House of Lords
Monday 5 February 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Recycling: Chinese Import Ban
My Lords, the Government are encouraging industry to access alternative markets and are taking steps to reduce waste and recycle more. Where waste cannot yet be recycled, modern incineration facilities ensure that it can be used to produce energy and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. These facilities divert waste from landfill and are tightly regulated by the Environment Agency. Our resources and waste strategy will set out further actions to increase recycling and manage waste to incineration.
My Lords, we hear fine words from the Government, with lots of promises, reports, press releases from No. 10, and so on. But recently, the UK declined to commit to the EU-wide 65% recycling target by 2035. That target does not seem unreasonable. Why do the Government not put their promises into action?
My Lords, we certainly need to consider this target carefully. The approach we want to take in future is to support our ambitions in tackling avoidable waste and supporting a circular economy. However, we need to consider this further because we do not want perverse incentives on heavy waste when actually, we need to consider what the most important waste is that we ought to be reusing and recycling more.
My Lords, has the Minister seen the suggestion in the press that we should bury all this at £86—I am not sure per what measure, but think of what it would cost; it is expensive now even to suggest that—and then dig it all up again to recycle it when our facilities are available? Surely the answer is for us to set up companies in this country that can carry out the recycling, which would be to our advantage in business and environmental terms.
My Lords, there is certainly value in waste, and we want to ensure that we have reduced dramatically the amount of waste going to landfill—that is why the landfill tax has been so successful. Interestingly, it is important that we do not put paper, for instance, which creates methane, into landfill; it is far better that that goes for incineration, if necessary, so that we can use it for energy.
My Lords, we are extremely ambitious: as your Lordships know, we have some of the strongest arrangements on microbeads, certainly in Europe, if not in the world. We want to go as fast as we can, which is why the resources and waste strategy will be important, and we want to reuse and recycle more.
My Lords, what studies have the Government commissioned into the environmental hazards that may occur if we start to burn large amounts of plastic waste, and what percentage of plastic can be recycled according to the Government’s own estimates?
My Lords, following considerable investment, there are now about 40 large municipal waste plants. They are highly regulated by the Environment Agency precisely to ensure that we recover energy and, importantly, they also operate within all the emission tests. I do not have the precise figure for what is currently recyclable but I will write to the noble Lord. However, the whole essence of our objective is to cut the amount of plastic in circulation and to reduce the variety of plastic so that we can recycle ever more.
In his original Answer to my noble friend Lady Jones, the Minister mentioned that the Government were looking for alternative markets to replace the Chinese market as the current receptacle for much waste. Is it not immoral to say that we are just going to look for another place in the world to dump the rubbish that we should be looking after ourselves?
My Lords, there obviously need to be alternatives and we are looking at them. Nothing is exported in the way that the noble Lord describes—there are very strong and strict requirements. I agree with him about wanting to recycle more at home but a number of countries—Turkey, Taiwan, Vietnam and India—all have resources and are taking more waste. However, we certainly want to work more on recycling at home.
My Lords, embracing the Chinese ban and implementing further restrictions in the coming years could be an opportunity to overhaul our current system and invest at home. What progress is being made in moving towards a joined-up waste and recycling policy that can respond positively?
My Lords, the resources and waste strategy will be very important in that regard, and it is encouraging that industry is picking this up. We have already had announcements from businesses about plastic-free brand products, and it is interesting that we are now recycling 60% of our packaging. Therefore, although we need to seek further increases in recycling rates, we are now going in the right direction.
My Lords, is it not time that the people at the top of the supply chain started taking more responsibility for the materials they produce? Manufacturers are always very quick to blame recyclers for allowing a build-up of waste to occur but, rather than just relying on manufacturers to take a voluntary approach, what are the Government doing to hold them to account for the plastic pollution they produce? That is at the heart of the problem. They need to produce alternatives to plastic but they are not doing that in sufficient numbers.
My Lords, we certainly need research and co-operation from all to increase recycling rates. Business is beginning to make some important strides. The Co-op, Iceland, Unilever and the packaging industry have committed to implementing solutions to enable the sustainable recycling of all black plastic packaging by the end of this year. We need to collaborate and work with business. We have strong targets and we all have to change many of our attitudes.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that fly-tipping is a terrible blight, whether in towns or the countryside. That is why we have introduced stronger powers for local authorities and the Environment Agency—for example, to seize and search vehicles involved in suspected crime. We have also introduced the power for local authorities to issue fixed-penalty notices and we have just published the waste crime consultation, which proposes providing local authorities with the option of issuing fixed-penalty notices to those whose waste ends up being fly-tipped.
Data Protection and Privacy
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the opportunity to highlight the fact that the GDPR takes effect on 25 May this year. To that end, the Government are working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that individuals and organisations are increasingly aware of their rights and obligations before new data protection laws come into effect. In addition to supporting the commissioner’s work to update and publicise the guidance provided through the ICO website, the Government will deliver an awareness-raising marketing campaign targeted at those organisations and sectors most in need of support.
My Lords, we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution: a revolution fuelled by data—our data. Does my noble friend agree that much good work has been done but that we need a public debate on a grand scale to enable everyone to understand the potential, and indeed the pitfalls, when it comes to the use of their data?
My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. That is why we are establishing the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which will advise on the measures we need to enable and support safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in artificial intelligence and other data-related technologies. I remind noble Lords of this House’s Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. As for where we are with the centre, the process of appointing a chair for the interim centre is under way and expressions of interest for the role are currently live. More information is available on GOV.UK.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the earlier namecheck. Thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, there will now be a statutory code of practice on age-appropriate website design, which will set standards required of websites on privacy for children. Will the Government make sure that young people and their parents are clearly and effectively told what these standards are at an early date? That is especially important given that the ICO’s draft children and the GDPR guidance has already been overtaken by this major amendment to the Data Protection Bill.
The noble Lord is right to mention the Kidron amendment—I think it is called that now, by universal approval—which the Government are pleased to support. It is early days, to the extent that the Data Protection Bill has not even had its Second Reading in the other place. However, the ICO is aware of what it will be required to do if this amendment remains in place and is working on that. In the meantime, it is concentrating on the GDPR coming into effect on 25 May, and the work that has to be done to get people up to speed before that date.
Further to the previous two questions about young people, does the Minister accept that many children are being given access to mobile devices well before their 13th birthday, which is the point at which most websites and providers are supposed to limit the availability of certain kinds of content? While there is a certain amount that legislation can do about this, it is really an issue of public information, particularly as many of these young people are being enabled by their own parents, who need to understand the dangers. What are the Government doing to further the public education that would help that?
The new general data protection regulation specifies that children are a special case and have to be protected more than adults. I completely agree with the noble Baroness that education is important, and that is education for parents and not just for young people. Across all age groups, a lot of people have things to learn about the dangers of the internet. One thing that the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will do is show that it is not just Government who are involved in this but the industry, education, regulators and charities. All sectors in society have to come together to make sure that this tremendous opportunity is used safely by everyone.
I do not believe that that is the case although I cannot give an absolute guarantee because I am not sure of my facts. One thing that the Digital Economy Bill did was to outline what Governments can do with their own data. They can use it within government. The general data protection regulation makes the issue of consent much more explicit. Consent has to be genuine consent.
My Lords, will the Minister add the National Health Service to the list of organisations that need to be involved? Does he agree that within the National Health Service there is an enormous amount of data that could be of fantastic benefit to medical research? It can be anonymised. It may be, for example, that in cohort studies people have already given their consent to that data being used. I declare my interests, as set out in the register. Will he agree that there can sometimes be a misunderstanding of the extent of data protection, which could act as a real obstacle to the sort of research that we all want to see?
That is the subject of the amendment to the Data Protection Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell. It gives a good example of the sort of thing that the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation could consider. On the one hand, the National Health Service has an unparalleled amount of medical information that could be used to advantage. On the other hand, if it is monetised and sold on, which has the superficial attraction of providing money for the NHS, it could prevent researchers using that information in the same way that pharmacological organisations do. It could actually prevent health benefits occurring. It is a classic example of an ethical dilemma that the centre will be able to look at.
Asylum Seekers: Legal Advice
My Lords, legal aid is available for individuals faced with deportation where they are claiming asylum or challenging their detention. The Government have commenced the post-implementation review of legal aid, which will include the scope of legal aid for immigration and asylum cases.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many asylum seekers are unable to access legal advice, for different reasons. Some are penniless and others just do not know the procedures. The result is that many of the decisions made by the Home Office are unsound and reversed on appeal. In 2005, 13,000 appeals were allowed. In 2010, 35,000 were allowed and, in 2015, 17,000 were allowed. Therefore, in 10 years 250,000 appeals were allowed—a quarter of a million wrong decisions by the Home Office. Will the Minister please tell me what he is doing to remedy that situation so that we have a procedure that is fair and equable?
My Lords, it should be axiomatic that legal assistance is available to people facing removal and the Minister has made it clear that that should be the case. However, surely the underlying problem is the shameful record of the Home Office in this area. We read regularly that people who have been living in this country for decades, often working and having led a successful life here, are now being ordered to depart. Will the Government review the performance of the Home Office and its policies in this very sensitive area?
My Lords, the period for which a person has remained illegally in this country should not be and is not a determinant of their right to remain here. It is necessary to apply the relevant law both to the issue of asylum seekers and those who arrive here unlawfully, not even seeking asylum.
My Lords, a Bar Council report published last November found that at any one time more than 3,000 people, mostly failed asylum seekers, are held in administrative detention without being convicted of a crime, at a cost of £34,000 each. More than half are ultimately released into the community when their appeals succeed. Last Friday, in the case of VC, an asylum seeker from Nigeria with mental problems, the Court of Appeal slammed the Home Office for misinterpreting its own policy and awarded damages. Will the Minister review the means and merits test applied by the Legal Aid Agency, which academic research shows operates to exclude detainees from legal aid by,
“seizing upon the tiniest thing”,
to declare their applications ineligible?
My Lords, the Legal Aid Agency is of course independent of Government for very proper and good reasons. The application of LASPO—the legal aid Act—is the subject of internal review at present following an announcement by the then Lord Chancellor in October last year.
My Lords, research by the Children’s Society shows that unaccompanied and separated children are particularly vulnerable. Only 12 grants for exceptional case funding were made in 2015-16, fewer than 1% of the expected number of cases under the previous system. Hundreds of children are being left without a legal safety net. Can the Minister confirm that the situation of these children will be specifically considered within the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act?
My Lords, current figures show that 103 children were put into detention in immigration-related matters in 2016, of which 42 were under 12. Some of those may have been unaccompanied but, under the policy of the 2014 Act, unaccompanied children should not actually go into immigration removal centres; they should be held pending removal decisions. With regard to exceptional case funding, the figures for the first two quarters of 2017 indicate that the success rate for immigration-related applications was 73%. Some 652 applications were made during that period.
My Lords, we should remember the United Nations convention, which originally set out the criterion for granting asylum: to people in great need of protection. Does my noble and learned friend agree that it is terribly important for us to restate that, and to make sure that asylum is not used as a vehicle for immigration rather than giving the protection that the most extreme cases require?
My Lords, according to an Amnesty report published in 2017, over 2,000 young people seeking refuge in the UK were deported to Afghanistan between 2007 and 2015, the majority of them since the legal aid cuts were introduced. Does the Minister agree with Amnesty that the UK is in breach of its international obligations and law, and if so what steps do the Government intend to take to put this right?
Modern Slavery: Indian Supply Chains
My Lords, the UK is the first country to require businesses to report on the steps that they have taken to tackle modern slavery. Thousands of businesses have published transparency statements, with many examples of good practice emerging in India across a range of industries, from textiles to landscaping materials. I encourage businesses to stay vigilant and to work with local NGOs to understand the risks in their supply chains.
I thank the Minister for her Answer. According to the Government’s estimates, between 9,000 and 11,000 businesses with a turnover of more than £36 million a year are required to submit these statements, but the Government have not been willing to set up a central register. Groups of NGOs have set up two websites. According to them, less than 4,000 businesses have so far set up statements. Only 14% of these conform fully with the law. The NGOs further add that there is particular complacency among certain high-risk industries, which might also point to high-risk groups such as the Dalits and Adivasis in India. If the Government are still not willing to set up a central register, what steps will they take to ensure that all businesses comply with the law and provide a statement?
The noble and right reverend Lord gives a figure of 14%, but two independent NGOs have collated statements and found that between 32% and 50% of eligible companies have produced a statement. Clearly there is further to go. The legislation is relatively new. On compiling a register, we have considered in detail whether the Government could publish a list of businesses covered by the Modern Slavery Act. It is not easy to do so because it is not currently possible to filter the databases of Companies House by turnover size, but the Government are looking at this.
My Lords, it is not easy to find out whether the companies that are required to provide the annual report are complying. The companies we are concerned about operate right across the world, not just in India, although India is clearly very important. The Government really do need to take some action to ensure that there is pressure on these companies to comply with the Modern Slavery Act.
My Lords, part of the pressure is from the public, because the public are more and more concerned that their clothes are produced ethically—or whatever goods and services. The Home Secretary can apply for a court injunction requiring businesses to comply. If they still refuse, they will be liable to an unlimited fine for contempt of court.
My Lords, does the Minister realise how weak her answers sound? In response to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, she said that it is for NGOs to keep a list; to the noble and learned Baroness she said that the public have to put on pressure. There has to be a little bit more action from the Government. They have this requirement, so they have to get behind it to make sure it happens. We understand, as we heard earlier, that the Government set their face against any statutory regulation in this regard, but will the Minister tell us what action the Government will now take to do their utmost to ensure that these companies register and understand the risk in their supply chain, as has been highlighted by the Corporate Responsibility Coalition, which recognises that many companies just are not looking at this and taking it seriously? The Government have to step up to the plate.
My Lords, I did not absolve the Government of responsibility by saying that it is up to the NGOs to produce a list. I outlined the difficulties of producing a list, because of filtering by turnover size. The idea of public pressure is a strong one. In addition, I outlined the remedies available to the Home Secretary, which include applying for a court injunction requiring businesses to comply. They are liable to an unlimited fine for contempt of court if they do not.
My Lords, I believe that the Government have not yet taken the step, which I accept is something of a nuclear option, of applying for an injunction. Is the Minister aware that the National Audit Office, in its report in December on modern slavery, commented on the fact that,
“the Home Office does not produce a list of businesses that are expected to comply with the legislation and cannot say how many companies that should have produced a statement have done so”?
It also says:
“The Home Office has acknowledged that to date the quality of statements has been variable. Statements therefore do not provide equal levels of assurance to those scrutinising them”—
that is, the NGOs and members of the public. Do the Government have any ideas as to how to assist those who would wish to scrutinise them?
My Lords, in terms of the Government, all government departments require their suppliers to tell them whether they are compliant with the transparency requirement of the Modern Slavery Act. I accept the noble Baroness’s point that some of the statements vary in terms of the quality and the information that they provide, but I reiterate that the legislation is relatively new and I expect that the whole system will see improvements.
Civil Service Impartiality
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the Ministerial Code says:
“Ministers must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service”.
Our Civil Service is envied the world over and, as the Home Secretary said over the weekend, has the complete confidence of the Government. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 enshrines in legislation the core principles and values of the Civil Service, which include impartiality, integrity and objectivity. These values are set out in the Civil Service Code, which states that civil servants,
“must not … knowingly mislead ministers, Parliament or others”.
I do not believe that they do.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. Of course, he more than anyone has upheld the Ministerial Code during a very long and distinguished ministerial career. However, in the last few days we have had assertions made, both by Ministers and by Members of Parliament, that officials are deliberately frustrating Brexit or fiddling the figures. Those civil servants cannot defend themselves in public. Does the noble Lord agree that officials must have confidence in being able to provide robust and dispassionate advice without fear of intimidation? Given that No. 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister have failed to slap down those Ministers and MPs in his own party who have made these disgraceful slurs, is it too much to ask of the Prime Minister that she finally show some leadership?
So far as Ministers are concerned—I answer for Ministers, not for Back-Bench Members of Parliament—the Minister concerned made a fulsome apology in another place on 2 February. He said:
“I accept that I should have corrected or dismissed the premise of my hon. Friend’s question. I have apologised to Mr Charles Grant, who is an honest and trustworthy man. As I have put on record many times, I have the highest regard for our hard-working civil servants. I am grateful for this opportunity to correct the record and I apologise to the House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/18; col. 1095.]
The noble Lord generously referred to my experience as a Minister. I think I have done 20 years on and off—probably more than anyone else in this House—but with many discontinuities, and I have never had occasion to question the impartiality or objectivity of civil servants. They have spoken truth unto power. They have quite often said things that I did not want to hear, but I would never accuse them of some of the things that have recently been levied against them. I think we should be proud of our Civil Service, and I reject the smears that have been made against it.
My Lords, the Minister will recognise that this is not just a British issue. The current attack by the President and his Administration on the FBI in the United States raises rather similar issues. Can the Minister assure us publicly that, when we say that civil servants are expected to be impartial, they are not expected to be impartial between evidence and supposition, and that when Ministers prefer faith or fantasy to evidence, civil servants have the right to point out that good governance depends on paying attention to the evidence, wherever one can find it?
The noble Lord is absolutely right. I quoted a moment ago the Civil Service Code, which includes objectivity. Objectivity is defined as,
“basing your advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence”.
It is these standards for which our Civil Service is renowned.
My Lords, can I ask my noble friend’s honest opinion? He will be familiar with this document: the Treasury analysis of May 2016 forecasting a complete collapse of the British economy if we were to vote to leave. I have maintained that this document is propaganda from top to bottom, and it turns out to be utterly untrue in reality. My noble friend has praised the objectivity of those who produce government statistics. If I continue to criticise the mandarins and the Ministers who approved the statistics and this document, does that make me a snake-oil salesman or a 1930s German Nazi—or maybe a bit of both?
I think my noble friend should distinguish between criticisms of Ministers and criticisms of civil servants. The document that he has in his hand was publicly presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. Any criticism should be directed at the politicians who presented it. I think it was also endorsed at the time by the noble Lord, Lord Darling. They are the ones who should be criticised, rather than the civil servants.
That would be a matter for the Civil Service Code. There are penalties levied against civil servants who break the code. Depending on the severity of the offence, they can lose their job, as has happened in some cases, or they can apologise. In this case, the Minister has apologised. He has explained the circumstances. He had no reason to believe that what was being said at the time was not true. When he discovered it was not true, at the first opportunity he came to the House and apologised. I think that was the correct thing to do.
My Lords, I had the pleasure of working with the Minister in his many guises and, if ever there was a Minister who lived by the code he has just talked about, it is the noble Lord. Does he believe that those making allegations without supporting evidence against serving civil servants, who will not respond, are undertaking a form of bullying that, to be honest, actually diminishes those making the attacks but, more importantly, damages our democracy?
Well, whether the accusations made in the House of Commons last week constitute bullying, I am not quite so sure. I think they were ill-advised, given that the evidence did not stack up for the accusations that were made. But I agree with what the noble Lord said in his final remarks that the people who come out of it worse are those who make the accusations, rather than those they are levied against.
My Lords, is it not the case that every sane business carries out an investment appraisal before it embarks on an investment, that every sensible person will always produce a business plan before starting a business, that responsible and sensible Governments must engage in cost-benefit analyses and policy analyses and that, if we gave up those habits, it would be deeply damaging to the future of the country? That is the logic that some of these people are trying to drive us to: that we should not have any experts, we should not have any studies and we should not have any analysis at all.
I have not seen the documents that are the object of this exchange, but I understand that they were looking at a number of post-Brexit scenarios from an economic point of view. I also understand that the Prime Minister subsequently said that they were looking at off-the-shelf options, and she has made it clear that she is not looking at off-the-shelf options.
My Lords, nearly every political generation experiences a reprise of this question. In the early post-war Treasury, Hugh Dalton was given some unpalatable advice and denounced his officials as “congenital snag-hunters”, but surely that is what we pay them for. Does the Minister agree that it would be pointless to hire ciphers for the beauty of their political opinions because that would be the road to a politicised Civil Service which would be ruinous for this country?
I agree. It is the job of civil servants to bring to Ministers’ attention the consequences of their policies and to argue forcefully against them if they believe they are misguided but, once the decision has been taken, to go out and deliver them as best they can. My experience with civil servants is that that is exactly what they do, and I agree with the noble Lord.
Does my noble friend agree that disparaging remarks were made in a debate 10 days ago in this House by a Member of the Opposition Front Bench who impugned the integrity of the civil servants in our Library because she did not agree with the brief that they produced? I went straight to the Library, apologised on behalf of the House and said that no one would agree with her.
Role of Women in Public Life
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, 100 years ago this House, our Parliament and every other Chamber across the UK looked very different. Every woman in the country was unable to vote, stand for election or sit in your Lordships’ House. The year 1918 was a turning point and, 100 years on, women and men gather to celebrate and commemorate. It also marked the end of a horrific and unimaginable war that changed our country for ever—and from the tragedies of that war came an acknowledgement that our country needed to change.
The Representation of the People Act received Royal Assent on 6 February, exactly 100 years ago tomorrow. The Act gave the vote to women over 30 with property for the first time and extended the vote to all men over 21. It was a massive step in the right direction, but the fight for women’s participation goes back decades before 1918 to petitions, lobbying and debates throughout the 19th century and includes the first petition to Parliament in 1832, the first mass petition in 1866 and countless failed Bills in the following 50 years. The determined lobbying, and the persistent production of thousands upon thousands of pamphlets alongside those petitions, are most associated in later years with the suffragists—the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies—led by Millicent Fawcett.
The suffragettes—a pejorative name given to the more militant campaign—were centred on the Women’s Social and Political Union and the Pankhurst family. Tired of the lack of progress, this group changed its mode of campaigning to include protest, vandalism and even arson. The suffragettes were also joined by prominent figures such as Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who upset her neighbours in Hampton Court Palace, where she lived in a grace and favour apartment, by selling suffragette newspapers at the palace gates.
This fact demonstrates the nature of the campaign for women’s suffrage: it crossed social boundaries, cultural boundaries and international boundaries. It brought together women from all walks of life in a common purpose, all determined to be heard and all intent on making their case. Women wanted to be truly represented in the laws and customs of our country; women demanded to take part in writing the laws and customs of the UK. The voice of women deserved to be heard. The suffragettes and the suffragists may have used different tactics but they all saw them as a means to achieve the same end.
In 1910 Princess Sophia joined Emmeline Pankhurst and other women and attempted to meet the Prime Minister in Parliament. Many of them were forcibly removed. This was just one of numerous incidents when women entered Parliament only to be ejected by violent means. Many were gradually banned from the estate after they continued their acts of vandalism or chained themselves to railings and statues. You can see their work on damaged statues all around the Palace. Their story and their relationship with this building are told by the stained glass window that nods to the Cat and Mouse Act. This Act released hunger-striking women from prison until they regained their health, only to then promptly return them to their cells.
Being of a peaceful and non-law breaking nature, had I been alive 100 years ago I would like to think I would have been a suffragist. I would like to tell the story of the procession organised by the suffragists in the summer of 1913. They organised marches throughout Britain which culminated in a great rally in Hyde Park on 26 July. Volunteers led multiple routes to the rally. Over about six weeks, meetings were held along these routes, bringing together women from all walks of life. By the time the marches ended in Hyde Park, the group of women was 50,000 strong.
There are very few occasions even now when you see women collect in numbers of that scale. That the suffragists collected in such great numbers, with such pride and despite the risks, is testament to the strength in their souls and the knowledge in their hearts that they were right. The will and the determination of those women, and the men who supported them, meant that not only could some women vote in 1918 but that they could also stand as parliamentary candidates.
But it would be another 40 years until women were welcome in your Lordships’ House. The year 2018 also marks another key milestone: 60 years since the Life Peerages Act, which allowed women and men to enter the House of Lords for the duration of their life. The Act marked a fundamental shift in the entire make-up of the House of Lords. It meant that Parliament could acknowledge and benefit from the vast pool of expertise of both women and men to work alongside hereditary Peers. In total, 294 female life Peers have been created. At the current time there are 203 female life Peers in your Lordships’ House, which means that 69%—or over two-thirds—of all the female life Peers created are still here. I find that an amazing statistic. But women still represent only 26% of the total. I hope that noble Lords will agree with me that there is still a way to go.
The women in your Lordships’ House today also reflect a broader change over the past 60 years. They are drawn not just from political careers but from professional roles, from business, and from science and the arts, bringing a huge range of talent from across the full spectrum of society. This would have been unthinkable 100 years ago: not only that women would be recognised for their merit but that they have had the opportunity to demonstrate their merit with careers.
Women have made history in all sectors. In your Lordships’ House, the first two Lord Speakers were women. I am particularly amused by the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who said that,
“it gives me some quiet satisfaction that, should a man break through the glass ceiling to succeed me, he will be known as the first male Lord Speaker”.
I hope that the current Lord Speaker appreciates his role in history. The point remains that any man who goes first is always the first person. I sincerely hope we are on our way to a world where a woman can be remarkable for achieving a feat rather than for doing so despite the implied handicap of her gender.
I shall mention some other brilliant women firsts who followed Baroness Wootton as the first female life Peer. Baroness Swanborough became the first woman to take her seat in your Lordships’ House in 1958, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester took her seat as the first female Lord spiritual in 2015 and Baroness Young became the first female Leader of this House. Outside the Chamber, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, became the first woman to be appointed Attorney-General in 2007, the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, was the first woman to be chief executive of a FTSE 100 company and the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, became the youngest woman to join this Chamber at the time when she took her seat, having already succeeded in the male-dominated technology sector.
The brilliant women of your Lordships’ House have succeeded in every corner of society: in law, football and cricket, as business owners, scientists, activists and performers. It is not the mere presence of women such as them that rights the wrongs of past inequalities but the role that they play in giving voice to their communities. They are providing scrutiny of the laws of our country and acting to drive change by contributing a diversity of opinion and experience. We have always been comfortable with the diversity of political opinion that a partisan system brings, but only in this past century have we seen what diverse debate really means.
I am honoured to work alongside some extraordinary women and to work with excellent men who all value the experience and knowledge that we bring. We must also remember and celebrate the many men who have supported the cause of gender equality, and indeed those who continue to advocate for women, for diversity and for equality. The Acts that have given women access to democracy and to Parliament were passed by men. Gender equality is not a zero-sum game. I will make the same comment as last year; I would like to see a greater number of noble Lords of the male variety contributing to debates such as these—and I thank those who have stepped up on this occasion.
I pay tribute to all the extraordinary women and brilliant men who have moved us this far, and to those who continue to strive for equality. There has been 100 years of progress. Let there be 100 years more.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for securing this important debate. I know she worked hard to get it on the agenda today.
Over the last 100 years, women’s lives have seen great improvements. There are more women in political and public life than ever before, although they are still a minority in Parliament. Since 1918, 489 women have been elected to the House of Commons but that compares with 4,801 men. That is quite a minority, so it is not a great figure. Of those 489 women only 45 went on to become Cabinet Ministers, but there have been two woman Prime Ministers in the last 100 years.
The new institutions seem to work better for women. Devolution in 1999 meant that there were many more women in political life, as we have seen in the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. I give the example of Wales, where more women were elected in one day, 24 on 1 May 1999, than the total number of female Welsh MPs—19—in the last 100 years.
New ideas were tried to ensure that women were elected, as Labour did in Wales by using twinning or pairing of constituencies to ensure that we fielded an equal number of women and men candidates. By 2003, 30 women and 30 men were elected to the Welsh Assembly. That made it the first democratically elected institution in the world to have an equal number of men and women members. If we can do it in Wales, we can do it anywhere.
New institutions serve women better; a different agenda is pursued because they are much more diverse than the Houses of Parliament. One thing I know: where there is a level playing field, women will come forward. There is no shortage of women wanting to stand for public office and give service. All women want is a chance to serve.
Women have made progress in other walks of life since 1918, not just in political and public life. In the past, many jobs had a married women’s bar which meant that women had to give up work when they got married. In 1946, this bar was abolished in the Home Office, but it took the Foreign Office until 1973. This bar operated in many walks of life, and it must seem strange to women today that it could possibly happen. Thankfully, our laws now prevent it.
There are many ways in which the lives of women have been improved. The advent of oral contraceptives—the pill—allowed women to control their own fertility for the first time. The Abortion Act 1967 meant women were able to seek safe, legal abortions and did away with the backstreet illegal abortionists, where, as we know, many women lost their lives.
The founding of the National Health Service in 1948 meant that women—certainly working-class women—could now get free healthcare. In the past, a woman went without in order that her children could be treated; or, she just could not afford the cost as money was needed for other things, so she went without. Despite some criticisms of the way the National Health Service works, it is still the best thing we have, but it needs to be well taken care of and should get the resources it needs; otherwise, we are in danger of losing such a precious asset.
The lives of women have been improved by the Government setting up new institutions such as the Equal Opportunities Commission, established by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, established in 2006. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, and we remember the Dagenham women who started off the debate by campaigning for equal pay in their workplace.
Unfortunately, there is still a gender pay gap, about which much has been heard in recent weeks. The Women’s National Commission was set up in 1969 and continued for 40 years until, unfortunately, the coalition Government of 2010 decided it was time to close it down. I served as the commissioner for Wales for more than five years, and I can vouch for the great work it did for women as a whole in the United Kingdom, as can my noble friends Lady Crawley and Lady Prosser, who both served with great distinction as chair of the WNC and will speak later in our debate.
The closure of the WNC was a great loss to women’s organisations. No doubt the Minister will say that it was taken in-house—into the Government Equalities Office—but that does not do the work or have the engagement of the WNC. That was definitely a minus for women.
Although women’s lives have improved, there is still much more to be done. Women need to be able to live their lives without fear. Violence against women is still with us. On average, two women a week are killed by their partners or former partners. Women are victims of domestic violence, stalking and coercive and controlling behaviour. The conviction rate for rape is still low compared to other crimes. Sexual abuse and harassment is rife in the workplace and in schools. Women in all walks of life are still underpaid in comparison to men. Many women in public and political life are abused and harassed, especially on social media.
However, despite all this, we all recognise that life is much better for women in many ways. Women’s charities such as Women’s Aid, the Fawcett Society and End Violence against Women, and organisations like the Women’s Institute, Girlguiding and many more, have done great work and continue to support women and girls in many and different ways, although some of these organisations have had their funding cut and are facing resulting difficulties.
Research has shown that austerity has hit women much more than men. Analysis has found that 86% of the savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 have come from women, and that the previous Budget did nothing to change this. Women continue to bear the burden so much more than men. Many organisations that support women have had their funding cut, meaning that they cannot provide the services they have in the past.
How can we now improve the lives of women for the future? There are certainly a number of ways to ensure that more women come into political and public life. A starting point would be the Women and Equalities Committee’s 2017 report and recommendations. One suggested enacting Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010—that all political parties publish their parliamentary candidates’ diversity data for general elections. Another recommendation was to extend the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, allowing all-women shortlists to be extended beyond the current provision of 2030, and to extend its use to police and crime commissioner elections and mayoral elections. Unfortunately, the Government rejected all the recommendations; I do hope there will be a rethink.
Very few women hold positions of power in all walks of life. Achieving equality for women is still something we are still waiting for and getting impatient about. The more we strive for equality, the more we will provide role models for girls to aspire to. This is achievable but needs government action and working with civil society, such as the Fawcett Society. Tomorrow, the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, the society will launch a campaign, #OurTimeNow, which plans to break down the barriers to gender equality throughout 2018 and beyond. Let us work together towards that aim so that future generations of women will have a life with no barriers to overcome, and life will be better for all.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Vere and Lady Gale, this afternoon.
For me, the story of women’s growing role in politics and other aspects of public life is a story of numbers, because what we do not measure, we cannot manage. So my first number is, of course, 100. It is 100 years since women over 30, with certain property qualifications, got the right to vote. But it would be another 10 years before women got equal voting rights with men, then set at 21, and a further 30 years before non-hereditary women were eligible to enter your Lordships’ House with the Life Peerages Act 1958, when the first four female life Peers took their seats, as the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, has already said. Today, women still comprise only 26% of this place—a poor comparison to the Commons, where we have reached the dizzy heights of 32%.
This improvement in representation was made possible, at least in part, by the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which for the first time enabled all-women shortlists to become a reality. This was conceived and introduced by the Labour Party, which does so much better than other parties, with 45% of women in the Commons, as opposed to Liberal Democrats on 33% and Conservatives on 32%. Others, like my own party, have struggled with the concept of all-women shortlists, but the figures clearly speak for themselves. The notion that it must be the quality of the individual candidate which determines selection has dogged us, and I would that it were not so. The guilt engendered in so many women at the thought that they might be advantaged over men and, Lord forbid, be a token woman, causes them to hold back. If I thought that deliberately choosing a quotient of women would result in any deterioration of quality of representation, I might agree. But when you look at some of the men who represent us, who have no doubts about their entitlement to rule—well, I rest my case. Noble Lords in this House this afternoon are of course exempted—not wishing to get lynched.
Anyway, moving on—my next figure is 1979, which, of course, was the date when we got our first female Prime Minister. Personally, I would feel more inclined to celebrate this milestone if she had encouraged other women to come forward, to use some of the talented women that she had at her disposal. But, sadly, she got to the top and pulled the ladder up behind her, which is a great shame, because the whole point of having representation from all parts of society is to make for better government. We know for a fact that companies with diverse boards thrive and prosper more than boards comprising all men, of the same ethnicity and the same class, from the same school and even belonging to the same club. It is obvious that you get better decisions when you take more views into account, but when you look at one of our ruling political groups today, you see that pattern. I am not saying that men would deliberately discriminate against women, different ethnic groups, disabled people, people from different backgrounds, and so on. They just do not think about us. Out of sight, out of mind. That is why we need to be there, around the table, where the real decisions are made—and role models for us are few and far between.
So my next number is 90%. That represents the percentage of statues in London depicting men. That is clearly unfair to all the female talent that we have to inspire us, and I have my own suggestion for who the next candidate for a plinth should be. I am sure many of us have been approached by Bee Rowlatt, chair of the Mary on the Green campaign, to erect a statue on the green outside Parliament of Mary Wollstonecraft, who fought for women’s suffrage a full century before Millicent Fawcett commended her as the “leader in the battle”. If there is one thing the Minister could agree to today, it could be to take back to her colleagues the request and suggestion that Mary Wollstonecraft be acknowledged in a statue for her trail-blazing work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792. I hope that she will give us as favourable an indication as she can in her remarks later.
Women are important in all aspects of public life. We comprise 28% of judges, but only 9% of Supreme Court judges. We are 33% of councillors, but only 17% of council leaders. There is a deficit—a talent deficit—and, in these challenging times, I would respectfully suggest we need all the talent that we can get. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, what we do not measure we cannot manage. The EHRC is calling for Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 to be enacted. That section requires political parties to publish candidate diversity data. Bringing the facts into the cold light of day has a wonderful effect on behaviour. The gender pay gap reporting rules come into force this year. As I speak, large companies are scurrying around looking at their gender pay gaps and trying to put in place systems to ensure that they do not get shown up in the same way again. The shaming effect of having one’s less-than-commendable statistics published for all to see would give political parties the incentive they need to revise and reform the way they choose their candidates.
My final number is 276. A postcard with that number printed on it arrived on my desk last year, and it took me a while to work out what it meant. It is my number; my place in the history of women elected to the British Parliament. In 2005, when I was elected, only 275 women had preceded me. Today, progress has speeded up but even so it will, apparently, take another nine elections before we achieve parity with the men. I want to see parity in my lifetime, but if I die before it happens I will jolly well come back and haunt these corridors until we have fair and equal representation of all the talents in this potentially great country of ours.
My Lords, we celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act tomorrow. I take this opportunity to reflect briefly on one element of how it all came about. Much of the focus over the coming year will be on the suffragettes, the suffragists, the Pankhursts, the Fawcetts and other brave women who courageously campaigned in this cause. However, I should like to spare a moment to think about one group of people who may not get the attention they deserve: the men who introduced the legislation and made it happen, and one man in particular. Although there was a growing groundswell of support for women’s suffrage before the First World War, the contentious issue of the parliamentary campaign was not whether women should be able to vote, but how many. All the political parties were anxious about extending the franchise because of how it would affect them.
Willoughby Dickinson was a Liberal MP—later a Labour Member of this House—who dedicated his entire parliamentary career to winning women the vote. According to the Vote 100 historian in Parliament, he was the only MP with a perfect voting record on women’s suffrage. He introduced the first Bill of the 1906 Parliament and reintroduced it every year until the outbreak of war. He called for equal pay for women in 1903, secured financial support for the masses of women who were left widowed by the war and protected the rights of women who were married to foreign citizens imprisoned during the war. He was a crucial member of the Speaker’s Conference, chaired in 1916-17 by the grandfather of the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, the recommendations of which finally led to the Act which we celebrate tomorrow.
Through his years of parliamentary campaigning, Dickinson had the franchise knowledge, the cross-party contacts and the experience of suffrage debates to produce a solution to the deadlock. He emerged as the conference’s deal breaker, winning a majority of one vote by suggesting that age be used as the discriminatory barrier. Millicent Fawcett’s NUWSS wrote to him, saying:
“We all know that a very large part of the great triumph of this week was due to your personal efforts … we always felt that you were our true champion in the House of Commons”.
He wrote in his diary:
“The House of Commons passed the third reading of the Representation of the People Act without one protest. The greatest measure of reform since 1832 ... It is ten and a half years since I first introduced my Women’s Suffrage Bill and now at last I see something done. I feel as if I had not lived in vain”.
For him, this campaign was not merely matter of justice; he was also motivated by the fact that his sister, an eminent doctor who worked behind the lines in Serbia during the war, could not vote while he could. How proud he must have been to see his daughter, my grandmother, take her seat in 1937 as the 33rd ever woman MP, and how proud I am of them both today. I hope they would be pleased that I have taken on their fight, which today we still need to win.
Therefore, although we can celebrate the fact that 489 women MPs have been elected since they were able to stand in 1918, compared, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, to the 4,503 men over that same period, there is still much to be done. Today, one-third of MPs are women—better, but by no means good enough. Noble Lords will be aware that, thanks to all-women shortlists, the Labour Party has already reached 45% and is committed to a target of 50%.
When we went into the election in May last year with 70 Conservative women MPs—up from 17 in 2005, when Theresa May and I founded Women2Win—and with 30 candidates in good target seats, I felt pretty confident. The polls showed us winning most, if not all of those and, looking ahead to the election beyond that, we were confident that a substantial number of old, white men would pack it in and women candidates would be in a good position to get selected for many of those retirement seats—job done. I, too, could retire. But it was not to be. Not a single one of those target seats was won by a woman, and the additional challenge we were not expecting is the 30 ex-MPs who may be looking to return to Parliament at the next election. In addition to not winning those target seats, many Conservative women candidates received disproportionately vicious abuse, online and in the constituencies. Resilient they may be, but the whole experience had been far from joyous for many and, as the results became clear, I could hardly bear to crawl out from under the duvet.
But here we are, and having picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves down, we are ready to support the next generation of talented women. I am today delighted to welcome Women2Win’s new co-chair, Mark Harper, former Chief Whip in another place. For us in the Conservative Party our pipeline remains challenging, so if any of your Lordships know someone you think would make a good MP, please encourage her to step up and start the journey. If she is a Conservative, please send her our way. The #AskHerToStand campaign needs to be supported by all who care about diversity of experience in Parliament.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to deal with the issue of abuse, and I understand that she will spell out her plans in greater detail tomorrow. No one standing for public office should be treated with anything but respect. It is an honourable thing to aspire to represent one’s community, and women in particular should be encouraged rather than bullied. We should never allow our public discourse to become toxified, and we should stand for decency and tolerance. I urge the Labour Party to sign a similar behavioural pledge to the one we are committed to. We also need to be aware of the barriers that women who want to work in Parliament still face, including working between multiple locations, balancing caring responsibilities with long and demanding working hours, and ensuring their financial stability while pursuing election.
Even today people sometimes ask me, “Why does it matter if there are more women in Parliament?”. Conservatives are, sadly, at 21%, Labour is at 45% and Parliament at 32%. It matters because women are different. Their life experiences are not the same as men’s. They are neither superior, nor inferior, but different, and that difference has to be better reflected here in Parliament.
My Lords, I am pleased to be part of this debate, in which across the Benches of the House we recall an historic event and remember some of the brave and foresighted women who made change happen.
Opposition to women’s suffrage came, of course, from all quarters. The Labour and trade union movement did not much like the idea because these women were upper class, posh, and most likely to side with the Tories if they came into the House. Equally, the concept of feminism was neither universally popular nor widely understood. Rebecca West is quoted as saying:
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what Feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat”.
We have been there. Then there were those women who felt the whole argument had nothing much to do with them: women with no money, too many children and no independence. It is no wonder that people said at the time that the coming of electricity was a greater liberator than the suffrage.
However, the point of increased representation or participation in either Parliament or public life generally was about more than the numbers; it was to bring about change and to bring a different perspective to the debate, with different experiences being brought to the table. That was the high intention but change was a long time coming.
In the 1940s, women in the Transport and General Workers’ Union held a conference. The general secretary of the day, one Arthur Deakin, was asked why so few women were employed by the union to work as organisers. He replied that every woman had the same opportunity as every man to apply and to be brought forward for interview. Over 40 years later, when I was appointed to work as the national women’s secretary, the union had about 2 million members. There were 400 paid organisers, of whom four, including me, were women. So much for the equal chance. That was an in-your-face example of wishful thinking going nowhere.
When Bill Morris—my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth—became deputy general-secretary, he and I introduced a series of positive actions designed to get more women involved in the work of the union and instituted programmes which were important to women, such as the Full-Time Rights for Part-Time Workers campaign. Every region had to employ a women’s organiser and run women-only education and training programmes. These programmes were intended to get women on to the union ladder. After initial separation, they would then join the mixed programmes. “Separate to integrate”, we said.
That brings me to the situation today. As far as I can tell, all and any pieces of legislation or policy designed to improve the position of women in society have been introduced by various Labour Governments. My noble friend Lady Gale has already mentioned some areas of legislation, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, and the Social Chapter was also brought in. It was a wonderful basket of initiatives designed to enable women to participate more fully in the world of work.
I cannot find any such initiatives which have been introduced by a Conservative Government, and therein lies the rub, because just like the situation I have described from all those years ago in the T&G, women’s lives will not improve as compared to those of men unless positive action is taken. In fact, the coalition Government of 2010 actually did away with programmes which were going very well at the time. The Women and Work Sector Pathways Initiative was a programme designed to improve women’s employment skills and was vigorously supported by employers, both financially and practically. It trained or retrained more than 25,000 women, enabling them to move up the ladder or move into work, but it was done away with in a swipe.
That initiative came out of the Women and Work Commission report, presented to the then Prime Minister in February 2004. All 40 of its recommendations were accepted by government and a general programme proceeded, including, for example, looking with employers at ways in which better-quality part-time work could be provided, training programmes, as I have mentioned, and initiatives in schools to get more girls into STEM subjects. I get slightly fed up with discussions on the gender pay gap when there is a pretty clear and well-trodden area of debate as to how to help eliminate it.
I cannot conclude my remarks without quickly mentioning all-women shortlists, which have already been referred to. These were another recognition that there comes a time when softly, softly is simply not enough to bring about the change that is required. However, we will not be defeated. Let us remember the words of Charlotte Whitton, who was the first woman mayor of Ottawa. She said:
“Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good”.
Then she said:
“Luckily, this is not difficult”.
My Lords, I rise to speak in this important debate and declare an interest as a woman who, like other noble Baronesses speaking here today, has had a long journey to reach this Chamber. Many of us, as we stand on the summit of life’s mountain looking down at the valley of experience, think, “Who would have thought?”.
In 1966 I started my journey as a lowly clerk in the chief accountant’s office of Barclays Bank, a place dominated by men in grey suits and bowler hats. At that time it was my ambition to become the first black woman bank manager in the country. Sadly, it did not take me long to realise that there is a difference between ambition and fantasy. I did, however, cause uproar when I dared to go to work wearing a trouser suit instead of the obligatory skirt. Many of my female colleagues soon copied me, much to the consternation of our male counterparts.
In 1981, at the height of my career as a regular presenter on BBC children’s programmes, getting pregnant was considered a serious error of judgment. In those days it was almost certain that it would be the end of your career, as you were expected to disappear gracefully, with babe in arms, to a life of wifely domestic servitude. Pregnant women were certainly not to be seen below the waist on television when their pregnancy started to become evident. Fortunately for me I had a visionary producer, Cynthia Felgate, who at one time was in the Guinness book of records for producing the most television programmes in the world. She allowed me to continue working and presenting until I was eight months pregnant. This was unheard of and made national and international news. I was seen by millions of viewers fully pregnant, and once I even stopped mid-dance to declare, “I can feel the baby kicking”—the children watching loved that moment. Other female presenters were grateful for this pivotal moment, because they, too, could become pregnant and carry on working onscreen throughout their pregnancy.
It was around 1968, living through the civil rights movement and the race riots here in Britain, when I started to become conscious that more women’s voices were needed in politics. So I organised political meetings and events for fellow Caribbeans in London who felt excluded from society—something that the legendary Claudia Jones had earlier fought against by establishing the West Indian Gazette and the creation of what we all know now as the Notting Hill Carnival. Because of these influences, over the years I began to speak out more and more: I wrote letters to political leaders and campaigned on issues such as seat belts on school buses, diversity in publishing and in the media, and, for 20 years, for a Minister for Children—until we finally got one. It is such a shame that that position has now been downgraded from a full ministerial post. I hope that the Government will reconsider this change and correct this short-sighted mistake.
There have been many women who have been motivational to others and acted as mentors. One in particular for me was the late inspirational and visionary Marchioness of Lothian—Tony Lothian as she was affectionately known. She influenced thousands of women’s lives. She was a journalist, a writer, a benevolent force for good and the founder of the Women of the Year lunch. She was awarded an OBE for services to women, which she treasured and considered her greatest achievement. She believed in bringing women together from all over the world, from all creeds and classes, and from all social, religious and financial backgrounds. She fought for liberty, peace, fairness and equality.
She set up the Women of the Year lunch to highlight the efforts of women who were changing the world and making a difference and to recognise the contribution that they were making to public and political life. But in 1955, when she decided to celebrate professional women’s achievements with a lunch that would raise funds for the blind, she was told condescendingly that she would be lucky to find 50 women to attend. She found 500 and the lunch has continued to this day, with thousands of women from all walks of life being acknowledged.
Many occupations and professions that were closed to women simply because of their gender are now annually celebrated. Among the guests are pilots, train drivers, engineers and of course Prime Ministers—a position women could only dream about back in 1955, when women were not even elevated to the peerage here in this Chamber. Women leave the lunch feeling that they want to inspire others and to press the reset button for change.
But it is sad to think that, 63 years on, an event such as the Women of the Year lunch is still necessary because that resistant glass ceiling still exists, especially for women of colour who, as they progress up the ladder of society, are often asked, “What are you doing here?”—or they get “the look”. Women of colour know that look. It is the look that says it all. A few years ago, when I put myself forward for a board position, I was told, “Who do you think you are, rising above your station?”
Do not get me wrong: things have slowly changed over the last 100 years and we are gradually reaching a state of equality nirvana. It is great to see so many women now being propelled into high-level positions in public and political life, at local level and here in Parliament. That includes women of colour, too—but not enough.
One of the many challenges that women sometimes have to contend with when they reach new heights is that they are so often judged differently from men and have to work harder to prove themselves. Opportunity is what we all need to make progress, to be all-embracing and not to be tribal, defensive and protective. I always get excited when I see real progress, so I was thrilled that recently two of our public service broadcasters appointed female chief executives. I hope that they are paid equally to their male counterparts.
Many women have banged on the doors of inequality and continually tried to break down barriers. We have been told to shut up or we would never work again, to back off and know our place—but that has never deterred us from fighting for equality and fairness. My mother was a housewife and did not have the chance to have a career in public life, but had she lived in today’s world she would have made it right to the top. She was a determined and remarkable woman. So we must never underestimate the value of women of her generation, who nurtured, guided and influenced their girl children to reach for the sky, and made huge sacrifices in doing so.
We can all personally do our bit to inspire, motivate and pave the way for future generations by encouraging young girls and women to experience environments such as Parliament by inviting them here to visit this Chamber to see for themselves the differences being made by women in public and political life. We need to write books about our personal experiences—or at least keep diaries so that future generations can measure progress.
One of the most extraordinary women of our times is Her Majesty the Queen, a woman dedicated to duty who is a record breaker on several fronts. No other monarch, male or female, has achieved or will ever achieve what she has—at least not in the next 100 years. I am an optimist, so I look forward to the day when matters such as the struggle for equality and lack of diversity are looked on with a degree of bemused nostalgia, and when the contribution of women in Parliament, business and public life in general is regarded as entirely normal. That day is fast approaching and, as I reach the age of 69, I am so pleased, proud and privileged to have lived and worked through an era when huge changes have taken place in women’s rights. I hope that I survive long enough to see the day when sexism, misogyny, gender inequality, sexual harassment and violence against women are consigned to the dustbin of history where they truly belong.
My Lords, I would like to contribute a few historical reflections to a debate that so clearly invites them, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington demonstrated so movingly, along with my noble friend Lady Vere, who introduced this debate so powerfully.
My starting point is that posterity is sometimes inclined to give undue credit for great advances in political and public affairs to those who campaigned for them in dramatic and memorable ways. The suffragettes live on vividly in the public mind, immortalised in literature and in film. The bravery and courage they showed in the face of harsh treatment by the authorities will always command widespread admiration. But their militant campaign in the years before the First World War did not mark the vital turning point. One of the objectives of all that is going to be done this year to celebrate the centenary of a great parliamentary reform, and the subsequent if incomplete progress that it made possible, should be to ensure that this achievement is seen in a clearer historical perspective.
What happened 100 years ago represented above all victory for the law-abiding suffragists, led by Millicent Fawcett, a woman who retained the respect of Gladstone and his Liberal Party after parting from them over Irish home rule and becoming a prominent Liberal Unionist in alliance with the Tory party. She and her supporters, some 50,000 strong and thus far outnumbering the suffragettes, waited a long time for their triumph. It was in 1897 that their effective advocacy of their cause first secured a Commons majority for the principle of women’s suffrage. Legislation did not pass because successive Governments failed to give it priority. Winston Churchill and others opposed it tooth and nail, and opinions differed as to the property and residence requirements which women should meet in order to vote, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington mentioned.
When the suffragettes came on the scene, support for women’s suffrage in the Commons slipped. It is hard to argue that law-breaking assisted the cause. Millicent Fawcett never wavered in her opposition to violent methods. It is surely right that her memory should be honoured this year by a statue, the first of a woman to be erected in Parliament Square. I hope that it will stimulate greater interest in her remarkable career, which spanned a period of more than 60 years and encompassed many other causes besides women’s suffrage.
The Conservative Party was prominently associated with the 1918 Act. Its leading politicians dominated Lloyd George’s coalition Government, who were responsible for the legislation. In marking its centenary, Tories today will be deeply conscious that this is also the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act 1928, a more far-reaching measure which gave the vote to all women. It was made possible by the resolve of Stanley Baldwin, the first person to use the phrase “one nation”, which has been incorrectly ascribed to Disraeli. Baldwin as Prime Minister in 1927-28 overcame the strong opposition of his Chancellor, Winston Churchill, who never really reconciled himself to the emergence of women in public life. In 1930 Baldwin, as a leading champion of the right of women to vote, unveiled the well-known statue of Mrs Pankhurst, who had been the Tory candidate for Whitechapel at the time of her death two years earlier.
For far too long, women MPs remained few in number. Some leading Tories were not content with that state of affairs. They included Sir George Younger, the great-great-grandfather of my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie. As chairman of the Conservative Party in 1921, he explained that:
“I have tried my very best to get certain constituencies to accept a lady candidate”,
adding that one constituency chairman,
“wrote back saying I had given him the shock of his life”.
It is important to remember that by this point many women were already involved in public life as members of locally elected bodies. Women had been given the right to vote for and to serve on many of them in 1869. They proved especially successful in winning election to school boards and Poor Law boards. After 1907, all local authorities were open to them.
Furthermore, the Tory party itself had provided significant roles for women since the 1880s. About 1 million of them worked with great commitment in the Primrose League, the largest voluntary mass movement Britain had yet seen, often taking charge of a branch, of which there were some 2,300 in all. After 1918 the party swiftly created an elaborate organisation of its own throughout the country. It provided many opportunities for women. I got to know well one of the first women constituency agents as she approached her 100th birthday, which was duly celebrated here in the Lords with Margaret Thatcher. She would have made a fine MP, but found fulfilment in another political sphere.
Tory women in Parliament during those early years regarded themselves as part of a wider movement within and beyond the party. Nancy Astor became a national celebrity with her exuberant feminist views. “I married beneath me”, she declared, “All women do”. Katharine Atholl was admired for her diligence as a junior Education Minister, later exhibiting great independence of spirit as a supporter of the republican cause in Spain. Mavis Tate worked with women in other parties on campaigns for equal rights. They and others were all resourceful pioneers.
Baldwin once said that Conservatives must be capable of,
“continuous adaptation to the ever-changing facts of social life”.
But as Conservatives have adapted over the years they have held firmly to the principle on which Margaret Thatcher, the greatest of all Conservative women, insisted: merit should determine the positions women occupy in public life, just as it should for men.
My Lords, I am delighted to join this already spirited and good-humoured debate—how could it be otherwise, when we have so much in common and so much to celebrate? I will take a rather oblique look at the occasion. I will do so by virtue of the suffragette colours: violet, white and green. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is in her person acknowledging those colours, which at one point were supposed to stand for, “Give women votes”, but apparently that is apocryphal. These three colours are still worn in girls’ schools around the country on the occasion of their founders’ days. My daughter went to Camden, which was founded by Ms Beale, one of the great suffragists. The suffragists set the tone for a policy that would have to intensify with the suffragettes.
There are still women marching in the streets of this city wearing the suffragette colours. They are proud to do so. They use the suffragist methods. They are, of course, the WASPI women—the Women Against State Pension Inequality. The occasion of their protest was a good one, because the whole idea was that equality of pension age was overdue in fairness to men, which is something, of course, that they acknowledge. But the decision was a wrong one. It was implemented incorrectly. Steve Webb, the Minister of State at the time, told us so. He said that,
“we had to make a difficult decision”,
and that, two months later, they realised that,
“the implications of what we were doing … were very different from what we thought … so that’s a decision that we got wrong”.
That wrong decision affects 3.8 million women. Their failing was to be born in the early 1950s.
WASPI’s campaigning reflects much of the suffragist movement. It has more than 140 local branches across the UK. It has a grant from the Rowntree Reform Trust to further political campaigning. It has the support of UNISON. It delivers petitions. Last October, 100 MPs petitioned on its behalf, many of them, of course, women. It has had petitions signed around the country. Some 193,000 people signed the last one. It has had five debates in Parliament. It has had the intervention of the ombudsman to speed up the Government’s response to its requests. The most recent Motion on this, moved by the SNP in November last year, passed in the Commons by 288 votes to zero. The DUP voted for the WASPI women, and five Tory rebels voted for them too. This is not yesterday’s event, nor 100 years ago; it is a living campaign that has adopted and respects the methods of the suffragettes. In the most recent debate, introduced by Ian Blackwood, it was said that these women are guilty of nothing; they simply had the misfortune of being born female in the 1950s. This House knows that being born female is no answer to anything. The WASPI women are today’s heirs of the suffragettes.
My Lords, I welcome this most timely debate in what I hope will be a historic, transformational year in addressing the barriers to women entering public life. I take great strength from the number of dedicated and inspirational noble Baronesses who are speaking today from all sides of the House. I also thank the noble Lords who have stood up to be counted, for we need your help; we will not win through alone but by getting men to understand that parity of female representation will create a better society for us all. Before I go further, I must declare my interests as honorary vice-president of the Conservative Women’s Organisation, co-chair of the APPG on Women, Peace and Security and a member of other organisations specialising in women’s issues, as set out in the register.
We have already heard many statistics about women in Parliament but some are worth repeating. A total of 489 women have been elected to the Commons since 1918. At the general election last year, 208 women MPs were elected: 32% of all MPs and a record high. Prior to 1987 women had never made up more than 5% of MPs. Women were not allowed into the House of Lords until 40 years after 1918, and as of last July we make up only 26% of its Members. There can be no doubt that progress has been made in the last 100 years, and not just in Parliament—look across our judiciary, clergy, Armed Forces, police and many other areas—but it is not enough. While 32% of MPs might be our all-time high, this ranks us only 39th in the world for women’s representation in Parliament: the Nordic countries and Rwanda lead the pack. Last year’s general election broke the 200 barrier for the first time, but the Fawcett Society highlights that this represents only a 2% increase on the last election. If the UK improves by only this much at each election, we will not see equal representation in the other place until 2062—almost another 50 years.
I am proud of and commend the hard work of Women2Win, the Conservative Women’s Association and the #AskHerToStand campaign within my own party, seeking reform, encouraging and supporting women candidates to put themselves forward, helping them along the bumpy road of politics. Each political party needs to take responsibility to review, reform and enact changes, but we must make sure that the system and the process as a whole are much more welcoming. Women still shoulder the burden for most of the caring responsibilities in the home, and thus the demands of political and business life can impose an enormous strain on relationships. Research published in 2013 found that 45% of female MPs did not have children, compared with 28% of male MPs: there is clearly a motherhood gap in Parliament that needs to be considered as part of the gender gap.
Today, I believe it is the terrible abuse that women are exposed to, both campaigning and online, that is making them turn away. Just look at some of the responses my noble friend Baroness Jenkin got for speaking out the other day. Just look at the findings of the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s report on intimidation in public life, which found that women, especially Conservative and BAME women, received the greatest amount of abuse. Even in the 21st century, women seem intrinsically less confident than men and therefore need much more support and encouragement. We need to keep looking at how our culture and education systems continue to reinforce this lack of confidence down the generations.
There is not enough public recognition that women’s lives often have a different shape to men’s. Many take time out in the childrearing years, but this is sometimes misinterpreted as lack of dedication in the very male workplace. When they have children at home, many do not wish to work the long hours demanded by City firms, which make their employees sign out of the EU working directive. Thus they do not get promoted, or choose to leave the industry. Some women choose to return to the workplace when their children are older but often it is hard for them to get employed in a job that matches their ability.
We know that having women involved in the policy conversation and in decision-making positions makes a difference, as many issues impact differently on women, who are, after all, about 50% of the population. I know from my experience of international women’s issues in developing, conflict and post-conflict countries how important it is to have women around the peace table and to have gender-focused humanitarian relief, such as women and children safe spaces in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. In the business world, female entrepreneurs and businesswomen support growth and stability through diversity. One need look only at the work of the 30% Club on getting women into boardrooms here in the UK or how female-led microfinance and SMEs form the backbone of individuals’, families’ and communities’ paths out of poverty across the globe.
I welcome this debate. It is an excellent forum to discuss and exchange ideas, as there is still much further to go. I ask my noble friend the Minister: what action do the Government plan to take this year to further the cause? We talk smugly about how the UK is leading on gender equality across the world, yet we have never nominated a woman to serve on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Doing this would demonstrate that the UK is serious about gender and wishes to highlight the work of this important body. Through support to UN Women, the UK could work with it to help evaluate the effectiveness of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. It is, after all, the second biggest annual meeting at the UN, yet we hear nothing about it. Surely this is a missed opportunity. As the Fawcett Society has asked, when will Section 106 of the Equality Act, requiring political parties to collect and report monitoring data, commence?
At a time when trust in public figures is low, surely it is a no-brainer that removing barriers to enable more women to enter Parliament and participate in public life will benefit our country and, critically, help us achieve goal 5 of the UN sustainable development goals. After all, we should never forget Mrs Thatcher’s famous words:
“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, to commemorate the fact that 100 years ago tomorrow certain women in the United Kingdom were enabled to vote: women over 30 who either owned property or were married to men who owned property—so no woman on either side of my family would have been able to vote; they had to wait another 10 years. Indeed, seeing my noble friend Lady Gale at the Dispatch Box today reminded me that, in 1978, she and I were at a reception in 10 Downing Street where we commemorated the 50th anniversary of universal female suffrage. As my late right honourable friend Tony Benn used to say, when you reach the age of 50 you realise that a century is not a very long time.
As the 168th woman elected to the House of Commons, in 1992, I am conscious of the fact that in those days there were more men called John in the House of Commons than women MPs. In the very first vote of that Parliament, we voted for the Speaker and I voted for my noble friend Lady Boothroyd. In the Division Lobby, I saw the noble Baroness, Lady Jowell. She and I were friends. We saw each other and I said, “Tessa!”, and she said, “Jean!”, and we gave each other a hug. We were overlooked by two gentlemen whom the Conservatives used to refer to as knights of the shires—they used to call them the Sir Bufton Tuftons—and one nudged the other and said, “Look at this: the place is filling up with women!”. I also want to say how fortunate I was to have Barbara Wootton as a friend—the first woman to sit on that Woolsack and the first woman life Peer. She was absolutely a model for us all.
I want to spend most of my speech on a woman whom I knew when I was the women’s organiser for the Labour Party in the south-west region, based in Bristol, from 1976. She was coy about her age, but she was in her 80s and she was one of the last surviving suffragettes. Her name was Jessie Stephen. She was a Scot, the eldest of 11 children. Her father was a tailor. She left school at 14 and went into domestic service. She realised in no time that it was drudgery from dawn to dusk and it was isolating. She had a half-day off every week. She said to me, “During my afternoons off, I would go around Glasgow putting incendiary devices into post boxes”. She was a suffragette. Although I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, said from the Government Front Bench, the suffragettes needed the suffragists and the suffragists needed the suffragettes, and I do not make a distinction.
At the age of 17, Jessie founded the Scottish Domestic Workers’ Union and was its general secretary well into the 1920s. She saw in me, she said, a reawakening on some of the things on which she had fought in her life, issues which she thought had become dormant in the 1950s and 1960s—the issues that we were concerned about then included access to jobs, abortion, rape, childcare—and it pleased her no end. She used to reminisce with me on the fight for women’s suffrage. She talked about the Cat and Mouse Acts and about helping to organise suffragette meetings. I loved to hear, more than once, about how she helped to carry a big wicker laundry basket into meetings during the time of the Cat and Mouse Acts. The police on the door would say “What’s in that basket?”, and the organisers would carry it as if it contained what they said it contained—bunting—but it actually contained Mrs Pankhurst. They would take her to the back of the hall and find a room. When the meeting opened, Mrs Pankhurst would appear and the police would try to rush the platform, but there was a phalanx of women like Jessie on the front of the platform whom they had to negotiate while Mrs Pankhurst was spirited away out the back.
Jessie joined the Labour Party and stood for the council in Bermondsey in 1919, as shown in the Daily Express of 30 October of that year which recorded how many serving women were delighted to find that one of them was standing for election. She became celebrated on the lecture circuit of the United States and Canada, and when she had to dash back for an election the Liverpool Echo recorded that she had come back from a lecture tour. She was a woman whom people knew. When she was in Portsmouth, she stood as a Labour candidate and reduced the Conservative majority from 18,000 to 5,000. Although there were other speakers on the platform, when she finished speaking most of the audience would leave with her for her next meeting. She became the first woman president of the Bristol Trades Council in 100 years, which was no mean feat in a city characterised by industrial workers and dockers.
Jessie also turned her hand to journalism. The title of one her articles particularly amused me. It is: “After the Wedding: Why Should Wives not Continue to Work?”. It was written in 1920. The 4 October 1919 edition of John Bull put her down as one of the world’s most powerful women.
Jessie was a parliamentary candidate three times—of course, she stood in seats that were not usually winnable. I understand that because, when I was a women’s organiser in 1979, I persuaded some women to stand for election in the south-west of England. None of them could have won, but one of my male colleagues in another region—who is now departed from us—said, “Who’s that woman in Bristol persuading women to stand for Parliament”, as if it was an offence when nobody complained about him conducting shortlists that were all men.
This was the wellspring of reminiscence and experience in that little house in Bedminster, Bristol, which so impressed me, and I am pleased to say that Bristol City Council has recognised Jessie’s worth and there is a plaque on the wall of her house in Chessel Street, Bedminster, recording when she lived there. She wrote her autobiography and bequeathed her papers to me, as she thought of me as a kind of daughter, but because of a misunderstanding her sister burnt them the day after the funeral. Noble Lords can imagine the distress I felt about that. But I discovered that her trade union had a copy of her autobiography and some of her papers, photographs and press cuttings, and I have deposited them in the Bristol reference library.
In June 1979, the National Conference of Labour Women was in Felixstowe, and I was told that Jessie was ill and had gone to hospital. She died on 4 June, and it is recorded that her last words were, “You’ll have to change my tablets; I am going to a women’s conference”. The point of all this is that we stand on the shoulders of women like Jessie: women who nobody has ever heard of but who mean so much to us. I wanted to record here and now that, without people such as Jessie Stephen, we would have waited even longer for some of the privileges that we rely on today.
My Lords, women’s involvement in public life and particularly in government did not begin 100 years ago. Women had some limited franchise prior to the great leap forward achieved by the Act of 1918. Women were allowed to stand for election to the newly created school boards in 1870, to district and parish councils in 1893 and finally to county councils in 1907.
This gradual progress of enabling women to take on responsible roles was, as can be seen, in areas where women were deemed to have some practical knowledge. Women could contribute to social reform—and they did. That perspective came to define women’s involvement in government at all levels for a hundred years. The generally accepted view, though, was that women did not have the experience or, indeed, even the brain power for the big issues of government: taxation, defence, foreign affairs. I think it is questionable as to how far society has rid itself of that prejudice.
Women in the Liberal Party had long been advocates of women’s suffrage. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Women’s Liberal Federation was formally committed to equal pay, to equality in divorce laws and in access to all areas of employment, and of course to women’s right to vote on an equal basis to men. Sadly, some of the most senior men holding power in the Liberal Party opposed women’s suffrage. The male tribal preserve was to be protected.
Some senior Liberals did, however, publicly advocate votes for women. Notable among them was Sir John Simon, who was at the time Liberal MP for my home area of the Spen Valley in Yorkshire. Eventually, the pressure from the many mainly women’s groups for the vote, combined with the catastrophe that was the First World War, broke down the barriers, and the coalition Government under the Liberal Lloyd George in 1918 passed the Act giving, as we have heard, only some women over 30 the vote.
I now turn to the achievements of Liberal women in the last century in local government and some in central government—first, local government, where things can really be changed. The renowned Elizabeth Garrett Anderson had a trio of firsts in public life, as the first woman to sit on a school board, the first woman to be qualified as a doctor and the first woman to become a mayor of a local council—a true trail-blazer for women.
Another woman I want to draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to is somebody who is not really well known, Gertrude Elsie Taylor. She was elected to Batley Borough Council in 1927. Many of your Lordships will not know Batley, but it is a male preserve. It is a woollen mill town—actually, a heavy woollen mill town—and not the sort of place where a woman would easily succeed in public life, but Gertrude Taylor did. She became the mayor of Batley in 1932.
These women across the country laid the foundations for all of us who have been elected to local councils, and the Liberal women who were elected to Parliament in those early years are equally to be recognised. Margaret Wintringham, who in 1924 became only the second woman MP, was elected to Louth in Lincolnshire despite advocating many feminist causes. Margaret Ashton fought every election as a Liberal from 1918 to 1935 as well as by-elections in 1937 and 1944, in an era when standing as a Liberal and standing as a woman were not particularly to be acknowledged. She gets a special mention for flying the Liberal flag in an era when that was not easy to do so.
Despite this early success and 100 years of the acceptance in principle that women could and should be able to vote and hold high office, there is much that needs to change. Men still dominate both government and local government. Women are often still rarely elected to leadership roles of councils or, indeed, as metro mayors. For instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and I were the first women to be leaders of our respective Yorkshire councils. The sad fact is that the same cultural fault-line runs through our society as 100 years ago, be it in business or government, wherever major decisions are being taken.
Despite the best endeavours of many people and the clear progress that has been made, women are still not involved on an equal basis with men when it comes to significant decision-making. Women need to be fully engaged in the discussions prior to the formal decision-making. In my experience, that is often not the case. Until there is equal representation from all parts of society at the early stage of decision-making, in business, in government or in any other part of public life, then inequality will persist.
So let us celebrate the tremendous achievement of those campaigning women over 100 years ago. Laurels we must grant in abundance to the many women who campaigned for the right to vote, but we women today should remember that laurels are not there to be rested on.
My Lords, I thank the Government for giving time to this historic debate and to my noble friend Lady Vere for opening it so eloquently. If my mother had still been alive, she would have been 102 years old today. She was born in 1916 into a world where women were not allowed to vote, and born to a mother who, although she was poor and worked in a cotton mill, was highly political. It would be 1928 before my grandmother and all other women over the age of 21 had the vote, but she celebrated, as do we, the vote given to some 6 million eligible women after many years of struggle and sacrifice. We should not forget that the Representation of the People Act 1918 also widened the franchise for men, and it had in it proposals for proportional representation. As the Manchester Guardian headline on 7 February 1918 read: “Reform Bill Passed: Women’s Vote Won … Alternative Vote Definitely Rejected”.
My grandmother may not have got the vote in 1918 but that did not stop her keen interest in politics. Over the years, due to deaths and remarriage, she ended up the mother and stepmother to 14 children. By any measure she lived in poverty but she and her family had a wealth of love and generosity, and no matter how many mouths my granny had to feed there was always something left for someone else in the street who might not be well or had lost a loved one. People came to her for advice and help with their children and even with the birth of their children. She was simply a one-woman welfare state—and she was a staunch Tory.
I mention this to highlight the countless women over the years who, had their circumstances been different, would have made a significant contribution to public and national life, and I join the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in paying tribute to them. That is why those of us who have been lucky to play our part have a responsibility to do all we can to motivate and support women to take the opportunities afforded to them.
I doubt there is one woman in your Lordships’ House today who would be here without the championship of other women. As the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, said, we stand on shoulders. I know that I would not be here without my noble friend Lady Seccombe—like many women in the Conservative Party, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her—although I might not have had the benefit of her support without Barbara Porter. Barbara was chairman of the Bolton West Conservative Association, and she sent me off on a cold and foggy November weekend—with great reluctance on my part, it has to be said—to a training session for women in West Bromwich, which turned out to be the catalyst for all that followed. I owe her heartfelt thanks for pushing me out of my comfort zone.
It was that weekend that subsequently led me to stand for Parliament in Oldham in the 1992 general election, and to meet someone else who encouraged me to persevere. I have never subscribed to the view that unless you share the same politics, you cannot share friendship. So it was that I met and came to like my opponent in that election, Bryan Davies, now the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. He was so kind to me at the count, where I inevitably lost. In his speech, he thanked me for a good campaign and said that he hoped that I would get to Parliament, just not in Oldham. If only all politics was like that.
The advances made by women over the past 100 years would never have happened without the help of enlightened men, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington. I am sure her great-grandfather would have been very proud of everything she does today. I know that my work as vice-chairman for candidates would have been that much harder without the wise counsel of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who was dedicated to getting more women into Parliament. After all, we had no shortage of young men beating a path to our door looking to fill in that awkward gap between leaving university and becoming Prime Minister. I am delighted that my honourable friend Kemi Badenoch now has the role of vice-chairman for candidates. I know she will do it brilliantly and I wish her well.
History will rightly praise David Cameron for the way he changed the face of the Conservative Party, but if it had not been for the drive and determination of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, with his resolve that the party must look and sound more like the country it wished to represent, and attract more women and ethnic-minority candidates, all the exciting progress my party has made would have been that much harder to achieve. The progress we have made from 2005 to today is in large part down to the wonderful Women2Win, which I had the pleasure of co-chairing for a short time. It was formed after the 2005 election when, although we had far more talented women on our candidates list, many of whom are now in the Commons or your Lordships’ House, serving as Ministers and members of the Cabinet—some of them are sitting not far away from me now—we had not made the electoral breakthrough that we needed to make a significant difference.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, who is not in her place, that she is plain wrong when it comes to the Prime Minister’s support of women. The founders of Women2Win—my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington—both knew that it would not be easy, but they threw everything into searching for new talent and then training and nurturing that talent, and our party and Parliament are much the richer for their efforts.
Of course, it started before 2005 for the Prime Minister, who in her previous position as the first woman chairman of the Conservative Party pioneered a number of radical initiatives to shake up the selection process for candidates. That included the first-ever open primary, in Warrington South in November 2003, which resulted in a woman candidate for the Conservatives. She never shied away from facing down complacency and prejudice, and I am therefore not at all surprised that the Prime Minister will use this historic centenary, when we celebrate the bravery of those who fought so hard for the extension of women’s rights, to highlight the pressure and abuse facing women—and many men—today as they exercise their freedom to express their political views, which some would seek to deny them.
In 2002, I was interviewed by Simon Mayo on Radio 5 Live about how the Conservative Party was going to attract more women. I was asked the inevitable question about all-women shortlists, and I was just about to give my stock Conservative answer when I decided to say something different: “Whatever your views on all-women shortlists, you cannot deny the impact they made”—and, they did. The numbers could no longer be ignored and it meant that the rest of us, in our own way, had to step up our game. We have come a long way since 2005, but in the words of the trailer on Channel 4 for its all-girls special of “The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds” to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage: “A lot has changed, but we are not there yet”.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, who has always worked hard to promote women in her party, and it is a delight to take part in this unique debate. I am much encouraged by the many activities and events that Parliament and the Government have so far planned for this exciting anniversary year.
I can remember talking to my grandmother, Sarah Ryan, about how proud she was of her first chance, in 1918, to vote and how she got quite irritated with my grandfather, who thought she might not know how to, and tried to come in with her to show her. The Representation of the People Act 1918, it could be argued, was the most significant piece of legislation for women in the history of our country, as it opened the door to our democratic participation. After so many years of reasoned debate and persuasion falling on deaf male ears, the civil disobedience and imprisonment of the suffragettes and then the war years when the banners were swapped for spanners in the arms factories of the First World War, in 1918 women started—I realise it was only a start—pushing open the door towards full parliamentary participation.
The Representation of the People Act, of course, as my noble friend Lady Corston said, was only for women who had access to or owned property, and only for women over the age of 30. How patronising. But it was thrilling anyway for millions of women such as my grandmother. So, along with the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which gave women the right to stand for election to the House of Commons for the first time, the long lists of firsts began. Countess Markievicz of Sinn Fein was the first woman to be elected to Parliament—but refused, in that Sinn Fein tradition, to take her seat. Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat, as the result of her husband’s by-election in Plymouth Sutton in 1919. Plymouth is a city I love and grew up in, and I can remember my mother saying how she had met Nancy Astor, and how she had been “quite a character”. In 1921 Margaret Wintringham became the first Liberal woman MP, and the first Labour women MPs were elected in the 1923 general election—Margaret Bondfield, Dorothy Jewson and Susan Lawrence.
The first time women and men had equal voting rights came in 1928, with the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act. We are the beneficiaries of the Life Peerages Act 1958, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, in her spirited introduction. It saw the creation of peerages for women for the first time. By the end of 1958 there were 884 male Peers and four women Peers. We have come a long way—but not far enough.
As we know, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister in 1979, nearly 40 years ago. Baroness Young became the first female Leader of the House of Lords in 1981—a popular practice now on both sides of the House. Betty Boothroyd was our first woman Speaker of the House of Commons in 1992. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is very much an active Member of your Lordships’ House and was on her feet yet again last week, making a powerful intervention on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Of course, another very important first for us was my noble friend Lady Hayman becoming the first woman Lord Speaker in 2006.
To tack back a bit, by 1945 the total number of female MPs elected since 1918 had increased to 77. Here in the Lords in 1963 there was legislation to enable the first woman hereditary Peer to take her seat—and so Baroness Strange, who I had the pleasure of knowing, and who was a great campaigner for widows’ pension rights, became the first to take her seat. Of course, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, remains a very active Peer today. No female hereditary Peer in her own right has ever been admitted to the House through the hereditary by-elections—another reason to see the back of them.
In graph 1, available to us in the House of Lords Library’s excellent briefing for this debate, we see that the pivotal year for a significant increase in women’s numbers in Parliament was 1997, when Labour won the general election and increased hugely the number of women elected—the result of all-women shortlists, as noble Lords have said, and other promotional activities within the Labour Party to see more women in Parliament. That is a very good reason to keep all-women shortlists going beyond their sell-by date of 2030, as called for by my noble friend Lady Gale in her excellent introduction.
The 1997 election saw 13 Conservative women elected, 101 Labour women elected and three Lib Dem women elected. That was the year when the force of scale really mattered for the first time in women’s influence in the Commons—although, of course, there had been many very important individual women’s contributions up to that point. I remember very clearly and worked with the redoubtable Baroness Barbara Castle, for instance. At the moment, I am writing a piece about a terrific Birmingham MP of the 1970s called Doris Fisher. So, yes, in all parties there were many significant individuals, but I believe that 1997 marked a turning point in the influence and political heft as far as women were concerned—and so began another round of firsts. Margaret Beckett was the first woman Foreign Secretary in 2006. The first female Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was appointed in 2007, and the first female Attorney-General, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland—and here in your Lordships’ House in 2015 the first female Bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. Of course, we look forward to welcoming our first female Black Rod, Sarah Clarke, very shortly.
So we have come a long way, here in the mother of Parliaments, but we must not forget the many hundreds of women councillors, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and MEPs, who represent people so well locally and internationally—although, unfortunately, our MEPs will soon be gone. Although we have come a long way, the place of women in the modern body politic is a complex one. We share the general lack of trust and disillusion meted out to most politicians, but we are picked out for particularly vicious abuse and vitriol on social media and elsewhere. At its most extreme, we witnessed the terrible death of Jo Cox MP. We have seen women MPs standing up for other women, in the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, and that must continue.
The legislation that women MPs have worked on down the decades on equal pay, access to justice and maternity leave, and against violence against women, has without doubt helped improve women and girls’ lives in this country—but the pace of change and of cultural change has often been glacial. But that, as we know, is no reason to give up. In education we must continue to be vigilant to guard against any cultural or religious restrictions placed on girls’ lives. On pay, we have only to look at the current fight to close the pay gap at the BBC to realise that there is so much more to do. My own bugbear is the effect of Brexit on women’s rights—and so the fight goes on. There is much to celebrate in this anniversary year, but much to make us all even more determined than ever not to give up the fight. As Barbara Castle would say, “Keep the faith”.
My Lords, this debate has been a pleasure and it has been entertaining. One cannot often say that about debates in your Lordships’ House. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who outlined the progress that has been made, but also said that progress has been glacial. I do not want to bring the mood down too far but would like to outline some of the problems that society still has in this regard.
I am sure all your Lordships know that society is still extremely unequal as regards women’s place in it. Therefore, we still have a long way to go. I wish to make some suggestions about how we can speed up that process. A lot of noble Lords have quoted people. I should like to quote Theresa May, who said:
“There are women who gave up their lives to have the right to vote in this country and people who yearn, across the world, to have this freedom and so we should use it”.
That is absolutely true. We are incredibly lucky that we have got as far as we have here. However, if we really valued the vote, we would make sure that elections were fair and not stitched up by an archaic voting system. We need a system of proportional representation for both Houses of Parliament. In bodies where that is used, more women are elected. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, in the National Assembly for Wales, just over two-fifths—42%—of Members are women. In the Scottish Parliament, just over one-third—35%—of Members are women. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, 30% of Members are women. Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, women account for 41% of UK MEPs. An elected second Chamber using a system of fair votes would transform this House, where only a quarter of the Peers are women. We keep talking of the figure of 489 women who have been elected to the other place so far, but we should remember that they would still not fill all the available seats. We are still hugely unrepresented. The Green Party parliamentarians are 100% women, but there are only two of us.
Whatever your take on the results of the European Union referendum, where every single vote counted, wherever it was cast, it showed that if you give people a say and give them a vote that means something. They can be very political indeed, as citizens who feel that they can be genuine agents for change or not. Here in the UK, we no longer have agents of the state arresting women and torturing them by force-feeding. However, we have undercover police invading the lives of innocent women and using them in a systematic attempt to get information about campaigners. Those women were lied to and there were even children born of those liaisons. The “spy cops” case is once again in the High Court. At 9 am today, I stood outside the High Court protesting about the case in which the Met is blocking every move it possibly can to hide the identities of the police officers involved. The Met still refuses to see the illegality of its position and its actions.
We also have example after example of online trolls hounding and abusing women—and it seems mostly to happen to women. Anonymous rape and death threats are not pleasant and must be taken very seriously. In America, the #MeToo campaign has highlighted the systematic abuse of women by powerful men, including their President, condemned by his own boastful words.
Here in the UK, we had the Presidents Club fiasco last month, showing that the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are vital for us here as well. Over the weekend, there were reports of the Freemasons here in Parliament: journalists, parliamentarians and staff—a male bastion of privilege and cosy, women-excluding creepiness that I cannot imagine. Freemasonry records show New Welcome Lodge, set up for MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff, and Gallery Lodge, for the political press corps. Both remain active, according to the Guardian. Apparently, New Welcome Lodge has about 30 to 40 members, of whom only around four are understood to be MPs, while none is a Peer. Well done, gentlemen.
The WASPI women are another classic case of inequality and injustice that we ought to be discussing more.
In 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst said that the vote would create equality for women. We know now that that is not the case, but it opened up the possibility of equality, if women choose to make their self-interest a priority on issues such as pay and childcare. It says a lot about the society that we live in that it still has to be mostly women who speak out on those issues.
When we talk about women’s equality, there is always the Thatcher and May question: is it not great to see women in positions of power? Strong women have emerged in recent years and they have had to struggle against the odds in their parties, though not in the Green Party, obviously. Having Arlene Foster as leader of the DUP, however, does not make it a force for liberal politics and feminism. It is not a bad thing to have different types of people, but I would like young women to be inspired by different role models, such as, for example, Caroline Lucas—who would be a much better Prime Minister than Theresa May—Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, or Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru. There are 10 male Peers speaking in this debate and I congratulate them on standing up today. I shall listen carefully to what they have to say. It is obvious that we women cannot do it all on our own; it is incredibly important that we have the support of men.
I close with a last word from the Local Government Association, whose Be a Councillor campaign,
“works with councils, political parties, individuals and talent-spotters to encourage more people to stand as local councillors. It is important that local government reflects the communities it represents”—
I cannot emphasise that enough—
“and the Be A Councillor campaign includes a focus on encouraging woman and under-represented groups to engage with and enter politics”.
However far we have come, we still have a long way to go. Things such as this debate will enable us to see a more equal society.
My Lords, I decided to speak in this debate because it is important for some males to contribute. I have one or two things to say and, as has been referred to, the second woman to take her seat in the House of Commons was returned for Louth, in a by-election in 1921, following the death of her husband, Tom.
The first of my two points is to draw attention to the somewhat anomalous wording of the Motion. The Representation of the People Act was enacted in 1918. Women have been able to stand for election to the House of Commons since 1918. However, they have not been able to stand for election by virtue of that Act. The qualifying age for election to public office is dealt with in separate legislation from that governing the franchise, and the Representation of the People Act left unchanged the ineligibility of women to stand for election to the House of Commons. It was eight months after the Act received Royal Assent that the House of Commons approved, by 274 votes to 25, the Motion:
“That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that a Bill be passed forthwith making women eligible as Members of Parliament”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/10/1918; col. 785.]
The Bill to give effect to this wish had one clause and received Royal Assent the following month, on 21 November. As there was no reference to age in the measure, the minimum qualifying age was deemed the same as that for men: 21. The omission appears not to have been an oversight, as the implication was acknowledged when the Act was going through the Commons. There was no real opposition to letting women stand at the age of 21. The reason the franchise was restricted to women aged 30 and over was to ensure that women remained in a minority in the electorate in the immediate post-war period. That reasoning, of course, was irrelevant to the qualifying age for election to the House of Commons.
Thus, we should be acknowledging in the Motion the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918. That was the measure that enabled women to enter the House of Commons. As we know—it has already been touched on—it did not exactly open the floodgates to women being elected as MPs. This brings me to my second point. There may not have been quantity in numbers but there was quality. Some of the women elected to Parliament in the inter-war years made a significant contribution to the nation’s politics. The House of Commons may not have seemed a conducive environment for the few women MPs elected in this period. Some, though, did take to it, and with effect. Nancy Astor was obviously high-profile and capable of giving as good as she got. However, she did not achieve as much as some other women MPs.
Three years ago, I gave the Speaker’s Lecture on Eleanor Rathbone, the independent MP for the Combined English Universities from 1929 until her untimely death in 1946. She was the first woman to be elected as an independent and remains the only woman to have served as an independent MP throughout her parliamentary career. She knew how to use Parliament to get what she wanted, and she enjoyed it. When the House got a little unruly, she confessed to Mary Stocks that she,
“rather liked the House when it is in this rollicking mood, though I suppose it would shock a serious critic of Parliament”.
She knew how to use procedure and how to pursue Ministers, not just in the Chamber but in the Corridor. As Harold Nicolson recalled, she would stalk through the corridors, weighed down with her papers, to waylay Ministers, who in time became to view her approaching figure with some trepidation. As Susan Pedersen wrote of her:
“She was, simply, implacable; and, since she was well-placed, impossible to shut up, and immune from party discipline, officials and ministers had no alternative but to deal with her. But when they did so, they often found, to their surprise, that she was neither fanatical nor impractical, but flexible, imaginative and terrifyingly good on the details”.
Her achievements were remarkable. She is credited with getting family allowances introduced—the Family Allowances Act was enacted shortly before she died—but she did much else beside. She was amazingly prescient in recognising the dangers posed by Nazi Germany. Six weeks after Hitler became German Chancellor, she was on her feet in the House, warning of the dangers. She fought hard for refugees: with three other MPs, she set up a Parliamentary Committee on Refugees. She fought to improve the condition of women in India. She became a champion for the creation of what became the State of Israel. She demonstrated real stamina in pursuing her goals—all the more remarkable for the fact that she was first elected to the House of Commons at the age of 57. According to one of her biographers, she was the most significant woman in British politics in the first half of the 20th century. As I said in my lecture, one can identify a “look at me” politician, driven by ego, and an “I want to get things done” politician, driven by values. The two types are not mutually exclusive, but Eleanor Rathbone was a pristine example of the latter.
Rathbone was thus distinctive, though she was not unique in being a female MP who made a mark in the inter-war years. She worked with the Conservative MP, the Duchess of Atholl, to evacuate some 4,000 children from Spain during the civil war. The duchess resigned her seat in 1938 to fight a by-election in opposition to the Government’s policy on appeasement. On the Labour side, there were politicians such as “Red” Ellen Wilkinson and, of course, Margaret Bondfield, who was the first woman to serve in the Cabinet.
They all deserve credit for demonstrating that women could do just as good a job as men in the House of Commons, if not better. Rathbone has been described as an early Margaret Thatcher. It would probably be more accurate to describe Margaret Thatcher as a latter-day Eleanor Rathbone. They were very different in many ways, although both were products of Somerville College, Oxford, and both demonstrated what women could achieve in the House of Commons.
As has been emphasised, the return of women MPs has been slow—indeed, for decades glacial—but one should not lose sight of what the few who were returned in those early years contributed to public life and in a not necessarily congenial institutional setting. This is a great opportunity to draw attention to all that they did.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for her very kind remarks about our election contest. When I expressed the hope that we would meet in the Chamber in due course, I had assumed that it would be at the other end. Never once, when we met in discussion over the political position of the nation, did I conceive that either she or I would be present in this Chamber.
I too want to concentrate my remarks mainly on one woman. When I first entered the Commons in 1974, there were three women in the Cabinet: Barbara Castle, Judith Hart—the Minister for Overseas Development—and Shirley Williams. Although it might be going a little far to say that they were household names, certainly for anyone with the remotest interest in politics those women made a big impact. Many of my male colleagues rejoice in that but we recognise that we have an awfully long way to go to produce anything like fairness towards women. Undoubtedly the big step forward was having all-women shortlists in the 1997 election. I have met enough men who have objected to those shortlists; nevertheless, their efficacy is undoubted. If we are to make significant progress towards anything like equality of representation of the sexes in the House of Commons, other parties also have to think along those progressive lines.
This debate commemorates the achievement of the vote for women in 1918 and we all salute the contributors to that cause. Some names are very well known. Those of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia drop off the tongues of anyone remotely interested in such history, but I want to concentrate on someone who I think deserves similar recognition but gets infinitely less. Her name is Annie Kenney. She was brought up in Oldham, the town which I had the privilege to represent in the Commons some time ago. She started off as a mill girl in one of over 400 mills which Oldham—the cotton king of England—boasted of at that time. Annie always bore the scars of that work. Just as miners often have the tips of fingers chopped off through the dangers of their work, women mill workers lost fingers through controlling the bobbins on looms in the factories, and Annie suffered from that handicap. It is about the only handicap that she ever recognised because, my goodness, she was a woman of considerable spirit.
There is presently a proposal to erect a statue of Annie in Parliament Square in Oldham. It is a very fine square. On one side of it is Oldham’s war memorial, quite a wonderful piece of sculpture and deservedly so, because Oldham lost its sons at the Battle of Loos in 1916. In those terrible times, the young men of a whole ward could be wiped out by the carnage on the Western Front. On the other side of the square is a magnificent example of 19th-century civic architecture: the town hall, complete with the requisite Doric columns. It also has a blue plaque, which states that Winston Churchill addressed the people of Oldham there on his election—his first election—as a Member of Parliament. It is a prestigious location, and I will now give the reasons why I think Annie Kenney should be commemorated there.
Annie listened to Sylvia Pankhurst at a meeting of the Oldham Clarion in 1905, and immediately struck up a political relationship with Sylvia. There was no doubt at all that Annie was born of very strong stuff indeed. She was certainly a militant suffragette; the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, paid tribute to them, while disavowing their effectiveness in the long run. She was alongside Sylvia when the first political meeting was disrupted by the suffragettes. Sir Edward Grey was one of the speakers, and Winston Churchill another, so it was a fairly star cast to upset, but the suffragettes had no inhibitions about that. As a result, Annie spent three days in jail. Subsequent to that, following further disruptions carried out by the militants, she suffered force-feeding in prison after being arrested and was a victim of that outrageous cat and mouse Act, whereby women were released until they were fit enough to be returned to prison, where they were treated just as cruelly as they had been in the past.
The militant suffragette campaign was suspended in 1914, and of course Annie was a patriot: not for her any question of reservation about participating in the war. It was the job of men to go to war and it was the job of women to fill the places that the men had vacated and play their full part in sustaining the war effort, which Annie did as ably as she could. At the end of the war, Asquith was long gone, and Lloyd George had been convinced, partly through the militancy of the suffragette movement before the war, that the vote had to be granted to women. So although I accept that of course wartime changed a great deal in British politics, and although I accept that the militant aspect of the suffragette movement will always arouse some degree of controversy, there is no doubt that it played its part. By far the most important part was the war effort and the fact that women were able to demonstrate that they were the equal of men in sustaining production at home. But it was inevitably the element of challenge laid down by women—a determination that they would be satisfied—that helped to convince the political establishment of the time, all of whom were male, of course.
I hope and expect that a statue will be constructed over this next year. I hope that Annie Kenney will be recognised for the outstanding Oldhamer, subject and woman that she was. Tremendous courage was needed to sustain these activities over many years, and we should do nothing else but give due praise to the women who did so.
My Lords, I am humbled to take part in this important debate on the role of women in public life and their increase in representation in Parliament, both in this Chamber and in the other place. We have already heard how hard-won the battle was for all women in the United Kingdom to be allowed to vote and to play their part in electing the Government, and about their selfless struggle to gain equality. I wonder how those women would have viewed the progress that has been achieved in the past 100 years. On the ballot paper, a woman’s vote is still worth exactly the same as that of a man, but there is still a significant underrepresentation, as we have heard, of women in Parliament. In this Chamber, the percentage of women Members seems to be stuck fairly stubbornly at 25%. Although there is a higher percentage of women on these Benches than there is on the Benches of the other major parties, I do not think that 33% is yet good enough. Of course, as we have heard, in the other place, only 32% of Members are women.
If we look at the position of women in the rest of our society we see that there is no equality. There are whole swathes of society where women are barely represented. According to Fortune magazine, there is a greater chance of being a CEO of a FTSE 100 company if you are called David or Stephen than if you are a woman. I guess being called Mike means that I would never have made it big in the world of business. Perhaps I should have called my daughter David or Stephen.
The representation of women on the boards of major companies is pitiful. The Women in Sport survey found that half of the 68 bodies funded by Sport England and UK Sport have fewer than 30% of women as non-executive directors—a percentage that is now a precondition for receiving public funding. The small number of women is reflected in the tiny coverage of women’s sport in our national newspapers, although both the BBC and Sky deserve praise for increasing the coverage of women’s sport.
Just as 100 years ago the tectonic plates of history were finally shifted by those remarkable campaigning women, the plates are now shifting again. The row over the gender pay gap at the BBC is now moving into other areas of public life. The denigration of women, whether at a rich men’s dinner cloaked in fundraising for charity or some working men’s clubs, or the appalling sight of scantily dressed women having to publicise a boxing tournament or Formula 1 race, is not acceptable any more. It is heartening that the public are universally clamouring for this change.
It is through education that the esteem and self-esteem of women must be started. In primary and secondary schools we need to ensure that there is parity of opportunity for men and women and that stereotypes are challenged. That must continue into apprenticeships, further education and higher education to ensure that we have strong role models. It is a pity that our school curriculum and GCSE and A-level syllabuses are so strongly weighted towards men.
I want to talk about two important women, one of whom has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. However, you do not always have to be famous to make a change to your community and society. I start with Eleanor Rathbone, the Liverpool campaigner and independent MP for Combined English Universities. One of her first speeches in this Parliament was on preventing female genital mutilation. She joined the British Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi Council to support human rights and was, as we have heard, outspoken on appeasement. She co-founded the Liverpool Women’s Citizen Association to promote women’s involvement in political affairs and was president of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship—the renamed National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
In Liverpool, Eleanor Rathbone formed the 1918 Club for women, reputedly the oldest women’s club still meeting, which of course celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Our Lord Speaker has kindly agreed to host a reception for its members in her honour. It is important that we remember and celebrate the thousands of remarkable women like Eleanor Rathbone.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, women from all walks of life have brought about change. I think of my mother. She was German and a refugee fleeing from the invading Russians. She ended up in Liverpool, the city that was the most heavily bombed place in the UK outside London. She did not speak a word of English and was 24 years old. That woman managed to survive, to run a business, to bring up a family and to live happily ever after. When my father suggested that my mother might like to return to Germany, she said, “No, my home is in Liverpool now”. There are millions of women like that who do remarkable things every single day.
We recognise the contribution that women have made. Currently there is an excellent exhibition in Portcullis House, a raft of events planned in Parliament for this year, and a celebration in the year-long Women and Power project organised by the National Trust. Of course we must remember that before 1918 it was not only women who did not have the vote, it was also non-householders. They included men living with their parents, working as servants, serving as soldiers and the homeless. Without the women’s suffrage movement I wonder whether universal suffrage would have been extended to men as well.
We must all take responsibility for challenging the underrepresentation of women wherever we come across it. We must use the correct term to describe occupations because language is important. It is not acceptable to talk about “firemen” and so on. I know that some people will say, “What’s in a name?”, but actually it is important for us and for our children growing up. Parliament should become a beacon of women’s rights and opportunities, not just in the Chambers but in the number of female officers, staff, researchers and interns we employ. It is about equal pay and equal opportunities.
Two weeks ago I met a group of women who are campaigning for more women to be employed in the construction industry. As a result of that meeting I put down a Question for Written Answer, and yesterday I received a reply from the Minister telling me that practical steps are being developed, including the Be Fair framework. As I walked to the Chamber earlier, I looked at all the scaffolding around Parliament, and I wondered how many women we employ from the construction industry on our own building. I would bet that actually there are none, but we could be a beacon and ensure that women in the construction industry are employed here in Parliament itself.
In conclusion, I should say that I was very nervous about speaking in this debate, but I am glad that I have. Without being patronising, I have been genuinely inspired by Members’ contributions, and I thank them for that. As I have said, much needs to be done to reach the nirvana talked about by my noble friend Lady Benjamin, but with women like her and others in this Chamber, it will be achieved.
Although much of the focus of this debate is on the representation of women in Parliament, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that we should reflect on the role of women in local politics, both in the suffrage campaign and in the present day. In this centenary year, it is worth remembering that local government led the way for women’s rights. Women could vote in local elections nearly 50 years before they won the right to vote in parliamentary elections. They stood for election as local councillors and Poor Law guardians, and used their positions to fight for better conditions for their local communities. The Women’s Local Government Society and the LGA have worked to identify 100 suffrage pioneers who were active in the campaign for votes and went on to use the extended rights to citizenship in a positive way locally. The suffrage pioneer campaign will be launched tomorrow, on 6 February.
My home city of Bradford was at the heart of the women’s suffrage campaign. A rally held in 1908 at Shipley Glen, close to where I live, was attended by crowds of 100,000 people. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned Margaret Wintringham in her list of able women. She was born in Keighley, which is part of Bradford, and she took her seat in 1921. She was the third woman, rather than the second, to be elected as a Member of Parliament. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, told us that Lady Astor was the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat. We note that she was a Conservative. The second was Countess Markievicz, who represented Sinn Fein and never took her seat, while Margaret Wintringham was a Liberal. That shows us that the suffragette movement encompassed women of all political persuasions, and we should learn from that as a way of doing things that deliver. We all have something to offer and no one has a monopoly over all knowledge and virtues.
I have really enjoyed hearing about the inspirations that other Members and women have referred to in their lives, and I particularly liked the description by my noble friend Lady Morris of her mother and grandmother. I was fortunate in that both my mother and grandmother ran their own businesses, which was absolutely unheard of in their generation. Moreover, the Primrose League, which has been mentioned, featured large in my family history. But I must say something positive about how the encouragement and inspiration to do things in political life came from the male in my life—my father. He died in 2001, aged 96. He had always been very encouraging of women. He had only brothers and no sons, just me. He was determined that whatever I wanted to do, I should be encouraged in that. He encouraged me to take a deep interest in politics, and he employed women on occasions when many others would not have done. He gave them responsibilities and always regarded them as intellectual equals. I am very lucky in that, and I thank the male Members of the House who have taken part in this debate because we appreciate that not all men have negative views about the rights and role of women. Long may we encourage them to play their part in bringing forward even more opportunities for women.
This centenary celebration must not only be a time for looking backwards; we must look forwards and find practical ways of encouraging more women to serve their communities as local councillors. The lack of parental leave and pension contributions can act as barriers to standing as a councillor, and in particular to taking on the responsibilities of a cabinet member and needing to give up full-time employment. The intimidation of people in public life, which affects both men and women, is also a barrier to standing for public office.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life recently published a report on intimidation. It recommended that the Government should bring forward legislation abolishing the requirement that those standing to become local councillors should publish their home addresses on ballot papers. This is a recommendation that I would encourage the Government to look at closely, having personally suffered harassment in the past and unwelcome intrusions into my family’s lives when I was the first woman leader of Bradford Metropolitan Council. I know that some men suffer intimidation, but I doubt that male leaders both before and after me in Bradford council were on the receiving end of so much unwarranted treatment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned, the Be a Councillor campaign is a very helpful way of getting underrepresented groups to engage with and enter politics. It has recently formed a network of women councillors, which can help and advise those who are thinking about standing for election. I encourage all noble Lords to support it. In closing, I ask whether the Minister could update us on any further plans to increase women’s representation nationally and locally in political and public office, given the work that both central and local government are doing to invest in the Be a Councillor campaign.
My Lords, I am so glad that we have this opportunity to celebrate the huge breakthrough that took place in 1918 when women first got the vote. It was a really great leap for womankind and another victory in the struggle for equality, but it is important to remember that none of it happened because the powers that be gladly decided to share power. It had to be extracted from them, like pulling teeth. Power is never given away readily. It was the product of monumental struggle—a visceral, gut-wrenching struggle.
The demands for suffrage had started long before 1918. As someone mentioned, they probably started when Mary Wollstonecraft started arguing about the rights of women at the end of the 18th century, but during the 19th century there was that great struggle by women fighting for property rights. The Married Women’s Property Act created a seismic shift in the status of women, albeit middle-class women. Having your own money and your own property is a liberation for women, as we now know so well and as women have realised.
Women did not want to be seen as the property of their fathers or their husbands. They were demanding access to education, the universities, medical schools and the legal profession, just like their brothers. They brought cases to court—I say this as a lawyer, because it is a piece of history that really is shocking. The women argued that the law was neutral. It said that “any person” suitably qualified could enter university, become a city councillor, study to be a doctor or enter the Inns of Court, so why not them, if they were suitably qualified? But the judges, intellectually honest to a man, said that the word “person” did not apply to women. Male exclusivity won the day. It was only by persistent pursuit of cases through the courts and challenges to the ruling bodies and institutions that the rules were eventually changed.
The rights to higher education, to enter the professions and to vote were achieved only after a traumatic and painful set of battles in which women were vilified, humiliated, battered, beaten, imprisoned and force-fed, and in which they lost their lives. So when women today are trolled, abused online, stalked and humiliated, or sexually violated and hurt, it is not new and we are right to ask: have we come far enough? It is shameful that after 100 years we have not yet achieved real equality.
The whole issue is about the position of women. Many wonderful women—we have heard tributes paid to so many remarkable women—took part in struggles. It should be a source of pride to us that we have had so many wonderful women in Parliament. Some noble Baronesses here now were women in the Commons. They have held high office. We have had wonderful women in the senior judiciary and in all our institutions. Although we have had all those good women who have enriched our society, improved it, brought their gifts into the public arena and defied scorn to fight for equality and a better society, there is still a huge “BUT”, which has to be written in capital letters and spoken very loudly: we still have a long journey ahead.
We have tried to do it the nice way. We have tried to make nice. We have listened to our elders who used to tell us not to rock the boat. I heard it said to me so many times. Happily, many of us in this House did not listen, but we made a mistake in believing what we were told—that by asking for equal pay, equality, equal treatment and just laws somehow equality would automatically follow. We packaged our demands according to the male template. We adjusted our demands to the male norm. Unfortunately, we followed the stories about the law’s neutrality and blindness to gender and that we get there on merit. We have to ask ourselves: who is deciding what is meritorious? Who decides the values that will be attributed to the roles that should be available to women as well as men? Treating as equal those who are not equal does not create equality.
We have to look at the deeper structures of our society, which I regret to say are still coded male. That is why we have to change the structural engineering of our society if we want real change. It is why it has to go beyond the numbers game that we are talking about today. We have to look at the economic structures that keep women in low-paid jobs and caring jobs, which are so undervalued and never get the resources they deserve. Women are supposed still to have almost exclusive responsibility for children or elderly parents and to look after the home. That is still going on all too often.
I have played my part. I have been an activist in the law. I have written on the law’s failings for more than 40 years. In fact, I have devised many of the reforms that have been introduced by women parliamentarians into the legal sphere. Women in Parliament have collaborated with women practitioners such as me. We have tweaked and amended the law, and passed new Acts of Parliament. But I ask noble Lords these questions: have the changes delivered justice in rape cases? Are we seeing domestic violence ending? Did our changes to the law stop Jimmy Savile or any of those others? Did it prevent the church scandals, the Rotherham scandal or scandals in any other cities, or have we continued to see the normalisation of violence towards women? Do women get equal pay? We have just had the BBC matter, but we know, when we look right down the line to the low-paid jobs, the ordinary factory jobs, the secretarial jobs and the jobs inside our companies, that there is not equal pay. Have we removed sexual harassment from the workplace? What does #MeToo tell us? How can it be that prominent businessmen still feel able to hold men-only sleazy events?
So why do women suffer so much misogyny on the internet and social media—trolling, stalking and revenge porn? I am afraid it means we have to look at the attitudes that underpin the way our society works. Women who have succeeded have often had to play the game by male rules. That method has delivered for some with great success, but not for most. Sometimes those confident older women who have enjoyed success are very hard on women coming up behind them. It takes a lot of courage for young women who are being exploited, harassed or abused at work to speak out about what is taking place. Older women should be supporting younger women, not disparaging them, when they take their confidence into their hands.
We do not have equality. Young women are saying, “Enough: everyday sexism has to stop”. They want equality and I am on their side, as I know most people in this House are. I want quotas and all-women shortlists because I have lost patience. I thought that the world would have changed by the time I got to the great age that I now am. It has been too long a-coming. I say to you all: we tried doing it the nice way and now we are going to have to kick down the barn doors.
Yes, let us celebrate the wondrous women who went before. We do walk in their shoes. Let us chalk up every gain, victory and position that is taken. But now I say to you men: you have to make this your business too.
My Lords, women’s empowerment and gender equality are all at the heart of my work and what I strive to achieve as an advocate for women and girls’ rights across the globe. These rights that we are celebrating today have been hard won and are still being hard won the world over as progress continues to move at a snail’s pace. Indeed, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 and is acknowledged as the leader in the battle for votes. Here in this House, female participation, through life Peerages, took a further 40 years after the 1918 Act to achieve.
Globally, the latest figures from the UN show that only 11 women are serving as head of state and 12 as head of government. The figures also show that, globally, there are 38 states in which women account for less than 10% of parliamentarians in single or lower Houses, including four Chambers with no women at all. One country that particularly stands out is Rwanda, where women have won 63.8% of seats in the lower House, the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Figures from the IPU show that globally the UK is ranked 39th for female participation in Parliament. While we are not that far in front of Afghanistan, in 55th place, we are faring much better than the USA, in 99th place; but our closer neighbour, Germany, is in a similar position, in 45th place. France has bucked the trend and recently achieved over 40% of female Members in its last elections.
What can be seen from all these statistics is that the mainly slow, grinding process of increasing women’s participation in political life is not achieving a lot; as Helen Lewis said in a recent article:
“It is embarrassing that it took 98 years”,
until 2016, for the total number of women ever elected to our Parliament—to date, 455—to reach the same number as male MPs sitting at present. It is something that we, as a developed nation, should be leading the way on. We should be setting an example on the world stage that we truly believe in equality in political life.
Women make up nearly half of the world’s population, yet very few are actively involved in the decisions that affect their lives. Each country is different, with different needs and different priorities, but what is not so different is the lack of women in political life. If Rwanda can increase women’s participation, so can we. We must seriously look at what it is that prevents women partaking in politics in this country and do something about it. Is it the issue of work/life balance? Is it the awful abuse we see meted out? Is it parity of pay stopping women achieving these aims? Is it lack of interest? Is it all of these things and more? Do we know the answer to these questions? It is only by knowing what is stopping women getting into politics that we can seek to address the problem.
Just as the UN has the HeForShe campaign, we too can encourage more men to get on board with the idea, so that it is not a fight for gender equality but a collaboration, a working together so that we can achieve it. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that there are only 10 men participating in today’s debate and three times more noble Baronesses. It should not be like that; we should be at least equal. The UN has also asked everyone to “step it up” with its “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” campaign. But how can we possibly help women to achieve in other walks of life if we do not have enough women in Parliament too? We should be stepping it up, but ahead of 2030, and making it a challenge for the next general election.
My Lords, I have found it very interesting to hear how families have been behind many of us here today. I pay tribute to my mother, who was behind me every step. She loved elections and came canvassing with me even when she was 92, in the year she died. I also pay tribute to the many husbands, because I feel that for a certain generation, one had to have your husband behind you and they did wonderful work in supporting us.
Today I feel like a parent in 1918 reading her son’s school report: “A little progress, but could do so much better”. 1918 was indeed a milestone, when all men over 21 and some women were enfranchised. These were privileged women who owned property: had I been about at that time, I should have been livid if I had not qualified. This was at a time when women had been not only keeping the home fires burning but keeping the country going—running businesses and farms, nursing sick and broken men returning from the front, as well as upholding their family responsibilities and keeping life on as even a keel as possible.
I understand from the House of Lords Library that the number of men who qualified at that time was 12,913,000, while 8,417,000 women became eligible to vote. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said, the age qualification for women was to ensure that they did not form the majority of the electorate. How disgraceful. I must not be curmudgeonly and grumpy, but I feel for those women who did not qualify. They had been struggling for four long years and were rejected in this savage way.
I find it strange that in 1918, although women were not allowed to vote, they were allowed to stand as candidates. Dame Christabel Pankhurst, as she became, the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, stood in the rough, tough area of Smethwick in the West Midlands. Elections were fought in large gatherings in those days, and she was subjected to oranges laced with razor blades being thrown at her. You had to be brave and courageous to be a candidate then.
Throughout my life, I have always felt that we needed more women in every sphere of public life, not only to balance the numbers or for equality reasons but because I feel that the country is missing out on so much talent. My role as a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party was to find women and encourage them to take the plunge, to promote them whenever and wherever I could. I think we can say that we made modest gains, but I congratulate my noble friend Lady Jenkin and other colleagues who, with the wholehearted support of the Prime Minister, are succeeding in so many ways. Women bring a different perspective to issues, and now many who were given the chance are thriving. Today it is much more normal for the best applicant to be appointed, male or female, and long may it be so. However, we must not forget that there is always more to do.
I pay tribute to those courageous women who, at huge cost to themselves, blazed the trail. Therefore, there is every reason to celebrate the enormous change that has taken place and I do so enthusiastically, but I hope that in 2028, in 10 years’ time, there will be a remarkable celebration for the day that all women became entitled to vote. I will not be here, but I hope that those who will be will have a very good party.
My Lords, what a great pleasure it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. In her quiet and undemonstrative way—although she was not all that quiet just then—she is a real champion for the role of women in society and I pay public tribute to her. It is right that we pay tribute to the women—and men—who campaigned for votes which we too often take for granted.
When you look at the serried ranks of the establishment at the time, those campaigners faced formidable barriers. No one has mentioned Lord Curzon yet—the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is nodding. He was co-president of the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage immediately before the Act. In 1914 he warned this House that suffrage would,
“unquestionably weaken our prestige and influence throughout the world”,
and that women lacked the “balance of mind” to use the vote. Even a social reformer such as Octavia Hill, who helped establish social housing in Britain and was one of the founders of the National Trust, believing in the right to clean air and open spaces, was anti-suffrage. She thought that there would be,
“a serious loss to our country … if women entered … political life”.
Those who campaigned against such odds are a role model and an inspiration.
I suspect that I would have had to wait a further decade before being enfranchised, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, because only those with property qualifications benefited in 1918. The majority of the working classes were excluded. It may sound cynical, but I suspect the vote was granted to women only because ex-servicemen over 19 and other men over 21 were given it, and leaving women out would have been seen as unnecessarily provocative.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make any direct links between enfranchisement and prosperity or equality. That is not to diminish the importance of the vote. In my trade union days, I visited Pinochet’s Chile, the former South West Africa—now Namibia—and apartheid South Africa to support trade unions and visit political prisoners. People died for democracy in those countries, just as they did here. I know how important it is to be able peacefully to vote a Government out of office. When I first joined the campaign trail for equal rights for women in the 1960s we had the Ford women workers as our inspiration. I thought we would have made more progress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, in achieving equal pay and pension rights, better representation for women, and protection against sexual harassment and domestic violence. Of course I was idealistic. In some areas the absence of real progress is appalling: an estimated 54,000 maternity sackings; two women killed every week in domestic violence incidents; and women still dependent on men, in England at least, for the payment of their benefits.
We had a debate quite recently, as has already been mentioned, about the WASPI women: women who lost out on their expectations of a state pension because they were too young for one system and too old for the new one, after also being discriminated against in occupational pensions all their working lives. They call themselves Women Against State Pension Inequality. Now we learn that thousands of military spouses are also losing out on their state pension if they reached pension age before 6 April 2016, whereas those reaching retirement age after that date will be able to claim credits equivalent to a year’s national insurance for any year they were abroad since 1975. Those who reached pension age before 6 April 2016 will be entitled to only 60% of their husband’s pension. As one military wife has said, it was frowned on for wives to work:
“Even throughout the 1980s, women had to live on the base. I had to look after the 100 or so families on the base”.
She was expected to be hostess and welfare adviser, all unpaid. She cannot claim credit for her six years abroad serving her country in an unpaid capacity and she will now receive a reduced state pension. I believe this is a betrayal of some of the military wives in the same way as WASPI women were betrayed.
Anniversaries such as this give us the opportunity to reflect on whether we have made a contribution to society—what inspired us about the suffrage movement—but also how far we still have to go. I was the seventh woman president of the TUC in the 132 years of its history. My noble friend Lady Prosser was the sixth. She was a role model for many of us. Margaret Bondfield, who has already been mentioned, would have been the first president of the TUC in 1923 but she left to take a post in government. It was left for Anne Loughlin of the Tailors and Garment Workers’ Union to become the first woman TUC president in 1943—75 years after its founding. However, since 2000 there have been eight women TUC presidents, including my noble friend Lady Drake—three in the past three years—and a woman general secretary, Frances O’Grady, for the first time. We made a slow start but we are now catching up. I represented low-paid workers, mainly women, in my trade union and was extremely proud to be appointed to the first Low Pay Commission in 1997. So far I am the only woman to have been chair of ACAS.
I learned from the women campaigners before me that you need determination, patience, a great deal of gritting of teeth and an understanding that there are different ways of working. My noble friend Lady Prosser put part-time workers centre-stage in the trade union movement and I was privileged to move acceptance of the part-time workers directive in the European TUC, which at the time quietly believed that only full-time work was respectable. As an aside, a Canadian-style deal with the EU after Brexit will end up with ILO minimum standards and the current protections for part-time workers, paid annual holidays, parental leave, and the protection of working conditions if your company is taken over by another will not be there. I promise that anyone who tries to remove those protections will have quite a job on their hands.
In conclusion, the campaigns are still needed, whether it is on the gender pay gap or protecting workers’ rights—people’s rights—after exiting the EU. There is still much to do.
Immigration White Paper
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister to an Urgent Question in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, it is a great pleasure to come to the House today to answer the Question from the right honourable Member for Pontefract and Castleford. In doing so, I should point out that Ministers have made great efforts to keep the House informed of the state of play relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union, bearing in mind that we are in an ongoing negotiation and we cannot give a running commentary. Since June 2016, there have been numerous ministerial Statements.
This Question, however, relates specifically to immigration so let me remind the House where we have got to. Our first priority in negotiations was to reach a deal on citizens’ rights—the position of the 3 million EU citizens currently in the UK and, just as importantly, the 1 million UK citizens who reside in other EU member states. An agreement was successfully concluded on that last December, meaning that all those people were guaranteed continuing rights to live and work as they do now. Of course, we updated Parliament fully at the time.
Our next priority is to agree the arrangements during the implementation period—the period immediately following the UK’s exit next March. Negotiations are shortly to begin with the EU. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out the UK’s broad objectives in the speech she gave in Florence last year. We will publish a White Paper in the coming months, when the time is right, and of course we will consider how we can update the House as negotiations progress.
As to the longer term, as the House will know, the Government have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic aspects of the UK’s exit. The MAC has been asked to report by September 2018, although it has been invited to consider whether it could also produce interim reports. Let me be clear: given that we expect to have an implementation period of around two years after we leave, there will be plenty of time to take account of the MAC’s recommendations in designing the longer-term immigration system for the UK.
We are clear that the Government will make a success of Brexit. We will end free movement and build an immigration system that works in the national interest and we will, as we have done thus far, ensure that Parliament is kept informed and up to date”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Question given in the other place by the Immigration Minister. Her problem is the Government’s lack of any credibility on this. We have Boris Johnson and Michael Gove charging round seeking to undermine the Prime Minister, and they were recently joined by Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Government’s action, particularly on immigration, is making us an international laughing stock. Will the Minister explain to the House why publication has again been postponed? Is there anything in the department, even in draft, or are there just sheets of blank white paper sitting in the Home Office? What assurance can she give the House that we will not be sitting here again in a few months’ time with another postponement? The Minister was not specific on when she will come back to us. We would like to know that we will not be here again in a few months with another postponement.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. On the timing, it is clear that we are considering a range of options for the future immigration system. This is incredibly important. We will set out initial plans in the coming months. We have to make sure that all decisions we make for the future immigration system are based on evidence and engagement. I encourage all noble Lords and those they talk to to consult the Government about what they would like a future system to look like. We are already in consultation with a wide range of representatives from business, universities and various countries and when we are satisfied that we have the evidence and have completed the consultation, we will make our decision.
My Lords, presumably the Minister will have seen the political coverage over the weekend about the damage caused by the uncertainty over Brexit, not least to the National Health Service, which EU nationals are leaving because of the uncertainty. From a situation where they felt they had some certainty, we now learn that there is no certainty during or after the implementation period. The Minister talks about there being plenty of time, but the longer the delay, the more people will leave. What further damage does the Minister believe this delay and the publication of this White Paper will cause to an already understaffed and underresourced National Health Service?
I thank the noble Lord for his observations, but I do not feel he is quite correct. Let us be clear: we have already reached a very important milestone. We have reached an agreement—a citizens’ rights deal—with the EU. That covers EU citizens who already live in the UK, so if you are a nurse from the EU living in the UK, you are covered. You need to register with the Home Office. You will then be able to obtain settled status and can remain in the United Kingdom and have the same rights as you would have had prior to our leaving the EU. What will happen during the post-exit implementation period is subject to negotiation, and it would be foolish for us to reveal exactly what we want because the quickest way not to get what you want is to reveal it.
Would the Minister notice, or agree, that the timing for the White Paper that she has given is about as vague as anything I have heard, and I have heard plenty of vague promises from government about the timing of White Papers? Can she say that the White Paper—when it comes, if it comes, whenever it comes—will cover the aberrant practice of treating international students as economic migrants and will finally address that issue in terms that stop that practice?
I think I can assure the noble Lord that it will come, so “if” is not required in his question. I think I have been very clear that it will be with us in the coming months as the situation progresses. The noble Lord raises including students in the net migration figure, and I am well aware that it is an issue about which he feels very strongly, but we are no different from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US in including international students in our net migration calculations. I am afraid I cannot make any promises to him about what will be in the White Paper.
I thank my noble friend for her question. We have to take into account the labour requirements in regions and in different sectors of our economy. This is why we have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic and social impact of the UK’s exit from the EU and on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with the Government’s modern industrial strategy, which was published recently. The Migration Advisory Committee will report in September 2018, so there is sufficient time to do the work that needs to be done. We are considering a range of options for a future immigration system, and I am sure we are not ruling anything out at this stage.
Will the Minister please be a little more open with the House about the Government’s objectives for their immigration policy in the transition period, or the implementation period, as the Government call it? Is the objective to reduce numbers coming to this country or is it not? The Minister talked about policy being evidence-based. Is it not absolutely clear that at the moment, as the NHS scours the rest of the EU for doctors and nurses to keep our health service going, any restrictions on free movement in that implementation and transition period would have a devastating effect? The Government should make clear that they will not impose conditions on their rights of residence in the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord will know, as I am sure many noble Lords know, that immigration numbers have already started to fall. It is our ambition to achieve a sustainable level of immigration after we exit the European Union and after the post-exit implementation period has completed. The noble Lord asked what our objectives are for the post-exit implementation period. It is instructive to look forward to the period beyond implementation because that is the period for which we have to establish a stable and robust immigration system that works for every region and every sector of our economy. So in terms of where we are now and where we will be in, say, 2021, the objective for the implementation period and the immigration system for that period is a smooth transition. It is to ensure that there is no cliff edge and that we are able to have the people and skills we need in our country.
My Lords, we are well aware that there are shortages in certain areas and there may be overstaffing in other areas. As for what the Government are doing, they are listening. The most important thing that we can do at the moment is to listen to businesses, to universities and to our colleagues across the European Union. The Government have a number of user groups, which have been set up with representatives from all sorts of different organisations. The most important thing we can do is listen, and if we feel that there will be shortages in certain areas—whether regions or sectors—that is what our future immigration policy must address.
I believe the Government have made a mistake in recent years in understating the scale of immigration and forecast immigration in their planning for health, housing, schools and infrastructure. What annual estimates of immigration are the Government making for the next three to five years—ranges if need be—beyond the implementation period, and how are they planning for the consequences for public services and infrastructure? Will this feature in the White Paper?
I thank my noble friend for her question. I am afraid I am not able to answer the questions that she has raised about the numbers we are looking at and the forecast for our public services. I can say, however, that we are working very hard to improve the quality of the data we use for immigration forecasting. We are working very closely with the ONS and other parts of government to improve the quality and use of administrative data. We need a better understanding of how many migrants are in the UK, how long they stay for and what they are currently doing. The ONS will be reporting back within a year, and we look forward to its report.
NHS Winter Crisis
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat as a Statement the response to an Urgent Question given by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Health in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“Winter is challenging for health services worldwide. With a high number of flu cases this year, we have seen an increase of around 35% in A&E attendances from flu—triple what it was last year—with around 3,000 hospital beds occupied as a result of flu, and a further 700 because of norovirus. The NHS saw 1,200 more patients a day in A&E compared to this time last year. The guidance issued by the national emergency preparedness panel sought to free up capacity for emergencies given the high number of flu cases, including two dominant strains of flu co-circulating this year.
It is important to remind the House that the deferment of operations referred to in that guidance applied to around 13% of hospital beds dealing with elective patients, of which around half were protected within the guidance in respect of cancer and other urgent elective treatments. That guidance was updated on 26 January to confirm that further deferment of hospital operations was no longer needed. In terms of the impact that the guidance has had on operations, we will not know this until mid-March, when that data will be published and placed in the Library for the benefit of both sides of the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Statement. Before I ask my questions, I also thank the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for their responses to the United States President’s bizarre attack on our NHS.
Over 95% of hospital beds were full last week, leaving just one bed in 20 available. We saw the highest number of accident and emergency diverts for any week this winter, with 43 incidents across England. I pay tribute to our NHS staff, who have gone the extra mile in very challenging circumstances. We know that 50,000 elective operations were planned to be cancelled, but it would seem that some urgent operations have been cancelled, too. Will the Minister explain to the House why those operations have been cancelled, despite NHS England’s advice to the contrary?
It would also now seem that the accident and emergency targets that are enshrined in legislation and the constitution have been abandoned until March—that is, March 2019. Will the Government bring forward legislation to amend the constitution? Finally, will the Minister accept that the winter plans that have been outlined are now being compromised in the light of the fact that at least 23 trusts are now on black alert, which means that they are under severe pressure?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. I agree with her that we are all proud of our NHS, on all sides of this House, and I am sure that we all have great pleasure in stating that through whatever means we are required to. I also join with her in paying tribute to the staff, who do such a fantastic job, often in challenging circumstances.
She asked first about urgent operations. It is clear in the guidance that they should not be cancelled when it would negatively affect patients’ outcomes. If that has happened, NHS England is investigating and reinstating those operations. The guidance is quite clear and NHS England has followed that up.
As for A&E targets, we know that they have not been achieved recently. It is important and instructive to look at the extraordinary increase, not just in winter but overall, in the number of episodes that are happening. They really are increasing at a very high rate. Demand is very high—higher than I think could have been anticipated—and it is a credit to the NHS that it has produced the performance that it has. The aim now, with funding given at the Budget, is to get us back to the four-hour target that we all agree ought to happen. That is what will be happening over the coming year.
My Lords, this morning I visited a suburban hospital in London, with an almost brand new A&E unit and a well-managed winter crisis. But despite all that, it has still had to face a bed occupancy rate of 97% on several days, which is stretching its ability to make this work. Money was clearly an issue—the hospital was quite anxious about what its end of year accounts might look like. Today, the Liberal Democrats launched a report looking again at a different way of funding the NHS through the creation of an office of budget responsibility for health and care, long-term health and care funding, and a ring-fenced tax to replace national insurance. Also, there is a clear need for some sort of short-term fix, and we have suggested that £2 billion should be raised by adding a penny to our income tax. Has the Minister looked at this report and will he agree to meet with me to discuss it?
I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. I am glad she had a positive experience this morning at the hospital she mentioned. She is quite right that bed occupancy is very high at the moment. A good job was done in getting it down below 85% across the system in the run-up to Christmas, but of course it has filled up subsequently. An important part of dealing with this is the social care side, as we know, and the extra funding that has gone in is having some impact on these so-called DToCs—delayed transfers of care—and freeing up a number of beds.
The noble Baroness is right of course that money is important, particularly as we have the demands of a growing and ageing population. More money was of course announced in the November Budget for the short term. As for the long term, there is obviously a very informed and lively discussion going on not just among the Liberal Democrats but across the system and across politics about what is the right long-term solution. Obviously, as I have said before, issues of taxation are for the Chancellor and not for me, but I would be delighted to meet her to discuss those plans. What I can say, on behalf of the Secretary of State, is that we understand that there needs to be sustainable, long-term increases in NHS funding. We have to find the right way to do that.
Do the Government recognise the concern of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine that the revised way of collecting data by NHS England does not allow meaningful comparisons because it includes walk-in and minor injury units, some of which are off site from the level 1 major emergency departments? Its concern is that this may be giving an overoptimistic impression of throughput and does not reflect the huge pressures on level 1 units. Will the Minister undertake to meet the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine with me to discuss some of its concerns?
This is an afternoon of agreeing to meetings—but, yes, I would be delighted to do so. I am not knowledgeable enough about the issue that the noble Baroness mentioned but, while of course there is a huge difference in the kinds of workloads of those different types of A&E, the target incorporates all of them. They all have the obligation to reach the four-hour waiting time standard and we want to make sure that, whatever the situation and whatever the venue, we can do that.
My Lords, will the Minister explain how, five years after the Francis inquiry, there is a lack of investment in the health and care nursing workforce in England, as outlined in the RCN report published today? That report, Left to Chance, shows that even if we had more beds we would not be able to staff them. In comparison, Wales has invested heavily in new nurses and continued professional development, and is doubling the number of district nurses that it intends to train this year. In England we currently have 4,400 qualified district nurses, but in 2010 we had 7,500. How can we resolve this quickly and ensure that we have more district nurses in training by this September?
This is a really important point about nursing numbers. I think the particular accusation was about the Francis report and the follow-up to it. Of course, a lot of that was about nurses in NHS hospitals and indeed on wards. The latest figures from October 2017 show that, when compared to May 2010, there has been an increase of more than 14,000 in acute, general and elderly. At the same time, that has meant that some other areas of nursing have been impacted; we have talked about mental health before as well as district nursing. I say to the noble Baroness that the big increases in nurse training places ought to mean that there are more nurses going through not just into acute, general and elderly but into mental health and community nursing as well.
My Lords, despite the increase in population over the last 30 years, the number of beds in the National Health Service is half what it was 30 years ago. Germany has eight health service beds per 1,000 and in France the figure is six, but in the UK it is two and a half. Is it not about time that we revisited the whole question of the number of beds available in our National Health Service?
The noble Lord raises a very interesting issue. As he rightly points out, that number has been dropping over a long time. It has plateaued in recent years, but it has been falling. This is a difficult situation. We all agree that more care should be delivered in the community, but we also understand that at certain times of year you do need beds in hospitals. I will point to two things: first, making sure that bed capacity is more efficient so that people can stay safely for less time and can spend more time being treated in their homes—which often is where they want to be, and that is why the extra funding for social care is important; and, secondly, the reconfiguration test that has been introduced by NHS England, which is about stopping reductions in bed numbers—which, as the noble Lord said, has happened under successive Governments—where it cannot be proven that any reduction is for the benefit of patients in terms of their overall care.
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Spinal Injuries Association. Is the Minister aware that at Stoke Mandeville’s national spinal centre, a ward that is absolutely necessary has been taken away from the spinal unit and used for general patients? There are waiting lists in the seven spinal units all over the country, affecting seriously ill patients who need specialised treatment. Will the Minister look into the situation?
Grenfell Tower: Insulation Materials
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement made by the Housing Minister in the other place earlier today:
“Mr Speaker, I wish to comment on the decision by the Building Research Establishment to withdraw a building cladding safety test from its website. BRE was contacted by Celotex after it identified anomalies between the specification for a cladding system that it had submitted for testing and the actual system tested. It was alerted to this issue last week. As a result, BRE has withdrawn the classification report relating to that test, which was carried out in 2014. That is the right thing to do.
The cladding system in question included a fibre cement board rainscreen and Celotex RS5000 insulation. It is important to underline that this was not a test of the aluminium composite material cladding system understood to have been present at Grenfell Tower. We understand that Celotex is contacting customers who have used this material. We have published a range of advice for building owners on the fire safety of cladding and insulation materials, including this type of insulation.
That advice still stands. As it makes clear, building owners should take their own professional advice on any further action, reflecting their building’s particular circumstances. We continue to expect building owners to progress necessary remediation work and, where necessary, to implement the interim fire safety measures to ensure that residents and their buildings are safe”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the answer to the Urgent Question given in another place. I remind the House of my declarations of interest as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The answer is disappointing and highlights for me that the testing system is in chaos. More than seven months on from the disaster at Grenfell Tower, only three of the 300 tower blocks have had their unsafe cladding replaced, leaving thousands of people living in homes that are not safe. How many residents are living in tower blocks with insulation that now has invalid approval? What action are the Government taking to ensure that any other similar tests are also not flawed?
Some in the industry now suggest that the government-commissioned cladding tests used different standards from those in official guidance, with cavity barriers three times as fire resistant. Can the Minister confirm today that that is the case? What does he say to insurers or landlords who say that the Government’s tests are not sufficient to show that they breach building regulations so they will pay no removal and replacement costs for leaseholders, leaving them liable to foot the bill?
My Lords, the test system is not in chaos. I made it quite clear that the Celotex issue does not have a bearing on the advice that we have given in relation to the Grenfell testing. The system tests were designed in line with the British Standard and were scrutinised and witnessed by independent observers. This is a discrepancy between what Celotex thought it had submitted and what was actually tested; it was not a reflection on the testing itself. Meanwhile, officials are working with the manufacturer on what has happened, and we will look to learn lessons from this. I will write to noble Lords to give more details of that as they become apparent, but I want to underline that this is no reflection at all on the testing system, or on what has happened in relation to Grenfell.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
There are 10 points in the Government’s response. Paragraph 2 says that the Building Research Establishment was contacted by Celotex last week. However, the reply does not say why this problem occurred in the first place. Why was the testing inadequate?
With regard to paragraph 5, the Minister has made clear that this was not a test of the aluminium composite material cladding system that was understood to have been present at Grenfell Tower. However, weekend media reports said that Celotex RS5000 insulation was on Grenfell Tower. Was that the case?
Thirdly, on paragraph 8, the Minister says that the advice currently given to owners of high-rise blocks and public buildings still stands, but I suggest to him that it is not enough. As of 10 January 2018, there are 312 residential buildings over 18 metres high in England, and public buildings are part of that total. All those have aluminium composite material cladding but, of the 312, 299 have aluminium composite material cladding that the MHCLG’s expert panel advises is unlikely to meet current building regulations guidance, and therefore presents fire hazards on buildings higher than 18 metres.
Does the Minister feel that that situation is acceptable, and does he understand the frustration of building owners that the Government are not being sufficiently clear on fire safety measures that are essential, nor on exactly where the finance for essential works will come from?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises various material points which I shall try to deal with. First, I restate that nothing in the system of testing done in relation to Grenfell is faulty. The Grenfell testing is not in question from the Celotex test.
The noble Lord raises an issue about the 299 tests that failed. He is absolutely right about that figure; it is the ministry figure. These are failed tests following the Grenfell fire in June last year, and we are in the process of ensuring that all are remedied. Some are on local authority buildings, some are public buildings, some are student residences, some of them are in private hands, but on all of them either interim measures have been taken or the process has been completed. That process was put in place post Grenfell and, as I said, there is no question but that appropriate action is now being taken in relation to those 299 failures of the 312 tests undertaken.
My Lords, is not the simple truth that there are many tenants in private, publicly owned and social-housing blocks of flats nationally who are completely unaware whether their flats or the blocks that they live in are a fire risk? With that in mind, would it not be wise to introduce a simple and cheap initiative? That would be for all freehold landlords of all blocks in the United Kingdom, whether they be social landlord, private or whatever, to place in a public place in the entrance to those blocks a sign on the wall which specified the cladding of that particular block. That information in the hands of tenants would be a powerful weapon for them to use when they sought improvements to the standards of insulation of their block.
The noble Lord is right that many different blocks have been tested and found wanting in this process. I just referred to the 299 that have failed and I have the breakdown here: 45 in local authority hands, 115 housing association, 13 public buildings, 95 private residential and 31 student residences. They are going through the process of ensuring that appropriate measures are put in place.
Meanwhile, the Hackitt review is looking at the area much more widely. In response to the disaster that we had at Grenfell, it was felt appropriate to have a thoroughgoing review of fire safety measures; I agree. We are already acting on the interim report. We are now awaiting the final report, which will come up with recommendations which we will pursue once they are made. That is expected in the late spring. There is also a public inquiry.
There are many aspects to this, but in relation specifically to the Grenfell-type of cladding, we put in process a system of testing that goes across all sectors, public and private, and I do not think we could really be expected to do more.
My Lords, can the Minister inform us whether the documentation of the type of cladding includes the way it is attached to the building? If it is adherent to the surface, there will not be an updraught on both sides of it. The problem, as soon as anything starts to burn, is updraught, which brings more air and oxygen in and fuels the inflammability of whatever material is there.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has a degree of expertise which I do not profess. If I may, I will pick up her specific question, but I think it is appropriate to say that it was the system that was tested, not just the cladding. I will write more fully to her and ensure that my letter is copied to other noble Lords who have participated.
My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer my question. I am interested in the position of the tenants. The tenants do not realise what is happening. I suggest empowering the tenants by giving them the knowledge so that they can put pressure on the landlord, whoever it is. Will the Minister answer my specific question, which is about the rights of tenants?
My Lords, I take the specific point that the noble Lord makes. It is not so much that something is happening; it is ensuring that that is percolated down, as it were. It is a fair and material point; I apologise for not seeing it earlier. I will make sure that that is put in front and drawn to the attention of the Hackitt review.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in the other place. The statement is as follows:
“On 10 January, I informed the House that my department was preparing contingency plans for running train services on the east coast main line in the event of the existing franchise failing. Despite delivering significant returns to the taxpayer and having some of the highest passenger satisfaction scores in the country, the lead operator of the franchise, Stagecoach, has been incurring significant losses. In that debate, I promised to return to the House to provide an update Statement on the situation, and I am doing so today.
Since 2015 the franchise has met all its financial commitments to the taxpayer, returning nearly £1 billion to the public purse, but this has come at a substantial cost of nearly £200 million to Stagecoach. I already informed the House that the franchise will in due course run out of money and will not last until 2020. It has now been confirmed the situation is much more urgent. It is now clear that this franchise will be able to continue in its current form for only a matter of months, and no more. Last week, following detailed analysis, my department issued the franchisee with notification that the franchise had breached a key financial covenant.
It is important to be clear with the House—and, indeed, the public—that this will not impact on the railway’s day-to-day operations. The business will continue to operate as usual with no impact on services or staff on the east coast. But it does mean that I will need to put in place in the very near future a successor arrangement to operate this railway and to end the current contract. Given the imminent financial pressure that the existing franchise is under, I am taking action now to protect passengers who depend on these train services and ensure continued value for money for taxpayers. Given the urgency of the situation, I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on my plans.
It is worth remembering that our franchising system as a whole has delivered great benefits to passengers. There has been new private investment totalling £6.4 billion over the past 11 years, and passenger journeys on the rail network have more than doubled. The private sector is paying for new trains across the country. There are those who want this stopped because of a dogma that the state could run the railways better, but we see the fruits of private investment all round the network.
There has been much misinformation about this franchise, so it is worth stressing again at the outset that, because payments to the Government have been subsidised by Stagecoach, the taxpayer has continued to profit financially from this franchise. Passenger satisfaction is high and preparations are well under way to deliver state-of-the-art new trains on this railway.
The problem is very straightforward. Stagecoach got its numbers wrong. It overbid and is now paying a price.
Contrary to widespread speculation and rumour, no deal has been done on this railway and I have not yet made a decision on the successor operator to run the east coast line until the longer-term plans for the integration of track and train can begin in 2020. There is no question of anyone receiving a bailout. Stagecoach will be held to all its contractual obligations in full. As the Brown review said five years ago, this is what you would expect in a competitive franchise system—private businesses risk substantial amounts of their own capital, and if they fail to live up to their stretching targets they lose out, not the taxpayer.
To anyone who thinks that the nearly £200 million that Stagecoach will lose is insignificant, let me put it into some context. The combined profit of every single train operator in the country was only £271 million last year. The loss equates to over 20% of Stagecoach’s total market value. So it is a significant amount of money by any measure, and it should also act as a stark warning to any company tempted to overbid in future. Moreover, the franchising system has been adjusted to further deter over-optimism when bidding.
The priority now is to ensure the continued smooth running of the east coast franchise for its passengers. I have therefore asked my officials to conduct a full appraisal of the options available to the Government to ensure continuity of service until we implement the east coast partnership on the route from 2020. My decision on which option to choose will be made in accordance with the key principles set out in the Statement on how I use my rail franchising powers. This includes: protecting the interests of passengers; preserving the interests of taxpayers by ensuring value for money; and supporting investment and improvement in the railway, including the deployment of the new intercity express trains on the east coast.
In order to inform this decision, the department will assess the extent to which each option performs against these principles. Our value-for-money assessment will be based on a number of criteria, including which option returns most money to the taxpayer, the risks attached to each, and the value of any improvements in passenger services. I will also have regard to the effect of my decision on other franchises. This decision will be taken in a transparent way. The department’s assessment of the options will be published and be properly validated.
At this stage, one of the options is to consider the possibility of Stagecoach continuing to operate services on the east coast under a very strictly designed and short-term arrangement. The current management has a strong record of customer service and to rule out its involvement now would go against the principles that I have outlined above. However, given the circumstances in which the Government are having to step in to protect passengers on this line, I am prepared to consider this option only on the basis that the franchise will be operated on a short-term, not-for-profit basis. The only potential financial reward for Stagecoach would be received at the end of the contract and only in return for clearly specified passenger benefits and improvements being delivered.
The second alternative is that the east coast franchise would be directly operated by the Department for Transport through an operator of last resort. My department will subject this option to the same rigorous assessment to establish whether it will deliver value for money for taxpayers and protect the interests of passengers. This option is very much on the table and will be selected if the assessment I have set out determines that it offers a better deal for passengers and taxpayers than the alternative.
In either scenario, the east coast main line is expected to deliver substantial revenue to the taxpayer. The line will also continue to deliver premium payments to the Government once the east coast partnership is in place from 2020. Let me be absolutely clear: the east coast franchise will deliver a healthy operating profit for taxpayers. It has over the course of this franchise so far, and it will in the future.
There will be those who claim that because Stagecoach overbid, it should be excluded from bidding for future franchises. The legal advice on this is clear. As Stagecoach is meeting its contractual obligations to support the franchise, including with the full parent company support, and because it has operated the services on the east coast successfully, the department has concluded that there are no adequate legal grounds to restrict it from bidding on current and future franchise competitions on this basis. It will be understood that it is my duty to follow that legal advice, and I will therefore do so. But let me be clear: we will keep its eligibility for current and future bids under close scrutiny and constant review.
It is not just me who has encountered this restriction. Following the failure of National Express in 2009, the NAO report on the issue made it clear that the then Government and Secretary of State agreed that the company would not be precluded from bidding for future franchises. Indeed, it went on to win the c2c franchise in subsequent years. It is vital that we continue to focus our attention on delivering benefits for passengers across the network and secure the benefits of privatisation.
So, in addition to the transparent, rigorous process I have set out for the east coast, I am making some additional franchising announcements that will deliver benefits to passengers on the west coast and east Midlands routes. In December 2016, we set out our plans to award the West Coast Partnership—the franchise that will deliver the first passenger services on HS2. In that announcement, we made clear our intentions to agree a short, direct award with the incumbent to allow us the time necessary to design the West Coast Partnership. These negotiations have been completed and we have agreed a direct award with the existing operator, Virgin Trains West Coast. As set out 14 months ago, this is a sensible bridge between the existing contract and the West Coast Partnership, and once that partnership is ready, this direct award will cease to exist.
Let me be clear, the east coast and west coast franchises should not be confused. The west coast franchise has a completely different corporate structure, where Virgin Trains is the majority shareholder, and is meeting all its contractual obligations. Virgin has transformed the west coast from a poorly performing service requiring a subsidy of over £75 million a year to the franchise with one of the highest passenger satisfaction rates, at 91%, and returning over £200 million per year to the taxpayer. This has included introducing trains every 20 minutes between London and Manchester and London and Birmingham, hourly services between London and Scotland, installing wi-fi on all trains, lengthening Pendolinos to 11 carriages to accommodate growing passenger numbers, and introducing a free, at-seat entertainment service.
My decision is also in keeping with the three key principles I set out earlier in protecting passengers, ensuring value for money and supporting investment. I look forward to the release of the invitation to tender for the West Coast Partnership in due course, and I am confident we will see strong competition for this exciting new franchise, which will help transform rail travel in this country through the delivery of the first HS2 services.
We are also transforming the east Midlands franchise in the coming years, with the biggest investment in the Midland main line since it was completed in 1870. Passengers will benefit from more seats, new trains and dramatically reduced journey times from Nottingham and Sheffield to London. Once complete, there will be almost twice as many seats into London St Pancras in the peak compared with today. The next operator will be required to deliver many of these improvements, so I am today setting out the next step of the competition that will award this contract. Abellio, Arriva, Stagecoach and a joint venture between First and Trenitalia have all been shortlisted to run the east Midlands franchise that will deliver these improved services. As I said, the Government have no adequate legal grounds to restrict Stagecoach from bidding. The competition will be run on a fair, transparent basis, including new safeguards against overbidding. Ultimately, the winner will be the firm that offers the best service to passengers and best value to the taxpayer.
In a competitive market, franchises will sometimes fail. When that happens my duty is to protect passengers and taxpayers and ensure continued investment in the railway. Stagecoach has paid the price for failure, as stipulated in its contract. Passengers on the east coast main line can be assured that services will continue as normal. This Government will undertake a transparent appraisal of the options available to ensure that passengers and taxpayers are protected. We remain committed to the success of a private railway. It is vital we remember the benefits that privatisation has brought to our railway over the past 20 years. Passenger numbers have doubled. We have one of the safest railways in Europe. Passenger satisfaction is high across the network, and other countries are now adopting Britain’s model for running the railways. The plans I have set out today will allow the British public to continue to benefit from an ever-improving railway into the future. We have challenges to meet, but we will meet them. I commend the Statement to the House”.
I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in the other place earlier today. Railways were privatised in 1994. Whatever we think of privatisation—there was lots going on at that time—it is fair to say that it has not gone well over the last few years. There were problems with Railtrack, Network Rail and various companies, and here we are again with another problem with the railways.
Today’s announcement by the Secretary of State, repeated by the noble Baroness, is just another monumental misjudgment, and adds to a growing list of miscalculations by the Secretary of State. I do not think that taxpayers or rail passengers are at the heart of this, or the rail industry itself. The culture in the Department for Transport is not serving the taxpayer or the travelling public well. I regularly use the railways in and around London as well as to and from the Midlands and the north of Scotland. With all the times that I have been detrained at Doncaster and elsewhere, and the problems and frustrations on the east coast line, it is really just not good enough.
It is frustrating to hear in the Statement what the Minister said about the new tender, that of course we cannot prevent the provider from actually tendering, because legally we are not allowed to do that. That is fair enough, but I recall the public sector being prevented from tendering for this contract; it was running it very well but was not even allowed to tender, which is very frustrating. If we want to get the best value for taxpayers, you want to get the best service possible.
I just do not believe that making direct awards to Virgin/Stagecoach on the west coast or east coast represents good value for money at all. I am really not convinced by that one little bit. We now have a number of train companies getting contracts without competition; many of our routes are now run that way—west coast, Great Western, east Midlands, CrossCountry and now east coast. That is because the Secretary of State is ideologically opposed to the public sector running railways; that is the political dogma that we have here today in front of us.
The Statement from the Minister is lengthy, and I have a couple of questions. The Statement said that the problem was that Stagecoach got the numbers wrong, that it overbid and is now paying the price. Maybe the Minister can explain to the House whether, when the bid was submitted—I assume that it was analysed and looked at—anybody anywhere thought, “Oh, maybe they’ve got their figures wrong here”. At the end of the day, of course you want to get a lot of money for your contract but, if it was actually not going to work, why did nobody spot that? Were any questions raised anywhere, when that contract came in? I would be very interested to hear what happened with that contract. Also, with regard to contracts in future, what is going to happen there?
The Statement talks about ensuring the,
“smooth running of the east coast franchise for its passengers”.
Can the Minister say a bit more about that? How will the Government ensure that it will be a smooth operation with no problems for passengers? I like the idea of this short-term, not-for-profit basis for a railway. That is the policy of the Co-operative Party. I have been a member of that party for many years, and we have a policy for a people’s railway, with the whole railway run on a not-for-profit basis. So I am delighted to see that, even if it is only in one small part of the policy, the Government have actually taken that point on board.
Can the Minister say a bit more about the operator of last resort? Who would that operator actually be? How would it actually be done? On the legal advice, the Minister said that they could not actually exclude Stagecoach or anyone who failed. Would it not be wise to draw up the contract in such a way that, if an operator fails to deliver on it, they cannot come straight back in and have that contract again? They may need to look at that as well because, if they cannot get the bid right, what is the point of having people running it who cannot get it done properly?
I shall leave it there and look forward to the Minister’s response on the issues that I have raised.
I start from a rather different position, as I do not believe that the answer lies in renationalisation—but I am sure that the Minister will accept that things are not going well. We have had the fiasco of Southern and we have had Carillion being given more and more contracts, despite the profit warnings. We have had HS2 and the unauthorised payments, and now we have the east coast. The DfT seems to be presiding over a tale of muddle and huge commercial misjudgment.
The Secretary of State in his Statement says that Stagecoach/Virgin overbid. We all knew that it had done so; there was commentary in the commercial press at the time by other operators that this was a hugely overoptimistic bid. Why did the DfT allow that bid to go ahead if it was unrealistic?
The Statement says that,
“the franchise had breached a key financial covenant”.
Can the Minister please explain to us what that is, and why they are stepping in now as opposed to at any other point?
Much is made in the Statement of the £1 billion return to the public purse, but does the Minister accept that the railways are run as a service to passengers and that maybe the DfT is expecting far too great a return to the public purse, and the whole concept on which this is based is unrealistic? The Government are slowly reducing the percentage subsidy to our railways at a time when the railways are expanding and the number of passengers is generally increasing. Does the Minister accept that this is actually unrealistic as a way forward?
I am glad that the Statement includes options for the future and that among them it has the DfT as the operator of last resort. When that happened before, rather a good job was done by the state stepping in, and I urge the Government to do that in the case of Southern. Does the Minister consider that the concept of a franchisee needs to be expanded so that it includes public/private partnership and public sector bodies? Maybe mutual models, which involve staff and passengers, could be allowed to bid as well.
I also want to ask about the knock-on effect on other franchises. It is known that other franchisees are having a tough time. We need only a small hint of further problems in the economy and those franchisees could say, “The Government stepped in this time—why can they not step in and help us?”.
Finally, how is it that there is no adequate legal ground to exclude Stagecoach from further bids at this point? Surely the DfT should be writing the franchises more tightly than this.
My Lords, as the Statement set out, our priority is to ensure the continued smooth running of the east coast main line for the passengers who use the service. As the Statement said, it has a 90% passenger satisfaction score, and we are looking at the future options for either direct operation through the DfT or Stagecoach continuing to operate. We will look at each of those options and work out the best solution to match the three principles set out. As the Statement says, it is a profitable line and we want that to continue in future.
On the franchising system and privatisation, the franchises will maintain an element of risk because they are run by private companies, and the success of the franchise is down to how they run the service. I think that the benefits of privatisation have been made clear in the Statement. I could add that, back in the mid-1990s, taxpayers paid out £1.8 billion in subsidies to the operators, and now the operators invest in the railways and pay premiums to the taxpayer—of £763 million last year. We have also seen investment of more than £6 billion from private investment over the last 11 years.
We are continuing to improve and refine the franchising model. Obviously there was an overbidding in this case, and we look at the performances of all franchises closely. In recent franchises, we have looked to take a different approach to the risks and are now moving more clearly towards the offer which will provide the highest-quality service for passengers and away from the highest bidder. The noble Baroness was absolutely right that passengers should be put first.
To address some of the lessons that we have learned from previous franchise evaluations, we have introduced new measures to deter overbidding as well as improving on our financial modelling and stress testing. With this added testing, the department will be able to forecast bids that are likely to default and exclude them in future. We have engaged with the market about those changes and continue to highlight to prospective bidders the more rigorous testing that bids will be subject to on the upcoming franchise competitions.
On the operator of last resort, there will be a team within the Department for Transport, supported by specialist advisers, to maintain continuity of passenger services. As I say, the changes in the rail strategy last year are designed to ensure that we get the best of both public and private sector worlds, and the new model will keep the benefits of privatisation while maintaining vital infrastructure in public hands. We have already begun this process of evolving how we run the railway.
My Lords, there is a huge amount of waffle in the Statement that the noble Baroness has just repeated. But I shall cut through it: Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State, is undertaking another unjustified bailout of Virgin and Stagecoach at the expense of taxpayers. I would like to ask the noble Baroness a few questions about this bailout. First, will she confirm that Virgin has been awarded its new contract for the west coast main line without any competition whatever? Secondly, will she confirm that Stagecoach is being allowed to bid for the next three franchises despite walking away from the east coast main line? Thirdly, will she confirm that Mr Grayling appears, astonishingly, to be prepared to allow Stagecoach to continue operating the east coast line despite walking away from it, and that he has not ruled this out, although he is putting in place legal procedures that look to me to be the prelude to re-awarding it the contract? Fourthly—this affects my tenure in the office of Secretary of State personally—will she confirm that it is quite wrong to say that National Express was not banned by me from bidding for future contracts in 2009? It was banned. The incoming Conservative Government in 2010 lifted that ban, which is a fundamentally different point. I believe that that was a mistake and that it has prepared the way for the problems that we face today.
Finally, will the noble Baroness confirm that the reason for these disgraceful bailouts which we have seen from Mr Grayling is because he simply is not prepared to contemplate putting his duty above ideology and substituting for failing private companies a state company? This is not a matter of being left-wing or right-wing; it is a matter of him performing his duties as Secretary of State for Transport, which he is declining to do because, as we heard in the Statement, he wants to make a whole set of cheap points about “private good, public bad”, which I think demean his office and are costing the taxpayer very dearly indeed.
I will attempt to answer the questions the noble Lord raises. If I do not manage to answer all of them, I will certainly follow up in writing.
I am afraid that we do not recognise the bailout accusation. As I said, Stagecoach will be held to all its contractual obligations in full. It has returned nearly £1 billion to the taxpayer and resulted in a nearly £200 million loss to the parent company. On the west coast line, it was a direct award and no other bidder was involved. As we stated in December 2016, we set out the plans to award the West Coast Partnership with that direct award. It is a short-term award and there was no other bidder involved. It was put in place before the new West Coast Partnership was awarded. On whether Stagecoach was allowed to bid for continued franchises, as we said, it will bid for the new east Midlands franchise. We are keeping the legal advice on that under review, and we will see what happens in the coming months, but as things stand Stagecoach is bidding for future franchises. The Secretary of State quoted the 2009 NAO report. I will send the noble Lord a copy.
My Lords, there is a conflict in the Statement between what it is stated in paragraph 7:
“The business will continue to operate … with no impact on services or staff on the East Coast”,
and what is stated in paragraph 18:
“I have … asked my officials to conduct a full appraisal of the options available to the Government to ensure continuity of service”,
until the fresh start in 2020.
The noble Baroness may well recall that I tabled a Written Question last week, which she kindly answered on 1 February. I had had a look at the press release that was put out by Stagecoach when it got the franchise in the first place. It said that it would give us direct services from Middlesbrough to London, two-hourly direct weekday services between Bradford, Harrogate, Lincoln and London, and a new direct peak-time service between Huddersfield and London, to be established by May 2019. The noble Baroness answered that the Government:
“expect to provide additional services between Lincoln, Harrogate, Bradford and London from May 2019. It remains our intention to deliver additional services to Middlesbrough and Huddersfield”.
She does not say when. She continued:
“Virgin Trains East Coast has contingent rights to run services from London to Middlesbrough from May 2020 and firm rights from May 2021”.
I do not know how strong they will be now. I do not know when all this brewed up, but does she still stand by these services commencing in May 2019 that she signed off on 1 February?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. On the issue of making sure that we get the decision right for passengers, as the Statement said, protecting the interests of passengers is the first principle which we look at and we will be looking at the comparison between the two on that basis. I have a copy of the reply to the noble Lord’s Question as I thought that he might bring it up; he helpfully read it out. We absolutely expect to meet those commitments. Whatever decision the Secretary of State makes on the running of the franchise up to 2019, whoever gets it will inherit those. Again, with the new partnership in 2020, they will be expected to deliver that.
I for one am rather relieved and reassured that the Government are stepping in before the situation adversely affects passengers. This is not a bailout if Stagecoach is losing £200 million. However, I am delighted to hear that this line makes a net contribution to taxpayers. It is a line well known to many in your Lordships’ House. However, I would be most grateful if my noble friend the Minister could give further details on how the Government will maintain the current high levels of customer satisfaction on this line.
As I pointed out, there is a high level of passenger satisfaction on this line and we aim to continue to keep that. I reassure noble Lords that there will be no impact on the running of the trains and the services will continue. Tickets are valid as normal. The Secretary of State has today set out the options being considered for the future. We are working to ensure that passengers continue to receive the service they expect.
My Lords, I detect a certain amount of ducking and diving in this very long Statement. I congratulate the Minister on keeping a straight face on some of it. However, the role of Network Rail is not mentioned at all. My understanding from several sources is that Stagecoach’s contract was based on Network Rail undertaking a large number of enhancements on the east coast main line so that Stagecoach could run more trains, and, presumably, get more revenue. This has not happened because, apparently, Network Rail has run out of money. Surely the answer is to give Network Rail the money to do that and not blame Stagecoach for everything that has gone wrong, as I think that most of the blame lies within the department and its own infrastructure manager, Network Rail. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment.
My Lords, I agree that there is no simple reason why the franchise has failed; there are a number of reasons. The east coast has not performed as expected. It can be attributed to external factors which were not predicted. For example, the decrease in petrol prices resulted in increased competition. On the enhancements, from the start of this franchise to date all the infrastructure upgrades planned for the east coast have been delivered. Further upgrades for the route are planned but were not due to be completed by this stage. It is clear that Network Rail’s overall performance has not been satisfactory in recent years and we need a change within the business to deliver a more customer-focused policy. Network Rail has committed to transformation and an efficiency programme of change. That will see it judged on the performance it delivers for passengers in partnership with train operators. We continue to push Network Rail to devolve to ensure that there is one route managing director directly accountable to passengers.
My Lords, the noble Baroness says that on a franchising system such as this operators will sometimes fail; I think those were her words. This is three times on the same route. I fancy that if GNER had been allowed to exit its contract on a basis as favourable as Stagecoach has been allowed to, with the possibility of rebidding, it might not have left the line in the first place, which would have been helpful as it was probably the best of the operators that we have had. But each time we are told, “Oh, the department is refining its system. It is all going to be better next time”. Given the three failures, is there really a system in place which can judge bids at all?
My Lords, on the failure of franchises, the Statement quoted the Brown review, which identified that it is neither sensible nor realistic to design franchise structures that seek to completely eliminate the risk of default. At the time, the department carried out an assessment to ensure that the bid was realistic and in the best interests of taxpayers and passengers. However, Stagecoach rightly took a degree of risk with its assumptions. I do not recognise the noble Lord’s view that this has been a favourable exit for Stagecoach. As I said, we are holding it to its obligations, and this has cost it dearly. It has lost almost £200 million running the service—a big sum for a company which is worth less than £1 billion.
Does the Minister accept that, contrary to what my noble friend said earlier, she did not keep a straight face while reading the Statement and grinned on a couple of occasions? This was entirely to her credit because she must know, in her heart, that the Statement is absolutely preposterous. This House is being asked to believe that the franchising system on the east and west coast has been perfect, yet a Statement is being made that both are being scrapped. The Minister said that there are no other bidders for the west coast, but no one has been asked to bid for it. If the late Brian Rix were still alive, he could have a Whitehall farce about the whole franchising business. Does the Minister accept that the Government have not come out of this business with any credit, either on the east or on the west coast? Can she confirm that whoever bids for the Midland main line will not be running electric trains to the great cities of Leicester, Nottingham and Derby but to the town of Corby, which until recently was not even on the railway map? That is not a railway project; it is lunacy.
My Lords, I apologise if I did not keep a straight face throughout the Statement. I was a little distracted by the noise from the Benches on the other side. On bidders for the west coast and east coast, the noble Lord is absolutely right that there was a direct award for the west coast and we are considering the options for the east coast. Those are both short-term plans and in 2020 we will be opening them up to further bids. We look forward to receiving them to deliver what the passengers need.
My Lords, it seems to me that there is the past and there is the future, and I know that there has been a lot of agonising in the department on the future of franchising. Will my noble friend summarise the improvements to the franchising process that the Government are planning, including Network Rail’s role, to avoid the kind of problems that have been identified in relation to National Express, Stagecoach and so on? Can we look forward?
My Lords, I would absolutely love to look forward. As I set out, we are making improvements within the department. There was, obviously, a problem; the franchises failed and we are learning those lessons. We are introducing measures to deter overbidding and looking at our financial modelling and stress testing. We hope that, with this added testing, we will be able to forecast and exclude bids which are likely to default. We are continuously improving our risk-assessment process to reduce the likelihood of overbidding in the future. As I said, we are working with Network Rail to ensure that it devolves its services and performs better in future.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a regular passenger on Virgin west coast, a not infrequent user of east coast and someone who, from time to time, has to make use of the services from St Pancras. What has been sadly lacking in these exchanges is a tribute to the staff: the train drivers, train staff, platform staff, clerks and people operating the signal system, without whom the railways simply would not operate. We are blessed with an incredibly committed and, on the whole, cheerful staff who make sure the railways are a success. Do all these shenanigans, uncertainty and financial confusion give them the kind of support and structure they deserve? They are about serving the nation, not making profits. In that sense, will the Minister please accept that we have heard enough about the private sector being the right way to deliver public services? Look at the prisons, the probation service, and now the railways. Where is the practical, pragmatic evidence that what the Government claim is true, as distinct from ideological fulfilment?
I am pleased that the noble Lord’s experience of staff on the trains is positive. He is absolutely right to say that they are committed. When we are making decisions about future franchises, we are also trying to provide consistency and structure for them, so that they have the security of knowing that the services will continue. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord on privatisation. I have spoken before about the amount of investment it has brought in. Passenger numbers have doubled; we have one of the highest satisfaction levels and safest networks in Europe. New trains would not have been delivered without private investment from rail franchising. Some 7,000 new carriages will be introduced to the rail network between now and 2021.
My Lords, I share the interests of my noble friend Lord Judd as a regular traveller on Virgin trains and agree with his kind remarks about the staff. I seek a point of clarification from the Minister about what she said in the Statement and in answer to questions. Is she saying that the Secretary of State has no legal power to ban Stagecoach from seeking to operate this franchise in future? Is it being seriously suggested that if Stagecoach tried to take the Government to court, because it was not allowed to bid, a judge would uphold its right, given the way it has let down the taxpayer in this instance?
My Lords, as Stagecoach is meeting its contractual obligations to support the franchise, including full parent-company support, and because it has operated the services on the east coast, there are indeed no adequate legal grounds to restrict it from bidding in future franchise competitions. That is the current situation: we will continue to look at it as the months progress and we look at future franchises.
My Lords, the Minister in the other place set out some admirable principles that should be observed: protecting the interests of passengers; preserving the interests of taxpayers by ensuring value for money; and supporting investment and improvement. Looking to the future, the Minister has indicated a possibility that the current east coast franchise may stay with Stagecoach, under a very strictly designed and short-term arrangement. Will she spell out with more clarity what that involves? Unless there is some easement on the money side, the three principles which the Minister has set out cannot be met and there must be some give on at least one of them. What is likely to happen if we do go down that avenue?
My Lords, if Stagecoach continues to run the service and it is decided that this would be the best option for taxpayers and passengers, then that would be on a not-for-profit basis. By operating a not-for-profit service, VTEC would only receive a performance-related payment at the end of the contract, assuming that it met the stretch target set out by the department. That would ensure that VTEC would be wholly focused and incentivised to achieve excellent performance and would, consequently, provide a better experience for passengers over the life of a contract, but would not receive any moneys unless those targets were reached.