Women: Government Policy

– in the House of Lords at 11:58 am on 6 March 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 11:58, 6 March 2008

rose to call attention to the impact of Government policy on the lives of women and girls, and their priorities for the future; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, once again we have the opportunity to commemorate International Women's Day, and I thank the Labour group for agreeing that women's equality be the subject of the Labour debate. It is again heartening that there has been such positive response from Members across the House. I am also honoured that we are to hear two maiden speeches in the debate from two such eminent Members of the House, that the Leader of the House is to reply to the debate and that the two Opposition Leaders are taking part.

2008 is a special year: a year of the big "0"s. It is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, a day on which women's achievements across the globe are celebrated. It is the day when consideration is given to the advancement made by women in their ability to play a full and active role, politically, socially and economically. It is also the 100th anniversary of Socialist International Women, the largest international women's organisation in the world, of which, I was proud to be vice-chair for many years. It is the 90th year since the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, when women over the age of 30 secured the right to vote, 80 years since women have had the vote on equal terms with men and just over 100 years since the first woman councillor was elected.

However, it is a special anniversary for your Lordships' House. It is the 50th year, almost to the day, since the enactment of the Life Peerages Act 1958, Part 3 of which stated that a life peerage may be conferred on a woman. One Member of your Lordships' House, opposed to the Bill, asked where the emancipation would end. I dread to think what his reaction would be today with a Lord Speaker, a Leader, two Chief Whips, a Convenor and an Attorney-General who are women, and with 33 per cent of our Front Benches women. The Life Peerages Act 1958 set the scene for the Peerage Act 1963, which permitted female hereditary Peers to sit in the House of Lords in their own right. The late Lady Darcy de Knayth was one of the original intake. She loved your Lordships' House and we will miss her greatly.

The stepping stones to achieve those Acts were not crossed without a struggle, whether it was the heroic actions of the suffragettes, referred to by Queen Victoria as "this mad, wicked folly" of women's rights, or the Daily Mail's article under the heading "Stop the Flapper Vote Folly" which said that,

"by adopting this ridiculous proposal of 'votes for flappers', Ministers are preparing to add millions of irresponsible voters to the total of electors."

In the words of the Sunday Pictorial:

"The little band of women sitting in Westminster today are but the single spies of the battalions to come."

Eighty years later, we are still awaiting the battalions, but there have been substantial improvements in the numbers of women MPs by the introduction of positive measures to allow more women candidates. However, the House of Commons, which has 126 women MPs, still trails behind your Lordships' House in which there are 143 women.

Those comments were nothing compared with the panic that set in with the passage of the 1850 Act, which declared that in legislation, "men" shall include "women", followed by the Reform Act 1867, which changed the words "male person" to "men". That could have technically meant that women were enfranchised and might even vote.

As expected, a way was found to stop that happening by asking the courts to intervene. They ruled that such an interpretation did not apply to the vote and, not surprisingly, women were denied that right. At the same time as those negative reactions, other important changes were being made, including the infant custody legislation, prior to which a child only had one parent—its father. In 1882, a wife was given the right to own property.

However, the most significant piece of legislation at that time was the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, parts of which are still on the statute book. It stated that a person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, holding any civil or judicial office, post, profession or vocation. On Second Reading in your Lordships' House, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, stated that many would find the content of the Bill disagreeable.

Since then, the progression to gender equality has gone through many stages. The hard-fought-for Equal Pay Act 1970 was amended in 1984 to include the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. That Act was a major breakthrough in the debate to improve women's pay, but as the TUC women's advisory committee said at the time,

"to grant the principle of equal pay is not sufficient to produce equality in the work place. The proportion of women workers who will secure the full benefits of the Equal Pay Act will be minimal unless positive action is taken to eliminate the traditional inequalities in education and training opportunities."

That was a very far-sighted statement and one that, unfortunately, could equally be made today—some 37 years later.

In 1975, the Equal Pay Act was incorporated into the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which established the Equal Opportunities Commission. The contributions of my noble friend Lady Lockwood and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, as first chair and vice-chair of the commission—I am delighted that both are speaking today—were fundamental in compelling government departments and agencies to think more seriously about provisions for women, such as maternity care and pension rights. They also provided a base for the many campaigns that have brought us to where we are today, organised and participated in by the many women's organisations in the UK and women in the trade unions who became expert in promoting and working towards gender equality. We have a number of representatives of women's organisations in the Public Gallery today. Their strength of purpose has been shown in a capacity to adopt campaigns against a background of dramatic transformation in the lives of women and their families.

Family structures have changed. The development of new partnerships and the growth in the number of stepfamilies and more intricate family arrangements have shaped the income, working patterns and living standards of families. There are many more working families, with 70 per cent of women now in employment. The Government have produced a package of practical measures to support these working families totalling well over £3 million per day through working tax credits to help working parents to cover 80 per cent of childcare costs, maternity pay and a tax and benefits system to enable many thousands of lone parents to move from welfare to work. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of childcare places and 47 per cent of new mothers work flexitime.

This year has seen the biggest review of our equality institutions since the Sex Discrimination Act. We have seen the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission bringing together the elements of gender, race, disability, sexuality, religion and faith and so providing the capacity for the first time of intersectional action. We have seen the delivery of the Women at Work recommendations with the Government's action plan to tackle the gender pay gap. There has been implementation of the gender equality duty, the equalities public service agreement and, very importantly, the establishment of the Government Equalities Office to strengthen further the Government's ability to deliver across the entire equalities agenda.

It is clear that the Equality and Human Rights Commission under the chairmanship of Trevor Phillips and the vice-chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Prosser is going to be a real force. Its initial statements have taken on the controversial subjects of violence against women and Sharia law as well as looking at the hidden opposition to hiring women who are pregnant or likely to be pregnant. Maternal profiling is illegal but research has shown that 70 per cent of recruitment agencies tried to avoid hiring women who were pregnant.

The commission will also have the responsibility of ensuring that the gender equality duty that came in last April will be enforced. The duty requires all public authorities to promote gender equality and challenge unlawful sex discrimination and harassment, rather than depending on individuals to make complaints. It places the legal responsibility on public authorities to demonstrate that they treat women and men fairly. The gender duty has the further important role of putting violence against women on the agenda. Public bodies will need to set objectives for addressing violence in consultation with stakeholders such as rape crisis centres, women's refuges and women's organisations.

Gender equality must be a part of the wider equalities agenda and the Government have announced a public service agreement on equalities. From April this year this cross-government PSA will address the disadvantage that individuals experience because of their gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief. The PSA should ensure the integration of gender equality into a coherent package of measures to reduce discrimination.

Last week, as chair of the Women's National Commission, I went to New York to head the NGO delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The main theme considered at the commission was the important issue of gender-responsive budgeting and the empowerment of women. Gender-responsive budgeting highlights the resources committed to policies. It is not a separate budget but raises awareness and understanding that budgets will impact differently on women and men because of their different social and economic positions. It asks where all the resources go, what impact the allocation of resources has on gender equity and what impact government expenditure has on everyday lives.

The Government continue to work with both the Women's National Commission and the Women's Budget Group—a group of policy-makers and economists—on promoting gender equality in the UK. The Treasury has undertaken a pilot project on gender analysis of expenditure and my honourable friend Angela Eagle, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, is promoting work on improving gender analysis of tax and spending policies over the forthcoming year. These are tentative but important steps, appreciating that it is a long-term process, but nevertheless the start is encouraging. So it is clear that the impact that government expenditure can have on women's everyday lives is fundamental.

The Ministers for Women outlined as part of their priorities for the future the importance of supporting families and tackling violence against women. These are major areas of work and all credit to the Ministers for the speed with which they identified priorities and, through the Women's National Commission, consulted women's organisations on them. The priorities establish a commitment to tackling the pay gap between women and men, improving financial and employment support for families, and continuing to improve the quality, availability and affordability of childcare.

All these have budget implications. For instance, and although improving, the persistent pay gap now stands at around 17 per cent of mean hourly rates for full-time work, and for part-time work, mainly undertaken by women, it is still unbelievably at 35 per cent. The gender pay gap is not just bad news for women, it means that women's abilities and skills are not being fully used to the benefit of the economy. Women are over-represented in lower paid sectors, which have been identified by the Fawcett Society as the 4 Cs: cleaning, caring, catering and cashiering. But without proper costings being identified in budgets, there is no clear picture of the impact of women's unequality and the case for investment to save these costs.

If we look at the Ministers' second priority to tackle violence against women, there is clearly an economic impact. The health-related cost of a rape is now calculated at £73,487 per case, and adding up the health, criminal and justice costs, loss of employment costs, housing and so forth, the cost of domestic violence to public services is estimated to be around £23 billion each year. Furthermore, violence against women is the most common cause of depression and mental health problems in women, and treating the related physical injuries and mental health problems cost the NHS almost £1.4 billion a year.

All elements of violence against women, exploitation and abuse are both a cause and a consequence of women's inequality. Almost half of women in England and Wales experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in their lifetime. Every 34 minutes, a rape is reported. Women represent around 85 per cent of victims of forced marriage, and it is estimated that around 33,000 young women and girls are currently at risk of female genital mutilation.

There are complex inter-relations between all elements of violence, be they domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, FGM, forced marriage and honour killings which require a long-term, integrated strategy that includes prevention work, with clear targeted funding and evaluation.

There have been many good initiatives over the past decade to improve women's safety, including the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, the cross-government action plans on sexual violence and abuse, and the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which stops girls being taken out of the country for FGM. But these initiatives are often disconnected, and as a consequence good policy does not always have an impact on the ground. Only a third of local authorities across the UK have the specialist Violence Against Women support services. Almost one third of local authorities have no domestic violence services. There is no 24-hour helpline for rape victims, and fewer than one in three local authorities have services for women in prostitution.

It is estimated that there are between 50,000 and 80,000 women involved in prostitution, with 28 per cent working in street prostitution and the other 72 per cent working in indoor establishments and as escorts. And, frighteningly, up to 75 per cent of girls become prostitutes before they are 18 years of age.

Clearly, there is a case for an examination of the law on prostitution, and the Government are right to do so, but there are widely diverse views on the solution. They must be given careful and detailed consideration. Is the answer decriminalisation, or will legislation and regulation provide the greater protection for these women?

Britain has become a major focus for the global trade of sexual exploitation of women by traffickers who trick or abduct young women and push them into prostitution. The Home Secretary, the right honourable Jacqui Smith, has committed the UK to ratify some time this year the Council of Europe's convention against trafficking. That is very good news because it will give greater protection to the victims of trafficking by recognising them as such and so prevent them being treated as illegal immigrants or criminals. It will also provide them with physical and psychological care, medical treatment and, importantly, to allow them to escape it will provide accommodation.

Alongside that, the Government are committed to prosecute the traffickers, confiscate the proceeds of the traffickers' crime and prosecute men who rape trafficked girls. Violence against women is probably the most pervasive rights violation. It must be challenged and tackled vigorously.

In conclusion, while we have to continue to break down the barriers and remove any burdens that prevent women's full participation in society, and while we celebrate the achievements, the opportunities and the challenges for women, genuine equality is relevant to every citizen, man or woman, regardless of their background, their ethnicity or their sexuality.

The Equalities Review, published last year, defined an equal society thus:

"An equal society protects and promotes equal, real freedom and substantive opportunity to live in the way people value and would choose, so that everyone can flourish ... An equal society recognises people's different needs, situations and goals and removes the barriers that limit what people can do and can be"

We must create that equal society. That must be our goal. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament 12:17, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on initiating the debate. She and I are both—I hope that she does not mind my saying so—tribal politicians and I respect her greatly for that. However, a debate such as this will, I am sure, show how much there is that unites us across all party bounds.

I greatly look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, and the noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford. I always welcome new Peers to our discussions, particularly those who have come through the Appointments Commission. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, is, I see from several websites, the first Iranian woman to be a Member of our Parliament. As is widely known, the noble Lord, Lord Stern, has made a distinguished contribution in his report on climate change. We look forward to hearing their speeches today. I cannot resist also mentioning the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, who I hope will define a third way between a man and a woman.

Surely every day should be a woman's day; surely we should give the fullest attention to women's concerns on every day of the year. If that is not felt to be so, it is a reproach to successive Governments.

There is far more common ground between the vast majority of men and women than there is difference. Equally, there is also infinite variety among women. For instance, my wife broke a career to dedicate herself to raising a family. Her choice—the same made by millions of others—deserves the fullest respect, which I fear it does not always receive. The essence of the matter must surely be choice. Flexible working, which my party strongly supports, is still not sufficiently developed to enable women who want to, or need to, maintain a career to find the right work-life balance.

I wonder whether any noble Lords saw the 1955 Good Wife's Guide in the press yesterday. It included such gems as:

"Don't complain even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day".

We have come a long way since then—such attitudes are well forgotten—but we cannot be complacent at the loss of some of the grace of the past.

Across those years we have passed some great milestones. Every man in my party was immensely proud when Margaret Thatcher became our first woman Prime Minister and when Lady Young became the first female Leader of this House. It is inconceivable now to think of politics without women in high places at any time in the future. We are becoming well used to women leaders in our House; it is almost the norm now.

It is all too evident in all too many countries that the oppression of women comes not from anything inbuilt in men. Men are the first to admire and to celebrate women's success. Where that is lacking, it comes from a lack of civility, discipline and self-discipline and from an absence of a core set of values that were once better taught in most homes and in almost every school. It comes from ignorance, lack of respect for the uniqueness of every individual and—something that we see all too often even in this country—a vulgarisation of public sensibility and the exploitation of women in violence and pornography in film and media, which seem to plumb new depths of the acceptable every year.

I do not see men and women as two naturally armoured, glowering sides of an eternal divide. We are literally partners. We are stronger when we confront the real and undoubted issues that affect each of us together, whether that is the fight against breast cancer or against prostate cancer, or scourges such as stroke, which affects both sexes, as can be all too readily forgotten.

That said, of course there are many serious problems. Let me begin with crime and the fear of crime. You do not need to have read of some recent appalling crimes to realise that, after dark, many of our streets are becoming places no longer of community but of fear. Criminals and violent drunks are privatising too much public space. We must reclaim that space for women, older people and, indeed, all ages. That was done in Manhattan; we must do it here in Britain. It needs candid acknowledgment of policy failure—failure in policing, failure in sentencing and failure in drink laws. It is obvious that bureaucratic rules imposed on the police have made our streets less safe. They have taken police off the streets and tied them up in paperwork. That bureaucracy must go; scrapping it would do a lot more for women's safety than umpteen courses in human rights.

On sentencing, it is wrong for the courts to be coming under political pressure not to inflict custodial penalties. Of course we want constructive alternatives but, for crimes of rape and assault, tough penalties are needed. Some 47,000 women are said to be raped in England and Wales each year. That is a truly shocking statistic, even more so because, in 2005, fewer than 14,500 cases were recorded and only 2,800 were proceeded against. Under 20 per cent of recorded rapes resulted in proceedings and little over 5 per cent resulted in convictions. The conviction rate has declined from one in three in 1977 to one in 20 in 2005. Average sentences for rape fell from seven and a quarter years in 2003 to six and three-quarters years in 2005. Surely that is the wrong signal to send out about this atrocious crime.

Rape crisis centres often struggle for secure funding. A Conservative Government would introduce stable three-year funding cycles for rape crisis centres. We would also reinforce values in sex education both to help young girls to resist peer pressure to have premature sex, which can be so damaging to their long-term physical and psychological health, and, by law, to include explicit teaching of the concept of sexual consent.

In her introductory speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, mentioned prostitution. On sexual exploitation, now that Ministers have dropped provisions on prostitution from the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, what will the Government do to tackle properly the bestial trade in women and girls for prostitution? A weak, open-door policy on immigration has helped the traffickers. We urgently need the UK border police, first proposed by my right honourable friend Mr David Davis. Fighting trafficking should be a core police responsibility. We need interviews for women and children travelling alone with an adult who is not a parent, guardian or husband. We need more traffickers prosecuted, more places in safe houses, the opening of the Poppy Project to 16 to 18 year-olds and an effective helpline for victims. This trade is a new slavery; it is a giant evil of our times. We must root it out and rub it out.

Is any creation of the new Labour years less appealing than the binge-drinking ladette? Women are entitled to enjoy a drink, but how are women served by nightly scenes on our streets, seen in our newspapers and on television, of young women staggering out of clubs and pubs in the small hours and often prostrate in the streets through drink? Underage drinking is equally troubling: one survey showed that half of 15 year-old girls said that they had lately been drunk, a far higher proportion than boys. This is desperately dangerous for their health and personal safety. I agree that many of the so-called celebrities who set examples of drug use and binge drinking deserve severest censure. They should be dealt with harshly if they find themselves before the courts. With the privilege of celebrity goes heavy responsibility.

The Government, too, need to rethink policy and to do so in a way that is different from Mr Darling's remarks that caned families who enjoy a quiet drink at home. The Local Government Association is quite right to say that 24-hour drinking has been a disaster in many areas. During the passage of the Licensing Bill, this House repeatedly warned of the dangers—warnings that the Government foolishly ignored. It goes against all logic to see a drink problem among young people and to make drinking easier by enabling it to happen round the clock. It is as glaringly absurd as the Government's other idea that you regenerate areas of poverty by planting tens of thousands of slot machines in their midst. No people suffer more from the effects of addictive gambling than wives, partners and their children. A casino society has nothing to do with the advancement of women.

We respect cultural differences in our society but we have a right and a duty to seek adherence to common values of respect for women from all who live in this country. Forced marriages—not arranged marriages freely entered into—have no place in a modern Britain. Nor should benefit rules promote polygamy. If these matters have not been dealt with, the next Conservative Government will address them.

Women are among the first sufferers from the broken society so acutely analysed by my right honourable friend David Cameron. We owe it to women and to all our citizens to heal the wounds that have opened up in recent years. I very much welcome the opportunity to raise these issues in today's debate.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 12:28, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I echo the welcome given by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the introduction of this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. Let me claim a little credit for these Benches: today was our debates day, but we readily ceded it for such a good and worthy cause. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He said that this was a cross-party occasion, although I detected the odd party-political thrust or two in about every four lines of his speech. I have to be a bit humble about this. If Members of the House were asked to draw up a list of new men here, I am not sure that the noble Lord and I would come at the top. Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to follow him and to agree with a number of the points that he made.

My starting point is something that I noted in the report Britain in 2008 by the Economic and Social Research Council. It records a recent survey that said that happiness for the modern woman is a family, a job and a man who knows how to unload the washing machine. As I said to my wife this morning, two out of three is not bad. I look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lady, Baroness Afshar, and the noble Lord, Lord Stern.

Last year when I spoke in this debate, I contrasted the life chances of my daughter, who is now 12, with those of her great-grandmother, who died in childbirth aged 35, and my mother, who left school at 13, because of the death of her mother, to look after her siblings. That was in 1913. In the 95 years since, there has been much progress. Sometimes, by their very nature, these debates become a litany of the challenges that remain. Nobody should underestimate—as the speeches of both the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, indicated—the massive problems that women still face in their societies, both at home and abroad. There is no doubt that in the near-century since my mother and grandmother were facing life, there has been great social and economic progress.

The report to which I referred, Britain in 2008, says that many women now have considerably better conditions than in the past, with paid maternity leave, pension rights and sick rights. The report also refers to the continued existence of problems for women in many of the professions, not least politics, which I will come to later. Abroad, the problem is even worse. A recent UNDP paper, Gender, Poverty and Trade, found that,

"growth in women's employment has not led to a closing of the gender-based wage gaps and the conditions of work do not seem to have improved".

It went on:

"Overall increase in women's employment disguises sectoral reallocations (women with lower skill levels lose employment, while others have paid employment for the first time)".

Finally, it says:

"Women's inclusion in paid labour generally means an increase of their overall work burden (no reduction of their unpaid domestic work)".

Welcome to the global economy, sisters. There is a real danger that such advances as have been made will be eroded by the pressures for what is called global competitiveness.

Economic advance is there for all to see. This week I was at two events, one addressed by the head of the London Stock Exchange and the other by a key executive of one of our big retail companies. Both were women in important jobs; it was no surprise that they were there.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred in their different ways to another problem, whether you call it cultural differences or differences in social and religious practices. As a society, we must come to terms with how we offer groups within our communities tolerance, understanding and respect for religious and social customs without seeming to tolerate departures from a recognition of universal human rights, which we have fought for and espoused. We must make it clear, as has been said, that violence within marriage, practices such as female circumcision, forced marriages, honour killings and the denial of education to girls are not matters of choice for an individual, religion or race, but relate to a universal commitment to rights, which we are determined to uphold.

I agonise about our commitment in Afghanistan. On the one hand, what are we doing there? Would it not be better if we brought our troops home? On the other hand, I cannot help but ask, "Do we leave the women of Afghanistan to a regime that would take them back to the 14th century in the denial of their rights?". That is one of the most extreme examples, but there are others, both within our society and in international relations, to which we must face up.

Finally, I come to women in politics. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, referred to the 1867 attempt to give women the vote. That was done by John Stuart Mill, in a short but distinguished parliamentary career in another place. What shocked me most was that the number of women who have served in the House of Commons since 1918 is 291. That is an appallingly small figure, inflated by the 1997 Labour intake, which was created in part by all-women shortlists. It is only through positive discrimination that the paltry figure of 291 is not even worse.

We all know how difficult it is for women in politics. They are tested not only on what they believe but on how they dress and speak and on their attractiveness. I ask colleagues to look at some of the reporting of the American presidential primaries to see the judgments made about Hillary Clinton, which would never be made about a male candidate. In any party, we all know that in selection conferences some of the harshest decisions about prospective women candidates are made by women themselves.

The impact of women in this House has already been pointed out. Although only 20 per cent of the membership and about one-third of regular attendees are women, they have a disproportionate impact on the work of this House. I can reveal a conversation that I had with a leader of our party. I will not specify which one; noble Lords will have to choose from four or five. When we were considering nominations, I said to him, "I can tell you this: the women on our Benches do twice the work of the men". That may apply to other Benches as well.

I do a lot of talking to sixth formers, which I enjoy. I sometimes get rather tetchy and angry with sixth-form girls, who show ignorance of, or a lack of interest in, politics and the political process. I tell them that they stand on the shoulders of giants. It is important that their generation becomes involved in the struggle, as did those who came before them. I am quite often asked to recommend a book. I always recommend Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, mother of my predecessor as leader on these Benches, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. Vera Brittain said that it was probably true that the largest scope for change still lies in men's attitude to women and in women's attitude to themselves. It was true when she said it; it is true today.

Photo of Lord Stern of Brentford Lord Stern of Brentford Crossbench 12:39, 6 March 2008

My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak for the first time in this House. I thank the noble Baroness the Lord Speaker, my noble friend Lady D'Souza and the many noble Lords who have so kindly both welcomed me and guided me on the ways of this House, as have the excellent staff of this House. Having worked as an economist in academic life, in the World Bank, in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and in Her Majesty's Government, I hope to be able to contribute to discussions in this House on economic policy and economic development, as well as climate change, on which I have been working most recently.

My father came here as a Jewish refugee from Germany, someone who would probably now be termed an asylum seeker; and my maternal grandmother, a Muslim from Turkmenistan, came here with my Christian grandfather, from an English émigré family from St Petersburg, in the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian revolution. Thus I also hope to contribute to discussions of the splendid social diversity that is British society.

Our subject today is of immense importance and I offer a perspective based on work on and in developing countries, including from the north Indian village, Palanpur, which I have been studying for more than 30 years. I believe that there are important lessons from developing countries for our own. At the outset, let us recognise that development policy is made in developing countries. But there is much that we can do to support it, not only through the international institutions and the Department for International Development, the best of the world's bilateral development agencies, but also through government policy across a broad range including on trade, conflict, migration, health, technology and climate change. Thus UK policy and ideas can and do play an important role in international policy and development.

In thinking about the impact of government policy, we must recognise that it is women and girls who suffer most severely from economic backwardness. Research in the World Bank and elsewhere has shown that women and girls suffer most from conflict and from natural disasters, many of which are associated with climate change. Weak infrastructure can lead to women and girls walking long distances for water or fuel, making them more vulnerable to physical attack and keeping the girls out of school. Social discrimination can have profound and malign influences where we see in some countries preferences for boys leading to the selective abortion of female foetuses, female infanticide or the relative neglect of girls in nutrition, education and medical treatment.

These differential impacts constitute one set of reasons why it is so important that we continue to focus strongly on the millennium development goals, which cover income poverty, health, education, the environment and particularly gender equality. They are a key part of the explanation of why we should be so worried about the slow rate of progress towards these goals, particularly on child mortality round the world and on many of their dimensions in Africa.

There is another vital set of reasons which goes beyond the impact of policy on women and girls; we must also look at the impact of women and girls on development. Research has shown that societies where women are better educated have much healthier and better educated children—for example, making much better use of clean water supplies. Indeed, many studies have shown that education for girls is among the most productive of all investments. Societies where women and girls are better educated, have greater access to paid work, have clearer understandings about their rights and have better access to reproductive services have slower population growth. We have seen, for those reasons, the fertility rate in Bangladesh fall from around six children per woman 30 or 40 years ago to around three now. Societies that have a higher proportion of women in Parliament have better governance and less corruption. We have seen in South Africa and elsewhere that social transfers which go to women are spent much more sensibly than those that go to men. We have seen throughout the developing world that credit is used more wisely and repaid more reliably if the loans are to women. The entrepreneurship of women is a crucial and underused dynamic force for development.

I believe that many of these lessons apply to rich countries too. In thinking about the impact of policy, let us also recognise that empowering women and promoting gender equality are not only of crucial policy importance in their own right, but also constitute a very powerful force for development in all societies.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:44, 6 March 2008

My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stern, on his magnificent maiden speech and to be able to congratulate him on behalf of the whole House. When I was handed his biography this morning, at first glance I thought that he and I would not have much in common in our backgrounds—he as a professor of economics and a former chief economist and senior vice-president of the World Bank with a hugely distinguished career in finance and economics, and I as a social worker who can hardly add up. I did find some possible common ground in that he, too, speaks French and lists literature as one of his interests. But then of course I made the connection about just who this Lord Stern is, and realised that he and I and every Member of your Lordships' House—indeed, every person on the planet—have something in common with him. His Review on the Economics of Climate Change is universally admired, respected and seen as the most important contribution thus far produced to this most seminal of debates.

The Stern report is a long and weighty tome. I know that because I have posted it off to friends in various parts of the world, the interest in it is so widespread. The noble Lord's contribution this afternoon was much shorter, but equally considered and thoughtful. We are privileged to have him with us here and look forward to the many more contributions that he will make to this House.

I also thank my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton for securing this debate today and I make no apology for speaking about carers again, as I have done in the past in similar debates associated with women's day. I am sure that other speakers will also mention the role of women as carers, as they are so high on the agenda now. I want to report on progress since last year. So far as progress for carers is concerned, there has never been a year like this one and I have worked in the field now for 22 years. But before I embark on the good news, let me remind your Lordships of some facts. Women are much more likely than men to be carers in all age groups up to 70 years old. Almost a quarter of women in their 50s are carers. Women are much more likely than men to be at the heavy end of caring. One in five female carers cares for more than 50 hours each week compared with one in seven male carers. Approximately 14 per cent of female employees are carers compared with 10 per cent of male employees.

As we have already heard, part-time work brings a penalty and women are much more likely to combine part-time work with caring. Of those women working full-time and aged between 45 to 59, one in five is a carer. These are women at the peak of their careers and if they were forced to leave work—as many of them are because of their caring duties—they would find it extremely difficult to return and would face a significantly reduced pension.

Carers UK recently recalculated the value of unpaid care to our nation and found it to be £87 billion a year, an increase of 52 per cent since 2002. Research by the University of Leeds for Carers UK showed that over 40 per cent of those caring full-time and not in work say that they cannot return to employment because of the lack of services available. More than four in 10 of those new to caring say that the person for whom they care is reluctant to use care services. Only a quarter of working carers feel that they have adequate support from formal services to enable them to combine work and caring. Between 40 and 50 per cent of working carers say that the lack of flexibility and sensitivity to the delivery of services is hampering them.

That is the extent of the contribution of women expressed statistically, but let us never forget what this means to people personally. Caring takes place within an existing relationship and naturally the quality of that relationship varies, but most carers will tell you that however much they love or feel obligated to the cared-for person, it does not stop the caring being stressful and meaning that it affects their life and their well-being financially, practically—a carer's health is notoriously bad—and emotionally. Most carers do not want to stop. They are willing to go on, but many more carers will be needed—9 million as opposed to the 6 million that we currently have. We are going to find more and better ways to support them and enable them to continue. I am thankful that my Government are not only recognising the contribution of carers, as Governments have been doing in some measure since the 1970s, but also translating that recognition into policies that will make real differences to the life of every carer.

I will list some policy developments from the last 12 months. The most important, perhaps, is the launch of the New Deal for Carers in February last year, when the Prime Minister and the Minister for Carers—having that Minister is another welcome development—launched the review of the national strategy, which was first put in place in 1999, at the home of a carer. Throughout last year and this, the Government have consulted with carers and carers' organisations to help draw up a revised national strategy. Carers UK has held a series of events, including the first carers' summit in November. In January this year, the Prime Minister attended a consultation event in Leeds, organised by Carers UK and the Department of Health. He met more than 60 carers and heard their view on the issues that affect them. Ministers are considering the results of the consultation and the recommendations of the four task forces that were set up, focusing on income, employment, equality, and health and social care. The strategy is expected to be published in May this year and Carers UK is calling on the Government to make it as visionary and far-reaching as possible. It should certainly contain aspirational goals and describe Labour's vision of how families will be supported to care in 10 years' time.

Another welcome development is the announcement of a standing commission on carers. The Prime Minister announced the commission, to be chaired by Dr Philippa Russell, and I declare an interest as a member of it. It has met several times and includes a wide range of expertise. It has drawn up terms of reference and is currently focusing on overseeing the review of the national strategy. It will then begin a programme of work on the long-term challenges that will impact on carers. We expect publication of the strategy next year and we will have to judge it on whether it improves carers' lives in particular areas—specifically by ensuring better incomes for carers, better recognition from professionals and from society, better quality services, support to combine work and care, measures to improve carers' health and measures to end discrimination against carers. Since last year, we have also had the Work and Families Act, which introduced the right to request flexible working for 2.5 million working carers. Early indications are that the right is working well in most cases—the CBI reports that 90 per cent of requests are accepted. But carers' organisations feel that awareness is still low among carers and employers. The Pensions Act last year introduced a new carer's credit for those caring for more than 20 hours a week. This should give almost 200,000 carers greater rights to the basic state pension and the state second pension. Other measures, such as the reduction of the number of qualifying years for a full basic state pension, will also help many carers.

We have forthcoming legislation that will affect carers. The Health and Social Care Bill will create a care quality commission to regulate health and social care services. We need to ensure that the new regulator involves carers and views them as key partners in the provision of care. The Pensions Bill will create a system of personal accounts aimed at low to medium earners not currently saving for a pension. This will benefit many carers, although we need to ensure that it pays to save, by ensuring that as many carers as possible have a full record of state pension contributions. We must ensure that when the White Paper on the census for 2011 is brought before this House and another place, it retains the important questions on carers that were first included at the beginning of this century. Finally, I will mention the Comprehensive Spending Review, which announced a Green Paper on long-term care. This and other discussions are beginning to look at how social care can be made the equal of healthcare. This is vital for caring families. Great progress has been made, but there is still a lot to do to ensure that this welcome recognition and helpful policies translate into real change in carers' lives. I look forward to reporting on progress next year.

Photo of The Bishop of Chester The Bishop of Chester Bishop 12:55, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I rise a little diffidently from these Benches, as they remain—currently at least—a male preserve. I can think of a number of members of the female sex in this House who might well grace the Benches with distinction and, as the debate goes on, I occasionally think that they themselves would like to do so. I join other Members of the House in welcoming the debate and thanking those who introduced it so splendidly, including our maiden speaker.

Tomorrow is Women's World Day of Prayer, aligned in the calendar with International Women's Day. Many church organisations that focus on the work and contribution of women to the church and to society—especially the worldwide Mothers' Union—have long marked this day in various ways. At the outset, I pay tribute to the considerable achievements of the present Government in improving the welfare and well-being of women and children—building, no doubt, on the work of previous administrations. In relation to women, I mention the gender equality duty and the national minimum wage, which has been a civilising force in our society, not least as our labour market has been opened up to nationals of other EU countries. One can well imagine what would have happened without a minimum wage—there would have been considerable downward pressure. The minimum wage has benefited both men and women, but has been of particular benefit to women, who have often tackled the less glamorous but vital roles in the workplace. I welcome yesterday's announcement of a further uprating and look forward to the minimum wage edging up further, ahead of increases in average earnings. In some Scandinavian countries, the level of the minimum wage, in real terms, is much higher than in this country, to the obvious benefit of the whole community and indeed of community cohesion. I also mention the important changes to arrangements for the state pension, which have a particular benefit for many women in our society who would not have had a complete entitlement record for a pension. Alongside this has been protection against gender-based discrimination in the workplace, improved arrangements for maternity leave and pay and new rights for working families. There have been many, and real, gains on these and other fronts, including the enhanced provision of tax credits for parents with children.

Others will say more about the vexed and difficult subject of domestic violence and crimes against women, including the abhorrent act of rape. Much progress is desperately needed in these areas, which will come only when society as a whole develops—and I think I can also say "recovers"—a greater respect for women. I pay tribute to the many voluntary agencies that work with women who suffer domestic abuse and with their easily forgotten children. These charitable groups are supported by their local authorities and increasingly by the police. I could speak about wonderful voluntary organisations in my own diocese, both church-based and with a wider base, that do so much on this front. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that their contribution, with local authorities and the police working co-operatively and collaboratively in partnership with them in the future, is the key to tackling that particular agenda. As with so many social problems, the solution will not lie simply with more laws and statutory provision, but with real partnership between the agencies of the state and the citizens of our land.

The general story of government policy in recent years has been largely a story of the drive towards greater equality for women in the workplace. It has been a good story and one that the Government can take credit for. I suggest a slightly different and complementary tack that the Government might consider as they attempt to move forward in their positive agenda for women in society—and whatever benefits women in society must also benefit children. The different tack would start from the acknowledgement that in addition to being absolutely equal with men, women are also different from men.

Let us think of the great lengths to which we rightly go to acknowledge racial differences amid the equality of all people and to respect those whose race is different from our own. However, those differences have only a slight genetic or physical basis. The difference in genetic make-up between those with contrasting racial characteristics is minuscule—a very small fraction of 1 per cent. The genetic difference between men and women is much greater. As the recent passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill reminded us again and again, issues surrounding our biological origins are often overlooked but they have a habit of emerging because their significance is such that they simply cannot be overlooked. I believe that the dignity of women requires an acknowledgement of both their equality with men and their proper differences from men.

Perhaps I may suggest two areas where we could ponder the implications of the differences between men and women. I do not wish to suggest any resultant inequality, for what I say could apply in principle to men as well but in practice tends to apply more to women. The first concerns the taxation policy in the UK for families, and specifically for families where there are two parents who share the same home. The tax and benefit system in this country is notoriously complex—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, sitting in the Chamber and quake at the thought of getting this wrong because of her expertise in all these matters, which is renowned among us. In what follows, I rely on the very recent publication, Taxation of Married Families, from the organisation CARE. The work of CARE in this regard, and the accuracy of this piece of research, is endorsed by Professor Robert Rowthorn of King's College, Cambridge, and is also based on independent OECD data.

That publication demonstrates that, unlike in most countries, the tax and benefit system in the UK largely ignores the presence in a family unit of a second parent. In general, the tax burden—the proportion of income paid in tax—on many types of household in the UK is broadly similar to that elsewhere. However, family units with two parents and children are a striking exception. I quote from the report:

"In 2006, a one-earner married couple with children on the average wage ... paid 40 per cent more tax in the UK than in the average OECD country, and 25 per cent more than in the average EU country".

Things have been getting worse, not better. I quote again:

"OECD data reveals that in this country there has been a steady increase in the proportion of income taken in tax from one-earner families ... with two children and an average wage".

The basic problem is that, unlike in most other countries, we do not permit partners who do not earn money to transfer their tax allowance to the partner who does. This has a particular effect where the partners concerned are also parents and it contributes to the endemic problem of child poverty in our country.

Tax policy in this country has focused too much, I believe, on the taxpayer as an individual and not on the wider context of the family. This has resulted in many one-earner couples on average and somewhat below average wages bearing a bigger and increasing share of the tax burden. Addressing that need not involve abandoning an independent tax system but simply the introduction of transferable allowances in support of family life. This would both reduce child poverty and introduce more equality between adults.

I have not framed these arguments in terms of marriage, although they would apply equally to cohabiting couples, but I believe that a move in this direction would offer a small but significant step in the direction of much needed support for the institution of marriage and the consequent benefits for children. In most families where there are two parents and dependent children, both parents wish to work, either full-time or part-time, and I fully support those choices, but there are many families where, for one reason or another, one of the parents does not wish to work. That can be because of the particular needs of the children or the work that the other partner has and a desire to support him or her, or it can be a desire to contribute voluntarily to the work of society. I believe that we need to support that more obviously in our financial arrangements.

Finally, I should like to refer to a broader issue related to flexible working. I welcome the Government's commitment to look at the extension of a right to flexible working to those who care for children up to the age of 16 or 18, rather than up to the age of six, as at present. I believe we are waiting for a report on that matter. It is a prime responsibility of every generation to nurture the next generation and for all necessary attention to be paid to the rights of children. However, I believe that the overall impact of changes in our society in recent years has tended, often inadvertently, to contribute to a certain neglect of children.

Returning for a moment to my biological theme, human children are typically dependent on their parents or equivalent for 16, 18 or 20 years—and, in fact, often for even longer. Mammals with equivalent life-spans to us, such as elephants, will need to look after their babies for only about four years. The significance of parenthood and the care of children seem to be hard-wired in us.

A recent UNICEF report, The State of the World's Children,emphasised the value of flexible working to those societies that had taken it seriously. We certainly try to do that in my own diocese and I see the benefits. It does not lead to inefficiencies; it leads to happy, contented, purposeful people who go about their work in flexible ways.

Looking beyond the present aspiration to give parents of teenage children the right to request flexible working, there is also the question of those who train for our professions. I have two daughters, both in their 20s. One has just qualified as a solicitor and one is about to become a medical student on a graduate training scheme. Through their prime child-bearing years, it would be extremely difficult for them to hold down a relationship, let alone be a mother, because of the sheer pressures. Alongside the equality that they have rightly and properly taken advantage of, there has been a sort of unwritten sense that they have to conform to a man's world in doing so. There are deep issues here which our society should have the resources and the will to address in the years to come.

I conclude with the time-honoured words to the Government from innumerable school reports: "Has done well, could do better".

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education and Children), Children, Schools and Families 1:06, 6 March 2008

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on yet another of her annual tours de force in opening this debate about women.

I want to concentrate today on something about which I feel very strongly. It relates to women overseas but the policy of our Government can affect it. It concerns global attitudes to women as sex objects and victims of war. We are lucky enough to live in a country where many men and women have good, caring and equal relationships. Exploitation happens, violence happens and rape happens, but at least we have a legal system which tries to deal with all that, and the cultural attitudes which our Government encourage do not permit treating women as anything less than equal. The way in which our legal system protects women has many shortcomings, about which I have no doubt other noble Lords will speak, but it is there for them. We still do not do enough to protect women and children from violence in the home, but that is not what I want to focus on today.

There are many countries in the world where women are not regarded as equal. They are regarded as nothing more than sex objects, walking wombs to produce children and unpaid workers in the fields, and their vulnerable sexuality provides a powerful weapon by which male factions fight each other. In no situation is this more poignant than in war. Wars are bad for women and children. They lead to poverty, displacement, disease and starvation, and most wars are started and fought by men. This does not mean that women are not involved—oh yes, they certainly are—because, although men fight other men with guns, bombs, rockets, knives, machetes and so on, men often fight women with a part of their body: the male organ. In many war situations, such as in Darfur and Rwanda, the male organ has become a weapon of war. Rape and multiple rape by soldiers and paramilitaries have become a common strategy of war.

In most countries, when soldiers become physically wounded in war, they get help, sympathy and treatment. However, it is not like that for women. Women who have been raped, gang-raped or wounded sexually with knives and bayonets are often outcasts. They get no help or treatment. If they become pregnant they get no help and their child is not supported. If they contract HIV/Aids they get no treatment. And yet they are as much victims of war as the soldier who loses an arm. Indeed, I would say that in many cases they are even more hurt and damaged because they will live with the consequences of that attack for the rest of their lives and so will their children. It is no less than a life sentence. That will not change unless our Government can help to foster a completely new global culture of attitudes to women.

Western women in developed countries like ours should be rising up in indignation and demanding that their Governments hold to account the Governments of countries where this happens, so that is what I am doing today. Those women have no voice and we have, so we must use ours to raise awareness of their plight. What are we in this fortunate country doing to address this issue? Is our international aid policy recognising that these victims of war deserve special help? When their own people disown them, is there anybody there who will help them? For example, are we ensuring that mother-to-baby transmission of HIV/Aids is being addressed by making treatment available to pregnant mothers with HIV, however the pregnancy arose?

What are we doing to ensure that all children are born free of HIV/Aids? Only 1 in 10 of HIV-positive mothers across the world receives treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Yet the G8 countries have undertaken to contribute substantially to the goal of ensuring universal access to such treatment by 2010. What are the UK Government doing to play their part? I would recommend all noble Lords to have a look at the UNICEF website, and I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. There they will see the most powerful and moving short film I have ever seen, featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and some wonderful African non-actors, which tells the story of the unwanted gift which HIV mothers are forced to give to their babies through lack of treatment.

It made me cry and brought home to me both the intimacy and the enormity of this issue and how little it would cost to put it right. So I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us something about how our overseas aid policy is addressing mother-to-baby transmission of HIV/Aids. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to mitigate the effects on the lives of Iraqi women of the war we are fighting in that country? I know that much of this is positive because women are getting back into education and making a contribution to the rebuilding of communities. But much of it is bad, too. Women are being killed by suicide bombers on the streets of Iraq every day as they go to the market or take their children to school. Children are losing their mothers. They did not ask for this war and yet they suffer.

We in this country signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—CEDAW—in 1981 and ratified it in 1986. Since then we have issued regular reports on our progress in implementing CEDAW here. But there is still a major pay gap between men and women and companies are still not obliged even to carry out an equal pay audit. May I add my voice to the call of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for an extension of the right of parents to ask for flexible working? We need the age limit to be extended. There is still a disproportionate number of women and their children among those regarded as being poor in the UK and although the Government are doing a great deal to tackle child poverty, as we have heard recently, they are unlikely to attain their goal by 2020 at the present rate.

Given that addressing the poverty of children means addressing the poverty of their mothers, I wonder whether the Minister can say what is being done to gear up that programme and, in particular, to help single mothers do what they want to do: that is, the best for their children. I am talking not just about single mothers on benefits but also working mothers who have been deserted by their partner and are so close to the benefit line that they cannot afford to challenge him in the courts on his lack of financial support for them.

Returning to CEDAW, I note that one of its pledges is to include advice on family planning in the education process. In that case, I would like to know why the Government continue to refuse to make sex and relationship education in schools a compulsory part of the curriculum. I would have thought it was an essential part of fulfilling that part of the Government's duties under the convention. If young women do not have the information to help them control their fertility, they cannot control the rest of their lives. Will the Government ensure that they have that information?

I know that there is to be a review. Will it consider whether all young people of both genders will also be taught what sexual consent means, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, called for—I agree with him—and about the consequences of sex and relationships. I speak about child development and good parenting. All young people in schools need to be taught about that. I have skated around a number of issues in my remarks and I am afraid that they were very serious; I did not have any jokes today. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance on these matters about which I feel so strongly.

Photo of Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde Labour 1:15, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I too sincerely thank my noble friend Lady Gould, who has been a great stalwart in the debate. I know that she will take particular satisfaction from having two maiden speeches in the debate, the first of which did not disappoint in that it referred to international diversity. We all look forward to the maiden address from the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar.

We have been lucky to see so many changes and improvements in the position of women over the years in this country. We have more women than ever in influential roles today, yet we still have a long way to go. The changes that we have seen which we all welcome have not permeated through to all women in the UK. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Gould, have referred to domestic violence. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to similar issues and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made an accomplished attempt to discuss sensitively key issues in our society related to violence in marriage. I am talking also about forced marriages within our community, many of which are arranged when the girl is very young. Polygamy is illegal, but many of us believe that it has not been completely wiped out in the UK—as some of the welfare benefits being paid will demonstrate—and there is also the issue of honour killings. All these are backwards steps for our community as a whole.

Some of my remarks in this debate may not be the most sensitive that I have ever used, for which I apologise in advance. But for some women in our community the progress that we have seen has meant little. That has been matched down to the fact that in their communities, men—sometimes with the support of a small number of faith leaders—have made sure that women do not make the progress that the law and indeed the general concordat of basic values in the UK should provide. In fact, some are breaking the law.

I refer to the attitude of some Muslim men and some Muslim groups. I say "some", because it is a small number. They are acting as though they are still living in the dark ages and in communities that they or their predecessors fled from to come to a country that tries to practise tolerance. I say "some", because in many of those Muslim communities, the strongest and bravest opposition comes from Muslim men and Muslim women within the community. That view of mine is not about Islam. Some lean on Islam to lend support to the way that they carry on within their communities and what they do to their women, but in reality that is as much an abuse of Islam and its teachings as the treatment of women within their communities.

First, I want to put what I am saying in context. I was very proud to be chairman of the Housing Corporation and I visited many areas of Britain where Muslim communities are dominant. I was proud to be asked by the Muslim community to launch a film about the contribution of that community to Diverse Britain. It is a very positive contribution and has given enormous support to housing and in the communities. Yet in this International Women's Day debate, we must be concerned about all women in Britain, not just about those who, over the ages, we have learnt we can talk about openly, as free speech allows us. All women who are UK citizens are covered by the law in this country. That statement needs to be made loud and clear in a way in which perhaps has not happened until now.

We know that some young Muslim women are being forced into marriages, sometimes with the threat of violence against them by their family and by those surrounding the family because they do not do as instructed by their fathers. Such girls are British citizens, yet they are trapped in situations which are very difficult to get out of. I am told that some 80 per cent of Muslim marriages in the five constituencies around Bradford are transcontinental marriages. I have a great deal of difficulty in accepting that that significant number of marriages can be freely entered into, with freely arranged partners.

The forced marriages unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has done sterling work, which needs to be recognised. It deals with about 300 cases a year but when one talks to any number of people that appears to be the tip of the iceberg. Last year, the Government brought in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act. We could be forgiven for not knowing that it exists because it was brought in with very little fanfare, unlike the Bill put forward by my noble friend Lady Rendell—indeed, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 was launched with a high profile. Unlike offences under that Act, forcing someone into a marriage has not been criminalised which, I suggest, is a big flaw in the forced marriage legislation. It allows the victims of forced marriages to pursue the perpetrator through the civil courts, but it does not force the police to act in suspected cases of forced marriage. I believe that is a weakness in the Act. It takes a brave young woman, like Gina Khan from Birmingham, to be prepared to speak out and be named by Mary Ann Sieghart, the Times journalist who has given this big coverage. But how many other newspapers have done so, outside the big headlines, which are extremely damaging?

We need to deal with the issue in a commonsense and calm way. All too often we read in the headlines of the violent consequences and the fact that girls sometimes pay with their lives. A recent publication, Crimes of the Community: Honour-based violence in the UK, makes horrifying reading. I do not have the time now to quote from it, but it deals with some pretty horrifying matters and the knowledge that that is happening against British citizens in Britain is extremely concerning. I believe that is sufficient justification to put some sensitivities on one side—the fear of causing offence. We have all been involved in that in many other walks of life. It is important that the Government speak out loudly, clearly and often about these unacceptable practices.

Linked with that is polygamy. It is easy to say that it is illegal in this country and that it is unacceptable, but do we really know what goes on in some homes when young women are married and then find that there are other women in the house too? In this International Women's Day debate, we consider that all women are equal but different as they come from different cultures; nevertheless, we all have basic values and rights to which we are entitled. Honour killings, forced marriages and polygamy are certainly outside what I would regard as basic rights.

The forced marriage unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has started to work in schools. This week, I was delighted to watch a podcast of the Home Affairs Select Committee dealing with domestic violence, with the Minister, Kevin Brennan, giving a very good report to the committee about what the Government will do in regard to schools and publicising that girls are not required to enter into forced marriages. I hope that when the new campaign is launched later this year, it will, while recognising the rights of governors to decide what goes on in their schools, show that it is not acceptable to put posters and campaign material in the bottom drawer of the head teacher's desk, as has happened all too often in some communities. That sensitivity is unacceptable in my view.

When 16 year-old girls disappear from communities it is not good enough just to make superficial inquiries about where they have gone and why they have not come back to school. The police should be involved and the education authorities and the local authorities should deal with it very overtly and publicly.

I would suggest that the incoming spouse must speak English. I know that a consultation document was put out last December by the Minister, Liam Byrne, which I welcome. Maybe both partners in a transcontinental marriage should be 21. I know that many people would find that controversial, but it would give the woman an opportunity to become more mature and perhaps to have received a better education.

Ann Cryer, MP, has done much and is referred to in the report. We need many more people to speak out. We cannot imagine what it must be like for some young women: "Be careful; don't push things, otherwise nothing will happen". We have all heard and dealt with such sensitivities, whether on family planning, equal pay, abortion, or whether to have women bishops on the Benches of your Lordships' House or in the Church of England. Although they are sensitive matters, that does not stop us talking about them and it should not stop us talking about the plight of the young women in the communities to which I have referred.

Years ago, women spoke up for their rights, from which we now benefit. Today I suggest that our job, in a diverse Britain, is to maintain courtesy, tolerance and good manners, but, nevertheless, not to allow sensitivities to prevent us speaking out quite objectively about the standards of care and support and the equal treatment that we expect women in Britain today to receive, no matter how old they are, no matter what community they come from, their creed, colour or race. I suggest on this International Women's Day that that is our responsibility.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour 1:27, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on initiating this debate to celebrate International Women's Day and on her contribution, which was, as usual, thoughtful, provoking and wide-ranging. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stern—I do not think he is in the Chamber—on his maiden speech. I am sure that he will enhance the climate of debate and he might even be able to improve the environment of this place. That is a task that I am sure we shall welcome him undertaking.

When asked to contribute to this debate, given the ability of the assembled sorority, I always have mixed feelings. Will I be judged and found wanting, with the ultimate humiliation of not being invited to speak next year? I also reflected on the noble Lord, Lord McNally, attempting to define "new man". It is not unloading the washing machine; it is putting the clothes in, sorting the whites from the coloureds, knowing where to put the powder, not forgetting the softener, and setting the correct temperature. If he can do all that he will earn a few more points on that scale.

I want to focus on some issues that concern me. Overall, the track record of the Government on women and gender equality is good, as demonstrated by a number of speakers today. You cannot ignore things like Sure Start, childcare provision, child benefit, improvements in pensions and tax credits. They have improved the situation for women whether at home or at work. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester reminded us, the impact of the minimum wage is also fundamentally important. Making progress on achieving equal pay is still too slow and is still proceeding at a snail's pace. The two-tier workforce that we have in many parts of the UK economy, with agency workers, ought to be brought to an end. We should have justice for agency workers and that will benefit women. I hope that the Government will move rapidly to end the discrimination where agency workers can be employed for successive long periods and are denied the basic rights enjoyed by full-time workers such as holiday pay, pensions, sick pay, et cetera.

I was interested to hear recently that the Government are going to build on the Modern Apprenticeship scheme and there will be 90,000 new apprenticeships. I hope that that will encourage women to engage in craft skills. We have a golden opportunity as we are told that Polish plumbers are returning home. The zloty is on the rise and there are many building projects over there. Would it not be good if, instead of talking about the Polish plumber, we talked about the woman plumber exercising her skills? I am confident that, with more women builders, the dust sheets brought into your house would be clean and the fitted kitchen would be installed on time because women builders would recognise the importance of a functioning kitchen to a household. I make that comment light-heartedly but there is a serious point: we need more people with these skills and we need more women to be engaged in them. In terms of changing attitudes, there is still a reluctance to understand the importance of that.

There has been progress and attitudes have changed, but some of the old, dubious portrayals of women remain in some sections of the media. If only the tabloids could replace topless women on page 3 with pictures of young women making a more positive contribution to society, it might help to encourage young women to put fashion and body image into perspective. You open the pages of the tabloids and what do you see them reporting on? The excesses of the unfortunate Amy Winehouse are a must, alongside reports on young people drinking more than they should and taking drugs. That is not the kind of image that we want to constantly force into young people's minds.

It is Fair Trade Fortnight, which makes an important contribution in drawing our attention to workers at the end of supply chains, and I welcome the support of the Government for fair trade. Very often such workers are women and are often exploited because they are part of the informal economy. I recommend the recent UNICEF report on women and children. It says on page 43 that,

"women working in the informal sector often face difficult working conditions, long hours and unscheduled overtime ... lack of job security and benefits such as paid sick leave and childcare provisions can leave women and their children at a higher risk of poverty. When mothers are poor, engaged in time-intensive, underpaid and inflexible informal work, and have little control over their earnings and few alternative caregivers, children are significantly more at risk of poor health and growth".

To get a feel for how many are involved in that kind of work, I should say that in India, for example, 86 per cent of women are in the informal economy. Interestingly, the report does not give figures for China but that gives one the size of the problem.

I declare an interest because I am the vice-chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative. I want to remind people that it is not just Fair Trade Fortnight when we ought to think about workers being exploited at the end of supply chains. When you see the £3 shirt or the £5 pair of jeans, you should remind yourself that somebody at the end of that supply chain will often have been exploited. We should support the concept of ethical trade practised by some companies who are trying to ensure reasonable standards. I also make a plea to the Government to do more to encourage consumer awareness.

Looking at the international scene, it occurred to me that another year has gone past and that brave woman, Ang San Suu Kyi, still languishes under house arrest under a brutal military Government. We seem unable to change that situation, and that is something that we should reflect on this International Women's Day.

I want to end on a positive note. I am a governor at my local primary school. It is a very diverse school in which 29 languages are spoken and where English is often the second language at home. An enjoyable experience is to go into an assembly and just look at that diversity. As you look at those young children, you cannot help thinking about what their life will be like when they achieve maturity. Will they achieve their dreams and ambitions? Will we deliver a fairer and more just society, especially for young women? I think the answer will be yes, but there is no room for complacency.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 1:35, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for arranging this debate. The noble Baroness has already outlined the range of important anniversaries we reach this year, particularly, of course, our own 50th anniversary and the hugely important equal opportunity landmark 90 years ago when women's suffrage was achieved. Time certainly flies as one gets older and it is to difficult to appreciate that it is now more than 30 years since the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act became law and the EOC set up with the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, as its first distinguished chair, and myself her very happy deputy chairman.

Certainly, a great deal has been achieved since then, and some of it via unexpected routes. For example, although I am a fairly committed equal opportunities supporter, I have to admit to having been firmly opposed to the original decision by the Labour Party to increase women's political participation through devices such as all-women shortlists. That was certainly a controversial move, but it was undoubtedly the trigger which led to the passing of a new law allowing each of the political parties to make their own decisions on the kind of positive action acceptable to their members, thereby ensuring that more women's views, and their different experience of life, contributed to local and national law-making and debate. The final compliment to new Labour must be David Cameron's decision, about which we heard at the weekend, to guarantee women a full third of ministerial places in any future Tory Government. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on giving high priority during their 10 years in office to the elimination not only of sex discrimination but of many other areas of discrimination as well. It is much to their credit that this country seems to be well on its way to accepting the need for a full human rights commission.

I should like now to turn to two interrelated areas of discrimination, which I mentioned in last year's debate. I refer, first, to the importance of achieving equal pay for work of equal value, and secondly, to achieving maximum flexibility in working practices for both—I stress both—women and men.

Before the EOC closed its doors, it produced a final report entitled Completing the Revolution highlighting areas where we needed to focus our efforts if we were to be serious about change. The report said that at the current rate of progress it would take almost 200 years for women to achieve parity of representation in Parliament and the best part of a century before equal pay would be achieved. However, the overall message was clear: change must be speeded up. One indicator will be our ability to see growing numbers of women at management levels in all sectors of employment. As can be seen in Cranfield University's School of Management ninth valuable FTSE Female 100 report, there is still some considerable way to go, with women still achieving only 11 per cent of all directorships. Worse still, at the other end of the spectrum, 24 of the 100 top companies are still without any women directors at all.

There is, however, some good news. Thirty-five companies now have what are termed "multiple women directors". Sainsbury's heads that list with the three non-executives and 13 directors. Improvement is also seen in the news that of the 152 new appointments to boards made last year, 30—20 per cent—were women. There is still somewhere to go, I would say. One illustration of that issue occurred to me—in what is probably still one of the more difficult areas—when, two weeks ago, I attended the Middle Temple annual readers' feast. There was an impressive turnout of the Inn's Benchers: Judges and QCs. It goes without saying that practically all of them were male. However, the large number of younger barristers and students present were almost equally divided between the sexes. So, what, I wonder, will it look like in, say, 10 years' time? Will the balance of Benchers of the Inn then reflect that younger division? I fear not. Two additional things have to slot in before that happens with any certainly throughout the workforce.

First, equal pay for work of equal value must be achieved. As other noble Lords have mentioned, this whole process will probably be speeded up now, both because it has full government backing and because there has been a considerable increase in the number of successful compensation cases through the courts. However, a pay gap of 12 per cent for women doing the same management job as men—which rises to more than 23 per cent at director level—remains totally unacceptable. The effect that this has had on women's pension rights is all too obvious. With a gap of some 40 per cent between men's and women's pensions, it is hardly surprising that a far higher percentage of women end their lives in poverty than men.

Secondly, far more priority must be given, by both the Government and the rest of us, to promoting flexible working as a norm for both sexes. The rising generation of company chairmen and chief executives will know from their own experience of family life that it is in their own and their companies' best interests for the talent they recruit, both male and female, to have real—indeed, automatically built-in—opportunities to combine careers with family responsibilities. As other noble Lords have mentioned, that should happen not least during periods of childcare and, equally importantly these days, elder care as well.

About a year ago, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham asked a Starred Question on how many mothers had applied to their employers for flexible working under the European legislation, and how many of them had had their application granted? I followed with a supplementary about the number of fathers who had applied and how many of them had been successful. When the Minister's—inevitably written—reply duly arrived, we learnt, unsurprisingly, that both the number of fathers who had asked for flexible working and those who had had it granted were considerably lower than for mothers. If we are to make the most of our human resources and remain internationally competitive while ensuring the kind of parenting which will enable the next generation to grow up to be well adjusted, confident and productive citizens, we cannot afford that half-hearted approach any longer.

There is increasing evidence that modern fathers, throughout the economy, want to play an active part in their children's upbringing. An important demonstration of this is to be found, ironically perhaps, in prison. Parenting classes and family visits are there helping to keep families together, thus reducing the risk of their children becoming the next generation of offenders.

Let me close on rather a different note. There is not just national but international interest in the leadership roles that women are now playing. This will be one way in which the globalised world, which, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, is increasingly everyone's environment, will become more aware of the added value that using the talents of half the world's population—women—can bring to their country.

At present, as my noble friend Lord Stern said in his excellent maiden speech, the women of the third world suffer the most. One of the most horrendous figures in the news last weekend was that, whereas in the UK only one in 8,000 children dies in the course of childbirth, the corresponding figure for sub-Saharan Africa is one in every seven. However, the more those hard-pressed women can be given access to education and be enabled to participate in wealth creation in their own society, the sooner resources will become available to deliver healthcare as well. Their societies will be reaping that double dividend of gender equality, advocated so effectively by UNICEF in its recent report, The State of the World's Children 2007.

I ask myself, with at least some hope, whether attitudes will change a little faster in these countries as the next generation of leaders begin to rise to positions of power and responsibility. The global, highly technological world that we are all part of now—frankly, whether we like it or not—might, I feel, have an interesting and positive contribution to make. Even during the Cold War, and particularly during the period of the Berlin Wall, those in East Germany were well aware, through radio and television, of the prosperity West Germany was enjoying compared with their own pretty parlous state. That was a considerable incentive to cross borders.

How much faster, in today's world of almost daily miracle advances in information technology—the internet and, of course, the relatively cheap mobile phone, which even the homeless have in abundance today—will the prosperity of other nations become common knowledge? Developing countries will clearly see the economic and social advantages of adopting equal human and economic rights, for women as well as for men. With government aid policies backing this approach as we know they are, perhaps—who knows?—it will be the developing countries which achieve equal opportunity goals rather faster than we ourselves.

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 1:46, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I join an already long line in congratulating my noble friend Lady Gould on initiating this debate and on the elegant and passionate nature of her opening address. I, too, welcome—even though he is not in his place—the noble Lord, Lord Stern, to the House of Lords. He is a distinguished addition to your Lordships' House and yet another person with LSE connections in this place. Although he listed his involvements, he did not mention that he is currently professor of economics at the London School of Economics. His career has been very much entwined with the LSE.

A booklet came round a bit earlier this week, which I am sure most noble Lords will have seen, about women in public life. In it, women journalists, parliamentarians—including some noble Baronesses sitting here today—council leaders and others were honoured. However, no women academics were honoured. I wonder why. Universities are public institutions; most of them state funded. Women have, as I will try to show, the same range of difficulties in academic life as they do elsewhere. Honouring women in academic life should be part of awards given to women in public life more generally. It is certainly an area where, given the position of women in those institutions, there is quite a long way to go.

There were, of course, some notable women pioneers. As a previous director of the LSE, I naturally think of Beatrice Webb. A new book about her has just come out with an interesting account of her life and struggles. As noble Lords will know, she was part of a partnership; she and Sidney Webb were major forces in the establishment of a range of institutions in this country. The book says that her whole life was a,

"shining advertisement for the Fabian virtues of high thinking and plain living".

She had a nice motto, which she once suggested to Ramsay MacDonald as an election slogan: "Self-restraint for women. Chastity for men. Prohibition for all". I am not sure that I would urge that on the current Prime Minister but, in light of what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, perhaps it was an early version of the third way, albeit in a somewhat different formulation from the one that I would tend to offer today. However, its contemporary relevance is perhaps a bit more than one might first imagine.

Beatrice Webb spoke of the LSE and the New Statesman, her two inventions, if you like, as her two children. She married Sidney when she was 34 and they exchanged wedding rings inscribed with the words "pro bono publico"—a fairly unusual motto for a married couple. She criticised DH Lawrence for his readiness to accept what she called,

"the dominance of the lower organs of the body over the brain".

She was, in truth, a formidable woman. Towards the end of her life, she wrote in a diary, "Courage, old woman, courage". She fought to the end of her days for the values that she believed in. She had a major impact on academic life and other institutions but, of course, it was Sidney, her husband, not Beatrice, who became the director of the LSE, a Cabinet Minister and a Member of your Lordships' House.

Looking across the years and what has been achieved in universities since then, one can see that there has been a certain amount of progress. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency for the latest year available, 2005-06, show that 42 per cent of lecturers and researchers are women. Quite surprisingly, at least to me, almost as many men as women are working in part-time or non-tenured jobs in universities. Women often find themselves in marginal positions in institutions, as my noble friend Lord Young said, but this does not seem to be the case in universities. However, in the top universities and the top positions within them, the picture changes, as in other areas. For example, there are almost six full-time male professors for every female professor. One finds that the higher up the system, the lower the proportion of women, and the higher the institution in the ranking of universities, the lower the proportion of women there. This echoes what happens in most other areas of social and economic life in this country.

The situation is especially difficult in the natural sciences and in some of the social sciences, such as economics. Some 30 per cent of students training for a PhD in economics are women, but only 15 per cent of academic economists are women. The situation is even worse in some of the natural sciences.

We know the reasons for this phenomenon. The difficulty, as elsewhere, is discovering the policies that are effective in overcoming it. There are three main factors—a succession of barriers that women face in academia, which are well researched and well known, especially if you take the sciences and, as it were, the hard or more statistical edges of the social sciences, which are still very much perceived as a male affair. First, research studies into the experience of women trying to get further into these male dominated domains all speak of the insecurities that women face. I wrote down something that a junior female researcher in the sciences said: "It is much worse if a woman fails an exam because her confidence is so low. I got an A minus on a paper and was upset. The man sitting next to me got a C and said, 'So what?'".

Secondly, there is a crucial period in academic life, which is when a person is in their 30s. In the academic world, people cannot succeed, at least in the leading universities, unless they are productive and publish. The motto, "Publish or perish", is very real; in universities, it is the prime determinant of a person's career. The 30s are the age at which many academics are particularly productive because they are seeking to establish their career. For women, however, their 30s are a time of childbearing. It is a time when they have to take on what has been called a double shift and have to look after children at the same time as trying to establish an academic career. Research shows that, at that point, many women fall behind in their publications record and they never recover in the subsequent progress of their academic career. Again, that is a familiar phenomenon from other contexts, but it is particularly marked in a university setting.

Thirdly, we know that there is still a glass ceiling for promotion to professorships—the top of the academic hierarchy—which again, especially in science, is linked to male domination of certain kinds of subjects and the male ethos that tends to persist there. Therefore, even women who do well find it hard to make the top echelons.

What can be done? Two institutions can contribute, one of which is the universities themselves. I am pleased that Imperial College, perhaps our leading science institution, has just announced a pledge to academic women. It says that it will take action to identify and address barriers and career opportunities. It will work towards a culture where all staff feel valued and it will monitor progress towards these goals. I hope that other universities will set up similar charters and do the same. The Government are also clearly committed to equal opportunities. I hope that the Minister will give a little information about what they are doing to apply equal opportunities legislation inside universities. Finally, if there is another book of awards for women in public life, I hope that academic women will feature in it.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities), Department for Communities and Local Government 1:57, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing this important debate. Last year, my starting point was that we had made considerable advancement in terms of the membership of women in your Lordships' House. I mentioned at the time that my only regret was that the Bishops' Benches still had to recognise the need for the first ever woman Bishop to sit on those Benches. I hope that the message goes out that we will look forward with interest at what they are trying to do in that respect.

I am delighted to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, will be making her maiden speech later. When I look at the Cross Benches, I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and I, who are members of the Appointments Commission, have removed some of the anomalies that women faced before. I am delighted not only that those women are here but at the contribution that they make to important debates in your Lordships' House.

No one doubts that the Government have ambitions and commendable targets on reducing the number of children in poverty. However, the government strategy on tackling child poverty has so far paid limited attention to the clear links between the disadvantage faced by women and the poverty of children. The key tool of the Government's strategy on child poverty to date has been increased spending on tax credits. While this is an essential component in tackling poverty, it is not feasible for the Government to reach the 2020 target of eradicating child poverty by this means alone. What is needed is action to address the structural drivers of child poverty, foremost among which is the mother's poverty. Currently in the United Kingdom, having a child in itself puts women at risk of moving into poverty. That is not inevitable. In Sweden, for example, having a child does not put you at greater risk of moving into poverty and the child poverty rate is dramatically lower.

So what are the facts? Some 39 per cent of children in poverty are in single-mother households. A further 17 per cent are in couple households where the father works but the mother does not. From the moment they conceive a child, many women face immediate financial penalties. Every year, 30,000 women lose their jobs as a result of becoming pregnant and many more face discrimination and reduced opportunities in the workplace. It is no accident that two-thirds of those on the minimum wage are women. Following childbirth, the majority of women move into part-time, low-paid and low-status work, if they are able to access work at all. Recent research based on the British Household Panel Survey and conducted by Mary Gregory at Oxford University and Sarah Connolly of the University of East Anglia highlighted the downward mobility that many women face in their career after childbirth. It found that almost half of women managers of shops, salons and restaurants gave up their managerial responsibility to work as sales assistants or hairdressers or in other low-paid roles when they sought part-time jobs after motherhood.

Women are often unable to find work that is flexible enough to be combined with caring for a child and pays well enough to bring them above the poverty line. The loss of benefits and the expense of childcare mean that the transition back into work is often costly for mothers in poverty and can be a trigger for them to move into debt. It is a striking fact that only 50 per cent of lone mothers feel that they are better off financially shortly after a move into work. The Government have taken considerable steps to improve the situation for lone mothers through initiatives such as the New Deal for Lone Parents. However, figures for the past two years show that progress in this area is stalling.

I should like to outline four vital areas in which the Government could do more to tackle the poverty of mothers: the collection of data on poverty, measures to improve women's position in the workplace, benefits design, and investment and training. The first area is poverty statistics. Key reports such as Households Below Average Income measure poverty using the household unit and, therefore, obscure the gendered causes of poverty. Secondly, the Government could do much more to address the disadvantage faced by mothers in the workplace. Discrimination against pregnant women must be tackled head on. Greater transparency could be created by the introduction of gender audits, which would require organisations to publish figures on what women and men are paid. In addition, the Government purchase huge amounts of goods and services from the private sector. Much more could be done to ensure that contractors take pay equality and maternity rights seriously. Thirdly, a number of reforms could be made to the benefits system that would enable more mothers to access work.

Finally, the Government must make it a priority to enable mothers to access training. That will involve making a commitment to improving the quality and not just the quantity of women's employment. Where necessary, mothers should be given the opportunity to gain appropriate qualifications before entering the labour market. Overall, there should be increased financial support for mothers to study part-time; adult learning grants, for example, are available only to those studying full-time. The Government are beginning to design a road map for moving towards the 2020 target of eradicating child poverty. If this strategy is to be successful it will have to take into account the fact that women's poverty and children's poverty have common causes and common solutions.

Let us now look at the international dimension of issues affecting women and girls. I am privileged, as are my colleagues Lady Howe and Lord Dubs, to be invited to regular briefing meetings of Plan UK. I commend this organisation's work both in the UK and internationally. Sixty-two million girls are currently not in primary school and millions of them face a life of poverty and inequality. They face double discrimination based on sex and age, which almost renders them to the bottom of the social and economic ladder. There is ample evidence that girls are less likely than their brothers to go to school and more likely to be malnourished and victims of violence.

We attach much importance to women's education, which has a significant impact on people's health status and a direct impact on a nation's food security and overall malnutrition rate. I commend to all colleagues Plan International's path-breaking report, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls. It is a must-read. Its striking conclusion is:

"Real change in national development cannot occur without significant investment in girls and gender equality. Appropriate financing for girls will yield real economic returns to even the poorest nation".

The Department for International Development should receive praise for its commitment on the rights of girls and women in its publications Gender Equality at the Heart of Development,Poverty Elimination and the Empowerment of Women and the 2006 White Paper Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor. Millennium development goal 3 calls for eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education at all levels by 2016. Perhaps I may urge DfID to be more ambitious in setting its targets on achieving gender parity by ensuring that there is adequate, predictable and untied aid to women and girls while respecting principles of transparency and openness in alignment with the national poverty strategy. DfID's current gender-parity targets in education have been set for 2015, 10 years after the millennium development goal target for gender parity, which has been set for 2005. Adequate resources must be made available at all levels for girls and women to secure their rights.

In order to make sound economic arguments for financing on girls, donors such as DfID must commit to allocating adequate resources to collect quality data disaggregated by both sex and age and make use of it in all relevant policies and programmes. The poorest and most vulnerable girls and their families would benefit from comprehensive social support, which could include regular and predictable school grants, scholarships or stipends. All children, including girls, have a right to participate, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Girls have the potential to articulate and to secure those rights. The voices of girls and young women need to be heard in the policy-making and decision-making forums that many noble Lords have cited in their speeches today.

Improvements in equality between boys and girls come when there is political will and cultural change and when we are committed to real gender equality. It is time to take a united stand in this effort to ensure that when a child is born she is not discriminated against simply because she is a girl.

Photo of Baroness Rendell of Babergh Baroness Rendell of Babergh Labour 2:07, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Gould on initiating this debate on this appropriate day. We who are speaking are all grateful to her for giving us this opportunity to speak of women's lives and what has been accomplished for women and for their future.

I am not a lawyer, but I am going to talk about the law and speak of it especially in regard to women. English law and Scottish law are in place to protect all women in the United Kingdom irrespective of their origins, race, religion, or lack of any religion. It is there to serve them whether they are Christian, Hindu or Muslim, belonging to some other faith or, come to that, atheist, and it makes fewer differences between women and men than have ever been.

English law is not written in stone or based on the edicts of a holy book. It has evolved. While it is constantly changing, nearly always as far as women are concerned for the better, it serves them well. That is despite the fact that women on average are paid 17 per cent less than men and make up only one-fifth of MPs and one-tenth of leading company directors. But that, too, is changing, and most women trust that absolute equality will eventually be attained. Indeed, they strive for that, both here and in another place, as well as in the world outside.

Women—and men—struggled to achieve the law as it now stands. Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law of England (1765 to 1769) states:

"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during her marriage or at least is incorporated or consolidated into that of her husband".

Any children of the marriage remain for his lifetime in the legal guardianship of the husband. A woman's personal property passed absolutely under his control until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, which denied a husband the earnings of a wife he had deserted. As my noble friend Lady Gould mentioned, the Married Women's Property Act 1870 allowed women to keep earnings or property acquired after marriage and a further Act 12 years later allowed them to retain what they owned at the time of marriage. Women began to be given the vote soon after the end of the First World War and all women secured it in 1928. Gradually the professions were open to them, and now there are few if any careers denied them.

Neither from women's nor men's standpoints do we need an infusion of some other legal system into British law. It was a surprise to many to learn a few weeks ago in the remarks of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that another legal system is operating here and that Sharia courts already exist in the United Kingdom. He went on to say that Sharia family law could have particularly serious consequences for the role and liberty of women. When we look at the worldwide application of this judicial system, we can see only too clearly what an unfortunate and retrograde step adopting any of its principles with regard to women in the United Kingdom would be.

Polygamy may no longer be common but it exists in this law which, despite its basis, is man-made. Polygamy, whatever may be said in its defence by those who seek to excuse it, degrades women. Its defenders say that it protects and supports wives so that none may be, as they were once named in this country, "a surplus woman"—a truly horrible phrase. These days in Britain and in European and other countries usually called "western", women are educated or trained to support themselves and benefit from a judicial system which protects them. Sharia law provides that men are in charge of women because the former have been created to exceed the latter. To our ears this vaunted protection and support of women as inferior beings placed in an inferior position sounds archaic and entirely out of keeping with that equality of the sexes which has become a cornerstone of our civilisation. Divorce is easy for men under Sharia law; so easy, in fact, that a Malaysian court has ruled that under Sharia a man may divorce his wife via text-messaging. Apart from this frivolous-sounding shortcut to the dissolution of a marriage, he only has to say, "I divorce you" three times to secure it. A woman, on the other hand, though she need only state that she dislikes her husband, may take years to obtain a divorce. The divorced wife may keep her dowry and is given child support until the age of weaning, at which point the father has automatic custody of the child. She receives spousal support for just three months after the divorce. Does this not ring bells, taking us back to women's lot before that Act of 1857?

Although no one would hold up the rule of law obtaining in Saudi Arabia as ideal, it is Sharia and those who see its insertion in our system, however limited, as inevitable, might take note of a case which received some publicity last week of a woman in that country possibly facing prosecution because she had sat in a café drinking coffee with a man who was not a close relative. That is an extreme case and perhaps not common but one worth noting. All of this, leaving aside the injustice, must strike us as impossibly old-fashioned. We come upon prohibitions which went out 200 years ago in Britain, if indeed they ever enjoyed a widespread existence. I refer, for example, to the prohibition on women performing prayer during menstruation. I am not going to refer to the amputation of hands as punishment or to the stoning of adulterers—those draconian punishments which are usually cited when Sharia is in question. Those penalties are restricted to certain Middle Eastern and eastern countries. Nor does it seem to me that what women choose to wear is of much importance. Many of us who are not Muslims dress by preference in costumes which others would call bizarre, indecent or ugly. The criterion here is personal choice, whether or not that choice is religion-motivated, and it is always important when discussing the customs of a different culture not to set aside our respect for others' faith and their right to hold it.

More than 90 per cent of the cases which come before the Sharia courts in this country involve women seeking divorce, even though the system has no recognition in national law. It is hard to say why this should be when a British court would grant their application with comparative ease and would recognise a woman's testimony as much as it would a man's—something which does not apply under Sharia law. I think we shall see this change with time as more and more women realise that they may practise their religion while availing themselves of our judicial system, a system which is as much theirs as ours as it is for every citizen of the United Kingdom. No serious body of Muslim opinion in this country supports Sharia law and few Muslim women want it. Those who say they do may have little understanding of how differently British law operates—a strong argument in favour of all immigrants having a mastery at least of basic English before they come here and certainly learning it when they here. We must support the decision of Government to require a knowledge of English among the skills which will be expected of future immigrants. In the United Kingdom, we welcome newcomers and support both multiculturalism and integration. Both may exist together. Let us recognise, too, that to live in a country without any knowledge of that country's language is to live half a life. That half life for ghettoised women immigrants from South Asia can be a miserable existence. These women are three times more likely to kill themselves than white women of the same age.

Finally, how many women domiciled here as British citizens, if they could read English and discover how enlightened and progressive our law has become, would see it as an enormous advance and improvement on Sharia? Let us see to it that language learning is available to all who need it, in part to enable them to understand the legal system they live under. We want our fellow citizens who are Muslim women to live here in the full enjoyment of the benefits of English law as it now stands and will develop in the future.

Photo of Baroness Afshar Baroness Afshar Crossbench 2:17, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I apologise for not being here for the opening speeches. Unfortunately the train caught fire, which held me back by two and a half hours. It is with great pleasure that I take this opportunity of participating in a debate in your Lordships' House. I would like to thank your Lordships for the enormous kindness shown to me. As a defender of minorities, of outsiders and of those who have been otherised, it has been very rare in my life to have been so warmly welcomed and so thoroughly supported. I would like to thank my mentor, my noble friend Lord Bhatia, who taught me to think the unthinkable. I would also like to thank my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for introducing me to the Floor of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, for being such a wonderful sounding board. I give special thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Patel of Bradford and Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and to my noble friend Lady D'Souza for providing invaluable help and guidance. I would also like to thank the staff and officials of the House, without whose continuing advice and kind assistance I would not have been able to function. Most likely I would still be in some distant corridor, trying to find my way to the Chamber.

I have been advised that maiden speeches should be short and non-controversial. Even though an academic, I have no difficulty with the former, but if I manage the latter it will be a first in my life. I have taken the opportunity to contribute to this debate because it is a subject that is very close to my heart. I had the good fortune of being born in Iran, the daughter and granddaughter of feisty women with a long tradition of campaigning for their rights. I was educated in French and Persian in a Catholic school. At the age of 14, much against my parents' wishes, I decided to come to England even though I did not know a word of English. I saw the UK as a land that produced women like Jane Eyre who could stand on their own feet and survive hardships and misadventures thanks to the traditions of stoicism, self-reliance and resilience. As a third-generation feminist, I felt that I had the commitment, but not the strength of character, to stay the course but the rigours of boarding school certainly provided that. I felt that I had found my corner of the world.

It was therefore with some surprise that I gradually realised that, even in this wonderful land, gender, creed and colour can construct barriers that dent opportunities and mar the destinies of many. I came to that realisation rather late in life. As a university student at York and Cambridge, I had not thought of colour or creed as being of any importance. I had faced the unrealistic expectation of some of my contemporaries that I would be rather exotic. They looked for a living example of what the advertisers at the time were projecting as the attributes of Turkish delight. Sadly, I lacked all the necessary characteristics, but though not exotic, I was never made to feel inferior until I began working and tried to combine motherhood with full-time employment. I became more and more convinced that women, especially minority women, had to be present at all decision-making to reflect their specific needs, which were often different. I went on the barricades, where I have remained ever since.

Women have had the right to stand for Parliament in the UK since 1918, yet it was not until 1987 that Diane Abbott became the first representative of minority women in the other place where there is still no Asian or Muslim woman. So I consider myself extremely privileged to be in your Lordships' House where I have the good fortune of joining Muslim women across the Benches. I can assure noble Lords that there are still a great many good women who remain unrecognised. They are a most valuable untapped pool of talent who should not be wasted.

Recently, the Muslim Women's Network had a year-long conversation with women around the country to identify the barriers that they perceived as hard to surmount. Here I must declare an interest as I am the chair of that network. It is a UK-wide organisation set up in 2002 to help the then Minister for Women, the right honourable Patricia Hewitt, hear the unheard voices of Muslim women. Subsequently, the network and the Women's National Commission held a series of meetings around the country. The resulting report, She Who Disputes, was launched last year and is available on the Women's National Commission's website.

Young Muslim women that we talked to highlighted two major problems that hampered their progress from their school days. The first and foremost was the expectation of teachers and schools that, as a group, they would marry young and be saddled with families and therefore should not aspire to pursue demanding careers. The second was the assumption that young girls who covered did so in response to pressure from families and therefore could be categorised as submissive, pliant and not ambitious. The young women felt silenced and disempowered and did not think that the public domain had a place for them. I may add that the education sector, to a large extent, also fails Muslim boys. Again and again, we were told that these women considered themselves to be both British and Muslim. They were educated, informed and courageous girls, many of whom were born and raised in this country, who wished to be recognised and respected as Muslims and as valuable potential participants in all walks of life. They felt that a first step would be for the curriculum to offer a better understanding of their faith. It could be revised to reflect the realities of both Islam and Islamic histories. Teaching could become enriched by noting the centuries-long intellectual and cultural interactions between Islam and the West that planted the seeds of enlightenment and sparked the renaissance.

To quote the statements of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, in an earlier debate in this House, we need government policies that recognise women in general—and, I would add, minority women in particular—as equal but different. Celebrating differences could enable women of all colours and creeds to participate fully in the political processes and exercise their rights, including the right to choose their own husbands, without having to abandon their identities.

I thank noble Lords for their indulgence and greatly look forward to participating in the work of this House, although I cannot promise to be uncontroversial.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 2:25, 6 March 2008

My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar. She brings an enormous amount to this House. She has tremendous knowledge of cultural diversity and its effect upon women and has an enormous amount to teach us. I look forward to further speeches from her because I thoroughly enjoyed her first speech. I thank her very much.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate, which was introduced by my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton with her usual skill and expertise. It is useful for us to realise how far we have come in the past 100 years and how many of the advances we take for granted nowadays have come about as the result of collective action by women themselves. I recently attended a showing of a film produced by the TUC based on the activities of women often but, I may say, not always supported by their unions and the successes that had been secured, often as a result of great difficulty and hardship.

I was surprised to learn that the demand for equal pay first surfaced in the 1830s. In 1834, the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union advocated equal pay for women in the pages of its journal, but for a very long time no progress was made. Indeed, while trades unions began to establish a firm footing among male workers, particularly skilled workers, there was no support for women workers. The culture of the time viewed families as being headed by male breadwinners, and it was customary for women to be forced to leave whatever employment they had when they were married. The first equal pay resolution did not get carried by the TUC until 1888 as a result of a motion moved by a woman delegate.

All that simply mirrored the culture of the time, which had existed for many years. The TV dramas based on the novels of Jane Austen are widely popular, but do we always realise what they are saying to us about the position of women? The reason why the main character, usually a mother with daughters, is desperately seeking husbands for the young women is because the laws then existing gave inheritance to the nearest male relative, often leaving the woman and her daughters homeless. There are parts of the world and religions where that still applies. We have heard from speakers in this debate, including my noble friends Lady Dean and Lady Rendell, about the repressions that still exist and how badly they affect so many women. We should not allow our commitment to multiculturalism to deter us from speaking out against those repressions, and we should do whatever we can to assist women who, with great courage in those circumstances, are participating in the struggle for gender equality.

The TUC's archive film contains interviews with women who were instrumental in bringing about the changes in employment legislation that ultimately resulted in the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was introduced by Barbara Castle. She had been influenced by a strike of women working as machinists at Ford. Although they were skilled workers, they were receiving 92 per cent of the unskilled male rate, and Ford was not alone. Separate pay and grading systems were operative throughout industry at the time. Indeed, before 1970 it was common for separate rates of pay to be paid to men and to women, and the rate for women was always much lower. Barbara Castle met the Ford machinists and was convinced of the justice of their case, and the 1970 Act was the result.

Even so, it did not deal with the segregation of women's jobs. For that we needed further legislation. After some further campaigning, we eventually succeeded in getting legislation that required that women should be paid equal pay for work of equal value. That made a tremendous difference. In my union, then ASTMS and later MSF, we ran a case on behalf of our members employed in the NHS as speech therapists. We eventually won, with the assistance of the EOC, but it took 15 years before we were completely successful because the Government of the time refused to accept decisions made in favour of the speech therapists and repeatedly appealed them. The fact that we were successful was due to the persistence of the test case members. The law required that even though we were seeking improvements for a whole group, the case had to be taken on behalf of individual members who were prepared to be test cases for the whole group, often taking up a great deal of their time and energy and interrupting their own careers. This certainly happened with our leading test case member, Pam Enderby, who later became Dr Enderby at Sheffield University, but class action still cannot be taken. It is necessary to find individuals who are willing to stand up on behalf of themselves and their colleagues.

The TUC's archive film dealt with these and many other cases where women had fought for and achieved equality of treatment, but there are still problems, as all women will know. There is still a gender pay gap. There are a number of reasons for this. The gender pay gap also affects women's pension rights, an issue recently debated in this House, when a Motion moved by my noble friend Lady Hollis, who I am pleased to see is speaking later in the debate, was carried by your Lordships. Unfortunately, the Government have so far refused to comply with it, but I am sure that they will have to come to terms with it sooner or later—perhaps sooner.

One of the reasons for the continuing gender gap—why women over a lifetime earn significantly less than men doing the same or similar work—is an interrupted work pattern. Taking a break to have children and organising a working life around the care of children affect women's lifetime earnings. Moreover, there is a need for carers as the population gets older, and that work is normally carried out by women as well. Gaps in service lead to lower promotional opportunities, less access to overtime, less frequent pay bonuses and, of course, to lower pension entitlement.

Historically, the jobs that women do—largely in health services, the caring services, teaching and catering—are often not as highly valued as the jobs done by men, and access to these better paid jobs is often more difficult for women. I recently attended a prestigious function organised around the financial services industry. It was a very large gathering, attended by successful career people in the industry—an industry which nowadays congratulates itself on recruiting and promoting women. There were perhaps half a dozen women present; the gathering was almost entirely male.

So it is clear that there is still a long way to go. Yes, there has been progress, and we should remind ourselves how that was achieved, and at what cost to and sacrifice by many women working collectively. In the mean time, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this debate.

Photo of Baroness Coussins Baroness Coussins Crossbench 2:33, 6 March 2008

My Lords, in 1975, when the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts came into force, I was working as a the women's rights officer for the then National Council for Civil Liberties and had the privilege to be involved in bringing some of the earliest test cases under the new legislation. I had many dealings with the Equal Opportunities Commission, which was ably led by its first chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood—from whom we will hear later in the debate—and her deputy, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.

It seems quite extraordinary to my 19 year-old daughter that when I was her age it was not against the law to pay a woman less than a man for doing exactly the same job, or that it was not against the law to have a higher pass mark in the 11-plus exam for girls than for boys, or that women could not borrow money without a male guarantor. We have certainly come a long way and there is much to celebrate.

However, as many of the contributors, including the two excellent maiden speakers, to today's important debate have pointed out, things are still far from perfect on the equal opportunities front. The topic about which I shall speak to illustrate this concerns women and enterprise and business leadership, which is an area not only where straightforward issues of equality are to be addressed, but where there is a major opportunity to boost the UK's economy through encouraging and growing women-owned and women-led businesses. In developing these points, I acknowledge the excellent expert help that I have received from three organisations which provide great leadership in this field. They are Enterprise Insight, a coalition of UK business organisations set up to encourage enterprise and foster new talent, the Women's Enterprise Task Force, and the South East England Development Agency.

Businesses owned by women currently contribute about £60 billion to the economy in terms of gross value added. However, men are still almost twice as likely to start businesses as women. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, the UK would see 150,000 more businesses start up every year. If the UK had the same rates of female entrepreneurship as the United States, we could have around three-quarters of a million more businesses. The relative dearth of women-led businesses in the UK represents our biggest productivity gap compared with the USA. It is interesting, though, to note that the levels of entrepreneurial activity in the UK vary considerably between different ethnic groups, with black African and Caribbean women, for example, being more than three times as engaged as women in general.

The Government should make it a priority to intensify efforts to increase the quantity, growth potential and success of women in business. To achieve this, it may be useful to acknowledge that women tend to identify and manage risk differently. We are thought to be more considered and possibly more cautious in approach, although I am not sure that "cautious" is quite the right word because I am reminded of a story that was used as an ice-breaker exercise at a management training course that I attended many years ago. We were asked to imagine a ship moving fast and unstoppably towards a huge iceberg, and it was clear that collision would be fatal to the crew. We were asked what the crew would do if they were all male. The answer came: they would find a way around the iceberg and avoid disaster. But what if the crew were all female? Well, the answer was that they, too, would survive, but by using rather different tactics. It was suggested that women would survive by finding a way to blow up the iceberg, because they would be concerned not just for themselves but also for others who might come that way after them. The point is, of course, that if men and women do things differently, it is perfectly possible that both ways are equally effective, rather than one way being superior and the other second rate—there are in any case as many differences within the sexes as between them.

Women have many skills and attributes that make them excellent entrepreneurs and business leaders. On average, they are better qualified, more likely to use new ICT, and more likely to use networks and advice effectively. And in management terms, they are more likely to take decisions based on consultation with and involvement of those affected.

Yet they are often trying to succeed with one hand tied behind their back. For example, women get less finance, the wrong sort of finance, and pay too much for it. On average, the interest rate charged on loans to female-owned businesses is 1 per cent higher than the rate charged to male-owned businesses. This finding came from a survey of SME finances conducted at the University of Warwick in 2004.

A related challenge is the need significantly to increase the number of women in leadership positions in companies by their presence on the board. We know diversity is good for business, with evidence from the United States and Norway to demonstrate that diverse boards bring better profits. But the challenge in the UK is huge. Women represent between just 6 and 10 per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies. Another 450 women would be needed to achieve parity of representation. At the current rate of progress, it would take at least another 60 years to get there. In fact, women are a declining percentage of current new appointments. We are not even replacing the women who are already on the boards.

With the opportunities clear and the economic case strong, the Government must support, develop and promote efforts to support women entrepreneurs and women leaders in business. The announcement in November 2005 of the Women's Enterprise Task Force was a welcome initiative. The task force has identified five priorities, which I shall briefly outline.

First, measuring and monitoring is a must. If we are to understand how women's businesses are performing, what they are contributing to the economy and what help they might need most, we must have what is known rather inelegantly as gender-disaggregated VAT and Companies House data. Such data are at the core of the USA's success in promoting the significance of women's businesses as an economic force.

Secondly, we need female-friendly business support and I hope that the new Business Link brand will prove to be fit for purpose in this regard. It needs to provide an entrepreneurial route map for women, a continuum of support including mentors and trained business advisers who are able to signpost women to the best support locally.

Thirdly, we must improve access to finance for women. We need greater support for investment readiness and the task force would like to see a new enterprise capital fund for women. Adequate financing of women's businesses is the way to achieve growth, to trade internationally and to boost innovation. There should be a funding escalator for all stages of business growth.

Fourthly, providing access for women-owned businesses to contracts in big corporates is a proven success route in the USA to help growth. Prowess, the organisation which champions women's enterprise, has recently launched an initiative to promote this and it is already supported by companies such as Microsoft, Pfizer and Bank of America. Public procurement involving central and local government would be a further step which could transform the growth potential of women's businesses.

Lastly, there is a need to raise the profile and public awareness of women's businesses to inspire others to become entrepreneurs and leaders. The work currently being done by the organisation Enterprise Insight is an excellent example of the kind of action we need. Its campaign, called Girls! Make your Mark, encourages more women and young girls to turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality and start up their own businesses. It aims to change attitudes to business and provides young women and girls with inspiring role models who can show them that business is for them.

Enterprise Insight, working in partnership with all nine of the regional development agencies, has also created SPARK, which is a network of 1,000 women ambassadors signed up across the country to demonstrate that women do business. More women entrepreneurs and business owners are still needed to become ambassadors and to share their stories and experiences with others.

In association with International Women's Day, Enterprise Insight is running a series of local women's business workouts, where one of the most important messages is that business success and work-life balance must go together. This is an emphasis which has been found to be a powerful driver of women's business in the USA.

I commend all these initiatives and urge the Government to strengthen their support and seize the opportunity to boost the UK's economy by doing so. As we celebrate International Women's Day this week, I hope also that when the Government's new enterprise strategy is launched next week, it will include a prominent role and clear objectives for women's enterprise in particular.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:43, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this women's day debate once again. This is the fourth time that she has managed to do so. Indeed, like my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley, I think that this debate has become a kind of annual review of the changes that have taken place during the past year which have affected the lives of women.

Like other noble Lords, at the top of my review I would put that on 1 October 2007 the Equal Opportunities Commission became part of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gould that this change is probably right because it recognises that women in Britain are becoming less the victims of discrimination and more the victims of circumstances. They will have a far better chance to participate equally in society by dealing with these circumstances. The Government's equality office is right that these circumstances are more related to family issues such as caring and childcare.

Nowadays marriage occurs later, when people are in their late 20s or early 30s, whereas with most of our generation it was in our early or mid-20s. Perhaps because of this, men are more mature. It is my observation that fathers now want to spend more time with their children and are more willing to share in their care. This means that equality between men and women is becoming more a part of family life. Indeed, in a debate last week on 28 February, at col. 802 of Hansard, my noble friend Lord Adonis told us that 14 million men and women are working flexibly to achieve this. I find that a gratifying number.

There is now more support for children, more affordable childcare, more maternity and paternity pay, and, most important, through Sure Start and other schemes a whole new sector of education has been created for the under-fives. This is what I mean by dealing with the circumstances in order to give women a better chance to participate more equally in society, about which other noble Lords have spoken.

Quite rightly, the Government have also recently recognised that the quality of parenting as well as time spent with children affects families, and that this too is an important change in the lives of women. During the past year it has become apparent that it is the internet which is helping to change this landscape. IT helps to solve the problem of how to learn when timing is erratic. It also helps to keep young parents in touch around a common interest. It is not surprising that this should strongly affect women because IT companies tell me that the primary creators of websites, blogs and graphics are no longer geeks but teenage girls.

My noble friend Lord Giddens pointed out last week in the debate on families that adapting to these changes is now what really matters. Unfortunately, he has had to go home because he is not feeling very well.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke about women having a choice of either staying at home or going to work. In my experience, the majority of women who go out to work do so because they need the money to help their families and children live a reasonable life.

Last year I spoke about women in managerial and administrative work. During the past year we have seen more than ever that my noble friend Lady Kingsmill was right in her report in 2003 when she said that there would be an ever increasing premium on intellectual capital in business and we were damaging our economy by putting barriers in the way of women reaching their full potential. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, made this point rather strongly.

How have we done during the past year? The answer is mixed. There are slightly more women professional managers. The female membership of the Chartered Management Institute is now 30 per cent, 3 per cent up from last year. Perhaps this is because of the support it gives to female managers with its women in management network and its mentoring, the kind of thing for which the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, called. It is certainly not because of pay; for the first time in over a decade its national management salary survey shows that men's pay rises have outpaced women's. Indeed, according to Eurostat, Britain's gender pay gap is the largest of all the 27 EU countries. My noble friend Lady Gould told us that, on average, women working full-time still earn 17 per cent less per hour than men. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, told us that the difference is even greater at management level.

There has been a great deal of interesting research and many reasons full of insight given as to why this happens. My noble friend Lady Turner mentioned some of them. But one new reason seems to be that women just do not ask. In a recent paper called Women Don't Ask, which analysed starting salaries, researchers found that only 7 per cent of women thought to ask for more money when landing their first job compared to 57 per cent of men. This seems to result in men getting a higher offer than women. This is important. If women start off at a lower salary then the gap will remain for many years. It is not just about asking for more money. Women also seem to be more concerned about the impression that they give. In our largely male-defined work culture, this can be—and is—misinterpreted. It seems in this culture that the best way to get something is to ask for it—be feisty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, put it in her perceptive maiden speech.

When they ask, women often achieve the same pay as men, as long as they do not have children—as long as they are not mothers. Once children come along, for women flexi-time or part-time working invariably lead not only to loss of pay but to loss of status and advancement. A study recently published in the Economic Journal quantified just how much this wasted talent and training. The obvious conclusion is that maintaining and keeping men and women in touch and up to date with developments at work during child rearing is crucial, not only for society but for the economy. The Government could be a lot more proactive in encouraging and facilitating this. Progressive companies that have the resources do it, but they are a minority.

The benefits are of course obvious, but also not so obvious. A not-so-obvious benefit emerged during this past year. This is well argued in a new book, Why Women Mean Business. The argument it puts is that, with the rise in longevity and pensionable age, men and women are going to have to work longer. Women returning to full-time work after child rearing could still have 20 or even 25 years of work ahead of them. Bearing in mind that marriage and child rearing is now happening later, women might be settling back into work just as many men are thinking of slowing down. Demography may well present women with opportunities later in life that biology has denied them earlier. Now there is a thought.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 2:52, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Gould for once again securing this debate to mark International Women's Day. I believe it is the fifth year in succession that she has been successful. I thank her for it.

According to the UK Resource Centre, half a million women in the UK are qualified in science, engineering or technology but less than a third work in these sectors, all of which are suffering a severe skills shortage which is set to get worse in the coming decades. This must be bad for the UK's productivity and competitiveness. This in turn undermines the UK's aspirations for fairness and opportunities and wastes women's talents, their career aspirations, lifetime earnings and economic contribution. The UK Resource Centre works to tackle the low number of women working in these areas and helps businesses and organisations to encourage women to enter these fields.

Another example of support for women is the Fusion 21 skills programme, which works with women to enable them to develop practical skills in one or more of the building trades. It is based in Merseyside and has had a great success. It has been good to read the case studies of women whose lives have been dramatically changed, enabling them to find employment. To quote one of them:

"My life has really changed. I have a reason to get up in the morning, I brighten up people's homes, I get paid a weekly wage and now I can do all kinds of things I couldn't do before".

Women in Plumbing is another good organisation, giving help, support and advice to women who want to work in this field. Women plumbers I have spoken to tell me how much they enjoy their work. They can set up their own businesses. Some young mothers say it is ideal as they can set their own hours and be at home for the children. The other advantage is that many women prefer to have a women plumber coming into their homes, so there is no shortage of work.

Another organisation which has helped women was Joining Policy and Joining Practice, known as JIVE. It was a national partnership led by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology at Bradford College. It tackled issues that prevented women securing senior jobs within the science, engineering, construction and technology sectors. Launched in 2005, it worked in education and industry. It influenced women looking to return to work as well as young women choosing their career paths.

Women make up only 18 per cent of the workforce in these sectors, meaning that the UK is failing to make the most of the talents of more than half the population. The under-representation of women in these fields contributes to a continuing skills gap, with 75 per cent of women with scientific qualifications not working in the field. This is one area that JIVE worked to address. In its report, Time for Action: Improving Opportunities for Women in Science Engineering, Construction and Technology, it said:

"A broad programme of JIVE-related schemes and initiatives has resulted in young women enjoying a more diverse range of career options ... careers professionals updating the advice they give, lecturers adapting the way that they teach, employers changing their policies and procedures, and ultimately more women choosing to return to work within the science engineering construction and technology sectors".

JIVE has been a great success. Unfortunately I have to speak in the past tense as it was a short-term project which ended in December 2007. It was funded by the European Social Fund's Equal community initiative. The good news is that the UK Resource Centre will enhance JIVE's work by continuing to tackle these issues. Will the Minister look into the possibility of ensuring funding and government support for this kind of initiative to ensure that the valuable work that has been carried out is not lost?

I wondered, with all the building work going on at the Olympic Park site, whether there was a policy of encouraging women to work in the non-traditional areas of construction and building. I contacted the Olympic Delivery Authority to find out and it sent me a good briefing note on what it is doing. It recognises the skills shortages in the industry and the occupational gender segregation as well as the significant barriers facing women wishing to enter the construction sector. Tessa Jowell MP launched the ODA's employment and skills strategy in February. The ODA also published a document in July 2007 on its equality and diversity strategy. Both strategies set out the priorities and work streams, which include a series of initiatives to support women into work in construction. It will offer training opportunities targeted at women and, in addition, there is a specific project about to start to provide targeted support to women to gain employment in construction. Its gender equality scheme sets out how it will deliver its gender equalities priorities over the coming three years, and its wider equality and diversity strategy sets out the culture of equality it intends to create on the Olympic sites.

In addition to this, because of recent research and consultation, it is working closely with the LDA on the development of a specific approach or project to address specific gender barriers and tackle occupational segregation within the construction sector. This project will support women into construction opportunities as they arise on the site as well as promote the sector to women as a lasting viable career.

The ODA acknowledges that considerably more women train in construction than are employed in the industry. For example, in London nearly 9 percent of trainees in construction courses in further education colleges are female, but just 2 percent of manual construction workers in London are women. In its last quarterly report in December 2007, the ODA showed that women represent 12.6 per cent of the total people on the programme. The figure for men is 86.9 per cent. The ODA has not set any targets for the percentage of women working on the Olympic sites. Plans are being finalised and the London 2012 Women in Construction project plans to deliver 50 women per year, who will be supported into work placements; 65 qualifications will be available, 50 per cent will be black, Asian or minority ethnic women, and 10 per cent within the total will have a disability. This sounds like a very good scheme, which perhaps could be a model to get more women into the range of manual trades. I shall certainly be following it to see how successful it will be.

Women in manual trades make up a small part of the UK workforce. We have a skills gap. We have women who can be encouraged to work in this field by providing help, support, and mentoring. Schools and colleges have a big role to play by encouraging and providing suitable courses for women. With the building of the Olympic park, with millions of new homes needing to be built in the coming years and the shortage of domestic plumbers, what better opportunity could there be for women to break through this glass ceiling.

Opening the doors to equality and allowing women to earn better wages is an aspiration which the UK should be working towards.

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour 3:01, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on introducing this debate with such clarity and good humour. With so many speakers, it would appear that everything has been said. I believe that the suffragettes, wherever they are, are smiling down on this debate because so many men have participated, which is unusual for such a debate. I am sure that the suffragettes will feel that 2008 is a good year when men are encouraged to keep alive faith in women.

It is not in dispute that this Government have taken the issue of gender inequality seriously with the Equality Act 2006. Many provisions were made. However, when the Bill was brought before the House, I had concerns about how this would affect race equality. As research has shown, black women find themselves being doubly discriminated against by being black and by being women. They are twice hampered in reaching the top of their professions, even when they are allowed on the first rung of the ladder. Few black women have broken through the glass ceiling of inequality in race and gender.

Today we heard of the many challenges that women face in reaching the upper levels of their career path. But I want to take this opportunity to highlight the bigotry and difficulties of discrimination faced by black women. Because of this I hope to bring to the attention of this House the ways in which it is felt that more could be done to secure a fairer and more equal society.

After more than 40 years of equality legislation, the position of black and minority women is that they suffer disproportionate discrimination. For example, whereas 10 per cent of executive directors of the FTSE 100 companies are women, only 0.4 per cent are women from black or other ethnic minorities. The same is true of politics; only 20 per cent of Members of the other place are women, yet there are only two black women. Only 2 per cent of local councillors are women from black and other ethnic minorities.

Even in other areas the levels of discrimination are higher for black women than for women. Yet here in the House of Lords, the glass ceiling was cracked with a Leader of the House and an Attorney-General from the Afro-Caribbean community. I am sure that the House will agree that they were of great benefit and that other minority groups will bring as much to this House as we would expect.

The Fawcett Society's 2005 study found that there are no ethnic minority women police chief constables and there are no ethnic minority women judges in the House of Lords or the Court of Appeal. A woman victim of domestic violence has 11 contacts with agencies before getting the help she needs; this rises to 17 if she is black. Furthermore black women are more likely to be refused small business or other bank loans than white women, and black women are more likely than white women to live in substandard accommodation. This handful of statistics provides a brief glimpse into some of the problems of discrimination preventing black and ethnic minority women reaching their full potential.

To counter these pervasive trends we do not need new legislation to tackle the problems faced by black women today, and we do not need legal structures based on issues 30 or 40 years old. Current equality law comprises 116 separate pieces of legislation: 35 Acts, 52 statutory instruments, 13 codes of practice and 16 EC directives. The legal structure lacks consistency and is confusing to all except the experts. This complexity leads to problems for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in ensuring that the legislation is effective and for employers' organisations in their efforts to comply with the existing legal codes.

I should like to highlight a few areas in which the current legal framework could be improved. There should be designated people in an organisation who are publicly accountable for the organisation's performance on equality. Individuals should have the power to obtain the information they need to see whether an organisation is meeting its equality targets and to question and monitor those targets. To avoid confusion there needs to be clarity on what is and is not permitted under the law. Legislation must be underpinned by clear, simple and practical guidance on how organisations can use the law to meet equality targets. Workable targets for increasing the promotion of black and ethnic minority women to high level jobs, once they are qualified to do so, is important. There should be government-supported initiatives to help and support black and ethnic minority women in establishing their own businesses. We need forums for supporting black women in certain professions, along the lines of the successful American system of equality forums. These are established within individual companies to encourage black women to reach higher positions. It is often said that we need role models in this country. Challenging inter-discrimination between different minority groups has shown that it would be impossible to produce role models for everyone.

These are just a few suggestions that could improve the position of black and ethnic minority women and streamline equality legislation. I hope that in the near future we will be debating these issues on the Floor of the House as a matter of course and that eventually all women in this country will enjoy a life free from discrimination. There is a saying, "Example is better than precept".

Photo of Baroness Lockwood Baroness Lockwood Labour 3:10, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I, too, want to fasten on to the issue of equal pay. I was inspired to do so and informed by attending the launch of the TUC women's archive on the struggle for equal pay, which took place just over a week ago. My noble friend indicated in her speech that the 1970 Equal Pay Act was an important piece of legislation. It certainly was. It firmly established in law the principle of equal pay for men and women, although the application of the Act was somewhat limited in its effect. I shall return to this later.

Equal pay is not a new issue and it was not new in 1970. It spans three centuries. The limited successes towards equal pay owe much to the determination and courage of women themselves. In the 19th century, there were spasmodic attempts to secure equal pay. In 1888, the first TUC policy resolution calling for equal pay was passed. Around the turn of the 20th century, Mary MacArthur, a remarkable pioneer in women's issues who later became one of the first women MPs, formed the National Federation of Women Workers. Her campaigns to increase women's pay greatly contributed to the establishment of labour boards in 1908, which set minimum pay standards in certain sectors and were the forerunners of today's minimum wage legislation.

Further advances were made during the First World War, when women were brought into industry to undertake many of the jobs done by men who were called to serve in the Armed Forces. The first equal pay strike was in 1918, when women tram workers in London, followed by women in other towns, went on strike and won the day over an unequal war bonus. In 1918 and 1945, women were expected to return to a more domestic role, allowing men to reclaim their jobs when the war ended.

Until 1970 there were three grades of pay for industrial and transport workers: the skilled rate, the unskilled rate and the women's rate. Needless to say, the women's rate was at the bottom of the pile. This was the rate that women were paid for taking over men's jobs in the two world wars. The 1970 Act rightly abolished women's rates. Some limited progress was made in the interwar years and during the war itself. For example, the ban on married women in several public service jobs was abandoned during the Second World War. In 1943, a powerful equal pay campaign was set up by women representatives from across the board. In 1944, a royal commission on equal pay was established. It reported tentatively in 1946, suggesting that women in teaching and certain grades of the Civil Service might benefit from equal pay. This vague suggestion was implemented and in 1956 women non-industrial civil servants received equal pay for equal work. In 1961 so did teachers.

The 1960s were an important decade, when the demand for equal pay and for an end to sex discrimination was growing powerfully. My noble friend underlined certain anniversary years in her speech. I would like to add another: 1968. That year, the Ford women machinists at Dagenham went on strike following a regrading. They argued that their jobs, although not the same as men's jobs, required equal skills. The Dagenham women's strike finally ignited the fire taken up by Barbara Castle, then Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, leading to the introduction of the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which became operative in 1975. Welcome and significant though that Act was, there were concerns about the definition of equal pay and the fact that it gave companies five years to prepare for its implementation—five years that led to the deepening of an already severely segregated labour market. The Act provided for equal pay for work that was the same or broadly similar. This definition on its own had limited effects, because there was very little "same work" being done by men and women.

The year 1975 was important for two reasons. First, the Equal Pay Act was incorporated into the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, which set up the Equal Opportunities Commission and gave that body the responsibility to administer and enforce the Equal Pay Act. Secondly, the European Union passed two directives, one on equal pay and one on equal access to employment, based on Article 119 of the treaty of Rome. The equal pay directive interpreted equal pay as being pay for work of equal value. The canvas was broadened as the directive could be used in combination with domestic law. As a consequence, a number of important equal pay claims were processed in this field. In 1984, the Equal Pay Act was amended to confirm in domestic law the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. As we have noticed, a weakness of UK law is that there is no scope for group or class action. Consequently, case law, although slow, has been extremely important and a number of significant cases have established precedents that have had widespread repercussions. We are grateful to the women who courageously pursued these cases, some of which were decided by the House of Lords in its judicial capacity, with others going to the European Court of Justice.

The annual reports of the EOC highlighted those cases, three of which come to mind. The first is Electrolux, which was the first equal pay case with which the EOC was asked to assist. It involved a group of women all filing single claims with the industrial tribunal, thus swamping the capacity of that local body. Consequently, a number of test cases that the company agreed to accept were selected and acted on and, in that way, the issue was resolved. The second example is Cammell Laird, which was, in effect, the first equal value case, brought by Julie Hayward, a qualified cook working in the canteen of the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead. She claimed equal pay with several male craft workers, a shipboard painter, a joiner and a thermal insulation engineer. Her claim was that, although different, her skills were equally demanding and of equal value. I will not go into details about the third example, because it was the case of the physiotherapist that my noble friend Lady Turner dealt with in some detail in her speech. The principal point of that case was that it involved certain different claims, pay scales and agreements. Ultimately, it took 14 years to be resolved because of those complications.

Those cases demonstrate the difficulties in successfully establishing equal pay, especially where claimants are in female-dominant work. Within that context, it is not surprising that progress has been painfully slow and why there is still a 17 per cent gap between women's and men's pay, as my noble friend indicated. We now look to new legislation promised by the Government in the lifetime of this Parliament to facilitate a less complicated and quicker route to equal pay through the proposed Single Equality Bill, the government action plan and the gender equality duty placed on public bodies. Today, however, we celebrate the courage and tenacity of those women who sustained and pursued their just claims.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Deputy Chief Whip, Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 3:20, 6 March 2008

My Lords, as one of the males here, I rise to my feet to speak in this debate slightly nervously: you feel like you are treading on someone else's territory. However, I realise that I should not feel like that. When I was dealing with disability issues for all those years, I was always glad when someone from outside joined in and we were not just talking to ourselves. I hope that my contribution is seen in that light.

I want to draw attention to something that many people might regard as rather peripheral to many of the things mentioned today—the Government's attempts to bring women into the sporting and fitness world. One of the problems that we have is that the subject of sport, fitness and physical recreation in this country is seen as a secondary issue that is tacked on after everything else—for the energy that is left after you have done everything else. On women in sport, that is true with bells on.

I have been provided with figures from the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation. Only 5 per cent of sports coverage is given to women's sport and there is still no woman professional player in a team sport in this country. In some papers, the closest that you come to women in sport during the winter season—because tennis will always get a mention—is the WAGs syndrome. Whether X's wife is going to leave him after a drunken night out seems to be about as close as we come to seriously covering women in sport. As a rugby union player, I always felt persecuted that we did not get enough coverage in the sports media, but then I realised that rugby union does quite well in comparison with other minority sports in this country. We have a problem of one dominant culture—association football. It is not association football's fault that it is successful, but there is a certain culture of not covering and not supporting whatever else goes on.

Does it matter if we do not talk about women taking part in sport or if they are not playing sport professionally? In health terms, no, it does not, as long as women are taking part as amateurs or are taking other exercise. I think that it is sad that—this figure is off the top of my head—only 20 per cent of women take enough exercise. At the very least, there is a huge on-cost to the Department of Health. Why is this happening? I hope that the Minister will not quote school participation levels at me. If the noble Baroness says that she is not going to, that is good; the last time I said that these figures were not important, I still got told what they were.

We have twice the drop-out rate among 16 to 24 year-old females—half the participation rate may be the correct way of putting it—as among males. We need the same degree of activity for the two sexes within schools. I know that the culture of dropping out is more developed among girls than among boys. It is there in both groups, but apparently skiving PE is a more extensive activity among females. What we are doing in schools is basically wrong—we are missing it, we are not bringing people in and involving them. Have the Government done any research on what is going wrong and why we are not taking pupils on to adult participation in sport? To my mind, there is always a smack of the playing fields of Roedean and Eton about the way in which we have traditionally structured school sport, which I think we can safely say does not work in the state sector—or it does not work well enough. What are we doing to prepare these people for taking up exercise and sporting activity in adult life?

Talking to people about this, I was urged not to put as much emphasis on sport as on exercise and participation. Are our school days not structured well enough to make sure that, for instance, dance is encouraged for sufficient numbers and with sufficient intensity? At the moment, we have a wonderful opportunity for dance, as a TV programme has done a lot of groundwork for us. What are the Government doing to get greater female participation? Are we trying to address these problems? Are we making sure that there is an ongoing message that people should take up the activity? To go back to my WAG bashing of a few moments ago, are we taking on the fact that thin is not necessarily healthy? Certain people will never look like catwalk models, even if they starve themselves almost to death. They might be told, "You are too short, love. Your bone structure is too big and, even if it is crumbling, it is still too big".

As regards physical identification, if you have a greater awareness of what your body can and cannot do, you will probably become less obsessed by what you think it should look like. If you have a lot of fast-twitch muscle and can run fast—which means that you can play many sports—and have half-decent hand-to-eye co-ordination, you cannot utilise this unless you are actually carrying some muscle mass. If this means that you are a size bigger than you should be according to the latest fashion magazine, so be it; you are still going to look better. I would mention as an aside that very few supermodels become pin-ups, so if the motivation is to attract the opposite sex, somebody has got it wrong. What are we doing to address this level of ignorance and lack of perception? Where are we encouraging and influencing what goes on? In health alone, we are incurring greater costs and greater penalties for our society than we should do.

There is another aspect to these activities. They are great for social networking—getting people outside the home and interacting with others. They are good for building community. They are probably one of the best ways of generating volunteering activity in our society. Effectively, we are removing slightly more than half the population—or a majority of this group—from that interaction. We are not addressing properly the fact that they should be interacting with their communities at this level.

If people come in late—if a mother, for example, wants to help out in a sports club but has no experience of sport—it will be much more difficult, though of course not impossible, for them to become involved, especially if they do not have the requisite education. Mothers may come along and ask whether they can help with little Susie's or little Johnny's football or rugby team. If they do not know the basic levels of activity, it will be much more difficult for them to become engaged. They may not know that, if little Johnny or little Susie falls over and cuts a knee, they should not worry, it will heal. Black eyes disappear. I found that, even at my age, one disappeared in just over a week—for a 12 year-old, no problem.

We have to try to instil the sporting culture, create encouragement and ensure interaction. I would expect the Government to start an education programme among the teaching services for the very young that addresses the issue and is effective in ensuring that people are properly equipped.

Also, what pressure are the Government putting on the media, especially the public-access media, to give more attention to women's sport generally? We cannot tell them to do that, because the cure would probably be worse than the disease. They will turn round and say, "Oh, Wimbledon and the Olympics", but we should remember that there are male events in all sporting activities and you cannot schedule male athletics events without the female ones. If we say, "The fastest man in the world is more important than the fastest woman", what effect will that have on other events? When will we pay attention to those who succeed in their own fields?

A classic example was when Nicole Cooke recently won the French cycling tour. On the same day, Andrew Murray received a minor injury to his wrist. She won; he might have won. I suggest that some attention should be given to this problem but, if we cannot take the Government by the ear and drag them along, can we at least ensure that they are seen to be pointing in the right direction?

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour 3:31, 6 March 2008

My Lords, there were more women holding elected office in Norfolk in 1900 than in 1980. I am cheating a bit because there were more elective offices in 1900 but, in a period when social class often counted for more than gender, the wives and daughters of squires and vicars found their way on to the local councils of the land.

That first late-19th-century women's movement, to which many of my noble friends have alluded, demanded, said Helen Taylor, the stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill, the right of a woman to belong to herself—not to a father or a husband. That meant the right to support herself when she was single, or surplus, as a teacher, a nurse, a clerk or, as she might also be known, as a typewriter, because she obviously had nimble fingers from playing the piano. It also meant the right to belong to herself within marriage, to hold property, to retain an income—whenever Mrs Gaskell got a cheque for a book, to her quiet fury, her husband pocketed it—to have custody of her children on separation if she was the innocent party, to limited divorce and, finally, to the vote so as to ensure that women had the protection not of men but of the law.

After 1918, the women's movement stalled and women activists became engaged instead with their political parties, usually arguing for the rights of men rather than the rights of man. Jennie Lee, for example, argued that women should not have equal pay while miners' wages were so low. As in rural turn-of-the-century Norfolk, class identity mattered more than gender identity for women between the wars.

Women MPs did come into national politics—for example, Bessie Braddock, Elaine Burton, Alice Bacon, Edith Summerskill and Jean Mann—but they were expected to stick to women's issues, such as child welfare, consumer rights or widows' benefits, while the men managed the serious stuff of state, such as foreign policy or finance. Barbara Castle and Jennie Lee rebelled against that stereotype, only to invent another one of their own, which was that they be treated as surrogate men, dealing with transport or overseas development—again, the stuff of real politics rather than women's political housework.

I suggest that what broke those stereotypes was the rise, exactly 40 years ago in 1968, of the second women's movement, which again has been alluded to by many of my noble friends today. It was the rise of identity politics. Some of us at the time were in the US civil rights movement, riding buses and barnstorming restaurants in the deep south. I remember George Wallace's window advertising, "Turkey dinners 99c and guaranteed no niggers". We were stiffened by the return of black soldiers from Vietnam, who were armed and disciplined and made their way into the Black Panther movement.

The year 1968 saw the Dubcek spring, Jan Palach's self-immolation, the May general strike in Paris and the strike of the Ford women machinists. This second women's movement demanded not Helen Taylor's autonomy—the right to belong to herself—but equality with economic and civil rights, as we worked on the NEC sub-committees of the Labour Party, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Lockwood, in the late 1960s and early 1970s to draft the Green Papers which ultimately produced the equal pay and sex discrimination Acts of Barbara Castle. I remember the day after the 1974-75 legislation going into a shoe shop where the day before there were male and female shop assistants paid differentially, and the day after all the male shop assistants became assistant male managers and the pay gap between the genders remained untouched.

But then progress slowed as the symbolic gains of a woman Prime Minister were undercut by the practical effects of unemployment and declining public services damaging women both as workers and consumers. To what extent have we since 1997 witnessed a third women's movement? The two challenges are obvious and have been mentioned by many people tonight: work/life balance on the one hand; women's participation in public life on the other.

Women have always been permitted since the 1840s to do womanly work and especially to work for other women: nursing; teaching; and campaigning for better maternity care, although as one woman noted, when women campaign for other women they are regarded as shrill and sectional—when men campaign for other men they are speaking for humankind.

Individual feisty women could also be adopted as surrogate men—as Barbara Castle was—if they put in the hours, published the books, nailed down the contracts and carried the customer load, just like men. Men seldom saw that the work, pensions and public structures they inhabited were not god-given or innately natural, but devised by men for men and that they needed and continue to need to be changed. Our third women's movement needs to take issues out of the gender box and establish them as human issues of equal value and relevance to men and women alike.

The past Labour decade has seen real progress. The minimum wage, mentioned in previous contributions, benefiting above all women and young people, together with tax credits, has made work pay for women; and extended maternity and parental leave, childcare, Sure Start and the right to request flexible hours have made work possible for women with children. Tax credits, for example, have doubled the take-home pay of a lone parent. The problem, and it remains unresolved, is how to introduce having children and bringing them up into the lives of a couple with two valued jobs without sacrificing either the children or the parents—almost always the mother—in a daft long-hours work culture.

Men and women alike must have more control over the hours they work and men in particular must be willing to reduce their hours, otherwise, bluntly, the rewards and penalties of having children will continue to be unfairly shared. On every man's heart should be engraved, "Kids are us". These issues are being understood but the problem of family caring mentioned by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for older people—living longer but living frail—is not always fully understood. The Wanless report showed that by 2025 we would need 50 per cent more hours of caring to be found from the same working age population—mainly women, and they would do so almost certainly at the expense of their own jobs and pensions. We have to put the same political energy into supporting carers as we do mothers, their pay, pensions, prospects and welfare.

The other big issue for this third women's movement has been women in public: the bittersweet all-women shortlist of the Labour Party has not been followed by the other parties, torn three ways between individual merit, local decision-making and affirmative action. Should the tide go out for the Labour Party in any subsequent general election, we shall see a reduction of women MPs in the other place because the other parties so far are not going to make up the deficit.

Despite my noble friend Lady Gould's celebration of women in your Lordships' House, as Dianne Hayter has reminded us, we have only a handful of council leaders; no woman elected mayor; two months aside, no woman leader of the Labour Party; no First Minister in Wales or Scotland, let alone Prime Minister; no woman general-secretary of the TUC nor of other corporate powerhouses in the UK; no female head of the Financial Services Authority, the Bank of England or the churches; one woman Law Lord but no Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice or Lord Chancellor; some university VCs but no chair of Universities UK; some Permanent Secretaries but no Cabinet Secretary; and no woman leader of any major trade union, which shows how far we still have to go.

Part of the problem may be the Nolan procedure itself, with its meritocratic boxes, which tend to mean that only women already with a public life can advance in public life. The real seedbed for women in public life remains local government. It is local, part-time, direct, hands-on, fits family priorities and can be deeply satisfying—and usually there are enough seats for women not to threaten men, so there is space for them. Their numbers have remained steady at around 30 per cent—it should be more. We probably need an Emily's List for councillors as we have had for MPs.

Even here, there are trends that worry me. The cabinet scrutiny system has not helped women. Councillors in smaller councils with very modest allowances do not get national insurance payments, so women who become councillors sacrifice their pensions. We should address that issue. There is a welcome move to the new unitary authorities, but they may physically be large and women without cars and with children may find the greater distances difficult; and where unitary counties replace two-tier structures, council numbers will fall perhaps from 250 to, say, 70, and in the competition for seats women may be squeezed out if we do not watch this very carefully. We need double devolution, stronger parishes, proper town councils, local partnerships and area neighbourhood communities to consult, scrutinise, help to deliver and allow a realm for women where they can offer a full role.

In 2008 we celebrate 90 years since some women got the vote, 80 years since all women got the vote and 40 years since the second women's movement in 1968. Fifty years on, what will we look back on as regards this third women's movement and what will we have to celebrate?

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Spokesperson in the Lords, Women and Equality 3:41, 6 March 2008

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has made it her responsibility to secure this debate once a year for some years now and her formidable experience in this area makes her the ideal leader of our debate today. Her speech was a real tour d'horizon—a diplomatic phrase, for those who do not follow the French—and is an absolute mine of information for anyone who wants to read it tomorrow. I shall do just that.

I need to apologise very sincerely to the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, as I was not here for her maiden speech, which is a grave derogation of duty. We spoke about it yesterday, and I gave her, as one does sometimes, a little hint or two. I am sure she followed them all, put her own spirit and life into what she said and made an excellent speech. I shall read that also with great pleasure tomorrow.

That last speech reminded us that, even today in the UK, women face difficulties. For example, they are still more likely to be imprisoned for non-violent offences or to take their lives in prison than men are. The trafficking of women into the UK for the purposes of prostitution is, if anything, increasing. Whatever some may say of the voluntary nature of prostitution, in the case of trafficked women there can be little doubt that force or deception is the reason why they are here.

Violence, especially sexual violence, against women is still widespread, and the services that should be available to women are described as a postcode lottery in the excellent report published last year by End Violence Against Women in partnership with the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Like them, I would like to know what specific action is being carried out or planned in response to that shocking report. At the same time, I am sure that others, beside myself, have noted recent press reports to the effect that the police have now recognised that they are failing rape victims. The difficulties that women face when trying to establish their credentials as witnesses to the crimes committed on them are major reasons why so few voluntarily seek judicial redress. The assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John Yates, is trying to raise the professionalism of rape investigations to ensure a rate of conviction that fits the circumstances and encourages women to come forward. Meanwhile the Ministry of Justice is encouraging the courts and juries to take a more understanding view of why women may shrink from coming to court. Can the Minister tell us what the expectations are of the eventual success of such measures in giving women justice, and what targets are being introduced to measure the success of these new and very welcome developments? Do the Government have any plans to change judicial guidelines, or to exert any other form of persuasion, to ensure that that recognition leads to fairer judicial treatment for rape victims?

There is also the problem of women's expectation of a just reward in the workplace and the difficulties many women have even today in combining work and childcare. Many people here have spoken on that very important subject. Statistics published in Social Trends 2006, which I think is the latest available, indicate that girls outperform boys at every level of education from key stage 1 to university. Moreover, although there has been a general improvement in the performance of all students, the gap between boys and girls continues. Girls are doing better than boys at GCSE, A-level and NVQ, and rather more women than men are getting into university. At graduation, the proportion of men and women gaining first-class honours is about the same: between 10.2 and 11.5 per cent. However, the number of women gaining an Upper Second is noticeably higher than the number of men—47 per cent compared with 39 per cent.

One might reasonably expect that the higher educational achievement of girls might at least guarantee them equal treatment in the workplace as far as salaries and promotion are concerned. Many people have indicated today that that does not seem to be the case. Indeed, there is evidence that, if anything, there are fewer women in senior positions in business than there were a few years ago. The general statistics about participation in the workforce are gloomy. Whereas 85 per cent of women work full-time before they have children, only 34 per cent with children below school age work, and it is only 41 per cent—less than half—for those with a child of school age. Meanwhile, the proportion of men working full-time increases after they have children, presumably because they have to make up the deficit that was their wife's salary. Women are left juggling work and childcare, often with disastrous results for their ability to earn a wage or a pension.

There is still a pronounced gap in the wages earned by men and women even when women work full-time. That may reflect the different types of employment available to or sought after by men and women. It is now many years since the mantra "equal pay for work of equal value" was taken on board within the workforce. Is it not time to carry that approach further so that hourly rates, at least, can reflect the actual worth of what is done—for example, by a firefighter or a nurse—across workplaces as well as within them?

On conditions outside the UK, where the UK can and often does play a part to help women, the recent House of Commons report—which I think was published yesterday or the day before—estimates that as many as 870,000 women may die every year in the days surrounding childbirth. That is even more than the official estimate of 580,000 or so. The causes are very straightforward and easy to understand: lack of skilled assistance; unsafe abortions; availability of medicines; and the distance from facilities where slightly more complicated cases could be treated effectively. Lack of proper training for midwives and a disregard of the importance of simple hygiene also play their part—and I declare here a non-financial interest in a small charity dealing with that matter.

Meanwhile, the dangers of HIV/AIDS have meant that bodies treating those conditions have tended to get more money from the large international funds. A really useful part was played by the APPG on population development and maternal health. We talked with officials from DfID about the good sense of delivering HIV/AIDS programmes and maternal health programmes in the same premises. That seems so obvious and straightforward, when premises are so few and far between, as to hardly need work to be done on it—but it was essential work.

My impression is that that approach is now widely accepted as sensible, bringing together the best available care for mothers in childbirth, birth control services, better understanding of HIV/AIDS and a better chance of protecting unborn children from becoming infected in the womb in a more economical way. Again, the danger of infecting children in the womb has been discussed today. Can the noble Lord the Minister give me any information as to how this approach is progressing and what action is being taken at an international level to convince others that it represents a good way forward and good value for money? I apologise to the noble Baroness because I omitted to give her my questions in advance. I shall therefore take it perfectly calmly if she decides to write to me rather than anything else.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Spokesperson in the Lords, Women and Equality

She is not a noble Lord, my Lords; she is a most well regarded noble Baroness. I apologise to her immediately from a grovelling position for having said such a silly thing.

I have not taken up all my time, but there are still many interesting speeches to be heard. I suspect that the Minister will be delighted to get some of my spare time.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills 3:50, 6 March 2008

My Lords, I join noble Lords in sending my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on securing this timely debate. I also join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, on their eloquent maiden speeches. I support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his wish to see International Women's Day being an event every day. He raised many important issues, some of which I will revisit.

Many issues we face today need better enforcement of legislation. The debate enables us to raise issues that, by and large, remain on the back-burners much of the time. The title for the debate is quite broad so, sadly, absolute justice cannot be extended to the many areas of debate that need deep and thorough discussion. Thus I will cover as much as I can in the allotted time.

The gender pay gap in 2005, measured on median earnings, stood at 41 per cent. In 2006, a study by the Chartered Management Institute found male earnings growing at a faster rate than their female counterparts, this despite the fact that women were found to be enjoying faster career progression. The Equal Opportunities Commission estimates that the average woman will lose or forgo £300,000 over her lifetime as a result of the gender pay gap. Can the Minister say whether recommendations made by the Women and Work Commission in its report Shaping a Fairer Future in February 2006 have been followed and monitored by the Government? Does she agree that while the Work and Families Act 2006 that recently came into force extends the right to request flexible working hours, particularly for women, often many employers, especially the smaller ones, find this approach difficult, and it often deters employers from taking on women, particularly those with family responsibilities? Will the Minister say what more the Government are doing to ensure that both employers and female employees are provided with better flexibility?

We know that the basis of earnings impacts on the provision of pensions and, while Britain as a country is wealthy, 1,840,000 pensioners—two-thirds of this number being women—live in poverty. For every £1 a man receives, a woman receives just 32p. Poor access to pension schemes, high entry thresholds and limited portability are just some of the factors that hinder women in purchasing pension provision. The Pensions Act 2008 will come to address some of the issues, but most of those measures will not come into effect until much later. Will the Minister ask the Government to simplify the pension credit? Half of the 1.7 million pensioners who do not claim the pension credit they are entitled to—a great many of them women—are living in poverty.

There are 6 million unpaid carers in the UK. Approximately £57 billion per year is saved by the state. A quarter of all women aged between 45 and 64 are carers of adults and 1.7 million female carers also do paid work. Again, due to the nature of the work—often low paid, often part time—this has a knock-on effect on earnings and pensions. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to address the really serious issue of ensuring that social care is given the same level of priority as healthcare? Often, it is accessing support, particularly respite care, that many people find difficult. With an ageing population—people are living longer and, statistically, women are living longer than men—surely it is time to have a serious think about how we look at the funding of both health and social care?

According to the British Crime Survey 2006, 363,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported. We can only imagine how many incidents went unreported. Eighty per cent of domestic violence victims are women. One in four is estimated to experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In monetary terms, the overall cost is approximately £25 billion per year.

The Government have estimated that approximately 750,000 children witness domestic violence each year. These statistics reveal an unacceptable situation. Is the Minister able to assure the House that the Government will seriously look at ensuring that access to services is both universal and consistent across Great Britain? Can the Minister also say what is being done in terms of ensuring that children and young people are able to report incidents to trained staff in schools? Can the Minister say why, when children make up two-thirds of the refugee population, the Supporting People funding regime does not include funding for children's services?

Linked to services, can the Minister say what is being done by the Government to ensure that immigrant females are better protected? Such women are unable to access statutory support. Section 12 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 has yet to come into force. The Government have targeted 1st July. Can the Minister say what progress has been made on that part of the Act? I am happy to be corrected if what I have said is not the case.

I know that your Lordships are united in wishing to see an end to the mental and physical abuse of women. Recently, my right honourable friend David Cameron said, in a speech in Bradford, that forced marriages were unacceptable and that we all needed to do more to ensure that those in danger from these marriages are given better protection and support. Can the Minister say whether schools and colleges across Great Britain—particularly in areas where there are large populations of communities that are often at the heart of the problem—are putting up information posters and have appropriately trained staff to assist young people, particularly girls and young women, if they feel that they are being pressured into such marriages? Can the Minister say whether the Forced Marriage Unit has both financial support and the trained support of staff?

A study by Bradford Council of 1,000 boys and 1,000 girls with Muslim names found that, by secondary school, there were still 1,000 boys but the girls' numbers had dwindled to 860. A report entitled Where have all the Girls Gone? by Philip Balmforth, a former inspector with West Yorkshire Police, believes the girls are taken out of the country for forced marriages.

There are instances of domestic violence in families of ethnic minority communities, committed to preserving family honour, including honour killings. Strict control over the lives of women and girls in the name of honour is both wrong and needs to be challenged vigorously. No one should accept that this is part of their culture and thus do nothing. It is difficult to establish the true figures for murder and violence, as many are stated as suicide or people in those communities are often too frightened to seek help. If their communities choose to turn a blind eye, we simply cannot.

It is estimated that 47,000 women in England and Wales are raped each year. The majority of these rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. The conviction rate has dropped from 33 per cent in 1977 to 5.7 per cent in 2005. Just 5 per cent of rape cases reported to the police result in conviction. Will the Minister comment on why figures for conviction are dropping? Are support centres for rape declining in numbers because of inconsistent funding by the Government? Can the Minister clarify whether rape crisis centres will continue to receive funding? It is an important assurance, because in 2007 they were informed that their grants from the Government's victims' fund would not be renewed.

Finally, although celebrating International Women's Day does make us reflect on what we have achieved for women in some countries, we must never lose sight of the many who do not enjoy the same freedoms of expression. Many in the world live in fear for their life—beatings, torture, death—if they speak out or disobey. I mentioned honour killings and forced marriages. Happily, we can, if we know, seek to protect those under threat here, and that message must have the full force of all political support behind it; but if we allow practices so vile to creep into our society because we are loath to offend the communities in which they are practised, we effectively send a signal of acceptance elsewhere in the world. The human rights of all should be fought for. Regardless of whether it is our neighbour here or thousands of miles away, we need to unite in our opposition to violence and oppression of any kind. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "If you educate a woman, you educate a village, and that educates a nation".

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:01, 6 March 2008

My Lords, this has been a fantastic debate and I feel deeply privileged to be attempting to reply to as many of the contributions as I possibly can. Like other noble Lords, I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Gould, not only for all her work over so many years to support the efforts of others but for her own work to ensure that the cause of equality for women, and all that goes alongside it, is enhanced at every opportunity.

I also pay tribute to the two maiden speakers. I remember only too well what it felt like when I stood up and thought, "This is it. Now I have to make my speech". But maiden speeches are also an interesting moment for noble Lords, because we get to hear something about the individual rather than a purely political speech, controversial or not. It was a rare treat to hear about the lives of the two maiden speakers, not only about the small village in India which I know the noble Lord, Lord Stern, studied but about the journeys that both noble Lords and their families have made to find themselves here today. Their speeches also celebrated difference, an issue on which I suspect we will hear much more from the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar. On behalf of everyone in the House I congratulate both of them on their speeches. Congratulations are particularly appropriate when one has arrived on a train that has caught fire. That is above and beyond the call.

We also had great opening speeches from both Front Benches, from the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, both of whom did not make the mistake of missing out references to their wives. I pay tribute to them and to the other men who spoke—some with quite a bit of trepidation, which, knowing what they are usually like in debate, always makes me smile. We also had some incredible contributions from the women in your Lordships' House, on subjects ranging from the practical to the philosophical—stories of real life, and quite often stories from the women who did it. One of the great joys of being in your Lordships' House is having the opportunity to be among the women who made the reality of the life I lead. I pay tribute to all of them. I pay tribute, too, to the right reverend Prelate, who worries that some of us might wish to be on his Benches. It is just that we fancy the frock, actually. Like other noble Lords, I look forward to the day when women, too, grace the right reverend Prelate's Benches; but I take nothing away from the important contribution that he made today.

My noble friend Lord Haskel said that these debates are a bit like an annual report, and in a sense my noble friend Lady Gould began by reporting on the Government's priorities for the future. I should like briefly to recap those priorities, which the Minister for Women and Equality published in July. Supporting families was a big theme in today's debate—particularly bringing up children, caring for older and disabled relatives, tackling violence against women and improving how we deal with women who commit crimes. Reference was made to my noble friend Lady Corston's important report, which has been discussed in other debates your Lordships' House, and to empowering black and minority ethnic women to build cohesion within their communities and as a bridge between communities.

Those are the priorities my right honourable friend Harriet Harman has set out but I also want to report a little on how far we have come in the past year. In July we established the Government Equality Office which we hope will strengthen further the ability to deliver across the entire equalities agenda. In April 2007 we introduced the gender equality duty which requires public sector bodies proactively to promote gender equality of opportunity. We have decided to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of older children. There is a review underway as we speak to consider what the new cut-off age for the child should be but we will extend it. The Equality and Human Rights Commission opened its doors for business in October last year and I pay tribute to all those involved in it. It will challenge unlawful discrimination and help to protect individuals' rights to fair treatment. The adult national minimum wage was increased in October 2007 to £5.52 an hour and yesterday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced a further rise to £5.73 this autumn. Noble Lords know only too well the importance of the minimum wage for helping the poorest women in our society. It will have risen by 60 per cent since it was first introduced. The working mother's statutory maternity pay, statutory adoption pay and maternity allowance increased from 26 weeks to 39 weeks in April 2007. We also increased the flat rate for maternity pay from £55.70 a week in 1997 to £112.75 a week in April 2007 so that has doubled in 10 years.

These are important elements of the Government's strategy but they are by no means the end. I look forward over the coming years to working with noble Lords to demonstrate how much more the Government wish to do. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I am extremely pleased that the Conservative Party has discovered that it wishes to be the party of women. This is against a backdrop of the Conservatives voting against all of the key measures that the Labour Party has introduced to improve women's lives. In fact Mr Cameron criticised and voted against the plan to give fathers more paternity leave, although I am pleased to say he took advantage of it himself. He has indicated that although flexible working is important, he sees it as a way of making substantial potential savings for the Exchequer, such as through a decrease in the need for childcare provision. So there is more for all of us to do but there is a lot more for some of us to do.

I want to try and deal with some of the questions that have been asked of me by pulling together the different issues raised and attempting to give as much information as I can with the proviso that I will make sure that what I have missed is dealt with by correspondence. There were issues around employment and pay and around education and opportunity. I want to start with part of a speech that I found yesterday which might cheer up the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It was made during the equal pay discussions in 1970 and the person speaking said this:

"We should not delude ourselves by thinking that equal pay for women, or even increasing pay for women if it does not come to equal take-home pay, necessarily means equal opportunities. There is still a great deal of work to be done in that respect to enable women to have the jobs which their qualifications would warrant".—[Hansard, Commons, 9/2/70; col. 1025.]

That person was Mrs Margaret Thatcher, then MP for Finchley. I mention it as a tribute to the way in which women have come together to look at the issues of equal pay.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friends Lady Dean and Lady Lockwood, to whom I pay tribute for the work that she has done, referred to the issues of women's employment and the pay gap. The pay gap is down from 17.4 per cent in 1997 to 12.6 per cent. We are committed to a further reduction and for the first time ever there is a PSA target to reduce the pay gap. I have indicated the importance of the national minimum wage in helping to narrow that pay gap. The Low Pay Commission said:

"The minimum wage has had a major impact, substantially reducing the pay gap at the very bottom of the earnings distribution".

My noble friend Lord Young talked about agency workers in the broadest context. He will know that the Prime Minister is committed to trying to deal with this issue, either at a European level or domestically. I know that he will be interested in and aware of the concerns my noble friend has in the context of women and, indeed, of fair trade and trade, which I shall come on to say a little more about.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who has done an enormous amount, talked about women's enterprise. She will know that we have established the Women's Enterprise Task Force to accelerate the levels of female entrepreneurship and are working with our key partners—for example, regional development agencies—so that we can support women's enterprise with a network of 1,000 women entrepreneur ambassadors. Like the noble Baroness, I pay tribute to Enterprise Insight, Girls! Make Your Mark, which is a campaign I know about, and the work of Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt, who has done so much on this issue. It is an extremely important campaign.

Apprenticeships also have their part to play. My noble friend Lord Young raised this subject. My noble friend Lady Gale spoke about women plumbers, which resonated with what my noble friend Lord Young had said, and about the importance of apprenticeships. I was surprised to learn that it is harder to get a British Telecom apprenticeship than it is to get into Cambridge, but these are important opportunities, not just for young people, which should be extended and expanded across the range. My right honourable friend John Denham is looking at what we can do to expand apprenticeships, how we can be more creative in thinking about them to ensure that different people, particularly women, see them as something that they can achieve through and how we can celebrate the achievements of those who gain apprenticeships. My noble friend Lady Gale talked about specific projects. I would be grateful if she would give the details to me; my noble friend Lady Morgan, in her new role on skills, would be the relevant person to look at those issues.

We also talked about higher education. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Giddens for the trip around Beatrice Webb and for raising the issues of how we make sure we have enough women in academia and how we recognise women who are now attaining at the highest possible levels in education but still need to see that reflected in what happens to them beyond it. Universities are independent bodies and I look forward to them taking the opportunity to make sure that they recruit and retain women and find ways in which women can have flexible working to enable them to reach the highest echelons of university life.

My noble friend Lady Howells talked about the work of the commission and the importance of streamlining legislation. I could not agree more. That is very important. She also spoke about the importance of supporting minority ethnic women. Like my noble friend, I pay tribute to my predecessor, who was and remains an important figure not only in your Lordships' House but in the life of this country and internationally, where she is well known for her work and is held in the highest regard. Getting legislation streamlined will be an important part of how we deliver more effectively in the world of equality. I agree with my noble friend about supporting minority ethnic women in particular. I was fortunate to be at the birth of the Windsor Fellowship, which specifically sought to support young undergraduate men and women from minority ethnic groups. I thought that it was extremely successful. I hope that through the gender duty we will see some improvements in this area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a specific question about the review on sex and relationship education. I am told that it will cover all aspects, including how such education is delivered in schools. It is being conducted by my honourable friend Jim Knight. If the noble Baroness would like to write to him with her thoughts and views on it, I am sure that he will be pleased to receive them.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about sport. How long have you got? Like the noble Lord, but without his knowledge and expertise, I can talk at length on all the issues about why girls do not participate. I agree about diversity of provision in schools and opportunities for young girls to have the chance to do dance, aerobics, table tennis, hockey or anything else that they wish. That is true for young people in general. When I was responsible for school sports, I used to say that I thought that we could make them dress better for sport. There are issues about what girls are expected to wear, particularly young teenagers. That was something I felt strongly about in terms of not putting them off being involved in sport.

There are issues about young girls and young men making the transfer from school sports into adult clubs. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been trying to address that for some time and I hope that we have made some progress on it. One aspect of the Olympics—I am fortunate enough to know two girls who will participate in the Olympics that we will host in London; one of them will also be at the Beijing Olympics—is the opportunity for young girls and men to be able to make that transition more easily. I hope that that will be one of the legacies. I could have told noble Lords about school participation rates, but I do not have any information on them, so I was only kidding.

We have a public service agreement to increase the take-up of opportunities by people aged 16 and over by 3 per cent, which includes women and girls. That may make some difference. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in November last year:

"Sport needs to change so that it becomes as much a place for women and girls as it is for men and boys; exercise should be something all women can integrate into their everyday lives and we need a cultural change that allows girls to see sport and physical activity as aspirational".

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my right honourable friend would agree with every word of that.

Noble Lords spoke around a range of issues that I have loosely categorised as choice, which covers all aspects of how women can make choices in their lives: flexible working, child care, the issues raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester about his daughter—which I have described as "It's a man's world"—celebrating differences, as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said, and, as my noble friend Lord Haskel said, being victims of circumstances that affect women's lives, whether that is having to look after elderly parents, having young children and so on.

On the last, I begin with a quotation from Harriet Taylor Mill on the enfranchisement of women, which was written in the Westminster Review in 1851. It fits in with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said in his opening remarks about choice. Harriet Taylor Mill stated:

"We deny the right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion or any individual for another individual what is and is not their proper sphere. The proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest which they are able to attain to. What this is cannot be ascertained without complete liberty of choice".

I agree with all the sentiments expressed in that.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for all the work that she has done on carers. We know that demographic changes in our society, referred to by a number of noble Lords, and the increasing incidence of childhood disability coupled with longevity, lead to an increasing reliance on the work of people caring for family members. There are 4.27 million carers of working age in Great Britain, 2.4 million of whom are women. Sixty-six per cent of male carers of working age are in full-time work; for women, the figure is only 32 per cent. I agree with my noble friend that we have to review the strategy for carers and produce, as we intend, a 10-year plan to set out the proposals to improve support for those who care. That review is under way and will report to us in the spring. I am sure that noble Lords will be interested in hearing about it.

We should remind ourselves of the work of young carers, often girls, for whom I had responsibility. The age profile of a young carer is 11. That can sometimes lead to a lack of opportunities for boys and girls who cannot then fulfil themselves educationally because they simply have too much to do. It is important that schools support young carers, who, especially if their parents are mentally ill, often feel reluctant to talk about the issues with anyone.

Flexible working was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Verma, the right reverend Prelate and others. It has been a great success. It has certainly had an impact: 56 per cent of employees—that is, 14 million—work flexibly or have done so within the past 12 months. Forty per cent of men and 78 per cent of women with children under the age of six have requested to work flexibly. As I indicated, a review of what the cut-off age should be is taking place, because it has been raised with us that older children, too, would benefit very much from parents having that right. Noble Lords who have spoken to those who have worked flexibly will know how valuable it is. It is an especially important aspect of what we have been able to offer to lone parents, who have been able to work perhaps in term time or to alter their hours.

The right reverend Prelate was concerned about the tax benefit system. He will know that, from April 2009, it will benefit 6 million families and 10 million children. Any family with children with an income of less than £58,000 is eligible for some tax credit support, usually paid to the main carer, who is usually the mother. We believe that that is an important aspect of what we do. I take nothing away from what has been said about the importance of family; I simply remind noble Lords that there is a diversity of family and that what matters for children is to be brought up in a loving, caring environment by those who can support them in the best possible way.

Pensions are an important issue. I hesitate even to go there with my noble friend Lady Hollis in the Chamber. Noble Lords made much of the importance of the pension credit. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was concerned that we should look at it and make sure that it is working as effectively as it might. The Pensions Bill is coming through but we have already made reforms that make it much easier to build up the full entitlement to state pension for women who are working or caring today. We believe that that will take almost half a million more women to full entitlement by 2025. We estimate that what is in the current Pensions Bill will enable 3.5 million to 4 million women to be automatically enrolled into a workplace pension scheme, which for many will be the first time they will have gained access to such a scheme.

I accept that social care and respite care are real issues with which we will have to deal. I do nothing more at this stage other than note them with interest. I will make sure that we think about them and come back to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, on them.

We then moved to a group of issues that are, in a sense, about the tragedies of women's lives—the horrors of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, prostitution, trafficking and forced marriages. My noble friend Lady Gould spoke about violence, particularly domestic violence. We know that it accounts for 16 per cent of all violent crime and we know that with 30 per cent of victims it starts and escalates during pregnancy. We know that it costs services £3.1 billion and the economy £2.7 billion, but the human and emotional cost is incalculable. The pain and suffering, outside what it costs the services, we calculate at £17 billion a year.

Much is going on in the domestic violence strategy. We are working with midwives because of the escalating problem in pregnancy. We are also working to provide independent support for women, so that they feel enabled to deal with the problem before it escalates out of control, and we are working to rescue them. Very important work is going on, but there is more to do, of course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked about the implementation of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act. We are implementing Section 9 in the summer of 2008. Section 12 is more problematic and will take time to implement. I am sure that that does not surprise the noble Baroness, but we need to look at when we can do it as soon as possible.

It is important that there are initiatives across the issue and that children who are witnessing domestic violence are supported and able to go and tell professionals. Certainly when I was one of the Ministers responsible for considering how to tackle this problem, we were looking to provide expertise and support so that schools would have somewhere to go should a child come to them and say, "I have a problem at home because my mom"—very occasionally "my dad", but usually "my mom"—"is being beaten up by my dad", or her partner; we wanted to ensure that the school was able to deal with the problem. That is an important aspect and I support all those who said that we should do more in that area.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the funding for the sexual assault services. We are spending about £3 million to extend the sexual assault referral centres. There are currently 20; we have plans for 40. We are piloting independent advisers in the UK and providing funding for the victims fund to help voluntary organisations to provide additional support. The reporting of rape has increased from 6,628 in 1997 to 13,780 in 2006-07. We believe that this is because victims have more confidence in coming forward, which is very important. But I hear what noble Lords have said about making sure that we translate reporting into people being convicted and punished for their crimes.

My noble friend Lady Rendell has been consistent in making sure that the issue of female genital mutilation has stayed on the agenda in your Lordships' House and beyond. Although today she talked about other issues, which I shall come on to, I want to pay tribute to her for that. Noble Lords will know that we are putting funding into the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development to ensure that we do as much as we can to protect people here, to support the work that is going on to prevent FGM from happening abroad and to prevent people from being taken from this country for that purpose.

We are looking to reintroduce the prostitution provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill when we are able to and in the mean time to encourage services and schemes that seek to divert individuals away from the criminal justice system and into routes out of prostitution. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, talked about trafficking, as did the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We are accelerating our plans to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings; we want to make sure that we have the necessary legislation and procedural changes in place before the end of the year. That is part of a much wider strategy, however. The Poppy Project has of course been a major part of the work that we have done. The dedicated Human Trafficking Centre was launched in October 2006. We are making sure that legislation suitably criminalises the activities.

Forced marriage is an issue on which I spent a lot of time when we translated the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, into a government Bill, with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I know that the noble Lord cannot be with us today; I think that he is in Strasbourg. There was also support in another place, where the Conservative Party enabled us to get that Bill on to the statute book in record time. I think that it was the fifth Bill ever converted from a Private Member's Bill into a government Bill. It got through the House in record time and I pay tribute to all those involved. For that reason, I was surprised to hear Mr Cameron talking about criminalisation. I say to my noble friend Lady Dean that we spent a huge amount of time talking with victims of forced marriage and all the experts whom we could find to see whether we should go down the criminal or civil route. I visited young women in a refuge and talked to them at great length about the kind of things that would make a difference. The universal view was that we should use the civil courts because, despite everything, they did not wish to see their families criminalised. That was the route that we took. Of course we need to keep this under review, but that was important.

By the way, this is not an issue for just one community. It covers a variety of communities and it used to happen in this country in the time of Shakespeare and beyond. It involves Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, African, South American and eastern European communities. It is prevalent right across the spectrum of communities in this country. The Forced Marriages Unit, to which I pay tribute, does an incredible amount of work. It takes 5,000 calls a year and helps 400 people a year. It is important that we should support it. It is also important to provide information in schools, just as it was important in India to provide information in the communities. The young people whom I met who had been victims said that they often went to talk to young people not of their own culture. It is important to educate children in schools who are not of the cultures that I have just listed or beyond; we should educate all young people. They can then go to their friends and their friends will know what to do.

My noble friend Lady Rendell talked about Sharia law, which is a code of religious law. This is not part of the law of England and Wales and we have no intention of making any change that would conflict with British laws and values. That said, provided that an activity prescribed by Sharia law does not contravene the laws of England and Wales, there is nothing in our law that prevents people from abiding by it if they want to. It is not part of our law, but I understand the issues that my noble friend was raising.

The noble Lord, Lord Stern, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke with great passion about international issues and the important matter of women in conflict. I agree with the noble Baroness that women are particularly vulnerable in conflict situations and have no recourse to law. I do not have time to go through all the different issues that affect them. As an aside, I think that women have an important role to play when we get to peace-building and reconstruction efforts. On the need to involve them, we are funding the UNIFEM programme of supporting women's engagement in peace building and preventing sexual violence in conflict. We have contributed £3.8 million to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations to look at issues such as women's participation in elections, support for women in civil society and gender-based violence. I agree that there is more to do.

The noble Baroness also raised, with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, the issues of HIV and AIDS. In 2007, 61 per cent of adults with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa were women. We are the second largest donor on HIV/AIDS; we have committed £1.5 billion in the past three years. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, about the link between providing services on maternal and sexual health and providing services for AIDS. That is happening in a number of countries. I do not have the details before me, except to say that I know that such initiatives are contributing—and we are contributing to make sure that that happens.

It is of course important to deal with issues of maternal mortality. The figure that I have is that 529,000 women die each year, although the noble Baroness had a higher figure. None the less, the figures are far too high; it does not really matter what they are. Most of these deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

On women in Iraq, we have committed £10 million through the Iraqi civil society fund and the political participation fund to support particularly marginalised and vulnerable groups, which clearly include women.

The noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford, talked about developing policies made in developing countries. I could not agree more. The impact of climate change is very important, although I hesitate to tell the noble Lord things that he knows better than I do. Women's livelihoods are more vulnerable as a consequence of climate change. Women are likely to be dependent on natural resources. They are likely to be responsible for nutrition, for water and for energy. That is why DfID will put in £100 million during the next five years to make sure that we fill our knowledge gap with how to support those people affected and make sure that we look at the effects on the most vulnerable in our world, of which women will be an important element, of course

Perhaps I may end by returning to something that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said about how we see ourselves—how men see us and how women see themselves. My noble friend Lord Giddens talked about the reticence of women to promote themselves. I have to say that all the women in the Chamber nodded at that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked about barristers becoming judges. I can tell her, from memory, that 50 per cent of young barristers who come through each year are women. The traditional tapping on the shoulder or recruiting in one's own image has been a barrier that we have, I hope, removed—not least in relation to the Judicial Appointments Commission, which is so ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about sport and body image and the responsibility of celebrity, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The role of the fashion industry was also referred to. It is important that we develop policies to deal with those. My noble friend Lord Haskel talked about women who do not ask for the right salaries at the beginning and who may never catch up as a consequence. Those are real issues that we as women have to address in terms of our own image of ourselves and of how we think men see us.

However, we have come a long way. My noble friend Lady Lockwood talked about the cases in which she had been involved. We know about women in public life. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has appointed the first female Home Secretary and the first female Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and we have the first female Attorney-General. The Leaders of both Houses are women; two out of three Chief Whips in this House are women. Move over David, if you are listening to this. Of course, this weekend my right honourable friend is meeting a number of prominent women to look at the whole question of international women's issues, including the millennium development goals. I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we have extended all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates until 2030. That was announced by my right honourable friend today.

I end with a quotation from Emmeline Pankhurst on the fight for suffrage—the battle between women and government. She said in 1913:

"Well, they little know what women are. Women are very slow to rouse, but once they are aroused, once they are determined, nothing on earth and nothing in heaven will make women give way; it is impossible".

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:34, 6 March 2008

My Lords, once again we have had a well informed and diverse debate reviewing the past year as regards the state of women in today's society. I sincerely thank all those who have taken part. I appreciate very much the fact that the two leaders opposite felt the debate important enough to contribute to it; we thank them very much for that.

I make special reference to the extremely powerful and eloquent speeches from our two maiden speakers. I greatly support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford, when he said that we have much to learn from the work that is being undertaken in some of the villages in developing countries. I have always believed that liaising and having dialogue with women from other countries, and learning from them, can help us to shape our policy considerations on many issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, charmingly outlined growing up as a Muslim woman and her first experience on arrival in this country. I am delighted that she joined the barricades in our campaign to achieve women's equality. We know that we can rely on her working with us in the future.

The debate, as always, covered a wide range of issues, including gender equality, equal pay, women plumbers, women's health, forced marriages, Sharia law and so on. I congratulate my noble friend the Leader of the House on her comprehensive reply to the debate. She managed to cover all the issues raised and to answer many of the questions that she was asked. That is a real accomplishment, for which I am sure we all thank her. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.