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6 Mar 2003 : Column 988—continued

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Is that Labour party policy?

Valerie Davey: It is an increasingly interesting prospect. I could give the all-party group no clear answer on how we would reach 30 per cent. I explained the Labour party's approach, which is that there will be all-women shortlists as seats become available. They were impressed, but the question came back: "Will that get you to 30 per cent?"

Ms Dari Taylor: No.

Valerie Davey: I had to admit that it probably would not do so.

Those appointed women are doing some remarkable things. We have already talked about HIV/AIDS, and one of them chairs a huge committee on the subject that is in touch with our all-party group on AIDS and has other international links. Another Tanzanian woman MP was in the UK last week, taking part in the Red Crescent and Red Cross meeting at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre. These women are impressive and their work is distinguished. They have no offices and the Assembly is bereft of equipment, although the British Council has provided a suite of computers and the training to go with it, and is servicing those women—giving them the confidence and support to continue in a very professional manner.

That was just the beginning; I then made the five-hour drive back to Dar es Salaam, and I had to take two flights and a Land-Rover trip to get to Muleba, North—and a boat trip to get to some of the 19 islands in Lake

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Victoria that the honourable Ruthie represents. Meeting the community groups was absolutely fascinating. When the honourable Ruthie turns up, people suddenly emerge from everywhere; they want to know about the next stage of the project that they are undertaking. Local community groups, often with strong women leaders, come forward and tell her, "We have done this. Here is part of the primary school. Here is a whole load of rocks—it is the beginning of our dispensary. What is going to happen next?" All the community leaders, including schoolteachers, come forward to present their reports. They read them out very respectfully, and ceremoniously put them into envelopes and hand them over. All the people and the crowds are very respectful—I have not seen a political meeting like it. Even in the evening in the pitch dark, 600 or 700 people gradually came round to listen respectfully.

The most moving thing was the pile of stones for the dispensary, and the leader of community coming forward to say, "A boy died in this village yesterday, but we decided that we should not postpone this meeting with our MP coming and our distinguished white visitor because our community has never had such a visit from a white visitor, and it is some time since the honourable Ruthie came. We decided that this would be a blessing, a turning point, and we look forward with you to establishing this dispensary." We left after a long meeting with music, dance and festivity and visited the home of the boy who had died. That was one of the most moving parts of an incredible visit.

We packed into three or four days more constituency work than many Members would get through in a month or even three months. People came to listen and to share, and they were not always given the answer that Members might expect to be given. We went to a road and were told, "Yes, thank you very much. We bought the materials, but they have all been stolen." Whereupon, with complete calm and dignity, the honourable Ruthie faced a crowd of 200 to 300 people and said, "Then you will not get another Tanzanian shilling until those people have been brought to court and the materials are returned." I wonder how many of us, on the spur of the moment and given such a difficult situation, would have had the courage to stand up in front of all those older people and, with complete aplomb, give that verdict—but she did.

One of the issues that arose from the British Council's survey was that women Members of Parliament are recognised in east and central Africa as no more or less efficient than men, but they are less likely to be corrupt and are more concerned for their local communities. Again, I pay tribute to the British Council for all the work that it is doing.

Hon. Members will realise that I could go on speaking for the rest of the debate, but I hesitate to do so because I know how many more want to contribute. Let me just say that I recognised something from that hands-on experience that I would never have found out without going on that return visit: Ruth Msafiri had been sitting in the Gallery last year.

We talk about the need for infrastructure, and of course those people need roads. Just as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women said earlier, those

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women's groups need markets for their craftwork and ways to get their work to them, but what I found to be essential to civil society—perhaps we do not highlight it as much—is training for magistrates. Yes, they will get the police officer to arrest the people who stole the materials, but they have not got enough magistrates to sit in local communities.

There are not enough people to teach book-keeping. In fact, some of the projects go wrong because of lack of basic book-keeping skills. Hon. Members may find this hard to believe, but librarians are also needed. I went to a small teacher-training college that runs two-year courses entirely to underpin the millennium project of providing universal primary school education in Tanzania. Those at the college have not got computers. I was not expecting that; I was hoping that I might make the link between Africa and computers.

What did I find? I was told, "We had a brilliant librarian. He was wonderful, but he died in 1977, and we haven't had another one since." I went into the library. The reading room was empty and the books on the shelves were not classified. The only people who take out books are the lecturers. Having looked along the shelves, I would not want many of the books to be taken out because they date back to the 1970s. A librarian is what that college actually needs. A VSO librarian, as opposed to a teacher or a lecturer, would send that college forward by leaps and bounds.

Legislation is being introduced thick and fast in the Tanzanian Parliament, but it needs people to draft it—I do not know whether we have any to spare. I returned determined that Bristol, West would make its contribution. I am sure that the education department at Bristol university will be able to offer some help. I do not believe that the people of Tanzania will spurn Bristol university; it will be only too welcome.

I shall also ensure that the women of the Bristol Labour party and any others willing to join us will set up, with the help of the honourable Ruthie, a credit union for the women in their many different local groups, just as the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has suggested. The honourable Ruthie is determined to set up an umbrella group—we will help her to do so—so that women's groups are empowered through their community. I am sure that those links will be maintained with my right honourable friend, Ruth Msafiri.

I want to end with a word to another Tanzanian woman, whom I met for the first time earlier. Her name is Elly Macha. She is now Dr. Elly Macha; she has just received a PhD at Leeds university. What is unique? Well, at the age of three, disease made her blind and her immediate family rejected her. She has come through a Lutheran school in Tanzania, and now through Leeds university. It is so appropriate that she heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women open this debate, as her thesis was on gender, disability and access to education in Tanzania.

2.27 pm

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I, too, welcome the fact that the Government have devoted parliamentary time to this subject, and I associate myself with the remarks about Emmeline Pankhurst. The moot point is whether she would have been a Conservative today and joined

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the modern Conservative party, but perhaps I shall leave that for the summing up. We should use today's debate to discuss the range of subjects that are important to women.

The Minister for Women will forgive me if I say again that the regular 10- minute Question Time on women's issues offers too narrow a focus. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would agree that women's lives are about much more than public life, the pay gap, domestic violence and child care, important as those subjects are. Although I intend to start by talking about those subjects, I shall move on to the international picture because it is only right and proper that most of the debate should be about that.

Without further ado, I shall begin by examining the role of the Minister for Women. Sadly, it is a part-time role. I hope to make the case today that it should be full-time, and we need only to look at the record to see that that is necessary. Let us consider women in public life. I am sure that the Minister for Women is as disappointed as the rest of us that, sadly, the number of women in public life has increased by only 2 per cent. since 1997.

Some 1,328 women attended the seminars aimed at getting more women into public life—quite a lot—and I had hoped that that might have some impact by now, but I had not realised that January 2003 figures were based on the situation in March 2002, so the seminars have not had time to have an effect.

That prompts a number of questions. First, in this technological age I am not sure why it should take 10 months to compile a report. Secondly, it would be interesting if the Minister informed the House about any follow-up. Of those who attended the courses, 91 per cent. claimed that they would be more likely to apply for a public post. That would be brilliant if it were followed through. The Minister said that women need to be encouraged to do specific things. Since the seminars, has there been any follow-up with the women who attended to ensure that they are still keen and to direct them to bodies in which they could usefully have an input?

I have noticed that women do not want to be part of an organisation just for the sake of it—for a title and a CV. They want to feel that they are making a real input. Sometimes, they need a little persuading that their contribution is worthwhile.


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