Women: Inequality in Political and Public Life — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:06 am on 6th March 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 11:06 am, 6th March 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to eliminate the inequality of women in political and public life.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

My Lords, to ensure the better representation of women in public and political life, the Government have enabled parties to use positive action should they wish to increase participation by under-represented groups, have extended to 2030 the ability of parties to use women-only shortlists, and have set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should be women by the end of this Parliament. Given that Saturday is International Women’s Day, I wish everybody a happy International Women’s Day.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that progress is dreadfully slow, with only 252 women Peers ever appointed to your Lordships’ House, only 369 women ever elected to the House of Commons, only four women in the British Cabinet and only one woman ever appointed to sit in the Supreme Court, and that with the UK ranking at 64 in the global ranking of women’s representation, more needs to be done? In whatever walk of life, whether it be political or public life, women do not sit at the top tables of decision-making. Does she further agree that the time has now come for some drastic action and that what we should be moving to now is legislation for a quota system? Many other countries do it. Will she look at what other countries are doing and examine how successful quotas have been?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble Baroness is quite right—progress is far too slow and much more needs to be done. Things are slowly speeding up. I am well aware of the work that she herself did in Wales to transform things in her party. I know also of the transformative effects that quotas have had in some of the Scandinavian countries so that they now no longer need to use quotas. It is very difficult under a non-proportional system to do that within the United Kingdom Parliament, but right across the board, whether it is women on boards, women in public life or women in Parliament, we are examining this extremely carefully. We absolutely take her underlying argument about the need for progress.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat

My Lords, there are 30 million women in this country, yet we seem to have great difficulty in finding 325 women to bring parity among MPs in the other place. When the Speaker’s Conference was set up by the previous Government in

2008 there was extensive examination of the diversity of Parliament. What progress has been made and are the recommendations that came out of that very good inquiry being implemented?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

As my noble friend will know, we have implemented the provisions of the Equality Act in terms of enabling political parties to use positive action and women-only shortlists. Those were recommendations that came out of the Speaker’s Conference. We have also secured a commitment from the three main parties to provide greater transparency over candidate selection and launched the access to elected office for disabled people strategy. But my noble friend is quite right, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that more needs to be done.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, given the concern about the status of early years provision, the fact that upward of 80% of the staff working in early years are women, and the increasing awareness of the vital importance of this area, are any Members of this House or the other place early years professionals? I am not aware of any and I think that is regrettable. Does the Minister agree?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

There are a large number of early years experts in this House, I have to say. However, the noble Earl makes a good point about the need to be inclusive as regards those who stand for Parliament. It is extremely important that we do everything we can to encourage people to feel that it is worth while being involved in politics, worth while standing for Parliament and worth while serving more than one term. We need to look at why some Members of Parliament, especially women, decide after serving one term that they have had enough.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of two international development NGOs. Does the Minister accept that the Government have a responsibility to set a good example when two-thirds of those in poverty around the world are female and when the voices of women are simply not heard in the decision-making places around the world? What will the Government do to make sure that they lead in ensuring that the voices of those dispossessed women are heard internationally?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

I hope that the noble Baroness recognises what DfID and the FCO have done in this regard. A number of parliamentarians from here will attend the Commission on the Status of Women next week in New York, which will seek to take forward the very points that she makes. She is absolutely right: unless you have women front and centre at all levels of their societies, you will not relieve poverty and you will not address inequality.

Photo of Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend may not be aware that the APPG for Women in Parliament, whose aim is to increase the representation of women here, is conducting an inquiry, which will start to take evidence next week, with support from Members of Parliament and Members of this House, to investigate barriers, challenges and what changes can be made to improve the situation. When the inquiry reports towards the end of the summer, will my noble friend confirm that she will encourage Ministers as well as the political parties to take note of the results?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

I can assure my noble friend that we certainly will do that. I pay tribute to my noble friend for what she has done within her own party to encourage women to get involved in this area. I welcome the fact that the all-party group is doing that and I look forward to seeing its report.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

Does the Minister acknowledge that we should not get too gloomy given that the only Lord Speakers in this House have both been women and that, of the five most recent Leaders of the House, three have been women? Perhaps this appointed House has some advantages in terms of what we are able to do to ensure that women reach the places they should be in.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I also note—I have analysed it myself—the disproportionate contribution made by women in the Lords in terms of work. I have pointed that out to the various party leaders, most effectively within my own party, and we are now up to 31% in our group in terms of women’s representation.