My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this Private Member’s Bill on women, peace and security. I begin by drawing the attention of the House to my interests in the register; in particular I co-chair the APPG on Women, Peace and Security. I am also a member of the steering board for the Foreign Secretary’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, I am honorary colonel of Outreach Group 77 and I set up and run the Afghan Women’s Support Forum.
As many noble Lords know, I have long been outspoken on the topics that fall within this Bill. The ground-breaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325, introduced in 2000 with much support from the UK, recognised the terrible and disproportionate effects of conflict on women. This was addressed through its four pillars of prevention, protection, participation, and relief and recovery. This and the subsequent UN Security Council resolutions on this subject have tried to address the situation, but we all recognise that this is a work in progress, with much more needing to be done.
In its report last year, the UN stated that
“from Afghanistan, to Ethiopia, to Myanmar, women’s human rights defenders have come under attack and the wave of political violence against women in politics and media has risen.”
Meanwhile, just last month—in advance of the recent annual Security Council open debate on women, peace and security at the UN—481 NGOs set out in an open letter that there continues to be escalating and widespread conflict, and flagrant attacks on women’s bodily autonomy and other fundamental human rights. In the introduction to the Government’s 2021 report on the UK’s national action plan—sadly published very late, on 19 July 2022 —both Secretaries of State, at the FCDO and the MoD, recognised that there have been real challenges to the WPS agenda and the progress of the last 20 years is under threat, a threat exacerbated by Covid-19. The report stated:
“The pandemic revealed the fragility of hard-won progress on WPS, as political commitments risked being rolled back or reversed as attention and resources were redirected to the prevailing public health emergency.”
We have also recently seen horrific reports of the use of rape as a weapon in Ukraine and rights for women in Afghanistan have been eradicated. In short, we have to recognise that the rights of women and girls globally have been significantly rolled back on all fronts. Many believe that were we to have another world conference for women now, we would not be able to achieve the strength of language contained in the Beijing platform for action of 27 years ago.
The UK’s work on women, peace and security and preventing sexual violence in conflict are two initiatives where the UK has been at the forefront. As Britain redefines its role in the world in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic, it is a time to build on all the investment and good work that has gone before and fight the growing challenges to gender equality. The Bill I propose today is another tool through which we can demonstrate our commitment and, more importantly, the implementation of our promises. If passed, it will coincide with our G7 responsibility in this area, as well as this being the year that we publish our new, fifth national action plan, publish a women and girls strategy and host the preventing sexual violence in conflict global conference.
Some may question the necessity for a Bill on this. While the UK has generally been robust on this agenda, at times there has been slippage. Enshrining this in law will mean that this agenda is future-proofed for future Administrations. Although much work has been done by the military on human security, the integrated review failed to make any mention of this. As mentioned earlier, the report to Parliament on UN Security Council Resolution 1325’s national action plan for 2021 was not published until July this year instead of at the end of last year. This is usually accompanied by a meeting in Parliament organised by the APPG on Women, Peace and Security, so that Ministers can be questioned. While I understand that the situation in Ukraine took up much bandwidth, this meeting should have been held at the beginning of the year, before the whole Ukraine situation evolved. It was scheduled twice later and was twice cancelled, so I understand that it has been abandoned. The women, peace and security ministerial steering board has somehow just ceased to exist. Having the Bill would ensure that the women, peace and security agenda is in the DNA of all foreign, development and defence policy and cannot be sidelined again, as above.
With only two clauses, this short Bill seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State will have a duty to have regard to the national action plan on women, peace and security we are committed to under UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Clause 1(2) requires an annual report to Parliament on progress in relation to the NAP, which would formalise what the department currently does and would not create extra reporting burdens. Subsection (3) does what it says on the tin and puts in place the key duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the national action plan
“when formulating or implementing the policy of the Government … in relation to foreign affairs, defence or related matters.”
Clause 1(4) stipulates several considerations that the Secretary of State must have particular regard to. For example, paragraphs (e), (f), (g) and (h) cover issues around peace processes.
Meanwhile, Clauses 1(4)(d) and 1(4)(i) relate to conflict-related sexual violence—CRSV. Did your Lordships know that none of the ceasefire agreements reached between 2018 and 2020 included gender provisions or the prohibition of sexual violence? Gender-based violence is one of the most systemic and widespread human rights violations of our time, with one in three women worldwide experiencing physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Gender-based violence is rooted in gender inequality. It threatens the lives and well-being of girls and women and prevents them accessing opportunities fundamental to both freedom and development. In every war, there is horrific conflict-related sexual violence—from Myanmar to Iraq, from Ethiopia to the DRC. It ruins people’s lives, breaks up families and splits communities.
I welcomed the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s commitment at the Conservative Party conference that:
“We will work with our friends and allies around the world to hold the perpetrators to account … To punish those who use rape as a weapon of war”.
I look forward to hearing more details in due course about the conference planned for November and the work in the run-up to that with the UN. The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint. We must ensure that language on CRSV remains robust. Perhaps we should recognise that commitment to it has somewhat waxed and waned according to the interests of various recent Foreign Secretaries. By including these stipulated considerations in our Bill, it will help keep CRSV front and centre of our diplomatic, security and conflict work. Meanwhile, the wording of Clause 1(5) ensures that the UK will also seek to keep the pressure up on all these issues when working with other multinational organisations.
Data from the Council on Foreign Relations shows that roughly seven out of every 10 peace processes from 1992 to 2019 did not include women mediators or signatories. In 2020, women represented 23% of conflict parties’ delegations in UN-supported peace processes. The percentage of peace agreements with gender provisions was 28.6% in 2020, which remains well below the peak of 37.1% in 2015. Evidence that gender equality is essential to building peace and security has grown substantially since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted. In fact, involving women increases the chances of longer-lasting, more sustainable peace, yet they continue to be largely excluded.
We live in a globally interconnected world. War zones are poor zones. The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that $1 of peacebuilding would lead to a $16 reduction in the cost of armed conflict. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said last year that
“there is a direct link between increased investment in weapons and increased insecurity and inequalities affecting women.”
Sadly, it is apparently not obvious to many, but you cannot build peace by leaving half the population out—look at Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and many other places. We should not have to justify women being included; we should ask the men there to justify their exclusion. Ambassador Barbara Woodward at the UN Security Council highlighted the importance and value of women’s economic inclusion for maintaining and stabilising peace in post-conflict settings. She argued for
“gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.
Ministers of the newly merged FCDO said that they wanted to put women and girls at the heart of the UK’s foreign and development policy. I believe that the Bill would increase the level of ambition. We must not fall into the trap of mistaking process for progress, status for impact, or rhetoric for action. It is not enough to pledge our commitment to the WPS agenda without delivering meaningful change for all women and girls living through the daily realities of war. Being truly able to examine and hold the Government to account on this agenda is key.
This short, simple Bill will put in legislation, for all future Governments, our commitment to policy decisions having systematic gender consideration and responsiveness in UK foreign and defence policy. It also demonstrates that the UK is again leading the world on this agenda, and the UK can encourage other countries to follow its example. While some might raise technical points about the wording, I hope that Members from all sides of this House can support this idea in principle and work with me to make the Bill a reality.
At the Security Council open debate on women, peace and security last month, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said:
“Every year, we make laudable commitments—but they are not backed with the requisite financial and political support.”
This is an opportunity for the UK to show its true political support and commitment by enshrining this agenda into law. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hodgson for bring the Bill forward and for her tireless work on women, peace and security. I fully support the Bill and I hope that other noble Lords, my noble friend the Minister and the Government do the same.
The Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should indeed have regard to the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security when formulating and implementing policy. Since the year 2000 and the adoption of Resolution 1325, the Security Council has encouraged member states to develop national action plans—NAPs—on women, peace and security. To date, 98 countries and territories have done so, although that that is only 50% of UN member states. However, the UK has been one of the leading lights on this. As we have heard, the UK is currently on its fourth NAP and for that, this Government, and indeed their predecessors, deserve some credit—the first was under a Labour Government and this should not be a party-political issue.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson has explained the four pillars of the women, peace and security agenda, all of which are essential to achieve gender equality and the progress we want to see: prevention, participation, protection, and relief and recovery.
I was pleased to see that the UK’s fourth NAP included a commitment to annual reporting to Parliament, which the Bill seeks to put into legislation, and to avoid any deviation from this in the future. The Bill also details the considerations the Secretary of State must have, particularly in regard to whether the UK is participating in multinational organisations such as the United Nations.
The UK generally has a proud record on women’s rights in the UN and other international forums, although that is not always the case. I, along with many other campaigners with women’s rights, was very disappointed to see the concluding statement following the UK-hosted International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief. After garnering multiple national signatories, it was withdrawn and watered down before being reissued.
However, on a more positive note, I was delighted to see just last week that the UK was among the leaders of a landmark statement at the United Nations on sexual and reproductive health and rights. I hope that the UK will continue this leading role in international fora, and the Bill will help ensure that we do. Women and girls should of course be a core part of every FCDO policy, and the Bill would help to ensure that. The Government have stated that the outcomes of the national action plan are designed to be specific, measurable, achievable and relevant, and to represent areas where we would expect to see progress over a five-year period. That is welcome, so let us have an annual check on this progress, as the Bill would ensure.
There have been a fair few changes of Minister in recent days, weeks and months. I am pleased to see the Foreign Secretary remain in his place and to see my noble friend the Minister here today. I wholeheartedly welcome Andrew Mitchell to his new role as Development Minister—he is a true champion of development—and in doing so, I thank Vicky Ford, who in tough times has been a great advocate for development and for the women and girls agenda.
In July 2022, the Government published an annual report on the implementation. Can my noble friend the Minister recommit to those pledges today? Is the plan still to develop and publish the WPS national action plan this year, and will they also publish the long-promised women and girls strategy? Many of us are looking forward to that publication. Will the UK launch new grants to pilot and evaluate pioneering new approaches to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and crisis over the next five years, building on the global evidence base on what works? Finally, can my noble friend the Minister recommit to restoring funding to women and girls as was committed by the previous Foreign Secretary, both when she was in that role and when she was Prime Minister?
Once again, I thank my noble friend Lady Hodgson for bringing this important Bill forward. I fully support it and, as I said at the beginning, I hope my noble friend the Minister and the Government do the same. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hodgson for persisting, having had this Bill delayed a number of times. I am pleased that it is here this afternoon, although it would have been wonderful to have had more Members here because this Bill is a vital tool, especially now when half the world or more is at war with itself or other countries. I very much endorse what my colleague and friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said so I will not repeat it.
It is important that we remember what this Bill means. As we know, in 2000 the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got Resolution 1325 through the UN. We know what it means: prevention of conflict in all its forms; that women have to be at the table, against violence; and that military men and women must be trained. Those people in the military who push for that form of violence should be brought to trial and prosecuted; to date, only a very few have. It also means women participating equally with men and promoting gender equality at the peace table.
I ask the Minister again to endorse what was promised a few years ago: that Britain would not participate in any peace talks that did not have women, including local women, at the table. I remind the Minister that one of the longest peace talks is that in Northern Ireland, which is again at risk because there are no women—either local women or women from outside Northern Ireland—at the table. That is the key: having women at the peace table and having rights for women and girls.
It is also about rights for boys. Terrible things such as sexual violence also happen to boys, but that is forgotten. Any noble Lord who has seen the evidence that we took in this House during our inquiry into sexual violence in conflict will know that it was terrible; I cannot tell you. We know the effect that it has, especially on gay guys. It is absolutely terrible. It is really important that we remember what has to be done.
If we have women at the peace table, it will also ensure that we have investment. Women care about jobs, employment, training and what their children are going to have. They will ensure that schools are put back, and that that investment is brought forward.
Health is another important issue at the peace table. Without maternal health and health for children, there is no future for communities, including rebuilding. It is not just about walking away and saying that we have a peace agreement; it is about taking on that agreement. What we do not want are any further happenings such as those we have seen—women and families from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria and Yemen still in camps. Some have been there for 10 years, which is why we have to implement this Bill today. I ask the Minister to announce at the conference at the end of November that we will endorse this Bill and, further, that we will not endorse any talks at the peace table without women or investment.
My Lords, I suspect that this is going to be one of those rare debates in your Lordships’ House in which everyone across the House says similar things. We all strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, on this small but important Bill.
Occasionally, Members rise to speak and there is unanimity in the House, with one exception: the Government Front Bench. I am delighted to see the Minister still in his place. Fortunately, Lords Ministers seem to have a longer shelf life than their Commons colleagues; when we have good Ministers, it is good to keep them. I hope that on this occasion, he will feel able to give us some reassurance because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, pointed out, the United Kingdom is coming to the end of its fourth national action plan for women, peace and security and we are allegedly due a fifth one by the end of this year. I hope that the Minister agrees with the view from across the House that the women, peace and security agenda is important but also needs to be scrutinised; perhaps he might even consider giving some government time to ensure that this Bill can go through.
The noble Baroness—I would say, my noble friend—Lady Hodgson, in introducing the Bill pointed out that the APPG on Women, Peace and Security normally had meetings with Ministers after the annual reports, which it was unable to do this year because the report came out too late. Having the Bill and a formal legal requirement to bring an annual report is important, but obviously, there is a danger that reports requested by Parliament are simply slipped out through Written Ministerial Statements. If the Bill is enacted, would it be possible not to just slip out a report under cover of a Written Ministerial Statement but give government time to debate this important issue annually? That is going slightly further than the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, asks for in the Bill, but if you do not ask, you do not get.
The Bill is, unfortunately, all too timely. The war in Ukraine has again highlighted the dangers of conflict for women and girls, and the withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 left behind many of the most vulnerable. Can the Minister tell the House where we are on getting vulnerable people out of Afghanistan? The nature of the news cycle means that the media seem able to cope with only one issue at the time. For a couple of weeks, it was Afghanistan; for a longer period, it was Ukraine; then it was the Conservative leadership election for a jolly long time; then the death of Her late Majesty the Queen; then another Conservative leadership election—and we almost seem to have forgotten the international dimension. If there could be a little update on Afghanistan, that would be most welcome.
The requirement also talks about having women at the table. Vicky Ford has just been removed as the Minister for Development in the FCDO. The return of Andrew Mitchell is in many ways welcome, but who does the Minister see leading on this in the FCDO? Will it be, for example, Anne-Marie Trevelyan? Will he pass back to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, a request for similar thoughts about what the MoD is doing in this regard?
Finally, while he was on the Conservative Back Benches, Andrew Mitchell was very clear about the importance of development, to which the women, peace and security agenda is also linked. There has been a lot of criticism of the Government's failure to give financial commitments to parts of the women, peace and security agenda, particularly from the Gender Action for Peace and Security civil society network. I hope Andrew Mitchell may be able to get the Government back on the straight and narrow, but before that, could the Minister tell us when he anticipates that our commitment to overseas development aid will go back to the legally binding 0.7%?
My Lords, I, too, wholeheartedly support the Bill. Current events in Iran, which highlight the plight of women and have already resulted in the deaths of several young women, underline the importance of the measures this Bill would establish. Events in Iran also remind us that it is important to include not only women but young women, and not just in a tokenistic way to make up the numbers around the table, but genuinely to help define and inform the agenda, policies and settlements around peace, security and post-conflict reconstruction. I shall mention just two other points.
First, if the Minister accepts the need for an annual report as required under the Bill, it is important that, as well as reporting on our own activity, that report contains a specific section on what the UK has done to encourage, persuade and assist other UN member states to comply with Resolution 1325. As we have heard, that resolution has been in existence for over 20 years, but I am not convinced that sufficient pressure has ever been applied to achieve compliance where it is most needed.
The UK has such a positive track record of championing these issues generally, and supporting Resolution 1325 in particular, that I would hope that His Majesty’s Government could formulate more and stronger ways in which to exert their influence. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some specific examples. Could he confirm, for instance, that His Majesty’s Government are still funding the International Civil Society Action Network to help develop a protection framework for women peacebuilders?
My other point is that the annual report must include reference to Latin America—a region so often overlooked or underestimated in UK foreign policy, and yet where there is a tragic and persistent ongoing legacy of violence against women, during and post conflict, together with a culture of impunity for the perpetrators. Only this week, I met one of the many female human rights defenders for Mexico, who testified to ongoing incidents of sexual violence. I am aware of a similar and significant incidence of sexual violence in Colombia.
I know that the designated responsibilities of the Minister extend to just about every region of the world except Latin America, although they include the United Nations. Nevertheless, I hope that he will give a commitment that Latin America will receive its fair share of attention as the Bill proceeds and—if, as I hope, its provisions are enacted by the Government—in any future reports, policies and commitments, including free trade agreement negotiations. Specifically, I hope the Minister will confirm today that Latin America will feature on the agenda of the November conference on sexual violence that we will be hosting.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, for her work over many years on women, peace and security. She is right about the terrible and disproportionate effect of conflict on women and girls.
The UK is already signed up to producing a national action plan under UNSC 1325, but the noble Baroness rightly wants to ensure that this has more traction. That is not much to ask for in an area where the UK Government have a strong track record over many years. However, the cut in aid and the merging of DfID with the FCO has not helped in this regard. Abandoning Afghanistan was an appalling strategy. Therefore, it would be welcome if, as surely should be the case, the Minister could assure us that the Government will support the Bill.
The noble Baroness has spelled out some of the ways in which this can be applied—for example, by ensuring that women are engaged in formulating and implementing policy, that justice is sought for survivors of gender-based violence, that women are fully involved in peace processes and, above all, by wider and deeper engagement. But it is important that it is not just words.
I was privileged to hear a Ukrainian speaker yesterday spell out how her country, under the appalling stress of war, is taking forward the essence of women, peace and security. Her emphasis was that women are not just victims but must be seen as agents. She looked with optimism to the future of her country and illustrated how to ensure that women are to remain central in the future. It is not, she said, a matter of box ticking but, for example, of making sure that in the reconstruction of infrastructure not just hospitals and schools, but also kindergartens, are at the forefront. That gender lens is vital.
Looking to the UK, we hear that there will be a new integrated review—there certainly needs to be—but will the Minister make sure that gender is front and centre in it? I too am very glad that Andrew Mitchell, with his long record, will lead on international development in the FCDO. I hope that he will help to make international development much more strategic in the department, recognising that women and girls need to be front and centre. That includes, for example, a major emphasis on family planning and reproductive health and rights. Could the Minister fill us in on whether the FCDO will increase once again support in this area—the very basis of gender equality?
With our terrible abandonment of those in Afghanistan, are we making any moves to support women and girls there or here? There are three schemes to admit Afghans here, but no one seems to qualify for any of them. Can the Minister guarantee that no Afghan, Syrian, Iranian, Ethiopian or Somalian refugee will be sent to Rwanda?
Can the Minister assure us that the Government will engage properly in COP 27 and allow the King to go? Does he recognise the potential effect of climate change on the poorest in the world, especially women and girls? It is therefore astonishing to see the reluctance of our new PM to attend. The Minister has been in his job long enough to know the reality of climate change and how it affects women and girls, and the poorest, the most.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, mentioned, we see an impasse again in Northern Ireland. It is worth remembering the extraordinary part that women played in bringing about peace. They must be central going forward.
We are not in a stable world and our own politics have hardly been strategic and stable in recent years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, indicated, we have already seen how the position of women in conflict has tended to be neglected. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and the noble Baroness for introducing it.
My Lords, as a former chair of the APPG on Women, Peace and Security long ago, it gives me great pleasure to thank my noble friend Lady Hodgson for her outstanding work. I agree that the Bill is a necessity at this time.
The rape and torture of women in wars and conflicts have been a feature of conquest throughout human history, past and present. Apparently we are transitioning through the civilised period of human history. Despite the Hague conventions of 1899 and 1907 requiring family honour to be respected in wars by occupying powers, men in battle have equated women with disposable commodities. It is also worth noting the recent history of American soldiers who stand accused of raping Iraqi men in Abu Ghraib—so men too have been raped and tortured during wars.
For context, I was trawling the internet on this matter to gain a better understanding of the millions of women who have been used as a weapon of war. Even I, who lived through the war of independence in Bangladesh and so was fully conscious of the depravity of war, was ill equipped mentally to read the astounding numbers of women who have been brutalised, raped and tortured in conflicts in my century.
Japan stands accused of the mass raping of between 20,000 and 80,000 Chinese women in the city of Nanking, China, during 1937-38. During 1944-45 there was the mass rape of 100,000 German women or more by Soviet soldiers in Berlin. I have raised in this House on many occasions the horror of what happened in Bangladesh in 1971, when an estimated 300,000 women were raped and tortured. Many died in rape camps.
An estimated 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda during 1994. It is stated that sexual assault formed an integral part of the process of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group. Muslim women and girls as young as 12 were subject to widespread routine gang rape, torture and sexual enslavement by Bosnian Serb soldiers in Foča, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1992. Many women disappeared and might have been murdered.
We witnessed before our eyes the forced expulsion by the Burmese military of up to 1 million Rohingya families fleeing Bangladesh as the West failed to intervene and exert sufficient pressure on the Burmese army. I do not have the exact numbers but at least 70,000 women gave birth in those camps, and I wonder how many of those babies were born of rape.
Some of the numbers that I have cited may be a significant underestimate. There are not enough hours available in the Chamber to depict the atrocities committed on Burmese women. Shockingly, as published in various reputable research papers, those who stand accused have vociferously challenged and denied these facts. If we are to believe women as witnesses and survivors, then there may be even more than we are able to report who have died and disappeared.
Countless UN resolutions have permeated our international talking shops while the lives of women, from Afghanistan to Africa to Ukraine, continue to bear the brunt of wars and conflicts past and present. Historically too, international communities and institutions with the laudable aim of liberating women, including our own Government, have again and again failed to protect women, to prevent them coming to harm and to engage them in peacebuilding and post-conflict settlement.
Therefore I stand with the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and her Private Member’s Bill, which would require the UK Secretary of State to have regard to the UK national action plan on women, peace and security when formulating and implementing government policy. As has been mentioned, the plan has been adopted to meet our commitment under UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The UK is on its fourth NAP, based on the agenda of changes in the role of women in conflict prevention, women’s participation in peacebuilding, the protection of women and girls after conflict, relief and addressing women’s needs during repatriation, resettlement and integration.
It pains me to see the global plight of women. It is a salutary reminder of how far we have yet to climb and how easily we can descend into indecency and human degradation, even in our modern civilised century. The Bill would give women hope and highlight the importance of women’s integral role in peace and security efforts. It seeks women’s involvement as a core part of UK policy. Human catastrophe on this level leaves one breathless contemplating the upcoming challenges that our world faces.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, do the UK Government have a particular funding mechanism and target to reach women and girls in conflict and those designated as fragile states, including those that I have mentioned? If so, what are they? Secondly, what leadership can the UK Government provide to initiate dialogue for reparation and apologies for the rape and torture of women in countries such as Bangladesh, about which I have asked Ministers on many occasions? Thirdly, will he assure the House that the forthcoming international conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict on 29 November consider outstanding reparation and apologies for war crimes of the past?
My Lords, I support the Bill. As many noble Lords have said, rape is used as a weapon of war in many areas of conflict around the world. One that I draw noble Lords’ attention to is India, where in Kashmir for the last 30 years the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has given complete impunity to the armed forces. There are reports from Amnesty International, the UN Commission on Human Rights and all other human rights organisations that the Indian Army is involved in sexual violence and rape. In our free trade agreement with India, will the Minister make sure that the impunity that the Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act gives to the Indian army to do what it wants in that area, including rape, will be discussed as part of the deal? Will he give women the freedom to challenge those responsible for these draconian acts?
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate, with so much evident expertise and experience on display. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, was right: it would have been wonderful if more colleagues had taken part, but sometimes I prefer a smaller group of experts to a wider group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and I took our seats at exactly the same time on the same day, and nine years on it is a pleasure to see that, as she said, she is still being outspoken. I commend her work in this area, as others have done, and on bringing forward the Bill and the way in which she introduced it. As my noble friend Lady Smith indicated, this is probably the easiest Bill that the Government could ever accept. I hope that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, might not necessarily be long: simply saying yes would suffice today.
When I came to the Chamber, it dawned on me that this week we have been debating Northern Ireland at length, we have had a debate on Iran, we have had Questions on political violence in Africa, and yesterday we discussed the atrocities of Idi Amin in Uganda 50 years ago. Every day this week I have taken part in proceedings where women have been at the leading edge of seeking and securing peace but have also been the victims. Our Iran debate, for women in a leadership role, and for young women in particular, has been both inspiring and, as a man and a political person, humbling. The Bill is so important to entrench and enshrine some of the structures in place to ensure that we prevent any further falling back—which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, has indicated, regrettably we have started to see—in the involvement of women in peacemaking.
At this stage I will declare my interests. I chair the UK board of the world’s largest peacebuilding charity, Search for Common Ground. I had the privilege of chairing a panel, in which I was the only male, at a freedom of religion and belief conference, in the parallel process that the Minister was responsible for in July, bringing together women from Israel and Palestine, from east Africa and from Asia, all discussing this vital topic. I have carried out and continued to do work on supporting and mentoring in partnership training for women MPs and community groups in Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon, all areas where there are additional barriers of confessional political systems that have then often entrenched some of the discriminations and barriers that have prevented women from participating.
Today we are primarily discussing what the Government can do with the structures that are in place. I am on record as asking the Government what their approach is to talks whenever the UK is involved or sponsors or funds them, and whether they should have a policy of empty-chairing any discussions when there are no women involved. Regrettably, there have been too many of these occasions and Governments need to call that out. Similarly, the noble Baroness was right to highlight the gap between the preparation of the NAP and its publication. I read the report, and I commend the officials who put some of the work together, particularly some of the analysis on the indicator tables. I felt that those tables in the NAP report were most powerful in some of the key areas.
If the Minister can also respond specifically to the work of the steering board and how the Government will be taking forward the specific proposals within it, I would be grateful, especially in the context now of a degree of uncertainty, as my noble friend Lady Smith highlighted, about the precise role of a Minister for Development. Are they a policy-making minister or an administrative one? Who, within all these agendas and the implementation of all the international obligations listed in the Bill, are the Ministers who will be responsible for driving them through? At a time of cuts, as my noble friend Lady Northover indicated, having this driven by Ministers from the centre is important.
It is not to disagree with the Bill but our Benches support—we would like this be the basis upon which we can build in future—as our colleagues have put forward in the Canadian Liberal Government, a fully feminist development policy which includes security, peacebuilding and diplomacy so that the gender element is at the core of each of the three strands. It can be done, and it can be done extremely creatively. In Pakistan —a country that the Minister knows well on a ministerial level, having been there fairly recently—the work of Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action in the national security policy is to be commended. The Government of Pakistan recognise gender security as the core element of their national security programme. This is an innovation but it is very helpful, because it includes law enforcement, the justice sector and peacebuilding. We could do more for the UK in its development-making policy.
Strategy is one thing and good intention is most certainly another, but the UK needs the tools to deliver on these. The unlawful reduction from 0.7% to 0.5% has dealt a blow not only to the ability to honour commitments that the UK Government have made but to how we underpin our international obligations.
We have called for an equality impact assessment to be published—the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, called repeatedly for it to be published. The Government failed to do so but we were grateful to the International Development Committee, which used parliamentary privilege to publish the equality impact assessment of the Government’s development cuts. Using parliamentary privilege to do this surely cannot be right, when around the world we are highlighting areas where transparency and accountability is good practice.
The impact assessment is a shocking read:
“The proposed scale of reductions to specific gender interventions, including Violence Against Women and Girls … and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights … will impact girls’ education and wider efforts to advance gender equality. This includes likely reductions of 75% for VAWG … 70% for SRHR”
and 80% for advancing gender equality and education. It goes on to say:
“FCDO has been the biggest bilateral supporter of social protection programmes in over 30 countries. Of 23 draft country plans reviewed, 16 proposed reductions and 3 proposed closures.”
In over half the countries, of which we are the leading country, we have cut, and in three we have closed entirely. What message does that send for global leadership in this agenda? It sends a horrific message. The Minister will be aware, as has been asked for before, that we are awaiting the full implementation of the FCDO strategic vision for gender equality. Can he say what the status of that is and what the tools are for implementation?
This is a short debate. Like all noble Lords, I have much more to say, but I will limit myself to this final point. We have had a good record in the past, and many countries have followed us. Regrettably, we are on a different trajectory. However, if the Government put into legislation this excellent Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and use it as the basis of further work and provide the funding to implement it, we will regain our global leadership position; the noble Baroness will have been the guarantor of that. I commend her and the Bill.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, for bringing this Bill before Parliament. I also thank her for all her work on this agenda; she has worked tirelessly on a cross-party basis. As noble Lords have said, I hope that the response to the Bill, from these Benches and from the Government Benches, will be at one in seeking to deliver this agenda.
The denial of the rights of women and girls remains the most widespread driver of inequality in today’s world. Gender-based violence is a major element of this massive and continuing failure of human rights. Delivering this agenda, as action plans have recognised, is not a matter for government alone. The ingredients of a thriving democracy are not limited to Parliaments and parliamentarians. As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, rightly highlighted, civil society organisations such as women’s rights groups and trade unions remain an important part of democratic life and are frequently the only guarantors of human rights in society.
Women endure discrimination, violence and the denial of their rights simply because they are women. We must tackle the underlying problem of a lack of empowerment, education and inclusion. As my noble friend Lord McConnell has frequently argued,
“development is the mortar of peace.”—[Official Report, 8/7/10; col. 360]
I also welcome Andrew Mitchell’s appointment. He certainly has a tremendous track record on this issue, both as a Minister and a Back-Bencher. I echo the comments of all noble Lords, and I hope he will see his focus as establishing a very clear timetable for the return to 0.7%.
Ethiopia is an example of how quickly incredible levels of development can fall apart when conflict re-emerges. A really sad and horrific example of that conflict has been the sexual violence we have seen, particularly in the Tigray region. I know that is something we will be focusing on in the Bill which we will be considering later. In the Ukraine conflict we have also seen rising levels of sexual violence. Yesterday we had a very short debate on the situation in Iran, where the shameful killing of Mahsa Amini was followed by alarming reports of the continued use of disproportionate force, particularly against women, opposing the restrictions on their rights. This is all evidence of how women and girls pay a very heavy price in conflict and instability. There is more; sadly, I could go into a long list.
The UN Secretary-General’s 2020 annual report on the responsibility to protect focused on the role of women in peace and security. The report was published on the 15th anniversary of the responsibility to protect, as well as the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The report recognised that the full and equal participation of women in peace processes and in decision-making, as well as in the design of preventive measures, is important in closing any gender-based gaps in atrocity prevention. Globally, only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators and 6% of signatories in major peace processes are women. Women deserve to be part of peacebuilding and conflict response because, unless they are given the opportunity to voice their demands and needs, they may be left in danger, even though the fighting appears to have stopped.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said, the United Kingdom has a proud record of supporting the women, peace and security agenda for many years, including setting up a network of women mediators. It is currently the pen holder at the UN Security Council. Noble Lords have referenced the forthcoming conference in November of the international Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, which focuses on ending conflict-related sexual violence. The Minister and I have talked about the conference and stressed the obvious importance of hearing the voices of those most affected, ensuring that we make it clear that these are the ones the world needs to hear. I have also stressed to him the importance of civil society being properly engaged in that conference, and I hope that he will give us some idea in his response about the conference’s shape and agenda.
Labour has argued and believes in foreign and development policies based on the principles of gender justice, rights, intersectionality and solidarity. That is why we support the Bill transforming words into actions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, we have signed up to the conventions, but we have to make sure that those commitments are a “must” rather than a “should”. That is why the evidence she highlighted is so important and why we need to make it clear that this is not a desirable objective but an absolutely necessary one.
Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, highlighted, the delay in the national action plan report to Parliament, which was not published until July this year, is just one part of the evidence that she presented. It is an important and crucial mechanism of accountability, which is why we support the Bill. I hope the Minister will also commit to supporting it and to giving it a successful passage through Parliament.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their valuable and insightful contributions. In particular, I join all noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Hodgson, whom I have known for a long time. I know her passion and commitment to this important agenda and beyond. I do not just acknowledge and congratulate her; I also thank her for the valuable insights that she provides to me, as a Minister at the FCDO, on this important agenda and with regard to my specific responsibilities as the Prime Minister’s special representative for preventing sexual violence in conflict. I still have those as I speak.
Let me say from the outset that the Government fully support the ethos of the women, peace, and security agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis—with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and others—said that this was perhaps one of those opportunities where I could give a very short speech and just say “Yes”. All I can say is: if only the life of a Minister were so easy. I have been at this for a while, and I assure noble Lords that there are always specific issues that require a degree of further amplification of the requirements of the Bill—I will come on to that in a moment.
I share the important observation of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that it is right to have qualitative elements within a focused debate. What I can say at this juncture as well is that I note the importance of specific areas where the Government can and should strengthen their work further in the broader areas of women, peace and security. I will come on to those in a moment.
As we have heard today, the WPS agenda was ushered in by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, in the year 2000. The United Kingdom, as we have also heard, was pivotal in getting that resolution passed. We do not dispute that conflict has a direct and disproportionate impact on women and girls. We see that everywhere.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the situation in Ethiopia and Tigray, in particular. I spoke to the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations about the conflict when she visited the region. While humanitarian access has thankfully been provided, even international agencies, including those of the UN, are yet to fully assess the impact of the ongoing conflict in Tigray. Undoubtedly the situation is extremely dire.
The noble Lord also mentioned Ukraine. Looking at other conflicts, I just reflect on how our approach to conflicts, both past and present, has been informed and on how we deal with them. The approach in Ukraine has been markedly different in the structures and accountability mechanisms that have been set up. I assure noble Lords that there are ongoing discussions. Over the past few months, I have had discussions with the new prosecutor general in Ukraine and, a couple of weeks back, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I had a very constructive meeting with the ICC prosecutor. The Government have committed specifically to not just financial and technical support but technological and indeed professional support to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence and broader crimes in this conflict can be brought to account. Of course, I commit to keeping your Lordships’ House informed on progress.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, rightly raised Iran and what is unfolding there, which is tragic. I was recently given ministerial responsibility for the Middle East and I have been focused on Iran. This week, there have been developments that I have called out personally and I know that my right honourable friend is engaged on this. We have been making it very clear that the continuing situation in Iran is not something that any Government should be entertaining in any shape or form. It riles me. I have said this before and I do so again: as a Muslim by faith who follows Islam, it absolutely shocks me that there are people, indeed states, who use government as a means of suppressing women’s rights. It is fundamentally flawed whichever way you cut it—and that includes through the lens of faith.
The stronger we are on this, the more progress can be made. We need to ensure not only that those in the room are well informed—this is not about taking a stick; that approach never works—but that there is a reality check. It shocks me personally, professionally and ministerially that, when you look around the world, including the UN Security Council, nearly 25 years on from Resolution 1325, we still find that women are not included in conflict resolution mechanisms. That is fundamentally wrong. I have already talked to our incredibly talented and leading diplomat, Dame Barbara Woodward, about the importance of our approach to conflict resolutions at the UN Security Council. It may be rejected but, with my UN responsibility, I have said we must include specific paragraphs to ensure that women mediators are given a voice—I mean, for God’s sake, what year are we living in? We need to ensure that they are pivotal to that.
I again pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hodgson for her work on Afghanistan and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Northover, who I worked with very closely during the Afghanistan evacuation. There are routes available, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, is right to say that these need to be utilised and amplified. The situation is dire—I do not hide away from that—but we have continued to bring people to the United Kingdom every few weeks through the ACRS, the Home Office scheme. As the changes in government settle, I assure noble Lords that I want to renew and maintain our focus on conflicts that are ongoing but perhaps, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, are not in the headlines. This is not about a moment in time; it is an ongoing issue.
I am sure that the Taliban in Afghanistan have feelings about how soon the West and other countries respond. This is not just about the West; other countries have also raised this issue. When visiting the Middle East and the Gulf states, I again used the same idea: under what premise do the Taliban, perversely, use the role of religion to supress the rights of women? This is a total and utter nonsense. We need other countries to stand up quite forcefully and make this case—and not just those like-minded countries to which we often turn.
Our WPS work focuses on the meaningful participation of women. We have incredible commissions; indeed, I launched the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth network. However, we are not utilising these networks and we must ensure, coming back to my earlier point, that they form part and parcel of the conflict resolution mechanisms. Therefore, I totally and utterly agree with the principles in the Bill because they present a way of highlighting once again the important issues in front of us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised the issue of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and mentioned supporting particular initiatives as examples. One example, of which noble Lords will be aware, is the Elsie Initiative, which we have provided with £5.9 million of funding since 2019 to support countries directly regarding uniformed women in peacekeeping, which is also important. I will come to the issue of the Ministry of Defence, which was also raised.
On the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, about India, we remain committed to women being involved in every peace process. In this sense, it is important that countries will be represented at conferences, including the PSVI conference we will be holding. India has a long and rich history of standing up for the rights of all communities; that is part and parcel of what defines India as a thriving democracy. Where issues arise, we will raise them—sometimes privately, sometimes candidly—as we expect India to raise issues with us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, also talked about funding for the International Civil Society Action Network. We provided it with funding in 2020, and we continue to work with it in this respect. On the PSVI agenda, ICAN is centrally involved in the groups we are working with.
Since 2000, 100 countries have also adopted national action plans as the primary vehicle to implement their WPS commitments. The FCDO and the MoD—the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to this—are preparing the fifth UK action plan for 2023-27. We are working with civil society, academia and parliamentarians —some of whom are present here today—to ensure that it delivers real change for women and girls and the communities in which they serve. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, talked about different strands of focus, and I hope that, as we move forward and evolve these national action plans, they also reflect the very focused areas on which we need to ensure delivery. The Government will of course monitor and evaluate their implementation through a framework that allows us better to understand and improve our impact on fragile and conflict areas.
My noble friend Lady Sugg is a great champion of so much on this important agenda; I praise her incredible work, particularly on sexual and reproductive health. I can assure her that there is a centrepiece. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the framework for the PSVI conference. In the interests of clarity, there will be a specific focus on that centrepiece, as I assured my noble friend a few weeks ago. Women and girls remain very much at the centre of the UK’s foreign policy.
My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly asked about the women and girls strategy; we will be looking to publish that very shortly. I am also looking to use the conference to publish the PSVI three-year strategy. I am happy to share the early publication of that with noble Lords, in advance of the conference, and I hope that the conference itself will provide an informed engagement opportunity. This time next month, we will be hosting the conference. Noble Lords who have not yet received an invitation, for whatever reason, and wish to attend—I say this on the record—should let me know and we will then issue it.
I look forward to hosting the conference. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I have talked about the structure; I assure him that the conference will be opened by a survivor, and I hope that will set the tone thereafter. We also hope that it will advance the broader WPS agenda that my noble friend has sought to highlight in aspects of the Bill, particularly conflict-related sexual violence.
Day by day, through global policy and programming, the FCDO is responding to and working on gender-based violence. We are also putting survivors at the centre of our approach, as noble Lords will be aware. This is not just about Resolution 1325. We have championed and supported UN Security Council resolutions; we have survivors as part of our steering group on preventing sexual violence, and they inform policy and programming directly; and we have launched specific initiatives.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked about the situation in Bangladesh. Of course, we have been long-standing supporters of the Rohingya community in both their flight from the worst kinds of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and within Bangladesh. Earlier this week, I met with Deputy Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam to indicate again our financial and continued support. I have been to the camps in Cox’s Bazar and seen the appalling, abhorrent situation that women have to face, not once but twice over—indeed, in the camps themselves—and will continue to ensure that we provide support where we can. I praise Dr Mukwege’s Global Survivors Fund, which provides initial funding and support to victims of sexual violence in particular. The UK is on its board and has provided financing to the fund to support victims and survivors as they await justice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about the MoD. In parallel, the MoD has established policy on human security in defence which also commits to incorporating gender perspectives across all planning. The MoD is furthering the inclusion of women at all levels of defence, both domestically and overseas, with partners and allies. The noble Baroness also talked about the impacts of climate change, and I assure her that I am fully aware of that. It did not require me to be a Minister, but I recently visited Pakistan, where, I am delighted to say, we were able to make a further commitment of £10 million. But undoubtedly, who was suffering in sin? It was the most marginalised community, primary among them women and girls. However, I was pleased to see that, through UK support and that of our international partners, there are specific provisions supporting women and girls, particularly the most marginalised. That needs to be done on a consistent basis.
I am a long-standing supporter of 0.7%, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, knows, and I will certainly continue to advocate returning to it. I acknowledge what many noble Lords have said on the return of my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell to the FCDO; no one needs to be shown how passionate he is, both in his advocacy for international development and in his views on the very point the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised. He will be an incredible asset in informing both policy and programming within the FCDO as we move forward.
On the issue of funding, could the Minister address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg? Does the former Foreign Secretary’s commitment to reverse all cuts to women and children’s programmes, returning them to the pre-cut level, still stand?
My Lords, certainly from my perspective, that is very much a government commitment that was given. Of course, we have a new Prime Minister, but the same Foreign Secretary. It is a strange question to be answering while we are still in the last throes of a ministerial reshuffle, but our commitment to women and girls remains focused, particular and prioritised. Indeed, I was delighted that our former Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary committed to these issues. The commitment, for example, to the immediate issue on the horizon—the PSVI conference and our support for that—indicates the direction of travel. I will of course update your Lordships’ House on anything more specific. On the PSVI issue, I also put on record the Government’s thanks to Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex for her engagement and involvement in continuing to throw a spotlight on these important issues.
I listened very carefully to the valuable and insightful comments to this debate. The Government are committed to the WPS agenda. As my noble friend acknowledged in introducing the Bill, there are some reservations about specific proposals before us. The Government have strong existing and forthcoming WPS policies: the integrated review, which was referred to; the international development strategy; the women and girls strategy; Human Security in Defence; and the WPS national action plan. All these underline not just our commitment but the progress we have made. I know how strongly your Lordships support these policies, as was clear from the debate. It is critical that, within the frameworks in which we work, we retain the freedom of agile policy-making—that is where some of the limitations of the Bill have been highlighted to me.
On a positive note, I have been listening and there are aspects of the Bill we can commit to. Let me give a couple of examples of what we are doing, drawn directly from the Bill. The measures proposed in the Bill seek to increase women’s participation in peace processes. The UK’s ambition is to support meaningful participation and secure positive peace process outcomes for women and girls, with more women being pivotal in decision-making. We have seen the power of this approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, talked about Latin America. We have seen real progress in Colombia, where civil society, including women’s groups, ensured that there were real and specific gender considerations in how the peace agreement was reached. But that is only half the job, and we need to ensure a continuing focus. I welcome insight on specifics from all noble Lords on how they feel we can further strengthen our work in this area.
The Bill aspires for the UK to take gender into account when formulating foreign policy. In this regard, the gender equality duty in the International Development Act 2002 requires the Government to have regard to gender inequality before providing development assistance. On what will happen next, the new women and girls strategy will pick up on some of the specific provisions that my noble friend highlighted on this very point in her presentation of the Bill.
Before I hand back to my noble friend, I again thank all noble Lords. I share the points that have been made. Importantly, the Government have done specific work on this agenda, and I feel very strongly that the House and all parties are at one in their perspectives on how to pursue the agenda. Of course, there are different speeds at which we may travel at times.
The issue of annual reporting came up. What I can commit to—PSVI is within my portfolio—is that we should have an annual report. We have looked at WMSs, but I can certainly work through the usual channels to see how we can facilitate a specific debate annually. I do not think there is disagreement on this: it will further enhance the progress we can make. I am sure the usual channels can work together on how it can be presented.
Although I lead on the PSVI agenda, I think it is totally sensible to present a report that demonstrates the work that has been done over the last 12 months. Certainly, when it comes to our duties, although not a legislative requirement, how we report to your Lordships’ House and to Parliament as a whole on the WPS agenda and progress on NAPs could be much more contextualised and structured. I will take those aspects back to see how best we can work them through.
I will give that commitment now, which will cause a flurry of activity if it is not the case. I have already mentioned Colombia specifically. I want to use what has worked well in Colombia as a reflection of what we can do, not just further in Latin America but across the world. I come back to my earlier point: if there are specific elements that the noble Baroness feels we can introduce, even at this point I am quite happy to ensure those are considered as part of the agenda.
I end by thanking all noble Lords for their contributions. This has been a wide-ranging debate. There are some specific questions I have not had time to respond to in my concluding remarks but—
I think I made that point. I referred to the Global Survivor Fund, which is a general fund. Those kinds of funds help the victims of such abhorrent acts in the Rohingya camps, so funding is certainly available. I will of course write specifically to the noble Baroness, as I have already said.
Once again, I thank my noble friend Lady Hodgson for introducing this Bill. I assure her that I have asked my officials to work closely with her to ascertain how the Government might work positively and constructively to deliver its aims, and I will make personal efforts on this issue. I assure all noble Lords that I look forward to continuing to work with them to champion women’s human rights and the rights of women defenders, peacebuilders, survivors and political leaders around the world. Simply put, it is the right thing to do.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and support for today’s Second Reading. So many important points have been raised by noble friends that I do not have time to cover them all.
My noble friend Lady Sugg talked about language having been watered down in some international statements and the importance of including women, peace and security in foreign affairs, defence and development policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, reminded us of how much conflict there is around the world, and how very few people have been brought to trial for sexual violence. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, highlighted the support for this Bill from around the House, and suggested that every year we have a debate on the report to Parliament on the women, peace and security NAP. That is an excellent idea. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, highlighted the situation in Iran and the importance of including young women at the peace table, and how Latin America so often slips out of sight in this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us of what has happened through the abandoning of Afghanistan, all the damage that has caused and how women there have completely lost their rights. She mentioned that it is not always very clear and easy to see how to include more women in our schemes. The noble Baroness also mentioned the amazing speaker from Ukraine we heard yesterday, who reminded us that women are not just victims but agents for change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked especially movingly about the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war and the situation in Bangladesh. She went on to talk about Rwanda, Bosnia, China, Burma—all these places where people have suffered so badly through sexual violence in conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, raised the situation in Kashmir and the impunity of the army that has committed acts of violence against women there.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and I were introduced on the same day—he went first. It is always good to work together on the many issues we have in common. He talked about the importance of women peacemakers and women in leadership positions. He raised the suggestion of a feminist foreign policy agenda, which I also support.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about gender-based violence being a failure of human rights and the importance of civil society organisations in highlighting and raising these issues. I loved his quote, that
“development is the mortar of peace.”—[Official Report, 8/7/10; col. 360.]
That is so true. The noble Lord also spoke of how women pay such a heavy price in conflict.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his extensive reply. I too am so pleased to see him in his role still and am delighted that Andrew Mitchell has been restored as a Development Minister, with his enormous experience in this field. I have worked with both of them for quite a few years, and I know that my noble friend has demonstrated a strong commitment to this agenda, both on women, peace and security, and in his role as the Prime Minister’s special representative on sexual violence. I just remind the Minister that this Bill is to ensure that, in the future, if we were to have Ministers less committed to this agenda, this agenda would continue. As we have heard, it has been sidelined at times, but this is too important an issue to depend on the political good will of the time.
I hope my noble friend the Minister has been encouraged by what he has heard today. There has been support from all around the House. The Bill simply enshrines into legislation what the Government say they support. I very much hope that we can all reflect on today’s debate and find a way of working together to improve the Bill so that it is acceptable to the Government but also practical and impactful.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.