With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause 2 stand part.
Clause 3 stand part.
Clause 4 stand part.
Amendment 4, in clause 4, page 2, line 1, leave out from ‘2006’ to end of line 3 and insert—
‘(annual report on effectiveness of aid), after paragraph (c) insert—
“(ca) what steps have been taken as a result of sections 1(1A) and 3(2) of the International Development Act 2002 in pursuing Millennium Development Goal 3,”’
Clause 5 stand part.
Amendment 5, in clause 5, page 2, line 5, leave out ‘Gender Equality (International Development)’ and insert ‘International Development (Gender Equality)’.
Amendment 6, in clause 5, page 2, line 7, leave out second ‘on’ and insert ‘with’.
Amendment 7, in clause 5, page 2, line 9, leave out ‘applies’ and insert ‘extends’.
New clause 1—Duty to have regard to gender inequality—
‘(1) The International Development Act 2002 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1 (development assistance), after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) Before providing development assistance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of providing development assistance that is likely to contribute to reducing poverty in a way which is likely to contribute to reducing inequality between persons of different gender.”
(3) In section 3 (humanitarian assistance), after the existing provision (which becomes subsection (1)) insert—
“(2) Before providing assistance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of providing assistance under that subsection in a way that takes account of any gender-related differences in the needs of those affected by the disaster or emergency.”
(4) The requirement imposed by an amendment made by this section may be satisfied by things done (wholly or in part) before the commencement of the amendment (including things done before the passing of this Act).’.
When the Committee has concluded its debate on this group and decided whether clause 1 should stand part of the Bill, I will put the questions on the remaining clauses and amendments and the new clause formally.
It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess.
In the light of the way in which the proceedings are being conducted, I thought I would start with a little background to how the Bill came about. I spent time in India last year and the year before. Over the years I have been the chairman of a number of all-party groups relating to Africa and elsewhere—back in 2000, for example, I was chair of the all-party Jubilee 2000 coalition group, which more than 300 MPs joined to support our, ultimately successful, proposals to reduce third-world debt, and we had similar success on water and sanitation a few years later—but when I went to India, I became conscious of the enormous role women were playing in the alleviation of poverty. It was women who were collecting millions of rupees in Delhi and Mumbai around the streets of the slum areas to provide sanitation and water. I was also conscious that in Africa it was women who provided much of the driving force behind the small and medium-sized businesses, the collection of water, and education: they were doing the real work. It struck me that something had to be done to encourage greater awareness of what women achieve. To be quite blunt, they represent half the world. Not only should their contribution towards poverty alleviation and humanitarian and development assistance be noted and encouraged, but every conceivable effort should be made to give them the opportunity to do more.
Last year, with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I went to India again. That was the final trigger. We visited a hostel in Hyderabad for women who had been subjected to the most appalling abuse and violation. The circumstances were very difficult: I understand that the woman who ran the hostel had been beaten near to death on many occasions because she was protecting those women. I concluded, as I had the previous year when I worked with the rag pickers and saw the work that those women did, that we should do something about that.
I received an enormous amount of help from the GREAT Initiative, Plan UK, Water Aid, Voluntary Service Overseas and Results UK, among other organisations, who came together to give practical assistance and advice for the Bill. I must say that the balloting of Bills in this House is a bit of a strange business. I think we were at number 18. Had it not been for the Chairman of Ways and Means using his discretion to reverse the order—for the first time in history, I believe—my Bill would have been third, not eighteenth. Having come so low in the ballot, I was told I had no chance, but—this is the important thing—I had the most enormous support from the Secretary of State. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her tenacity, interest and support, and to all her team in the Department, who have been absolutely marvellous throughout the whole process.
I also pay tribute to the other members of this Committee for their interest and engagement, and to one in particular: the right hon. Member for Gordon, Chair of the Select Committee on International Development. I thank him for being here and for the distinguished role he has played as Chair of that Committee. This is perhaps a somewhat unusual way of putting it, but I also I congratulate those sitting on the other side of the Committee and all those who have given support across the Floor of the House. I also wish to mention Baroness Royell, who was with me in India and played a very active part in doing everything she could to help the women in the hostel, together with the Bishop of Oxford, as he was, the Reverend Richard Harries. So we have had an enormous amount of support, and I am extremely grateful to all those who have participated in bringing the Bill to its present state.
I will go through the proposals in the Bill briefly, to identify for the record exactly what we are proposing to do. The purpose of the Bill is to place duties concerning gender on the Secretary of State before providing development assistance and humanitarian assistance under the International Development Act 2002. The Bill introduces a requirement for the Secretary of State to consider reducing gender inequality as part of the provision of development assistance, and to consider other gender needs when providing humanitarian assistance overseas. In the case of humanitarian assistance, it is important to ensure that the response to an emergency or other disaster meets the specific and different needs of all persons affected, and the Bill will also introduce an additional reporting duty on gender in the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006. The Bill does not create any additional conditionality or limitation on reducing poverty or providing humanitarian assistance; instead, the Secretary of State will be obliged to have regard to gender when making decisions about such assistance. I am glad to say that the Government—I repeat my thanks to the Secretary of State—supported the Bill, subject to any necessary amendment, on Second Reading on 13 September.
One of the chief amendments proposed is to incorporate clauses 1 and 2 as new subsections in sections 1 and 3 of the 2002 Act. There are various matters that I do not think it is necessary for me to go into because they are there in the Bill and in the explanatory notes that will be made available to Members and members of the public, and because when one is drafting a Bill and incorporating it into the framework of existing legislation, some of the wording can become a little confusing—not confusing in practice, but confusing in explanation. So what we have done is recommend, through the explanatory notes, a method whereby people can understand exactly what the Bill is intended to achieve and how it will achieve that objective.
I think that I have covered the basic points I wanted to make. Finally, I will stress just one point: that women represent approximately half the people in the world, they are vital to the relief of poverty, and they deserve our protection and to be given greater opportunities to contribute throughout the world. The Department for International Development has a remarkable capacity to deliver on a worldwide scale. I am delighted that the Bill will further millennium development goal 3, which is to promote gender equality and to empower women. I hope the Bill will be seen to be a prototype for other legislation elsewhere in the world, so that we can have harmonious legislative arrangements wherever DFID is working. I hope it will be a beacon to other people throughout the world that shows the importance of the role of women, of empowering them and of providing them with a means to help other people, but also to help the women themselves. Women have been so badly treated in certain parts of the world and it is important that they receive the protection they need.
With those few words, I am glad to introduce the debate and give other hon. Members the opportunity to make their contribution.
I start by commending the hon. Member for Stone for introducing the Bill. We will not seek to obstruct its passage on to the statute book. That includes not talking for very long, the Committee will be pleased to hear.
The hon. Gentleman does a real service to efforts to tackle violence against women and girls and to promote gender equality. By introducing the Bill, he gives greater confidence to Members across the House, men or women, to speak on the issue. One of the challenges of gender equality is that all too often it is treated as a women’s issue, but in an international development context, holding back women in a society does not just hold back women; it holds back societies. Certainly in my new role on the shadow international development team, I was keen to have this aspect of the brief under my name, not least because it might give confidence to other men on the Opposition Benches to speak out more clearly and more regularly. I also commend the Secretary of State for picking up the Bill and running with it, and making the parliamentary process a straightforward one.
One in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and in some countries violence against women is near universal. The World Bank identifies gender-based violence as one of the biggest risks facing women—more of a threat to their well-being than cancer or car accidents. Given all that, it is clear that one Bill will never be enough, but this Bill is a brilliant step in the right direction. It is surely a great thing to begin to look, to monitor and to place a responsibility on the Secretary of State to look at gender issues as she makes the decisions that she must make on funding programmes, and to be accountable to Parliament for doing so.
All too often gender inequality, reproductive and sexual health, child care, violence against women and girls and other issues are treated as women’s issues. We know that it is primarily men who perpetrate violence and engage in risky sexual and drug-taking behaviour—risks that all too often are passed on to their unknowing or powerless wives and girlfriends—but they are habitually missing from the debate. At the moment women and girls feature 81 times in DFID’s list of 69 projects aimed at tackling violence against women: men and boys do not feature once. There is a real piece of work to be done to change men’s attitudes and to look for ways to promote gender equality. I hope that the Bill will help to do so. It is also crucial that we shift the focus from prevention to cure. The mental and sometimes physical scars of being a victim are often incurable, but living with the fear of violence can be as psychologically and physically damaging as experiencing it. That is why the Bill is so important.
I have a couple of questions to ask about the amendments before the Bill continues its hopefully speedy progress. First, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to allay my fears about the change of language. There seems to have been a weakening of language from,
“the Secretary of State shall have regard”, in clause 1 to,
“the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of” in the new clause. The words,
“to further sustainable development in the social, economic and environmental circumstances for women”, are to be removed. I am sure there are good drafting reasons for this, which I hope the Minister will explain.
Thinking about some of the reporting requirement changes, we know that millennium development goal 3 is central to our global commitments, but we will soon be in a post-2015 world. What implications does this have? Also, will the Minister or the hon. Member for Stone speak to the broader commitment to mainstream gender equality across all future goals? With those brief comments, I wish the Bill well in Committee and look forward to debating it further should it pass today.
It is good to serve under your chairmanship in this Committee, Mr Amess. When the hon. Member for Stone approached me to ask whether I would be a sponsor of this Bill, I had absolutely no hesitation whatever in agreeing to do so. I have been the Chair of the International Development Committee for the last eight years or so, and it has been clear to me throughout that period that the empowerment and development of women is the most important issue and the key to development. I have said that many times and on many public platforms.
Let me say to the hon. Member for Luton South that it is absolutely right that men and women should feel free to talk about this issue without any compromise whatever. It is important that it should be seen not as a women’s issue, but as a human issue. It is about how genders can work together for the betterment of society, rather than in conflict.
To reinforce that point, I want to mention one or two examples that bring the matter into focus. As it happens, my Committee would have been debating our report on violence against women and girls in Westminster Hall tomorrow. We agreed to postpone the debate until January only because of the Nelson Mandela event—I wonder whether Nelson Mandela would have approved of our postponing the debate, but we will have it in due course. We identified the fact that gender equality does not exist anywhere in the world and that violence against women exists everywhere. Let us not pretend that this is just a developing country issue—it is an issue in this country as well. However, it is an extreme issue in many of those countries, whose societies are very male-dominated.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North will recall that when we had a meeting with President Karzai, there was a robust exchange—which I do not think he appreciated at all—about the rights of women. At the end, he said, “You have got to recognise that we are a conservative society. You have to respect our values.” One of the male members of the Committee said, “Well, the statistics show that 80% of women in Afghanistan are regularly beaten by their husbands. Are these the traditional values that our soldiers are dying to defend?” The President then retreated into saying, “Of course, the last leader of Afghanistan who stood up for the rights of women was the king in 1929. He was assassinated, and I do not want to follow his example.” We have therefore confronted these issues in a fairly robust fashion. When the Committee produced our report on the UK’s policy in Afghanistan, we said that the single test that we would apply to see whether our intervention in Afghanistan had beneficially transformed society in the long run would be the status of women, say, five years after our troops had left. That will be the single determinant of whether our intervention has been transformational in a development sense.
The Committee has just returned from Burma, where the same thing applies. As Aung San Suu Kyi herself told us, nobody should be deceived by the fact that the most prominent and respected politician in Burma is a woman. That should not obscure the fact that the vast majority of representatives in Parliament and virtually all the people in government are men. Very few are women.
Of course, this is not just about women in power—I do not want to cast any aspersions, but there are some women in power who have not always used that power to transform the lives of women in their own societies. Rather, it is ordinary women who really need the support, as the hon. Member for Stone was absolutely right to say. That is the point I want to make, and I hope the Secretary of State will respond to it. The focus of the Bill should be on how development policy in the countries that we partner can transform or help to transform the lives of ordinary women and how we ensure that our partners understand that we believe that enhancing the status of women is the key to their development. We cannot tackle issues such as child marriage on our own—we saw a wonderful DFID programme in action in Ethiopia that has really good partners on the ground. With the greatest respect to my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who is a great campaigner on these issues, she will not change Ethiopia, but she will champion those in Ethiopia who can change it. That is where our policy interaction matters and where the Bill can make a difference.
I support the Bill, but perhaps the Secretary of State will explain the changes. I agree with the hon. Member for Stone that the wording is slightly softer, but I do not doubt the Secretary of State’s commitment to the issue. Nevertheless, how will she ensure that every time we set up a development programme, the advancement of women is built into it as part of the bricks and the furniture—the sine qua non of underwriting the programme? That is what the Bill is designed to achieve, and if it does, the hon. Gentleman will have provided a transformational service.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. I very much welcome the Bill. The right hon. Member for Gordon said he had no hesitation in supporting it, but the hon. Member for Stone had to assure me that it had nothing to do with Europe before I put my name to it. We have different views on Europe, but on this Bill our views are aligned. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to development generally and in particular—it is worth putting this on the record—her stewardship of her Department, focusing on women and value for money, bringing her accountancy skills to bear. Indeed, value for money is important and relates to this Bill, because the better value for money that the Department gets out of its tax pound, the more that can go to help women and girls in developing countries.
I chair the all-party group on Nigeria and, jointly with Lord Crisp in the other place, the all-party group on global health. Both roles have reinforced my view that women are key to improvements. If we can provide women with education and better health—and thereby wealth—and raise awareness of rights more generally among women and the wider population, the Bill can have a generational impact. If we think of women as the first educators of their children, it stands to reason that they should be better educated and supported more generally to make sure their children have a better start in life.
I have visited Nigeria three times. Last year I was in Minna in Niger state, where we saw projects supported by DFID—Save the Children was also involved—to train girls to become teachers. The state authorities and others realised that many girls were not going to school. One of the big reasons, in a Muslim part of Nigeria, was that many parents did not want their girls to be taught by men. There was a shortage of female teachers, so the education college in Minna set up a compound with barbed wire around it, and women were allowed to go—away from their husbands and fathers, and sometimes with their babies in tow—and be trained to be teachers. I was out there with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), and we were inspired by their enthusiasm for learning and education.
Interestingly—I flag this up for the Secretary of State, if she ever gets the chance to visit—the girls were being told, “Go back to your village and be yourselves. Don’t be too ambitious,” because there was a fear that if they changed too much, the programme would stop. That is the nub of the challenges we still face. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and I felt a little uncomfortable about that, but we could see the logic—that it would have a more long-term, generational impact if those girls went to their villages and taught in those schools.
On my most recent visit in July, we looked at human rights in particular, and we recently published a report. Although we went to look at human rights, we quickly concluded that women’s rights, if tackled, would solve many of the wider problems, particularly with children’s rights. That underlines the importance of the first part of new clause 1, which deals with development assistance. If people are aware of their rights, that can make a big difference.
We heard terrible stories there of rights being neglected in the justice system and elsewhere. If a child is raped—there is a lot of under-age marriage and girls being forced into inappropriate, under-age sex and childbirth, which can cause them a lot of damage—the perpetrators would often buy off the family for the price of a parking ticket in the UK, because of the shame on the family of having that child unable to marry. Of course, such families will often be quite poor and that money will be useful to them. That was shocking to us and demonstrates the challenges that the Secretary of State and all of us face in those countries. It also underlines the importance of getting it right in gender-specific terms. The more that young women are educated, the less likely they are to become young mothers and be forced into marriage, which is a real issue.
I have one question. New clause 1(3) refers to humanitarian assistance. The UK typically takes people in from refugee camps, particularly those that are long standing—it was up to 1,000 people, but I am not sure what the current figure is. Those people are welcomed by communities across the UK, from Northern Ireland through the whole of England, Wales and Scotland. Civil servants, mostly from the Home Office, assess who the vulnerable families are in those camps and who needs the support the most. Often when we talk about immigration, people talk about economic migrants and people who have got here under their own steam, but people from refugee camps are some of the most vulnerable people in the world and we should not forget about them.
When we look at these issues—I would be interested to hear the Secretary of State’s update on how this is done—sometimes the priority can be, for example, lone parent households headed by single women, who are most at risk of violence and abuse in the camps, which are often not even shanty towns, but tent towns. Those women are very vulnerable, which would be an issue under new clause 1. However, other valid issues are also taken into account in assessments, and I would not want to undermine those issues or suggest that those women are not deserving. However, the civil servants involved are pretty heroic and have to make difficult judgments about which families they recommend that Ministers give support to, so that they can come to the UK. The UK Government provide funding for the first year and then the local authority in the receiving area picks up the cost. A lot of thought goes into the process, and although there is perhaps no simple answer, I would be interested to hear the Secretary of State’s view on how the new clause would or would not affect the approach taken.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone on introducing it. I also congratulate everyone across the Committee who is involved in it.
I want to briefly say how important the Bill is. I have always been passionate about equality of opportunity for women in this country, particularly as it was a female Prime Minister who inspired me to believe that anything is possible for a woman and that a woman can reach the highest position in the country. The more I travel, the more I see how necessary it is for us to be out there speaking strongly about the opportunities for girls and women in other parts of the world. I recently visited India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and looked at a number of things, including violence against women and girls, the education of girls, early forced marriage, the economic empowerment of women and, most recently, in the Punjab, female feticide, which is very prevalent there.
As was said earlier, these issues are not just for developing countries; they exist right here in this country and we need to be aware of them. If we take domestic violence, the very first refuge in the world was set up in my constituency, in Chiswick, in west London. In this country, one in four girls or women will experience domestic abuse in their lives. There is much that we need to do. The Bill helps in the campaign to allow women and girls across the world to achieve their potential and helps people to see the value of women. Many of those countries will never have the potential to develop fully unless the value of women is recognised.
I thank the hon. Members on this Committee who are male for supporting the Bill. It is important for men to stand up and be counted on this issue. Often the message is stronger when it comes from people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, because it is then seen not just as a women’s issue, but as an issue for humanity and therefore an extremely important one.
I was going to make a comment about clause 1, because although the Bill is about gender equality, clause 1, in referring to the Secretary of State, talks about what “he” shall do, and the last time I looked at the Secretary of State, she did not look male to me. We might say that that is just how Bills are drafted, but perhaps we should change that. However, I then saw that new clause 1 changes “he” to “the Secretary of State”.
I also want to ask the Secretary of State how we can help to garner global support on this issue, and how we can apply pressure and give assistance to other nations that can help to change things, because if we can play our part in changing things for women and girls around the world, we will make a real difference to so many people in different countries. They might not necessarily be able to help themselves, but we can certainly help them.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess, and it is an enormous pleasure to sit on this delightful Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch reminded us that the hon. Member for Stone is occasionally identified with matters European; yet if I may say so, I think of him most for his excellent work on international development. When I had the privilege—because I was fortunate in the ballot—of piloting the Bill that became the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, one of its best supporters was the hon. Gentleman. He brought to the issue the objectivity that we would expect from him, a deep knowledge of the problems of developing countries and, above all, a commitment to the need for equality, which is reflected in the excellent Bill we are discussing. Many people might find that commitment surprising, but I do not, having observed him over the years.
Right hon. and hon. Members from all parties will have their own recollections of countries they have visited. One of the joys of being a Member of this House—and it is a joy—is that we are able to see places and meet people that otherwise would have been absolutely beyond us and would never have been part of our experience. In the spirit of the Bill, I would like to take a few moments to reflect on some of the visits I have been able to undertake.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North and I visited Rwanda many years after the terrible genocide there. I am sure she will agree that when we saw how Rwanda was accepting the challenge of reconciliation— something it has done remarkably well, responding to a situation that no one could have predicted and to the horrors that emerged—and when we saw the events that followed, it was quite clear that the role of women was absolutely pivotal, even in Rwanda. She will recall that we attended one of the village courts, which was their way of dealing with truth and reconciliation. Perhaps the most startling event was when a woman emerged from the crowd and asked—not in an angry sense, but in a way that we would all understand from a mother—what had happened to her husband and children. She then stood aside, waited to hear the prisoners’ replies and, after they had admitted their guilt, went back to her seat to reflect quietly on the day’s events.
We have had opportunities to visit other places, such as India, which has been mentioned. A few years ago I was invited to go and study the problem of tuberculosis, which is a big problem in India, as well as in other developing countries. When we visited hospitals, we realised that women suffered most and gave most in running those hospitals and dealing with that terrible problem, which can nevertheless be dealt with if the will is there.
If the objective of the hon. Member for Stone is to recognise the need for gender balance as reflected in the millennium development goals, it is significant that the third development goal specifically refers, quite rightly, to gender issues. It is unacceptable that profound, indefensible discrimination should continue against women, as reflected in the figures for infant mortality, perinatal deaths and so much more; in the fact that, even today, so many girls are denied the right to seek an education; and in the fact that, as the millennium goals strive to eradicate poverty and deliver clean water where it is required, the people doing the work needed to climb these mountains are, in the main—although not exclusively—women and girls.
It is a great honour for me to be invited by the hon. Member for Stone to serve on this Committee, support his Bill and recognise the marvellous work that he does. I will conclude by echoing what he said about DFID. In my opinion—I trust that the Secretary of State will take this as a compliment—she has the best Department of Government. I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) when he was appointed shadow Secretary of State that he had the best post in the shadow Cabinet, because we can see that we are making a contribution in our respective roles. There is still more to be done—there are still more inequalities to be challenged, more rights to be addressed and more to do on gender equality—but we can see improvements as time goes on, and we are rightly being asked by the international community to deliver more.
This Parliament has given a good lead on these matters, although we still have more to do. In supporting the Bill, which the hon. Member for Stone presented, I offer him my warmest congratulations on his choice of subject. I know that he will continue to work closely with DFID—an excellent Department, as I have said. What he has done and is seeking to do today can only enhance the role of this Parliament, at a time when many people feel that that might be necessary.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess, and to follow the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill and colleagues on this Committee.
One of the appointments of which I am proudest is to be an honorary member of the women’s committee to combat AIDS on Kilimanjaro, to which I was appointed many years ago, when I was living in Tanzania and my wife was running a public health programme for the best part of 11 years across many rural areas. It was there that I saw at first hand the huge importance of involving everybody in development, but how, in fact, women took the majority of leading roles, particularly in health and education, but often in business as well.
Before I make two points and put a couple of questions to the Secretary of State, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Stone for the tremendous work that he has done on this subject over many years. As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, this is not something my hon. Friend has just picked up; it has been a theme of his parliamentary career since he was elected in, I believe, 1984.
Our aid and development programme consists of bilateral and multilateral aid. Clearly we have a great deal of influence—in fact, complete influence—over our bilateral aid programmes, and we can make sure that the Bill applies to them. I question how we can ensure that it also applies to the contributions we make to multilateral aid programmes, where we are not often or necessarily in the driving seat because we are giving money to other organisations. They may be very good organisations, such as the GAVI Alliance, the Global Fund or United Nations organisations, and the multilateral aid review has helped tremendously in identifying those, but there may be programmes within that which do not conform to the requirements of the Bill. I wonder what the Secretary of State’s views are on that.
My second point is on the welcome renewal of emphasis on the role of the private sector in development, which I entirely support. Again, it is extremely important that we make sure that all our support for private sector development that tackles poverty is focused on the aims of the International Development Act 2002, whose sole focus is to reduce poverty. If we amend the Bill as we are rightly seeking to do, we must ensure that when we provide support to the private sector to fulfil that role, it also fulfils the requirements of these amendments in fact and not in a rather loose way. I would very much like to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about that.
Those are my only two points. Once again, I reiterate my congratulations and my welcome for the work done on this by all sides, and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. This is an important moment for the UK and for our Government’s approach to international development. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone on introducing this private Member’s Bill on gender equality in international development. In fact, all the organisations I know supported him as he prepared it.
As MPs, we all know that we may spend many parliamentary sessions putting our names into the private Member’s Bill ballot without them ever being pulled out. The fact that my hon. Friend has had that opportunity and chose to use it on such an important subject is a real tribute and testament to his many years’ work in the House. It is thanks to his dedication and tenacity that the Bill reached Committee stage with cross-party consensus behind it. It is a real achievement.
I take this opportunity to thank my officials in the Department for International Development. They have worked very hard, not only helping to support the Bill as it passes through the House, but more broadly on issues that affect women and girls—preparing the business cases, but also making sure that programmes get carried out on the ground every single day of the week.
The Government supported the Bill when it was given its Second Reading without debate on 13 September, as the Committee heard. Jointly with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, we now propose to introduce a number of amendments. They do not affect the policy intent, which we of course support; instead, they are designed to improve the technical drafting of the Bill. I assure colleagues on the Committee that the changes we are making strengthen the Bill.
As my hon. Friend said, our Parliament and this Bill really can be a beacon for the work on women and girls which is happening around the world and, as the hon. Member for Luton South said, for the important role that men and boys also play in this agenda. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that many of the programmes we have under way have elements that refer to the role of men and boys in the pursuit of the agenda for women and girls.
As many of the members of the Committee know, I am personally very committed to passing the Bill. Indeed, since becoming Secretary of State for International Development, I have made improving the lives of women and girls a top priority for my Department in every single area of our work. We know that, aside from it being the right thing to do, it makes sense and it is a good investment. We know that when a girl in the developing world gets educated, she will marry later and have fewer children, who will be healthier and more likely to be educated themselves. Aside from the fact that it is one of the best investments we can make in international development, as Hillary Clinton said, women’s rights are ultimately about human rights. They are the rights of women and girls to lead a life free of violence, to have an education, to have a voice in their community, to be able to choose who to marry and when, and to have control over their bodies.
The UK is helping women around the world to get access to education, financial services, and contraception and family planning. We are helping to improve women’s land rights and helping women to access security and justice. We are determined to work across the board, not just within the Department for International Development but with the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to focus particularly on achieving an end to violence against women and girls. Last month, I launched an international call to action on violence against women and girls in emergencies and humanitarian situations. As a result, Governments and aid agencies signed up to a groundbreaking commitment to make the safety and protection of women and girls a life-saving priority in our response to emergencies—not something that happens after we have looked at other things, but one of the core priorities that is worked on from the word go.
I will respond quickly to some of the questions. On the perfectly sensible point made by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, the Bill very much reflects the approach we have taken on public sector equality duty, which is the legislation that refers to spending here in the UK. The Bill provides a similar lens for gender equality and applies it to the investment that we make outside the UK, so it very much sits alongside that existing piece of legislation, which covers the issues she talked about.
I assure the hon. Lady that I work hand in hand with the Home Office on human trafficking. Much can be achieved by my Department and the Home Office working together to help many of the vulnerable people who are affected by trafficking. For example, an element of the work happening in the Philippines right now is explicitly designed to try to reduce the risk to women in that sort of situation of becoming victims of trafficking.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Luton South on the post-2015 agenda and what comes after the millennium development goals, this Government are certainly arguing for a stand-alone goal on gender, as well as mainstreaming through the rest of the new development framework. We will take that case to the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2014. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that on the high-level panel the Prime Minister co-chaired, the group of experts had a stand-alone goal on gender and gender equality. I was particularly pleased to see one of the sub-targets on ending child marriage, which is incredibly important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth talked about the work we need to do internationally. She is quite right. Over time, we are developing a very effective working relationship with UN Women, which is particularly interested in the role of men and boys in this area, and with the World Bank, where I am privileged to sit as a member of the gender advisory council.
To answer the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, after the Bill is passed, we will ensure that we go through the process of influencing where we can and applying the provisions to our multilateral spend as well as to our bilateral spend. Having this Bill in place greatly strengthens our ability to ensure that we have our priorities focused in our multilateral spend as well as in our bilateral spend.
I was asked how we in the Department will work to ensure that we deliver on the intent of the Bill. I assure the Committee that gender equality is hard-coded into how we develop our business cases and is a particularly important part of what we look at. It is absolutely part of how our Department works.
Finally, I come to the points made by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, with which I very much agree. He has been a tireless advocate of this agenda in the House, and I pay tribute to him for that. I believe that where half the population is locked out of a country, prevented from being productive and pursuing opportunities, there is no sustainable path to development. It is very straightforward. In the week that we mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela and all that he achieved in ending race-based apartheid in South Africa, today’s Bill is about showing that the UK will never forget what is essentially gender apartheid for women in the societies of which we are all part.
We have to find better ways—and this Bill is one of them—to ensure we never let up our foot from the pedal of trying to achieve progress on the rights of women and girls, wherever they are in the world. They should have not only rights but opportunities. We urgently need irreversible gains in the rights of women and girls, and of course an end to violence against them. I believe that the ongoing, persistent lack of rights for women and girls in the world is probably the greatest unmet human challenge of the 21st century.
The Bill enshrines our commitment to reducing gender inequality in law. It also introduces a reporting duty to ensure that we will be held to account for delivering on this agenda. That is absolutely right. I finish by paying tribute again to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and by saying that the Government are glad to support the Bill.