|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 182and who support us so admirably throughout our parliamentary year by working some very anti-social hours. I could go on and on, but I do not think now that I need remind the House any more of the commitment of successive Conservative Governments to the cause of women.
I now return to my opening remarks, about how disappointed I was not to be debating women's matters on an internationally framed motion. I wish to remain in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I have given some thought to how to do so, and I have decided to talk about the work of one woman in our Government--Baroness Chalker, at the Overseas Development Administration.
If the Labour party had framed the debate more widely, we could have talked about the women pearl divers in Lesotho whose lives are shortened because of the depths to which they dive, and about the way in which the Women's Institute has helped them. We could have talked about the women of central Africa who walk 15 miles a day to fetch water. I do not believe that any woman in the House walks 15 miles a day for water.
We could also have talked about the women of China who face the dilemma of being allowed to produce only one child. If that first child is a girl, what a terrible decision they have to make. What sort of privation are they forced into?
Dr. Lynne Jones: If the hon. Lady feels so strongly about those issues and about women's lives in the international scene, will she ask her Government to arrange for a debate on them in Government time?
Mrs. Gillan: I thank my friend--I mean, the hon. Lady, although I think of her as my hon. Friend--for that intervention. What she suggests would be a good idea. Perhaps we could both make the point to the Leader of the House during business questions on Thursday. I have not heard many voices from the Opposition Benches calling for a debate on that subject, but it would be an excellent idea. The Opposition have missed an opportunity by not highlighting the plight of women internationally.
Surely we should get our priorities right. Surely we should not gaze at our navels, but should look outwards to see how we can educate and help women in other countries. Baroness Chalker is giving us a formidable lead at the ODA. Indeed, on the front page of the booklet containing the ODA's annual review for 1994, among the aims of the aid programme, she specifically includes:
"Promote the status of women".
In many developing countries, women are usually the poorest and work longer hours gathering bare essentials. They often have the sole responsibility for bringing up children. In 1993-94, the ODA almost doubled the sum spent on projects specifically aimed at women. It supported the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee and the Aga Khan Rural Support Project.
In the Pacific region, the ODA supports a judicial, legal and rights education programme aimed at providing training for women and encouraging them to go into a profession dominated by men. In Africa, it supports the work of African women's organisations in educating families and their children, especially about the problems resulting from female genital mutilation, which still occurs throughout the world, and which I find abhorrent.
Column 183Baroness Chalker is taking direct action on desperately urgent projects. Many other women's organisations in this country--for example, the Women's Institute--also choose to direct some of their efforts abroad. I should like us to turn our eyes to those women. We must continue to make progress here. It is much more important to try to empower women who are so severely disadvantaged in underprivileged countries, when we in the United Kingdom are so privileged today. Yes, we still have further to go, but as women, especially as women in the House of Commons, we have a strong message to take abroad. I hope that Baroness Chalker will continue to carry that message, and I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench will support me in looking for more help for women in other countries.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I join my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) in urging the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) to bring to bear what pressure she can on the Government to arrange a debate in Government time on the situation of women in the third world. However, given that since 1979, under successive Conservative Administrations, this country has moved from being the second largest donor nation to being the second smallest donor nation, it is more than likely that her requests will fall on stony ground. However, I join her in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) for creating what I hope will be an annual event in the Chamber, that is, the discussion of women's position in this country and abroad. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said that women's suffrage had been introduced in New Zealand in 1893, and I shall come back to that point in a moment. She also wondered whether she would have had the courage to withstand the pressure endured by the suffragettes. I can assure her that her concern about her possible lack of courage is not shared by any other hon. Member. We all know how she withstood the pressure exerted on her by Conservative Whips, so no one would argue that she lacked Yorkshire grit.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen said that women had been granted suffrage in New Zealand in 1893. Last year, I was privileged to be invited to attend the celebration of the centenary of the same event in South Australia. We shall have to wait for 30-odd years to celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage in this country. Women from all over the world, from developed nations such as ours and from the developing nations, attended the conference in Adelaide. The theme that ran throughout the conference was that, despite women having suffrage in many countries, we still have a long way to go, given that women comprise half the world's population.
That feeling was reinforced by a report published by the United Nations in 1980. It showed that two thirds of the world's work was done by one half of the world's population, that one tenth of the world's income was earned by one half of the world's population and that one hundredth of the world's property was owned by one half of the world's population. It is no surprise to me or, I am
Column 184sure, to any other female hon. Member, to learn that the half of the world's population to which the report referred is the world's women.
Nowhere is the failure of nations, including our nation, to reflect the fact that women constitute half the world's population more evident than in the world's legislative assemblies. It is especially apparent here, in the mother of Parliaments. Some women have had the vote in this country for 78 years, but the country is yet to be represented by 10 per cent. of women sitting in the available seats. Since some women first had the vote in these islands, I believe that there have been only 10 women holding Cabinet office, but we have never had a woman Foreign Secretary, we have never had a woman Secretary of State for Defence, we have never had a woman Chancellor of the Exchequer and we have never had a woman as Home Secretary. For me, it is of course a bitter irony that the first woman Prime Minister that this country produced had to be Margaret Thatcher. Some Conservative Members have described as patronising my party's proposals to enable more women to present themselves to the electorate in order that the electorate may judge whether they wish to return them to Parliament. I, in common with every other woman in the Chamber, have had a soubriquet far worse than "patronising" or, indeed, "token", hurled at me, and I have little doubt that much harsher insults will be thrown at us in the future. I find nothing patronising in the idea that, in certain targeted seats, it should be a requirement that constituency parliamentary parties make a final short-list of all women. What I do find patronising is that the Government can suggest, for example, that a nurse should accept an increase of one and a half pennies in her salary.
No political party could function without women. It is the women members and activists who do the hard and sometimes extremely boring work on the street that facilitates the election not only of Members of Parliament but of councillors in local government elections. It is patronising that women should be deemed to be capable and fitted for such work but not to sit at the table where the decisions are made. That view still seems to inform the opinion, not only in the Chamber but without, that women still have an awfully long way to go before they are capable of fulfilling the functions which, in the past, have automatically been presupposed to be spheres for which men are most suited.
There is a tradition and, in a sense, a culture, that seems to regard the abilities which men are supposed to possess and which, on occasion, they feel a necessity to express, as particularly valid in this Chamber. They tend to be those of aggression and abrasiveness and an adversarial style of argument. It is no accident that this Chamber is, I think, the only one in the European Union that physically still encourages the adversarial style-- I understand that the parties are still kept two-and-a-half sword lengths apart. The majority of European Union debating chambers are oval, round or rectangular. It seems that the architecture reflects the tone of the debates.
Women are not expected to be aggressive, adversarial or argumentative, characteristics still admired within the Chamber, but, I would suggest, less so in the country at large. That is one of the reasons why it is vital that all political parties, not least my own, should attempt to
Column 185balance the less than even playing field that women have to traverse if they wish to present themselves to the electorate for possible return to the House.
An opinion poll recently carried out for one of the more popular newspapers found that the two least popular professions were that of journalist and politician, in that order. One of the reasons why politicians tend to be less than popular with the electorate stems directly from what is perceived as their ill-tempered, ill-judged, loud and, in some instances, schoolboyish approach to our debates. If we disaffect the very people who send us here, if we present the image that matters of moment are not seriously and levelly discussed here and that it is the scoring of points that is valued rather than the attempt to achieve a solution to a particular problem, interest in our political system could decay. Our democratic system depends as much on the interest of the electorate and their willingness to participate in our elections as on anything that happens in the Chamber or elsewhere in the House, such as in Committee.
One sometimes meets people who say with no small amount of pride that they have never voted. That strikes me very hard as a woman because I am aware that women died to give me the right to vote. It is a responsibility that I exercise with great seriousness. I urge everyone whom I meet, especially young women in my constituency, to vote. Although I would much prefer that they voted for my party, it is more important that they simply vote. It would be desperate if our freedoms in respect of the franchise, for which lives were given, were lost due to a lack of interest and commitment on the part of the electorate. I suggest that we have a responsibility to ensure that their interest stays alive and fresh.
No one could reasonably argue that any country approaching the 21st century can afford to discount, discard and disregard the undoubted talents, abilities, energy, imagination and commitment that the women of that society present.
I am of a generation to be extremely grateful, in one sense, to have been raised by the women in my family, simply because the men were away at war. During the second world war, as during the first world war, women ran not only their homes, but their country's factories, transport systems and hospitals. They ran the entire structure of their nation states because the men in those nation states were away, giving their lives in the defence of democracy and freedom.
Those women, at those times in our history, did not in that sense additionally have to improve themselves. No one thought that that was patronising them. They were by no means tokens in those positions. Our nation state was run extremely well during both--
Mrs. Peacock: I am listening with great interest. I agree with much of what the hon. Lady has said, but does she accept that it was the sterling work carried out by the women of this country, especially during the first world war, that helped to convince the men representing us in Parliament to pass, eventually, the Bill that enabled us all to have a vote, and enabled women to stand for Parliament? Does she agree that, without that war and the work done by women, we might not have made that progress?
Column 186way in which the vote was given to women in this country, not least because, at the cessation of hostilities in the first world war and certainly in the second world war, women were patted on the head and told, "Thank you very much indeed, but now go back to what you really do best"--which tends to be situated in the kitchen and the nursery. I think that, in the House at least, progress resulted from a lack of energy to sustain opposition to the giving of the vote to women, and shame that the country had denied it. Given the contribution that women had made during the first world war, there would have been an even greater outcry, but I do not believe that the House was convinced of that argument. I am unaware that any major move was made, between those two--one cannot say "high points" because they were world wars--low points in our civilisation, to facilitate opportunities for women to rise to what I regard as the positions that they should occupy.
I regret that I am unaware of any major concentrated effort in this place, or by the Government, business or the professions, to acknowledge that women have a great deal more to offer to our society, throughout all its aspects and all the levels and layers of which the nation state is comprised.
Mrs. Wise: I have followed my hon. Friend's argument with keen interest. It is true that women proved that they could run everything that men could run, but is not it also a fact that it was demonstrated that the nation, society and business were willing to accept that work, yet pay only half rates for it? Women shop assistants, for example, who coped with rationing as well as money, received about half the rates that men shop assistants received. That was a very poor reward for the efforts that women made during the war.
Ms Jackson: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I am afraid that the position is pretty similar today. I heard an exchange on the radio, as recently as last week, about the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 arrangements that had come into being in a local authority in the north of England. The gardeners, who, in the main, were male employees, retained their salary rates, hours and conditions of work, but the dinner ladies had to take a reduction in wages and an extension in their hours of work before they won the contract.
In 1992, I believe, the museum of London rightly held an exhibition based on the suffragette movement. I distinctly remember standing in that place and saying that one of the aspects of women's life in our country that most motivated the Pankhursts, all those years ago, was the conditions in which women were forced to work in sweatshops, in this city and every city throughout the land. The Pankhursts wished to remove the possibility of women having to work in appalling conditions for interminable hours, for very low rates of pay. Yet today, less than three miles from the museum of London, it would be possible to find women working in homes in circumstances that are as bad as, if not worse than, they were 78 years ago.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Batley and Spen said. We have made progress in this country and in other parts of the world, but I contend that the country has a very long way to go. I do not think that any woman in the country needs to be apprised of the inequality of many of our positions and conditions. It is
Column 187not women necessarily who need to change; it is those who are less willing to help and move us forward to genuine equality.
All we ask, in essence, is to be able to exercise rights along with our responsibilities. No woman, in my experience, has ever shirked the responsibilities that life has placed on her. Every woman whom I have known has been able to balance and carry those responsibilities with no small grace, and often a great deal of humour. We have always made, and always will make, a major contribution to our societies. We are justified in asking very gently, and I have no doubt with a great deal of charm, that, on more than one occasion, we should be recognised for the contribution that we have made, and undoubtedly will continue to make.
I wish primarily to discuss the forthcoming conference in Peking, but first I wish to say how much I agreed with the remarks of the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), who congratulated my colleague, the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks), on the introduction of his Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill on Friday 3 March. It showed that, compared with another Bill that was debated on Friday, if consensus is sought progress can be made.
Before moving to my main argument, I wish to mention a couple of other matters. There are two distinct sectors in which progress has been made on women's rights--the government sector and the non-government sector. Huge advances are obviously being made in the government sector. Many women are employed in the civil service, especially in senior positions. A woman heads Customs and Excise and a woman heads the Crown Prosecution Service, and I understand that we shall shortly have a woman permanent secretary at the Department of Social Security.
In the forces, huge progress has been made from the early 1990s onwards. The mistake made in dismissing pregnant women from the services has been recognised, and I am proud to say that a woman from Croydon became the Royal Air Force's first woman fighter pilot. Progress has been made by deploying Wrens at sea. It is not always an easy and comfortable state of affairs, but it has established a significant right in terms of equality.
I am afraid to say that the one organisation in which little progress has been made in employing women in government service is the European Commission, where I understand only four out of 300 people in the top two grades are women.
In the non-government sector, progress is not so obvious. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) mentioned difficulties that arose in the Trades Union Congress. The same difficulties arise in business. There is undoubtedly a glass ceiling. Women who are perfectly competent--probably more competent than their male counterparts--are often denied career advancement. They come up against all sorts of barriers. My wife experienced that in her career in advertising. The only way in which she could get around it was by starting her
Column 188own business and becoming her own boss. I believe that it will be another generation before the barrier is removed completely and we recognise that women often run things much better than men. The right to reproductive health care services is not just essential for the maintenance of women's health, but crucial to the establishment of women's equality. The White Paper "The Health of the Nation" recognised the importance of reproductive health care services, particularly for young people. One of its key targets was a reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies.
Teenage pregnancy is a fundamental problem. One in five young women today report having had sexual intercourse before her 16th birthday. The good news is that, as a result of the efforts of the Department of Health, in 1991 the number of women younger than 16 who became pregnant fell for the first time in 10 years. It is far too soon to tell whether that represents a trend, but those who work in family planning are optimistic.
In an intervention, I said that, as progress is made towards a settlement in Northern Ireland, it may be appropriate to consider the discrepancies in the abortion laws of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Abortion Act 1967 applies in Great Britain, but the House deemed that it should not apply to Northern Ireland. That is causing serious problems for young women in Northern Ireland in this modern sophisticated world. They are forced to have back-street abortions, to pay to have abortions because there is no national health service provision or to come to this country to have abortions.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster replied to my intervention by saying that it is a very sensitive subject. It does not appear to be high on the list of Government priorities. I hope that that issue may be put on the agenda as we examine the overall situation in Northern Ireland.
The fourth world conference on women will be held in Peking in September under the auspices of the United Nations. I was lucky enough to attend the UN conference on population and development in Cairo, where women's issues were very much to the fore. That conference advanced a plan of action which provided for a number of fundamental women's rights in the area of reproductive and maternal health. When I attended the non-government organisation forum, which is where all the bright ideas come from, it became quite clear that women's issues will dominate United Nations and international considerations.
The all-party group on population, development and reproductive health, which I am privileged to chair, decided to look at the draft plan of action for the Peking conference and it was appalled to find no mention of reproductive health or sexuality. In the past couple of months we have conducted hearings with some 30 women's groups, inviting them to comment on what they think should be included in the draft plan of action for the Peking conference. As a result, the group is releasing a report tomorrow to coincide with International Women's Day and I shall inform the House of some of its main findings.
First, the group believes that the conference should endorse and incorporate the agreed principles and language of the international conference on population and development's programme of action, with particular reference to inequalities in health status and access to health care services, violence against women and women's rights. Secondly, it believes that the draft plan of action should specifically include women's
Column 189reproductive and sexual rights when addressing human rights. Thirdly, the group believes that, without reproductive and sexual health and rights, women cannot play a full and equal part in the economic, social and political life of their community and country. The group's unanimous view was probably best summed up by Annette Lawson from the Fawcett Society, who said:
"Women need to be empowered to make decisions about themselves and their own bodies. Without that empowerment--and we see that, and indeed the major international conventions do, as a human right (and women's rights are human rights)--but without that capacity, rather like not having the vote, it disables women to function equally in society".
A preparatory conference will be held in the next few days to discuss the draft plan of action. I believe that it is important that that conference should take into account the strong feeling among women's groups that were consulted that those fundamental rights should be included on the agenda of the Peking conference. It is incomprehensible that they should not be included in this day and age.
I shall not take up any more of the time of the House. I simply make the point that we have consulted virtually every leading women's group in the country and we recognise that a number of rights are omitted from the draft plan of action. I hope that they will be included and discussed at the Peking conference.
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West): It is a happy coincidence to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) because he is my Member of Parliament. I thank him for his generous remarks about my private Member's Bill.
I wish to approach the debate by examining the impact on women and men of changes in work, family life and care patterns in this country. Many of those issues are particularly important for women because they often take on most of the burden of care--whether it is care of the young, those with disabilities or the frail elderly. If we are to achieve greater gender equality, those issues must be considered more seriously by boys and by men. I think that that is occurring.
Patterns of employment in this country show trends towards mass unemployment and a concentration of joblessness in certain families. Paradoxically, at the same time we have seen the rise of the dual worker family and the concentration of employment in certain kinds of family groups. I wish to address the issues involving dual worker families that have resulted from the dramatic increase in female employment outside the home.
The rise of the dual worker family has brought many benefits, not least material ones. The most effective family social security policy in this country is not the child benefit scheme--although I applaud that--but the earning power of mothers. That has been the major anti-poverty strategy of the post-war period. I think that we should be aware that many dual worker families are increasingly overactive, overworked and, I think, overly stressed. That is a trend throughout the western world. We are living longer--women are living rather longer than men--usually into our seventies and sometimes into our eighties. It was my father's 80th birthday on Saturday, so I have some experience of that.
Column 190Although we are living longer, we are concentrating some of our most important activities into a small proportion of our lives. We enter the labour market much later than previously-- normally for good reasons such as higher education and training--and many men and women are not fully active in the labour market until their late teens or early twenties and those with post-graduate qualifications do not start work until their early twenties.
We are also witnessing an earlier exit from the labour market. Many people who in a previous generation would have worked up to and beyond retirement age are now, either voluntarily or because of redundancy, being forced to leave the labour market in their fifties or, certainly for men, in their early sixties.
Discussions on the equality of retirement and pension age and decisions on whether the pensionable age should be 60 or 65--it is now 65--are based on an increasingly ignorant assumption that men actually work until they are 65. One third, or 33 per cent., of men aged 55 to 59 are officially unemployed or defined as economically inactive. We are concentrating much of our labour market activity into a small proportion of our lives, which to some extent coincides with the important time for family building. That particularly impacts on women. Like men, many women need to be fully active in the labour market and spend their late twenties and early thirties career building. That increasingly coincides with when they are considering having children, becoming pregnant and taking on the responsibility of caring for young children.
Those pressures also affect men. Many men find that when their wives are no longer in the labour market or working part time after having babies, they have to work harder to earn more money and develop their careers at precisely the time when, perhaps in a more civilised society, they should be able to spend more time at home as fathers. I am worried by what I see as the care-career collision, which puts tremendous pressures on men and women from their late twenties to their early and late thirties.
Mrs. Helen Jackson: Is my hon. Friend aware of evidence showing that 10 years after graduation four times as many women graduates as men graduates have chosen not to start a family? The pressure of worrying about making that choice clearly impinges much more on women's career patterns-- and they may, therefore, choose to have children much later--than it does on men, who do not feel that it interferes too much with their careers.
Mr. Wicks: I am aware of that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and I shall say something about the impact of that on fertility patterns and average family size in Britain. Many families are overworked and overactive, trying to build their families at the same time as building their careers. If I am right about that, it is not an argument- -as it might have been among some hon. Members a generation ago--about a woman's place being in the home, but one of increasing relevance to men and women, about the need to take seriously an agenda for family and work.
May I say something about changing patterns of care, which is obviously a major role--perhaps the major role--for the family? Traditionally, it has been the major
Column 191role for women in all societies to provide care for those in the family who need it. However, if we are to draw up the agenda that we need, we must be aware of and fully understand the changing patterns of care as they affect men and women.
We think immediately of children. Women in Europe are having fewer children. On average, women in Britain are having more children than those in most European Union nations, but the numbers are declining. In 1970, the average British woman had 2.4 children; in 1992, the figure was just 1.8. It will probably continue at about that level until the turn of the century.
Let us consider the average figures for the European Union, which relate to 12 member states rather than the present larger union. In 1970, the average European woman had 2.4 children. In 1992, she had just 1.5 children and the trend is downwards. A child has gone missing in Europe. That explains why fertility and birth rates are of great national concern and inform and instruct domestic policy in many other Parliaments in Europe. In Germany, the average number of children is just 1.3, in Catholic Italy it is 1.3 and in Spain it is 1.2. Those are dramatic trends and although we need to explain them in a number of different ways--and I shall not do so today--my guess would be that the pressures of work, career and family building on women and families lie behind some of the fertility trends. We are having fewer children in Europe, although, interestingly, the trend is less marked here in Britain, and our children are dependent financially on others-- typically parents, but sometimes the state--for longer. Gone are the days-- although in Britain those days were only in the early 1970s--where six out of 10 children left school at 16 and got jobs. Today, many children will be dependent on their parents their until late teens or early twenties and sometimes their mid-twenties. The role of the family and the pattern of having children is changing considerably.
We are becoming aware that one of the major roles of women--and, increasingly of men--is the caring role for the frail elderly, as the aging of our population is such a dramatic trend. In 1981, there were half a million people aged 85 and over, whereas in 1901 the figure was just 57,000, so the number has risen 10 times in 80 years. The figure will double again between 1981 and 2001, so that by 2001 there will be more than 1 million people aged 85 and over. Many of them will be fit and healthy, but many will need care and have physical and mental problems. For example, Alzheimer's disease is a growing problem.
The issues of care that now impinge so much on women increasingly wear an older face, and we need to look at care patterns across four or five generations and examine how men, women and families respond to them. It is a cruel coincidence that family sizes are smaller at precisely the point in the country's demography when there are more elderly to care for. In previous generations, there might have been six or seven children to look after one elderly relative. The ratios today are moving in the other direction, with smaller families having more elders to care for.
Parliament and other institutions woke up, albeit late in the day, to the fact that many workers have the "annoying" habit of being parents, so there is an agenda covering maternity or paternity leave and provision for
Column 192under-fives. We must wake up to the fact also that women employees and a growing number of male employees care for the elderly, so the carer-worker issue is growing more important.
At meetings that I have attended to inform myself for the Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill that I introduced last Friday, I was struck by how many carers--mainly women but men too--had to give up their employment and often successful careers to care for an elderly relative or disabled child or adolescent. Many people find it impossible, sometimes because of unsympathetic employers, to continue the dual role of carer- worker.
Up-to-date information is not available, but years ago the Equal Opportunities Commission published a survey that showed that the main reason for women leaving the employment market before retirement age was to care for an elderly relative.
If in future, for the benefit of women and gender equality, we are to balance work and the family, a newer analysis of the issues is needed that places less reliance on conventional economic indicators. Most people in the west think of work in terms of getting up in the morning, going to a job and getting paid for it. That kind of work, and only that kind of work, is quantified in employment statistics and it contributes to the gross domestic product. It excludes some of the most important work, typically done by women but also by men, in the community.
Such work excludes, for example, the female general practitioner whom I met in Cardiff. For years she was able to practise as a doctor but when her grown-up child became schizophrenic she had to leave the formal labour market to become a full-time carer. She immediately disappeared from employment statistics and her labour is not measured. Neither, in terms of conventional indicators, does she supposedly contribute to the country's GDP. In other words, she counts for nothing officially.
"Counting for Nothing", a book by an influential New Zealand academic and one-time National party politician, Marilyn Wareing, authoritatively challenged male-dominated economics. Although that line of analysis is of academic interest in the best sense of the word "academic", if we are not to make mistakes in analysing work and care issues about how to care for our children and the elderly and about the implications for social and employment policies, seemingly academic argument must move into the political world. There is an argument for Parliament, as an exercise, drawing up rival national accounts that introduce some of the value of care.
People rightly ask about the public expenditure implications of provisions such as those contained in my Bill, but they rarely ask about the cost- benefit analysis. Some years ago, I and a colleague--Melanie Henwood at the Family Policy Studies Centre--sought to calculate the value of care provision, and we have since updated the figure to £30 billion. The British Medical Association recently used the same methodology but produced a larger sum. That is not an argument for giving carers £30 billion, but in a society that, sadly, increasingly puts a price on everything and knows the value of nothing, sometimes it is necessary to attach a cash price to something to make people appreciate its value.
If community care services could be improved, that would show up in public expenditure documents. Some members of the Treasury Bench might see that as a problem. However, if only one carer in 10 surrendered
Column 193that task so that the person for whom they cared had to enter a state institution or hospital at a cost of £2 billion, that would not show up in national accounts and would be invisible. It is nevertheless real arithmetic. Every week, as we know from our surgeries, a carer collapses under the strain and the national health service or a private nursing home has to take in one more person. An analysis that considers only public expenditure costs and does not undertake a wider cost-benefit calculation is misleading. Care issues, the way in which we define work and a better balance between family life and employment are among the most crucial topics facing men and women. Parliament and Governments are less aware of those issues than the public. How we enable the modern Briton and European to be successful as a partner to the person to whom they are married or with whom they live, as a parent and as a carer if necessary--and also successful in the labour market and as a career builder--is crucial to women. Many men want to share the caring role, so that issue is of growing importance to them.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): First, I apologise for not having been present throughout the debate. I had to attend a Committee in another part of the House, but I did hear the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). I appreciate that today is an Opposition day and, quite naturally, the hon. Lady wanted to make complaints against the Government and set out Labour party policy, although we did not hear too much about that. However, had she taken a more bipartisan view on some of the issues that she raised towards the end of her speech, she would have found cross-currents coming from the Conservative Benches.
For example, the hon. Lady spoke about the legal position of women and the protection afforded to them by the law. That is an important subject about which there is some controversy at present regarding female victims of serious sexual offences. I would make common cause with the hon. Lady on the need to give maximum protection through the law to victims of sexual offences, particularly in relation to the disclosure of identity. There has been controversy about disclosing the identity of defendants in such cases and I do not want to argue about that--
Ms Short: I am more than happy when there is consensus on any issue that is dear to me because it means that we are more likely to make progress, but I sometimes think that Conservative Members do not live in this country of ours. The number of families struggling on low incomes with all the stress that results from the way in which the labour market is being restructured constitutes a crisis for our society. I meant every word that I said. I am afraid that the Government's strategy is making things worse for such families. If there is no consensus, then that is how it is.
Mr. Clappison: I shall take issue with the hon. Lady about that, but I am talking about an entirely separate and important matter which is of public interest at the present time and the subject of some controversy. I hope that the hon. Lady will make common cause with the point that I am about to make. I do not want to go into whether defendants should remain anonymous, save to say that the arguments about that are entirely separate from those
Column 194concerning whether the victims of sexual offences should remain anonymous. It is important that they should remain anonymous and have that protection from the law.
I would go further and say that it is important that all impediments should be removed which prevent victims of serious offences from taking their cases to the courts. I welcome some of the progress that has been made recently on that, including the important change in the criminal justice legislation, which I think had cross-party support, in relation to the treatment of the evidence of complainants in cases of sexual offences, where we removed the need for judges to give warnings about corroboration. That important step forward will benefit many victims.
It was monstrous that in the past judges had to give a warning about the evidence of complainants in such cases as though they were inherently unreliable people. Many judges, particularly women judges, have referred to having to give that warning through gritted teeth and I am pleased that the requirement for it has been removed. We need to consider carefully how to make it possible and easy for victims in such cases to go before the courts without suffering unnecessary fear. I hope that the hon. Lady will make common cause with me on that.
I take issue with the hon. Lady on the substance of her speech today. She referred to living in the real world. If in her speech she was trying to suggest that there has not been any progress in the status of women, particularly in the opportunities for women to move forward in careers and the professions during the past 15 years, she has been living in an unreal world.
There is plainly a great deal of evidence that women have made progress during the past 15 years. One can look across the board at the professions. In my profession there has clearly been a great deal of much needed progress during the past 15 years. When the Labour Government left office-- this was no reflection on the Labour party, however--only 10 per cent. of members of the Bar were women. Today, 22 per cent. are women.
The hon. Lady complains about the lack of female judges, and I agree that it is desirable that there should be more women judges, particularly in the higher reaches of the judiciary, but we have so few women judges today because of the lack of progress in the past and the lack of suitably qualified and experienced candidates. As progress is now taking place and the shortage of women at the Bar is being remedied, I happily predict that there will be more women judges in the future. The same is true across the board in the professions. Today there are more women doctors, dentists, accountants and architects. Across the board, women are making welcome advances.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said about the position of women in the civil service. Women are advancing in the civil service. The overall percentage of women employed in the top seven grades in the civil service has risen from 7 per cent. in 1980 to 13 per cent. today. I agree that there is still scope for improvement, but let us acknowledge the improvement that has been made.
Education is one reason why there will be more women entering the professions, but the hon. Lady cast doubts on the Government's achievements in promoting higher education and access to higher education for women. In the academic year beginning in 1979 when the Labour party left office, 190,000 women students were in higher education. That figure has more than doubled to 410,000
Column 195today. The proportion of full-time students has also risen, from 40 per cent. in 1979 to 49 per cent. today. I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that as progress and joins me in welcoming it.
Ms Short: I am fairly sure that I said that women are now equalling and even excelling boys in large parts of the education system. Nevertheless, the proportion of our young people in higher education is lower than, for example, in South Korea. There has been progress, but it is not good enough in terms of the future of the British economy compared with the investment in education taking place in other countries.
Mr. Clappison: The hon. Lady is having to scrape around for some international comparisons. The fact that stands out is that when the Labour party left office one in eight people in the relevant age group, male and female, went into higher education and today the proportion is one in three. The hon. Lady would do well to recognise that achievement. If we are lagging behind in any comparisons today, which I doubt, it is because we started from such a low point when Labour left office. The same applies to further education, where there has similarly been an extremely large increase in the number of females.
We have had a welter of statistics today on women in employment generally. I rest my case for saying that women's position has improved on three statistics. First, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, there are more women in the work force today than ever before, more than there were in 1979 when 40 per cent. of the work force was women. Today the figure is 46 per cent. Those women are also earning more than ever before. In addition, the gender gap in earnings, to which the hon. Lady referred, has been closing since 1980. In 1980, women's wages were 37 per cent. less than those of men; today the figure is 30 per cent. The gap is closing, and closing quickly. Since 1990, female earnings have increased by 30 per cent. compared with 23 per cent. for men. Those three statistics--the number of women in the work force, the increase in women's earnings and the closing of the gap between men and women's earnings--are significant, broadly based and persuasive. They demonstrate that, across the board, the lot of women is improving. Whether they are employed by large employers or in the professions or whether they are in managerial positions, there has been a significant improvement.
It is important for women to have successful role models to show them that it is possible for them in their chosen career or profession to rise to the top on the basis of their merits, judged on their abilities, enjoying full equality of opportunity.
Today's debate is timely in one respect, at least, in that approximately 20 years ago today this country elected the first female leader of a major political party, who went on to become Prime Minister and to win three successive general elections. When the now Baroness Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party in 1975, it gave an enormous boost to women in this country, because it showed them that they could rise to the very top. It gave a boost to women in public life.