My Lords, each year in this debate many noble Lords speak of their experiences and share uplifting stories. They also speak of traumatic situations and practices they have witnessed around the world—and very troubling some of those events are. I thought that this year I would concentrate on the good fortune that we have as women living at this time in this country, and be thankful for the changes that have taken and are taking place.
When I was first married and became involved in politics in the 1950s, life was very different from today. Many married women did not take paid employment, for various reasons; some institutions did not employ married women, and some women felt that, as their income was added to their husband’s, there was no point—he paid tax on it and, as noble Lords can imagine, difficulties often arose. Women were unable to open a building society account or to buy any item on hire purchase without their husband signing the document. I believe that one of the most important emancipations for women has been the implementation of legislation in 1990 for the independent taxation of husband and wife, changing a woman from being a chattel, and in the process often saving many a woman from being chained to an abusive husband.
Women began to take a greater interest and role in public life, and over the years flexed their muscles to improve the lives of women in the workplace. Despite legislation, the gender gap has still not been eliminated and, as we heard from the Minister, it is likely to be a long time before it can be. It can at best be assessed as work in progress.
I am proud that the Conservative Party has had two women Prime Ministers, setting the aspiration for all women candidates. Baroness Young blazed the trail as Leader of this House nearly 40 years ago. I understand that we must set the goal of equal male and female representation in the other place, and we are very slowly getting there. I believe that preferential treatment is not the way forward. There are, however, so many well-qualified women out there who should be elected, and we must continue to promote and assist them. Headway is being made. Women2Win is a brilliant association, and my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington deserves much praise for being an inspiration to us all by always working for others.
Brexit has absorbed our nation and taken some matters of urgency off the agenda for now. We must resolve Brexit and return to normality so that we can deal with our national problems. There is so much to do, but we will get there.
In this debate we have heard of the dire situations of many women across the world who know what real poverty is. They value education for their children and will go to all possible lengths to get them there. I congratulate the Government on giving us a buoyant economy so that this country can spend 0.7% of its GNP funding aid to enable developing countries to grow their economies.
Last year we celebrated the centenary of the first partial emancipation of women, and I am so happy that we were able to ensure that Emmeline Pankhurst remains in her rightful place close to Parliament. Along with her colleagues, she was certainly someone who fought constantly throughout her life for the status of women. She and all of them have been an inspiration. She certainly deserves to have such recognition.
In no way am I complacent, but I believe that once a year it is right to be grateful for the progress across the world and to be thankful for our own situation in which we take so much for granted. During this next year we will face an exciting future and, I hope, a time when we will all come together and be proud of our country and what we stand for. I hope we will be an example that others, particularly developing nations, will feel they wish to emulate.