They were remarkably strong women—they simply accepted this was their responsibility and they got on with it. With the volunteer, they had been able to find the means of doing that in an effective way with regular meat and regular milk and then selling some of the goats so that they could financially sustain their responsibilities.
In the next village we went to, the women’s group with the volunteer had begun planting a whole range of seeds that they had not planted much before. They were all seeds that could be milled, so, again with microfinance help, they bought a small mill. They were milling different sorts of flour which they were able to use themselves—so their families were better fed—but they were also able to sell to others. They were making enough money to pay school fees and to do things that otherwise they would not have been able to do.
In Mozambique, VSO is working with the Association for Mozambiquan Miners and has been supporting migrant workers and their families. Many of the men work in the mines in South Africa, which is very difficult and dangerous employment, so many of the women have to bring their families up in the absence of the men, and of course many of the men die early. VSO has been providing support and training to help widows in particular to build a business and move themselves out of poverty and, again, make a huge difference in their local community and in their families. I could read noble Lords testimony from some of the men who are now too old to work but are being cared for because there are these real changes in women’s activity.
I know that empowering women economically really makes a difference to families and communities, but we have to accept that it is not enough. We all talk about the importance of women in development, but we do not take it sufficiently on to the next stage. This is essentially about how to enable women to ensure that these changes are sustainable and that their societies are organised in ways that enable their economic empowerment to be sustainable. However, we know that that bit is not yet working. Why do women still struggle so much for economic equality and work equality? In the world of work, 60% of the world’s working poor are women. Other speakers have given the figures around the challenges that women are facing, such as the lack of literacy. That traps too many of them with insufficient means to be involved in their communities in the way that they should be. So VSO now has a campaign, which I am part of, looking at how to ensure greater equality around the world for women, and that means getting many more women into decision-making positions.
We have begun doing that in this country but we are not there; however, in many developing countries it has hardly even begun. Some of them are doing better than us in terms of the numbers of women in their parliaments, but we really need to move this agenda on. Evidence is clear that where women are participating in and influencing decision-making, it is leading to a more efficient, effective and responsive set of decisions for communities. It helps progress towards gender equality, and helps to transform the deep-rooted social norms and attitudes that act as barriers. It also seems clear to me, however, that it is by tackling the barriers to women’s equality that we will take the massive steps that we need to in order to render the changes that aid is making around the world sustainable. Unless our aid leads to long-lasting change it will continue to be under attack, and that threat is continual.
Decisions this year by the international community are therefore critical. At the meeting later this year to agree the new development goals, those attending—largely men, I am afraid to say—will have a real opportunity to change the position for women and actually develop goals that will enable women to take more part in the decisions around their country, their community and the world. We simply have to say to them that this is an opportunity they have to face up to. They are the people who this year will have to listen and ensure that women’s voices are heard, and face these challenges in the way that they take their decisions. This is a huge opportunity and we will all be watching closely to make sure that this group, largely consisting of men, takes the right decision.
My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to be the first man to speak in this debate, particularly having been gently chided by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, about wearing a dress. Still, perhaps that is suitable bridging attire at this moment in the debate. I am also very conscious that the church could be seen to be behind the curve on this issue, as has been mentioned, and I hope that noble Lords can see that we are trying very hard to catch up and make proper progress. I want to do three things in this short address. I want to take up the theme that the noble Baronesses have talked about, the international perspective; look at some issues in the UK; and say what we might learn in terms of policy priorities.
A number of speakers, especially the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Armstrong, have mentioned the importance of an international perspective. I declare an interest as a director and trustee of Christian Aid. It is axiomatic in the developing world, as we have heard, that if you invest in women you invest in an advance for the economy. In western Afghanistan, for example, Christian Aid has been working for over 30 years with partners. There are more and more women-headed households because of all the conflict. We have pioneered a new form of silk production and offer training in technology, with 1,400 women in those businesses. That is producing income that is now being diversified into other sectors such as clothing manufacture, and it is women who have the drive and commitment to make that happen. In Mali, Christian Aid, with partners, has helped 4,000 women to gain access to land. As a result, vegetable production increased by 50%, with women leading and directing the businesses. So it is axiomatic that this is a sensible thing to do.
If noble Lords want more scientific evidence, some might know about Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women initiative. In 2008, Goldman Sachs set up this initiative to provide business education, mentors, networks and links to capital. By 2013, it had enrolled its 10,000 women across the world, and of course it does a scientific analysis of the programme’s effectiveness. It shows very clearly that revenues have been increased, jobs have been created and there has been an expansion of women’s contribution to their communities. There is a very clear message, as we have heard: if you invest in women for development, the whole of society benefits.
I want to remind us of some of the factors in our own context, if we accept the principle of investing in women for economic and social development. The Fawcett Society has done some interesting research to show a number of factors that I invite us to think about and the Minister perhaps to comment on. There has been a very welcome growth in jobs in the private sector since 2010, much trumpeted and very valuable. Some 59% of those jobs have gone to men and 41% to women, so we have to think about how we are proactive in giving women equal opportunities.
Further research shows that many women work well below their qualification level in the labour market. We have heard some speeches about getting behind through taking time out for child-rearing, but another factor that might be important is that the jobseeker’s allowance has a strong emphasis on getting people into work; that is understandable, but it can have the effect of getting people into work so quickly that they have to take work that is below their level of ability and skill and therefore not fulfilling their potential. Those people are mainly women, who end up working below their qualification level. We need to take some kind of look at the jobseeker’s allowance strategy.
A final bit of research about our own context is that 85% of the money saved from tax and benefit changes has come from the pockets of women. I invite the Minister to comment on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said that women need to keep more of what they earn, but 85% of the money saved from tax and benefit changes has come from the pockets of women.
I raise the issues, finally, of policy direction and policy priority. Goldman Sachs has done a very interesting study of Japan which I think can put alongside our own context some markers about policy issues. It has shown that the amazing progress of Japanese culture and economics in involving women has been made through a series of targets: targeting female representation in various fields, as we have heard other speakers mention; targeting lifting female labour participation in particular age groups through a reading of the economy and its potential; targeting the boost of the supply of childcare; targeting an increase in the percentage of fathers who take up paternity leave, which is a shift towards equality; and targeting the issue of companies making disclosures about gender policy and gender practice.
From that research, Goldman Sachs highlights three sectors and a number of issues that we might consider for our own policies with our Government and our business practice. On government, the research says that we need to encourage gender diversity target setting, and the Government need to lead the way. We need to boost female representation in government. That is a very important sign. We need to promote, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, said, female entrepreneurship. We need to encourage retraining opportunities, and we need to invest in childcare. They are issues of policy priority for Government.
In the private sector, the research shows that we need to stress the business case for diversity. There are plenty of studies which show that. We need to create a more flexible working environment. In particular, schemes for evaluating performance and ensuring promotion need to be much more targeted towards embracing women, including women coming at different speeds into the labour market.
We need, in the private sector, to set clear diversity targets. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the danger of “all talk”. How are we going to encourage the private sector to set clear diversity targets? How are we going to introduce more flexible employment contracts? What is very interesting in the private sector is the Australian model, which you may know about. In Australia they realise you have got to do what they call “engage the majority” in terms of the workplace and the economy, and therefore you need male diversity champions. In Australia the effect has been very significant of male diversity champions acting in this field, especially in the private sector.
Finally, in society we have to challenge the myth that women taking jobs will displace men. In fact, as we have heard, when women take jobs, the whole economy and culture benefit. In society, we have to tackle the mindset that we have heard about violence against women and girls, which is the substructure of discrimination and not taking rights and opportunities seriously. This is the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, spoke about.
I think there is great encouragement of the general principle of women being at the forefront of economic development and its well-being for society in terms of our experience in an international context. There are serious issues we have to face about women having the right opportunities in the UK. There are some important policy issues for Government, the private sector and society that we may do well to take seriously if we really want to make some progress in this area.
My Lords, it is a pleasure once more to participate in what I call the Thursday debates. I have listened to all of them, and they all inspire me because I am old enough to look back over the years when the situation of recognition of women in any shape or form in running things in the country was far worse than it is now. I am one of those members of society who started to work before the war, and I mean the 1939 war. I was 14. I passed my 11-plus exam, but I could not go because dad was on the dole for the whole of the 1930s. It was not until I got the opportunity given to me by the Open University many years later that I gained a bachelor of arts degree and then was awarded an honorary master’s degree. I knew that I had the degree in me somewhere. The trouble was that it did not come out, or the opportunity did not come out.
I think we should be patient, but we should proud of the progress that has been made, and a lot of progress has been made. During the war, I was in the Royal Marines. I was badly wounded. In May 1944, I was preparing for 6 June in the same year when things went wrong on a certain exercise, and I finished up on a hillside with my guts in my hand and my legs damaged. When the nurse said to me, “The man who did the operation on you is coming round today”, I said, “I’d like to see him”. I said to him, “Mr Anderson, I understand you saved my life”. He said, “Well, put it like this: if I’d got to you 20 minutes later, you would have been dead because of the loss of blood”.
Now, 70 years later, I am still standing here, and therefore I have faith in longevity, and I intend to keep going as long as I can. One of the great things that I can recall of the period is the extent to which this Chamber has changed. I have been here 30 years and in Westminster 40 years. A great change has taken place in the population of both Chambers. The background of this House has radically changed since I first came here. I look across at the Bishops’ Benches, and of course they have changed as well. The change is coming. One has to be patient and not too peremptory in criticising the progress that has been made because I am convinced that the whole of society wills and wants the changes that many of us have wanted. There needs, however, to be a right moment. There needs to be a right happening. There needs to be an event which tips the balance.
One can argue politically, “Well, you could have produced legislation under Labour”, but it would not have got through then because the mood of the country was not there. I believe that the changes that have taken place which demonstrate that both Houses have what I call ordinary men and women who have an extraordinary background of achievement are beginning to tell.
When one looks at sport, the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, who was of course the captain of women’s cricket for many years, is a Member of this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, the great wheelchair athlete, has been marvellous. One realises that women have a contribution to make, and they make it very well. When I got my degree, it opened a world for me which I knew was there but the key was given to me through the Open University. I will always be grateful to it.
I am completely on the side of those who want to see progress along the lines described by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. She was a marvellous opener of this debate, and she must be very proud that the debate itself has attracted so many people from so many aspects of the matter. It is a privilege to be here in this House. It is a privilege to be able to get to one’s feet and to speak on topics like this with a modicum of experience from outside this place. I believe that all we want to achieve is coming. The disappointment, of course, is that at the end of the day it is the politicians who will decide because this will be changed only by legislation, and that legislation needs to be tempered and put forward at the right time. I hope I am still here to support it when it does.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham. All these issues we have been discussing today will change only if we get buy-in from men, because men are still in the driving seat in so many countries, so it is a very great pleasure to have his support. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for so ably introducing the debate, and I very much look forward to hearing the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden.
I had planned to talk about entrepreneurialism, although, interestingly, women entrepreneurs do not like to refer to themselves as such; according to recent polling, they prefer to be called “business founders”. Having reread the Women’s Business Council report and the Government’s response in preparing for this debate, I was encouraged by how much good stuff there was in it. I will share with the House a very short preview of research by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, which, together with the Legatum Institute, it will launch next month. It has been drawn from polling and interviews with focus groups, 500 entrepreneurs and C-suite executives. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if later on I move on to the topic of women in politics; I quite accept that that does not fit quite so neatly into this year’s topic as it has done in previous years.
On that research, the headline findings are that women are just as interested as men in growing their business. They take a different approach to risk—a more calculated approach. They perceive their growth trajectories to be steady and think of male entrepreneurs as more concerned with fast growth and quick sell. The research shows that they care more about their workforce, few are willing to risk staff for the sake of growth, and many focus strongly on corporate responsibility and their contribution to society and their local area. They spoke of turning to family and close networks for funding, and the exit stage is just not on their radar. Instead they talk about planning, managing and controlling growth. I do not think that any of that will surprise us, as it probably confirms our existing suspicions, but I for one look forward to reading much more when the report is published in April.
In previous years I have discussed the international aspects as co-chair of the Conservative Friends of International Development. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is unable to join us today and as an officer of the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, I must make the obvious point that, without access to modern family planning, no woman anywhere across the world can become economically empowered. Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth, and that puts our debate today in context.
However, as I say, I hope that this close to the election and with most of the seats selected, I will return to the subject which is so close to my heart—most noble Lords will know that women in Parliament is one of my things—and was at the heart of my own maiden speech, which I made in this same debate four years ago. An awful lot of us were making maiden speeches in that debate. I talked about my grandmother, who was the only Conservative woman MP in 1945, and her father—my great-grandfather—who was a Liberal MP and subsequently a Labour MP, who introduced the first Women’s Suffrage Bill in 1907, and how proud he must have been to see his daughter take her seat in 1937, and how astonished the two of them would be, having sat on the green Benches there, to see me here now.
I also talked about Women2Win, which is the organisation the Home Secretary and I set up nearly 10 years ago, and how after the last election we went from 17 to 49 MPs—which is not great, but a huge improvement. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Bottomley is not in her place, but I think that when she was in the House of Commons the number of women MPs was considerably lower than 17.
Over the past four years, as Members of Parliament have announced that they are retiring, and those seats have been selected, I have been rather gently teased by Members opposite about how we are not making enough progress and how all-women shortlists is the only solution. I have lost my nerve on the journey and have thought that maybe that was the only solution. Indeed I caused some kerfuffle by saying that, if we go backwards at the next election, all options should be on the table. However, I am delighted to be able to say that I do not think we will go backwards. We have had a very good run, and I will update noble Lords on where we are.
I will take this opportunity to congratulate a number of people who have been involved in making that happen. We all know that going into politics is not an easy career choice or option, and women in particular need to be encouraged to come forward and need to be supported on their journey, from their first interview right through to the green Benches. That is what Women2Win is there for; I know that the Labour Party has a similar organisation, as do the Lib Dems. I therefore congratulate those who have been involved in making sure that the selections that have taken place have, to start with, had a balanced list; almost every interview selection panel has had at least as many women as men. We have voluntarily had 10 all-women finals—those constituencies have chosen to do that—and only four all-male finals. That is significant progress. We have ended up with 33%—one in three across the board—which includes the seats we are not likely to win, and of the retirement seats the figures are nine out of 27, or 12 out of 33 if you count the ones that might be in the margins of error. That excludes the ones that I hope we will gain next time. There was also a bit of a hoo-hah about a number of Conservative women retiring. In fact only three retired, out of 33 retirement seats, and they did the responsible thing, which was to retire early to provide an opportunity for their successors to get in place. Therefore, although the situation post-election is not clear, I am very pleased to be able to report significant progress. I have to say that two of those very good seats selected last week, and I might not have chosen this theme had they not done the right thing and chosen excellent women.
If I may stray a little further from the topic before noble Lords, I also welcome the number of BME candidates who will be joining the green Benches next time, which includes candidates for Fareham, Braintree, Richmond (Yorks), Havant, North East Hampshire, Wealden, and South Ribble—not natural Conservative BME territory. I congratulate those on the selection panel on having gone outside their comfort zone in selecting candidates who might not necessarily fit into those constituencies.
Part of what we have been working on is the next generation. That first step—that first seat—is a challenge, as any of us who have done it will know. I fought a Glasgow seat in 1987 and it put me off—I did not want to do it again. It is lonely, boring and difficult. We have also been raising money for the candidates the first time round. Only yesterday I was speaking at a fundraiser for a highly capable 25 year-old Indian girl who is fighting Dulwich and West Norwood this time; I would love it if she won, but I very much want her to be there in the next generation, and I am delighted that we at Women2Win—the Home Secretary was also there last night—are able to support them, encourage them to come forward, and keep them there.
I take this opportunity to congratulate CCHQ on achieving that considerable success without a row. My noble friend Lady Chisholm is a big part of that. I congratulate Conservative members on selecting outside their comfort zones, and most of all, I congratulate those candidates who are stepping up to the plate. People often say to me, “Why does it matter?”. It matters because women’s life experiences are different to men’s. They are not inferior or superior, but different, and that difference has to be better reflected, whether in the Chamber next door, this Chamber, the boardrooms or the judiciary. Every sector in this country is not doing well enough. None of us in this Chamber, nor the men who understand how important all this is, can afford to be complacent or take our foot off the pedal.
My Lords, there is an old African proverb in the Akan tradition of west Africa, where I was brought up, which says in translation, “Men tend not to listen to women until it is too late”. Bearing in mind all that is to happen this year in New York and Paris in relation to the sustainable development goals and climate change, we men had better listen to women or it will be too late. So many remarkable contributions have been made, and are to be made, in this debate from so many remarkable women that there is much that we need to heed.
I want to concentrate on Africa and development. Bearing in mind that this is a day of international celebration, I mention two remarkable west African women—my grandmother, an entrepreneurial, innovative medium-sized cassava and cocoa farmer in the Akyem region of the Gold Coast, as it was—Ghana, as is—and Bertha Conton, a renowned educator who taught me to read, was the inspiration for a book club in my primary school and is well into her nineties, but to this day is a teacher presiding over a school in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
I shall concentrate my remarks on Sierra Leone. Ebola has had a devastating impact not simply on the economy of Sierra Leone but also, significantly, on the real progress that had been made in the advancement and empowerment of women. I am afraid that Ebola is not an equal opportunity virus: it discriminates against women. Why is that? It is because women have caring responsibilities. Traditionally in west Africa and, indeed, globally, at times of death or sickness, women are always to be found in the front line either domestically or professionally as nurses and clinicians. The result of that in Sierra Leone is that more women than men have died tending to the bodies and to the sick. However, the consequences go beyond that as the not insignificant gains that had been made in education, which started from a very low base, have been set back markedly. With the closure of schools, girls have been sent home in circumstances which make it very unlikely that they will ever return even when the schools reopen. There has been a huge rise in teenage pregnancies in Sierra Leone and a rise in sexual assaults on girls as men have preyed on the increased vulnerability of these young women who are now often the sole providers in these circumstances.
Sierra Leone is not a poor country but it is an impoverished one. It is rich in minerals, agriculture and human potential but it is impoverished as a result of greed, avarice and exploitation, quite apart from the sister evils of ignorance and neglect. It is an impoverished country where more than half the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. One of the key causes of the civil war, which ended only just over a decade ago, was the unequal distribution of power, the consequences of which were felt significantly by women. Women were effectively prevented from accessing the sources of either traditional power in the chieftaincy or power through democratic institutions. The good news is that prior to the outbreak of Ebola that situation was being reversed. Sierra Leone had one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, as I saw for myself when I had the privilege to visit that country last year shortly before the outbreak. During that visit I met the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and an inspirational group of women brought together by Christian Aid with their local partners in that country. I met women who were empowered through being able to hold local budget holders to account for the money that was being spent on health and education through a project supported by the European Union, DfID, Christian congregations and others the length and breadth of this country. Women were being empowered through their activity on the ground. The danger is that all that will now be set back and will not produce the real economic gains that were beginning to come on stream.
Therefore, I ask for two things. First, even as we debate what is to happen post-Ebola, we must ensure that we learn from the experience of those women and that we listen to their voices. When you ask women what they want in Sierra Leone and, indeed, in many other places in Africa, they tell you that they do not want massive spending on tertiary hospitals but rather a focus on community and public health. They want girls to attend primary schools but they also want to see them enrolled in secondary and tertiary education because, although real advances have been made in primary education, girls are not advancing in secondary and tertiary education. Even as we advance the cause of primary education on that continent, we must take care not to forget secondary and tertiary education because African women want to be scientists too. They believe that the future of their continent and of Sierra Leone depends on the capacity of African women to become scientists and to take up roles in the health infrastructure. That involves training women nurses and doctors and training women to work in scientific laboratories. Strengthening the healthcare system demands the involvement and engagement of women.
We should not lose sight of that or of the fact that more than 60% of women in Sierra Leone are engaged in agriculture, which is key to the future of that economy and of Africa as a whole. My paternal grandmother—this innovative cassava and cocoa grower—knew the value of agricultural extension officers, who, interestingly enough, were more prevalent in colonial times than they are across Africa today. My grandmother knew the importance of research and development in agriculture. She knew the importance of being able to link, and her produce being linked, to global markets. We therefore have to make sure that we do not neglect agriculture, the role of women entrepreneurs and, importantly, thinking beyond subsistence to the creation of wealth and linking women to global markets.
We have an opportunity on this International Women’s Day to celebrate the achievements of the many great women who have gone before and those who work and are activists now—north, south, east and west and on all sides of the political spectrum. We have the opportunity to celebrate their work and to rededicate ourselves to a future that they are enabled to shape. We need to heed. It is not too late and the best may yet be to come.
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness for initiating this debate and perhaps continue the theme started by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin.
It has been 112 years since the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed. Eight years later came the first International Women’s Day. History—even familiar history—can be illuminating, so I looked up the Encyclopaedia Britannica for that year, 1911. It described a woman as meaning a wife, and women as,
“the wife division of the human race”.
We have come on a little since then but perhaps not as far as we would have liked. The “wife division” of the human race then was not economically empowered; nor did it have a right to vote or hold public office. It was also that year Sylvia Pankhurst—I share the view of my noble friend Lady Dean that Sylvia Pankhurst should have some recognition—founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes because she wanted a movement that included women from all backgrounds, especially those from working-class backgrounds, because they had the greatest need of emancipation. The suffragettes wanted to “Make it Happen”—which is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. However, apart from proving their worth as war workers, little happened for them until the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave propertied women aged over 30 the right to vote. We had to wait another 10 years before women over 21 achieved equality. I mention this because, in election year, we all have reason to remember those women and to honour their bravery and sacrifice by encouraging maximum use of the precious vote.
I am proud that my party will build on our record of women’s representation in this Parliament because we have more than 50% female candidates standing in our target seats, although there is always more to do. But we have to work hard to find ways in which to engage with the 9 million women who did not vote in the last election and to ask them to not give up on democratic politics. We know that women are worried about the cost of living, the NHS, exploitative zero-hours contracts and the future of their Sure Start, but we have to emphasise that voting is vital to those and other basic concerns.
In doing that, we must never of course forget our sisters who are not properly enfranchised still. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah declared that women will be able to vote and run in this year’s local elections for the very first time—although, sadly, they will not be able to drive to the polling stations. In Burma, where elections are expected later this year, it is unlikely that Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to stand for President, because the constitutional clause banning anyone with foreign partners or children will not be amended by the quasi-civilian Government. It is hard to see how the elections can be seen as credible and fair without reform of the eligibility clause.
While it was a step forward that President Thein Sein endorsed the Preventing Sexual Violence initiative last year, the military Government continue to stand by while the violence perpetrated by the Burmese army continues with impunity. The Women’s League of Burma and the UN special rapporteur have been documenting rape and sexual violence by the Burmese army for decades. There was one such case in January this year, when two young Kachin female teachers—Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin—were brutally raped and murdered in Shan State. They had been working in the village for about eight months as volunteer teachers for the Kachin Baptist Convention. The Burmese army arrived in the village two days before the murders, posted guards around it but then left shortly before the bodies were discovered. Burma Campaign UK, in which I declare an interest as a trustee, has called upon the British Government to implement provisions in their Preventing Sexual Violence initiative and dispatch a team of experts to Burma to investigate the case. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on why this has not happened. What are the criteria for making such a decision? The international community, including the UN, has repeatedly called on the Burmese Government to investigate such cases fully. They have repeatedly failed to do so. Those 20 year-old women had left the relative safety of their homes to teach children in an area of ethnic conflict.
In Burma, as elsewhere, there is an urgent need for education, not only for children but adults, if the demand for teachers, health workers and better living standards is to be met. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned, Kofi Annan has said that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women, and that empowerment must include access to education. Educating girls has enormous benefits for their families, communities and countries. The millennium development goal to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education has been nearly achieved in primary education but progress has stalled. The higher the level of education there is, the higher the prevalence of gender disparity, even for girls living in higher-income households. There are ways to make things better, such as making the school environment more conducive to girls by improving the sanitation facilities, making roads and transport safer, and having more female teachers as role models. It has been estimated that an extra year of primary schooling for girls increases their wages by up to 20%. Mothers with even a few years of education are more likely to send their children to school and have healthier babies with lower levels of child mortality.
The sustainable development goals to be finalised this year include inclusive and equitable quality education, and lifelong learning opportunities for all. I heard the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, asked the Minister about whether there will be a stand-alone goal. However, as Julia Gillard, the chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Australian Prime Minister has pointed out, aid to education has fallen by almost 10% since 2010, compared with just over 1% in overall development assistance worldwide. She calls for the sharp decline in global aid to education to be reversed and for there to be the political will to reprioritise education aid.
As part of that campaign, the charity A World at School has teamed up with campaigners all over the world to call for every girl and boy, wherever they are born, to have the chance to go to school and get a full education. Tomorrow, the A World at School youth ambassadors, Shazia and Kainat, the teenagers injured alongside Malala on their school bus in Pakistan, will share their courageous story and help launch the Stand #UpForSchool campaign to secure a future where every girl around the world is educated and empowered to reach their potential. As part of that campaign, there is a Throwback Thursday campaign, with which noble Lords can join in by posting an old school picture on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to promote girls’ education and get more people to sign the petition calling on all Governments to keep the promise made 15 years ago. With 31 million girls denied their right to education and more than 500 million girls dropping out before completing their basic education, there cannot be progress on economic empowerment until no child is left behind.
My Lords, we have heard much today about the crucial role that women play in our economy. More than 14 million are in full-time or part-time work, 1.4 million are self-employed, and there are now more women than ever on FTSE 100 boards. However, despite the progress made, there remain great challenges. To ensure that future generations of women are able to access the jobs that will power our economy and continue to improve their economic position, it is critical that our education system helps them develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. It is here that I declare my interest as director of New Schools Network.
It is no surprise that as girls’ academic achievements have grown, at both school and university, so their success in the job market has increased and their employment options have expanded. Last year again saw girls outperforming boys at GCSE in every mainstream subject except maths. At A-level, although the gap between them is much smaller, girls continue to outperform boys. While overall the picture of attainment is positive, women remain underrepresented in some subjects, particularly at A-level and then at university.
As noble Lords will know, at A-level boys are twice as likely as girls to study maths, three times as likely to study further maths and four times as likely to study physics. At degree level, fewer than a quarter of maths undergraduates are women, as are fewer than 20% of computer science undergraduates and just 16% of those studying engineering. Yet these are the very subjects that can open the door to some of our fastest-growing sectors, where many of the high-value jobs of the future are likely to lie. While women are well represented in many sectors of our economy, such as the service industries and across the public sector, it is important that they have access to jobs in other leading industries, such as the creative industries, pharmaceuticals and high-value manufacturing.
With education being such an important foundation for increasing women’s economic empowerment, it is little surprise that they have been an important driver for change and improvement in the system over the past few years. The opportunity to set up new schools has been enthusiastically seized by women around the country—by mothers who want a new option for their children in their community, and by teachers, who see them as a chance to raise standards in their area and ensure that all children have access to a good education.
Education is an area dominated by women. More than 70% of teachers are female. As in many sectors, however, they are underrepresented in leadership positions. The free school policy is providing a new opportunity for women to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and help shape educational provision in their area—women such as Charlotte Warner and Katy Parlett, who both have autistic children and have drawn on their own experiences to establish new special schools in London and Leeds. Another example is Sarah Counter, a determined head teacher who has set up Canary Wharf College, now an outstanding primary school, and is setting up a further two schools to offer high-quality education to young people in one of the poorest boroughs in the country. A group of mothers are setting up a primary school in Crystal Palace to help tackle the acute shortage of school places in the area.
As well as being a driving force behind their creation, we are seeing outstanding female leaders in many free schools, from Sasha Corcoran at Big Creative Academy to Angela Reynolds at Corby Technical School and Sue Attard at Hatfield Community Free School. Furthermore, we are seeing free schools set up with specialisms to help ensure that girls as well as boys have the skills desired by employers of the future. King’s College London and the University of Exeter have set up England’s first two specialist maths sixth forms. North Somerset Enterprise and Technical College is developing its curriculum with local employers to address the STEM skills gap in the area, while students at Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich have regular sessions with leaders from STEM-based industries and leading academics to gain a better understanding of the employment opportunities open to them.
In conclusion, as in so many fields, given a new opportunity, women are rising to the challenge. However, if we are to ensure that they continue to play a growing role in our economy, we have to start early—and that means ensuring that every young woman has access to a high-quality education that helps her develop the character, confidence and skills she needs to do whatever she wishes.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate women’s economic empowerment as it allows me to highlight the means to prevent so many women entering prison in this country. Economic empowerment of women who have been imprisoned, or are in danger of entering the criminal justice system, is key to their positive participation in society.
In January this year there were 3,807 women in prison in England and Wales. More than eight in 10 sentenced women entering prison had committed non-violent crimes. Most of these sentences were short. Around 60% of women entering custody each year have been sentenced to six months or less. In addition, in a 12-month period around 4,000 women will be sent to prison on remand. The majority of these women spend only around four weeks in custody. Yet any time spent in prison has a devastating effect on women’s lives, often resulting in the loss of their homes, employment and, most importantly, their children.
Financial concerns are a driver to women’s offending according to a Cabinet Office study which found that 28% of women’s crimes were financially motivated, compared with 20% of men’s. Not surprisingly, earlier research on mothers in custody found that 38% attributed offending to a need to support their children, single mothers being more likely to cite a lack of money as the cause of their offending than those who were married.
Theft and handling offences are the biggest single driver to custody for women. In 2013, theft from a shop accounted for more than a third of all custodial sentences given to women, with the average sentence length being 1.9 months. Between October and December 2013 more women entered prison on remand awaiting trial for this offence than for any other. Shoplifting was one of the few offences to increase in the 12 months to June 2014. I fear that with the increase in the number of those on benefit being sanctioned, some will have to turn increasingly to this form of petty crime. The Fawcett Society recently found that,
“particular groups of women … including single mothers, women facing sexual and domestic violence … are exceptionally vulnerable to sanctions through no fault of their own”.
Many women entering prison are in debt and imprisonment exacerbates their financial situation, making it difficult for them to access housing and benefits on release and to be reunited with their children. The Prison Reform Trust has recommended that the time limit for eligibility for housing benefit for sentenced prisoners be extended from 13 weeks to six months to prevent short-sentenced women from losing their homes.
A recent survey of women in HMP Holloway found that benefits were the main source of income for more than half of those surveyed, and 43% admitted that they were currently in debt. Women are more likely than men to have claimed out-of-work benefits prior to, and post, time in custody.
Employment outcomes for women leaving prison are three times worse than for men. Women were more likely than men to worry about housing debts, which is linked to the need for suitable housing prior to regaining custody of their children. Fewer women than men had bank accounts. More women than men said that they felt unsure about managing money. Fewer than one in five women interviewed were offered financial advice while in prison. According to the Prison Reform Trust in its recent and excellent report, Working It Out:
“Former offenders, both male and female, face a number of barriers to employment. A combination of factors including mental health problems, low self-esteem and educational gaps, as well as the legal requirement to declare unspent (and sometimes spent) convictions if asked by employers, can make it extremely difficult for people with a criminal conviction to find work”.
Women in the criminal justice system are disproportionately affected by mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency and lack of confidence. As my noble friend Lady Corston’s ground-breaking report of 2007 said:
“The chaotic lifestyles and backgrounds … disproportionate prevalence of learning disabilities and difficulties result in many women in the criminal justice system having very little employment experience or grasp of some very basic life skills”.
So of those women who are imprisoned, many, if not most, need substantial assistance to become job-ready on release. At the same time, the dual stigma of mental health need and offending history creates extra obstacles. The exclusion of prisoners with mental health problems from vocational rehabilitation, often on the basis that they are “not ready,” is another barrier, despite all the evidence that work promotes recovery from mental illness and desistence from crime.
For women in prison much greater emphasis on training for employment on release is needed. I welcome the Government’s announcement of a package of reforms for women in prison, including English and maths skills assessments on reception, assessments for special educational needs and the introduction of tailored learning plans to meet individual needs that offer a mix of life skills and formal educational skills. However, more needs to be done.
Greater use should be made of schemes for release on temporary licence to allow women assessed as low-risk and suitable for day release to gain the experience and skills that will aid their resettlement by taking up employment in the community, and to help rebuild links with children and other dependants.
Recent changes to ROTL have made it harder for women to access the scheme by insisting that they must have a job secured beforehand. Finding a job or voluntary work in the community while in prison is challenging, given lack of access to the internet, the high cost of phone calls and the inability to meet potential employers face to face. Also, the proposed closure of the only two open prisons for women could result in the loss of local partnerships with employers which have built up over the years. Employment, and the education and training that underpin it, is a vital pathway to reducing reoffending for women. As the Prison Reform Trust has said,
“more concerted action by both government and business would improve employment opportunities for women who have been in trouble”.
It is widely acknowledged that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside prison walls. Women’s centres, providing services and supervision to women on community orders, are ideally placed to support them to build the skills, training and confidence they need while maintaining community links. If women have jobs that enable them to find and keep hold of secure housing, look after their children and move away from abusive relationships, they are less likely to return to crime.
The reorganisation of probation services under Transforming Rehabilitation has led to a period of great uncertainty for many centres working with women subject to community orders or on licence from prison. Initially funded by central government and, more recently, by local probation trusts, funding from community rehabilitation companies is confirmed only until this March, when it will depend on commissioning decisions taken in each contract package area. Some CRCs are offering between three and six months’ extension on current contracts, but the uncertainty and short-term nature of such funding risks irrevocable damage to many services and loss of experienced staff. Understandably, there is growing concern that funding for such women’s centres is insecure. What assurances can the Minister give that women’s centres will receive adequate funding to ensure their continuation post March 2015?
Only by supporting vulnerable women to help themselves and their families can we begin to address the cycle of deprivation and reoffending that blights too many young lives.
My Lords, I wanted to speak in this debate not because I have especially great expertise on women’s issues, but because I think it is vital that we see men being proactive by standing up and speaking up. It is of concern to me that too few men take part in these important International Women’s Day debates.
The second thing I want to say is that women’s rights and equality issues should not be seen as the preserve of just one political party; it is the work and contribution of Members across this House that is important. Indeed, year after year all the Oral Questions on International Women’s Day have come from just one Bench. How refreshing it is that there has been a change this year. I thank my noble friend Lady Jolly for leading this debate and for her excellent opening comments, and I look forward to my noble friend Lady Garden’s closing remarks. I have learnt so much from listening to the debate, and I just wish that more people could hear the comments that Members have made.
International Women’s Day provides us with the opportunity to raise awareness, continue discourse and ultimately accelerate action on women’s economic empowerment in the UK and beyond. As the chief executive of UN Women said, we must,
“push for women’s economic empowerment alongside other priorities, because this is essential to ending poverty and advancing gender equality”.
A major priority must be education, and I believe that the universal provision of education will pave the way for women’s long-term economic empowerment by ensuring that every child gets the best possible start in life. If our ultimate objective is gender equality in business, we must focus on the education of our future business leaders. When we have an educated, literate citizenry, we will pave the way for effective and inclusive economic development.
But gender equality should not be seen as just a women’s issue. The World Bank’s research, Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment, found that improved economic opportunities for women led to better overall outcomes for families, societies and countries. Inclusive and sustainable economic development can be achieved through gender-equal educational provisions, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs across the board and long-term business networks for all.
Education has been defined as one of the top 10 priorities by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, and the ratio of female-to-male enrolment in secondary education is often a crucial indicator of gender equality across the world. Let me tell noble Lords of a real success story. Currently, DfID’s programmes in India support a range of human-related activities that have a positive impact on the lives of women and girls, including assistance with government education and health initiatives. For instance, helping girls to stay in secondary school as part of India’s Right to Education Act can push back the average age of marriage, increasing the potential for greater social entrepreneurship and allowing more young women to become beneficiaries of different social ventures. DfID’s investments have addressed, and continue to address, a variety of different issues that left unchallenged can often act to reinforce each other and affect sustainable development in the long term.
In the UK, economic development should reflect British values and be governed by freedom, democracy and inclusivity. Recent attempts by the Government Equalities Office have sought to step up efforts to attract qualified women to public positions, while ensuring that working practices and conditions are consistently family-friendly. So far, we have been able to help many women reach their potential in the workplace and enabled many businesses to get the full economic benefit of women’s skills, including through the work of the Women’s Business Council, Women on Boards and the Think, Act, Report programme. We have also made a concerted effort to ensure that women’s interests are always represented in government by regularly meeting women’s groups and campaigners and listening to women across the country. Furthermore, more than 4,500 grants have been paid out to those establishing new childcare businesses, with a further £2 million extension of the scheme for the rest of this year.
I am reassured by the progress that we have made so far, but even in the UK many women still lack access to adequate childcare provision, flexible working conditions and balanced career advice. It is encouraging to hear stories of women’s economic empowerment from around the world, and I hope that we can take inspiration from places as far afield as Cambodia and China, in which it has been shown that increasing adult female income by 10% of the average household income increased the years of schooling for girls and boys.
High pupil enrolment and attainment figures are, of course, promising. However, we need to continue to ensure that pupils who are enrolled in our education system can make informed decisions about their future, including the pursuit of STEM subjects from GCSE onwards. At A-level, there are currently almost twice as many boys taking maths as there are girls, and almost five times as many boys take A-level Physics. I find it incredibly worrying that the UK still has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe, and even more so that only 4% of engineering apprentices are women.
Some businesses and multinational companies should be commended for their efforts thus far to actively increase the number of women in science, technology and communications, and for their work in enabling young women to develop the necessary skills. Cisco Systems’ Global Education Initiative is an example of good practice that has been able to teach core subject skills to young women around the world in conjunction with the World Bank.
We need to make sure that the 2 million apprenticeships that this Government have created over the past four years are accessible to young women, and that young people from all backgrounds can benefit from the opportunities on offer. Ensuring that we have a diverse range of young apprentices in the UK will mean that we are better placed to compete with our European neighbours in the important fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, in addition to our impressive track record in the arts. We must ensure that the new national careers company effectively addresses the gender disparity in the uptake of STEM subjects and empowers young women to make informed decisions about their futures.
I believe that we have a great opportunity on this International Women’s Day to create real change and discuss the root causes of economic disempowerment. By linking together women’s economic empowerment and the role of education in youth, we can help women directly but also widen the talent pool in the future and with it the potential for market-related innovation. I thank noble Lords for their dedication to this subject, both nationally and internationally, and urge them to consider diversity in the future, primarily as a means of empowering women but also as a strategic business advantage.
Finally, I was interested to hear the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, and her remarks about women in the world of business, yet there are still huge areas of our society where women are absent and little progress has been made. Like the noble Baroness, I do not believe in enforcing targets, but I do believe in role models, action programmes and, perhaps most effectively, naming and shaming. Perhaps in her reply my noble friend might consider my suggestion that the Government from time to time publish lists of areas where very few women are represented.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on arranging this debate today, and I am pleased to be able to speak with many of my colleagues. I declare an interest as a board member of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, which is recognised for supporting emerging women leaders and taking their vision around the world. I am also a founding member of the 30% Club—a group of chairs and CEOs committed to better gender balance at all levels in their organisations through voluntary actions. Business leadership is key. This takes the issue beyond specialised diversity effort into mainstream talent. The 30% Club was launched in 2010 with an aspirational goal of 30% women on FTSE 100 boards by the end of 2015. It has become an international business-led approach with men and women working together.
Will the Minister and the Government condemn the action of the establishment running Yarl’s Wood? We are discussing women’s economic empowerment and how to achieve it. Women and children, who have come to the United Kingdom having fled to seek asylum and refugee status, are being treated abominably. They are treated like criminals and even worse, with no respect. Instead, the Government should be welcoming them and expediting applications so that these women and children can start to lead a normal life. I would like to see this as a priority by the Home Office and, if necessary, the Cabinet should be involved across all government departments.
In 2000, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was the first to specifically address the unique impact of conflict on women and women’s important contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. It marked a watershed moment, when the international community recognised the role of women and gender to peace and security. Following UNSCR 1325, subsequent resolutions further defined the importance of women’s roles in conflict and peace, recognising sexual violence as an issue of international peace and security and reiterating the need for a comprehensive response to sexual and gender-based violence. A further resolution in 2013—UNSCR 2122—aims to strengthen the measures to improve the participation of women in all phases of conflict resolution.
We know that women are key to peace. If women are not at the peace table, peace does not last for very long. A number of peace negotiations have lasted for only five years and then they fail. That is because there are no women at the peace table and no local women. Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Melanne Verveer are global leaders and have established an Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University. William Hague and Angelina Jolie Pitt encouraged and enabled the London School of Economics to establish a Centre for Women, Peace and Security in February of this year, and we very much hope that these global institutions will continue. We hope to see a further three around the world by the end of this year.
To ensure that peace agreements stay in place, it is very important that Britain should be a world leader. We already had an international conference last year on women’s security and sexual violence, and this year we had a global conference of faith leaders. It is important that we show the lead in this, not only with funding but in encouraging other countries to partner with us.
My Lords, like all noble Lords I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue of women’s economic empowerment. I agree with other noble Lords that much needs to be done to address gender inequalities: from the issue of the gender pay gap to the cost of childcare, which makes it prohibitive for some to seek employment; and from fewer girls taking STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—which would lead to higher paid jobs, to the lack of women on FTSE boards, despite there being enough women of seniority and talent available. I know that much has been done to address this, but we still have some way to go. There are also cultural issues preventing aspiration and discouraging women from achieving their full potential.
Of course, there are differences and degrees of gender inequality between countries. Indeed, between the developing and developed world there are extreme and pronounced differences. In fact, women in the developing world are at a serious disadvantage both in education and the labour market. There are many strands to the subject of the economic empowerment or disempowerment of women, and these issues are both national and international. The international issues are enormous and other noble Lords have spoken passionately about these—they need increased and persistent effort. As time is limited, however, I shall confine my remarks to the area of entrepreneurship within the national sphere.
The Institute for Public Policy Research has indicated that men across Europe are 90% more likely to be self-employed than women and that in every European country the rate of female self-employment lags behind the rate for males. The IPPR has also stated that, while the relatively high rates of women entrepreneurs in emerging and developing countries are due to a high level of necessity, in the developed world women are often motivated by other factors, such as maintaining a balance between work and caring for family. There is no doubt that in the UK significant strides have been made in recent years in addressing many of the issues faced by women, with the Government putting in place very many measures to help women into work and to start up businesses. However, we must explore every aspect of what it will take to create real gender equality and real economic empowerment for women.
First and foremost, we must kindle a sense of confidence in women, to make entrepreneurship an attractive career option. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2014, 1.4 million women were in self-employment in the UK—just under one-third of the total number employed. Although this number has increased by 34% it should be noted that the top three occupations for self-employed women were: first, cleaners and domestics; secondly, child minders and related; and, thirdly, hairdressers and barbers. While these activities are important, women have also a role to play in high-worth businesses. For this, we must continue to provide support such as mentoring as well as providing access to education and information and communication technologies.
Very importantly, there must be support in financial literacy along with access to finance. The report of the OECD, Enhancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship and Business Leadership in OECD Countries, found that women often have less experience when they start up a business and are also less likely than men to borrow money to finance their business. Although both women and men in OECD countries are likely to hold accounts with formal financial institutions, men are more likely to receive a loan from these institutions. Women also tend to raise a smaller amount of capital when it comes to financing business expansion. According to that report, there is also evidence that women are constrained in accessing equity and venture capital because of their weak representation in key networks.
These are just some of the issues. If the aim is to raise productivity, employment and economic growth nationally, then these concerns have to be addressed. It has been acknowledged that women play a crucial role in driving economic development throughout the world. Expanding our existing business development services to take into account those issues faced by women entrepreneurs would be a useful exercise. Industry-specific business training programmes for women, or other such initiatives, would go a long way towards encouraging more women into business and helping those already there to grow.
If we wish to close the gender gap and to create a diverse and inclusive society where individuals can attain success, then entrepreneurship and leadership for women can play a vital role towards achieving this aim.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for raising this debate during the week when we commemorate International Women’s Day. Sunday marks an international day of celebration and events that respect and appreciate women’s economic, political, and social achievements across the world. International Women’s Day was established in 1909; 105 years later, this year’s theme is “Make It Happen”, which for me is very appropriate. It strikes a chord as, putting it quite bluntly, for many women of colour over the years economic achievements have not happened.
With the indulgence of the House, I will explain further. Multicultural Britain can boast many different individual cultures and subcultures that define the term “woman”, as that term is not homogenous. To truly empower women and “make it happen”, all the integral parts that make up womanhood must show advancement so that progress benefits not only the few, but all women.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, and others who are further improving women’s economic empowerment by making the business and social case for increasing the representation of women on British boards. These are boards which oversee the activities of our top companies in the FTSE 100 through to the FTSE 350. Having raised the question in your Lordships’ House, I am delighted to say that talented black businesswomen are now getting the opportunity to share in this special social change.
I should like to share with noble Lords an event which shaped my view on the direction of travel of black women’s economic empowerment from a more pointed perspective. In doing so I am reminded of a quote from the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who said that those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it. I also recall that the economist Arthur Lewis encouraged entrepreneurship among women, saying that they would not flourish unless women were empowered and encouraged to be involved in business.
I quote these because of an experience I had. In the late 1970s I attended a conference on how to a start business. It was attended by more than 200 black people. The first speaker was an official from one of the leading banks. He opened his contribution by saying that he did not lend money to black people on principle. I leave noble Lords to imagine the consternation on the faces of those assembled women and men. It was a totally black audience. Being aware that banks are the lifeline for small businesses and enterprise, I had the temerity to stand up and ask what his principles were. He went on to cite that, to him, black people were not trustworthy, nor did they have any track record for establishing a line of credit. This made them a high risk and he was sure that we would agree that he should not be prepared to risk the bank’s money on those from the “coloured community”. There were up to seven principles but I will not bother noble Lords with them.
Enterprise in Britain was already happening among black women. The first generation of those who came found it impossible to find anyone in this country who could do their hair or have make-up to suit them. So they were doing it in their homes. As community relations officers, we thought it would be good to get them on to the high street and into proper businesses. That bank manager was lucky to leave the room alive. Having been part of establishing that conference, I was saying, “No! No! No!” throughout, because we really wanted to convert him. We wanted to instil in women that growth meant loans and here was a banker dishing out not money but a slap in the face.
In my role as patron of the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners, I am confident in sounding a positive note. The second generation of black women is breaking out of the stagnation which the whole community had to endure. Their pain and suffering are becoming heard and are fast disappearing. It is not quick enough for us, but it is happening. We now have women who are determined to make this a level playing field. It has meant challenges and hard work in order to disprove the claims levelled against them by that banker. What was sad was that the social burdens were deliberate, and were propagated by the media then, as today.
We are grateful that the Scarman report highlighted the needs of the black community. Today you will find black women involved in all sorts of businesses. I want to name just a few. Joy Nichols is the owner and chief executive of Joy Nichols & Associates. Kanya King is a businesswoman and entrepreneur in the music business. Cynthia Dyell opened a care home which, she always says, was on the advice of Mrs Thatcher. She now has four such homes. She is still having problems with local authorities but she carries on and says that the people she cares for decide to call her “Mother”. Yvonne Thompson is another entrepreneur and one of the founders of Choice FM. She has written a book about women on boards. The majority of people buying the book are white, and she is thriving.
The race relations Acts, effective equal opportunities policy, the formation of the British Caribbean Chamber of Commerce and borough councils were all involved in the growth of the second generation into economic development. When we now see a black woman, we do not believe that she would be stopped by the seven principles of that bank manager. The United Kingdom needs all sorts of people to contribute to it. Black women are contributing every day in all areas where the opportunity to do so is offered to them. The banker’s words were for me a seminal moment because I understood right there and then how powerful the negative impact of racism could be. I knew that the whole of the black community was struggling to start up businesses in this country. The first generation served, but the second generation had the advantage of education and was seeking to enter the world of entrepreneurship. If you are powerful and you are prejudiced, it is difficult not to exercise that prejudice, so we have forgiven the banker and hope that he will never say what he said again.
Miss Diane Abbott MP was at the forefront of the economic empowerment of black women in this country. She started an organisation which is still going today called Black Women Mean Business. She also encourages black businesswomen to encourage others. Yvonne Thompson CBE, who I have already mentioned, and her media company, ASAP Communications, are going from strength to strength. I have named these two women, but there are many more. Both of them would attest to the difficulties they faced and the barriers placed before them that were seemingly designed to prevent them and their contemporaries from achieving economic freedom. Diane Abbott’s organisation has provided much-needed support and guidance to black women who dared to want to enter into business. Dr Thompson has gone on to establish the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners, which supports and empowers black businesswomen by creating a dialogue both in the UK and across Europe. Latterly, the Prince’s Trust has also identified the challenges faced by minority groups in business and has attempted to bridge the gap.
In spite of the barriers to economic prosperity, black women in their droves have shown their resilience by finding alternative sources of funding for their businesses. They have maximised local, personal money-lending schemes known in the Caribbean as “pardners” and “sou-sous”. The most prominent among the business start-ups are to be found in the hair and beauty sector, as I have mentioned. It is now impossible to walk down a high street without seeing a black hairdressing salon that caters for Europeans as well. Hairdressers are able to ply their trade and thus to empower both themselves and the country they live in. We know that that bank manager would not be able to say what he said today because attitudes have changed—and we have laws to ensure that he does not.
We now know that the gatekeepers of economic opportunity have become more adroit in excluding those who are black, but we will continue to fight. I have a cautious optimism for the future. I recognise that more people in our society understand that the social and economic isolation of one community affects us all. Another note for optimism are the black women who are the leading lights of today. Those coming after them will have role models to follow. I would mention Heather Rabbatts CBE, a black woman who has the distinction of being the youngest ever chief executive of a local authority in the UK. She has risen to become the first woman to be a director on the board of the Football Association. In her slipstream and one to watch for the future is Karen Blackett OBE. She is the CEO of MediaCom, the UK’s largest media buying agency. This year she has become the first businesswoman to top the UK Powerlist. Karen is a product of the environment that Diane Abbott and Yvonne Thompson have helped to create. With Karen and many other young, determined businesswomen like her blooming in our community like redbuds in spring, I am reminded of a quote by Franklin D Roosevelt:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little”.
I wholeheartedly welcome the events that will celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day. However, let us together and as a society “make it happen”. We want to see the economic, social and political empowerment not only of white women, but of women from all communities in the UK today.
My Lords, I would like to put on the record at the outset my admiration for women and men all over the globe who by their bravery and hard work advance the cause of women and girls, particularly those who risk violence to do so. However, my comments today concern how women’s primary responsibility for bringing up children impacts negatively on their economic empowerment. I hope that noble lords will forgive me if my words start from a personal perspective.
A month ago, when the nominations for the Oscars were announced, there was an outcry that none of the nominees for best director was a woman. In the 87 years of the Academy Awards, out of the 429 nominations for best director, there have only ever been four women, so no surprise there, really. Only in the writer categories do women make a showing, but even there at less than 10%. Women make up less than 1% of sound nominees, there has only ever been one female nominee in the effects category, and for cinematography, none at all. And, as has been the case every year for the last decade, media outlets rang and professional associations set up urgent debates to discuss why.
But this year I was approached by a powerful blogger from LA who had written to every female director they were able to find and asked for an “anonymous” response. My response was to say that the authority and centrality implicit in the role of “the director” is something that is trained in to young men and out of young women, Even if they do make the leap and imagine themselves as film directors, and then advance through the bruising ups and downs of the critical perception of creative genius, box office acumen and adamantine self assurance, just at the point that it may pay off in terms of a stable and highly paid career, many—although clearly not all—become mothers. Being an artist at that level requires a selfish devotion to your art; being a primary carer requires selfless devotion to your charges. It is not an insuperable contradiction to brook at any individual moment, but over the length of an entire career, it defeats many.
Female directors rarely want to highlight their gender, and as it turned out I was the only person, across several continents, who responded to the blogger. The email I got back said, “Spot on analysis. It is hard to get people to talk about this even anonymously ... unless I get three other people responding ... I’m not going to run anything”. Nothing ran.
The rarefied world of the Oscar nominee is hardly the cutting edge of gender inequality. However, an Oscar nomination has an almost magical “multiplying effect” on the financial success of a film and the subsequent career of its director, which, in turn, makes it more likely that when we think of a film director, we think of a man.
Of course, this cycle plays out across many professions. Several years ago I was transfixed by a radio interview where a female politician was being pressed to explain why she was not running for party leader. The interviewer implied that she was failing in her duty to party and people. Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, the politician explained that she had three young children. Her husband was running in the same race, so presumably had the same three young children. Why did the interviewer not ask what cultural and structural changes the politician thought were necessary to enable women with young children to occupy high office? Why cast the woman as failing in her duty to public and party—why not question whether male politicians are routinely failing in their parenting duty? Why did the interviewer remain entirely silent on the fact that Messieurs Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg all had young children when they became party leader—as indeed did Ed Miliband, who was the eventual victor in that race?
As a result of taking on the unequal responsibilities of parenthood, women routinely occupy lower-status work than men, in all fields, with the inevitable downgrading of their economic prospects. On “Question Time” last month a Minister joyfully talked about parity of wages between men and women under 40. I was horrified that a Minister would consider parity of wages under 40 as a measure of victory for women at all. As others have already said, it is not at the beginning of their journey that women experience the most discrimination and difficulty, but as they become mothers. Data show that the gap gets exponential as careers progress, including that published by the Chartered Management Institute last year, which reported a 35% executive pay gap between the earnings of men and women over 40. Figures from the Office for National Statistics on all UK pay show that in their 20s women earn 1.1% more than men, but by their 50s they earn 18% less. As the ONS report said:
“This is likely to be connected with the fact that many women have children”.
To be clear, it is not because women are in a position to “choose” to be at home, in some sort of apple pie or yummy mummy fashion. Some 70% of women in the UK with dependent children are in the labour market, routinely taking lower paid or lower quality work in order to balance duties of parenting and earning a living. For the same reason, it is women who make up the vast majority of part-time workers. The ONS statistics on the UK labour market from February this year reported 6.14 million UK women and just over 2 million men working part time, with the inevitable blight on career progression and greater risk of poverty in old age.
All parts of the political spectrum express belief in gender equality and fairness, but then fail to account for the overall contribution to society, family and the economy by those who bring up the next generation. In failing to account for that contribution we continue to perpetuate a system in which women, who by fourfold are the primary carers, see the possibility of well rewarded or competitive employment recede as they struggle with the dual demands of work and parenthood.
I do not diminish in any way a man or woman who wishes and is able to choose to do full-time childcare. On the contrary, my point is that there is an unsustainable contradiction between our collective duty of care to the next generation, the burden on women as they disproportionately fulfil that duty and our desire for gender equality in public and economic life. Nor is this only a first-world issue. Four years ago I sat at the feet of an elderly woman in Karnataka in south India. She was desperately trying to persuade her 12 year-old granddaughter into sex work. Furious at the young girl’s resistance, she demanded of me, “What shall I do? I am old, my daughter is dead, my brother is disabled, there is rain coming in. How will we feed the children if she does not go to do this work?” How indeed? I had no answer.
The grandmother was not a bad person. The economic options available to her family group were limited to her granddaughter doing sex work. In her world view, she had a responsibility for her daughter’s children and was fulfilling that duty by sacrificing one child who, when she was gone, would be able to support the rest. The girl in question received help, at least in the short and medium term; but this scenario is repeated throughout the world. Estimates suggest that of 40 million sex workers globally, 80% are female. Three-quarters of them are aged 13 to 25 and many are pushed into sex work to support their families.
On every stratum, on every continent and in every context, the outcomes for women are distorted by the unequal responsibility for parenting. So unless and until we see the raising of children as a collective endeavour across gender, family, communities and nations, we will never achieve economic empowerment for women in any context. We will never be able to protect girls and women from sexual exploitation in communities where women do not have access to other forms of paid work. Unless and until we recognise that the unequal responsibility for children is a direct obstacle to women’s advancement and proactively take steps to redress the balance, not only in fragmented corporate and third sector initiatives but as a priority from the centre of government and all parts of civil society, we will never have enough female voices in the system to make the structural and cultural changes necessary to deliver the economic empowerment for women that is the subject of today’s debate.
My Lords, as we approach the 104th International Women’s Day this weekend, I, like so many other speakers, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for introducing this debate, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far women have progressed but also on how much more there is to achieve. There have been important strides towards greater equality and many of the opportunities that are taken for granted by young women today would scarcely have seemed possible for their grandmothers growing up in the last century. However, enormous issues of unfairness and inequality, most eloquently highlighted by my noble friend Lady Gould and others, are still there to be addressed, both here and around the world.
At the heart of my comments today is the belief that through achieving greater financial autonomy women are empowered. Education, improved literacy, decent work and an independent income give women the freedom to make choices, support their families and realise their potential. But women also need the role models, the aspiration and the confidence to take up these opportunities. This is crucial to the health of our society. One of the most effective ways to tackle childhood poverty is to support women into well paid work and, for a vibrant, innovative and successful economy, we need as many women in leadership roles as there are men. This is not opinion but fact, based on several close studies of the performance of mixed-gender teams.
Many speakers today have referred to the excellent work of my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and we can certainly celebrate the fact that in 2014 women made up 23% of board non-execs in the FTSE 100—close, if you like, to the 25% target set for this year. However, if you look at the FTSE 250, where women account for only 17.7% of board directorships, there is still work to be done. There are still 24 all-male boards and although that number is down from the 131 all-male boards that existed in 2011, we should certainly think about extending our targets to this sector. But the real problem we face is in the executive pipeline for women. Yes, more women than ever work—over 14 million in total—but only a small percentage are running their own businesses. Why? Because as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, has already said, women are half as likely as men to start their own firm, with the majority saying they do not feel they have the right skills or adequate access to capital.
In the workforce, three-quarters of chief executives and 69% of full-time directors are men. Those rates have not budged since 2003. Some 75% of female employees say that they face a glass ceiling, a career bottleneck and little opportunity for advancement. A recent US study showed that women entered their business careers with the wind in their sails, expecting to achieve the same career advancement as men, but over time lost confidence in their ability to contest managerial positions and simply stopped trying. This may be one reason why a particular article caught my eye in the New York Times. Did your Lordships know that there are more men called John than women running America’s largest companies? I kid you not.
Back in the UK, women on average earn 20% less than men. They bear the main burden of child-rearing and caring for elderly parents. But while, as we have heard, the pay gap has almost disappeared for young women working full-time, there is a much bigger pay gap for women in their 40s and older. This suggests that some employers are inflicting a “motherhood penalty”, as Claire Enders describes it in her Women at Work report. We have heard about this from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who will no doubt agree with me. Put bluntly, it appears that professional women of a certain age are simply sidelined. Next Wednesday we will have a opportunity to try to help close the gender pay gap by supporting an amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to ask larger businesses to publish differences between men’s and women’s pay.
There is also another factor at play for women—I call it an aspirational gap—with too few successful role models to learn and gain confidence from. This is also true globally, where more than 126 million women entrepreneurs were running businesses in 67 economies in 2012. While many of those businesses were small and started out of necessity, in every single economy women reported worse perceptions of their own abilities than men and a greater fear of failure, which means that support networks and mentoring are as important globally as they are in the UK, and on a par with access to seed funding.
I was fortunate to pursue my career in book publishing, an industry that pioneered promoting women to top positions. My generation felt that they did break through a glass ceiling, often propelled by the memory of growing up with their mothers’ thwarted ambitions. But recently publishing has been wondering why all the senior women who have retired or left the industry have been replaced by men. With women very well represented on boards and at divisional level, why are they no longer the CEOs?
Corporations have to consider what structural and cultural barriers are still preventing women from reaching the top and what training and help need to be put in place—beyond targets—to achieve a fair and dynamic spread of talents. When I became CEO in 1991, it was common for women to feign illness when a family matter interrupted work. But what better excuse than a child’s event at school? A meeting can be rescheduled, a childhood cannot. Businesses simply have to become more flexible, both practically and in terms of attitude, in order to benefit both parents. I have mentored several young women in the media. They were all stunningly gifted and ambitious but after the first 20 minutes of discussing their professional situation, the conversation always turned to work-life balance and how on earth they would cope. So it is right that we reflect on the availability of good childcare, company culture and lack of flexibility.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, I am influenced by Sheryl Sandberg, whose book Lean In I published in the UK exactly two years ago. Sheryl identifies aspiration and confidence as pivotal qualities for women and the extent to which sometimes women’s awareness of the career pitfalls ahead leads them unconsciously to limit their ambition. When I speak to young women in schools, confidence comes up time and again. These students are intelligent and feisty but the world of executive achievement is often as distant from their reality as a show they might watch on television. One initiative that has been beneficial to young women was pioneered at the Women of the World festival at the South Bank, which takes place again this weekend. We have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, how important this event is and how grateful we are that BBC “Woman’s Hour” is now recording it. The initiative is called speed mentoring, where young women discuss problems with their mentors in 10-minute intervals, to really astonishing success.
We also have to recognise that while some women are struggling to climb up the ladder, others are fighting to get on it at all. It is a particular problem for low-skilled women, where lack of confidence and education relegates them to low-paid work. The rising cost of childcare also prohibits them from working, even when work is available. For example, the cost of nursery places has gone up a staggering 30% since 2010. One important reason for low aspirations and lack of confidence is poor literacy. A woman who can read confidently can find a better job, keep records and complete a training course. She can help her children with their homework and learn how to protect her health. Whether in the UK or internationally, there is precious little opportunity to escape poverty without the ability to comprehend the written word.
As we heard earlier from the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, of the 781 million adults globally who cannot read, two-thirds are women. But an educated girl will contribute 90% of her income to her family, compared to 40% from men, and will be more likely to insist on her own daughter’s education. The charity Plan points out that one extra year of girls’ education boosts wages by 20% and, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, reduces infant mortality by the same amount. Yet global education on its own will not solve all women’s economic challenges. A UN report showed that unemployment rates among university-educated women in Turkey were three times higher than among similarly educated men; in Saudi Arabia, they were eight times higher. Education and literacy are crucial for women but they cannot compensate alone for discriminatory attitudes.
As we look forward to celebrating International Women’s Day, let us remember how much more there is to do in terms of both legislation and attitude. If we do, women will be a transformative force in the world. I will leave your Lordships with the words of 15 year- old Priya, speaking to the charity Plan, which powerfully express women’s potential. She says:
“Because I am a girl, every man in the corporate world puts a glass ceiling over my head. But because I am a girl, I have the power to shatter it”.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Baroness Jolly for introducing the debate so well and giving us the opportunity to hear some quite astonishing speeches.
I start by congratulating the five brave men who have spoken in the debate. What a pleasure it was to hear them. But sitting here, I have also been reflecting on what an astonishing collection of women we have heard from in the House today. These hugely high-achieving women have given us absolutely remarkable accounts of their thoughts and their lives. As I was listening to them, one thought suddenly came to me: let us suppose that instead of those of us who are here on these Benches, each one of us was replaced by our mother. How many of our mothers would have been able to have the opportunities to achieve the things that we have achieved? Yet it was their strength and their teaching that made us who we are.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak in this debate. It will surprise no one that I would like to talk about the role of education in women’s empowerment. It is on the quality and reach of its education that the prosperity of every nation depends. I am very proud to be the person who ran one of the first two access courses for women into higher education nearly 50 years ago back in the 1960s. We have come a long way, have we not, from those days? Now, it is taken for granted that women attend university in equal numbers to men and in some cases more so. In those days, it was a very small proportion, as the noble Baroness has already said: 6%, I think it was, back then.
There is much to celebrate in what is happening today. We have come a long way and a great deal has been accomplished in recent years. I would like to talk about some of that good news in a moment, but I pause for a moment to pay tribute to the many splendid women who have fought the good fight for women and girls to be properly educated in times past and on whose shoulders we now stand. Without their courage and determination, we would not have seen the huge contribution that women today bring to the economy, about which we have heard much today. First, I think of London in 1848, when the famous pair, Miss Beale and Miss Buss—names to conjure with—started the Queen’s College school for girls.
In higher education, my own British hero is Emily Davies, the doughty woman who fought the 19th-century prejudice and chauvinism of Cambridge University to found Girton College, my happy home as an undergraduate many years ago. Emily believed that the equality she sought could be achieved only if no concessions were made on the grounds of gender. The girls who came to her fledgling college were to be admitted on the same criteria as the men and to take the same examinations and within the same timescale. Time and again, she was offered compromise to the demanding standards which men at the university had to meet. Time and again, she said no: no lower entry requirements, no longer timescale to reach final, no watered-down easier examinations. I am on Emily Davies’s side. I strongly believe that offering concessions to women because they are women, whether through quotas, targets or distorted shortlists, is not equality, and it perpetuates the myth that women are second class and can achieve only if they are given special treatment.
Around the world, as we have been hearing today, the struggle for women’s education is still being fought. We have been humbled by the courage of Malala in Afghanistan, seeking the benefit of equal access to education for girls at huge personal cost, and inspired by the work of women like Sheikha Mozah and Sheikha Sheikha bint Saif, who have pioneered good education for the girls and women of the Middle East.
So where do we stand in Britain today, and what have the current coalition’s policies brought about for girls and women in education? There is good news to report. If women are to take their full part in the economy of the future, it is essential that more of them achieve in the hard subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and other noble Lords have mentioned the importance of these subjects. I am therefore particularly pleased to see the rise in the number of girls in the STEM subjects. Since the Government introduced the EBacc, the number of girls taking science and maths at A-level has increased by no less that 12%, and the number taking maths and the separate sciences of physics and chemistry has steadily increased year on year since 2010.
This good news is part of the hugely successful increase in the overall number of pupils taking maths and science subjects at A-level: an increase of 13% in maths, 21% in further maths, 16% in physics, 17% in biology, 6% in chemistry. More girls than ever are taking A-level chemistry and physics, while at GCSE the number of girls taking chemistry, for example, has almost doubled since 2009 from over 37,000 to over 63,000. That is indeed good news. We have much reason to thank the former Secretary of State Michael Gove for his insistence on a broad, balanced and rigorous curriculum, which has brought about this much needed change. The young women who have achieved in this new range of tough subjects will be well equipped to take their part in a world economy that depends so much on technology and its supporting sciences.
But it is not only in academic achievements that the Government have succeeded in bringing girls into success, for themselves and for the national economy. Our economy will depend just as much on those qualified through apprenticeships as on those who go on to university. The little-recognised success of this Government in this field is tremendous. Since 2009-10, the number of female apprenticeships has increased by a magnificent 70%. Within those numbers, those starting apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing has increased threefold. Here, my glass is half full. I rather think that my noble friend Lord Storey’s glass was half empty on these facts, but I rejoice in the good news that there is here. Indeed, it is particularly rewarding to note that in 2013-14, almost 53% of young people starting apprenticeships were female. I cannot adequately express the pleasure that I feel at this news. I feel immensely proud of the Government’s record in bringing real change in the ambitions and prospects of young women through apprenticeship training.
In the academic higher education route, the story is also encouraging. The number of UK women students entering universities here increased from more than 188,000 in 2010 to more than 197,000 in 2014, which is an increase of about 9,000. Adding the numbers from the rest of the EU and overseas, the number of women students entering British universities has increased by almost 20,000 since 2010. That is in spite of dire predictions that the increase in fees would drive down the number of women willing to pursue a university education.
It is also encouraging to look at the recent report on academic staff in universities by Amy Norton, senior HE policy adviser in the Higher Education Funding Council. Her report shows that women academics now make up almost 47% of full-time teaching and research staff. This has been increasing steadily in recent years, and has gone up to around 4,000 just in the last three years. At senior level, especially vice-chancellor level, however, the men still dominate. This is of particular sadness to me, as I was—I do not know whether I would say proud—pleased to be the first woman appointed executive vice-chancellor in the UK. I had hoped that after me the floodgates would open and there would be many more. It has not happened that way.
When we look at the place of women in the state school teaching force, however, we see that the picture is more mixed. At primary level, 81% of all primary teachers are female, and many carry leadership roles below the head. Of primary heads, 71% are female. At secondary level, the picture is much more stark. While 62% of all secondary teachers are female, only 32% of secondary heads are women. Women are still finding it difficult to scale the steep-sided pyramid. Perhaps the women of the future will right the imbalance that leaves so many talented and professionally skilled women who could contribute so much to the quality of our schools lacking the recognition that they should achieve.
In conclusion, I celebrate what this Government’s policies have achieved for girls and women in enabling and empowering them to take a full part in the economic future of this country. With more women skilled and fully equipped to play an even bigger role, I believe that the world of the future will be a better place.
My Lords, it is always a joy and a privilege to take part in this annual Women’s Day debate. It always goes off in marvellous and unpredictable directions. A by-product of today’s wonderful debate is a strong call for more memorial statues to women, including Sylvia Pankhurst. I underline my noble friend Lady Dean’s strong call for more recognition for the SOE women of the Second World War. I am delighted to report back to the House that after our debate on the SOE women some years ago, we managed to raise a statue to those women in Tempsford, near the airfield that they flew out of in their highly dangerous missions. Much thanks goes to Tazi Hussain, Tempsford Parish Council and His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who unveiled it last year.
Despite much progress outlined very effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, women’s equality in the world today is as stable as Madonna’s footwear at the O2 Arena last week. It is really not that gender equality is so much unfinished business; it is that the business has barely started to serve its worldwide customers. As my noble friend Lady Gould said, in December 2014, the highly respected World Economic Forum released its Global Gender Gap Report, showing that the UK had slipped from 18th to 26th in the world for gender equality. Perhaps the Minister, when she replies to the debate, could share with us what she thinks about these worrying conclusions.
Yes, of course there is the good news. As the World Bank review recently stated, women’s participation in the labour market globally has, since 1980, increased sharply over time, at each level of income, showing that more women are now engaged in economic activity outside the home than ever before. Indeed, here in the UK, in the last quarter of 2014, 68% of women aged 16 to 64 were in employment. As the ONS put it, that number was,
“the highest since comparable records began in 1971”.
However, much of this, according to the House of Lords Library, reflects the ongoing changes to the state pension age for women, resulting in fewer women retiring between the ages of 60 and 65.
There is also the bad news. Employment gaps globally between men and women continue to persist well into the 21st century, as the ILO has emphasised in its recent data on the subject. It stated that:
“Women continue to suffer from lower rates of employment, are less likely to participate in the labour force and face higher risks of vulnerable employment”.
In the UK, too, as well as large gaps in access to employment between men and women—according to the European Commission—there are also data from Unite the union showing that the gender pay gap between men and women in their 20s has doubled in the past three years and is on the rise between men and women in their 30s. This is becoming a youth problem.
On average, women are still earning just 81p for every male pound, despite the 46 years that have passed since the T&G women at Ford in Dagenham first went out on strike for equal pay and the 30 years that have passed since they finally achieved it. If we look at part-time working, taken up by 42% of all working women in the UK, we see that it is an area where women earn more than one-third less than their full-time equivalents. Does the Minister think that it is time that large companies were required by law to publish the average hourly pay of men and women in their workforce to expose this continued pay gap? Many of us in this House certainly do.
Our colleagues on the coalition Benches might say to me, “Why so gloomy? Look, for instance at the number of women starting their own businesses in this country”. Indeed, we have heard powerful testimony from my noble friend Lady Howells about the challenges for black women going into business on their own. Yes, the good news is that, in 2014, 1.4 million women were self-employed in the UK. Let us rejoice at that. In the past five years, the number of self-employed women has increased by 34%. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, has told us, the top three sectors for women going into self-employment are those golden oldies that we all know, and that do not have very much gold at the end of the rainbow: cleaning, childminding and hairdressing. These are, of course, important and necessary businesses, but businesses that have not traditionally made a big impression on the pay gap. What more can the Minister tell us about the Government’s plans to assist women both financially and in terms of training to expand opportunities for those women wishing to go into self-employment in this country?
Across the world, of course, the picture of women’s participation in entrepreneurship varies markedly. According to the 2012 figures by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the numbers range from 1% of women in Pakistan to more than 40% of women in Zambia who are engaged in entrepreneurship activity. Can the Minister tell the House what priority DfID gives to the encouragement of women into self-employment, globally?
The International Women’s Day theme this year is, as has been said, “Make It Happen”. For us, that must mean making it happen for the most vulnerable women in society. In the UK, according to the Resolution Foundation, one in four women are now earning less than the living wage; many of those are in the caring professions. Why has it not been possible for the Government to match Labour’s proposal to support families on low pay by raising the minimum wage to £8, which would not only give 3.9 million low-paid women a pay rise but make their place in the labour market far more stable? As a member of the rural task force that feeds into the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, I often engage with carers and managers. While the proposed introduction of the care certificate for newly appointed healthcare assistants and social care workers is to be welcomed, the issue of low pay in this caring sector, as has been pointed out by several noble Lords this afternoon, cannot be left to one side. Such staff in this sector provide some of the most personal and fundamental support for people with dementia—people who deserve the best possible care.
In conclusion, if we are to continue working towards women’s economic empowerment, both at home and abroad, the last thing this country needs is to come out of the European Union. Farage is a feminist issue. The EU is not only the UK’s largest economic market, but also the body that helped established standards for working men and women on their rights at work. Having worked, many years ago, with colleagues to bring about the 1992 maternity leave directive from Europe, I would not want to see women in the UK lose out on future rights at work through withdrawal from the European Union.
I hope Kathy Lette will forgive me if I steal one of her jokes to make a point. She said that no wife ever shot her husband while he was vacuuming the living room carpet. Be patient with me on this one, but because of our membership of the EU today we can say—perhaps less pithily—that no wife ever shot her husband while he was on paid paternity leave. In other words of course, progress has been made both nationally and internationally. We all recognise that in this House today. However, the work must be relentlessly pursued nationally and internationally.
My Lords, I suppose, on the arithmetic of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, I am the seventh of the brave men to have participated in this debate, and—looking at the speakers list—the last. It has been a very good debate, as indeed was the debate last year. If I may say so, I particularly enjoyed the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield. It made many important points. I declare an interest as the high steward of Cambridge University. Although some of the noble Baroness’s remarks related specifically to Oxford, they had resonance with me and the Cambridge experience. Incidentally, she made reference to the L’Oreal scholarships. I heard only this afternoon that the scholarships this year include a presentation to Dame Carol Robinson, professor of chemistry at Oxford University. She came out top of the poll on a Europe-wide judgment, not just in terms of the UK. That is excellent.
In 2003, a long time ago, there was the World Bank report on gender equality. I should just like to read its conclusion:
“Gender inequality, which remains pervasive worldwide, tends to lower the productivity of labor and the efficiency of labor allocation in households and the economy, intensifying the unequal distribution of resources. It also contributes to the non-monetary aspects of poverty—lack of security, opportunity and empowerment —that lower the quality of life for both men and women. While women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society, ultimately hindering development and poverty reduction”.
Well, here we are in 2015, being invited in this good debate to,
“take note of women’s economic empowerment and the progress in achieving it that has been made in the United Kingdom and internationally”.
We have heard a number of excellent examples of real progress. However, I want to strike a slightly different note. Progress has been made but, depending on how we measure it, there are still many very alarming signs.
In February, the Sunday Times covered an OECD report which highlighted one critical area for the United Kingdom and its comparison internationally. It makes gloomy reading. When it comes to the performance of girls in the UK in the sciences,
“we have one of the biggest gender gaps in the world”.
The OECD report identified that of the 67 countries measured by the internationally recognised PISA tests, the UK was in the bottom five, just above Colombia and equal with Costa Rica. PISA focused on the 13% difference in science between boys and girls in the UK, compared with an average 1% difference across the 67 countries. That raises the question, and other people have raised it, whether girls are inherently less competent in maths and science. That is a preposterous idea according to the OECD. Its report is adamant that there can be and is,
“no biological reason for girls to do badly”,
in science. Professor Brian Cox, whom we see on television frequently, was also reported by the Sunday Times as saying that girls are for the United Kingdom, science and the economy,
“a great reservoir of untapped talent”—
but why untapped?
The article quotes a lady who read engineering at Cambridge 35 years ago, when she was indeed one of the very few women reading engineering there. She apparently said in this report that she thought not much had changed. I am afraid that I must disagree with that. Certainly, engineering at Cambridge is an extraordinary story. It is now the largest department in the whole university. As many people know, it is led by Dame Ann Dowling, who is an outstanding engineer and very successful businesswoman. The numbers registering for engineering in Cambridge are quite decisive. The numbers of women now reading mechanical engineering have risen by 18% in the recent period and in electrical engineering by 27%. In both cases, these percentage increases are much greater than those recorded by men.
The House of Lords committee that recently reported on the UK’s digital future clarified the issues involved a lot further. That report is also alarming. The committee found that increasing the number of women working in information technology could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year—good for the UK, good for growth—but the facts are that less than 30% of this country’s IT workforce is female. Women make up only 6% of the engineering workforce, despite what I said about Cambridge, and only 15.5% of the STEM workforce. Then, there is an extraordinary statistic. Of the 4,000 students taking computer science at A-level, fewer than 100 are girls. Why is that?
The key conclusion seems to be that girls are disheartened because they see STEM occupations as male dominated—which of course they are. Another finding is that some feel that the subjects are boring compared with social studies, arts studies, history of art studies, education and design. If you read Country Life—in many ways a most excellent magazine—you will see that it features a full-page photograph each week of eligible young ladies soon to be married. They all have daunting names. However, if you read the small print under the glamorous photographs, it is striking that, overwhelmingly, those depicted above are described as having or studying for degrees in subjects such as art history, social studies or other soft subjects. I think Country Life has the wrong role models, though I was glad to see that in the current edition the lady concerned is apparently reading biology. That is something. Not only is Britain, and business in Britain, wasting a huge talent pool; so many individuals are denying themselves opportunities, intellectual fulfilment and, of course, superior financial rewards.
There is one further dimension, well expressed in this House of Lords digital report. If IT is our second industrial revolution, sadly, it will not replicate Britain’s commanding lead in the first. As one witness expressed it to the committee:
“The kind of innovation we are getting relies on the whole on young men with narrow engineering degrees thinking about the future … If we want a creative industry, we need a diverse workforce”.
Creativity, as we all know, is the key to a competitive future. Let us also recognise, while congratulating ourselves on some progress that has been made, that the greater involvement of women in the STEM industries is crucial to this country’s competitive survival and success.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for introducing this debate—and for the manner in which she did so. Today, it is appropriate to celebrate what has been achieved by previous generations of women, their courage and their persistence. Of course, much remains to be done and we have been reminded of that in the marvellous debate that we have had this afternoon.
One hundred years ago, women did not have the vote. It took campaigns and much suffering, including terms in prison, before that was eventually achieved. It pains me when I hear some young women say that they will not vote and to hear them oppose any form of political involvement. We should remind people that equal pay was achieved in law in this country by women’s organisations—and after the wonderful women employed by the Ford Motor Company came out on strike for it and eventually achieved it in law; although, of course, we have heard today that far too many women are still working in low-paid employment. We should be proud of the fact we live in a welfare society. Child benefit, maternity leave and other provisions have all been achieved as a result of campaigns mostly organised by women and their unions.
In this context, I recall a Member of this House who sadly died recently and was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, in her introduction: Baroness Platt of Writtle, who was the chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission at a time when I was a member. She was herself an engineer at a time when it was not thought a suitable occupation for women. She campaigned for what was known as the WISE campaign—Women into Science and Engineering—by the Equal Opportunities Commission. We had some success. We went around, talking to schools and to parents to try to persuade them that training in science and engineering was a suitable career for women. I must admit that, following the campaign that was introduced, women have emerged in science and in engineering in a way that would not have been possible without our campaign. A great deal was owed to the leadership we had from the Baroness Platt of Writtle.
There is another development that bothers me greatly and I feel I should refer to it: the recent disappearance of young girls—aged 15 and 16—to join the Islamists in Syria. The newspapers say that around 60 young women have made a similar trip. Do they realise what they are doing? The ideology that they are joining treats women not as individuals at all and as not entitled to any kind of human rights. The extremist culture involves FGM—female genital mutilation. Although we have made it against the law in this country, there still have not been any successful prosecutions. To oppose this extremist ideology is not to be in any way anti-Muslim. I know many Muslim women who are opposed to these inequalities and to this terrible kind of ideology. I am referring to an international committee which many Members of your Lordships’ House have supported from time to time. The committee concerned is mostly made up of refugees, mostly from Iran, and is led by a woman, Maryam Rajavi, who is based in France. The campaign is for equality. Again, you have to admire the women who, in a culture that is certainly not pro-women, are campaigning and continue to campaign for equality. I and others have supported them and continue to do so. It is right that on a day such as this we should say that these are the people we should support—the people who are in difficult circumstances but nevertheless struggle and campaign for equality.
Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for introducing this debate and all the women who have participated. We can all very well support what they have said to us. We say there should be more attention paid to women who need support. We have to press ahead with our campaign in the way that we have done —and we will continue to do so.
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend Lady Turner for standing in her place. As a Member of the House of Lords on 8 March 1999 and as the first woman, I believe, to call, very unfashionably, for a debate on International Women’s Day, I feel deep pride at taking part in this now well established honourable practice of celebrating women’s advancement to mark International Women’s Day.
I am speaking in the gap to make two points. First, if the definition of economic empowerment is the ability to make decisions and make things happen, then, despite much of the progress rightly noted by noble Lords, we have giant leaps yet to take. As some of the most powerful and respected women leaders present in your Lordships’ House will know, economic emancipation and opportunity remain far out of reach for the majority of Asian women lying at the wrong end of the statistics regarding employment, education and political participation. Too many minority women lack opportunities for mainstream lives and economic empowerment. I am truly impatient about the pace of change. How do the Government intend to bridge the gap between women and women of colour, as referred to by my noble friend Lady Howells, who after all are also citizens?
My second point is about violence against women. In many regions in the past 50 years, women’s status has improved markedly, but violence against women and girls remains a global phenomenon that historically has been, and indeed still is, hidden, ignored and accepted in many parts of the world. Child sexual abuse has remained a silent shame. Rape is often a matter of stigma for the victim rather than the perpetrator. Violence in the home is still considered domestic, despite being a crime. The full extent of the abuse of children within our own institutions and across our communities is slowly unfolding, while multiple, differing forms of violence around the world have become ever more difficult to counteract.
No magic wand will eliminate violence against women and girls, but evidence tells us that changes in attitudes and behaviours are possible, and can be achieved within less than a generation if we are certain in our determination to root it out. It requires many responses, but one is to provide adequate funding, including for refuges in the UK and globally, through our inter- national development funds, particularly to encourage Governments to support women raped in conflicts and wars, as the Bangladeshi Government are doing.
Violence against women and girls is not just another women’s issue; it is a public health and development matter of concern to all. Its elimination should be part of the post-2015 sustainable development goals, just as the elimination of apartheid was an important goal of the 1970s and 1980s for the world community.
I add my tribute to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to the work of Grameen and its impact on women’s economic empowerment. I also draw the attention of the House to the remarkable work of Sir Fazle Abed and BRAC—the largest NGO in the world, operating from Bangladesh in 69 countries—and its 43-year programme of economic empowerment of women in Bangladesh. It is an amazing example to the world and offers an effective model for the empowerment of women entrepreneurs.
The message today, on International Women’s Day 2015, is on “Empowering women”. I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on securing this important debate. Empowering women means giving them the practical tools to escape poverty and prejudice. Around the world, including here in Britain, a baby girl’s life chances are disadvantaged in comparison to her brother’s at almost every turn, and once she becomes a woman the disadvantage becomes entrenched.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, opened the debate by giving examples of how investing in women yields radically better results than investing in men. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, gave the example of how spending £1 on vulnerable women here in the UK saves £3.57 later on. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, quoted Kofi Annan on this point, who has said that there was no more effective tool in development than investment in women. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby quoted Goldman Sachs to show scientifically that investing in women benefits society economically. Indeed, the many noble Lords who spoke powerfully about the international development aspect of this debate, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Hussein-Ece, and my noble friends Lady Armstrong and Lord Boateng, all said that we must invest in women. It is fantastic that there is no disagreement; there is complete cross-party consensus that we must do that. From the government Minister to former Cabinet Ministers on both sides of this House to every Back-Bencher, everyone is agreed on the clear, indisputable fact that investing in women boosts the economy and benefits society.
I applaud those international development programmes funded by this Government, some of which the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, outlined, that invest in women. My question is: why do the Government disproportionately advantage women in their overseas programmes yet disproportionately disadvantage women in their domestic programmes? There is an avalanche of data showing that the coalition Government are doing domestically exactly what they decry internationally. Instead of following the common-sense strategy of putting money into women’s pockets, which everyone here, including government Ministers, has supported, the Government have systematically taken money out of women’s pockets. Independent research from the House of Commons Library shows that, over the course of this Parliament, a staggering 85% of cash raised from tax and benefits changes has come straight from women’s pockets, a figure that was quoted by the right reverend Prelate. Eighty-five per cent is a truly staggering figure. That is not all: according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, the group hardest hit by the coalition Government’s choices are families with children.
Sadly, the Government’s choices are not delivering women’s economic empowerment; quite the opposite, they are not benefiting women and children. The Government’s own figures show that, for example, in terms of some of its reform policies and benefits, two-thirds of those hit by the bedroom tax are women. It is easy to go on. The majority of those on zero-hours contracts, which the Government refuse to ban, are women. The majority of those earning the minimum wage are women. While Labour will increase that minimum wage to £8 per hour, the Government will not. The Government will not listen to their own advice on increasing women’s incomes, and the Government package this ongoing wealth transfer away from women as benefits reform, deregulation, cutting red tape, liberalising the labour market or value for money. The point is that either the Government do not undertake gender impact assessments or they ignore them.
So here are five key changes the Government could make immediately that would transform women’s lives. First, close the gender gap, increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour and ban exploitative zero-hours contracts. Secondly, improve maternity and paternity provision and provide affordable childcare, because, as Ministers will be aware, under this Government childcare costs have increased by 30%. Thirdly, do far more to protect women from violence, most often sexual violence. Again, the facts are shocking: despite a rise in reported rapes, prosecutions for rape are down by 14%. Fourthly, give women the power to challenge discrimination. Face facts: since the Government introduced tribunal fees—and this is one of the saddest statistics of all—claims for sex discrimination have fallen by 91%. It is not possible to put a price on justice and not realise that that price will be paid, and here it is clearly being paid by women. Fifthly, empower the next generation: stop channelling girls into low-paid work. So much of this is bound up with cultural barriers, as illustrated by the noble Baronesses, Lady Greenfield, Lady Brady, Lady Rebuck, Lady Perry, Lady Kidron, Lady Mobarik and Lady Crawley, among others. I am sorry I cannot mention every single Peer in this debate—although I am doing my best. Also, my noble friends Lady Howells and Lady Uddin raised the point of the obstacles facing BAME women.
What everyone is saying is “Give girls and women a level playing field”, and this theme was taken up by IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. The IMF is not known for its bleeding-heart liberalism. Christine Lagarde says that nations should remove laws that prevent women from working in order to increase the female labour supply and boost economies. She says:
“In too many countries, too many legal restrictions conspire against women to be economically active. In a world in search of growth”—
and that is our holy grail, as we all want growth—
“women will help find it, if they face a level playing field instead of an insidious conspiracy”.
Here in the UK we do not have an insidious conspiracy; we have insidious complacency. This brings me to our very own gender pay gap. I will focus the majority of my remarks on this subject, not because it is the single most important subject, but it is the single most important issue we are debating today that will be up for a vote in this House next week. I hope your Lordships will understand why I focus my remarks in this area.
I want to highlight the campaign begun by Harriet Harman and Gloria De Piero and taken up magnificently by the women’s magazine Grazia on pay transparency and closing the pay gap. Since Grazia launched this campaign, it has heard from countless women who are paid less simply because of their gender. One told how she managed to create a department at an ad agency. Looking at the salary information, she was staggered to see an obvious wage differential between the male and the female employees. Another woman described her horror at discovering that the man who was employed to take over on her maternity leave was paid more than her. When she confronted her boss about this, she was told that the man—who, incidentally, was less qualified than her—was paid more because he had to support his family.
Ellie, 36 years old, a former investment banker, discovered she was getting paid £5,000 less than a male colleague only when he let this slip himself. Ellie says:
“We were identical in performance, age, level, experience, everything. Even he supposed we were paid the same ... I confronted my boss, but he warned me that pay was confidential and couldn’t be discussed. I’d already been given a higher offer by a rival bank, so I offered my resignation there and then”.
Asha, 55, ex-director of an investment bank, long suspected her pay was not keeping up with that of her male colleagues, but she could not get her bosses to admit the difference, let alone begin to redress the balance.
“They would insist I was at the top of my pay grade, and tell me to keep it up, but despite working harder and longer than my male counterparts, my pay plateaued”.
It took her £60,000 and 16 months to reach an out-of-court settlement with her former employer. That is time and money most women just do not have.
Those are the women, the 91% drop, who cannot bring these claims any more, so women’s ability to achieve economic empowerment is being cut away from under them. That is why transparency is the answer—and, incidentally, a very cheap answer. I understand why Members on the Benches opposite probably do not agree with our view, in the Official Opposition, that we should increase the minimum wage to £8 per hour. I understand; it is a different world view—fine. However, pay transparency does not cost anything, and it really is unforgivable not to bring it in. As Asha, the ex-director of the investment bank who got the money back by taking legal action, said:
“Why would turkeys vote for Christmas? Transparency has to be legally enforced, with repercussions for not doing so”.
Possibly my favourite example is Shannon, 25, who works in advertising, and whose end-of-year bonus was a £100 Liberty voucher. Guess what her male equivalent got in the same job as an end-of-year bonus. He did not get a £100 Liberty voucher—he got £2,000 hard cash. Those examples of blatant pay discrimination are going on right now, today, this hour, this minute, in Britain, and we have a way to remedy them.
I will mention only one more example—there are so many others. Donna, 38, was a PR director from Yorkshire. She explained:
“I landed a job at a PR firm in London. After a year I was promoted to account manager and at this point they employed another account manager to work alongside me, with the same amount of experience. The only difference? He was a bloke. I was stunned when over lunch he told me”,
he was earning over 30% more than her. Donna approached her bosses for a rise but still did not get enough to match her male colleague’s salary. She says—and I would really like noble Lords to understand the implication of this—
“I know I could have sued for sex discrimination, but I didn’t want to rock the boat so early in my career. All I wanted was to be paid fairly”.
That is the point. Women are not asking for charity. They are just asking not to be blatantly, systematically discriminated against just because they are women.
Therefore I ask the government Benches opposite: what are they going to do to deliver the pay transparency that would help all those women and hundreds of thousands like them up and down the country? When the amendment on pay transparency comes up next week, so ably championed by my noble friend Lady Thornton and others in this House, including my noble friend Lady Crawley, whom will they side with? Will they side with Donna, Asha, Shannon and Ellie, who have been discriminated against just because they are women, or will they side—as they are currently saying they will—with the employers who refuse to pay them the same just because they are women? It is a simple choice.
I make no apology for getting quite angry about this. It is a scandal. What is more, it is a scandal that the Government could right, and do so fairly easily. We are the people who have a voice in Parliament; Donna, Asha, Shannon and Ellie do not have a voice here. As my noble friends Lady Crawley and Lady Dean said, we have that voice and we need to make that change. The vote is next Wednesday; the amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill would implement Section 78 of the Equality Act 2010, which enables the Government to make regulations requiring companies employing 250 people or more to publish information on the differences in pay between men and women. Granted, that is the very beginning—it would not help women who work in smaller companies, some of whose cases I just mentioned—but it is a start.
It is 44 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed, and here we have clear evidence that the law is being broken, day in, day out, to the detriment not just of women but, by the Government’s own logic, of our economy as well. How much longer do we want to wait? I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who said that we should be proud of the progress we have made—and we have made incredible progress. I remember that when I think of my grandmother, who was the auntie of Uncle Ted, as I call my noble friend Lord Graham—he is my mum’s first cousin. His auntie and my gran—being one and the same woman—worked in a cigarette factory. Jenny left school at 13 and worked in a cigarette factory. Do noble Lords know what her job was? It was picking cigarettes off the conveyor belt at intervals and dragging on them to check whether they were dragging properly—literally, the definition of a dead-end job.
I know that we have made progress and I am grateful for everything that the Labour Party has done in this regard—it has been predominantly the Labour Party which has done this—but the Government have done some things here and there as well. I admit that I cannot think of any off the top of my head, but the Government will have done some things because, to be fair, all of us in this House think that the instances of clear pay discrimination that I have just described are unacceptable.
On this issue, I appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, who described her family’s extraordinary heritage in championing women’s rights. The noble Baroness’s grandparents would surely have been dismayed to see such blatant sex discrimination going unchecked. Perhaps the noble Baroness could champion this issue. I appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, who surely has the clout—I know that she has the decency—to get the Government to make this simple change. The noble Baroness said that our job is to make life much better for other women. I appeal to the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, who said that our job is to give women the tools. This is the point; pay transparency is just a tool. It is not even a case of giving women any money, but it is giving them a tool. It is not charity and it is not expensive. Surely, those on the government Benches have a teeny bit of influence in this area—a smidgen, a soupçon, a crumb. Not a single Member opposite can consider that what is going on is acceptable.
In summary, I ask the Minister only two questions. I do not expect her to answer the first, but I would be sincerely grateful if she would answer the second. First, how can it be right to push money into women’s pockets overseas but take money out of women’s pockets at home? Secondly, will the Minister agree to lobby the Government to make a concession and support pay transparency next week in this House? It is clear that women’s economic empowerment is intertwined with their social, psychological, physical and cultural empowerment. I am sorry that I have not commented on all the fantastic speeches that touched on the cultural and educational aspects that we need to improve. Those speeches show that you cannot disentangle economic empowerment and place it neatly in a box. The least that we could do is empower women and pay them the same as we pay men.
My Lords, the debates in the House of Lords for International Women’s Day are always outstanding, and this has been no exception.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said, it has gone off in wonderful directions. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady King, said that there was clear agreement on much that was mentioned in the debate, although she then seemed to go off in another direction.
I am delighted to attempt to respond to contributions which have covered a very wide range of topics and themes from both men and women. Any hope of ending gender inequality will be achieved only with the active involvement of men. The noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, my noble friend Lord Storey and others spoke of men as being the agents of change for gender equality. At the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the UN will mark the HeForShe campaign.
My personal experience mirrors that of some other speakers. My noble friend Lady Perry spoke of our mothers being on these Benches. I was reminded that my mother achieved a first at Cambridge in the 1930s, but never became a graduate. It was not until 1948 that Cambridge accepted that its women students were members of the university and awarded them degrees. What is more, she had to resign from the Civil Service as soon as she married.
I was at Oxford in the 1960s when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, said, only 6% to 7% of people went to university, and at Oxbridge there were seven times as many places for men as for women. This was a feature of the single-sex college set-up. Our university careers office advised women who might get married that teaching or secretarial work would be sound futures to consider. For me, who married an RAF officer, that was definitely not a route to economic empowerment, but I have never for one moment regretted my marriage. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, said, we were the wife division of the human race. Astonishingly, no one suggested that we might aspire to be a football club CEO. My noble friend Lady Brady has chosen a challenging career in which her talents and hard work have led to great achievement, and she has totally ignored glass ceilings, quotas and targets. These days, equal numbers of men and women go to university, and no careers office would last long offering women the narrow set of options that we were offered.
Looking to education, many doors have been opened but there are still barriers to be overcome. I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate and the church for all that it does in education in this country. How exciting it was to have in this House the Bill on women bishops, which is going to fast-track women on to the Bishops’ Benches. I am not sure how far the role brings economic empowerment, but I am sure that spiritual empowerment should be equally valuable.
Too many girls feel that their career options are limited because of stereotypes about jobs being more suitable for boys or girls. We heard that from my noble friends Lady Mobarik, Lord Storey, Lady Perry and Lady Evans, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield. This can start from a very young age. In an experiment in the United States, primary school children were asked to draw pictures of a scientist before and after a visit to a lab. In the “before” drawings none of the boys and only 36% of the girls depicted a scientist as a female. In the “after” drawings, although, interestingly, still none of the boys depicted a scientist as female, for girls there was a 58% increase in female scientist representation. There is much research showing that aspirations are indeed formed at a relatively young age, and that gendered influences in particular begin very early. A recent Ofsted report found that girls as young as seven and eight thought of conventionally stereotypical jobs for men and women. This is one reason why it is so important that we get careers advice and people from business and the outside world into schools for the very earliest ages.
Expanding the apprenticeship programme and improving careers advice help to open the eyes of young women to options and aspirations that they may not have considered—or, if they did, considered them inaccessible. We have heard of the programmes to raise girls’ aspirations, and to encourage them to study STEM subjects and pursue careers in science and engineering. I am glad to hear that my noble friend Lady Perry’s glass was half full, and to hear my noble friend Lord Watson affirm that girls are not biologically wired not to be able to do maths and science. The noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, spoke with great expertise and wisdom on STEM subjects, and I join her and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in recalling Lady Platt and all she did for WISE—Women into Science and Engineering—a fantastic programme that continues to help young women.
Compared to 2010, a thousand more girls are studying physics at A-level every year and two thousand more are studying maths, but they are still too few. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, said, we need to open up the thrill of science to get more young people engaged in the excitement of it. There have been 1,260 new science-based apprenticeships since 2010. Again, we are getting there but they are too few. The STEM Ambassadors programme is a network of 28,000 volunteers, of whom 47% are women, who work with women to encourage science uptake. Organisations such as Athena SWAN do excellent work in trying to encourage this, too.
The Government are setting up a new employer-led careers and enterprise company to support greater engagement between employers, schools and colleges. As my noble friends Lady Brady and Lady Brinton pointed out, it is important to change the culture of the workplace. We have just launched Your Daughter’s Future, an online guide to help parents support their daughters through qualification and career choices. We are working with the media to tackle gender stereotypes and improve diversity of representation. I also salute, with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, “Woman’s Hour” and other programmes that have, over the years, helped to empower and educate women, and encouraged them to take up interests much wider than they have found at home.
Even in the field of education, women are less likely to be in positions of authority, as head teachers, principals, professors or vice-chancellors. My noble friend Lady Bottomley lamented the shortage of women vice-chancellors. The latest data show that 20% of vice-chancellors are female. That, my friends, is up from 17% two years ago. So there we are; there has been meteoric improvement. We believe that sector should go much further to seek out and harness the diverse talent available. HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is continuing its active programme to try to identify senior managers from more diverse groups. In the world of work more generally, women’s strengths and skills remain an untapped resource.
I turn to employment and enterprise. We have been berated about the measurement which showed that the UK had plummeted down the gender gap ladder to number 26. That was based on a particular set of measures. It does not represent the gender pay gap as it stands in the UK. That is now at 19.1%, the lowest level ever, and the pay gap has been virtually eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40.
Does the Minister, however, accept, from some of the examples I just gave, that there are many unreported instances of the pay gap—including those brought to light by campaigns such as that of Grazia magazine—where it appears that professional women are quite often earning 30% less than their male counterparts?
I agree that there are cases of that in women’s earnings, and that women are still bearing the greater responsibility for children, the home and the care of sick and elderly relatives. However, we are encouraging much greater transparency in the reporting of pay. I will not be lured into pre-empting my noble friend the Minister next week, when the amendment on transparency of pay comes up. Rest assured, however, that the Government have done a great deal and have taken practical measures to ensure equal opportunity, whether it be in Parliament, among judges and editors, or on boards. However, as the right reverend Prelate also said, women very often take jobs below their qualification level, which is another feature of the lower pay that women may receive. Very often it is part-time pay, which is one of the factors that influenced the OECD measurement—it was factoring in part-time pay as if it was full-time pay.
My noble friend Lady Jenkin has spoken of the Women2Win initiative and the initiatives of all political parties to encourage more women and ethnic minorities into the political field. It is particularly important that the other place is fully representative of the country. It is, in fact, the most diverse Parliament ever. Women represent 22.8% of current MPs. That is up from 19.5% in 2010. With the efforts of all parties to promote women and to mentor and help them into Parliament, we can hope only that the next election will see even more women coming into Parliament.
We set ourselves an ambitious aspiration that by the end of Parliament at least half of all new appointees made to the boards of public bodies will be women. We are getting there. From April to September 2014, the percentage of public appointments given to women across all departments increased from 37% to 44%. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Rebuck, and my noble friends Lady Brady and Lady Bottomley, all talked about the FTSE 100. The percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has been climbing steadily. Women now account for around 23% of FTSE 100 directors and over 17.4% of FTSE 250 board directors. The numbers, therefore, are going up: they are still small but we are seeing progress. Furthermore, the Women’s Business Council, in its recent report, has made recommendations to both the Government and the business community. Those recommendations are being implemented and will go some way, we hope, to promoting better equality.
We have seen some progress in the City of London, the financial hub of the country. Last year only the second woman in over 800 years became Lord Mayor of London. Dame Fiona Woolf brought distinction to the post as she travelled around the country, and the world, promoting UK plc and, indeed, women’s contribution to the world of work. The other key historic roles within the Corporation of London are those of the two sheriffs, where only five women have held office since the 12th century, three of them within the last five years. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has just become one of the few women aldermen in the City. So the pace is quickening.
Staying with the City, key to education and training for work have been the livery companies. There are now 110 of them, some dating back to the medieval guilds. Over all the centuries, the number of lady masters, of whom I have been one and my noble friend Lady Byford another, has been just over 100.
My noble friend Lady Mobarik spoke of the importance of enterprise. Indeed, there is enormous potential in women’s untapped entrepreneurialism. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, who has been a champion in this area, reminded us of the contribution of black women in business. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, mentioned this too. Indeed, we recently held a summit for black and minority ethnic women entrepreneurs, chaired by my noble friend Lady Verma, a successful entrepreneur herself, which highlighted the immense achievements of the community but also some of the challenges that it still faces. We shall continue to support and encourage the talents of BAME women.
Nevertheless, we can celebrate the fact there are now more women-led businesses than ever before: 20% of small and medium-sized enterprises are run either by women or by a team that is more than 50% female. These women contribute around £82 billion gross value added to the UK economy. The Government are supporting them in myriad ways, for instance by providing £1.6 million to support rural women’s businesses, by providing £1 million to the women and broadband challenge fund to help women move their businesses online, and by investing £1.9 million in the Get Mentoring project.
The amount of time that women spent on care came up in a number of contributions. Carers are the unsung heroes of society. We are helping them to combine their caring responsibilities with work. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and others referred to these essential workers’ low pay, but we have just begun a £1.5 million project to help local businesses support more carers to work remotely from home through the use of assisted technology.
We have done a great deal for women in this coalition Government. We have lifted 1.1 million of the lowest-paid workers out of income tax altogether, more than half of whom are women. We have also increased child tax credits for low to middle-income families. We have introduced shared parental leave and the right to request flexible working. To tackle the concern that parents have about their children getting the right start, we have invested a record £7.5 billion pupil premium in education to help the poorest children get the boost they need.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, had thought-provoking words on the impact of motherhood on careers, especially within the arts. We all noted her concern about the lack of women in such specialisms as film directing. Given how well the UK does in the creative fields, it would be good to see women represented across those fields too.
The cost of childcare was also mentioned. We now have tax-free childcare supporting childcare costs for working families. That can be worth up to £2,000 per child per year, to be introduced in autumn 2015.
A number of noble Lords mentioned violence against women. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, linked it to homelessness. We acknowledge that women facing violence need support to rebuild their lives and to become economically independent. The Government have announced a £10 million fund to support women’s refuges in 100 areas across England. I also note her comments on joining up the services so that people do not fall through gaps between different forms of support services. We have ring-fenced nearly £40 million of funding for specialist support services and brought in legislation for tougher enforcement. This includes laws to combat stalking, to enforce the protection of girls from female genital mutilation and to make forced marriage a crime in this country. As we seek to combat the oldest of challenges, so we are acting to tackle the new ones and treating the online abuse of women and girls as robustly as offline abuse.
I turn to the international dimension of this debate, on which we had a great many contributions. I apologise if I may not be able to refer to them all. My noble friend Lady Brinton and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, mentioned Grameen Bank, which has reversed conventional banking practice; 97% of its customers are women. It is doing great work to enable and empower women to go into business. On microfinance, access to finance for women is a core priority for DfID. We have exceeded one of the departmental results targets, access for 18 million women by 2015, with 27 million accessing finance in 2014. DfID’s programmes for microfinance around the world have a focus on savings, especially for women in rural areas. As a number of noble Lords have said, it makes all the difference in the world, particularly in underdeveloped countries, if women are enabled to go into business.
On fuel and water poverty, which my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece and the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, mentioned, my noble friend Lady Northover and other DfID Ministers have led an 18-month campaign on clean energy access for girls and women. We support programmes to improve technology and to increase access to affordable and clean energy sources.
The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, also mentioned how Ebola affects women more, because it is women who care. DfID is indeed supporting two local NGOs in Sierra Leone through Womankind Worldwide and Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace, specifically to address the Ebola impact on girls. I note his remark that men tend not to listen to women until it is too late. I hope we will make sure that it is not too late.
A number of noble Lords mentioned social norms and culture, including the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, relayed just how transformative her VSO experience had been in Kenya, finding a completely different culture and way of life. One of my daughters went off to Lesotho for a year after she graduated and found it an absolutely transformative experience 20 years ago in a land where the need and level of living was so completely different from anything in the UK and the developed world. My noble friend Lady Bottomley also spoke powerfully of the difference between women in the UK and women in other parts of the world. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the work of Christian Aid, which has such importance and has had such an impact on underdeveloped countries. My noble friend Lady Jenkin referred to family planning, proper maternity care and health for women. That, of course, can have an enormous impact on women’s lives in these countries.
We have put women and girls at the centre of our development efforts. We should be proud that last week we passed a Bill to put into legislation a target of spending on overseas aid of at least 0.7% of national income. We hope that our efforts will enable women to exercise voice, choice and control, which are critical to ending poverty and building freer and fairer societies. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, spoke of the challenge of sex work.
I am running out of time. I apologise but I cannot give way as I have only a couple of minutes and want to finish quickly.
We hope that putting more work and effort into businesses for young women will help them to avoid going into sex work. The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, mentioned the Stand Up for Girls campaign, which has been so important.
I will touch on one or two other issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, spoke about women offenders, which is an enormously important area. I am afraid that I cannot possibly do justice to it now, but the Government are mindful that we need to have more financial information within prisons and more support when women come out of prison. It is on the radar and we just hope that we will see improvements. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, mentioned Yarl’s Wood. I assure her that steps are certainly being taken to ensure that those vulnerable women are treated with the due care and consideration that they deserve, often having come here with some absolutely hideous experiences in other countries. It is perhaps notable that the noble Baronesses, Lady Rebuck and Lady Brinton, my noble friend Lady Brady and others spoke of the importance of instilling confidence in women. Even this generation of young women do not seem to have the confidence of their male counterparts. It is important to encourage girls to do things, as my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece said, and to instil in them that there is nothing they cannot do if they really set their minds to it.
I apologise that I am out of time and have missed answering some of the issues that were raised, but I shall write to noble Lords on issues to which I have not had the chance to respond. I would like to note that many older women were trail-blazers in their time, and I acknowledge, if I may, with due deference in your Lordships’ House, that such people as the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Trumpington, both hit through glass ceilings in their time in ways that we of our generation can only begin to imagine.
I hope that I have made clear the Government’s determination to everything in our power to transform the rights and opportunities available to women and girls in the UK and overseas. This has been a most insightful, stimulating and informative debate, which will play its part in driving forward the gender equality that we all need to see. It will benefit women, families, communities and nations. I thank very sincerely all noble Lords who have taken part.
Transport: Accident Prevention
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the House will be aware that, every year in London, there are several cyclist fatalities involving HGVs and that these accidents often occur at relatively low speeds. These are extremely distressing incidents for all concerned, not least because of the gross disparity in vulnerability. I have been first on the scene on one occasion and witnessed a near miss on another.
My noble friend the Minister, his department and Transport for London take these accidents very seriously. When one occurs, TfL does not just place another appropriately coloured sticker on the map. It takes it very personally and understands the effect on the families, friends and all concerned. The House will also recognise that, for every fatality, there are also numerous serious and life-changing injuries.
The Metropolitan Police should be investigating each fatal accident carefully and dispassionately. However, it is not clear to me why, on one occasion, it was appropriate for the highways engineers at TfL to be interviewed under police caution. It would be helpful if the Minister could write to me to help me understand the logic of that police action.
While the Department for Transport has been a bit slow in consulting on some obvious and desirable changes to the construction and use regulations, TfL has made imaginative use of a traffic regulation order concerning mirrors and sideguards. I expect that other noble Lords will cover this point. However, mirrors work only if drivers invariably use them and if cyclists do not enter the truck’s blind spot or danger areas in an inadvisable way. We could alter the technical requirements for the cab of an HGV but these are quite properly determined at European level. Designs are predicated on the needs of operators using national roads and not for the peculiar problems of London.
Last week, I attended the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety—CLOCS— conference at ExCeL. We saw some of the technological developments in better cab design, sensor technology and how freight operator recognition scheme operators can reduce risks. I am sure that all noble Lords will applaud the efforts of all those involved in the CLOCS programme.
Can my noble friend the Minister explain why the CPC regime for HGV drivers does not include a mandatory road safety objective? Furthermore, at present, a work-related, road traffic accident fatality is not reportable under RIDDOR. There does not even seem to be a need for a risk assessment for work-related driving. Why not?
While all these points and policies are helpful and interesting, they are not predicated on meeting a target of zero. By that I mean that, in some years, no cyclists in London will be killed by an HGV, irrespective of fault.
My understanding is that, despite claims to the contrary, none of the sensor systems developed thus far is good enough to be mandated. That is how I was briefed when I was in the Minister’s position and I do not think that it has changed. However, we could make the problem orders of magnitude simpler if cycles were to be fitted with transducers for truck-mounted equipment to detect. I want to emphasise that I am not applying parliamentary pressure to adopt any particular technology, nor have I been stimulated by any outside organisation. I have proposed a system whereby one or more infrared transmitters are fitted to the relevant truck. The cycle has a transducer mounted on it which retransmits the IR signal radio frequency back to the truck. This is known as a tag-and-beacon system, and a very similar system has already been marketed which uses RFID. These systems do have the difficulty that the cycles would have to be fitted with a tag, which could be a problem, but that has to be balanced against the technical advantages. It would be necessary to fit only certain types of high- risk HGVs, in particular construction vehicles. My understanding is that the concept would work, but the difficulty is in its implementation.
I understand that in the past three years more than 20 new companies have been set up selling HGV blind spot safety technology. The technology they offer ranges from simple electromagnetic and ultrasonic sensing devices to sophisticated camera monitoring systems, radio frequency identification, short-range radar and infrared. We should applaud their work. The sales pitches of these companies make ambitious claims about being “the solution to the problem”, but static tests and live vehicle trials reveal why it is very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to make these claims themselves. During my researches this week, I have come to realise to my horror that there is no specification in terms of functional and performance criteria for what the equipment and technology must achieve in order to be mandated. This is clearly a role for the DfT since we cannot have large metropolitan authorities each having their own systems and standards. I have to ask my noble friend the Minister what he is doing about this.
Products said to be designed to save lives should be independently evaluated and compared. The operators of HGVs would then have all the facts they need to make informed choices and know that the safety equipment they are investing in offers value for money and is effective. I am sad to say that this is not the case. Unlike every other safety device in the workplace, those being sold to HGV operators do not have to meet stringent performance criteria or undergo rigorous testing. A robust and consistent process needs to be established independently to evaluate HGV safety products against the functional and performance criteria set. Does the Minister agree that his department, and not TfL, should ensure that there is an assessment and approval organisation and mechanism in place?
This is not regulation for regulation’s sake. Not only will it help HGV operators now, it will also steer the technological developments of the future so that more lives can be saved, and not just for this specific type of accident. I am passionate about road safety and I believe that we should be going for zero for this type of accident. I will happily engage with all concerned both inside and outside the House. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for initiating this debate because it is a terribly important subject. We have regular debates both in the House and in Grand Committee on the minor detail of the various bits of legislation under which people use the roads, and often Ministers say in their responses that basically it is all too difficult. All the legislation going back almost 100 years needs to be reviewed. That is not going to happen quickly, so let us get on with what we can do.
I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. Like everyone else, the club is very interested in this subject. I suppose we should start with the problem, which is that lorries and cyclists do not mix, and we are trying to find solutions to that. I want to talk about a number of those. The most obvious one is more space. We have a lot to learn from some continental cities, not only in terms of the space that has been provided for whatever reason—demand from cyclists, political will or whatever—but in the design of our cities. We are making progress here. The Mayor of London is going ahead with the east-west highway, which is a segregated route. I think it is absolutely wonderful and have welcomed it for a long time. If we cannot have segregation—and cyclists feel much happier if they are properly segregated—then we need space with suitable white lines that are not transgressed by other vehicles. There are particular problems at junctions, as we have seen in London. It is very easy just to talk about London, but the problems are just as bad in other cities. In fact, there may be fewer people cycling in other cities, but there are also fewer facilities. Certainly, when I go to some other cities with my bike, I sometimes feel a lot more frightened than I do in London.
Another issue of course is the trucks. We are focusing in particular on construction industry trucks, which is the right thing to do; but we must not forget the logistics industry. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, so I get involved in quite a lot of it. Big lorries in the middle of towns are necessary for delivering freight, unless there is some kind of logistics transfer point at the edges at which the freight can be transferred into smaller vehicles. In some places it is proposed that freight is taken round by smaller vans, or bicycles. Obviously, this cannot be done for construction traffic.
Here we come to the issue of enforcement, which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned. First, it is a pity that more people do not obey the law. Cyclists have been infamous for going through red lights, sadly. It is good that the trend is reducing in London, perhaps because there are more cyclists; perhaps it is due to peer pressure. I am pleased that PCSOs have now been allowed to stop cyclists—I have seen them doing it and have talked to them—if they go through a red light or the stop lines. It is ironic that they are not allowed to fine vehicle drivers in the way that they can fine cyclists for doing it, because it is a different regulation. What is good for cyclists surely should be good for vehicles. I have seen PCSOs talk to car drivers and it is obvious that some of them would like to have these other powers.
Another issue is the reduction in traffic police. CTC has produced figures that show that the number of road traffic police has reduced to a third of what it was in 2005. That is a very major reduction in enforcement and I suspect that many road users probably reckon that they can get away with more than they could then. There is a strong argument for having a separate traffic police force, though that is probably a slightly separate argument.
On enforcement, there is a further example of a man who ran over and killed a cyclist in 2009. He had been disqualified from driving as a teenager; he was breathalysed when the accident occurred; and he was also talking on his mobile phone. One of the possible solutions to this issue came up when we were debating the then Infrastructure Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned it briefly—namely, the question of why we do not use the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and RIDDOR in the roads sector. I put down an amendment to that Bill suggesting that since the Office of Rail Regulation was going to be responsible for monitoring the costs of the new strategic highways company, as it does for the railways—it should also be able to enforce cost reductions, as it is required to for the railways, which is another subject—it should be responsible for road safety, as it is for the railways. Let us not forget that 2,000 people are killed on the roads in this country every year and one on the railways.
It comes back to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act: people should be responsible for their own actions. If these people are employed—as in the example I have just given of the accident in London—why is nobody taking action against the companies that employ them? They are not doing what they should be doing to ensure that their employees are behaving and complying with the law. There is an awful lot more that could be done there. It is a massive subject but if you think about everybody driving—whether pedestrians and cyclists come into it, we can debate—being responsible for your own safety as far as is reasonably practical would make many road users think twice before doing some of the very stupid things that they do at the moment.
I will say one last thing about the technology. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned the idea of fitting transponders or something to cyclists. It sounds attractive in the first instance but there are questions to be asked, such as, if they did not work, who would be guilty? Would there be too much information in the cab for the driver of the lorry to be able to appreciate it all? Would it be a defence, if the cyclist did not have one of these transponders, that it would be all right to run him over? That is a bit of an extreme example. I hope that the Minister will tell us a bit more about what research the Government are doing to look into all these things, finding out what is going on on the continent and elsewhere, because something needs to be done but I think it would probably be better if it was led by the Government as a major contribution to safety. Then we would be able to move forward on all the various other issues that, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested, could reduce the number of cyclists killed in this country—not just London—to zero.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this important debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Attlee for initiating it. It was also a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who is a transport expert like my noble friend. I am not a transport expert and I am not a cyclist—I think a combination of laziness and fear has prevented me. I am afraid I will probably concentrate on London, as that is my experience.
I was first sensitised to the issue we are discussing today as a local councillor in the 1990s in the London Borough of Islington, when I was aware of two fatalities in my area. As a Member of the European Parliament, I got involved particularly in supporting the See Me Save Me campaign, which was started by the Cairns family after Eilidh Cairns was killed in Notting Hill.
The death statistics are indeed terrible. I think there are about 14 fatalities of cyclists a year in London. Heavy goods vehicles represent only about one in 20 of the vehicles on the roads but are responsible for 55% of the fatalities. There are clearly some cowboy HGV drivers and employers but I feel that others are let down by the poor design of cabs and the lack of warning equipment leading to these fatal lorry blind spots.
The basic design of HGVs can and must play a significant role in reducing cycling fatalities and serious injuries, and I think there are three issues. The first is better design of cabs, allowing greater visibility to see cyclists and other road users. That can be done by lowering the cab, placing the driver in the middle of the cab, using more glass and improved mirrors. Secondly, there could be some kind of warning equipment. My noble friend talked about the possibility of equipment. I tried to follow the technical aspects of what he said, but it was about some kind of RFID on a bike. My experience has been more learning a bit about sensors on a lorry to warn the driver. But I take the point—I think that Transport for London makes the point, too—that there are so many different schemes, it is very difficult to assess their value. TfL is doing a study to try to get an evaluation of them. The third issue, which I will come back to in a second, is side guards on construction lorries.
I very much welcome the agreement recently achieved at EU level on a new directive on the weights and dimensions of lorries. That should deliver life-saving changes to lorry design, improving the direct vision under the front windscreen and minimising the risk of overrun and damage in the event of collision by replacing the blunt front with a more elongated and rounded one and an expanded glazed area with mirrors and cameras. Are the Government committed to the follow-up work from this directive? As I understand it, the talk is of a type-approval directive with a rather long timescale—longer than the European Parliament wanted—of about seven years. Are the Government committed to seeing the directive into law and to a mandatory requirement for HGVs to carry these safety features? Last year, in conjunction with some other politicians, I wrote to the Minister’s colleague Mr Stephen Hammond. It was slightly unclear in the reply whether there was that commitment from the Government. I would like to know whether there is a formal position of the Department for Transport on the prospect of a type-approval directive. I think that we do need to get HGVs fit for the 21st century.
As I said, TfL has commissioned a study to develop an independent testing method for vehicle safety technology. My noble friend Lord Attlee talked about the national role for the Department for Transport. I am sure that that is right, eventually; but in the mean time, it is good that TfL is doing some work on this.
I mentioned side guards, as others have. We know that among the HGVs involved in fatal collisions, construction lorries—tipper lorries, skip loaders and so on—are disproportionately represented. They are apparently exempt under the 1986 regulations because they claim to be vehicles designed and constructed for special purposes where it is not possible for practical reasons to fit side guards. TfL does not regard these vehicles as special purpose. Only in very special circumstances are they going on to such terrain where side guards would help stop people being pulled under the wheels of the lorry. The question is whether they really do need to travel around London without safeguards. I think that we are all a bit disappointed that the Department for Transport has been slow in launching its consultation on removing those exemptions from construction vehicles. Can the Minister give me a date when the consultation will be launched and a promise that it will be expedited and wide in scope, in the sense of reducing, as far as possible, any exemption?
While we wait for European and national action, I am pleased that the Mayor of London, Transport for London and London Councils have agreed on a London-wide ban on lorries not fitted with safety equipment to protect cyclists and pedestrians coming into London. I think that the Safer Lorry Scheme will be launched in September, once warning signs and so on are in place. All roads in Greater London, except motorways, will be covered by this scheme. It will require vehicles of more than three and a half tonnes to be fitted with side guards to protect cyclists and class V and class VI mirrors—I confess that I do not actually know what those are—to give drivers a better view of cyclists and pedestrians around their vehicle. I saw recently that Sir Peter Hendy, the boss of Transport for London, has indicated his willingness to mandate cycle-friendly HGVs on all contracts. It has been operating on the Crossrail contract, but it sounds as though he is interested in widening that procurement role.
I conclude with some points that are unrelated to lorry design or equipment. I very much welcome, as does my colleague Caroline Pidgeon on the London Assembly, the superhighways for cycle lanes in London. I have also been asked to find out, going outside London, when the Department for Transport will empower local authorities to enforce moving traffic offences, such as stopping in box junctions and driving in cycle lanes. Apparently, some foot-dragging appears to be going on there. I must stop now. I look forward to answers from the Minister.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Attlee on securing this debate. Perhaps I may say once again in your Lordships’ Chamber how much your Lordships appreciated the noble Earl’s spokesmanship for the Department for Transport, which he discharged not only with courtesy but with tremendous efficiency and knowledge. I listened to his speech and agreed with what he said. I do not have the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, or my noble friend Lady Ludford, but my contribution is based on being a parent of a 20 year-old daughter who cycles regularly from home in Dulwich to work in Battersea and to visit her parents in Kensington. Each time she does that, particularly at night, my heart is literally in my mouth. Therefore, I have taken an interest in security for cyclists in London. Frankly, every life lost is probably a life that could have been saved and is avoidable. Some of the ideas that my noble friend Lord Attlee has mentioned need to be pursued with great vigour.
I compliment the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on what I call “the cycling revolution”. It has some penalties and downsides to it but we must congratulate him and a bank whose name I will not mention on the initiative in terms of the growth of cycling in London. One sees while travelling to and from your Lordships’ House in the morning and in the evening how many cyclists there are. However, I am an advocate of greater discipline among some of the cyclists. Whether changes come through legislation or clearer direction remains to be seen, but I often see cyclists in central London without proper lights, headgear or yellow jackets to identify them. I have heard the comments of many taxi drivers in central London who are concerned about the behaviour of some cyclists. It is not just that they go through red lights, as many of your Lordships will have witnessed, but it is sometimes difficult to see them and there is also concern about their ability to see other traffic. I am in favour of certain compulsions on cyclists, certainly in the metropolis.
I turn to an excellent campaign article provided by the research department in the House of Lords. I again compliment it on the publications it has reviewed and the documents it has produced for your Lordships for this debate. The national cycling charity’s December 2014 briefing states:
“In London specifically, where HGVs make up around 3.5% of traffic, almost half of the 44 cyclist fatalities between 2011-13 (inclusive) were as a result of a collision with a lorry. Of these 21, ten involved a collision with a left-turning lorry”.
The statistics are horrifying just in that brief period of time. I very much compliment the charity for drawing this to our attention.
What is the solution? I find myself very much in agreement with my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who I think referred to known black spots. Work needs to be done on improving visibility at certain known black spots. That is the responsibility of Transport for London and the Mayor of London. Whether it means widening the road or giving clear indications to both cyclists and traffic—heavy good vehicles in particular—depends on the precise location but work needs to be prioritised at these known black spots.
I welcome the cyclists’ designated area along the Embankment, but the implications for road traffic, let alone buses and heavy goods vehicles, remain to be properly analysed. Certainly, creating that space will better protect many cyclists heading for the City and work. In passing, I just mention the joint work that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I tried to undertake—we failed—to get more heavy goods vehicles off the road by taking freight from Felixstowe on to the railway. Much of that traffic comes into and crosses central London to go west or south.
Concrete and tipper lorries seem to be the culprits in many of the incidents that have been referred to. They in particular need a mandatory warning system in the cab. That needs to be complemented by appropriate precautions regarding cyclists. I am not familiar with all the technology but my noble friend Lord Attlee reminded me that up to 20 companies are already interested in the technology to be either installed in the heavy goods vehicles or applied to the cycle. I am not a technologist and do not understand the technical complications but there ought to be renewed enthusiasm and effort here by the Department for Transport, which is best placed to judge the right technology. If necessary, focus within the department, working with Transport for London and other transport authorities around the country in our bigger cities and conurbations, could identify what is the sensible technology to put in the cab and on the bicycle. I am not in any way competent to comment on the technology and I suspect that my noble friend Lord Attlee would not claim to have that knowledge. Someone in the department or some individuals in the department will certainly have that knowledge. Mandatory assessment and approval by the department and recommendations to the industry about what should be applied is much to be desired. I hope very much that the Department for Transport will take up that challenge.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for this timely debate, coming as it does during RoSPA’s family week. I declare an interest as a vice-president of RoSPA.
My interest in safety began while working on the factory floor. My passion for cycling, sadly now dormant, predated that; I was part of a great bunch of lads with the unlikely name of “The Eager Beavers”. With them I cycled every weekend come rain or shine. Our single claim to fame was to have cycled from Birmingham to Abergavenny and back in one day. Its connection to this debate is that I was stopped on the way back, just half a mile from my home, by a policeman who told me that my front light was not working and that I would have to push the bike the rest of the way.
For many years we never had an accident on what seemed at the time to be car and lorry-free roads. It is not now as it hath been of yore. Every year in Great Britain, around 100 cyclists are killed, 3,000 are seriously injured and 16,000 are slightly injured in reported road accidents. Lorries present a particular danger to cyclists. Although cyclists are less likely to be involved in a collision with an HGV than with a car, they are more likely to be killed or seriously injured in any collisions that do occur.
Between 2009 and 2013, HGVs were involved in 23% of cyclist deaths, despite comprising only 5% of the traffic. A disproportionate number of female cyclists are involved in collisions with HGVs. HGVs present a particular danger to cyclists when they are turning left: 55% of cases where cyclists were seriously injured by HGVs larger than 7.5 tonnes in London occurred when the driver turned left across the path of the cyclist.
So what is being done about this problem? There are many good developments, and many solutions are being developed, especially in London, by Transport for London, the Met and individual companies that use large vehicles. Of course, very significant effort and resources are being put into producing a safer road environment for cyclists, especially in London but also in many towns and cities across the country.
Vehicle technology is also advancing rapidly and will help to significantly reduce road crashes and casualties. HGVs are increasingly being fitted with sensors and cameras that warn the driver if a cyclist is to their nearside. This type of technology will certainly help, although in the case of cameras it still requires the driver to check the screen as well as the mirror. Sensors can often give an audible warning, but may pick up pedestrians on the pavement.
Many of the companies who enter RoSPA’s managing occupational road risk—MORR—awards are making good, innovative use of technology to reduce the risk created by large vehicles.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has given us an example of the sort of technology that is being developed to minimise cyclists’ vulnerability. Another example is a new collision-avoidance system that was presented to RoSPA’s national safety committee in October by Professor David Cebon of Cambridge University. The system uses sensors to detect the presence of a cyclist on the HGV’s near side, and software that predicts the path of the speed of the cyclist and the HGV. If it predicts that the HGV is going to hit the cyclist when it turns, it automatically applies the HGV’s brakes to bring it to a stop. According to Professor Cebon, an analysis of 19 fatal accidents involving a cyclist and a left-turning HGV concluded that 15 of these would have been completely avoided, and three would have been less severe, using the new system.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, makes a very good point about the lack of performance requirements for HGV blind-spot technology, although perhaps it would be better to put these into a standard rather than directly into regulation, at least until the point is reached where they could become mandatory in a European directive. The regulation would then require products to meet the standard. As technology develops, it would be easier to update a standard than a regulation. This should also apply to the transducer device fitted to bicycles if, of course, that particular technology is progressed.
What more can be done? We could adopt the Vision Zero approach recommended by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which principally means attempting to prevent crashes from happening in the first place and reducing the impact of those that do to a level low enough for those involved to survive without serious injury. Another would be to include a mandatory road safety objective in the certificate of professional competence—CPC—regime for large vehicle operators and drivers. Another would be a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of the CPC directive, specifically of the effectiveness of both the initial qualification and periodic refresher training requirements for large vehicle drivers.
As the noble Earl suggested, making work-related road traffic accident fatalities and injuries reportable under RIDDOR is a must. Of course, with so much varied development under way, it would be very useful for the Government to review and co-ordinate all these developments to identify the best examples and then push them forward, including proposing any necessary legislative changes in the European Community.
My Lords, I welcome the debate that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has tabled. I declare that I sit on the board of Transport for London, which is listed in my interests on the register. I also chair the surface transport panel and sit on the safety, sustainability and accessibility panel, where these very tragic circumstances are discussed, as well as being reported and debated at the main board.
Being a board member has been an eye-opener in terms of the rules and regulations that govern this area. It would be easy to assume that it might be slightly simpler, but it is with a heavy heart that I hear of any tragedy on the road. As a very slow recreational cyclist when a member of Cleveland Wheelers, but also when I was wheelchair racing, most of my training was done on the roads. Two friends of mine have been killed on the roads by cars, not in the UK, and a number of friends have been injured cycling, my husband included. Perhaps very fortunately, he ended up with a spinal cord injury rather than being another of the number of fatalities.
I have been hit twice on the road while training at T-junctions when I had the right of way. I was able to recognise that the driver was not looking correctly, took evasive action and was left with nothing more than a few bruises and a couple of black eyes, but it is very shocking when it happens to you and it makes you think very carefully about everything else that is on the road.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is right about peer pressure. I have seen a change in London in the past year or so with the increased number of cyclists: when somebody jumps a light, other cyclists shout and tell them to be more careful.
In London, heavy goods vehicles are overrepresented in fatal collisions with cyclists and pedestrians. Between 2008 and 2013, 55% of all pedal cycle fatalities involved an HGV. In 2013, 20% of pedestrian fatalities involved an HGV. I would like to see more direct action to improve the safety of the most vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, but support is needed.
There are many issues, many of which have been most ably covered by other noble Lords in the Chamber. The first for me, though, is that some HGVs, which are overrepresented in fatalities, are exempt from basic safety features. The requirement for HGV side guards under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 does not apply to certain vehicles,
“designed and constructed for special purposes”.
Should there really be vehicles that have this special-purpose designation? Older HGVs, so pre-2007, are also exempt from close proximity class V and VI safety mirrors designed to address vehicle blind spots. In September 2015, the Safer Lorry Scheme will come into force in London. This will require HGVs registered after 1983 and driven in London to have side and class V and VI mirrors fitted.
I agree with noble Lords who say that the DfT has been a bit slow in its proposal to consult on removing side-guard exemptions for certain HGVs. Their planned consultation will cover only HGVs first registered after 2010. The proposal is also expected to consult on the retrofitting of class V and VI mirrors to all HGVs first registered from 2000. Will the Minister consider whether the consultation should seek public and industry opinion on retrofitting these safety features to vehicles registered from 1983?
Many operators are investing in vehicle safety technology and camera systems, but it is an emerging market, and an awful lot more could be done. There are many that claim to solve the problem, but I think this can be confusing for a number of operators, and I believe that the DfT should work with TfL and other relevant organisations to develop and communicate performance-based criteria for safety systems that are technology-neutral.
Other noble Lords have mentioned the European Commission and its review of weights and dimensions. Will the Minister tell us if the Government will declare their position on this proposal and actively support the Commission’s recommendation to ensure the next generation of HGVs is fit for 21st-century streets?
Under driver training, drivers have to undergo 35 hours of training over five years. This covers rationalisation of fuel consumption, and may cover first aid, manual handling and customer care. All these are very important, but a driver could achieve the full CPC qualification with no training covering driving standards and road safety. It seems crazy to me that we are not taking these seriously and are not including some of the most obvious things.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned workplace deaths and work-related road deaths. The management of work-related road risk lags behind the management of more general health and safety. I would like to see the Government review the regulations governing this. In the short term, perhaps an approved code of practice could be published on the management of work-related road risk.
Finally, a consistent national approach is needed to improve HGV/cycle safety. I have talked about London, and it is probably in London that these things are reported more often, but accidents like this are happening all over the country that might just make the local news but would not make the national news. I do not think that a lot of people are aware of the number of fatalities that happen in this way. The Government have recently announced £114 million of funding for Cycle City Ambition, in addition to the £94 million awarded in August 2013. The eight cities are Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Oxford.
TfL has significant experience in dealing with HGV/cycle safety and has developed proven initiatives aimed at raising operator and driver awareness. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned CLOCS. There is also Safe Urban Driving, which is a driver CPC accredited course in which drivers undergo an on-cycle hazardous awareness module. That has had a great deal of success. There is also an award-winning Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme, which has been recently rolled out nationally.
Does the Minister agree that we should strongly encourage Cycle City Ambition to adopt and support these existing initiatives? That will save money, not by designing new standards but by ensuring that operators have national consistency. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. A lot of good work is happening, but there is not enough awareness.
Finally, once again I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on his passion for cycling—I wish I could go at the speed he does on his bike. I congratulate both of them on their persistence in promoting safety on the roads for cyclists.
My Lords, I find it very interesting that the noble Baroness has just discussed the training of HGV drivers; I shall attack from a completely different angle.
I have observed Operation Motorwise on an Army base a few times. Essex Police hold the exercise on a regular basis on private land in various locations throughout the county, in which teenagers are introduced to all kinds of useful matters to do with driving prior to learning to drive. That includes the Highway Code, some mechanical bits and pieces, observational tests, and various other items that prepare them for when they learn to drive and warn them of some of the hazards that might well not be brought to their attention and which might go wrong during that period.
Of those latter hazards, they are shown some emergency braking distances taken by HGVs at increasing speeds, and they all seem to be shocked by the results. They are also invited to sit in the driver’s seat to observe where cyclists can be seen in the numerous mirrors. So far, so good—they learn from that. However, when an HGV begins to turn, the mirrors will also turn, and the cyclist who was clearly visible a few seconds earlier might well have disappeared from the view of the driver. There is nothing the cyclist or driver can do to resume sight, irrespective of the number and construction of the mirrors.
The noble Earl suggested some very interesting technology that might well overcome this problem and, having chatted with him recently, it sounds well worth developing. He mentioned some companies that have developed various systems: a company in Braintree has fitted alarms along the side of its HGVs, which make a sound when anything gets too close to the sides of the vehicles and which alert both the driver and the cyclists or pedestrians. That is really good news, and it is a start on the part of that company to address the problem. As the noble Earl has suggested, there must be other such companies.
What can we do to reduce deaths and injuries in the mean time? Both cyclists and HGV drivers are aware of the problem facing them, and it would be wonderful if all cyclists wore high-visibility clothing, crash helmets and good lighting fitted at the front and back of their cycles. It would also be wonderful if they obeyed the traffic lights and other legislation. However, the initial manoeuvrability of a cyclist exceeds that of an HGV, which can lead the cyclist into a sense of false security—but an HGV turning left at a slow speed can kill or seriously injure that cyclist.
Is there, therefore, stalemate? No. It might seem very heavy-handed, but at least it would stop the deaths and injuries to cyclists if they were encouraged not to be alongside a stationary HGV or one turning left until such a time as suitable safety technology is fitted to all HGVs. I am afraid that the cyclists would not like it, but in the interim, would that not be nicer than adding more deaths and seriously injured cyclists to the figures of STATS19, which is currently the position?
My Lords, as everyone else has done, I extend my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, on securing this debate on cycling safety and heavy goods vehicles. Not everyone has necessarily agreed with the specific proposal he highlighted as one way of addressing a very serious problem. However, there certainly has been agreement on the need to take action to reduce the number of collisions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists. If today’s debate contributes to realising that objective, it will certainly achieve its purpose.
The Transport Committee in the other place issued a report last July on cycling safety which included information highly relevant to this debate. Transport for London has also provided some relevant statistics. Heavy goods vehicles are disproportionately involved in fatal collisions with cyclists. Some 20% of cycling fatalities in the last five years have involved HGVs, even though such vehicles account for only some 5% of motor traffic. As has been said, in London the situation is even worse, since between 2008 and 2013, some 55% of all pedal cycle fatalities involved a heavy goods vehicle despite HGVs accounting for less than 4% of London’s road miles. Indeed, in 2013, HGVs were involved in nine out of 14 cyclist deaths on London’s roads.
Reference has already been made to construction vehicles. Construction vehicles, and particularly concrete or tipper lorries, are most likely to be involved in collisions with cyclists, with seven out of nine fatal collisions in London between cyclists and large goods vehicles in 2011 involving construction vehicles. There has also been an issue with vehicles that carry stone, sand, cement and water in compartments and mix the concrete when on site, known as volumetric mixers, and which are classed as plant and not goods vehicles and are thus exempt from a number of regulations in place for goods vehicles, meaning that operators of such vehicles do not require an operator’s licence, and are not required to subject the vehicles to annual roadworthiness inspections. It seems that the Department for Transport found that targeted vehicle inspections led to five out of six volumetric mixers that were stopped receiving immediate prohibitions for mechanical defects, and that in addition three of the stopped vehicles were also prohibited because of either overloading or an insecure load. No doubt those who believe that regulations represent red tape and a burden will see no need for action, but what is alleged to be a so-called burden for one person is the potential difference between life and death for another.
The Government published their response to the Transport Committee’s report on 31 October last year, and the Minister’s reply may draw quite heavily on that response. However, I hope that he will also reply to the specific points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, since I for one will be interested to hear where the Government now stand in relation to encouraging or promoting the effectiveness and practicability of HGV blind-spot safety technology, and in their response to his point made on lack of specifications in terms of performance for what this equipment and technology should achieve and lack of independent evaluation and testing. Indeed, on those specific points made by the noble Earl, Transport for London has said that while many HGV operators are investing in vehicle safety technology and camera monitoring systems to protect cyclists, the effectiveness of some of the products is questionable and HGV operators need independent product information to inform their purchasing decisions.
Of course, steps are being taken to try to improve cycling safety in the important area we are discussing. London Councils is working with Transport for London to implement a new London-wide Safer Lorry Scheme from September, which will require the fitting of extended view mirrors and side guards to all heavy goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes.
Transport for London has also called on the Government to review the driver certificate of professional competence syllabus to ensure that the European regulation requiring HGV drivers to undergo 35 hours of training over a five-year period with,
“specific emphasis on road safety”,
is fully satisfied. Under the UK’s application of the driver certificate of professional competence, it is apparently possible for a driver to achieve the full driver CPC qualification with no training covering driving standards and road safety. Transport for London has said that the Government should introduce a mandatory and more prescriptive road safety objective which should include minimising the road risk for vulnerable road users. Like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I ask the Minister to comment on this in his response.
In his contribution, my noble friend Lord Jordan referred to a new collision avoidance system being developed. There was an indication that an analysis of 19 fatal accidents involving a cyclist and a left-turning heavy goods vehicle concluded that 15 of those would have been completely avoided, and three would have been less severe, with this new collision avoidance system. In view of those figures, it would be helpful if the Minister could say what the Government know about this new system and what role they are playing in encouraging its development.
We need to further improve cycling safety if we are to encourage more people to make the switch and increase the number of journeys made by bike in the UK from its present figure of just 2%. The recent RoSPA-commissioned poll indicated that one-third of people think that cycling safety is one of the biggest transport issues we face, with more than 100 cyclists a year being killed.
When in government, we made real progress on cycling, with cycle use growing by 20% and casualty figures falling significantly. These increases in cycling numbers and casualty reductions did not happen by chance but through decisions we made, with ambitious road safety targets, increased use of speed cameras, road safety awareness campaigns, traffic calming measures and new home zones, which have introduced 20 miles per hour limits in residential areas. What we have seen since then, from 2010 to 2014, is half of all local authorities feeling that they have had no alternative but to reduce their investment in cycling, and no long-term certainty to enable local authorities to plan ahead and invest in the infrastructure they need, which is so important for increasing cycling usage and improving cycling safety.
This situation was highlighted by the fact that the Government’s Cycling Delivery Plan, published recently but more than a year late, contains no specific targets on increasing the percentage of journeys undertaken by bike from the current level of 2%, and no specific long-term funding targets for cycling. The Government’s strategic framework for road safety, published in May 2011, contained no specific goals for making cycling safer, and targets to cut deaths and serious injuries on roads have been axed, with heavy goods vehicle speed limits on single-carriageway roads being increased from 40 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour on a highly questionable evidence base. Cuts to front-line policing, which the Government said would not happen, have made, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley, said, enforcement of road traffic offences more difficult, with some 23% fewer traffic police patrolling the roads, and a very much higher figure in, for example, Essex, where there has been a reduction in traffic police from 257 in 2010 to 76 in 2014.
Cycling safety clearly remains an issue of concern, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has drawn our attention in this debate to what is far from the only cause of concern affecting cycling safety but certainly the one that receives the most publicity. That is no doubt in part because of the number of collisions between cyclists and heavy goods vehicles occurring in London, on the doorstep of the national media and Parliament, and because, in proportionate terms, such collisions result in more fatalities and serious injuries than any other single form of collision or incident involving cyclists.
I hope that, in his response, the Minister will include firm assurances and evidence that the Government are actively engaged in ensuring that HGV operators will have vehicle safety technology that is effective and fit for purpose, and will enable us to reduce still further the number of fatalities and serious injuries involving cyclists and heavy goods vehicles.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to respond to this Question for Short Debate on technologies for reducing the number of collisions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists. It is a privilege, admittedly a daunting one, to respond to my noble friend Lord Attlee. When I became a Whip, he was the lead spokesman for transport matters in this House, and was kind enough to mentor me in these matters. He not only speaks with great passion and knowledge on these matters but upholds the finest traditions of this House when doing so.
Moving to the matter in question, I would like to assure your Lordships’ House that the Government are fully committed to creating a safe environment for all road users. As I will set out, advancements in technology will play a vital role in this. All of us who use a car know how much technology is advancing, and improving both the driving experience and safety—and the same is true for HGVs. However, it is not just about technology. Everyone has a part to play: central and local government, manufacturers of technology, the police and of course road users themselves. This is an important matter, as can be seen from the four tragic fatal collisions to cyclists involving heavy goods vehicles already this year in London.
Britain’s roads are among the safest in Europe, but we cannot be complacent: we can and will do more. Following the successes of our Olympic team, cycling has become increasingly popular, and we wish to build on that excellence. Cycling can contribute to keeping you healthy and we want to encourage more people to get on their bikes. The first step is ensuring that they feel that it is safe to do so. The Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety event last week at the ExCeL centre, attended by my noble friend Lord Attlee, gave 200 delegates the opportunity to view 10 new HGVs fitted with the latest technologies to detect cyclists.
Some of these technologies, such as “tag and beacon”, can be fitted to bicycles and would alert the driver of an HGV of their presence. However, there is a risk either that this may provide a false sense of security for both the cyclist and the driver—as neither of them can rely on the other having the equipment—or that the driver suffers from overload because of repeated warnings. The existing sensor-detection technologies are not connected to the vehicle controls. The combination of the detection time, the reaction time of the driver and the operating time of the braking system means that a cyclist moving at moderate speed could have travelled the length of the HGV after being detected, which makes it very difficult for the driver to avoid a collision.
I turn to other matters. I can report that the Government have secured improved requirements in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe regulations for mirrors on the passenger side of vehicles, which will mean that drivers have a better view of the area adjacent to the cab, and should improve safety for cyclists. The European Union has now mandated these improved mirror requirements for new HGVs registered after 30 June 2015.
Department for Transport officials are continuing to work in the UNECE to develop the technical requirements for camera monitoring systems that replace existing mirrors and enable the driver to have a better view of other road users. Although we cannot be certain how quickly these discussions will progress, it is possible that such systems could be on new HGVs by 2017.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lady Ludford mentioned side guards. Since 29 October 2014, most new HGVs have had to comply with revised European rules on side guards which permit fewer exemptions than the current domestic legislation. Changes to domestic legislation are also being prepared for consultation which will reduce the number of exemptions for existing vehicles. More vehicles will be fitted with side guards.
The noble Baroness also asked about the Cycle City Ambition and whether such cities should follow some of the initiatives that Transport for London has undertaken. These decisions are a matter for individual local authorities. However, I am sure that many cities—not just the eight mentioned—see the work done in London as a benchmark for which to aim.
The Government, along with European Union member states, have developed the proposal to amend the general circulation directive, in particular to allow extra length for HGVs in order to enable more aerodynamic and safer cab designs. These negotiations were successful and formal approval will follow shortly. Officials are continuing to work closely with the European Commission and other member states to ensure that type approval legislation is amended quickly, so that the benefits of these improved designs are on the road as soon as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked what research the Government are doing on this. The Department for Transport is working with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Transport for London and other stakeholders on HGV safety, including manufacturers of sensor technologies. As part of this, Transport for London has contracted the Transport Research Laboratory to test a range of products to identify ones that may provide an improvement in safety. Although all vehicles meet minimum safety standards, hauliers can fix additional equipment if this would be beneficial for their specific operations.
I mentioned earlier the role of local authorities. They have the flexibility to introduce 20 miles per hour speed limits in residential areas, which could have a significant effect on cyclist safety. The Secretary of State issued two special authorisations on traffic signing in 2011 to enable all English local authorities to provide Trixi mirrors at road junctions to make cyclists more visible to drivers and “no entry except cycles” signing, which can facilitate overflow cycling.
I am pleased that a number of initiatives have emerged on the role that hauliers have in improving safety. These include the construction-industry-led CLOCS initiative and the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme, which encourages good practice for road freight operators. They are now both supported by more than 3,000 operators nationally. The CLOCS standard is being used in major transport construction projects in London and across the UK, including Crossrail and Network Rail, and it is intended for HS2. The Department for Transport has also been providing advice to road users through the THINK! campaign, with the most recent launched on 2 March.
Compliance rates with legal requirements for HGVs in use have been nearly constant nationally over the last few years. For the construction and waste sectors, an interagency HGV taskforce has been in operation in London over the last 17 months. It involves the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and police to carry out highly targeted enforcement to crack down on non-compliant and unsafe HGVs. For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I can say that, in its first year or so, the 16 officers from the DVSA and the police have made about 4,000 highly targeted stops, issued about 2,000 roadworthiness prohibitions and more than 1,000 fixed penalty notices, detected 1,500 drivers’ hours offences and seized nearly 50 vehicles. Furthermore, enforcement officers report better load security on scaffolders’ HGVs.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned a report, the draft Cycling Delivery Plan, which was heavily discussed and debated in the other House. It was published on 16 October 2014 for informal consultation. It includes action on justice, sentencing and cycle-proofing to ensure that cyclists are considered at the design stage of new and improved road infrastructure, which in turn benefits pedestrians too. Responses are currently being analysed and should be published shortly.
The DfT continues to monitor the number and rate of all road casualties, including cyclists killed or injured in incidents involving HGVs. This evidence base will be used to assess progress in improving road safety.
My noble friend Lord Attlee raised the issue of the HSE and being interviewed under police caution. It has been the rule ever since the HSE was set up that it does not duplicate the work of other enforcement bodies. The police are responsible for road traffic legislation, but the HSE works with the police on cases where unsafe working practices appear to be implicated in a road traffic incident, and employers can be, and have been, prosecuted by the HSE following incidents on the road.
My noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned that some TfL staff, including highways engineers, had been interviewed under caution by the police. I have been advised that this was as part of a corporate manslaughter investigation. In these circumstances, it is appropriate that people are interviewed under caution so that they have all the legal rights and safeguards that that process brings, including having a solicitor present.
I hope that noble Lords can see that this issue is complex and that there is no single solution that will provide the outcome that we are all seeking: to stop these terrible collisions. I trust that this has sought to clarify the actions that the Government have taken and the areas where we will continue to focus our efforts in collaboration with other cycling interests.
Could the Minister possibly write to noble Lords on some of the questions that he has not had time to answer, including, for example, whether there is a specification from the department about the near-side equipment that we have all been debating, and also how many convictions there have been for employers whose vehicles and things have contravened the legislation that we have been discussing?
As time is a limiting factor I cannot answer all the questions now, but I am happy to write to noble Lords, and I will go through the Hansard report.
This is a very serious issue. There is cross-party agreement that we are very concerned about the incidents happening. Week after week we hear of injuries because of cycling and we want to minimise them. If we can bring them to zero that would obviously be much better. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Attlee raised the very important issue of whether technology can help to reduce the numbers. It is a tragedy when any cyclist dies and my heart goes out to all the families who have had to cope with such terrible circumstances. This Government will not be satisfied until our roads are safe for all users—more especially cyclists. I hope that advancing technologies can help to make this a reality.
House adjourned at 5.46 pm.