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But then progress slowed as the symbolic gains of a woman Prime Minister were undercut by the practical effects of unemployment and declining public services damaging women both as workers and consumers. To what extent have we since 1997 witnessed a third women’s movement? The two challenges are obvious and have been mentioned by many people tonight: work/life balance on the one hand; women’s participation in public life on the other.

Women have always been permitted since the 1840s to do womanly work and especially to work for other

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women: nursing; teaching; and campaigning for better maternity care, although as one woman noted, when women campaign for other women they are regarded as shrill and sectional—when men campaign for other men they are speaking for humankind.

Individual feisty women could also be adopted as surrogate men—as Barbara Castle was—if they put in the hours, published the books, nailed down the contracts and carried the customer load, just like men. Men seldom saw that the work, pensions and public structures they inhabited were not god-given or innately natural, but devised by men for men and that they needed and continue to need to be changed. Our third women’s movement needs to take issues out of the gender box and establish them as human issues of equal value and relevance to men and women alike.

The past Labour decade has seen real progress. The minimum wage, mentioned in previous contributions, benefiting above all women and young people, together with tax credits, has made work pay for women; and extended maternity and parental leave, childcare, Sure Start and the right to request flexible hours have made work possible for women with children. Tax credits, for example, have doubled the take-home pay of a lone parent. The problem, and it remains unresolved, is how to introduce having children and bringing them up into the lives of a couple with two valued jobs without sacrificing either the children or the parents—almost always the mother—in a daft long-hours work culture.

Men and women alike must have more control over the hours they work and men in particular must be willing to reduce their hours, otherwise, bluntly, the rewards and penalties of having children will continue to be unfairly shared. On every man’s heart should be engraved, “Kids are us”. These issues are being understood but the problem of family caring mentioned by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley for older people—living longer but living frail—is not always fully understood. The Wanless report showed that by 2025 we would need 50 per cent more hours of caring to be found from the same working age population—mainly women, and they would do so almost certainly at the expense of their own jobs and pensions. We have to put the same political energy into supporting carers as we do mothers, their pay, pensions, prospects and welfare.

The other big issue for this third women’s movement has been women in public: the bittersweet all-women shortlist of the Labour Party has not been followed by the other parties, torn three ways between individual merit, local decision-making and affirmative action. Should the tide go out for the Labour Party in any subsequent general election, we shall see a reduction of women MPs in the other place because the other parties so far are not going to make up the deficit.

Despite my noble friend Lady Gould’s celebration of women in your Lordships’ House, as Dianne Hayter has reminded us, we have only a handful of council leaders; no woman elected mayor; two months aside, no woman leader of the Labour Party; no First Minister in Wales or Scotland, let alone

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Prime Minister; no woman general-secretary of the TUC nor of other corporate powerhouses in the UK; no female head of the Financial Services Authority, the Bank of England or the churches; one woman Law Lord but no Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice or Lord Chancellor; some university VCs but no chair of Universities UK; some Permanent Secretaries but no Cabinet Secretary; and no woman leader of any major trade union, which shows how far we still have to go.

Part of the problem may be the Nolan procedure itself, with its meritocratic boxes, which tend to mean that only women already with a public life can advance in public life. The real seedbed for women in public life remains local government. It is local, part-time, direct, hands-on, fits family priorities and can be deeply satisfying—and usually there are enough seats for women not to threaten men, so there is space for them. Their numbers have remained steady at around 30 per cent—it should be more. We probably need an Emily's List for councillors as we have had for MPs.

Even here, there are trends that worry me. The cabinet scrutiny system has not helped women. Councillors in smaller councils with very modest allowances do not get national insurance payments, so women who become councillors sacrifice their pensions. We should address that issue. There is a welcome move to the new unitary authorities, but they may physically be large and women without cars and with children may find the greater distances difficult; and where unitary counties replace two-tier structures, council numbers will fall perhaps from 250 to, say, 70, and in the competition for seats women may be squeezed out if we do not watch this very carefully. We need double devolution, stronger parishes, proper town councils, local partnerships and area neighbourhood communities to consult, scrutinise, help to deliver and allow a realm for women where they can offer a full role.

In 2008 we celebrate 90 years since some women got the vote, 80 years since all women got the vote and 40 years since the second women’s movement in 1968. Fifty years on, what will we look back on as regards this third women’s movement and what will we have to celebrate?

3.41 pm

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has made it her responsibility to secure this debate once a year for some years now and her formidable experience in this area makes her the ideal leader of our debate today. Her speech was a real tour d’horizon—a diplomatic phrase, for those who do not follow the French—and is an absolute mine of information for anyone who wants to read it tomorrow. I shall do just that.

I need to apologise very sincerely to the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, as I was not here for her maiden speech, which is a grave derogation of duty. We spoke about it yesterday, and I gave her, as one does sometimes, a little hint or two. I am sure she followed them all, put her own spirit and life into what she said and made an excellent speech. I shall read that also with great pleasure tomorrow.

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That last speech reminded us that, even today in the UK, women face difficulties. For example, they are still more likely to be imprisoned for non-violent offences or to take their lives in prison than men are. The trafficking of women into the UK for the purposes of prostitution is, if anything, increasing. Whatever some may say of the voluntary nature of prostitution, in the case of trafficked women there can be little doubt that force or deception is the reason why they are here.

Violence, especially sexual violence, against women is still widespread, and the services that should be available to women are described as a postcode lottery in the excellent report published last year by End Violence Against Women in partnership with the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Like them, I would like to know what specific action is being carried out or planned in response to that shocking report. At the same time, I am sure that others, beside myself, have noted recent press reports to the effect that the police have now recognised that they are failing rape victims. The difficulties that women face when trying to establish their credentials as witnesses to the crimes committed on them are major reasons why so few voluntarily seek judicial redress. The assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John Yates, is trying to raise the professionalism of rape investigations to ensure a rate of conviction that fits the circumstances and encourages women to come forward. Meanwhile the Ministry of Justice is encouraging the courts and juries to take a more understanding view of why women may shrink from coming to court. Can the Minister tell us what the expectations are of the eventual success of such measures in giving women justice, and what targets are being introduced to measure the success of these new and very welcome developments? Do the Government have any plans to change judicial guidelines, or to exert any other form of persuasion, to ensure that that recognition leads to fairer judicial treatment for rape victims?

There is also the problem of women’s expectation of a just reward in the workplace and the difficulties many women have even today in combining work and childcare. Many people here have spoken on that very important subject. Statistics published in Social Trends 2006, which I think is the latest available, indicate that girls outperform boys at every level of education from key stage 1 to university. Moreover, although there has been a general improvement in the performance of all students, the gap between boys and girls continues. Girls are doing better than boys at GCSE, A-level and NVQ, and rather more women than men are getting into university. At graduation, the proportion of men and women gaining first-class honours is about the same: between 10.2 and 11.5 per cent. However, the number of women gaining an Upper Second is noticeably higher than the number of men—47 per cent compared with 39 per cent.

One might reasonably expect that the higher educational achievement of girls might at least guarantee them equal treatment in the workplace as far as salaries and promotion are concerned. Many people have indicated today that that does not seem to be the case. Indeed, there is evidence that, if

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anything, there are fewer women in senior positions in business than there were a few years ago. The general statistics about participation in the workforce are gloomy. Whereas 85 per cent of women work full-time before they have children, only 34 per cent with children below school age work, and it is only 41 per cent—less than half—for those with a child of school age. Meanwhile, the proportion of men working full-time increases after they have children, presumably because they have to make up the deficit that was their wife’s salary. Women are left juggling work and childcare, often with disastrous results for their ability to earn a wage or a pension.

There is still a pronounced gap in the wages earned by men and women even when women work full-time. That may reflect the different types of employment available to or sought after by men and women. It is now many years since the mantra “equal pay for work of equal value” was taken on board within the workforce. Is it not time to carry that approach further so that hourly rates, at least, can reflect the actual worth of what is done—for example, by a firefighter or a nurse—across workplaces as well as within them?

On conditions outside the UK, where the UK can and often does play a part to help women, the recent House of Commons report—which I think was published yesterday or the day before—estimates that as many as 870,000 women may die every year in the days surrounding childbirth. That is even more than the official estimate of 580,000 or so. The causes are very straightforward and easy to understand: lack of skilled assistance; unsafe abortions; availability of medicines; and the distance from facilities where slightly more complicated cases could be treated effectively. Lack of proper training for midwives and a disregard of the importance of simple hygiene also play their part—and I declare here a non-financial interest in a small charity dealing with that matter.

Meanwhile, the dangers of HIV/AIDS have meant that bodies treating those conditions have tended to get more money from the large international funds. A really useful part was played by the APPG on population development and maternal health. We talked with officials from DfID about the good sense of delivering HIV/AIDS programmes and maternal health programmes in the same premises. That seems so obvious and straightforward, when premises are so few and far between, as to hardly need work to be done on it—but it was essential work.

My impression is that that approach is now widely accepted as sensible, bringing together the best available care for mothers in childbirth, birth control services, better understanding of HIV/AIDS and a better chance of protecting unborn children from becoming infected in the womb in a more economical way. Again, the danger of infecting children in the womb has been discussed today. Can the noble Lord the Minister give me any information as to how this approach is progressing and what action is being taken at an international level to convince others that it represents a good way forward and good value for money? I apologise to the noble Baroness because I

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omitted to give her my questions in advance. I shall therefore take it perfectly calmly if she decides to write to me rather than anything else.

Lord McNally: You also called her “the noble Lord”.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: She is not a noble Lord, my Lords; she is a most well regarded noble Baroness. I apologise to her immediately from a grovelling position for having said such a silly thing.

I have not taken up all my time, but there are still many interesting speeches to be heard. I suspect that the Minister will be delighted to get some of my spare time.

3.50 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I join noble Lords in sending my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on securing this timely debate. I also join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, on their eloquent maiden speeches. I support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his wish to see International Women’s Day being an event every day. He raised many important issues, some of which I will revisit.

Many issues we face today need better enforcement of legislation. The debate enables us to raise issues that, by and large, remain on the back-burners much of the time. The title for the debate is quite broad so, sadly, absolute justice cannot be extended to the many areas of debate that need deep and thorough discussion. Thus I will cover as much as I can in the allotted time.

The gender pay gap in 2005, measured on median earnings, stood at 41 per cent. In 2006, a study by the Chartered Management Institute found male earnings growing at a faster rate than their female counterparts, this despite the fact that women were found to be enjoying faster career progression. The Equal Opportunities Commission estimates that the average woman will lose or forgo £300,000 over her lifetime as a result of the gender pay gap. Can the Minister say whether recommendations made by the Women and Work Commission in its report Shaping a Fairer Future in February 2006 have been followed and monitored by the Government? Does she agree that while the Work and Families Act 2006 that recently came into force extends the right to request flexible working hours, particularly for women, often many employers, especially the smaller ones, find this approach difficult, and it often deters employers from taking on women, particularly those with family responsibilities? Will the Minister say what more the Government are doing to ensure that both employers and female employees are provided with better flexibility?

We know that the basis of earnings impacts on the provision of pensions and, while Britain as a country is wealthy, 1,840,000 pensioners—two-thirds of this number being women—live in poverty. For every £1 a man receives, a woman receives just 32p. Poor access

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to pension schemes, high entry thresholds and limited portability are just some of the factors that hinder women in purchasing pension provision. The Pensions Act 2008 will come to address some of the issues, but most of those measures will not come into effect until much later. Will the Minister ask the Government to simplify the pension credit? Half of the 1.7 million pensioners who do not claim the pension credit they are entitled to—a great many of them women—are living in poverty.

There are 6 million unpaid carers in the UK. Approximately £57 billion per year is saved by the state. A quarter of all women aged between 45 and 64 are carers of adults and 1.7 million female carers also do paid work. Again, due to the nature of the work—often low paid, often part time—this has a knock-on effect on earnings and pensions. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to address the really serious issue of ensuring that social care is given the same level of priority as healthcare? Often, it is accessing support, particularly respite care, that many people find difficult. With an ageing population—people are living longer and, statistically, women are living longer than men—surely it is time to have a serious think about how we look at the funding of both health and social care?

According to the British Crime Survey 2006, 363,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported. We can only imagine how many incidents went unreported. Eighty per cent of domestic violence victims are women. One in four is estimated to experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In monetary terms, the overall cost is approximately £25 billion per year.

The Government have estimated that approximately 750,000 children witness domestic violence each year. These statistics reveal an unacceptable situation. Is the Minister able to assure the House that the Government will seriously look at ensuring that access to services is both universal and consistent across Great Britain? Can the Minister also say what is being done in terms of ensuring that children and young people are able to report incidents to trained staff in schools? Can the Minister say why, when children make up two-thirds of the refugee population, the Supporting People funding regime does not include funding for children's services?

Linked to services, can the Minister say what is being done by the Government to ensure that immigrant females are better protected? Such women are unable to access statutory support. Section 12 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 has yet to come into force. The Government have targeted 1st July. Can the Minister say what progress has been made on that part of the Act? I am happy to be corrected if what I have said is not the case.

I know that your Lordships are united in wishing to see an end to the mental and physical abuse of women. Recently, my right honourable friend David Cameron said, in a speech in Bradford, that forced marriages were unacceptable and that we all needed to do more to ensure that those in danger from these marriages are given better protection and support. Can the Minister say whether schools and colleges

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across Great Britain—particularly in areas where there are large populations of communities that are often at the heart of the problem—are putting up information posters and have appropriately trained staff to assist young people, particularly girls and young women, if they feel that they are being pressured into such marriages? Can the Minister say whether the Forced Marriage Unit has both financial support and the trained support of staff?

A study by Bradford Council of 1,000 boys and 1,000 girls with Muslim names found that, by secondary school, there were still 1,000 boys but the girls’ numbers had dwindled to 860. A report entitled Where have all the Girls Gone? by Philip Balmforth, a former inspector with West Yorkshire Police, believes the girls are taken out of the country for forced marriages.

There are instances of domestic violence in families of ethnic minority communities, committed to preserving family honour, including honour killings. Strict control over the lives of women and girls in the name of honour is both wrong and needs to be challenged vigorously. No one should accept that this is part of their culture and thus do nothing. It is difficult to establish the true figures for murder and violence, as many are stated as suicide or people in those communities are often too frightened to seek help. If their communities choose to turn a blind eye, we simply cannot.

It is estimated that 47,000 women in England and Wales are raped each year. The majority of these rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. The conviction rate has dropped from 33 per cent in 1977 to 5.7 per cent in 2005. Just 5 per cent of rape cases reported to the police result in conviction. Will the Minister comment on why figures for conviction are dropping? Are support centres for rape declining in numbers because of inconsistent funding by the Government? Can the Minister clarify whether rape crisis centres will continue to receive funding? It is an important assurance, because in 2007 they were informed that their grants from the Government’s victims’ fund would not be renewed.

Finally, although celebrating International Women's Day does make us reflect on what we have achieved for women in some countries, we must never lose sight of the many who do not enjoy the same freedoms of expression. Many in the world live in fear for their life—beatings, torture, death—if they speak out or disobey. I mentioned honour killings and forced marriages. Happily, we can, if we know, seek to protect those under threat here, and that message must have the full force of all political support behind it; but if we allow practices so vile to creep into our society because we are loath to offend the communities in which they are practised, we effectively send a signal of acceptance elsewhere in the world. The human rights of all should be fought for. Regardless of whether it is our neighbour here or thousands of miles away, we need to unite in our opposition to violence and oppression of any kind. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “If you educate a woman, you educate a village, and that educates a nation”.

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4.01 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, this has been a fantastic debate and I feel deeply privileged to be attempting to reply to as many of the contributions as I possibly can. Like other noble Lords, I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Gould, not only for all her work over so many years to support the efforts of others but for her own work to ensure that the cause of equality for women, and all that goes alongside it, is enhanced at every opportunity.

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