Women: Economic Crisis — Debate

– in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 12th March 2009.

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Moved By Baroness Gould of Potternewton

To call attention to the role of women in the global economic crisis; and to move for Papers.

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Labour 11:39 am, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I am delighted that, once again, we are having a debate to commemorate International Women's Day and that so many noble Lords are taking part. This shows the importance that is attributed to the subject. While I appreciate that the majority of contributions will revolve around the position of women in the UK, the recession is global. We must not see ourselves in isolation, but also understand the differential impact that the economic downturn will have on women internationally.

I declare an interest as chair of the Women's National Commission. In that role, I formed part of the recent UK delegation to New York to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, from where I have just returned. The discussions that took place there on the effects of the global economic crisis for developing countries focused on the serious gender-specific consequences for women in poor countries: on girls becoming more vulnerable because they have been taken out of school as households cope with declining household income; on the effects on women's health; and on the almost inevitable increase in infant mortality. In a UN agency communiqué last weekend, it was estimated that women's employment will soar. This was further endorsed by the International Labour Organisation, which stated that, while gender inequality in the world of work has long been with us, it will be exacerbated by the crisis. It estimates that the number of unemployed women will rise by 22 million in this year alone and is looking for creative solutions to address that gender gap. The commitment by the Department for International Development to provide gender-specific funding is unparalleled and, following the Prime Minister's statement this week, I am confident that DfID's commitment to help women fulfil their economic potential and help girls into schools and women to healthcare will be maintained.

In the run-up to our visit to the UN commission this year, I met with Women's National Commission partners at a series of events in January and February to discuss women's advancement in a global setting. One of the questions we discussed was the impact of the economic downturn on women. I have heard from women in London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Northern Ireland and Wales, and the messages are all the same. Women are feeling increasingly vulnerable in these uncertain times because their wage packets are so important to the family income.

Many women expressed concern that job losses would increase poverty levels for women and, for women with caring responsibilities, the future is challenging. The obvious restrictions placed on women with childcare or eldercare commitments are likely to make it more difficult for them to find and keep employment as the number of jobs on offer will dwindle. This has serious implications for the families involved.

I am sure that we will all have read many articles on the causes and effects of the downturn in the economy but, apart from some notable women journalists and commentators, there has been no detailed analysis of the female dimension and the differing impacts on women. That is why the new government booklet Real Help Now for Women is going to be so valuable, as it recognises that while the global downturn affects women and men, it affects them in different ways.

Since the last recession, women's lives have changed dramatically. They have become more complex. However, at home, women are still more likely to be in their traditional, entrenched gender role of being responsible for the well-being of the family. It is still the case that women, in the main, will have to bear the brunt of any loss of income and are still the managers of the family budget. At work, they are more likely to work part-time, or to work flexibly, or be one of the extra 250,000 lone parents in employment compared to 1997. Fortunately, part-time workers and those on fixed-term contracts will benefit from the Government's introduction of giving them the same rights as full-time workers. These rights are crucial at a time when employers are more likely to focus on part-time workers when they need to make redundancies. Women still suffer from pay discrimination, at the same time as they are making a greater financial contribution to the family budget.

In a recent poll of public attitudes to the recession, it was revealed that women are more worried than men about how the downturn will affect their ability to pay the bills, and its consequences on the quality of family life. These facts in no way diminish the difficulties that men face on losing their jobs, which can be socially divisive. For some men the loss of a job can be traumatic and can lead almost to an identity crisis. The frustration of job loss, creating instability in their life, can be a recipe for violence in the home, and—as an aside—this is at a time when voluntary organisations and charities supporting women victims are having their budgets cut. To me, it makes social and economic sense to provide additional support at this time.

The long-hours culture means that fathers still do not spend sufficient time with their children. In 1961, it was estimated that men spent just three minutes a day with their children. Thirty-eight years later, it is still only 16 minutes a day. The long-hours culture also reinforces women's roles as the carer, be it for childcare or eldercare, or both, as a result of the "sandwich generation".

This is the first general rise in unemployment since the increase of women's participation in the labour market. Over the past 20 years women's employment rates have significantly increased, with 70 per cent of women at work in the UK, while for men there has been an overall reduction. But it is still a labour market constructed for a male family provider, to which women have had to adapt. In spite of the many improvements that the Government have made to ease that passage, the labour market is still polarised across gender.

Nevertheless, female employment is traditionally seen as being more resilient than men's, working, as women do, in sectors such as health, education and the care services. There is no evidence to date to suggest that that resilience has diminished. However, against that, we cannot ignore the fact that for the past 20 years the UK economy has been skewed towards the retail and service sectors—the development of which has coincided with the rise in female employment—now heavily affected by the downturn, coupled with the fact that, while occupational segregation remains strong, far more women are now working in a wider range of sectors than previously.

As we see, all these factors result in differences of view on whether women or men are facing, or could be facing, the highest levels of unemployment. On the one hand the TUC argues that unemployment rates show significant variation by gender, while on the other the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that women are not losing their jobs at a faster rate than men. There are also regional variations. For instance, since the start of the downturn, women's unemployment in the north-west has almost doubled the rate for male unemployment. In the south-east, 33,000 women were affected by the closure of Lehman Brothers, but in the Midlands women's unemployment remains relatively low. Given the complexity surrounding the figures, we have to look beyond the statistics at the reality. Women are more likely to be employed in occupations where workplaces are smaller, in retail, care and personal services, where redundancies are under the radar and not likely to be recorded. But that does not mean that they are not happening. For instance, when two women are doing a job-share and both are made redundant, that is counted as one job loss. As redundancy moneys are paid only when an employee has been with a firm for two years or longer, women who have taken career breaks to raise children, or to care for relatives, may find themselves disproportionately vulnerable to being made redundant. Here again, these redundancies may not be recorded.

Women are also particularly vulnerable to discrimination due to pregnancy or taking maternity leave. Working Families has reported that it has been inundated with calls from women who are having problems at work because they are pregnant, are on maternity leave, or are in the process of returning from maternity leave, and are having flexible working requests turned down. Government research published in a Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform report on pregnancy discrimination states that 11 per cent of all women questioned thought that they had been unfairly treated as a result of their pregnancy, and that 3 per cent of all mothers felt compelled to leave their employment because of their treatment. Women were subjected to excessive workloads and unpleasant comments, and were discouraged from attending ante-natal clinics. This occurred in spite of it being unlawful to select pregnant women or women on maternity leave for redundancy on the basis of their pregnancy or maternity, and in spite of there being strong protections and other special measures against redundancy, including the right to be offered any suitable available vacancy and to be given written reasons for dismissal. The Government have made it clear that any discrimination as a result of pregnancy or maternity is not acceptable. I hope they will illustrate this by not shelving the commitment in the Queen's Speech to enhance maternity leave provision and tougher equality legislation.

Flexible working can, and already is, providing an alternative to redundancy, and must be maintained as the economy recovers. However, it is unclear whether the level of flexible working will decline or increase; some employers see it as a useful way to reduce the wage bill, while others may see straitened economic circumstances as a reason to refuse requests for flexible hours. As well as the other improvements in maternity and paternity arrangements, since flexible working for parents was introduced, 47 per cent of new mothers work flexibly—an increase of 30 per cent since 2002—and almost triple the number of new fathers have taken advantage of the flexible working option. That must continue. Any employer who is hesitant about flexible working should be made aware that all the evidence shows that, far from compromising business, it brings impressive business results through lower staff turnover, lower absenteeism and increased productivity. It is therefore right that the Government are continuing with their programme of increasing the level of flexible working for parents with children up to 16 years old, thereby sending a clear message to employers. There is a danger, however, that as jobs become scarce women will be reluctant to ask for a change of hours, even though employers have an obligation to provide a business reason for refusal.

One silver lining is the real advancement in female enterprise in the past 20 years; 34 per cent of the newly self-employed are women, assisted by the promotion and the development of women's enterprise as central to the Government's economic strategy. We must not lose that momentum. We look to the Government's continued support for and development of the Enterprise Strategy, established last year, as well as to the Aspire Fund working through Business Link to assist women who are thinking about setting up or growing their businesses. Encouragement also needs to be given to the banks to make sure that they do not discriminate against women in the provision of funding. If the banks are sensible, they will realise that women tend to be more risk-averse than men and are therefore more likely to provide steady but good growth.

Recent government announcements on enabling earlier access to Train to Gain and on new job subsidy measures are welcome, as are the commitments to create 100,000 new jobs and 35,000 new apprenticeships. It is crucial that women have equal access to the new training plans for those who have been out of work for six months, and there cannot be job segregation and age discrimination in apprenticeships. It is equally crucial that women are not forgotten in the Government's package of measures to assist those who have become unemployed—whether by helping with mortgages, tax cuts and tax credits—because many women will not have had the ability to save and may face the risk of immediate poverty. The economy needs women's skills, but all too often women are in jobs well below their capabilities, and there is now opportunity for women to be retrained into occupations that make full use of their abilities. Failing to invest in women's development is bad economics. We must ensure that economic stimulus packages promote fairness and help those at the bottom of the pile, who are mainly women.

In conclusion, equality and an absence of discrimination are the hallmarks of a modern, civilised society, but at a time of recession, women are less likely to challenge discrimination when it occurs. Therefore, pursuing the equalities agenda and the provisions of the forthcoming equality Bill are even more important, as is keeping the impact of the recession on families and women at the forefront of the political agenda. Women will be looking to the G20 summit, to understand the necessity of protecting women's rights, maternity rights and provisions which have made it possible for women to play a key role in the economy of countries around the world. If the gender aspect of the economic crisis is ignored, it could jeopardise those advancements, threaten women's move to economic independence and make families more vulnerable through the loss of household income.

Now is the opportunity to review the relative position between women's and men's employment, to develop women's skills and talents, to promote flexible working, to increase women's participation in decision-making, to promote women's rights and further to advance the removal of unfair and discriminatory practices.

It is a moment to redefine the agenda and to move towards a more just and equitable economic order. This is a defining moment—a moment that will test our commitment to the long-held principles of social justice and equality.

While there is no perfect answer to this complex situation, the answer, for women, does not lie in turning the clock back. We must make sure that that is not allowed to happen. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Baroness Hogg Baroness Hogg Conservative 11:56 am, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on initiating this debate and on making such a powerful and wide-ranging contribution to start us off. I admit that momentarily I had a problem with the title: to discuss the "role" of women in this financial crisis seemed to me initially to imply that they were thought either to be the cause, which would be preposterous, or the cure, which would be presumptuous. I am not tempted to imagine that the credit crunch is simply the consequence of too much testosterone in the boardroom and the Cabinet Room. So we should not leap to what Management Today, somewhat tongue in cheek, dubbed the "Icelandic solution" of giving women the pooper-scoopers and asking them to sort out the mess.

That argument was based on a good deal of research, which was alluded to by the noble Baroness, purporting to demonstrate that women are more risk averse than men. An aversion to risk is highly regarded now, in theory—although in practice we are having to take huge risks with economic policy to correct the mistakes of those who believed that they had abolished boom and bust.

I think we women should beware of seeing this research as flattering and of swallowing it wholesale because it often comes with the implication that women are less entrepreneurial. I am glad to say that, if that were ever true, we have powerful evidence that things have been changing. In the context of this debate, I, like the noble Baroness, am more concerned to focus not on cause or cure but on consequences.

If noble Lords will forgive me—the noble Baroness rightly set a global context—I will concentrate on the UK. Like her, I think that the key issue here is whether a severe recession will reverse progress. We should not make too much of gender—men are also, as she acknowledged, suffering severe damage to their careers. In the UK at the moment, their unemployment rate is higher than that for women. However, the statistics are not entirely reliable because women are more likely than men to disappear into the statistical wilderness of so-called economic inactivity.

There is evidence that the rising generation of career women is categorically different from its predecessors in terms of management ambition and entrepreneurship. It would be a tragedy if this ambition were lost. There is now also a wealth of female talent in the mezzanine layer of corporate management. I hope that it will increasingly find its way on to company boards. I am proud to be part of more than one programme that is designed to encourage that. One piece of gender evidence that resonates strongly with me is that boards function best when they combine skills and aptitudes, and a gender mix contributes to that. Here I should declare an interest: I have direct experience of this at 3i, where we were unusual among quoted companies in having three women out of a total of nine board members—and no tokenism about it.

I fear that the recession puts these advances at risk. I spend a certain amount of time talking to senior women in financial services and they all give the same message of concern. Morale is low, given the constant battering from the press and the Government. Politicians of all kinds should be careful when criticising certain senior bankers, not to make the hundreds of thousands of people who work for them feel like pariahs, too. It is not surprising if those carrying the most strain in terms of combining motherhood and career are opting out, particularly as organisations feeling the strain are often less able to be flexible in work arrangements. If many able women disappear from financial services, a huge talent pool will be lost.

We also need to ensure that new women entrepreneurs are not lost. There is much talk of setting up a new institution to support entrepreneurship, rather as the forerunner to 3i, the ICFC, was set up in the 1940s. If I may share a word of experience as chairman of 3i, the key ingredient for such an initiative is not money but skilled and experienced equity investors. If the aim is simply to make funds available, the banks will perform the function in the form of loans. What entrepreneurs want from equity investors is experience, networks and access to markets. This is the function that 3i carries out in the biggest part of its business, which is the supply of growth capital. Unlike much of private equity, these are not leveraged investments; they involve the taking of sizeable minority stakes in order to help businesses through important stages of development—for example, when they wish to step up to the challenge of accessing global markets. This is distinct from start-up investment, which is best left to serial sector-specific, early-stage investors. However, it is crucial to the growth of the new big businesses and employers: what the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, yesterday evening rightly called the "world-beaters of the future". Therefore, I believe that 3i can play a vital role in economic recovery, and I hope and believe that it will assist in the current critical task of nurturing entrepreneurs of both sexes.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs , Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 12:01 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, who in her life and career has been a trailblazer and an inspiration to women. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. As I have said before, when in my youth I worked at the Labour Party headquarters, a request from the noble Baroness had the strength of a royal command, so I am very pleased to respond to her invitation to take part in today's debate.

I have previously declared my interest in the topic in that I have a 13 year-old daughter. I reflect that her life chances at the beginning of the 21st century are in strong contrast to those of my mother, who had to leave school at 13 when her own mother died in childbirth at the age of 35. So we have made progress. We see it in more women in both Houses of Parliament, in senior jobs, and in business and the professions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, has just reminded us. Society has changed, and changed for the better.

Yet the facts also show that within three years of leaving university with similar qualifications, a pay gap appears between male and female graduates. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, reminded us, employers still see potential motherhood as a deterrent to employing or promoting women. In our newspapers, we see far too many cases of rampant sexism still making the headlines in reputable city offices and law firms. So let us celebrate the progress made but be aware of the mountains yet to climb. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, emphasised, we are about to test the durability of that progress at home and abroad.

Recent opinion polls show women to be more pessimistic about their personal economic prospects. That is with good reason, for women are more likely to be in part-time and unskilled jobs and in the sectors hit hardest by the recession. For women seeking jobs, there is a real need for specific and targeted assistance in the form of both guidance and training and retraining opportunities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, emphasised, women should be encouraged, so if the Government are to take initiatives in green technologies, the training for jobs in those technologies should be open to women on an equal basis.

There has to be a co-ordinated approach. How can we create pathways back into work following a child break? How can we best enable mature women to get back into the labour market after a long break? Further, how can we encourage more women, particularly those from non-white backgrounds, to put themselves forward for top positions in our society—for example, as MPs, barristers, executive directors and other top-echelon positions in business? We face not only those challenges, but that of encouraging girls at school to undertake subjects more traditionally studied by boys, which are often the gateway to such jobs.

Another problem we shall have to face in this recession is the impact on debt. Figures show that women are less likely to get into debt but, when they do, they are more vulnerable to loan sharks and other high-interest solutions. The other day, my colleague in another place, Chris Huhne, raised the issue of doorstep callers who offer loans often at the highest interest rates. There is a need for specific and targeted advice. Over-indebtedness disproportionately affects women as lone parents, carers, low-paid workers and those with fluctuating work patterns. There is a need for closer supervision of doorstep loan providers and more oversight of loan offers made in newspapers and on television.

How can the Government act to tackle the gender pay gap, pensions gap and the inequalities caused by part-time working? What advice can we give to those affected by debt through the citizens advice bureaux and other institutions? How can we ensure that women are better informed about their rights and legal position in relationships? My noble friend Lord Lester is bringing forward a Private Bill on civil partnerships which will address that.

Turning to the third-world aspect, the report Because I am a Girl pointed out, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said, that girls are more vulnerable, particularly in times of conflict, disaster and when families are poor. That report states that:

"girls are still less likely to go to school than boys, and are more likely to be illiterate and innumerate".

It is also true that girls are often married younger, work longer hours for less pay and are more likely to be poor. Against that background, they face a financial crisis in a developing world which faces dramatic cuts in economic growth and in investment, which will add to their problems.

We must maintain our aid programmes targeted at women. Literacy and numeracy programmes aimed at women impact on family health, family planning and on economic prospects. We have seen the impact of small-loan banking in Latin America and India on economic opportunities for women. Our multinationals operating in developing countries should be encouraged to include specific women's programmes in their corporate responsibility reports. Both at home and abroad, we must not tolerate cultural and religious entrenchment of discrimination against women.

Earlier this week, I went to a breakfast organised by the LSE which looked at the situation in Afghanistan and the north-west frontier of Pakistan. For me, the most frightening and disappointing aspect of that report was the targeted abuse of women. We may wonder whether we should pull out of Afghanistan, but the thought of leaving women to a situation where schools are closed and the teaching of women is seen as a capital crime is frightening. The problem is not only in far-away places. The most dispiriting thing I saw at a recent demonstration in Luton was not the young men shouting, but the young women, fully veiled in burkas, watching. I do not believe that cultural or religious behaviour should be used to justify abuse and discrimination against women.

We must be much more frank about that debate with those who claim to speak for Islam. What we realise from this debate, as I said at the beginning, is that although much progress has been made, we must not stop fighting for more.

Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 12:10 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, along with all other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for setting up this debate. In fact, if she did not set up this debate at this time each year, we would be absolutely confused; we would not know what was happening. I thank her again for giving us an opportunity to speak on a subject that, for many of us, is very dear to the heart.

I am pleased that the noble Baroness said that we should not confine our remarks to the United Kingdom but look at the life situation of women across the world. I thought that today I would share with your Lordships statistics that paint a picture of the lives of women and children, mostly in developing countries. From that, your Lordships will see that it is more than likely that they will not notice that there is a global recession. Their lives are so appalling that they will not actually see the difference in their daily lives because of this recession. The recession means something when you have something to lose. If you have nothing to lose, what does it mean to be in a recession?

I always start with the population factor. In 1950, we were 2.6 billion people on this planet. We are now 6.8 billion people. In the next 40 years, we will have 2.6 billion more people on this planet, 1.3 billion of whom will be in Africa. We need to think about that and about what it means in terms of food, water and everything else. Europe is anticipating a 14 per cent fall in population at the same time, so we can see that the situation here is completely opposite.

One woman dies every minute from pregnancy-related issues. Globally, 41 per cent of pregnancies are unwanted. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health held some hearings on maternal morbidity, or illnesses related to pregnancy. It is difficult to quantify exactly, but almost 20 women suffer from pregnancy-related illnesses for every woman who dies.

"If you save mothers, you improve the chances of children".

That is a quotation from Sarah Brown. It is self-evident but, unfortunately, it is not always followed. There is a direct correlation between high fertility and high child mortality, states the UN Economic Commission on Africa.

"The ability of women to control their own fertility is absolutely fundamental to women's empowerment and equality", states the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Between 2002 and 2008, the Bush Administration withheld a total of $235 million from UNFPA and the Administration are still spending money in Africa on teaching abstinence to young people.

Six million children die every year from malnutrition before they are five years old, having suffered a life of hunger and misery, states the WHO. There are 250 million child labourers worldwide aged between five and 14, states the ILO. India has more malnourished people than any other country in the world; according to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, 200 million people are hungry. In monetary terms, three-quarters of India's 1.2 billion people live on 30p a day. According to UNICEF, 40 per cent of Africans go hungry every night, an African child dies every six seconds from disease and extreme poverty and 43 per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa do not have safe, accessible drinking water. Two-thirds of the world's population will face moderate to high water shortages by 2025.

Children account for half of all civilian casualties in wars in Africa, and at least 28 wars have been fought in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1970s. In November 2008, it was reported that 1,500 people were dying in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo every day, according to the International Rescue Committee. Between 1996 and 2006, as many as 10 million female foetuses were aborted in India, which is one in 25. I might add that it is the women who perpetuate these things.

I see that I am running out of time, so I will not read the whole list. Seventy per cent of those suffering from HIV are women; this is a UN figure. Between 20 and 50 per cent of women in every country suffer from domestic violence. This applies to our part of the world as well. More women die from domestic violence than from disease and accidents. Worldwide, 100 million to 140 million girls and women are living with the consequences of female genital mutilation, again perpetuated by women. Not all women are sisters.

I have run out of time, but I hope that this gives noble Lords some idea of the lives of women who are far from thinking about the global recession, who have never had anything and who will never have anything. We have the MDGs, to which 187 countries have signed up. Has anyone heard what any of those countries has done? Eighty-nine global companies have signed up to the MDGs. Has anyone heard what they have done? There was a big meeting in September in New York. The "woman" word was hardly used at all. Only Denmark and Liberia, which has a feisty woman president, kept saying that the MDGs cannot be met, and cannot even start being met, unless we focus on women. This is the situation. Thank you for listening.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Labour 12:18 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, like everyone else, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate. She has given us this opportunity regularly in the past, but we have never before had it in such challenging circumstances. How splendid to be doing this on the day when women are to be admitted to the Royal Hospital Chelsea for the first time. It has only taken 300 years.

Not all my best friends are women. I count among those whom I love and respect many young men, such as my own inspiringly energetic and creative son, whose determination to think and live differently will help to shape the future, and many older ones such as colleagues in this House, whose wisdom steadies us in these difficult times. However, despite the scepticism expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, I cannot help but observe, watching the sorry parade of scapegoats held up to scorn before Select Committees, subjected to media savagery and, indeed, indicted at that well known judicial location, the court of public opinion, that all those people are men. This observation does not lead me to conclude that men are uniquely irresponsible, selfish or heedless of risk, and I do not say that women could not have behaved as recklessly. I simply say that they did not, perhaps because only rarely do they get near the levers of power that operate our financial systems. For evidence of this, I refer noble Lords to the Sex and Power2008 report, which I am sure others will mention. It all makes me wonder whether the hunter-gatherer tendency has not got a bit out of control.

Our thoughts and fears for the past many months have been focused on the shocking speed and profundity of the economic catastrophe that has overtaken us. We struggle to make sense not only of the implications for ourselves, our families and our communities in the short term—jobs, savings and pensions are all at risk—but also of what it tells us about the values by which we have been living our lives over the past generation and why we have allowed ourselves to be so seduced by the siren calls leading us to believe in continuous, unlimited growth and personal wealth. I quote William Wordsworth:

"The world is too much with us ...

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers".

Faced with the potentially ruinous state to which these aspirations have led us—I include in this the alarming predictions now unfolding in Copenhagen about the accelerating effects of climate change—we have surely to ask some hard questions about how we can rethink our collective ambition in less materialistic terms. Part, although only a part, of this must involve asking ourselves how we got into this mess and whether models of success based largely on the acquisition of wealth and status may have led us up the garden path and now need some serious review.

This is an issue about values, what we expect from and respect in ourselves and others, and how we embed those expectations in our communities and social and political institutions. If we take the view, as many now do, that we have an opportunity to move away from the individualism that has dominated our aspirations for the past 30 years and look for a kinder, less feverishly competitive approach to social organisation, we must support those who predominantly will be responsible for imbuing the next generation with more sustainable values. Those people, I submit, are mostly women, for it is through how we raise and educate our children that long-term change will be achieved and it is still women who take the lion's share of responsibility both for caring and for educating.

In saying this, I do not mean in the least to downplay the importance of the contribution made by men to parenting and education, but the plain facts are that, according to figures from the DCSF, women teachers make up approaching 70 per cent of the workforce in all schools and approximately 85 per cent of those engaged in nursery and primary teaching. Nearly all childcare, whether in nurseries, via childminders or nannies, or by a parent remaining at home, is provided by women. How they influence and guide the young people in their charge will determine, as surely as any fancy economics, what sort of society we can look forward to. Is it not therefore more than ever vital that we value their efforts and invest in their skills?

Is it not also vital that we begin to move away from thinking about education solely as a means to an end, whether that end be learning to read and write, passing exams or gaining employment, and come to recognise that engaging the imagination of children, especially when they are very young, is an essential part of helping them to flourish emotionally, to form solid relationships and to recognise their responsibilities to one another as well as to themselves?

To this end, the importance of the arts in education cannot be overstated. The curriculum has been dominated for too long by a narrow view of what schools should be achieving. Lately, the Government have begun to emphasise the value of, for instance, music in education; I congratulate them on doing this, as I do on taking other initiatives designed to bring some breadth and, frankly, some fun back into school life. I think of the work of my noble friend Lord Layard in this connection and of the recent Cambridge Primary Review, which points to, among other things, the necessity for science, the arts and humanities to be restored to,

"their rightful place in young children's education", and for citizenship, personal and moral education to be strengthened. The statistics tell us that most of the people who will be implementing these choices, if we are brave enough to make them, will be women. The work that they do could not be more important for our future health as a society.

Yet primary school teaching is still undervalued. The Sex and Power 2008 report does not even list a primary school head teacher as a top job, only a secondary head teacher. An acquaintance recently referred to having talked to a young man who was about to enter the profession—rare creature that he is—who said that it was "not very sexy", by which I think that he meant: not high enough status for a real man. Will my noble friend say what more the Government can do to enhance the profile and status of primary school teaching to counteract the prevailing view that, because it is women's work, it counts less than earning big bucks in the City?

Finally, I should like to say a word about grannies. I recently joined this club and I am excessively proud to be a member. It mostly brings great joy, but it has also made me realise at first-hand how much the world of work relies on childcare provided through the good will and energy of mostly unpaid grannies and other family members. Women need other women to help them to make a living. The Government benefit from that through the Exchequer, which collects from the working mother. However, if those women helping to make this possible are family members who need to be paid, the working mother cannot claim help with that cost. Does the Minister think that this is right?

We have become mildly addicted to bad news of late. Doom and gloom can be curiously seductive. Today's debate has provided us with, among other things, an opportunity to celebrate women. I hope that we will finish the day feeling better, not worse, about the world.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative 12:25 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for initiating this debate, which will help to throw light on issues that are too often ignored by the international press and politicians when they are analysing the impact of the economic crisis. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has so graphically shown, internationally the situation for many women will be very grim. The hardships of families in this country pale into insignificance when compared to the families in developing countries, many of whom already live on less than 90 pence per day. We are warned that perhaps 90 million people worldwide will be thrown out of work during this recession. Many women in the developing world will, without doubt, watch their children starve unless a massive international aid programme can be initiated. I fear the chances of that are not good when developed countries are looking to cutting their outgoings in order to shore up their banking and financial systems at home.

In this country, too, as in most other developed nations, when the burden of redundancy and unemployment falls upon the family, it is, as others have said, the woman who is still expected to manage the sudden drop in income and continue to provide adequate food and clothing for the family, perhaps on about a quarter of the money that was previously available. Today, many men share household business, but in most families and, most obviously, in the 90 per cent of lone parent families headed by women, the mother must take the role and the burden of coping with the family finances. In previous hard times we have already seen how it is she who must find ways to stretch the budget by buying less expensive groceries, cooking poorer cuts of meat or fish, shopping for bargains and making do with the clothes from previous years. She must find ways to enrich her children's experience when holidays are no longer affordable and when out-of-school activities are a luxury she must surrender. Along with their responsibility in the home, many women will also have to cope with the loss of their own jobs and of the dignity and status that they had as workers.

As others have said, women in the workforce will bear much of the brunt of the hardships which this crisis has brought. It is shocking to hear that in some parts of the country twice as many women are being made redundant as men and it is a sad fact that in hard times, when redundancy and down-sizing are required, women are often the most vulnerable. They form the overwhelming majority of the part-time workforce— 40 per cent of women who work do so part-time—and are easily the first to be cut. Even more sadly, women and especially older women, tend to work in the low-paid and least-skilled jobs, and so are more easily dispensed with than their more skilled male colleagues.

There is a golden opportunity for the Government to provide training in these circumstances to increase the skills of such women, thus enabling them when times get better to re-enter the workforce as skilled workers with better pay and more prestige. In previous recessions, the number overall in full-time further education increased as people sought to better their qualifications. I profoundly hope that the Government will bear this in mind when setting the budget for colleges, which are already hard-pressed.

In dwelling on the need for skills in the unskilled female workforce, we must not for a moment forget the very real issue of redundancy among the higher skilled workforce. Women professionals in banking, manufacturing and the construction industry are finding themselves unemployed along with their male colleagues and perhaps they will be unemployed for a long time. The skilled professional whose skills no longer match the labour market will need retraining just as urgently as her unskilled sister. I deeply deplore the Government's withdrawal of funding from those pursuing equivalent or lower qualifications than those they already possess. At a time when re-skilling and flexibility in the workforce are being urged from all sides, including the Government, it seems an ultimate folly to take away the help for this category of student. The Government's laudable initiative to provide enhanced careers advice and help to executives made redundant will be nothing but a toothless project if there is no matching support for the retraining that they will need. I hope that at least the six months' teacher training now proposed for redundant executives will be an exception to this unfortunate rule.

In past years, many graduate engineers and scientists, lured by the financial rewards they will find there, have entered the City. Many of them will now be made redundant. Wonderful, you may say, we have now engineers and scientists available for employment. But they will need radical updating of their engineering and scientific skills if they are to re-enter the workforce in jobs that the country will need. Instead of having to find funding for their training, they should be given every help, not only for their own sake but for the sake of our future prosperity.

Last Saturday I listened to a student in Lucy Cavendish College in the University of Cambridge—here I declare an interest as a former president of that special college—telling how, despite a PhD in animal behaviour, she had found it nigh impossible to get an appropriate job. Instead, she had "begun again" as a veterinary student and was now on her way to a qualification which promised her a satisfying career. She is just one of the many mature women students who every year enter that college to study for a Cambridge degree. In future, who knows, many of them may find it impossible to get funding. It is provision of this kind, however, for both men and women, which will provide a workforce fit to lead the country out of recession and back into the prosperity we must believe will come again.

This leads me to my conclusion. It is, I profoundly believe, the women entrepreneurs of this and other countries who offer some of the best hope of economic recovery. The commercial acumen of women has been demonstrated throughout history, never more than in the past 60 or so years when changing attitudes have offered opportunities for women to flourish in their own businesses. The great names of the 20th century, such as Anita Roddick and Laura Ashley, were matched by hundreds of women who started up smaller successful businesses which flourished. I place my faith in the women of the world whose will to succeed and to provide a better life for their families and whose gifts of entrepreneurship offer the best chance of recovery and renewed prosperity.

But we do not need to rest on recent times to find a model of the role of women. I go back to the words of the ancient Book of Proverbs, more than 2,000 years ago, which described a good woman whose price is "far above rubies". What did she do? This woman, we are told, works willingly with her hands; rises while it is still night to prepare the food for her family; buys a field and plants a vineyard; makes and sells fine linen; perceives that her merchandise is good; and stretches out her hand to the poor and needy. A few thousand years later that description still stands in relation to the clever businesswoman, loving mother and benefactor to the less fortunate on whom I place my faith for a better future.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 12:33 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, about 10 days ago I took some time off and went to see the movie of the moment, "Slumdog Millionaire". For once it was a film which matched the hype; but although it has been described as a "feel good" film, much of the depiction of life in the slums of Mumbai was quite harrowing. It reminded me of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that for many millions of people the current recession has little impact because they are already so desperately poor. Charities and aid organisations are suffering financially, partly because donations are dropping and, probably more significantly, their income from investment is dropping. In many countries trickle-down, as meagre as it is, will stop and I fear that we will see desperate hardship in certain parts of the world.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by someone with whom I have worked in the past. For a long time I have been a supporter of an organisation called the Women's Transportation Seminar, which seeks to develop the role of women in the transport sector, and this lady is a stalwart of its London branch. She has recently become involved with the International Forum for Rural Transport and Development and she asked me to meet its executive. I know a bit about rural transport because I live in Suffolk, but when I met the international forum I discovered that it is rural with a very big "R". Its decentralised secretariat is based in Cameroon, Peru, Kenya and Sri Lanka and, through research, information sharing and networking, it aims to influence donors, policy makers and practitioners to make the transport sector more accountable to the needs of the poorest people in developing countries.

One of the reasons I originally became involved with the Women's Transportation Seminar in this country was that I had observed that the lack of women in the transport sector was having a direct effect on policy-making. A more male approach to transport policy-making tends to look at big projects, so the debates are about airports, high-speed rail and fast roads. Even in developing countries this is often seen as the route to prosperity. But the reality, which seems to be highlighted more by female practitioners, is that unless local and immediate transport needs are dealt with, the impact of the bigger projects is limited, and they are very expensive. You can encapsulate the difference by saying that we need to concentrate on mobility rather than transport, particularly in poor rural areas.

The relationship between gender and transport has not been widely understood, but there is now a growing body of work in this field to show how in developing countries women carry a disproportionately large transport burden in their day-to-day lives: fetching water, selling their goods, getting to the fields or workplace, collecting firewood and buying essential goods. In addition there are cultural and practical barriers which often prevent them getting access to medical care and education; for example, in some Muslim countries female seclusion is the practice, and in others there are traditional taboos against women riding donkeys, oxen or bicycles.

Case studies from across the world show how many women are working 18 hours a day, probably twice as many hours as their men folk. They walk many miles and they often carry heavy burdens. This causes illness and injury and shortens their life expectancy. Improving the transport services used by women can increase their access to markets, opportunities to participate in income generation and their exposure to information and education.

For example, I read a book about how gravity ropeways have been built in the mountainous areas of Nepal. These are not for those with vertigo but they reduce the long journey times across the isolated valleys. Local women report that they are now earning three times as much because they can get more produce to the market; the time they save in travel is used to cultivate more land; the increased income is paying for more fertiliser and so the diversity of their produce base increases.

I read a study about a new approach to road maintenance, pioneered in Peru, which has helped to develop community micro businesses, many headed by women, to repair the roads. This brings in valuable income for women and, in some cases, pays for children to receive a basic education they previously had not had. By investing money in rural areas, one job is created for every 2.5 kilometres of road maintained, which is much more than is achieved by conventional investment in large projects closer to capital cities. In Ghana, South Africa and India there are projects to promote bicycle ownership amongst women. In Cameroon, these are locally made wooden bicycles. It is a primitive technology but it is highly effective in improving mobility.

These innovations are known in the jargon as "intermediate technologies". Donkeys, oxen, bicycles, wheelbarrows and carts can make an enormous difference to the economic health of poor rural communities and, particularly, of women. The work of NGOs in providing these innovations or assisting with micro-loans to help women buy them is absolutely essential and should be a focus for international development. I hope that the Government will resist any temptation to cut back on this kind of work and will encourage this gender-based thinking. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me the opportunity to use this debate to hang my comments on.

Photo of Baroness Rendell of Babergh Baroness Rendell of Babergh Labour 12:39 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Gould is renowned in your Lordships' House for her original debates. I also congratulate her on initiating this one at this most appropriate time. In so doing, I declare an interest as a woman writer of fiction.

I want to speak about women as writers of fiction, and, to some extent, of non-fiction, and of the place their work has in the worldwide economy. While I refer to women in the United Kingdom, what I have to say mostly applies to women writers all over the world.

Writing is a calling that women have always been allowed to follow. I use the word "allowed" advisedly, because for centuries women were able to pursue a profession only with men's permission. Why that should have been so and why writing was exempted from such strictures while the other arts were largely closed to women is explained, I believe, by the privacy, modesty and secrecy of writing and the few and inexpensive materials required for its pursuit. To turn out works of genius or of immense popularity the writer of talent needs only a pen and paper. Jane Austen, writing secretly, hid her work when her brother came into the room. Marian Evans called herself George Eliot in order to be published and the Bront? sisters, for the same reason, also wrote under male pseudonyms.

If any profession is ideal in an economic downturn, writing is. For the vast majority of writers of fiction their calling is far from lucrative, but they are self-employed—they cannot lose their jobs or get the sack. It is said that people read more in a recession, perhaps because they need distraction from their money troubles; committed readers know that there is no escape to compare with that provided by books. Research has shown that women writers appear to be inspired in an economic downturn. The recession years of the 1930s saw a surge in fiction writing by women, notably the four great crime writers—Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham—whose works are still bestsellers today.

A writer who enjoys any measure of popularity will benefit from the public lending right, calculated on the number of an author's books borrowed from specific public libraries. It will be interesting to see if the sums of money derived from PLR by individual authors increase during the economic downturn rather than diminish, because the book-purchasing public have tended to borrow rather than buy.

Literary festivals are going ahead during the recession. The famous ones, including the Hay festival, the Oxford festival and the Cheltenham festival, will take place as usual along with numerous county and city festivals. The Daphne du Maurier festival will be in May in Cornwall, and is distinguished by taking its name from that of a contemporary woman writer of fiction. At the 2008 Walking and Book Festival in Richmond, in North Yorkshire, Kate Adie, Hannah Hauxwell, Catherine King and Caroline Brannigan were among the women who took part, and there will be a similar catalogue of women writers this year.

On the down side, some smaller publishers are closing down. Others are making redundancies. The cost of paper has gone up 20 per cent due to the fall in the value of sterling against the euro. Some women writers, and of course men, are finding that if the manuscripts of their new novels are not rejected, they are being offered a lower monetary advance on acceptance and publication than was previously the case. Most have little choice but to accept this. On the other hand, those with European publishers will find that their income from within the eurozone has increased, as has that of those with American sales.

Samuel Johnson said that anyone who writes, and not for money, is a fool. Authors—rather more women than men, I think—are in the habit of saying that they write because they must or they love to, and that the money is incidental. But the writers I have known who have had one work published and nothing subsequent to that, not for the want of trying, have sooner or later given up writing. The woman who would write if alone on a desert island is such a rarity as to be non-existent. Those of us who can make our living by writing watch the downturn with as little pessimism as we can muster, but with a certain amount of fear for the future of the book.

Some types of book sell better in a recession than in times of prosperity. People need their egos and their hopes boosted, and self-help books increase enormously in popularity. Sales of cookbooks go up as the public eat out less and cook more, as do craft and dressmaking manuals. A great proportion of these are written by women.

No one could be further than I am from suggesting that men work on a broad universal canvas while women tend towards Jane Austen's little piece of ivory two inches wide; we have only to think of Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy and Levant Trilogy to know that this is far from being the case. But women writers in all genres have a particular facility, not for domesticity and the domestic scene so much as for those other Ds: drama, dialogue and detail.

It is inevitable that writers, women and men, will chronicle the recession in their fiction. Just as men understand men so women understand women, and women will doubtless show female characters in their fiction suffering from money shortage, job losses, pension deprivation and the essential feeling of the unfairness of what has happened. I believe that when this economic downturn is over we shall look back on the novels written in the relevant period as giving an accurate picture of what life was like in the years from 2008 to 2010. Not for the first time, novelists will have become chroniclers, and those women writers, social historians.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:45 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in rejoicing at the arrival of women pensioners at that great institution after 300 years. The other side of the coin, however, is that greater equality in the armed services also means that many women, now and in the future, are going to put their lives at risk. Equality comes at a price.

That said, there are tremendous opportunities in the armed services for both young men and young women, and I hope they will take full advantage of that during this downturn, because it is one good step forward that they could take. I remember, a year or two back, going on HMS "Illustrious", an aircraft carrier, and being amazed not only at the number of women on board as ratings and officers, but that the head of marine engineering on that great ship was a woman. I thought that was a tremendous achievement and one that I hope will be a beacon for others following in her footsteps, whether in engineering at sea or on land.

I was glad that in her opening remarks on this debate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, mentioned the plight of women overseas. This, of course, has been dealt with by other contributors to this debate. I shall not try to replicate that in this short contribution, but I am glad that it has been mentioned so forcefully and so movingly. Whatever deprivations there may be in this country, they simply cannot compare with the lot of so many women overseas. I hope that our own Government will encourage other Governments to keep up their official flow of aid; one can see how easy it would be to cut a little bit here and there, where there are no voters to do much protesting because they are not directly involved. I hope that they will take a lead in that, and also that charitable giving will continue to flow to overseas charities. That is particularly important because often they are geared to specific projects where we know that the people concerned are going to gain benefit.

I turn to the situation at home. I do not want to enter into the statistics of whether women are or are not disproportionately affected in terms of numbers; the point is that any woman now made unemployed or finding it difficult to seek employment is a key part of an economic household in a way that used not to be true many years ago. I remember that quaint expression from my childhood, which I never fully understood, "women working for pin money". They do not work for pin money now. They work to contribute to basic household expenditure, if they are in a couple, and probably towards the mortgage. I was staggered to discover, while looking at facts for this debate, that one-quarter of families are now single-parent families, and to a large extent—I think about 90 per cent—that means women. They are, in effect, the chief breadwinner, so whatever happens to them in terms of employment is of immediate and continuing importance to them.

That is the situation. What practical steps might we take in this country to help? I am disappointed that the Government have not taken up the idea of giving employers a tax break for each new worker that they take on board. That would have been far better targeted than the reduction in the rate of VAT to 15 per cent, which seems to have been so widely scattered that it means losing a lot of money to no great effect. That would have been far better targeted on some such scheme as I am now suggesting. Every person in a job may well be paying a bit of tax—or even a lot, depending on the nature of the job—but each person unemployed receives benefits for themselves and their dependants. It is a real issue to get people back into work.

That brings me to another matter. There has always been a problem with getting the long-term unemployed back into work, but there are schemes which are extremely successful in bringing this about. They are more needed than ever at a time of recession, when employment prospects are even bleaker. I refer specifically, because this is where I have the most knowledge, to Tomorrow's People. I am a regional patron of that charity, although I have no financial interest. The staff work on a one-to-one basis with each unemployed person. They stick with that person as long as necessary, looking after them even when they are back in work. If it all goes pear-shaped, they will start all over again and give whatever help is needed. Tomorrow's People has had a very good success rate so far but it is not dominated by targets. It has one theme only—to help the person who needs it. That is the key principle.

I hope that the Government will look very carefully at using this as a model. However, the key point is that those who give the help are not officials from any department. They are trusted by those who go to them and a lot of the work is done by word of mouth. It is worth making that point in a debate of this kind.

The other point I should like to dwell on is better career guidance for young people while they are at school, or even after they have left. I am not referring to a pile of pamphlets which somebody flicks through, wondering whether something might do for them. That is just information; it is not guidance. I believe that schools and other organisations have a very important role to play in helping people, particularly young women, make really good choices based on an understanding of that person's abilities.

I think that there is hope for the future, even though there is, at this time, considerable anxiety on behalf of those of us who care deeply about the position of women.

Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs, Spokesperson for Northern Ireland 12:52 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on initiating this very important and timely debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, highlighted, the position of women worldwide in terms of status, freedom and equality is, with few exceptions, inferior to the position enjoyed by men. In far too many countries, the differences are gross. That is particularly so in Africa, Asia, Latin America and much of eastern Europe. And yet, as small-scale experiments have clearly demonstrated, dramatic progress can be achieved when women are given greater opportunities.

Camfed, the UK-based charity that promotes girls' education in selected parts of Africa, has shown the immeasurable benefits that flow from raising female educational opportunities. Camfed's support has led to three generational cohorts of girls and women being taken through primary, secondary and third-level education. Its philosophy is that by concentrating on women, there is a much greater multiplier effect in raising skills and attainment standards. Educate the girl and you will educate her future family.

Similarly, the system created by the Nobel peace prize winner, Mohammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank, has greatly enhanced the prosperity of working women in Bangladesh. By facilitating the provision of small-scale loans to women workers, it has helped to foster a class of owner-managers. Their increased profitability enables them to repay loans which are then recycled to extend the scheme to others. It has lifted those involved from destitution, at the mercy of loan sharks, to a position of self-sufficiency and greater dignity. This Ernst Schumacher-type "small is beautiful" banking model is being replicated elsewhere in the developing world and may even have lessons for us in the UK and other western nations now suffering so badly from the credit crunch.

I should like to turn to the position of women in the UK and look in particular at the inequalities they suffer in employment and pay. I have called attention to this before in your Lordships' House and will no doubt have to continue to do so. It is an area where we too could learn from the example of other countries. The Government have, commendably, sought to improve the status of women in the workplace. They have appointed successive Ministers for Women, Miss Harriet Harman being the latest in that line. The Prime Minister has created a task force to promote the enhancement of women's working conditions, and not before time.

In terms of general gender equality, the World Economic Forum rates the UK 13th among the top 15 nations—below Sri Lanka. The forum also reports that in the international rankings on equal pay, the UK comes 83rdout of 130 nations. In 2007-08, the gross median wage rate for men was £27,500 per annum, and for women it was £21,400.

In the City's financial services, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found a much worse gender gap of 44 per cent, compared with a 23 per cent gap nationally. The position is much worse in the senior echelons of finance. I find that certain women who succeed try to play this down—playing it up comes better from a man. The ratio of women on the boards of major companies has not significantly improved in the past decade. Among FTSE 100 companies, there were 79 directors in 1999—6.9 per cent—compared with 131—11.7 per cent—in 2008. A further breakdown of the figures revealed that female executive directors numbered 13 in 1999—2 per cent—as opposed to 17—4.8 per cent—in 2008. Non-executive directors comprised 10.8 per cent in 1999 which rose modestly to 14.9 per cent 10 years later. And so one could go on—and one will. As I said in my response to the Queen's Speech, one study has estimated that at the present rate of progress, it will take until 2225 for gender balance to be achieved on the boards of major companies.

In the light of the statistics I have enumerated, it is unfortunate that the Government's earlier commitment to gender equality appears to be weakening. It has been announced that, after powerful lobbying from the Institute of Directors, Miss Harman has dropped her intention of including in the forthcoming equality Bill compulsory full gender pay audits for companies in receipt of government contracts. This climb-down is most unfortunate and should be reconsidered.

Another unfortunate indication that greater gender equality is now less of a priority for the Government came in the Second Reading debate on the Banking Bill on 16 December last. In my contribution, I inquired whether the Government would impose a requirement of 40 per cent women on the boards of banks. This proportion, as I had pointed out in my response to the Queen's Speech, had been legislated for in Norway in 2003 and had to be complied with by 2010. In fact, 44 per cent board representation of women came about a year ahead of time. In winding up the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Myners, tried to establish his reputation on the issue with two personal anecdotes. He recalled that when he was chair of Marks & Spencer, it had more women directors than any FTSE company at that time—I bet they were mainly non-executive—and that when he stood down as chair of Land Securities, he was succeeded by a woman. These specific, and rather desperate, examples could not establish a general principle of policy. That came from his observation:

"I think that all our boards will have more female directors in due course because they prove to be better. Enlightened self-interest will see that trend continue".

He continued—and this is most important:

"It is not for Parliament to direct private companies on the make-up of their boards".—[Official Report, 16/12/08; cols. 823-824.]

Why not, I ask? Norway has done so, and Spain and Sweden are following suit. Why are the Government not committed to the same policy? I should be obliged if the Minister could answer that. The glass ceiling must be abolished if the economic performance of the UK is to achieve its full potential.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 1:00 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, not only on securing this important debate to mark International Women's Day but also on her strong leadership on women's rights, most recently representing at the United Nations the voices of the women's voluntary sector throughout the UK.

The global economy will grow by 0.5 per cent this year, which is the lowest rate since the Second World War. For us in the United Kingdom, where we have become used to year-on-year growth, with all its benign consequences for employment and economic activity generally, this is a trauma. The previous recession seems a long time ago, although it was only in the early 1990s. A great deal has happened to our society since that recession. It predated the internet, new Labour, multi-channel TV, speed-dating, mobile technology, the maternity leave directive, "Big Brother", the Spice Girls, the Kyoto Protocol, the Stern report, amazon.com, civil partnerships, the knowledge economy and the national minimum wage.

However, we are now again in the eye of the recessionary storm and this debate highlights women's response in particular. Some noble Lords might question, and indeed have questioned, the need to separate men's and women's roles in these difficult times, when everyone is feeling the pain. However, as my four year-old grandson—I have also joined the grannies' club—helpfully informed me the other day, "Girls and boys are different, grandma". He also thinks that I work in Big Ben, but that is another story. Yes, men and women are different for the purposes of this debate, as they have a different purchase on the economy and family life. Great progress has been made, but women are lower paid than men. Women's mean hourly pay was 17 per cent lower than that of men in 2008, although I am the first to acknowledge the work undertaken by this Government, by women's organisations and by noble Lords in this House to try to narrow the pay gap. I look at the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, when I say that.

Women are also clustered in different sections of the job market from men. They are often in the public sector, the caring professions, the retail sector and the service industries. Some of those sectors are feeling recessionary pressures ahead of others. Recent figures from the RDAs show, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said, that female employment has fallen by 33,000 in the south-east, which is the biggest fall of any region, while male employment rose by 7 per cent. The south-east of course has a high proportion of service sector jobs.

As noble Lords have said, women engage in part-time work more than men, making them more vulnerable when it comes to the economic downturn. There is more than anecdotal evidence that employers are trying to keep full-time staff, but that, in trying to do so, are prepared to sacrifice part-time and temporary posts.

Women are different from men in their caring roles, looking after young children and elderly relatives. The burdens in families fall in different places, but the caring role makes women more vulnerable in a period of economic downturn. Unfortunately, many women's organisations fear that financial and emotional pressures on families could lead to more women experiencing violent abuse and to a greater call, therefore, on women's refuge services.

While there is no doubt that women are experiencing anxious times with the onset of this recession, there is also a positive context for dealing with it, set by progress in the past 12 years of government working on behalf of women. Greater work/life balance measures for families exist; affordable childcare is more easily available now; there are family tax credits, flexible working, extended maternity and paternity rights; and an increase, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, in the number of women in different sections of education. In higher education, for instance, the future bodes well. Since 2007, there has been an increase in undergraduate women of 11.7 per cent compared with one of 7.3 per cent for men. And, of course, the introduction of the national minimum wage has lifted women out of poverty wages.

There are a lot of frustrated, fearful and angry women and families in the country who are reeling from this economic downturn. Are the Government responding to their concerns, as reflected in the Ispos MORI polling carried out for government this year? I believe that they are. The Government have not allowed the banks to fail. They have put enormous pressure on financial institutions to start lending again to businesses and individuals. We have seen the result of that pressure in the past couple of weeks and days. The Government have put £12.4 billion in families' pockets through the VAT cut. They have brought forward an extra £3 billion in investment in projects that will protect and create jobs. There is an extra £60 for pensioners this winter, and child benefit for the first child has risen to £20 a week.

Noble Lords have spoken about the global effect of this recession. The effect on women globally of the downturn is to be discussed at the G20 in April, and so it should be. The plight of women in developing countries is of paramount concern for us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and other noble Lords said. The Government have published a helpful, practical guide for women called, Real Help Now for Women. My plea to my noble friend the Minister is that it is distributed widely.

According to my friend Professor Ormerod, there have been 255 recessions worldwide since the French Revolution. Let us mark International Women's Day this year by ensuring to the best of our ability that this recession is not the longest or the worst, and that women, men and their families not only survive it effectively but prosper into the future.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 1:08 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, my warm thanks go to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for once again securing this annual debate. I hope to say a few words on employment and equal pay, education and violence against women, both in the UK and internationally.

As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, said, the disbanding EOC made it clear two years ago that there is still a huge way to go in achieving equal pay for work of equal value. The estimated 100 years' wait is certainly not acceptable. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House that the new equalities and human rights legislation—due any moment now, I believe—addresses this vital issue rather more effectively.

On female company directors, Cranfield University's valuable Female FTSE Report, already mentioned, shows at least a slight increase in the overall number. A newcomer, Alliance Trust, tops the list with 43 per cent women, including a female chairman and chief executive officer. However, there is clearly a long way to go: 22 of the 100 companies still have exclusively male boards, and of the 149 new appointments to FTSE 100 boards, only 16, or 10.7 per cent, were women. I would like reassurance from the Government that they have a realistic plan to encourage far faster progress.

Like other noble Lords, I accept that this year's economic climate is much less helpful than that anticipated a year ago. Sadly, the unfolding picture of increasing job losses and lack of employment opportunities is decidedly uncomfortable. Others have put it quite clearly that it will be women who suffer most. Whichever the hardest hit, it is likely to be a fairly horrid time for both sexes. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, I congratulate the Government on what they have done to promote flexible working already. That is crucial for women's career development and I hope that they will continue, as now, to persuade and incentivise employers in difficult times such as these to stay afloat by adopting part-time flexible working arrangements for all staff. As noble Lords may know, employers are currently far more likely to grant flexible working to women employees than to men.

Bringing up the next generation—for what is numerically, sadly, a dwindling percentage of our overall population—is an important job, not least, although this is being selfish, because we will be relying on them to pay our pensions, if we are to have any pensions in future. But the burden on mothers in this role is still far heavier than it is on fathers. Pay also reflects the jobs and careers that young people originally opt for, and there are still considerable pay differences between what are perceived as men's and women's jobs. More skilled and trained career advice and encouragement to pupils of both sexes to try work experience in non-traditional areas is certainly needed but, especially, there is a need for more girls to study science and engineering and technology and to take up a far greater percentage of apprenticeships in practical, technological subjects.

Finally, there is an effective campaign against violence towards women in the UK, currently being conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the third sector. It highlights the appallingly high incidence of violence, especially domestic violence, against women. Alas, the continuing postcode lottery in local authority services for abused women would have Erin Pizzey turning in her grave. The UK figures are quite appalling, with 3 million women experiencing violence every year. The financial cost of domestic violence alone is an estimated £23 billion. Of course, the damage goes far beyond that; children in those families are often abused as well or, at the very least, made to witness what is going on. So they learn that this kind of behaviour is normal, and, sadly, all too often the boys repeat it when they grow up and form their own relationship.

The stark truth is that violence and sexual abuse towards women is still, quite intolerably, tolerated nationally and internationally. We have surely now reached a time to plan for and mount an effective international and, I hope, United Nations-led campaign with our Government playing a leading role. In the UK, NGOs can claim that the UK does not fulfil its CEDAW obligations. If that is so, how much more must that apply to those countries where women have almost no human rights and certainly no effective defence against domestic or other forms of violence? It is quite clear—and everybody has stressed the amount of extra help that we will need to provide for those countries—that that side is equally important. One in three women worldwide suffer from some form of violence in their lifetime and, worse even than that, as the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General said:

"State and non-State actors increasingly resort to violence against women as a weapon of warfare".

I underline that point, because it really exists.

Hints are rife, and I would love to believe that they are true, not least from Stephen Lewis earlier this month, that the United Nations is at last going to set up a top-level United Nations women's agency, which would probably include the excellent UNIFEM as well. It will not have the resources of UNICEF, alas, if he is right, but the very most that we must hope is that it models itself on that organisation, which has committees in all the contributing countries and is very much a pattern for the United Nations. What better campaign with which to launch its work, if it is set up, than one that promotes and achieves worldwide equal human rights for women and, above all, campaigns to end violence—physical, sexual and psychological—against women, and most especially in conflict areas?

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 1:15 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on giving us this debate today. It is very appropriate, as it has never been more important for women to play their part in the economy. Women have always been fully involved in the micromanagement of their household budgets. In a world where more than half the population are women, we should remember Mao Tse-Tung's dictum that women hold up the sky.

I served for more than 12 years as chairman of Plan International UK, a charity helping the poorest communities in the world. In my travels around the world I saw many of the problems at first hand, and some solutions. I was always very impressed by the way that women—and it was usually the women—given access to even small amounts of credit, were able to feed their families and help the local community and economy by building small businesses. In the poorest countries, it was the women who were determined to improve life for their families and to do better for their children. The women were workers and had aspirations.

Through Plan visits, I saw the result for poor women in Africa, where we provided funds for them to buy a few chickens. They farmed these birds, producing eggs for sale and more chickens. They built up a small but valuable enterprise and were able not only to provide for their families but to pay back their loans and thus enable other women to have start-up loans. I recall a bush café in the middle of an isolated part of Kenya where we enjoyed an excellent lunch with local customers. This woman's café had become a centre for the community and was a great success. In Bolivia, a thriving food stall in the market was run by a woman and her daughter, and they were helping other women's enterprises through a rotating credit scheme.

It has been clearly established that, provided that women can access small but essential amounts of credit, they will use the money wisely and they will succeed. They have an excellent repayment record in the places I visited, as far apart as Bolivia, the Philippines and Africa. Financial independence has empowered these women. Plan is now making education of girls a top priority. If the mothers are educated, they can do so much more to improve the health and welfare of their families and the community in which they live.

In Ecuador, I visited a swamp where families lived in raised shacks with walkways of loose stones through the water. Plan provided the materials for these rough paths and water-storage tanks. The only water was brought in by trucks and supply was unreliable. A storage facility meant they were no longer at the mercy of the water barons and could manage their supply. They kept precise records. This settlement was formed by families who had just squatted and built there. At a meeting over a simple lunch, I asked these women why they had come to settle in this unwelcoming place. The answer, "for a better life", was humbling for me. We take so much for granted: electricity at the touch of a switch, water on tap. From these difficult conditions, the children went to school in spotlessly clean clothes, and one family had set up a furniture-making business and was employing seven others. I have followed up this settlement and learnt that it has been officially accepted and is now a recognised and respected community with good infrastructure and paths and running water.

This is the typical pattern in so many countries. In Mexico it is the woman who, when the family are failing to eke out a living on the land, takes herself to one of the big cities and finds work, often domestic work, earns and sends money home and, in due course, brings her children and her husband to join her, living probably in a cardboard or, at best, a tin shack. We in developed countries are now aware of economic problems and we all know how serious they are, but women in developing countries have always faced economic problems and so many are still living on an income that we could not imagine even providing a subsistence level. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, spoke most movingly on that subject.

In the 1980s, I was privileged to serve as the UK representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, now does, and to meet women from all over the world sharing the same problems and looking for solutions. The one international message that always came through loud and clear was that for women to be able to help on a large scale they had to be in positions of decision-making, positions that had the power to make changes. The subject of women as parliamentarians was top of the agenda and all sorts of ways of achieving this were considered. It remains more difficult for women to enter Parliament. With just under 20 per cent of women in each House in the UK, we still have a long way to go.

When in about 1982 I fought for and got a second loo for women Peers, I incurred the displeasure—and in fact finished my political career—of our then Chief Whip, who responded to my request by saying:

"You women, you want everything. You want to take over this place".

Perhaps he was more far-sighted than I realised. When I look at the changes in the House and note that the first Lord Speaker is a woman, we have our fifth woman Leader of the House and we have had many women Whips and Front-Benchers, I rather take his point. I am delighted that we have for the first time an excellent woman as Conservative Chief Whip. Perhaps the global economy would not be in its present mess if women had been in charge.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, for women to play a full part in the global economy, they have first to succeed themselves, and they need support to do this. Women as a whole have a weakness, I believe, in that they are naturally modest and less self-confident than men. Here a man will see a job advertised and think, "I can handle about 60 per cent of that" and apply for the job. A woman, seeing the same notice, will study it carefully, decide that while she can do 90 per cent of the job, she cannot match 10 per cent of the requirements and so she will not even apply. Such women need other women as mentors to provide the encouragement and support to persuade them that they should have a go. When they do, they are often successful in securing posts that they might never even have dared to consider without the support of their mentor.

The leadership of past women Members and the continuing role of present women in your Lordships' House is valued and no doubt provides a political catalyst to many women in the UK, and persuades women, as an Australian would say, "to give it a go".

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 1:22 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I also begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton on having instituted the debate. She will remember that on at least two previous occasions I was the only man speaking in this parallel debate, so I am pleased that this tradition has at least been broken.

Every event, even such an event as a global recession, has a bright side. The noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, will forgive me, but one thing is that we have a lot more jokes about investment bankers than we had before. I am not so sure how good they are. What is the difference between an investment banker and a pigeon? A pigeon can still lay down a deposit on a Ferrari. I saw a nice cartoon the other day, which had a notice on the wall saying, "Beware, investment bankers have been known to operate in this area". This is not just a comic thing; it is the generic truth of psychology and the social sciences that an unfortunate event is also a stimulus. It is a stimulus, Freud said, to the positive side of the personality to rethink and especially to rethink in the longer term. This should be true of the recession and its implications for women.

Most noble Lords speaking so far have concentrated quite rightly on the implications of the recession for, as it were, the short-term position of women within the economy. However, I think that we should think in the longer-term too, and we should think in this context in relation to financial institutions, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, although I missed part of his speech.

In the context of the long-term restructuring of financial institutions, we plainly have to find a new balance between government and the financial system. We will never go back to a world in which financial institutions have as much power over the rest of the economy as they have had over the past 15 to 20 years. However, it is entirely reasonable that long-term thinking about what happens after recovery from recession should include improved gender balance, and that should be part of the restructuring of the City and of financial markets more generally.

Women have made enormous progress in western countries over the past 30 years in the economy. In some countries in some areas, women now outnumber men in top positions in business. This is true in the United States in, for example, the media industries and some of the creative industries. Some areas lag behind massively and the City and financial institutions certainly constitute one of these. The Observer newspaper, in the wake of inquiry into the behaviour of top bankers, did an analysis of those who took part in the review. They added up the bankers interviewed by the Treasury Select Committee, the composition of the committee itself and the five journalists who also played a prominent part, making 28 people. Of those 28 people, only one, Sally Keeble MP, was a woman.

If you look at the history of the City over the past 20 or so years, it is also plain—of course this does not apply by any means in all sectors—that there is a sort of rampant sexist culture, which was part of City institutions, and which is documented in the book produced by the son of one of the Members of this House, Geraint Anderson, in his book Cityboy. It is a satire but nevertheless shows very clearly the underside of all this in respect of pretty open sexist practices.

As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton said, when you want a marker for what you can do in improving the gender balance in business, you have to look to Norway, which famously introduced a quota of 40 per cent of women on the boards of publicly listed companies. As I believe he also said—unfortunately, I missed this part of his speech—this has actually been pretty successful. There were only 6 per cent of women on the boards of such companies in Norway before this legislation was introduced. The latest statistics I saw suggested that it is now up to about 38 per cent and nearing the target, which is an extraordinary achievement. This has also had consequences and influence on other countries. For example, France has set a target of 20 per cent of women to be in top positions in business by 2011, and Spain has set the target of 40 per cent of women in top positions by 2015. Here, according to the latest statistics, about 11 per cent of FTSE company directors are women, but the proportion is actually much lower in financial institutions.

The Norway initiative has been largely rubbished here, including by a number of women prominent in business. I found it inspiring. It leads me to conclude by asking the Minister to respond to two questions. First, the Government might not be willing to introduce quotas for the proportion of women in top positions in business, let alone back them up with penalties, as happened in Norway. I hope the Minister will agree that, as we recover from recession, radically improving gender balance and eliminating sexism should be part of reconstructing financial institutions and financial markets. Secondly, if the Minister agrees with this proposition, what policies will the Government put in place to achieve these ends?

Photo of Baroness Afshar Baroness Afshar Crossbench 1:29 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for always keeping women on the agenda, and declare an interest as a commissioner for the Women's National Commission. However, my concern today is that, despite UN Security Council resolution 1325, we see a conspicuous absence of women in the processes of peacemaking and formulating the post-war and reconstruction programmes for developing countries and projects.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, rightly said that we must be aware of the skills of women, and that we should value and use them. One of the most important skills that any mother, or one of our small band of grandmothers, has is that of constant negotiation. Any woman who has had to get her kids and family out of the door on time, dressed and fed without fights and shouting, knows that every day is a matter of being forewarned about what might go wrong, and knowing where the difficulties are and what kind of solutions are workable. This is absolutely part and parcel of the lived experience of women, yet it is never used in the post-war negotiations.

That may be in part because wars are still seen as a matter of men defending their women, who are in the back rather than the front. However, as experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine shows again and again, wars no longer have backs and fronts. Women are attacked across the board. It is women who usually stand up first and have to get their families together and get themselves developed. Yet it is these very women who are never asked what the peace process should be about and, in particular, how the reconstruction processes should take place. I speak as the president of International Service, an international service provider that does so only with negotiation and in response to local request. We do not see women's ideas being solicited in the first place, them ever being asked what works in a post-war situation, or what has worked when they have been making do and getting things together. The Grameen Bank and Sewa Bank, the Indian bank of women for women, have already been mentioned. If we look at their experience, we see that when women are consulted they have good examples and good ways of progressing.

What worries me is that, if we look at Iraq and Afghanistan, there are hardly any women in the Governments established after the wars. It is true that, in Iraq, one of the two women Ministers was killed in any case. However, Afghan woman, particularly RAWA—the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan —have a long history of struggle, organisation and working against the Taliban, providing education and care for women at home. These campaigning women with a long experience of protecting or defending women's rights under impossible conditions have not been asked to join the shuras or any of the post-war organisations. They are completely excluded because they are thought of as "revolutionary".

Women who conform to the submissive model, who are likely to follow the rules, get invited. They cannot solve the problems on the ground. They have no experience of what is going on. We need to be able to negotiate across the divides, even using women with whose views we might not agree politically. Governments are good at accepting the presence of men across the divides, but not women. For example, there is the fantastic experience in Northern Ireland, where women managed to organise and get themselves together when they only had two representatives at the negotiation table. However, the political experiences of women eventually enabled them to have more representation in the equality negotiations.

It is not that women do not have the skills, experience or projects and ability to do effective work in post-war reconstruction. We suffer from, first, a general academic as well as journalistic view that somehow wars are not the affairs of women, and if women are ever present in any kind of war, they are unusual terrorists. We read a lot about them, but they are fetishised rather than recognised as having agency and doing things for reasons. Because women are absent and not seen as important, they are not negotiated with or consulted. Their world of knowledge and wealth of experience is discarded. I hope that, in future, this notion of equality will be extended to equality for women in war zones.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson for Children, Schools and Families 1:36 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for her debate today. I think that the role of women in the global economic climate is to be themselves—to strive to reach their full potential and staunchly resist any attempts to repress them or make them anything less than equal.

I should like to illustrate the wide range of women's talents and interests by talking about Radio 4's "Woman's Hour". I am a great fan, and of course it is not aimed just at women. Many women enjoy listening to it at home or at work or en route from one to the other. I occasionally catch it on my mp4 player when I am in the gym. Although all the presenters are excellent, I pay particular tribute to my favourite, Jenni Murray, who is a highly professional, warm, funny and courageous presenter.

It is a truly feminist programme, promoting the fact that women are human beings with equal rights and with interests far beyond their homes and children. It covers a wide range of topics which are of interest to everybody, and it often makes me think while I sweat. In the past week alone it has covered sexual violence against women; a story about the dangers of climate change; whether women are losing their jobs faster than men; women who pay for sex; how NICE goes about making its recommendations on drugs; Jacqui Smith on a consultation on violence against women; an item on female incontinence; the Pink Chaddi campaign in India against cultural repression of women; a drama serial, "Writing the Century", exploring the lives of ordinary people through their diaries and letters; a new biography of Catherine the Great; the funeral of Susan Tsvangirai; and controversy over cosmetic surgery. There were also interviews with Glenys Kinnock, a badly injured soldier and his fiancée and two female bobsleigh gold medallists.

It is a brilliant audio magazine and ranges very widely, and listeners respond with very forthright views. For example, the e-mails following the piece about women who pay for sex were direct and to the point, on both sides of the argument. There was one response from a man which I noted particularly because he said that the way in which this subject is viewed and the fact that they had electronically changed the voice of the female interviewee is a clear demonstration of how society represses female sexuality. He also commented that men are partly responsible because of the way in which they sometimes allow their own egos to interfere with the way in which they bring up their daughters.

I must say a word about violence against women because women will never fulfil their potential if they are living under the thumb of a violent man. "Woman's Hour" returns to this issue again and again because it is a problem that does not go away. I am afraid that it never will until men stop thinking of women, and their children, as their property. Men sometimes kill women who leave them because they feel that if they cannot own them, then nobody else can. The same applies to men who kill their children after a break-up with the mother. We will only ever break the attitude that women and children are property for men to do with as they wish if we start early. We need to teach little boys and girls to respect each other, and each other's differences, from an early age. Teenage boys need to be taught that sexual intimacy is something that is the girl's to give and not the boy's to take. It should be given freely and never through coercion. If we could achieve that, there would be far fewer rapes, and probably a lot fewer teenage pregnancies.

But back to "Woman's Hour". I went and bought a book that I heard on air called Nella Last'sPeace. It is composed of extracts from the post-war diaries that a housewife kept for the Government's Mass Observation Unit, which wanted to record the lives of ordinary people throughout the war and afterwards. It has made me want to read Nella Last's War as well.

Nella's writing has made me think a good deal about the changing role of women. In her day the "homely arts and crafts", as she described them, were respected. Women took a real pride in their cooking, sewing and housekeeping, and we must never understate the economic value of those. Nella saw her role as looking after her husband and sons so that they did not suffer too much from the deprivations of the 1930s, the rationing of the war years and the even worse rationing after the war—a fact which I found surprising. In those days, without domestic appliances, housekeeping took a lot longer, but she still found time for volunteering. She was a member of the WVS and worked in hospital supply and a canteen for soldiers on leave. Women had to be smart and creative and make something out of what they had. They were the original environmentalists, demonstrating sustainable living with "make do and mend" and "waste not, want not". After the war, when the canteens shut down, the women no longer felt needed. Nella felt that she could not be useful any more. The women could not take jobs because they felt that those should be kept for the returning soldiers. However, women had got used to working outside the home and to contributing to society as a whole rather than just to their families. How frustrating that must have been—all that talent without an outlet. It should never happen again.

It made me think how lucky we are today with our education, careers, equality and freedom. I know that we are not there yet, especially on equal pay, but we have come a long way since Nella's day. I would not want to have lived in her world, but one thing I wish we had more of today is the compassion and neighbourliness that Nella showed. She saved little bits of food for her elderly relatives and gave sweets and cigarettes to the many POWs who were still around her home in Barrow-in-Furness, never showing bitterness when she saw their thin faces and poor clothes. She lent to, and swapped things with, her neighbours, and they all looked out for each other in a way which you do not see today.

Here I think we have another role for women in today's economic climate in addition to making the most of their skills and talents at work. Women are great volunteers. How many of your Lordships know women who have retired from work but are now busier than ever with voluntary work? It does not need to be organised like the WVS; it just happens, and long may that last. Although I hope that as few women as possible lose their jobs in this credit crunch, I hope that, for those who do, their friends and neighbours will help out as naturally and generously as Nella did. Those women who do lose their jobs will find many opportunities to volunteer. Even in these times the world is still our oyster and we should make the most of all our opportunities, paid and unpaid; and women of course still have the most important role, motherhood, which is, and will continue to be, as important as it ever was.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Shadow Minister, Justice 1:44 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, perhaps I may start with a brief attempt to protect my own personal honour by making it clear that I was not the Chief Whip who tried to deny my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes the extra ladies' loo some years ago. Quite simply, I would not have dared.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on introducing this debate and attracting such an extensive list of speakers. In the previous debate on women's issues in which I spoke, which concerned violence against women and I believe was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, I was in the unfortunate position of being the only male speaker. On this occasion, the noble Baroness has attracted a respectable list of male speakers. I make that point because it is important that issues should not be sent off into their own little ghettos and become purely women's issues on which only women speak, just as when I first entered the House, defence debates tended to attract only male speakers, with the exception of the redoubtable Lady Ward of North Tyneside, who always spoke on those matters. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, therefore deserves to be congratulated on attracting such a list of speakers, and long may it continue.

Like my noble friend Lady Hogg, I was somewhat confused by the wording of the Motion,

"to call attention to the role of women in the global economic crisis", as it seems to imply that women might be partly responsible for it. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, I believe, made clear, virtually all the bankers involved were men. One should also point out that a great many male politicians were also involved. It is about time that the Prime Minister 'fessed up to his responsibility for a recession that will be longer and deeper in this country. It is not much good always trying to imply that it is purely a global recession. It may be global, but many, including Tessa Jowell, have admitted that Britain is,

"facing a recession deeper than any we have known", which rather undermines what the Prime Minister has tried to claim about the United Kingdom being well prepared for a recession. I forget who said that we need more women at the top. Perhaps it is time to bring back my noble friend Lady Thatcher and allow her to tidy up the mess, just as she tidied up the mess back in 1979. I should be interested to hear the Government's comments on that.

I want to talk about two professions, one of which I know something about and one of which I know less about; so much of what I have to say will be based on anecdotal evidence. I will be very interested to hear what the Government have to say about this. As I think most noble Lords will be aware, for a number of years at least half of those training for the Bar or to be solicitors have been women. Even when I was called to the Bar some 30 years ago it felt as though the ratio was about half and half. I do not know whether it was but it certainly was not far off it. However, the number of women becoming QCs about 10 to 15 years after being called to the Bar drops to something in the order of 10 to 15 per cent or less. So, in quite a short time after embarking on that profession, the relevant number drops off dramatically. Although much progress has been made in this area, at the senior levels of the profession, the number of women becoming judges has dropped off even more. The Government should do a lot more to encourage more women to stay on and to increase the number of female judges. I should be very grateful if the Minister would address that point when she responds.

Many more people train for the legal profession than are needed to work as lawyers. Some, having gained a legal qualification, go on to work in a great many other professions. In medicine, for example, the number of people trained is more directly related to the number of doctors actually needed. The Government have a direct interest in the number of doctors that the medical schools turn out: they do not want to have too many and they do not want too few. We have noticed over the past few years—again, this is based on my own anecdotal evidence—that a greater number of doctors are working part-time. That is quite right, too, because a great number of them are women, many of whom want to combine working as a doctor with duties at home looking after children—with motherhood, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, put it.

In the medical practice that I go to in Cumberland the number of doctors has increased from about five or six in my childhood to something like 10. That is quite right, because a great many women doctors in that practice are working part-time. It obviously has very serious implications for the training of doctors, as many more doctors have to be trained. I understand that more than half of those entering medical school are girls, or women, or whatever.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Shadow Minister, Justice

I am sorry, my Lords; I did not get that quite right. In future I will try to leave the "whatevers" out of my remarks. Obviously the number of those going into medical school has to be increased if we are to have an adequate supply of doctors. I should therefore be very grateful if the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, could say a little about how many doctors the Government estimate they will need given the increasing numbers pursuing a career in medicine on a part-time basis.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Conservative 1:51 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, like other noble Peers, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on having secured this debate. The noble Baroness and I go back a long way not only in our interest in women's issues but in our concern about their difficulties in all areas of public, political and home life. She and I entered the House on the same list in 1993, as did the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who is sitting in front of her. Perhaps I may say that it was a vintage intake that year, although it may not be appropriate to push that too much.

The noble Baroness will be extraordinarily gratified at the wide range of different interests that noble Lords from all around the House and from different parties have expressed in this debate. It has inspired everyone to think about the issue extremely seriously, especially because there is a crisis and we need to know what people are thinking. As a result, I hope that noble Lords will not mind if I do not mention any of them by name, simply because they have all said something that was extraordinarily well worth saying and I do not want to use up my short seven minutes with that. Fortunately, I can leave out many of the things that I had intended to say.

I shall draw attention to something that has not been mentioned, which is that most, if not all, of the current problems in this country—I shall leave out politicians and so on, and be very gentle—have been caused by irresponsible banking practices. They were designed not as part of normal bank lending; they arose from the invention of derivatives and other exotic financial gambling devices, which are based not on tangible assets but on what I can only describe as "air pies". These created artificial paper profits on which huge performance bonuses were paid along with gigantic tax-free contributions to pension pots. What responsibly do women have for this? Very little, because so few women are on the boards or are non-executive directors of the banks that have got themselves and us into this dreadful mess. Without the glass ceiling that keeps so many women out of the upper echelons of the finance industry, there might have been someone to call for more fiscal caution and realism. After all, Prudence is a woman's name.

I shall leave out several pages of figures, because everyone has mentioned them and it would be silly to continue repeating them. I shall continue on the subject of banking. On both sides of the Atlantic and in Asia, whoever got us into this mess by irresponsible lending to virtually anyone who could sign his name without even the minimal amount of due diligence as to his ability to repay, the figures that everyone has quoted show that it was not the fault of women bankers.

How do we get out of the mess? The mantra is that we have to start lending again, but to whom? It should surely not be to the same speculators and asset strippers that the banks have been financing. I thought that I might talk about business, because when I began my own business—I speak now from experience—the bank would lend me the money that I needed, in addition to the working capital that I had already put in, only if my husband guaranteed it, if you please. I had never heard of anything like that before. It never asked him for a third-party guarantee for his bank borrowing. The suppliers with whom I signed my first contract for goods that would be paid for in advance of delivery asked my husband to countersign, because humiliatingly they wanted to know whether I was sure that I knew what I was doing. That was absolutely atrocious. When my business rapidly expanded into Germany and Australia, I was faced with major opposition by potential competitors, not because I was competing but because as a woman I was daring to venture into their male-dominated province. You have no idea—none at all—how patronising it is to be addressed as "my dear lady". I can assure your Lordships that it has nothing like the same connotations as "old boy".

The fact is that a very high percentage of small businesses are owned by or run by women, often while their men are doing some other wage-earning job. It is perhaps no coincidence that in the United States of America this type of endeavour is colloquially called a "momma and poppa" business—with the momma coming first.

In the poverty-stricken third world, a fine, innovative process is beginning to create work and to raise the status of women who are often second-class citizens. I am talking about microeconomic loans. They are for minute amounts, often less than $100, to enable a woman to start a cottage industry—as seamstress, cake maker, cheap jewellery maker and so on. In the vast majority of cases, these loans are fully repaid.

We know that men are suffering in the current situation, and so are women. Thousands of men and women are being laid off all over the place. When people such as lawyers and bankers go, their clerical staff probably go, too, so it is a difficult situation to deal with. Much has been said about equal pay. It is awful that we have not quite got there yet, but that must be achieved in the future.

In conclusion, the role of women in the global economic crisis will be the same as it is in every global crisis; in the words of a favourite country and western song, it will be to "Stand by your man". I ask you! I should not have said that, because my husband is sitting in the Box. It was a bit foolish. I hope that in future women will be given more respect and influence because, whatever else is the cause of the present crisis, women can truly say, "It's not our fault, guv".

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 1:59 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I am not sure how to follow that. I add my sincere congratulations and thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. Last week I was privileged to introduce a debate that called attention to the case for maximising the talents and skills available to our nation if we are to ensure its future economic prosperity. Women's skills frequently remain undervalued in our economy, in spite of the advances that we know have been made. Still, only 12 per cent of directors on FTSE 100 boards are female. It is often suggested that better governance comes when there is a rich variety of people among the main decision-makers. However, when 52 per cent of the population are frequently bypassed, such diversity is clearly compromised.

I declare an interest as a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which recently stated that 85 per cent of women work full-time before having children but that just 34 per cent of working mothers with pre-school children work full-time. That would be excellent if they switched to flexible working and could afford, by working flexibly, good childcare without having to feel awful guilt about that childcare or that they are doing neither their parenting job nor their outside job as well as they might. I remember going through that when my children were young; sadly, my daughters still feel that guilt. Although we have made advances, we have not gone nearly far enough to get rid of the additional stress that mothers with young children go through. Often, they change from work to no work or to part-time, rather unsuitable, work, because employment is not geared to support them sufficiently, and they are then often forced out of the labour market altogether. In 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission said that at least 30,000 women lose their jobs every year simply for being pregnant. The numbers have certainly not reduced since then. The amount of skills lost when this happens is unacceptable both economically and socially.

By providing women with flexibility and ensuring their equal rights, the UK can, or could, utilise their talents, which would help to lead the country out of this recession. The Women and Work Commission estimates that closing the gender skills gap would boost GDP by between £15 billion and £23 billion annually. Back to Work and Train to Gain programmes should reflect the flexible nature that many women carers need to be able to maximise their skills and get back into the workforce. The recent report Are Women Bearing the Burden of the Recession? by the Fawcett Society called for such measures to be taken to ensure that women know their rights when it comes to caring entitlements and that they have every opportunity available to them. The UK will need an additional 5 million highly qualified workers within the next 10 years to compete globally.

Currently, 50 per cent of women working in low-paid, part-time jobs are working beneath their potential. That was acknowledged by Opportunity Now in 2007. Moreover, 5.7 million women are in part-time employment, compared with just 1.8 million men. The preconception is that these women will be the first to go in a recession. We are seeing reductions in part-time hours. However, as businesses downsize and reduce their spending, such flexibility should be valued rather than ignored.

With significant increases in the numbers of women in employment over the past 30 years, women are more directly exposed to the impact of the recession. It has been suggested that while early job losses have hit sectors with a high concentration of men, such as manufacturing and construction, there is now a drastic increase in the number of job losses in the sectors that mainly affect women, business services and retail. Lack of growth in the service sector, where most jobs for women have been found over the past decade, could cause us many problems in the future.

It is essential that the Government provide equal opportunities to both men and women to support us all in this crisis if we are to encourage successful competitiveness and an economic upturn when we get out of this recession. We cannot let the recession lead to an upturn in illegal discrimination. Flexibility is essential when demand is fluctuating, which it is and will continue to be in the short term at least.

We want women who are willing to be flexible at a time when companies are, or should be, seeking flexibility. Women are not men and they often want to work differently. That should be encouraged, not restricted. We need all our population's skills to be fully utilised. We must make that happen.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 2:05 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Gould for yet again—it does come round quickly—securing this debate on women, and for introducing it so vigorously. So far, it has been one of the most varied of debates—"simply the best", to quote the extraordinary Tina Turner.

I shall focus indirectly on economics and finance but mainly on what women do in crises: how they respond, how they cope and how they often act out of love rather than hard-edged financial considerations. I shall use as my example that of family carers and, in particular—this was mentioned earlier—grandparents. Family carers are mainly women and it is likely that they will be relied on even more in a financial crisis. The issue of family carers is global and very much accepted in many societies. I shall speak about the situation in the UK, which tends to be more problematic. I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House, first, whether she is aware of the uneven treatment of grandparent carers and, secondly, whether she will support measures to address the anomalies.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, addressing the economic crisis, said in a lecture last weekend:

"Any morally and practically credible policy should be looking to guarantee that future generations do not inherit liabilities that will cripple the provision of basic social care".

He spoke of "radical insecurity" and of asking difficult questions about how we run our lives. As a humanist, it is not often that I quote religious leaders but the most reverend Primate was absolutely right to speak of moral imperatives. My noble friend Lady McIntosh echoed his sentiment.

We have a moral imperative to support kinship carers. However, that is not only a moral imperative; it also makes economic sense, yet we seem reluctant to take the necessary steps. Let me elaborate. There are more than 200,000 grandparents—that is probably an underestimate—mainly women, caring for their grandchildren due to the drug or alcohol use, the death, the imprisonment or otherwise unsuitability of their own children to be in charge of their own children. Many grandparents give up their jobs to be carers, with all that that means in a financial crisis. Many say that they cannot enjoy their grandchildren in the way that most grandparents can because they have total responsibility for them. They need help. I will go into more detail on this in a minute.

I met a grandmother a few months ago in my capacity as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. She had had her three grandchildren, who were aged 10, six and two, left with her one midnight because her daughter had died of a drug overdose. The grandparent had a one-bedroom flat and no money. It took 18 months to be rehoused. She lived in poverty and found the system of getting help complex. She said, "When I want to be reading my grandson a story, I am trying to fill in wretched forms".

Practice varies from local authority to local authority. Some local authorities now have a dedicated worker to support kinship carers through the trauma of the grief and stress that they experience but most do not. Solicitors are now challenging and winning cases against local authorities on behalf of grandparents because they are not receiving all the financial aid that they are entitled to. Legal battles cost money—how much better it could be spent.

Other problems are associated with this. Many kinship carers do not become foster carers because of the possibility of the children having to go into care before this can happen. Some are told they are too old to become foster carers. Special guardianship allows the person with care to claim means-tested benefits and receive child benefit. Grandparent carers are often pushed towards a residence order, which tends not to have financial support. Parental responsibility, and therefore child benefit, can still remain with the parent, if he or she is alive. There have been cases of carers not being allowed to claim benefits because they were receiving allowances as kinship carers.

Family or kinship care is clearly being used as a cheap option and plays on the devotion of adults who make sacrifices for children. They frequently have no immediate help for clothes, beds, uniforms and so on. In one case, two sisters were removed from their parents. One went into foster care, the other went to her grandmother. The foster carer could claim allowances for a school uniform but the grandmother could not. Both sisters attended the same school. One child had a uniform, the other had what the grandmother could get her hands on, and one can imagine the impact of that on the girls.

Yet outcomes for those in kinship care are better than those for children who go into non-kinship care. The children do better at school and have fewer social problems. The cost of supporting a young person who ends up in a young offender institution is, I believe, something like £30,000 a year. How much better it would be to provide care in the first place which might avoid the problem and to pay family carers to take over that child.

A report from the organisation Grandparents Plus, due out on 26 March, points to many of these anomalies—in particular, to the financial hardships and lack of support suffered by many grandparents who care for their grandchildren. It points out that in the current economic climate, four out of 10 parents are likely to turn to grandparents to provide help with childcare. This problem of kinship carers, including grandparents, is almost invisible in UK family policy, yet survey after survey of grandparent carers—as I said, mainly women—very often reveal a lack of information and advice, a lack of financial support, a lack of practical help, a lack of professional help with the children and a lack of peer groups who can offer support. This Government have been very supportive of children and families, so I ask the Minister again whether, in policy discussions and in relation to future Bills, she will remember the urgent and compelling needs of a group of people who are crying out for help and support.

Photo of Lord McColl of Dulwich Lord McColl of Dulwich Shadow Minister, Health 2:12 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on introducing this important debate.

As a surgeon, I have always been interested in preventive medicine. Thinking about prevention made me wonder whether the economic catastrophe could have been prevented. It reminded me that the origin of the word economy is the Greek word oikonomikos, meaning the management of the household, most of which is done by women. In Glasgow, where I was brought up, the man would bring home his wages at the end of the week and give them to his wife, who would manage the domestic finances and give him his pocket money. When the Mildmay centre was established in the 1980s in Uganda as the first hospice in Africa for people dying of HIV/AIDS, we would lend £50 to enable a woman to set up a small business to help her and her family to survive. We lent the money to the women, never to the men. Later, we used the same practice in West Africa working on Mercy Ships. I have seen this kind of microfinance work very well on the Indian continent as well, and it is always the women who are trusted, not the men. As noble Lords will know, the French word for microfinance is "la micro-economie", a feminine noun. Microfinance is female through and through.

Would this economic downturn have occurred if the banks had been run by women? Women tend not to be the gamblers that men are, and it is doubtful whether they would have taken the huge risks in which many banks have indulged. Furthermore, would a woman Chancellor of the Exchequer have bailed out and rewarded the gambling bankers and, at the same time, penalised the prudent savers? The effect of the economic downturn is that women will suffer most, as has been said. They are the most vulnerable members of society and they will be placed under much more pressure as jobs become scarcer.

Thinking of the world scene, what effect is the downturn likely to have on the human trafficking trade, which is worth £30 billion? Some hope that, as there will be less money around, the demand for prostitution and human trafficking will decrease. Others fear that it will increase. As poverty increases in many of the poorer countries, women will inevitably become desperate and even more susceptible to trafficking and abuse.

Human trafficking affects every country in the world and involves 12 million people, who are in forced labour or sexual servitude. Of these, 2.4 million have been trafficked. UNICEF estimates that one child is trafficked every 30 seconds. Save the Children estimates that 5,000 children are in prostitution in the United Kingdom, nearly all of whom have been trafficked.

A typical example of trafficking was Anna, who at the age of 18 was sold into the sex trade by her father in eastern Europe. She was smuggled into London, where her life became a living hell as a sex slave, required to service 50 clients every day for five agonising years. She wanted so badly to plead with her customers for help but her traffickers threatened to kill her if she told anyone. To show Anna that they were serious, they used to beat her without mercy, breaking her arm and leg and raping her many times. Surely some of those clients must have sensed that she was under duress. However, they did nothing; they did not care.

Last year, a six-month operation across the United Kingdom resulted in 528 perpetrators being arrested in nearly 200 police raids. The majority of the 167 victims of trafficking were found to have come from south-east Asian countries. An official said that the United Kingdom is a favourite destination for traffickers from Asia, West Africa and eastern Europe. He went on to say that the world recession would increase trafficking because the lack of a co-ordinated international response to it would encourage criminals to exploit this increasingly profitable area.

Prostitution is on the increase, and this may be one reason for the increase in trafficking. It is estimated that one in 10 men uses women in prostitution. If this number could be reduced, it would lead to a reduction in trafficking. In London, 80 per cent of women in brothels are trafficked, which means that 80 per cent of the activity there constitutes rape.

There are encouraging developments in Sweden, which criminalised the demand side of prostitution, dealing with those who buy sex rather than those who sell it. This has resulted in a significant reduction in human trafficking. The Swedish Government reasoned that prostitution reproduces gender inequality, which they wish to eradicate.

In conclusion, there is a real danger that this economic crisis will result in even more human trafficking. Therefore, we desperately need a greater international effort to counter this and indeed to counter violence of all kinds against women. Will the Government give an assurance that they will make an even greater effort to curtail this evil trade?


The Lord says that 80% of women in brothels in london are trafficked how does he know. The recent Poppy research was fundamentally flawed in its peer review and research method. It may be that 80% of women in brothels in London are foreign but this does not follow that they are trafficked. This peer like the government seems incapable of accepting that a woman may make the choice to sell sex.

Submitted by chris KEEFFE

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 2:18 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I sense that, following the noble Lord, Lord McColl, a lighter tone will be apparent in my speech. In the past couple of years when the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has brought forward this debate, I have tried to talk about the role of women in the sporting world. That is particularly important at the moment because we are hosting the next Olympics. The next Olympiad will be in this city, just down the road. If ever there were a beacon of hope in dark times, it should be the Olympics.

What is special about this Olympiad is the fact that, for the first time, the idea of legacy and mass participation has been brought to the fore in a way that has never happened before. Those are things that we should be bringing about. The Government have a target of increasing participation in sport by 1 million people, but I hope that does not result in just a million people doing more sport. There was a suggestion that weasel words might work their way into the debate. We need more people to take exercise. Unfortunately, according to my briefing, 80 per cent of women do not take enough exercise. What are we doing to reach that group?

I shall start with a basic assumption, which may be wrong: women are not intrinsically more physically lazy than men. I hope that can be borne out. I doubt that many women want to be overweight. Popular culture tells us, repeatedly and at considerable length, the opposite. Why do we have a culture in which women do not take part in sporting activity? I do not know whether there is a historical reason but, at the moment, there is 50 times more media coverage of men's sporting events than women's. That is ridiculous.

My own sport, rugby union, probably does not give much coverage to women's rugby, small as it is by comparison with the men's game. At the moment, the Six Nations Championship is taking place. I would be very aggrieved if some of the coverage of those games was suddenly lost on free-to-air broadcasting. At some point, someone will be upset by the free-to-air broadcasters trying to achieve more coverage of female sport to create the image that it is all right for women to take part in sport. That is the front end of the problem.

We have a good example of the back-end of the problem in my own sport. There was a very successful, well targeted campaign of recruitment into rugby union, called the Go Play Rugby campaign based on the last rugby World Cup. It was very successful, but most of us will not have noticed it because it was targeted a young men who had learnt the basic skills at school, but who had dropped out. They were targeted in the media which they read. Surely, one could recruit the female of the species in that way too to get them involved in physical activity and sport.

The Government have been pumping money into sport for quite a long time, as they have told us with considerable frequency and at considerable length. If people have the basic physical skills, surely we should have a series of targeted campaigns to get them involved before age and infirmity slow them down. The Olympic build-up is coming and we have to get people involved. We need to show young women, who have been taught how to kick a football correctly and who may enjoy the occasional kick about, how they can find a team so that they can take part regularly. How can we support that process? We want to make sure that activity becomes a habit early enough so that their social lives are structured around it. If you regularly play football on Sunday mornings, you will demand of your partner that they allow you to do so. Men have been doing that for years. Women should retaliate on Saturdays and Sundays and see who in the partnership plays where and in which league.

There are some good examples of schemes, such as the one in the north-west of the country for netball, where there was specific targeting, similar to the Go Play Rugby scheme. I know about that so I use it as an example. Specific targeting got people involved in netball. If people have the basic skills in netball, they should find a team and get involved. The Go Play Rugby scheme meant that the teams and clubs that people went to were prepared to accept them and they had a trial run. Will the Government encourage that as part of their Olympic drive? Will we encourage people to take part and to get involved?

In the current economic crisis, gym membership, which has been growing among women, will probably come under threat. Gyms are expensive and anyone who has ever been a member of gym knows that for considerable periods of time you pay for the idea of going to a gym. I wonder how many gym memberships will be lost. Perhaps we can find something in which colleagues and friends can take part. Please can the Government give an undertaking to consider targeted advertising to get people involved in sport or in group exercise activities so that they are socially tuned in and committed, at least in the medium-term? That would be a positive way to proceed. I encourage the Minister to give us an uplifting answer to a debate which has had one or two dark moments.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 2:25 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Gould for securing this debate for the sixth year in succession. Although I am the 24th speaker, I will speak on a matter not mentioned by anyone else: the role of women in Wales. I declare an interest as a commissioner for Wales on the board of the Women's National Commission.

Last week the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Wales published a document, Who Runs Wales? 2009. I knew the answer before I read it. It says:

"Who Runs Wales? 2009 paints a picture of life in Wales in which our boardrooms are overwhelmingly male and it is largely men who take the big decisions that impact on all of our lives. Women are more likely to be booking the meeting room and taking notes of the decisions".

The report goes on to say that, taken as a whole, almost no progress has been made in achieving gender balance at Wales's decision-making tables since 2004.

In the business life of Wales, of the 100 top companies not one has a female chief executive. In the National Health Service in Wales, women make up 79 per cent of the workforce, but of the 13 chief executives only three are women. The number of women on the boards of the Welsh Assembly government-sponsored bodies has decreased from 33 per cent to 30 per cent. In local authorities, only 21 per cent of chief executives are women and there are only eight women MPs out of 40 in Wales. Only 25 per cent of councillors are women. There are no women as university vice-chancellors in Wales and although 74 per cent of secondary school teachers are women, only 16 per cent of them are head teachers.

How does all this impact on the role of women in a global economic downturn? In Wales there are nearly as many women working as men, but of course the jobs that women and men have are so different, with 40 per cent of women in part-time jobs compared with fewer than one in 10 men and 29 per cent of women in low-paid jobs compared with 16 per cent of men. Does that mean that women's jobs will be hit hardest because they are part-time and low-paid jobs?

To combat that eventuality, a number of initiatives have been put forward such as that by Chwarae Teg. Chwarae Teg is the leading professional agency for the economic development of women in Wales. It champions education, women as entrepreneurs, work-life balance and flexible working, helping women to overcome obstacles that prevent them from making a full and consistent contribution. It has just launched the Agile Nation project. The aims of Agile Nation are to promote gender equality, support career advancement and contribute to a reduction in the gender pay gap. Women will be encouraged and helped to achieve their full potential in the workplace through a programme of training and mentoring, a training allowance scheme and quality part-time opportunities. That project will be a great help to women at this time.

It is difficult for women to have a role in Wales when there are so few women in leading positions in Wales. But if one looks at the Welsh Assembly, what a difference one sees. Since the first elections in 1999, women have played a leading role and by the elections of 2003, 50 per cent of those elected were women. Having so many women in the Welsh Assembly has brought about a different agenda. Recent research conducted by Swansea and Warwick universities, entitled, Gender and political processes in the context of devolution, reported,

"The claim that a gender balance among political representatives has an effect, both on the way politics is done, and on the policy issues that are prioritised. We also have evidence that the diversity of political representatives facilitate engagement with a greater range of civil society organisations ... However we found resistance at local level to positive measures to increase women's representation".

I could have told them that without research. It continues:

"This suggests that further consideration needs to be given to ways in which diversity amongst political representatives can be increased".

The Welsh Assembly is a great example of what can be achieved when positive measures are put in place by political parties to encourage women. I am very proud to say that it was the Labour Party in Wales that took the lead 10 years ago. Unfortunately, other institutions in Wales have not followed suit. I quote again from Who Runs Wales?:

"Over the last three years we have seen very poor progress towards gender balance in our corridors of power. Wales is missing out on a pool of talent and the potential for more effective decision-making during an economic downturn when it can least afford it. Together we can change that".

In order to make that change, I put forward an idea and ask the Minister what she thinks about it. I suggest that all institutions in Wales should get together, perhaps holding a convention, which could be facilitated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales, fully to discuss the role of women in Wales today and to look at what measures can be taken to guarantee that women be allowed to play a full role in all walks of life.

Leading organisations in Wales will be invited to take part, such as the CBI Wales, the Wales TUC, the Welsh Local Government Association, NGOs in Wales, the four main political parties, the churches, Welsh Women's Aid and community groups, all meeting together with a will to change things for women in Wales. That could be a pilot scheme that the rest of the UK could follow. I hope that that idea is taken seriously, so that women would no longer be unable to play their full part in economic and public life in Wales. Women in Wales have waited for far too long, and we are not prepared to wait much longer.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills, Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families 2:33 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on initiating this most timely debate. Any debate about women is always timely. The global economic crisis has captured the eyes and ears of the world, and during these troubling times, it is important that we pay attention to the group that many reports indicate will be one of the worst affected: women.

Today, I draw your Lordships' attention to some of the most vulnerable groups of women both at home and abroad, and concentrate my thoughts on the south Asian communities. The often lowly status of women in those communities means that they are often marginalised and persecuted. They are most likely to be victims of domestic violence, held back from education and often, because of the dowry system, killed at birth. Those women will be even more vulnerable to marginalisation in times of economic need in communities here and in south Asia. We must continue to take steps to protect them and raise their status to ensure that they have the best chance of flourishing as both individuals and members of the community.

However, we must not overlook the great strides that have been made to prevent the marginalisation of women in those countries, strides that we all welcome. The newly elected Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, went so far on Sunday as to announce that the Government will repeal all existing laws discriminatory to the womenfolk. Many of the prominent ministries in Bangladesh are now headed by women. India's Government have also taken some steps to safeguard their women. They announced in 2005 the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Bill, which sought to protect women who live with their abuser against physical, emotional and sexual violence. Importantly, the Bill secured a woman's right to secure housing. In its definition of domestic violence, the Act includes,

"harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her family".

Girls in those communities are not wanted because they are often seen as financial burdens. Land holdings can pass to in-laws, and dowries, which themselves are illegal, siphon money from families. Dowries can lead to the murder of girl babies. In 2007, it was reported that in northern Punjab, there were just 798 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys. The national average is 927. Over the past 20 years, it has been estimated that 10 million female foetuses have been aborted. The Indian GDP grew by 9 per cent in 2007, but despite that growth, more girl babies were being killed, according to a study by UNICEF. A higher percentage of boys are now born than 10 years ago in 80 per cent of India's districts.

With the IMF predicting that India's GDP will grow by 5.1 per cent in 2009, we can only fear that the number of killings will increase unless the Government take action. In India, dowries are illegal but are still widely provided and are still part of the culture among much of the south Asian community in the UK. Have the Government considered the issue of dowry within the UK? Although we welcome the steps that the Bangladeshi and Indian Governments have taken to protect women, law can go only so far to overturn the entrenched lowly status of women. As the UK committee for UNICEF has reported in Bangladesh:

"The lower status of women is deeply embedded in a society that has traditionally valued girls much less than boys. Parents view a girl child as a temporary guest who will leave the household at marriage—and cost a dowry".

Even after a woman is married, she carries a lower status in her new household. An estimated 11 per cent of rural women in Bangladesh, about 4.4 million women, are confined to their homes.

The Bangladeshi community is blossoming in the United Kingdom, and brings with it its rich culture and admirable work ethic, but we must ensure that it and its rights within the UK are supported and protected, and that its women are encouraged to participate positively in the decision-making processes that affect them.

Areas other than dowry on which we need to focus are violence against women, education and the killing of young baby girls. Bangladesh shares with other nations across the globe the problem of the way that men treat women. In 2002, Bangladesh passed a strict law banning the throwing of acid in women's faces. On average, there have been 285 acid-related cases a year since 2002, but only 190 trials in total. No person should have acid thrown in their face because of their gender. Habits such as that occur throughout many communities. Although there are laws protecting women against persecution, it will take more than law to change the status of women in south Asian communities. It is important that we continue to advocate women's rights on a global scale.

During the economic crisis—do not forget that our fight to protect women goes on internationally—it is not only violence on the street that is targeted at those women but domestic violence, a problem of which we are all aware in the UK. The Government have taken many steps, which we support, to tackle domestic violence in ethnic-minority communities, but the number of successful prosecutions for domestic violence by the CPS rose from 55 per cent in March 2005 to more than 72 per cent in June 2008. The number of cases has gone up from 35,000 to 63,000 over the same period, but the most vulnerable groups are not those that step up and report domestic violence but those that do not. The latter are the ones that we need to be concerned about. Does the Minister have statistics that show how many of these prosecutions rose in favour of south Asian female victims of domestic violence? How have the Government monitored the success of the £3 million that the Ministry of Justice spent on independent domestic violence advisers in 2008? In 2008, the Government announced that they were developing a BME government working group to promote better partnership between groups tackling domestic and sexual violence. Has that task force delivered any results?

This debate always manages to highlight the need for a continued effort by Governments globally to work on pursuing environments that protect all citizens, and although we have made huge strides in securing rights for women, sadly there is an awful lot more to do.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 2:41 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for securing this timely debate. Listening to my noble friend Lady Howe of Idlicote and others speak of domestic violence, I was strongly reminded of the work that she did on legislation two or three years ago and in lobbying the Government, with the help of Women's Aid and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to introduce new statutory protections for victims of domestic violence. I pay tribute to her success in that work and in her work as chair of the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV, which is such an important role.

I was reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, of the difficulties of transport in the developing world. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who is no longer in her place, spoke of maternal deaths. Some time ago, I was sponsored by Tearfund and Save the Children to visit Angola. I visited a maternity hospital, where it was forcefully made clear to me that the transport problems were key to mortality rates among women. Women were simply not getting to the hospital in time, so the noble Baroness made a very important point.

There are many women working in social care. According to the Fawcett Society, 90 per cent of the social care workforce are women, who are working with our vulnerable children and families. In a time of recession, their work is even more necessary and difficult, and we all need to give them even more support in that role. There are opportunities for us to do this. The Government propose in the Health Bill to ban the display of advertising on tobacco products in newsagents and there may be an opportunity to vote on this on Report. The Government are also seeking to recruit former social workers to provide the sort of mentoring—the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, spoke eloquently about this—of the many young women who are now going on social work courses. I should like to address those two topics.

Sixty-eight per cent of mothers under the age of 20 are smokers. Forty-five per cent of these smoke during their pregnancy. I pay tribute to the Government for reaching their target to reduce smoking among children to 9 per cent, but I am advised that two-thirds of children in care are smokers. We cannot afford to fail to persuade these children in care not to start smoking. We need to do all that we can to help those around them—the foster carers, the social workers—to persuade them not to smoke.

During the course of the Health Bill, I have spoken to a number of professionals, including a young woman who is just about to qualify as a social worker, a child pedagogue who has worked for 10 years as a teacher and a child psychiatrist who works with vulnerable children. They all say emphatically that it will be a step forward if we can remove the displays of tobacco from newsagents to which children go regularly to buy their chocolate and sweets—displays from the likes of Rothmans, Marlboro and Silk Cut. There is opposition to this and understandable concern about the impact on the newsagents' businesses. I simply encourage your Lordships to listen to the debate on Report and to stay for a Division, if possible. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, and my noble friends report today on child protection and I think that he asks that we join together to work harder still to promote the welfare of children. This is a step forward in promoting the welfare of children.

I also bring to your Lordships' attention the Government's recent plea for experienced social workers to return to the social work workforce and to support newly qualified social workers. Since the advent of the new social work degree, social work courses have been oversubscribed, which is perhaps surprising in the circumstances. The new degree course invites more 18 year-olds to think of going straight into social work. More young women are going into social work in incredibly challenging circumstances and they need experienced practitioners to support them. I therefore hope that any noble Lords who know of social workers who are out of the practice might draw their attention to the Government's new incentives to return to the workforce.

Paul Fallon, a former director of social services at Barnet local authority, introduced a model whereby senior practitioners were given a new role, and higher pay, to work in small teams to support newer and less experienced social workers. He reduced the vacancy rate for social workers in that borough from 30 per cent to 3 per cent in three years. This model of consultancy social work is becoming more widespread. There are incentives and I hope that many social workers will feel able to return to the profession in these circumstances.

Women are the backbone of social care. At a time of recession, when families and children are more and more challenged, women are key to improving the lives and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens. If we expect them to continue to stand in the firing line in these difficult times, we need to be consistent in giving them the political, financial and emotional support that they need. Even in these difficult financial times, we need consistently to give them that support. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 2:48 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, once again I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this debate. It is becoming a bit of a reunion for the 1993 intake, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, implied. My noble friend Lady Massey spoke of grandparents and my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked the Minister to say something about grannies. Will the Minister also say something about grandpas, because this grandpa regularly performs grandparenting duties to help young female family members at work?

My noble friend Lady McIntosh also spoke about women in management. Just in time for this debate, up pops a paper from the CERAM Business School in France. After studying the share price in 2008, the researchers show that, of all the companies that comprise the stock exchange index in France, the more women there were in the company management, the less the share price fell. Some may think that this confirms the view that men are wholly responsible for the global economic crisis. My view is that the study shows how this is more about diversity, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, talked. We now know that diverse cultures running companies favour the exploitation of different business opportunities, more debate and more challenge.

Obviously, the best thing that a Government can do in this crisis is to make it as short and as shallow as possible, whoever is responsible, because that will help men and women alike. However, until things are turned around, my noble friend Lady Gould and others are right to say that women at work are particularly vulnerable. They are vulnerable to the inevitable cutbacks that are going to take place because they have more caring responsibilities and thus are more swiftly affected by reductions in flexible working. An easy way to cut costs is to give less generous maternity leave. We should not take maternity leave for granted; in the United States, it is still voluntary. There may be cuts in training, but surely the one thing that has helped women to catch up with men is equality in education and training. There is a tendency to make women rather than men redundant on the assumption that men are the breadwinners; that is still a very prevalent attitude in British business.

My point is simple: the role of women in achieving diversity helps business to make more balanced decisions. That is not conjecture. In July 2008, the Chartered Management Institute—I am grateful for its briefing—helped to carry out research for the Department for Work and Pensions that demonstrated this. However, I think that we will soon have an opportunity to do something about it. This global crisis has shown up the inadequacy of our standards of corporate governance in many other business sectors beyond banking and the public are rightly disillusioned. It has become a political as well as an economic matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and my noble friend Lord Giddens told us, the governance rules in Norway have increased female representation on the boards of major companies from 6 per cent to 44 per cent in six years. There has to be a wider review—a restructuring, as my noble friend put it—and, when it comes, I think that it must include an important debate about women and diversity. A precedent has been set. I would also say to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who is not in his place, that a new governance code could anticipate an equality Bill where companies are obliged to demonstrate in their accounts that they do not discriminate in pay.

There is one area where the global economic downturn will particularly affect women: protectionism. Protectionism is attractive because it provides short-term gains and avoids the need to take difficult political decisions. In the longer term, however, we all know that it leads not only to economic loss but also to a more closed society. The early victims of this are women, not so much because they have rights taken away, but because progress towards equality slows down. With the freedom of open markets, it becomes more and more difficult for Governments to discriminate against women, for a legal system to insist that they are second-class citizens and for an education system to do the same. So if we want to help women, we should campaign against protectionism and not let the downturn make women its victims.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Justice 2:54 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for once again bringing to our attention the role of women today. She has done sterling work in this field and long may she continue to do so. Enormous strides have been made over the years, so today we see women holding high office in practically every field of activity. I think that they are all to be congratulated on their achievements and for being the role models for those who follow them.

I wish to concentrate on one particular aspect, as I am troubled by the plight of many young girls today. At the root of the problem I see the break-up of families. I think particularly of teenage schoolgirls, some as young as 12, going to school and taking their babies with them to the crèche. These sad young people often become chained to a life of benefits and further children by a succession of men, with little chance of escaping from the background and the life that entraps them.

I am saddened by what is happening in society today. Family life, much despised by the left, is practically non-existent in some communities, and I believe that its demise is responsible for much misery. There are those who will not accept that a child is much more likely to flourish in an atmosphere where a father is not just a frequent visitor but spends each night at home helping with the vital and difficult task of rearing his, as well as her, children. Divorce and the break-up of live-in relationships are widespread in many places. They have become an "attractive outside option" as working families' tax credit enables mothers to boost their income through work. Stable families are being punished by this Government and encouraged to break the bonds of marriage to secure higher incomes than if they remained married. The effect on the children can be catastrophic as they enter a peripatetic existence before, sadly, in too many cases, contact with the absent parent ceases altogether. I believe that the effect of this separation on the mother can be particularly harsh as so often she becomes the sole carer of the children.

Rearing children is more challenging than ever before, but young people are the future prosperity of this country. However, when one sees the emerging statistics showing the failures of this Government's policies, I fear for the future. This is happening on our watch as the country prepares young people for their maturity. It is their only chance, and we will have failed them miserably unless swift action is taken. Naturally, none of us desires or condones a woman or a man staying in a violent relationship, but it seems wrong to me that, where there are children, government policy favours people living apart.

In 1997, the incoming Labour Government put great store in education, so with all the injections of capital it is difficult to accept that last year, 12 years later, 128,000 young people did not get one GCSE at grade C, and 28,000 did not get a single GCSE at grade G. This is in addition to all the teenagers who did not even try as they had opted out. Chaos in some classrooms reigns as one in five boys between the ages of 13 and 14 is suspended from school, and 200,000 secondary school pupils play truant at least once a week. Teachers have an unenviable but vital responsibility in trying to teach those who want to learn. It must be enormously difficult to maintain order and the right atmosphere when disruptive pupils are out of control. So I suppose it is not surprising that in the international tables the UK has fallen from seventh to 17th in literacy and eighth to 24th in maths. It may be difficult to believe, but nearly 100,000 young people aged between 10 and 17 receive custodial sentences each year. Perhaps one of the most frightening statistics is that nearly one-third of all teachers have been punched, kicked or bitten by pupils, which is very different from my schooldays.

I am sure that some of your Lordships will feel that I am out of touch, but if we shut our eyes to what is happening in many of our schools, I fear for the future of not only young people but also our country. We all need boundaries, and keeping within them should be a principle that lasts a lifetime. Young people today will have to be the role models of their successor generation. Unless we get to grips with these significant problems, we will have a generation failed by the Labour policies of today.

In conclusion, the world has seen significant changes since those days of the first international women's day in 1911. It is a far cry from women marching and demonstrating in quest of a vote. I understand that on that particular day meetings were held countrywide, with, most unusually, husbands staying at home with the children. Thirty thousand women marched on the longest and largest demonstration of the day, so the women's voice was heard loud and clear. We should not forget the courageous campaign waged by Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst. But, even so, it was 17 years before a few women got the vote and another 10 years before all women were enfranchised. Look at where women have got since those fiery days. I applaud them all, and I hope and pray that the little ones of today will be just as successful in the decades ahead.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Labour 3:01 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Gould for initiating this debate, which has become an increasingly important calendar event in the work of this House. That is in no small part due to her intrepid work in pursuing women's issues over many years. Like others, I was a bit bemused by the title of this debate, which I was tempted to turn on its head and call attention to the role of men in the global economic crisis. The easy answer would be to say that men are guilty on all counts. I shall address that issue and, in so doing, will echo some comments that have already been made.

When I left university, one of my first jobs was to work as an organiser for a banking union in the City of London. Even then, it felt like an alien world with different values and manners, and a different culture. I have worked in male-dominated sectors all my life but the City is the only place where I was confronted by a group of workers who absolutely refused to be represented by a woman. To its eternal shame my union, instead of standing its ground, went off and found them a male representative instead. Therefore, as noble Lords might imagine, I have a healthy distain for male City workers and find it unsurprising that their behaviour over the years has led to the disintegration of a swathe of iconic institutions.

In that context, I should like to draw some lessons for future global economic reform. First, as has been said, boards composed of identikit white men do not make the best decisions. Healthy decision-making needs diversity, which is not a new discovery. Going back to the early 1990s, the Cadbury report and others recognised that boards appointing new members in their own image become self-confirming. Since then corporate governance rules have been tightened but have failed to tackle this intrinsic problem. As has been said, this is overwhelmingly a male problem, with only 110 female non-executives, or 14 per cent of the total, sitting on FTSE 100 boards.

Secondly, we know from organisational studies that the most effective boards are not only gender diverse but also balanced by a range of attributes, such as strategic thinking, innovation, financial training and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, the most recent City practice has concentrated on rewarding and promoting its successful male risk-takers to the board. That has skewed board decision-making in favour of short-term gain and away from long-term strategic planning.

Thirdly, those appointments have corrupted the pay and rewards systems, which have lost touch with the long-term viability of the organisation. I do not intend echoing what has already been said in miles of column inches on the amorality of the bonus culture, except to concur that future rewards should be proportionate, transparent and clearly linked to long-term performance.

Fourthly, it is self evident that, with the competitive hype of the male traders, who are living on adrenalin and testosterone, they are not wired up to make the best rational decisions on behalf of their clients or employers. Rather belatedly, what we always suspected has come to light. A study has shown that the traders who made the highest profits also had the highest levels of testosterone in their saliva, thus fuelling an addiction to high-level risk. When the market is booming this makes them high achievers. However, when the market crashes they overproduce cortisol, which has the effect of them shunning risk altogether. So for years our country's financial security has been at the mercy of the physiology of these hormone junkies.

Recently, a rather nice quote from a female Icelandic banker in the Observer described how young, inexperienced men had become too dominant during the boom. She said:

"Suddenly there were a lot of young men about 35 or 30. They used to call to try to sell me derivatives which were really complicated. They thought they were really clever, but they were still living at home with their parents".

I think we can all identify with the image that conjures up.

We now find ourselves living with the consequences of an economic crisis predominantly engineered by men. Particular concern has been expressed that in this recession women will be the biggest losers in the job market, but I refuse to be too pessimistic about that. In my experience, women have been more flexible and adaptable to change and have shown a greater capacity to reskill and retrain than their male colleagues. In addition, women have shown themselves to be adept at running small businesses and arguably, if lending can be restimulated, this will be one of the main routes out of the recession. As we have heard, the proof of women's capacity to manage money and to act as small-scale entrepreneurs at a global level is already confirmed by the success of the micro-financing initiative, which is providing thousands of families with a route out of poverty.

Since women demonstrably have the skills and aptitude to make sound financial decisions, what should we do to capitalise on this underutilised asset? The current crisis creates the opportunity for some radical rethinking about the values and ethos of the banking system. It is not enough to pour in more money and shuffle some board seats around. A recent survey showed that the majority of people despise their bank. That is strong stuff, but it is not surprising since the big four banks have effectively operated as a cartel for years. Therefore, any rescue package should include obligations to deliver new, high-level, consumer service standards, which women should be encouraged to design. Incidentally, I am told that a customer survey by one of the banks concluded that their ideal bank manager was a woman, aged 40 and slightly overweight. I am not sure how far I should pursue this finding, but it should be reassuring to any younger women seeking careers in the banking sector.

It is no longer enough to hear warm words on diversity or to have a token woman on the board. The Government should now be in a position to insist that the institutions they finance adopt positive action targets to achieve diverse boards within a clear timescale. We should now take steps to challenge the culture of employment throughout the City. In the same way that balanced boards make better decisions, it should follow that more diverse trading teams will get less carried away with hormone-fuelled risk-taking. That requires leadership from the top to break with the previous practices and ethos.

I am conscious that I have been able only to skim the surface of some very complex issues surrounding the global economic challenge. I will merely conclude by emphasising that the so-called masters of the universe have had their day. Our future success means harnessing all the talents and skills at our disposal, which means putting women at the heart of our future financial institutions.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs 3:10 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for securing the debate. It has produced many speakers from all sides of the House and, as my noble friend Lord Henley said, has included speeches from several noble Lords too. This is certainly a most appropriate way to mark International Women's Day which took place last weekend. It is yet another example of your Lordships' House at its best.

The website for International Women's Day calls on us to celebrate,

"the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future".

Many noble Lords have highlighted the serious and troubling challenges facing women. They have rightly mentioned, too, the need to celebrate the achievements that women have made in the past and to find the best way to secure further progress for the future. As my noble friend Lady Hogg said in her eloquent speech, it is important to explore the ways in which the global economic crisis affects different groups of people so that the most effective help can be provided.

In this debate we are concentrating on the role of women and I should like briefly to call attention to women in developing countries and one of the important challenges that we face today, a challenge which seriously involves women. I heard recently Sir David Attenborough raise the thorny topic of over population, which he feels is the root of so many of our problems today, be it climate change, starvation or crime in overcrowded cities. Sir David said:

"There are three times as many people on this earth as when I started making natural history programmes 50 years ago".

He offered a noble solution: better education of women worldwide; a simple yet gigantic task. I hope the Minister will agree that this would be a decent start in realising our obligations to fulfil the millennium development goals.

Perhaps at this stage I may challenge the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, on a point she made in her impassioned speech that no women are involved in foreign affairs decisions in the world today; I paraphrase. I think the new US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, might well object to her line of argument.

Last year, at the International Women's Day panel organised by Gender and Development Network, the Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, announced additional investment to Afghanistan's microfinance scheme. How right my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon was in applauding this highly successful method of financing. Mr Alexander claimed that by the end of 2009 the scheme would benefit some 400,000 women. Can the Lord President update the House on the progress of this help given the current global economic crisis?

This month the Government released a booklet entitled Real Help Now for Women. It is a direct response to the economic crisis and contains much pertinent and useful information on, for example, jobs, benefits, skills, training and help looking after younger children. I hope the booklet will provide much needed help not only to women in the world but women in this country too.

Page 26 of the booklet deals with skills and training and claims that,

"new skills can help you get on in life".

What action, if any, has been taken with regard to improving education and access to skills training, especially for women in developing countries, as they, too, are living through this difficult economic crisis? I look forward to the Lord President's response.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Labour 3:14 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, one of my noble friends said to me earlier today that, in a debate such as this, it is a great privilege to speak last before the winders because you can finish with a flourish. Perhaps; but the real problem is finding something—anything—to say that has not already been said effectively by other noble Lords. However, I make no apology for repeating my thanks to my noble friend Lady Gould, not only for this debate but for her indefatigable work on behalf of women throughout her working life.

Many of today's themes have been dear to my heart as a single mother and breadwinner for my family, as a granny and as a social worker. I always try on these occasions—I think we have now had six of them—to highlight the needs of women as carers. I shall come to that but first I want to draw attention to the huge contribution that women in this country and around the world make to public service. I refer to their commitment as trustees on the boards of charities and on non-departmental public bodies. Indeed, many in your Lordships' House find, as I did, that being a full-time chief executive of an organisation does not sit too comfortably with being a committed Member of this House. So what do we do? We change our working patterns to become members or chairs of other bodies in public service in posts which are part-time, non-executive and enable us to have what is known as a portfolio career. In addition to those who earn a living in this way, countless thousands contribute as volunteer trustees.

My concern is that there is now going to be more competition for these posts and activities and that many more men will be appointed to them, cutting women out, perhaps, or at least reducing the proportion of women who take on these jobs. As more men are forced out of jobs or where promotion opportunities become less plentiful, more will perhaps want to go portfolio. Far be it from me to suggest that where equality of opportunity exists women would not be able to compete for and win such posts, but, sadly, it does not work like that. I have now chaired seven different non-departmental public bodies and in several cases have been involved in setting them up from scratch, appointing councils, boards and so on. I am afraid that it is more difficult to attract applications from women than from men; that women often lack confidence in interviews; and that, as a consequence, it is frequently difficult to achieve an equal gender balance on such committees. The charitable sector and the public sector are both notorious for having many more women in the workforce at the front line but when it comes to senior executive, board and, even more so, chairing positions, men predominate. It is essential that we do not let the greater number of males who will no doubt be in the market for this type of service deflect us from our commitments to gender balance on boards and councils, and from recognising the contribution that women make.

We have heard many times today that if there had been more women on boards or in other positions of authority in our banking system, a good deal more common sense and sense of proportion might have prevailed. But perhaps many of these would-be non-executives in that sector had a similar experience to my own. When seeing a head hunter about the possibility of non-executive positions on various private sector boards, I was firmly told that as I had worked all my life in public service or third sector organisations, I had no experience of any value to bring to such a position. We all know that is right, don't we? After all, I have run only organisations where budgets ran into billions, which employed thousands of people, which had very high public profiles and whose aims and outcomes were both controversial and significant for millions of people. Of course I, and dozens of women like me, have absolutely no experience that could be relevant or valuable to the private sector.

I turn now to the position of carers in these difficult times. Great progress has been made in recognition and support of carers, and the Government have a record in that regard that is, literally, the envy of the world. One of the great advances has been in recognising that we should not expect people to give up paid work as they become carers but rather that the best thing we can do for them is to enable them to remain in paid work as long as possible. Not only does that help them at present, emotionally, financially and practically, but it stops them building up poverty for the future by their pensions being affected as little as possible.

As jobs become scarcer there may be a tendency for employers to pay less attention to the business case for supporting carers and to move back to the assumption that it is better for anyone with caring responsibilities to remove themselves from the workforce for as long as the caring lasts. This we absolutely must not do. We must not waste the talents of carers who are forced to give up work, because the retention of staff is particularly important in a tight economic period.

Most employers want to be carer-friendly, but they need to translate that into concrete action and support. Calls to the Carers UK helpline find that many carers are having problems accessing the right to request flexible working, which the Government brought in and was very welcome. There is a lack of awareness among employers but there is also a cultural reluctance to take caring responsibilities seriously. That makes carers reluctant to identify themselves and to request flexible working. I hope that the Government will encourage more employers to join Employers for Carers, a membership forum with a core group of employers that enables them to understand the benefits to them of keeping carers in their workplace.

I make a plea for a review of the position of carers regarding welfare benefits. The benefit system does not recognise the work that carers do. A review of the system was promised in the National Carers Strategy and recently echoed by the Work and Pensions Select Committee. That review is desperately needed and should be delayed no longer.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Spokesperson for Women and Equality 3:21 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, in beginning my summation of this debate—which is impossible—I join all those who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for introducing it. She is indeed an example to us all, someone who has spent years promoting and defending the rights of women, their powers, prowess and ability to get things done. We thank her for her annual contribution to the work of this House.

I have to admit from the first that I am simply not going to be able to refer to every speech made during this long, fascinating, sometimes humorous and sometimes extraordinarily serious debate. I will say only that I never expected to hear a noble Baroness use the phrase, "the highest levels of testosterone in saliva". That is a new one, which I shall treasure.

The question before us has been how the economic problems we now face will affect women. It is an important question because in many homes both parents need to work to maintain mortgage payments and feed and clothe their children. Continuing to earn two wages may be essential. So far, it seems that women have been less affected by redundancy than men and that the rate of redundancy is rising faster for men than for women. At the same time, the participation of women in the UK workforce has risen significantly since 1971. Today about 70 per cent of women have paid employment. In contrast, the participation rate for men of working age has declined from 92 per cent to 78 per cent in the same period. Participation, as such, has become more equal when comparing men to women, but in many cases the status of women in the workforce, as many contributors have pointed out, does not equal that of men in the same workforce.

Here I thank the men who have contributed to this debate. I was unable to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, but I assure him that I will read it; his speeches are always interesting. We should be thankful for the contributions of my noble friends Lord McNally, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Addington, the noble Lords, Lord McColl, Lord Henley and Lord Haskel, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

Women now make a significant contribution to the family finances; the loss of a woman's income can make a significant difference to the well-being of the family as a whole. If she is the only parent in the home, the effect of her loss of employment could be positively dangerous for the family unit, in just the same way as the loss of male earnings would be.

We have reliable figures for unemployment up to October to December 2008 from the Labour Force Survey. It shows that fewer women than men and a lower proportion of women than men have lost their jobs, and that unemployment rates have risen faster for men than for women. The conclusion is drawn that women may be benefiting from the fact that many of them work in the public sector, where jobs are less affected by international market conditions and are therefore more secure. However, it is now feared that the increase in pressures on the budgets of local authorities, for example, may lead to a reduction of this employment. Does the Minister have any information on that aspect of the situation?

Many women in full or part-time employment may not have either job security or the certainty of receiving benefits if they lose their employment. Recent figures suggest that of the 1.93 million people who became unemployed in the last three months of 2008, only 1.23 million claim jobseeker's allowance. Many of those who did not would have been women.

In general, at the end of 2008, we had some of the highest figures ever recorded for redundancies and the loss of manufacturing jobs, the lowest vacancy rates and the lowest rates of labour disputes since records began—all signs of trouble in the economy. Looking ahead, it is hard not to feel apprehensive about the future of families who have lost a breadwinner or, worse still, the sole breadwinner. Many speakers have expressed such concerns. Housing costs may not be sustainable on a reduced income, and work of comparable value to that which has been lost will probably be unobtainable.

Quite apart from the difficulty of managing family finances in these circumstances, there may be other consequences, such as stress among the adults in the family, which can lead to violent behaviour caused by worry, despair or shame.

Much will depend on how long the crisis lasts. That, in turn, depends—partly, at least—upon how successful the Government will be in encouraging a return by the banks to their traditional investment role in the economy. People are becoming increasingly angry as the transfer of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to the banks is not reflected in a greater availability of loans. Meanwhile, fears for the economy—and thereby the welfare of the population—top the polls as causes of concern.

Looking at the picture from a different perspective, local government—which employs many women, not just in the traditional cleaning, caring and clerical roles but also in senior management—is also facing financial difficulties. Budgets are tight, and revenue from some of our activities, such as parking controls or planning permissions, is likely to decline soon. Will local authorities be able to retain their current workforce? That is a question of great importance to the very many women who enjoy, or are embraced by, this type of employment.

Housing could become a problem for poorer families, particularly single-parent families dependent on the mother's income. There was talk some time ago about the possibility of transferring unoccupied housing from the private to the public sector landlords to assist in addressing this problem. Does the Minister have any information on how this project is progressing, if at all?

Again, there should be opportunities for upskilling for women who have lost their employment. Are the resources available to bulk up this invaluable training so that people can prepare for a return to work once the worst is over? The danger of real poverty is that it can destroy opportunities for both mothers and kids.

On a more cheerful note—I do not want to be too Pollyanna-ish but it is important not to be too dismal either—perhaps we can all learn again the many pleasures that can be enjoyed for free, such as a walk in the park with a dog, a ball to play with, or friends to talk to while the children play. What about a bus ride to somewhere a little further away from home to fly a home-made kite? What about a bike ride, a free concert in a park, a picnic on the green or in the garden, or a visit to a famous museum? What about taking pre-school children to children's centres for the under-fives? I am told, on personal recommendation, that they are absolutely excellent in both London and Surrey, and no doubt that is true in other places as well. Those are all things which we can enjoy, which will benefit our health and general sense of well-being, and which cost virtually no money at all. We have spent the past 15 years talking about nothing except money—money in our house, money in our car, money in all our electronic equipment, what we need, what we have to buy—and saying that what we need to be happy is something to buy. I do not think that that is really the case, and I hope that we shall be able to change our habits a little as time goes on.

There are other things that we can do. Oyster cards for Mum and free public transport for children under 16 mean that you can go quite a long way. Craft activity may be available in libraries. A free recycling organisation, freecycle.org, will enable you to get equipment for your household for free, and you can contribute the things that you do not want to the organisation, which will recycle them to somebody else who does.

A good outcome from all our justified economic difficulties and fears could be rediscovering how to enjoy simple things which enhance well-being and reinforce family solidarity. I add my voice to the plea of my noble friend Lord Addington for more sport and exercise for women.

We should perhaps remind ourselves that, elsewhere in the world, women and their families are living lives of physical danger, family dispersal, death and disease, rape and starvation, and other horrors that we are very unlikely to have to face in this country. We still have things to be thankful for. We shall survive this downturn in the economy, and we may learn some useful and personal life skills as we go through it.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Shadow Minister, Health 3:32 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, last year I had a terrible dilemma: should I speak in the International Women's Day debate or watch Bolton Wanderers play Sporting Lisbon? I chose the latter because I knew that I would have another opportunity to speak in this debate, but I had a feeling that the same would not be true of watching Bolton in Europe. Sadly, I was right.

I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on her passion, her wealth of experience and her tenacity in once again securing this debate. I always look forward to this annual conversation, connecting us as it does across the Chamber and with women around the world. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate the many achievements of women and to reflect on their role and the perspective that they bring. In this respect, today's topic is both important and timely.

The contributions have been fascinating and absorbing, ranging from roads, Wales and the arts, to sport, women writers and Big Ben. I am in awe of how your Lordships have woven such a wide variety of narratives into this debate. However, the prize must go to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for bringing a whole new meaning to the ladies' loos in your Lordships' House.

There have been some amazing contributions. In the wonderful speeches of my noble friends Lady Hogg and Lady Perry, we heard of the important role that encouraging entrepreneurs plays in shaping a better future for women and the wider society. My noble friends Lady Gardner of Parkes and Lady Rawlings and the noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Haskel, emphasised the importance of education in raising the aspirations of girls and young women throughout the world, yet, here in the UK, there are still areas where our failure to inspire the young to have ambition and self-belief can lead to the dire consequences that were so graphically and movingly articulated by my noble friend Lady Seccombe.

We heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley, Lady Howe of Idlicote and Lady Walmsley, how the economic downturn will sadly impact on domestic violence. This was given an international and disturbing perspective by my noble friend Lady Verma. Human trafficking is a vile and pernicious trade that has a disproportionate effect on women and children, and my noble friend Lord McColl reminded us of these uncomfortable and pressing issues.

There could be no debate on the role of women without discussing the wider implications of the family. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, reminded us, as did the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, of the powerful role played here by grandparents. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, spoke of the portfolio careers that many women have to undertake to enable them to carry out their family and caring responsibilities. My noble friends Lady Verma, Lady Rawlings, Lady Gardner of Parkes, Lady Fookes and Lady Perry, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Flather and Lady Afshar, and many other noble Lords, spoke movingly of the plight of women in developing countries. However, because more women than ever before are supporting families on their wages, I shall focus my remaining remarks on the direct effects of the recession on women in the UK.

We have heard much in the past months about the effects of the economic downturn on British companies, banks and jobs. As shares have fallen and unemployment has risen, we have become all too used to hearing about the financial impact of the recession. However, this debate today is about something altogether more profound and important. It is about the human effect: the effect on people and on women in particular. It is inevitable at a time of great difficulty for business, and of desperation in many cases, that there will be hardship. Working hours are being reduced and employees are having their pay cut. It is understandable that businesses should feel under pressure and need to make savings, but adversity should not be compounded by unfairness, which is at the heart of what we are discussing today.

The Sunday Times reported recently on figures suggesting that perhaps twice as many women as men were being made redundant in some parts of the country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said, my area of the north-west is one of them. It is not hard to see why this might be so. Women are more likely to be employed in the retail sector, which is being particularly badly hit. The overall picture certainly bears this out. Since the start of 2008, the female redundancy rate has increased by 2.3 percentage points, almost double the male redundancy rate. In the UK as a whole, just over 12.5 million working-age women are in paid formal employment, around 40 per cent of them in part-time work, compared to just 11 per cent of working men. When tough choices are made and part-time workers are laid off, it is a matter of simple mathematics that the effect is nearly four times as great on women.

While women are now more likely to be in paid work than in previous decades, they remain far more likely to be in low-paid jobs. Nearly 30 per cent of women workers are in low-paid jobs, compared to 16 per cent of men. The two problems combine, with those women who work part-time the most likely to be low-paid. Again, when the axe falls and staff are laid off, the low-paid are often the first to go and women bear the brunt of the hardship, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. When this happens, they face a greater risk of immediate poverty. The Fawcett Society recently reported that, although women are more likely than men to save—my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon reminded us that Prudence is a woman's name—they have fewer savings overall. They are also less likely than men to qualify for jobseeker's allowance.

There are other reasons, too, why the financial pressures on business may disadvantage women. Many of those who have spoken in this debate have been staunch advocates of more family-friendly working practices. The right to paid maternity leave and support for childcare have been crucial elements in allowing women, as the main carers in most families, to play their proper part in the workforce. It is perhaps understandable, if not forgivable, that when budgets are squeezed employers find complying with such requirements to be particularly hard. What cannot be allowed to happen is for employers to start seeing women as more costly employees and to discriminate against them when it comes to hiring and firing.

The organisation Working Families provides specific evidence of discrimination occurring. A young parent was told to take annual leave for the birth of her child as maternity leave "had been abolished", while on the other hand another mother wishing to return early from maternity leave was told that she could not do so "due to the economic climate". That is on top of the 30,000 women a year who the then Equal Opportunities Commission noted in 2005 were forced out of their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity leave.

As well as direct discrimination, the economic situation impacts in other ways on women more broadly within working families. Many tax credits and other benefits are now administered through the payroll, causing serious problems when businesses go into liquidation. On top of losing their jobs, numerous women are also losing the extra income on which they rely to help to raise their families. The process for claiming outstanding payments is, predictably, complex and long-winded.

All this paints a rather depressing picture, but it is not all bad news. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, spoke of an unfortunate event often being a stimulus to rethink and of the implications that that will have for women. In some ways, the added pressure on businesses means that they are looking at new working models to increase efficiency and productivity. This does not always mean laying off staff. I was pleased to read in this week's newspapers that Sir Richard Branson has said that, where necessary, his businesses will do all that is possible in terms of part-time working and job sharing as an alternative to job losses, which have to be a last resort for all the economic reasons so eloquently described by my noble friend Lady Fookes.

Flexible working has been shown to be a valuable way of cutting overheads while also reducing sickness and absenteeism among employees. It is one of the key aspects of the Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill, which I introduced in your Lordships' House in December. Good employers are already adopting this as best practice and of course it has great benefits for working parents, who can more easily fit their jobs around their family responsibilities. We welcome next month's extension of the right to request flexible working and suggest that every effort is made to educate employers about the benefits that it can have for them, as well as their staff.

Women's skills will be an important component of our recovery. We heard from my noble friend Lord McColl, and from many other noble Lords, about the importance of this in the City. I recently—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will be interested in this—attended a captivating lunch, hosted by Collette Dunkley, who was a board director for a number of global companies before setting up XandY Communications in 2006. She advises organisations on the differences in the ways in which men and women communicate and make decisions and she has done some significant research into testosterone levels. Notwithstanding the comments of my noble friend Lady Hogg, I was particularly struck with the fact that testosterone levels in men are at their highest between nine and 11 in the morning—not the best time, then, to negotiate with them. Given the increased and welcome number of men joining in today's debate, perhaps it is lucky that we started at 11.30. I just say to my noble friend Lord Henley that, when he referred to the reputable list of men speaking in this debate, I did not quite know whether he meant that it was a reputable number of men or that they were reputable men.

This has been an excellent debate with consensus on the need to ensure that, while the economy may be in recession, we should do all that we can to ensure that women and their families continue to thrive. A few years ago, before the current crisis, my right honourable friend David Cameron suggested that the job of the next Government would be to build a strong society, in the same way as Margaret Thatcher built a strong economy. I think that the task now will be to combine the two—economic recovery and social justice. Women will play a central role in both.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 3:44 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, it is a real privilege to respond to what has been an excellent and fascinating debate and I thank my noble friend Lady Gould for securing it. I pay tribute to her for her work over many years in raising the profile of these extremely important issues and in continuing to secure this debate to mark International Women's Day. She is a tireless campaigner and her contribution to these issues is enormous. I am very proud to have her in this House and on these Benches. In addition, I pay tribute not just to the large number of speakers we have heard today, but to the range of issues raised and the quality of the contributions that we have heard: a real testament to the speakers, to the issue and to this House—and a real challenge for me.

We have covered such a wide spectrum, from boardroom to books. I was delighted to listen to the perspective of my noble friend Lady Rendell on women and writing in the recession. I pay tribute to her for the way in which many of her characters have a real understanding of equality and gender. I greatly enjoy them.

I am delighted, too, that this debate is now an annual feature of the business of this House. So it should be. International Women's Day is an important part of maintaining the pressure for equality. This is the fifth such debate that I have attended and, like many noble Lords, I believe that this has been the best. However, it is a rather different debate this year, because we are living through extraordinary times. My noble friend Lady Crawley called it a "trauma". She is right. The financial crisis and the recession have swept across the world, and Governments across the world are working hard to tackle them both. Our own country and our own Prime Minister have been at the forefront of formulating solutions to the difficulties that we are all facing.

The issue of today's debate—the role of women in the current global economic crisis—is therefore the right one. It is not an easy issue or one that any of us would have wanted to see, but the scale of the difficulties that country after country is facing across the globe is such that we must address the issue. I pay tribute to all those who have done so today.

One of the most fundamental changes that we have seen around the world over the past 100 years has been the change in the role of women. In the middle of the 19th century, women made up about a quarter of the employed workforce in Britain. By the beginning of the last century, that proportion had risen to about 30 per cent. However, the social changes of the Second World War and beyond saw a major increase in the number of women in work. By 1970, women made up 40 per cent of the employed UK workforce; 20 years later, it was 43 per cent; now it is as high as 45 per cent. The explosion in the number of women working, and wanting to work, has been one of the most prominent defining characteristics of global development.

That is not just in the developed world, either. Though the impact of the number of women taking up paid employment in the USA or here in the UK, or in other similar countries, has been large in scale, the phenomenon has reached virtually every corner of the world. Even in countries where women have traditionally held a very different place in their own cultures, we have seen real change. To see Saudi Arabia, for instance, recently appoint its first female Minister was a significant moment.

However, we know too that we still have a long way to go—in education, for example. Around 41 million girls across the globe are currently missing out on primary education. We can and must do something about this, and we are. In Nigeria, for example, the UK Government's support for a UNICEF girls' education project helped to see girls' enrolment rates in education rise by up to 15 per cent in a single year—not enough, not nearly enough. However, this sort of specific, practical intervention can and does make such a difference to women's lives, women's prospects, and women's achievements.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, reminded us about the need for women to have control over their own fertility. Of course, this is closely linked to the economic status of women, which gives them confidence. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, both drew our attention to what is happening with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The loans it provides have profoundly changed the lives of thousands, maybe millions, of women, enabling them to earn their way out of poverty so that they can take more control over every aspect of their lives, including their fertility. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, told us, there is still much more to be done for the status of south Asian women.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, rightly reminded us of the need for us to reach the targets set in the UN—

Noble Lords:

Millennium development goals.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

The millennium development goals; forgive me, my Lords. There are two targets that we must specifically reach in the context of today's debate; one for universal primary education, and the other for the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment. I am proud of what DfID is doing to reach those goals.

The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, spoke of the excellent Mildmay centre and Mercy Ships charities, which understand, as do many other charities, the importance of handing money over to women because they know that women will deliver a safer future for their families. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, gave wonderful and vivid examples of women's empowerment in developing countries, and the effect that this has had on their communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, spoke of women and transport in developing countries. She is right to point out that we all too often forget the specific needs of women in relation to transport.

We cannot yet tell whether the advance in development that we have talked about is under significant threat from the world economic crisis, but it is a cruel and clear fact of life that recessions cause hardship, see jobs and businesses lost, and impact on the cause of progressive reform. However, the Government are completely committed to their development work. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, that this will be on the agenda of the G20 when it meets next month.

In the UK after the war, we saw many women enter the workforce. By the end of the 1960s, more than half of the women in Britain were in work. Now it is up to 70 per cent, while at the same time the employment rate for men has fallen over the same period, from 92 per cent in 1970 to 79 per cent today. Full employment is no longer what it mostly used to be—as many men in work as wanted to be—but is now a more balanced picture of the workforce. But in line with many other countries around the world, the labour market in the UK has been deteriorating since early last year for both men and women, as the effects of the financial crisis and the recession bite.

While it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, some straws in the wind may prove to be significant. Women have certainly not so far been disproportionately affected by the downturn. However, as my noble friend Lady Gould said, traditionally, female employment is in sectors such as health, education and social services. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, pointed out, these are public sector jobs. Over the past year, the proportion of women in work has fallen, but by less than that for men: 0.3 per cent for women compared to 1 per cent for men. Full-time female employment appears to be holding up, but there has been a reduction in the number of female part-time workers. However, I recognise that there are regional disparities, as illustrated by my noble friend Lady Crawley. As regards redundancies, women look as though they may be faring better than men. Redundancies among women are up by 86 per cent, but by as much as 163 per cent for men. As a result, the number of people claiming benefits to help tackle unemployment is up too: by 46 per cent for women, compared with 58 per cent for men. While these are UK figures, the story they may be starting to tell is probably likely to be repeated elsewhere. This is a global recession, with global impact, and its effects too will be global. We need to be careful about drawing conclusions from such figures, early as they are in the recessionary cycle. While the number of women in work may be holding up better, we should not fail to remember that many jobs held by women are jobs in the bottom pay bands of the economy, as many noble Lords pointed out. Women's work is very often still hard, still tough, still poorly paid.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh reminded us that many areas of employment perceived to be women's work, such as primary school teaching, are undervalued. We are doing what we can to assist here and the Training and Development Agency for Schools has a range of actions, including marketing exercises, specifically to encourage men to train to be primary school teachers. However, like many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I am sure that, at the end of the economic downturn, this society, its values and its standards will be rather different from the ones we have now. For example, I welcome the fact that many people who used to work in the City are now going into teaching. I think that will have a profound effect on the individuals concerned, on teaching and on pupils. Like my noble friend Lord Giddens, I believe that there will be a better gender balance not just in our economic institutions and on boards but throughout society. Given what I have heard today, I do not think that the City is a very female-friendly place, but I am sure that culture will change. Indeed, it must change if we are to have a City that delivers for all individuals in society. However, we have to train, nurture and mentor women so that they are able to take up the jobs as and when they are available.

The example of Norway is exciting, but strict quotas in employment matters are a form of positive discrimination and, as such, would be inconsistent with EU legislation and case law. Countries not bound by EU legislation, such as Norway, are not of course required to work within the same legal framework. However, any use of aspirational targets is permissible under domestic and European law, and we have already announced that we intend to set targets on gender, race and disability for public appointments. We will do much more in the equality Bill.

The EHRC is conducting an inquiry into sex discrimination in the finance sector. The financial services sector has far fewer women in senior roles than in other sectors and a gender pay gap of 41.5 per cent. The gender pay gap is better than it was, mainly because of the minimum wage introduced by the Government. For full-time workers, the gap is currently a touch under 13 per cent, but for part-time jobs, which are still predominantly held by women, the gap is much worse at 40 per cent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reminded us that during the downturn it is important not to forget the long-term unemployed. That is so right, and it is why we are investing an additional £0.5 billion to guarantee more support to people unemployed for six months or more. There are incentives for firms to take on unemployed people and so on, and many of them will be women. I was keen to have learnt of the example the noble Baroness cited of Tomorrow's People. I shall certainly follow up on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, spoke of the need for training. Of course in the downturn we have to improve the skills of women; therefore we are investing in extra apprenticeships for adults, providing help for 5,000 women in training, career progression and recruitment projects, and supporting those returning to the labour market in a plethora of ways. I shall write to the noble Baroness with further information.

As noble Lords know, we will shortly bring forward an equality Bill which, among many other things, will take further steps to bridge the pay gap by means of significant new measures to improve transparency, which is crucial in tackling unequal pay. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for her excellent Bill, but I look forward to working with her on the equality Bill when it comes forward. Some will charge the measures in the equality Bill with being insufficient. We on these Benches do not agree. Critics said the same about our introduction of the right to request flexible working; they said that it was weak, that it had no teeth and that it would never work. They were wrong. It has, in fact, been a huge success, and next month we will extend the right from employees with children under six to employees with children aged 16 and under. This will extend the right to request flexible working from the current 6 million employees by adding in a further 4.5 million parents. Almost half of all new mothers now work flexitime, compared to just 17 per cent in 2002. The proportion of mothers who change their employer on returning to work has halved.

However, this is important for men as well as women. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that child rearing today is much more of a challenge than ever it was. The role of fathers is extremely important, but that is not to say that in relationships where there is no father children cannot have good chances in life. This Government have been doing an enormous amount to support parents, and I will gladly provide more information in due course.

Flexible working is not just of value to employees, but is rightly seen by many employers to be of value. For example at BT, company policies based on investing in its workforce mean that a massive 99 per cent of new mothers return to work after maternity leave, compared with a national average of 47 per cent. That is quite extraordinary. We have similarly seen real improvement on equal pay for equal value, on maternity pay, on childcare provision, and on support for skills and enterprise, including money via the Women and Work Sector Pathways Initiative, match-funded by employers, which will benefit up to 5,000 women.

Many noble Lords spoke about carers. I refer to that in the context of the need for flexible working. Carers bear the brunt of care responsibilities and assist the Government and all of us as individuals in this country. Under this Government, things have improved enormously. By March 2011, we will have invested more than £1.7 billion in assisting carers. We are doing so much more—that is important to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross.

My noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lady Massey and Lord Haskel discussed grandmothers and grandfathers, who play a key role in informal childcare. They are especially highly valued and trusted carers. Their role is challenging and almost half of them say that it makes their life more stressful. Research shows that the majority of grandparents prefer not to be paid for their care. We are therefore committed to doing more to value and support family childcare providers, including grandparents. We want services to do more to value and support care that is provided by family and friends who care. I note my noble friend's specific concerns in relation to the understandable problems about bereavement. I will come back to her in writing.

However difficult the economic climate, women are responding. Just this week, I was speaking to a woman at a reception in No. 10. She described to me her realisation that some community services were not being provided in her area, so she decided that she would address that and provide the services and therefore set up a small social enterprise that now employs 16 women. That is quite extraordinary; that is enterprise at its most basic but most important. We need entrepreneurs in all parts of our economy and society. We must ensure that we have women world-beaters of the future.

I rather liked the idea of a convention, which was proposed by my noble friend Lady Gale. That is up to the people of Wales, the Government of Wales and the National Assembly, but I shall certainly follow that up with her.

Even in a recession, women are striving to get into areas of activity and employment that have previously been barred to them. I urge noble Lords to look at the corporate sector, and the issue of women on company boards. We have in this House a number of distinguished members of prominent company boards, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg. I pay tribute to the positive, successful and relevant image of the House of Lords that they represent in their work.

While only 11.7 per cent of FTSE board directors are women, one in four FTSE boards still has no women on it. As many noble Lords have said, companies that have greater female representation do better than companies that do not. Among Fortune 500 companies in the USA, for example, companies with the highest percentages of female directors on the board achieved a 53 per cent higher return on equity than those with lower representation. I am glad that there is a wealth of female talent at the mezzanine, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, but we must nurture them. We need more diversity.

The number of women working in engineering, for example, is still low, although the proportion of women newly registering as engineers is currently better, at about 17 per cent. You can see why. Last week, I was speaking to a young woman at a brilliant event for young scientists and engineers who, at the age of 28, was just starting to train as an engineer. That is very impressive but when I asked why she had waited until now, she said, "When I was at school, my teachers said, 'Well, engineering—probably not for you, dear'". We have much to do to change the culture. We recognise, as does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that many of the jobs of the future will require knowledge of science and technology; those jobs are green jobs and science and technology digital jobs. We must enthuse young women and girls and retain that enthusiasm as they go from primary and secondary school and on to university. We are talking not just about university jobs but about technical jobs and all levels of jobs.

Many noble Lords mentioned domestic violence. I, too, fear that it may rise in the recession. We have an action plan on tackling violence, and I shall write to noble Lords about that. We also have many wonderful things such as IDVAs, independent domestic violence advisers. I visited some in Gloucestershire the other day. They are superb women who do a most fantastic job. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is probably right that the level of prostitution and trafficking will rise in a recession. This evil trade has to be stopped.

One of the principal elements of a recession is increased insecurity: increased financial insecurity, increased employment insecurity, increased housing insecurity and just plain old-fashioned insecurity about what is going to happen. I believe that that is where we are with regard to women in the downturn. However, as I mentioned, there are some early indications that women might at least not be disproportionately affected. That has been the pattern with previous recent recessions, in which, for example, unemployment rates for men have tended to be worse than those for women. So far in this recession, areas of employment where men traditionally dominate have been harder hit—for example, construction, where 90 per cent of jobs are held by men, and the financial services. In contrast, areas such as public administration, education and health, where 70 per cent of the jobs are held by women, have so far been much less hard hit. Just this week, the ONS said that so far the economic downturn in 2008 has impacted less on women in employment than men. However, the plain fact is that we do not yet know. We do not yet know how this recession will pan out, how long it will last, how deep it will be or whether we have yet hit the bottom.

However, we are offering real help now: help for small businesses; help for enterprise; help for those losing their jobs; help with mortgages; help with houses; help, in particular, for women; and help for family finances, with looking after children, with skills and training, with caring responsibilities and with fuel bills. I shall certainly ensure, as my noble friend suggested, that our new document about these issues is distributed widely. We know that there is much more to do but I believe that, as a Government, our track record over this extraordinary period shows our readiness and our ability to do it.

As my noble friend Lady Gould and many others have said, women are worried about the downturn but worried in different ways from men. Research for the Government Equalities Office shows that women, more than men, are worried about the impact of the recession on family life; that women, more than men, feel that the recession has already worsened the quality of family life; and that women, more than men, are worried about paying the bills and about the job prospects for their children. These are real worries and real concerns, and they are central to the issues behind both this debate and International Women's Day.

There are two or three issues that I have not addressed yet. One relates to conflict situations, raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Afshar and Lady Howe. The UK has been one of the principal supporters of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which calls on the UN and member states to ensure equal participation in peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts, women's empowerment, and the protection of women and girls in conflict. More recently, we were active in lobbying for agreement to UN Security Council resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflict, which established a link between sexual violence in conflict and international peace and security. However, I agree that the more women we have in trying to resolve conflict situations, the better.

I am very grateful for the support of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for the elements in the Health Bill relating to smoking. Like him, I believe that health is paramount in all children, including looked-after children. Young girls are our future and we have to ensure that they are not harmed by smoking.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, very much for reminding us about the need for sport. When women have worries, I think that they probably neglect sport even more than they do in the good times. I confess that I am one of the bad women in that I do not do as much sport as I might. I do not even watch Bolton on the television, but there we are. The Olympics should be a fantastic catalyst which we should not waste. I understand that the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation is a national partner of Sport England and that it has established an independent review into the future of women's sport, chaired by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, which will explore issues such as leadership and media coverage to ensure that there is more women's sport on the box.

Let us celebrate International Women's Day. Let us remember the women who paved the way for us. Their determination and courage have enabled us and our daughters to get as far as we have got today. The debate has given us an opportunity to reflect on the issues facing women and how they impact on us all, at home and abroad. It has illustrated that powerfully and clearly. We believe that, especially through the tough times, the Government have a responsibility to protect women and families as well as men and to help them to emerge stronger from the downturn. We are determined to do all that we can to achieve that goal.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for not responding to his points. We must ensure that more young women not only train as barristers, but become barristers and follow through to become judges.

In celebration of International Women's Day, I shall sit down.

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Labour 4:11 pm, 12th March 2009

My Lords, I have been more than a little overwhelmed by this debate. It has been truly magnificent and probably one of the best, if not the best, that we have had to celebrate International Women's Day. I thank every speaker most sincerely. I also thank the Lord President for her reply. She had to reply to a very long debate but she managed it so successfully.

I have tried to listen to all the contributions, although I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, as I had to leave the Chamber, so I missed a little of his speech on the importance of women's participation in sport, with which I fully agree, although I do not participate as I am far too old.

This has been a very wide-ranging and diverse debate, which makes it impossible to refer to many of the topics raised but they were covered by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas, Lady Morris and the Leader of the House. In what other debate would you get such diversity, from women's loos in your Lordships' House to the importance of women involved in the aftermath of war and post-war construction? On the way, we heard about women in the workplace, women entrepreneurs, women in financial institutions, women writers, violence against women at home and abroad, human trafficking, children, grandmothers and grandfathers and, I say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the influence of daughters.

This debate should not end just with the written report in Hansard. We have to pursue many of the useful suggestions and proposals made today. It has rightly been said that we must not lose the pool of talented women; rather we must maintain the durability of the progress that women have made, and we must build on the abilities, skills and talents of women and on the contribution that they make to the economy of the country.

I will not get into the debate on male testosterone, except to say that it proves the absolute need for diversity. I firmly believe that the economic downturn is an opportunity to review the position of women and men in employment and in society generally.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said that we cannot compare our situation with many of the women in developing countries who live grim and distressing lives. We heard some very moving experiences. We must press our Government to encourage other countries not only to maintain but wherever possible to increase the level of aid given at this time. Last week, at the United Nations, there was evidence of a reduction of that level of aid from some countries. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that within the next few weeks the UN will be announcing an agency specifically geared to women.

I close by referring to an article in today's Independent, which refers to a young man in Afghanistan who has received a 20-year prison sentence for writing an article on the rights of women. Although we, in this country, will continue to campaign and argue for further advancement and equal rights for women, such an incident highlights the lack of freedom and choice of too many of our sisters in other parts of the world. We have to continue to campaign and work on their behalf.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part for their informed and often moving contributions. As has been said, this shows the House of Lords at its very best. I beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.