3 Mar 2011 : Column 1169

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1169

House of Lords

Thursday, 3 March 2011.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Apprenticeships: Network Rail


11.07 am

Asked By Lord Bradshaw

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, Network Rail has a direct funding contract with the Skills Funding Agency, as can any company with 5,000 or more staff. The Skills Funding Agency encourages and supports these large organisations, enabling them to increase the number of apprenticeship places they offer and address their wider skills needs.

Lord Bradshaw: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that it is urgently necessary to increase the status of apprentices in our country? Does she further agree that professional institutions, be they in engineering or nursing, by adopting a graduate-only approach to membership of those institutions, are making it very unattractive for people to pursue apprenticeships? The way of entering used to be apprenticeship, further education, practical experience and then fellowship.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I agree with pretty well everything my noble friend has just said. Apprenticeships should provide a pathway into the nursing profession as they always did. The Government are working with professional bodies and have made it clear that they expect apprenticeships to be a line into any professional standards and to be suitable recognised by the relevant professional body.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the excellent scheme that Network Rail operates in its training and apprenticeships but, bearing in mind that the Government are proposing much longer passenger franchises and that there is also a large number of contractors and suppliers in the industry, will she ensure that the apprenticeship schemes that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was talking about can be extended to other parts of the industry?

Baroness Wilcox: Yes, my Lords, I can. Already more than 200 forms of apprenticeships are being extended across the country. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, whose knowledge of his industry is so good, will know that we are working very hard to extend exactly what he has asked for.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1170

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, can I draw my noble friend's attention to the success of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, in which I declare an interest as its honorary president? It has successfully built up a programme of training for all levels of staff, including large numbers of apprentices, for which it has secured the support of a large part of the industry and its supply chain. This is something that might be an exemplar to other similar organisations.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It came as a surprise to me that we now go from hairdressing to nuclear decommissioning as apprenticeships in this country, which is very worthy.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is a desperate shortage of civil engineers in this country. I believe that in the core team of civil engineers on the Crossrail project there is not a single member under the age of 60. In looking at these schemes, will she give some priority to civil engineering because the need is serious and desperate?

Baroness Wilcox: I am sorry to hear my noble friend's news that all those people are over the age of 50. I shall look into this when I get back. I cannot imagine-

Noble Lords: Sixty.

Baroness Wilcox: Was it 60? Good heavens. I shall look into this when I get back. We must be missing out somewhere.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recognise the importance of apprenticeships across big organisations, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has said-not only Network Rail-and where the Government's funding is focused. Will she ensure that the quality of those apprenticeships is maintained and not in any way diluted to ensure that the speed of getting people through does not in any way denigrate the apprenticeship qualification?

Baroness Wilcox: The noble Baroness makes a good point. We are aware of it and we are monitoring it carefully.

Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, will my noble friend undertake to ensure that her department works closely with the Department for Education in considering the recommendations trailed in the press today from the excellent Professor Alison Wolf in relation to vocational education? Will she look in particular at the package of incentives which may be necessary to deliver high quality apprenticeships for young people over and above some of the perhaps less well founded quasi vocational qualifications?

Baroness Wilcox: My noble friend is referring of course to Professor Wolf's review, which was commissioned by this Government. It raises a number of interesting points. We are considering her recommendations and will issue a response in the near future.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1171

Lord Sugar: Will the noble Baroness allow me to go off the rails for one moment and generalise on apprenticeships overall? The coalition Government have announced that they will provide 75,000 new places between now and 2014-15, which seem to be focused on adults. There does not seem to be any other kind of provision for 16 to 18 year-olds. But more to the point-

Noble Lords: Question.

Lord Sugar: The question is coming. I have been asking my colleagues here why I seem to attract heckling. More to the point, the Government have decided to axe Train to Gain, which provided 575,000 jobs, and the future jobs fund, which provided 100,000 jobs to people who were out of work for more than a year. My question is-

Noble Lords: Yes.

Lord Sugar: If we bundle all these into some form of initiative for providing work for the young and those who are out of work, what is the net reduction in initiatives that has resulted from their cuts?

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the number of new apprentices in this past year is 279,000 of whom quite a few are very young. As the noble Lord knows, we have a very special pay arrangement which was set up by his Government to ensure that we attract youngsters. I am so delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, has asked a question because it has given me the opportunity to say once again how marvellous his programme is for attracting apprentices into business, but that the aggressive tone he uses on the programme might not be attracting people into nursing and the quieter causes that we still so very much need in this country, including the youngsters to whom he is referring.

Railways: Light Rail Vehicles


11.14 am

Asked By Lord Berkeley

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Rail Value for Money Study is considering a range of options, a number of which might encourage more use of light rail vehicles.

Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the noble Earl for that fairly short Answer. I am sure he will be aware that a light rail vehicle called the Parry People Mover has been operating in Stourbridge at probably 99 per cent reliability all the way through the winter, which is much better than most other trains. Will he encourage this company and others to continue to develop these light railways, which use low-weight, low-emission vehicles that are much more reliable? They can be used

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1172

on many branch lines and other places, and costs could be reduced. They are an alternative to the welcome announcement made two days ago about the intercity express programme, where I understand that the procurement costs for that particular train were £30 million for the department.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the Parry People Mover vehicle. We will encourage such developments. My officials in the department work closely with Mr Parry and they are working hard to resolve some of the technical difficulties.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, it took two to three years for the department to approve one vehicle which, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, has proved very satisfactory in service. Will the noble Earl ensure that, in the future, his department and the safety authorities get a move on and get something done?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend has rightly raised an issue about the time taken for approval. However, I have to say that Mr Parry is a bit of a pioneer. The vehicle comprises some very new and pioneering technology so there are a lot of issues to be resolved.

Lord Kinnock: May I remind the Minister that Mr Parry has been pioneering this technology for at least 30 years? Many congratulations are owed to him on his persistence as well as his genius. Could I add to the various qualities of the Parry People Mover which have been listed by other noble Lords the fact that it is entirely made in Britain? That distinguishes it from many other forms of transport.

Earl Attlee: The noble Lord is quite right, but I have to say that the Parry People Mover is not a perfect vehicle. It has some technical issues, particularly with ride quality. However, I know that Mr Parry is working on those issues.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: Will the Minister give us an assurance that, in considering passenger travel, the strength of the rails will not be reduced so that they cannot take freight as well? We are trying to remove as much freight as possible from the roads on to rail. I am thinking especially of routes such as the Conwy Valley line where it is essential that the rail link is sufficiently strong to carry freight.

Earl Attlee: My noble friend has made an important and interesting point. However, one of the advantages of a light rail scheme is that the maintenance load on the track is considerably reduced because of the lower axle loads of the light rail vehicles.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, given the number of places in the country where a light rail solution to transport needs would be most welcome, does the noble Earl accept that the issue of ride quality is fairly marginal, given that we are talking about the short distances to be covered? I hope that he will show some enthusiasm for making progress in this respect and not wait on the report of the McNulty study.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1173

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear that, personally, I am very enthusiastic about light rail vehicles. One of the advantages of the Parry People Mover is that it is extremely energy-efficient. But I also have to point out that Network Rail had to undertake improvements to the line to achieve an acceptable ride quality for passengers.

Lord Dubs: The Minister will be aware that a number of branch lines were closed many years ago under the Beeching programme and other stupid cuts. Does he think that the light rail vehicle might be a way of reopening such lines on an economic basis? I mention, for example, the line that runs from Penrith to Keswick in the Lake District.

Earl Attlee: I do not know about that particular line but the noble Lord makes the extremely good point that there will be opportunities to use light rail on old, disused lines.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, does the Minister recall that the last time the railways got enthusiastic about getting cheap and cheerful, lighter vehicles to try to reduce costs, we ended up with a generation of pacers about 30 years ago. Whatever happens with this project, the technology certainly has to be a great deal better than that.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am aware of the pacer vehicles and I agree with much of what my noble friend says.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, would Mr Parry not do well to reflect on what happened to the light rail plant in Workington, which was closed effectively in the 1980s due to reductions in public expenditure?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I was not in Parliament in the 1980s.

Israel and Palestine


11.21 am

Asked By Lord Dykes

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, at a time of great regional uncertainty, the quick resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is more vital, not less. We need to show that legitimate aspirations for statehood can be met through negotiations. The entire international community, led by the Middle East quartet, should now support the 1967 borders as the basis for resumed negotiations. The result should be two states, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both, and a fair settlement for refugees.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1174

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but is this not exactly the right time when the Netanyahu Government could now display some wisdom by responding to the EU part of the quartet's suggestions for a freeze on settlements and the immediate resumption of talks with the Palestinian Authority, to lead to a solution equitable to both new states?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend is quite right that now ought to be exactly the right time. It ought to be very much more the time than was the case even a few weeks ago. However, we have to face the reality that obviously the Israeli Government feel extremely nervous and uncertain about what is to happen in Egypt, while we are urging more decisive action and firm decisions. Still, that does not deter us at all from pushing very hard on this central issue.

Lord Wright of Richmond: One month ago, today on 3 February and later on 11 February, I asked in this House whether the Government would upgrade the status of the Palestinian general delegation in London. Does the Minister agree, when I ask that question again, that it would in fact be a small but important signal of the Government's support for a Palestinian state as the result of a two-state solution?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree it is a very important matter, worth considering, but I am afraid my answer at the moment to the noble Lord is that we are still looking at it-in a positive light and in light of the need to upgrade the negotiations and get momentum behind them-but we have not reached a decision yet.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Does the Minister agree that whatever the effect of the unrest, the fundamental fact remains that it is the United States that will have the key role, if it so chooses, in the peace process and, further, that our own potential role is hampered by the fact that many Israeli politicians and military people stand the danger of being arrested in this country if they were to come? What are the prospects for Clause 151 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which at least would allow the DPP to interpose his judgment, rather than that of a magistrate, before a private prosecution takes place?

Lord Howell of Guildford: As the noble Lord knows, the Government intend to amend the law so that a private individual cannot obtain an arrest warrant under universal jurisdiction without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are quite pleased with progress-the legislation passed through Second Reading in early December and we expect the Bill to have Royal Assent before July. The problem has been recognised and action is being taken.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: Does the noble Lord agree that the recent civil unrest and changes in the region provide a unique opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians? Does he agree that, if they are finally joined by other democratic nations in a fully negotiated settlement, that would be best for all the people in the region?

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1175

Lord Howell of Guildford: I strongly agree and I am very pleased to hear the noble Lord, whose views I greatly respect and who has stood up often as a somewhat lone voice in public affairs in these matters, say what he has just said. It is an extremely valuable contribution.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: Does the Minister agree that the civil unrest referred to in the Question was started in Tunisia by an unemployed guy being refused a licence to sell vegetables and that the people in countries with unrest at the moment are more concerned with their civil and economic rights than with the Israel-Palestine issue?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is right to say that the effects of civil unrest are rippling through the entire region, both north Africa and the Levant, and even touching the Gulf states. These are very important matters, but I do not think that he would disagree that one problem is the continuous poison, as it were, of the Israeli-Palestine dispute and that, if that could be settled, we would at least be on the way forward.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Does the Minister agree that the greatest risk to the Government of Israel would be a vacuum in the peace process at a time of great ferment in its Arab neighbours, who may be pushed by such a vacuum in a more radical direction, which would make the search for peace more difficult? Does he not feel that the best contribution that could be made in the near future is for either the quartet or the United States to put some ideas on the table and seek to engage both parties in a discussion of those ideas?

Lord Howell of Guildford: That is exactly what we would like to do and are seeking to do. The noble Lord, with his experience, has just reaffirmed my earlier point that, although this is what we must now do, the pressures are pressing the opposite way inside Israel, where there is increasing nervousness at the uncertainty and the difficulties afflicting their neighbours. We are dealing with a tricky situation, in which the persuasion we need to get Israel and Palestine negotiating on a new and sensible basis is working one way-and we are pushing-but Israeli fears are working the other way.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Will the noble Lord accept from me that his reply to the Question is 100 per cent right, and I support it? What is rather more strange is that I support the noble Lord, Lord Wright. Is it not imperative that the Government should come to a conclusion about the issue he raised forthwith? We should not simply accept that the situation should go on indefinitely.

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is clearly in a supportive mood this morning and I am grateful to him for that. He is right to say that recognition of the Palestinian representation here is an important issue. We will seek to come to an early conclusion and I take note of his concern that we should do so.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1176

Baroness Tonge: Does the Minister agree that this would be a good time to agree with the signatories of the letter in the Guardian this morning that all arms sales from this country to Middle Eastern states, including Israel, should be suspended?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Not necessarily. The reality we all have to face is that there are plenty of arms in the world and these arms can be obtained from anywhere, in various forms. We control very carefully our exports of arms, in a very tightly regulated way, and we do not believe that merely creating substantial unemployment here and damaging our well regulated industry, paving the way for less regulation and possibly worse and more dangerous arms in many countries in the Middle East, would help one iota towards peace and stability in the area.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Does the Minister agree that in fact we have two sets of circumstances here? On the one hand, there is the sustained and absolute refusal of Israel to stop building settlements in the Occupied Territories-no matter who asks, including the United States-and that makes the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state less likely. Combined with that, as a result of the unrest we have the possibility, no matter what the root causes are, of elections that may well lead to the establishment of Governments in the Arab countries with a mandate against the Middle East peace process based on a two-state solution. That toxic combination makes the issue very urgent now. Does the Minister believe that there is a very short window of opportunity for the resumption of these negotiations?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree strongly with the noble Baroness's analysis. The dangers are very great from all these developments. We have said several times in these exchanges that it does not take a genius to see that the Israeli Government are much more worried by the uncertainty, and therefore pushing them toward negotiation is going to be tougher still. However, there is a little window for us to push to try to achieve something, and we are going to do so very hard indeed.

Health: Care and Compassion?


11.31 am

Asked By Lord Touhig

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the department has asked the Care Quality Commission to conduct a series of unannounced inspections on NHS trusts, and will report on its findings. The department wrote to NHS chairs on 15 February to raise awareness of this report and to ask them to assure themselves that their own organisations were up to standard. Similarly, the chief nursing officer also raised the report findings at her February meeting with strategic health authority directors of nursing.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1177

Lord Touhig: I thank the Minister for his Answer, which is very helpful. We in this country are blessed with a National Health Service staffed by very dedicated and committed people but, as this report highlights, there are instances of neglect and a lack of care for the elderly. The best way to prevent cases like the 10 listed here happening again is to ensure that everyone in the National Health Service, if possible, reads the report. It is available online at www.ombudsman.org.uk, but can the Government find ways to help to distribute the report so that everyone working in the health service can read it?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I understand and applaud the noble Lord's reason for making that suggestion. I will overlook the issue of cost, but I am not sure that his idea would necessarily have the desired impact. What is needed here is for local leaders to take charge. That is why the chief executive wrote to every chairman and chairwoman in the NHS asking them to share the report with every member of their board, so that they can examine the services in their particular organisation and assure themselves that these situations are not happening on their watch. Nevertheless, I am certain that boards around the country will wish to take heed of the noble Lord's suggestion.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: Does the Minister recall the number of legitimate complaints that were made during the period of office of the previous Government about bad treatment within the health service? Nothing was done with urgency. Will he recognise that when there are legitimate complaints, delay causes deaths and great suffering? When there are such complaints, they should be dealt with speedily and deeply.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will recognise the contribution that my noble friend has made to raising awareness of these very troubling issues, and I pay tribute to her. She is right, which is why our proposals for the NHS place a great deal of emphasis on strengthening accountability at every link in the chain, so that the complaints that she has referred to are dealt with speedily and someone is held accountable for what has happened.

Baroness Emerton: My Lords, will the Minister please say whether it is the Government's intention to respond to the previous Prime Minister's commission on nursing, which reported in March 2010? There were 21 commissioners, and I declare an interest as one of them. The report made 20 recommendations, 17 of which relate directly to the ombudsman's report and, if implemented, would go some way to curing some of the types of incidents that were reported. There is a great need on the part of both the employers and the employees, and it was good to hear the Minister say that a letter has gone to the employers. Would it be possible to have an answer to the commission so that we could see the implementation of some of these recommendations? I am ashamed to be named a nurse when such dreadful care and lack of supervision have been identified. We have a responsibility here. I ask the Minister to look at the supervision of untrained staff and the regulation of assistant nurses.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1178

Earl Howe: My Lords, I will look and see where we are on a formal reply to the commission's report. Again, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in leading the nursing profession. She is absolutely right that strong nursing leadership at every level, from ward to board, is essential to ensure high-quality care. Ward managers make a critical difference, matrons provide strong leadership on wards and all nurses, I believe, must aspire to continuous quality improvement. That is why we expect directors of nursing to review this report with a view to addressing any areas of improvement in their own organisations.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we warmly welcome this report and the actions that the Government are going to take upon it. However, how will a fully competitive market in healthcare ensure that older people are looked after properly, with care and compassion?

Earl Howe: Perhaps I may elaborate on an answer I gave earlier about our reform proposals, which have at their heart the strengthening of accountability. There will be accountability: for outcomes, through the outcomes framework, to ensure that NHS providers focus first and foremost on quality; through GP commissioning, which will bring commissioning closer to patients and ensure that it is clinically informed; and in strengthened local accountability, not only through the health and well-being boards in local authorities but via the public, through Health Watch, which will ensure that the NHS focuses on what is important to patients and citizens.

Charities Bill [HL]

First Reading

11.37 am

A Bill to consolidate the Charities Act 1993 and other enactments which relate to charities.

The Bill was introduced by Baroness Verma, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.37 am

Moved By Lord Strathclyde

Motion agreed.

Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No.2) Regulations 2011

Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 2011

Road Vehicles (Powers to Stop) Regulations 2011

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1179

Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2011

Marine Licensing (Licence Application Appeals) Regulations 2011

Marine Licensing (Notices Appeals) Regulations 2011

Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011

Greater Manchester Combined Authority Order 2011

Motions to Refer to Grand Committee

11.38 am

Moved By Lord Strathclyde

Motions agreed.

Postal Services Bill

Committed to a Committee of the Whole House

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Wilcox

Motion agreed.

Postal Services Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Wilcox

Motion agreed.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1180

International Women's Day


11.39 am

Moved by Baroness Gould of Potternewton

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure once again to open the debate to commemorate International Women's Day to look at the global and domestic challenges that women face in this centenary year. I thank all who are taking part. The number of speakers today shows that there is an understanding that these debates are about issues as they affect women and, as a consequence, society as a whole. I look forward, as I am sure we all do, to the six maiden speakers who will contribute to this debate. Over the next week, International Women's Day will be celebrated by women around the world, portraying the stories of ordinary women struggling for equality, for their rights and for the ability to participate fully in society-politically, socially and economically. The day also gives us the opportunity to celebrate the advances made and to identify the achievements that still have to be made.

Empowering women and girls is the most effective way of enabling women to participate fully in society, and has been the motivation behind the many declarations made and conventions and conferences held, which have provided a series of mechanisms and instruments to promote and embed gender equality. In 1979, the adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women-CEDAW-committed all member states who signed up to it, including the UK, to end discrimination in all their actions and in their legal and benefit systems, and to ensure equality and equal opportunities between women and men. That should be the blueprint for all our actions.

The world conference of 1995 in Beijing, after much controversy and opposition, led to the important declaration that women's rights are human rights. The aims of the millennium development goals are to reduce poverty, to promote gender equality, universal primary education and a reduction in maternal mortality in developing countries. However, at the current rate of progress, none of these will be achieved.

In spite of all the commitments made and conventions signed up to by the nations of the world, discrimination remains entrenched and pervasive. Too many women continue to be subject to violence, exploitation and intimidation, to be the innocent victims of war, to have no control over their own fertility and health and to have no income or assets. They continue to represent the majority of the world's poor, earning just 10 per cent of the world's income, even though they work two-thirds of the world's working hours.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women represent between 70 and 75 per cent of the agricultural workforce but own just 1 per cent of the land, and still too many Governments deny women the right even to own land.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1181

Poverty and the hidden costs of education deny many girls the possibility of going to school, creating a situation in which in Nigeria, for instance, 4 million girls have no access to primary education. Nor should we forget that globally nearly 20 per cent of women die from HIV/AIDS and nearly 15 per cent from poor maternal services, and large numbers of women do not have access to contraception. It is all too easy to put to the back of our minds that one woman dies every minute from complications resulting from pregnancy and childbirth, having been denied good or any maternity care: 350,000 deaths each year. Maternal health is a human right and no woman should die through neglect when giving birth.

DfID's new framework for improving reproductive, maternal and newborn health in the developing world is to be welcomed. We await the details and the level of expenditure so that these aspirations can be put into practice. All these deaths are preventable with the provision of good maternity services and the right for women to have control of their own fertility.

Human rights and equality are two sides of the same coin and should underpin all decisions and actions taken by Governments and public bodies, promoting the dignity and value of each individual and groups of people. However, too many Governments around the world condone or ignore the extent of women's poverty, the extent of violence against women, and the extent of the subjugation.

That is a very gloomy picture, but there is hope on the horizon. After nearly four years of negotiations, the UN member states voted unanimously last July to establish for the first time a mechanism for effectively monitoring all agencies and country programmes as they affect women and girls: UN Women. They will have the task of ensuring that Governments across the world's developed and developing nations meet their commitments to CEDAW, to delivering gender equality goals, and to all aspects of women's rights.

More than two-thirds of activists working on women's projects across the world say that ending violence against women must be the top priority for the new agency, and that it must look to seeing a full implementation of Resolution 1325 and to reducing the number of women who are the victims of war; 75 per cent of rapists in the DRC are armed fighters. To succeed, however, this new agency needs the political and financial support of the international community. So far, that support is limited. UN Women is already suffering from a $300 million shortfall in funding. We have to make sure that this is not yet another example of a commitment that is forgotten before the ink on the paper is dry.

The previous UK Government played a big part in establishing the new agency. I fully accept that this Government are committed to its future, which leads me to ask whether the UK is a leading donor and, if so, can the Minister indicate the level of funding that we are contributing? A key aspect of the agency's work will be to encourage countries to develop strategies to increase the number of women involved in public and political life. Political decision-making remains largely the territory of men. It is one of the most striking examples of inequality between men and women,

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1182

with just 19 per cent of the world's parliamentary seats being held by women. Women's engagement in pubic decision-making at local, national and international levels is a matter of democratic justice and a means of ensuring better government accountability to women and more focus on issues of concern to women. If we accept that that is so, it is certainly not acceptable that the UK is ranked 52 in the international league tables on women's access to political power, with a meagre 22 per cent women's representation.

Lack of women's representation and participation has been attributed to several factors and constraints. Some of the constraints include political structures that inhibit women's participation and some that relate to family and other responsibilities. To understand the reasons fully we have to be prepared to look at the traditional arrangements of political parties and government structures and, if necessary, remove obstacles to women's participation. We have to think beyond mere numbers and be much more forceful in demonstrating the impact of women's contribution. I still find too many people asking why we should be concerned and why there should be more women in decision-making and leadership positions. However, for women to be able to influence decisions that affect their lives and those of their families, they have to be directly involved. I say with the greatest respect to our male politicians that I doubt whether we would have seen the great advances that have been made in the strategies tackling violence against women if pressure had not been exerted by female politicians.

Just as the time was ripe for a review of women on boards, perhaps the time is right for a detailed analysis of why women are in such a minority across the whole field of decision-making, focusing particularly on women's place in the political arena. Gender equality is a crucial component of social progress and economic growth. Nevertheless, women in the UK continue to be disadvantaged across a range of economic activity. They experience a full-time pay gap of 15.5 per cent, 64 per cent of low-paid workers are women and women's average personal pensions are only 62 per cent of the average for men. What is disturbing is that there seems to be little prospect of improvement-rather, the opposite.

As a result of the deficit reduction measures, women face a triple jeopardy-cuts in jobs, cuts in services and benefits, and filling the gaps where services will no longer reach. Women are without doubt the biggest casualties of the cuts. Women's jobs will be more heavily hit, with 300,000 jobs likely to go in the public sector and 50,000 jobs in the NHS, the majority of which will be women's jobs. We are already seeing big cuts in the support paid to mothers-including cuts in childcare, with the expected closure of 250 Sure Start centres, which will affect 60,000 families; and cuts in social care services for children, the disabled and the elderly. These all make it harder for women to combine work and family life. At a time when they are most needed, many support services such as refuges, domestic violence projects and women-only organisations are at risk of closure or have already had to close down because of decisions that are being taken that appear to misinterpret statutory equality duties. These services are vital to help women flee violence and rebuild their lives.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1183

The determination of women's economic independence has always been an important criterion in establishing women's equality. That will be seriously undermined by the cuts in tax credits, child benefit, housing benefit, the restriction of the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only and the proposed introduction of a universal benefit to be paid to the main earner, who in the majority of cases will almost certainly be the man in the household. It is more than 30 years since women successfully campaigned for the concept of moving benefits from the wallet to the purse, with child benefit replacing the then family allowance, for the first time giving money to a mother in her own right. I would hate to see that principle disappear, and I hope that consideration can be given to how we can make sure that that does not happen.

We have to have a vision of a society in which women and men enjoy equality at work, at home and in public. We need a vision of a society in which gender equality is based on the belief that a just and democratic society results from men and women having the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life. In spite of the advancements that still have to be made, over the past century the world has for many women has been transformed, and gains are continuing to be made. That reminded me of a quote from a great male champion of women's empowerment, Nelson Mandela, who said:

"When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat".

We all have a responsibility to make sure that the water continues to boil.

11.51 pm

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, as usual, the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, has hit the nail right on the head with her eloquence and sense of occasion.

In recent years, and at my age, I can certainly report on and register the many global and domestic changes that have taken place in the lives of women, not only in this country but in many parts of the world. As I watch my television, I can only wish that women's influence could have been used to prevent the terrible events resulting in so much innocent suffering for so many people today.

I was indeed lucky in 1979 to have represented this country as a member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. At that time, the commission was nearly half way through the United Nations Decade for Women. I do not believe that the commission achieved a great deal, but it was an invaluable experience for us as we gained a woman friend in almost every country in the world. Some of those friendships were with me for life.

Many are the tales I could tell about the mid-decade conference held in Copenhagen. The British delegation, under the leadership of Lady Young, was incredibly lucky to benefit from our wonderful British ambassador, Dame Anne Warburton. Some time after, Dame Anne tied in with my Cambridge life when she became the splendid president of Lucy Cavendish College. I am very proud of the fact that I am an honorary fellow of Lucy Cavendish. That college, for mature women students

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1184

only, is most superbly represented in this House by a past president, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. My memory goes back to a time when Lucy Cavendish was far too small to be recognised as a college. It was a perfect example of the courage and insight of a small but brave group of women whose efforts resulted in the full recognition of the need for such a place. Today, Lucy Cavendish College stands proudly as part of Cambridge University.

In this world of politics and committees, one is able to observe, and occasionally venture to suggest, a new or different idea-but not very often to succeed. For instance, I still vehemently wish that brothels could, in this country as in others, be legalised. If this ever happened, it would be very important for health reasons, and could aid crime prevention. I also very much hate burkas, but that is for another day. Parliament is a showcase of successful women. I think of the pleasure it gives me to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and at the same time, my sometime bosses, the noble Baronesses, Lady Chalker and Lady Bottomley-and, after all, even if she is younger than me, I am the baby of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.

Perhaps I may end by paying humble tribute to the many, many women who never hit the headlines but who through their efforts broaden our horizons every day.

11.56 am

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I may say what a privilege it is to follow my noble friend Lady Gould and the noble Baroness, the great Lady Trumpington. Much has changed in the past hundred years. The fact that so many women can participate and are participating in this debate in our House is a matter of note and of huge celebration. It is also significant, if we just look around the Chamber, that those women come from different cultures, religions and ethnicities, and all add their voices to the richness that we now have in this House. We are going to be delighted to hear seven maiden speeches today, all from women of real distinction who have each made a significant contribution to our country and our lives.

Much has changed, but much of that change has started with the creation of a legal framework which enables the rights that people have to be enforced in such a way that they can be honoured in the countries where they are promulgated. To do that, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear me say, we need lawyers. We need good female lawyers. As the House will know, I had the privilege of being the first woman to be appointed as Attorney-General in the 700-year history of that great office. With my honourable friend Vera Baird, we became the first all-female law officers team, and I have the privilege of being in the first all-female shadow law officers team, with my honourable friend Catherine McKinnell. I would like to tell your Lordships that that was because of our own innate and unique ability, but I fear that that is not the case.

It is very easy to forget that, until 1919, women were not allowed to practise law. I would like to remind your Lordships that 1922 was the first year when women started to practise, and in 1913 the Law Society refused to allow four women to be admitted.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1185

When the case went before the Court of Appeal in a very famous-I should say infamous-case of Bebb v The Law Society, the court upheld the Law Society's decision to refuse admission. I would invite the House to remember the name of Mr Justice Joyce, because he found that women were not persons within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843. Therefore, it was not until 1919, when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, that women could practise law. Indeed, Maud Crofts, who was involved in that famous Court of Appeal case, having studied, attended lectures, sat exams, and graduated with first-class honours from Girton College, Cambridge, was refused a degree by the University of Cambridge because of her gender. Perhaps it is not surprising that it has taken us 700 years to have the first, somewhat limited Attorney-General who happens to be a woman.

Since that time much has changed. Sixty per cent of those now being admitted to the Law Society as solicitors are women, but 23 per cent of the partners are not. Women have made a huge contribution to the creation of law. The House will have heard me speak on so many occasions on the issue of domestic violence, to which one in four women in our country is subjected. Two or three women die every day as a result. We made changes by working together across the House. Noble Lords will know that a 63 per cent reduction in domestic violence has been possible between 2003 and 2010, and that we have reduced the economic cost by £7.5 billion. Women and women's voices have helped to make that difference.

I know that I have only limited time, but I want to say to the House that without women raising their voices with the great men that we see in this Chamber and elsewhere, change will not be possible. The framework needs to change, because there is much for us yet to do.

12.01 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for this debate. She will not be surprised if I start with my perennial gripe. As I look around me, I see no woman on the Bishops' Benches. I trust that that anomaly will be resolved before long.

I shall concentrate on two areas. The first is about women in prison. At any one time there are around 4,200 women in prison, representing around 5 per cent of the total prison population. Most are not serious offenders. In 2009, 61 per cent of imprisoned women received sentences of six months or less; 37 per cent had no previous convictions, which is more than double the figure for male prisoners; 63 per cent are in prison for non-violent offences; and around a quarter of the women imprisoned each year are jailed for shoplifting.

Women in prison typically have a wide range of serious welfare problems. They are five times more likely to have a mental health problem than women in the general population, with 78 per cent showing signs of psychological disturbance when they enter prison. That compares with a figure of 15 per cent for the general population. Seventy-five per cent have used illegal drugs in the six months before entering prison, and 58 per cent have used drugs every day during those six months. Thirty-seven per cent have previously

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1186

attempted suicide. More than half of imprisoned women have suffered domestic violence, and one in three has experienced sexual abuse.

It would be far preferable for most of these highly vulnerable women to receive supervision in the community combined with help to address the problems connected with their offending. That was a strong message of the review by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. Her report states:

"Community solutions for non-violent women offenders should be the norm".

It also recommends:

"There must be a strong consistent message right from the top of government, with full reasons given, in support of its stated policy that prison is not the right place for women offenders who pose no risk to the public".

One of the results of that report was the establishment of a network of women's community projects with funding from the Ministry of Justice. It is important that these projects are run by voluntary organisations in partnership with the probation service. They operate as one-stop-shop centres providing a range of services and have proved highly effective in keeping women out of custody by providing the support and help that they need to avoid reoffending. More than 2,000 women have been referred to the projects since they were established.

I understand that 11th hour discussions are taking place on the possibility of some continuing central government funding, but these projects are still unclear about whether any further central funding will be available to them after the end of this month. I would be grateful if the Minister could make an early statement on the amount of central government funding being made available for the continuation of these essential projects, the duration of that funding and the number of women's centres that will receive it.

The second aspect of my contribution relates to women and equality. It is here that I refer to the one body that has been assigned with this task, the Equality and Human Rights Commission-the EHRC. Key issues need tackling if we are to achieve true equality in Britain. The time is short, so let me pose some key questions.

What plans does the EHRC have to take enforcement action following startling revelations of extreme pay gaps, including a gap in annual basic pay between women and men of 39 per cent? This gender pay gap rises to 47 per cent for annual total earnings when performance-related pay, bonuses and overtime are taken into account. Secondly, women in some of the UK's leading finance companies receive around 80 per cent less in performance-related pay than male colleagues. We must ask why. Thirdly, what action is the EHRC taking following the Speaker's Conference on political representation, particularly on the lack of ethnic minority women in local and national politics? What action is the EHRC taking with regard to broadcasters following the successful age discrimination case taken by Miriam O'Reilly against the BBC? Does the EHRC plan to look again at the fact that the equality duties do not apply to employees of the BBC and Channel 4? Could we be told if the EHRC has been constantly blocked

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1187

from taking legal action? The EHRC is at the heart of the equality debate and we need some clear answers to these important questions.

12.06 pm

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing it. It allows me an opportunity to depart from my usual area of expertise and experience and indulge my passion for gender equality and human rights. Yes, I was a passionate campaigner for women's liberation, long before I was a freedom fighter for disabled people!

I want to highlight the work of women seafarers and the global domestic challenges that they face. The lives of seafarers are not easy. They work, often far from home, in a harsh and often hostile environment. For most of the time they are out of sight and out of mind from the rest of us. We benefit from the fact that more than 90 per cent of world trade still depends on their skills and expertise. If we think about seafarers at all, it is almost only to curse their incompetence following an oil spill or when our ferry is delayed.

Seafarers are almost unique in that they must live and work together within the confined space of a ship, often for months at a time. Imagine arriving for today's debate and staying in this House for the next six months and not seeing your families or friends until September. Goodness me-it puts overnight sittings into perspective!

For women, living and working on board ship requires dedication, tolerance and self-belief. Often they will be the only female on board. Despite these obstacles, there are some remarkable women seafarers. I pay tribute to and celebrate Captain Inger Klein Olsen, who was recently appointed master of the cruise liner "Queen Victoria". She is the first female captain in the 170-year history of Cunard. I hope that her example will serve as a role model to other women seafarers. Unfortunately, for every tale of such success, there is one of sadness. Last year, 19 year-old cadet Akhona Geveza was lost overboard from the container ship "Safmarine Kariba". Her body was recovered four hours after she had reported being raped by a ship's officer. Although this was a UK-registered ship, not a single Brit was serving on board and there has been no investigation by the authorities here. The seafarers' union, Nautilus International, has called for a full investigation into the death of Cadet Geveza. Surely that is the least that we should do in response to the tragic death of this young woman.

Many women are employed on cruise ships. While there are good employers, tales of bullying and sexual harassment continue to taint the reputation of the cruise industry. Women from developing countries often secure employment only after making payments to dubious agencies. These women are exploited even before they have set foot on board.

Such problems can be effectively tackled only at an intergovernmental level. Seafarers, especially women seafarers, need protection and support from their Governments. Therefore, I was concerned by DfID's announcement on Tuesday that it will stop voluntary core funding to the International Labour Organisation.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1188

The ILO has a vital strategic role in protecting seafarers' rights and in getting Governments and the shipping industry to adopt the policies of equality and protection from abuse and exploitation that we all take for granted. The ILO is an organisation that the shipping industry cannot ignore. I hope that the Government will ensure that its vital role in working towards equality for women seafarers is protected. For, while the experience of Captain Olsen demonstrates amazing progress, the global and domestic challenges facing women seafarers remain substantial.

12.12 pm

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I welcome the debate today and congratulate the noble Baroness on her instigation of the celebration. I am all too conscious as I read the list of firsts for women in public life that although the first woman priest to be ordained was listed, neither the first woman dean nor archdeacon was mentioned-an indication no doubt of the present glass ceiling, which has already been referred to, that prevents a woman from sitting on these Benches. I trust that the General Synod of 2012 will rectify that matter.

The UN Secretary-General has said that,

I have had the privilege over many years of working alongside and witnessing the struggle for human rights among women and by women. The first reconciliation group that I attended along the so-called Peace Wall in Belfast was the initiative of women. In Bangalore in India a street community that proudly declared itself "Now a People" in the local language was providing basic healthcare, education opportunities and welfare through its partnership with the seminary. Those are two small yet significant and hopeful signs that have brought further recognition of women's rights and a measure of social and economic well-being.

However, significant challenges still remain. During a number of visits to Zimbabwe, I frequently met women and girls engaged in the struggle to maintain dignity, autonomy over their own lives and a hope for a better future. One group of sixth-form young women shared with me their dreams. "I want to be a doctor", said one. "I want to be a pilot", said another. "I want to build the planes she flies", said a third. "Bishop", the head teacher said to me later that morning, "Most of these girls will be dead before they are 30. If AIDS, domestic violence or hunger does not get them, they have a one in 10 chance of surviving into their 40s".

This is a profoundly serious issue. Sometimes it is illustrated only by the gift of filmmakers and other artists. I draw your Lordships attention to a remarkable film, "Buddha Collapsed out of Shame", in which the producer tells the story of a young girl living in the ruins of the Buddhas blown up in Afghanistan some years ago. The little girl wants to go to school. She needs a notebook and a pencil. To get it, she must sell eggs. She is jostled in the market and drops four of the six eggs and has enough to purchase only the notebook. Determined not to be denied her schooling, she steals her mother's forbidden lipstick to use as a marker. On her way home from her first-indeed, only-day at school, the local boys of her age accost her, discover

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1189

her lipstick, accuse her in adult language of being a whore and place her in a pit to stone her. The genius of the director lies in his capacity to keep the viewer guessing whether that is some ghastly contemporary Lord of the Flies game or whether it is for real. Of course, it is for real-all too real for all too many women and girls. Children mimic adults.

Governments rightly take credit for progress in peacemaking and human rights, and the development of education and health programmes, but rarely, if ever, is progress made without previous grassroots activity on behalf of-and, frequently, by-those most affected. Grassroots or community activity is the basis of genuine change. Welcome though the Government's intention to target the poorest of nations is, which will result in saving more than 50,000 women's lives in pregnancy and childbirth, it is regrettable that aid to Burundi, Niger and Lesotho has been withdrawn, while that to India, which is now a burgeoning economy, has not.

It would be tragic if work in our country to secure the well-being of women and girls facing domestic violence, discrimination due to single parenthood or the removal of educational opportunity were cut without due regard for the consequences, particularly in this highly significant centenary year for women.

12.17 pm

Baroness Heyhoe Flint: My Lords, I am trembling at the batting crease, waiting to face the Opposition's fast bowling, but am relieved that the traditions of this honourable House mean that interruptions are not considered cricket.

With great pride, I have moved from Lord's NW8 to the Lords SW1, and I thank everyone for an incredibly warm welcome-from the doorkeeper is to the highest officeholders among your Lordships. I also thank very much my two calming supporters, my noble friends Lord Coe and the Minister, Lady Verma. I know the doorkeepers by the football teams that they support. I must declare an interest as a former director and now a vice-president of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. Sadly, no doorkeeper is a Wolves fan, but on the Floor of this Chamber, I can reveal two Wolves supporters: the Lord Speaker-who perhaps is in the changing room now-and my very kind mentor, my noble friend Lady Perry, both of whom, like me, are former pupils of Wolverhampton Girls' High School, where cricket was our main summer team sport. What a very strong batting line-up, you might say.

My father was director of physical education for Wolverhampton and my mother taught gymnastics at local schools. With that sporting background, I again declare an interest. Not only do I understand the LBW law in cricket, I actually understand the offside rule in football.

Our debate today presents an opportunity to emphasise the challenges that women have to face in gaining acceptance and recognition in the world of sport: in participation, funding, media coverage and representation at board level. My challenges in sport began at the age of seven with garden cricket with my brother and his friends. I was not allowed to bat for three years-"Girls don't play cricket". When I eventually got to bat, the

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1190

boys could not get me out for three days so, in the middle of June, they decided that it was the football season.

The challenges were out there for me at an early age, and the challenges are out there nowadays for most young girls who want to get involved. As Peter Evans, Midlands regional development manager for baseball, softball and modern pentathlon-what a mixture-has written, it may seem simplistic, but if you provide an activity for girls with good-quality coaching and proper clothing that combines a cool image and a fun environment, they will thrive and commit themselves wholeheartedly. It is sport that will help to tackle issues such as obesity, self-esteem and prejudice.

The image and profile of females in sport could be helped enormously if more women were represented on the boards of sports governing bodies-providing, of course, they merit such an appointment and are not merely the statutory women. The 2010 Commission on the Future of Women's Sport, ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, found that only one in five members of national governing bodies are women. One quarter of sport governing bodies have no women on the board at all yet, ironically, almost half the staff of 44 out of 47 Sport England-funded NGBs are female.

The business case is unarguable. The presence of suitably qualified women will provide a balance of skills and perspective. The England and Wales Cricket Board, if I dare mention cricket on a day like today after what happened to the English team in Bangalore yesterday-I hope there are some happy Irish people in the House today-is a shining example of an NGB which offers recognition, given that two out of 10 of the board's non-executive members are women.

The MCC at Lord's-the home of cricket-which is a private members club with a public responsibility for cricket, admitted women as members in 1998 after a mere 211 years. I was there at Lord's to hear of the victorious result. One very sad, senior MCC member saw me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "My life will never be the same". I certainly would not advocate a quota system. I do not believe legislation is the route: no breaking of the glass ceiling-more a level playing field.

Greater media coverage for women in sport will assist development and improve sponsorship opportunities. When I was an active journalist-last century-I tried to get a better profile for the England women's cricket team and, as a result of that, because he read about us in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Jack Hayward sponsored the England women's cricket team for five years and developed the first women's world cup cricket, two years before the men's.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for giving me the opportunity to speak to this Motion. It may only be by persistent persuasion that women will overcome the problems that I have highlighted, but in challenging economic times we need companies, charities and philanthropists to invest in the potential of women in sport who, after all, are 50 per cent of their market.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1191

12.25 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, it is with great pleasure and pride that I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, in the batting order. I congratulate her on her sparkling maiden speech and welcome her to your Lordships' House.

She and I met years ago on a cricket pitch-Lancashire v Warwickshire-and I have admired her sporting achievements for years. She is involved not only in international cricket but in international hockey, and she is a keen golfer and squash player. She is vice-president of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, a board member of the England and Wales Cricket Board-one of the first two women-and was elected to the MCC general committee in 2004, the first women in the 217 years of the club's history. She has been and still is involved with many charities, and was an outstanding president of the Lady Taverner, which raises money for disabled children to do sport and in which I declare an interest as a member of that organisation. She was the first female TV presenter. She has won the Guild of Professional Toastmasters award for after-dinner speaking. She has trodden for years where women have not been accepted. How appropriate for this debate today.

Let me turn to her cricket. She captained England when women played for the first time at Lord's in 1976. At the Oval that year she scored 179 against the Australians. She has 30 test centuries. Of the great cricketers elevated to your Lordship's House, their averages were as follow: Lord Hawke seven, Lord Constantine 19, Lord Harris 29, Lord Sheppard 37, Lord Cowdrey 44 and the noble Baroness 46. Resolute in defence, aggressive as a bat, she is a remarkable woman and a great friend who will bring a great deal of humour and common sense to your Lordship's House and will be a real asset in so many ways.

Turning to the global and domestic challenges for women, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Gould on yet again leading this debate. I will focus on some of those women who are truly challenged-those who have no voice to speak for themselves. Women suffer in wars they have not created, where they suffer violence and rape. Women are trafficked both in this country and abroad and are rendered powerless and degraded. Women suffer torture and genital mutilation. It is trafficked women I shall focus on today, and I shall ask the Minister to update the House on government policy on trafficking and on what progress has been made on the signing of the European directive.

Let me start with a case study which typifies the horror and shame of trafficking. Take the young woman from Romania trafficked at the age of 17. She was given a fake passport and promised a job cleaning in hotels. She was forced into prostitution, sometimes being obliged to have sex with men 12 times a day. The relationships were often violent. Her earnings were kept by the trafficking ring. She was arrested for prostitution, and then taken into custody where she was safe. Eventually the trafficking team was arrested and given the longest sentence for trafficking in UK history. Sadly, some women are never found once they are trafficked. It is reckoned that up to one in seven sex workers in Europe may have been forced into it through trafficking and that 84 per cent of victims of trafficking

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1192

in Europe are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some European estimates suggest that between 1990 and 1998 more than a massive 253,000 women and girls were trafficked for the sex industry in the then 12 European Union countries. Sexual exploitation is not the only exploitation. Domestic servitude is also a reason for trafficking.

The joint project between the European Women's Lobby and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women recommends that the focus should be not only on the victims of trafficking but on the responsibility of those who buy women into prostitution and on taking specific action on women's human rights. They call for Governments to address the political will to create measures against trafficking and sexual exploitation and to implement effective sanctions, so I am eager to know what we in the UK propose. Trafficking of helpless victims should be treated as a serious criminal offence. Criminal gangs must be sought and punished. I ask the Minister how far the Government accept this and what will be done.

12.29 pm

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I rise to speak for the first time in some trepidation and in awe of the excellence of the debate and the many unwritten conventions by which this House regulates itself. The welcome I have received from noble Lords and from the attendants, doorkeepers, officers and staff of this House has been generous and supportive, and I thank those who helped my family on the day of my introduction. I particularly want to thank everyone involved in the briefing and induction process for new Peers. It makes this new girl feel that any ignorance is hers alone.

I have a particular interest in education through my time as a Cambridgeshire county councillor with the education portfolio, then as the skills champion and deputy chair at the East of England Development Agency, and my 20 years working in higher education, including as senior bursar of Lucy Cavendish College under the presidency of my noble friend Lady Perry, who was referred to by my noble friend Lady Trumpington.

This debate honours the centenary of International Women's Day, and I start by marking the contribution of my cousin, the late Lady Stocks of Kensington and Chelsea. I remember from the early 1960s this doughty-and, to be frank, to an 8 year-old, scary-lady whose debates at Sunday lunch were always impressive. At an early age, she showed me that women could do anything they set their mind to. Unusually for a primary school girl, I understood the importance of Cross-Benchers and the role of Life Peers.

I was later shocked to discover-children often fail to understand that their elders were once young-that this eminent Peer of the realm had started her own career as a rebel. One hundred years ago she was a suffragette marching to Parliament to demand that women should be given the vote. She dedicated her life to the education of women and she showed me, in the words of John Stuart Mill, that women must,

I suspect that she also helped to create the rebel in me, occasionally to the amusement of my much-loved late father, Tim Brinton, formerly of another place.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1193

Globally, women still bear a disproportionate burden of the world's poverty. A UNIFEM report last year said:

"Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and ... control of assets".

I would like to focus on a smaller group of women. Those with disability are known to be further stigmatised and experience even greater poverty, less education and worse health than their non-disabled peers. I will give just one example. In rural Tanzania, as many as one in 10 pregnant women develop obstetric fistula after an extended labour. Tragically, 90 per cent of these women lose their babies and are then confined to home with the debilitating results-uncontrolled leaks and resulting health and hygiene problems. Women find themselves outcasts in their own community. Obstetric fistula can be treated by a simple, free hospital operation and rehabilitation in Tanzania, but it was difficult for the health professionals to identify women who needed help because they were invisible. Without treatment, the women became disabled and unable to take any part in their society, all for the want of transport to hospital.

As a result of lateral thinking and using modern technology, Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation Tanzania, an NGO that works with CBM UK, the disability charity of which I am a trustee, developed a scheme called M-PESA with the phone company Vodacom. Regional representatives locate women with obstetric fistula and alert the NGO, which transfers money via a text message on a mobile phone to pay for a woman's bus fare to the hospital. This really is a case of "for the want of a nail the kingdom was lost", or, to turn it positive for this project in Tanzania, "for the want of a bus fare, a woman's life is returned to her, and her family". Projects such this, funded either by private or public funding, lie at the heart of the best in world development, and I am encouraged that maternal health is one of the key objectives of this week's DfID review. However, I hope that the guidance is not drawn so tightly that low-cost projects like this, which are truly life changing, are excluded in future because a bus fare might not count as maternal health.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for instigating this debate, and I look forward to many more. I am humbled that I am able to play a small part as a servant of this House and look forward to contributing in future.

12.34 pm

Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak in today's debate on a very important subject, but first I am delighted to pay tribute to and to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to your Lordships' House, and I thank her for her wonderful contribution today. Her experience through her work in the media, business, education and the public sector will be a great asset to this House. I am also delighted to learn that we share a love of football-but in my case it is Middlesbrough, so I say that in the loosest sense of the word-and swimming, but perhaps sadly not her love of cooking.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1194

It was wonderful to hear her passion and warmth in promoting the rights of disabled women, which is also close to my heart. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to the noble Baroness's future contributions.

I raise the particular issue of disabled women's participation in society, especially in sport and physical activity. Through research from the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation, for which I chair its commission on the future of women's sport, we know that the drop-out rate for non-disabled women in sport is around the crucial age of 16. If we could only encourage British girls to take part in just two hours of physical activity every week, they would be less likely to be teenage mothers or involved in abusive relationships and would be more likely to stay in education. Who would not want that for any young woman?

However, we know that it is considerably more difficult for disabled women to achieve inclusion in sport. A recent report from the Office for National Statistics looked at social participation across a range of themes, including a European barometer of public opinion. The biggest barrier for anyone wanting to participate in physical activity is time. How many of us in your Lordships' House today could say that? The second biggest barrier to participation is being disabled. I am very lucky in that I can say that in my life I have rarely experienced discrimination due to being a woman, but if discrimination were a top trumps game, disability would receive nearly maximum points. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was told several times by a variety of people, including a nurse and a doctor, that people like me should not have children.

I have in my work with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, of which I am trustee, seen this even more starkly around the world. The charity uses sport as a tool for social change across a range of countries and projects. In the past couple of years I have been fortunate to visit projects in India, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and have seen the issues that face disabled women internationally.

On a recent visit to the image project in Rajasthan, I spoke to girls who had polio. It is a great worry that girls aged 14 and 15 are living with this condition. They had been abandoned, ignored and abused just because they were disabled. They were living in a school that doubled as a children's home for many of them. So many girls were living there that they were sleeping 20 to a five-bedded room. They were sleeping on the floors in the corridors and the teachers had to sleep on the roof because there was nowhere else for them. The teachers experienced discrimination because they were working with disabled children and they found it difficult to live in their own communities because of the work that they were trying to do.

Sport and physical activity played a crucial role in helping all these young women adapt to their impairment, to feel valued and to get access to education. It also gave them an opportunity to contribute to local society. It gave them skills that enabled them to have a job and to be able to change the way in which the local environment thought about them. Because where they lived was so inaccessible and they had few wheelchairs,

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1195

they needed to be introduced to physical activity so that they could be strong enough to live their everyday lives. One of the most dramatic and upsetting things that I have ever seen was the girls having to crawl along the corridors between their bedrooms, study rooms and the kitchen because they did not have enough wheelchairs. They had to share the wheelchairs and take turns to use them. When visitors came they were brought out in stages because they could not all come to meet me together. For someone who takes the use of a wheelchair completely and utterly for granted, that was a devastating experience.

When I spoke to the girls, their aspirations were simple. They want to be treated like non-disabled women in their local community. The dream of full inclusion and equality, and to have the same rights as a man, was a step too far. When I asked one of the girls whether they believed that they could achieve that, they looked at me and said, "No, not in my lifetime". Whenever the battle for true inclusion for women perhaps gives the impression that we are close to the finish line, this is a stark reminder that there is still a long way to go. Today, I ask what steps we can take to ensure that disabled women receive more support, whether through international aid or other sources, to ensure that they have a chance to succeed. I know that we can all do more to make this better.

12.40 pm

Lord Sugar: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to join the debate, and my reasoning will possibly become evident later. Over the past 40 years, I have had the good fortune to employ a number of women in senior executive positions, and I have to say that I have found women in business to be very focused, determined and ambitious. Indeed, in top management positions, they seem to place little importance on building ego and simply get on with the job in hand in a very efficient manner.

About two years ago, I was asked to give an interview to two lady journalists from the Daily Telegraph. The interview was supposed to be about entrepreneurs, enterprise, young people and all that stuff, but it came to an abrupt halt when they brought up the subject of women in work, pregnancy and childcare regulations. I have found that a bit of sensitivity arises when someone like me speaks out on these matters. It tends to spark off in some people a kind of knee-jerk reaction and they do not seem to hear or want to hear what I am saying. Regrettably, what was reported in that newspaper did not reflect my sentiments, so I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gould for tabling this debate as I will be able to air the point I wish to make-and this time I have Hansard to fall back on for the record.

My point, very simply, is that I believe that employment regulations for women, whereby the prospective employer is not able to inquire about the interviewee's status regarding children, childcare, or indeed their intention of becoming a parent are counterproductive. And I think that some women may agree with me on this. As things stand, regardless of the current laws and regulations, interviewers are forced to play out some kind of psychological charade. They know their obligations

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1196

under the law, but effectively in some cases they make up their mind in advance about the prospect of employing the person sitting in front of them.

I say that, when being interviewed, women should be forthcoming by declaring their status regarding children and childcare so as to pre-empt any "unaskable" questions in the mind of the interviewer, and then to focus on the most important thing: explaining what skills they can bring to the company and why they should be employed. I, for one, would be very impressed with a person who settled the matter at the outset, telling me how they are going to organise their life in order to do their job, but more importantly, how they are going to get on with the job in hand and what they are going to bring to the party. Such people would jump up in my estimation.

As I have already said, I have had the pleasure of employing many women in executive positions over the years. The managing director of my French operation had three children-in fact, she had one of her children while she was employed by me. She controlled that market much better than I could ever have done. The same could be said for the lady who ran my Hong Kong branch, a job she did so well that I seconded her to the UK to head up my manufacturing operations worldwide. Additionally, those noble Lords who are familiar with the television programme with which I am associated will know that for the last two years running, a woman has won, one of whom is now on maternity leave. She has done a very good job and, of course, the position is open for her when she returns. Perhaps I may also add that my assistant on the programme, Karren Brady-the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe-Flint, will appreciate this-has spent the whole of her working life in football at the highest level. She was the youngest ever woman to be a public company director and has openly managed her life around her children without ever feeling the need to keep it a secret. I could not finish without mentioning Margaret Mountford, of course-my noble friend Lady Scotland will appreciate this-who, trust me, is a person.

Sometimes the law can be foolish and counterproductive. I urge women going after jobs to be bold and upfront during the interview process. Let me leave noble Lords with this final thought: while I have been talking and referring to the "interviewer", the person most probably imprinted in noble Lords' minds is a man. This should not be assumed. I have to say that the scepticism-the charade that I spoke of earlier-is played out equally by both genders.

12.45 pm

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington: My Lords, I start my maiden speech today by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on once again securing this important debate. I am conscious that there are many eminent pioneers both in this Chamber and outside who have led the way by campaigning on these important issues. In my own party, for example, I mention my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon, who introduced last year's debate on the same subject. My noble friends Lady Morris of Bolton, Lady Ritchie of Brompton and the Minister have all been active for many years in championing the cause of women, and particularly women in Parliament. I would also like to thank the

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1197

staff of your Lordships' House. It is well known that it is not the Government, the Opposition or the Whips who can tell you what is happening. If you really want to know what is going on, you have to ask a Doorkeeper.

I most enthusiastically thank my supporters. My noble friend Lady Shephard of Northwold was in 1992 appointed the first Minister with special responsibility for women's issues; she has encouraged me and many other women. It is also, of course, a very special pleasure to thank my noble kinsman Lord Jenkin of Roding for his support and advice; the most pertinent, which I hope to follow today, is to speak "loudly, slowly and clearly".

However, I have two other noble kinsmen who are both relevant to today's debate. My great-grandfather, Sir Willoughby Dickinson, Liberal MP for St Pancras North, was an early and prominent supporter of women's suffrage. He was incensed that his sister, an eminent doctor, did not have the vote. He first introduced a women's suffrage Bill in the other place in 1907. In a speech, he said:

"I regard this question of the women's franchise as part of the movement of civilisation".-[Official Report, Commons, 28/3/12; col. 720.]

In the early part of the last century, women's suffrage was not a universally popular cause, and his support for it did his career in the Liberal Party no good. On 10 January 1918, he wrote about the events in this place on that day:

"The House of Lords has passed the women's suffrage clauses by 134 to 69, so this job of mine is finished".

Although the struggle for women's votes was finally won, the battle for women MPs had only just begun.

My great-grandfather later became a Labour Peer, Lord Dickinson of Painswick, and with great pride he watched his daughter, my grandmother, take her seat in 1937 as the MP for Hemel Hempstead. That same grandmother, Joan Davidson, who later sat in this House as Baroness Northchurch of Chiswick, was the only Conservative woman MP returned to Parliament after the 1945 election.

Although I stood as a candidate in 1987, my own active involvement with the issue of women in Parliament began in 2005. After the general election of that year, a mere 9 per cent of the Parliamentary Conservative Party were women. More and more Conservatives were at last starting to realise that this was not just an issue of representation, it was one of credibility-the credibility not just of the Conservative Party but of politics as a whole. Together with a small group, I co-founded Women2Win, a pressure group of Conservatives to get more women elected to Parliament. Women2win is still active and support is growing. Today, 22 per cent of MPs are women, a greater percentage than ever before, but still stuck towards the bottom of the international league table. I am especially proud, of course, of the 49 Conservative women MPs elected last May, up from 17 in the previous Parliament.

I must point out that none of this would even have started without the support of men, men like Brooks Newmark and David Cameron. But it was my own husband who pointed out something crucial right at the beginning. He said that women never make much progress until we succeed in persuading men that things have to change. Well, we still have some persuading

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1198

to do. At this point, I should make it very clear that I am against positive discrimination; I want only the very best to represent us in the House of Commons. However, we still have to be vigilant to ensure that there is no discrimination against women candidates. In last year's debate, my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market rightly drew attention to the fact that fewer women apply for the job than men. That has certainly always been the case, but we now have a greater critical mass and we have momentum. With so many more role models on both sides of both Houses, I believe that more women will come forward to be considered. It is crucial that these women, whatever their party allegiance, are supported and mentored. They need to know exactly what they are in for, and this is an area in which women in this House can also play a part.

Finally, on a more personal note, I end by paying tribute to a group still mainly made up of women, even in 2011. This is a group that does not receive universal sympathy. They are largely unsung, but never invisible. They are always relied upon, but rarely recognised; a group of people who put up with much, but without fuss. They do not merely keep the political show on the road, in fact, if it was not for them, it would never get out of the garage. I know all this because I have been a member of this group-the spouse of a Member of Parliament-for the past 20 years. As we celebrate the 100th International Women's Day, I salute this band of few heroes but many more heroines.

12.50 pm

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for this debate today. It is my good fortune to be able to congratulate Anne, the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, on her moving maiden speech. She has done much to help women in politics and she is going to make a great contribution to this House. You might wonder why I am so convinced of this. When I entered the House 30 years ago, her grandmother, Lady Davidson-she was always known as Lady Davidson, and to many of us as Mimi, although her title was Baroness Northchurch-was an active Member. She told me one day at tea in the Peers' Dining Room that, when she became a Peer, which was quite a long time earlier, the Dining Room was full of small tables. She said that Members needed to be able to talk to one another, and it is because of her intervention that the Long Table exists today. I am convinced that this practice of Members taking the next seat, irrespective of party, provides a unique means of communication and discussion and makes a significant contribution to the work that we do. I had always imagined that it was an age-old tradition, but no, it was all due to Lady Davidson.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, has special historic connections with this House: three of her grandparents were Peers, and her Uncle Andrew, Lord Davidson, was a Deputy Chief Whip. Other well known and much loved kinsmen were her first cousin Richard, Lord Acton, and Davina, Baroness Darcy de Knayth. Of course we all know her kinsman the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, as a valued Member of the House.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1199

Women2win is well known and successful and carries on the idea that Lesley Abdela started 30 years ago with the 300 Group, for which I was one of the shadow people before it was set up. There was a cruise to Denmark on which ever so many women came to learn how they could become MPs-and I hope that some of them made it. Women2win is taking a very progressive view on this. Each generation of women benefits from the efforts of those before them and faces the new challenges that continue to arise.

I intend to remind some of the Members of the House of a few of the achievements of women here, and also of the support that these women have given and continue to give to others. Women could not become Members of this House until after the Life Peerages Act 1958. Harold Macmillan created four women peers in that year: Lady Elliot, aunt of the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne; Lady Ravensdale and Lady Swanborough, whom I never knew; and Lady Wootton, who is always listed as the first woman life Peer. She was probably the first to take her seat. She and Lady Elliot were still active Members of the House when I was introduced, and very forceful characters they were too.

Other notable people included Lady Hornsby-Smith, who wrote to every newspaper that referred to Peeresses and blew their heads off, saying that we were women Peers; and Lady Vickers-1974, of the blue rinse-who told us that trousers were only acceptable on Fridays, as that was considered a day when you could go to the country. Lady Wootton sat regularly on the Woolsack until about the age of 90 and died in 1988. The present longest-serving Member of this House is the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who took his seat in 1945. Women, of course, were not allowed then. The longest-serving woman Peer, since 1970, is the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, was given her peerage in 1972, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkender, in 1974.

Some women Peers have faced great personal tragedies, such as the assassination of their husbands in the cases of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, Lady Airey of Abingdon and Lady Ewart-Biggs; and recently, there was the very tragic killing of the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove.

In 1981, I was in a list of 15 with four women; Lady Ewart-Biggs, Lady Lane-Fox and the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, were the other three. Lady Lane-Fox has a special respiratory unit named after her at St Thomas' Hospital. She had not been expected to live from the age of five, but she was one of the first Peers to use an electric buggy in the House. I think that she may have had polio, and she had severe breathing problems. She made a great contribution to the Lords and society.

Beryl, the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, was an aeronautical engineer, and hugely successful in helping women into science and engineering. She was also chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I have been assured that I can have an extra second or two because I was congratulating a maiden speaker. The 1981 list was published in April and was the first political list for many years. I was described in the

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1200

press as "the most unlikely Peer", and a more sensational newspaper headed the piece: "Fair Dinkum Dame Edna's made it!".

It is only thanks to your Lordships passing the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, on the last day of the last Parliament, that I am still in this place, as faulty legislation in 2006 failed to confirm the right of members of the Commonwealth to sit in the House of Lords. I am most grateful for the support from all sides of the House, and I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who I see is in his place.

We have had many remarkable women Members, so many of whom have made interesting and unique contributions. Dora Gaitskell always sat with a hat on, and no matter how often people suggested that she take it off, she would just pull it tighter on her head. Lady Castle refused to wear her tricorn hat for her introduction, and of course no one wears a hat for introduction now.

There have been women Leaders of the House of Lords-first Lady Young, and four more since: the noble Baronesses, Lady Jay, Lady Amos and Lady Ashton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who is in the Chamber today. The first woman Chief Whip, for Labour, was Lady Llewelyn-Davies, and since then we have had the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Anelay. I know that there is no time to say more now. However, we have set a great example. We continue to work for, and hope to benefit, the women of the next generation. We should all bear that in mind and continue this work.

12.58 pm

Baroness King of Bow: My Lords, I have often gazed down from the Public Gallery in some wonderment at this golden Chamber, and so it is with much humility, gratitude and a little surprise that I rise from these red Benches to speak. It is customary to thank the staff of the House and I genuinely want to do this, as in all the years that I have worked here they have always assisted me and, more remarkably still, never once arrested me-long may their indulgence continue.

I also thank my two supporters: my noble friend Lady Kinnock and my noble friend Lord Alli, of Norbury. Their support over many years has been so extraordinary to me on a personal level that it has provoked a reaction in me that borders on the devotional, so I will just leave it at that.

Another noble friend whom I would like to mention is the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. His is a story of rags to riches. From a poor working class family in the north of England, the noble Lord left school at 14, joined the Royal Marines at 17 and was wounded in the preparations for D-day. His membership of the Co-operative Party remarkably propelled him to become Prime Minister at the age of 21, pipping Pitt The Younger by three years. He was Prime Minister of the Tyneside Youth Parliament, before being demoted to be MP for Enfield. When I was studying A-level politics, I discovered that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, was my mum's cousin. Given that I could not get into the Parliament and my class wanted to come and visit, I nagged him to show us around the place, and I have been hanging around ever since.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1201

It is 14 years since I gave a maiden speech in Parliament and, not wishing to sound like a scratched record, I had genuinely hoped to break new ground and move beyond the limited territory of equalities issues. No such luck. Although this debate has been characterised by genuinely enlightened contributions on both sides, I have to be honest and say that we have been having these debates for so long, I sometimes find them claustrophobic, as though I was trapped inside a box-a small box. A small box with a tick on it. But I should not complain. I am great at ticking boxes. I tick loads of them. My dad is black, my mum is Jewish, my grandparents were Scottish, Irish, Hungarian, African-American and native American Indian-there are more ticks on my census form than on my mum's German shepherd dog. I have tick-borne disease, but all these ticks make me think one thing-tick-tock.

At the current rate of progress, it will take 200 years to achieve an equal number of women in this Parliament. Come on, boys and girls, I know we don't go in for revolution, but 200 years? This timeframe is, frankly, lazy. What happened to our work ethic? How long do we have to wait? How many speeches do we have to make? How many clauses do we have to debate? Although the previous Labour Government did what all Labour Governments have done and introduced groundbreaking equalities legislation for women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, gay people, older people, religious groups-basically, everyone-I am still shocked at how much ground is left to break.

Maybe that is because I grew up in a country where the head of state and the Prime Minister were both women and it was an article of faith to me that, in this country, unlike so much of the world, women no longer faced an uphill struggle. The facts presented in this debate prove that I was a misguided young woman. I thought that promoting equality was a matter of us tying up a few loose ends, not actually questioning the whole system. But since I have spent most of my adult life working inside a parliamentary rabbit hole, I realise that we must question the system. I have concluded that Britain is a wonderful country; and I prefer British politics to virtually all others. But having worked within the system all my life, I can say with clear-eyed conviction that our system needs radical repair. Our system is needlessly failing not just women-although they face the brunt of the problems at the moment-but failing children and men as well.

Repair is required in three principal areas. First, recognise that the equalities debate is for everyone, not just those of us with tick-borne disease. For example, all men in Britain today who desperately want to see their children more than they do, would benefit from greater gender equality at work and around childcare responsibilities. If the average man understood what gender equality meant for him, the average man would be a feminist.

Secondly, a gender analysis is the most effective way to reduce the harshest inequality of all: the inequality between those who are nurtured from birth, on the one hand, and those who are effectively abandoned, whose lives are thrown away before they reach the age of three.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1202

Thirdly, the most effective way to improve outcomes in our system is to implement an old wives' tale and listen to what our grandmothers said. They said that prevention is better than cure. This was the theme of my wonderfully ill-fated London mayoral campaign last year, the failure of which, thankfully, allowed me to wash up on these noble red Benches. I am ashamed to say that, at the time when I was harping on about early intervention, I had not read what I think is one of the most important contributions that any two Back-Benchers have made-they are men, but never mind; I shall give them credit. Graham Allen and Iain Duncan Smith's report on early intervention is genuinely groundbreaking and I commend it to everyone.

Given the time limitations, I have discarded half my speech, but I want to tell your Lordships one last anecdote about a social worker that I heard of during the mayoral campaign last summer. The social worker was talking about Baby P, the 17 month-old boy whose 50 injuries included a broken back, broken ribs, his teeth kicked out, the tips of his fingers sliced off, his nails ripped out and so forth. The social worker noted that our entire country was united in an outpouring of grief and rage at the suffering of that poor soul. How different their responses would be, said the social worker, had Baby P survived. If Baby P had survived his horrific childhood of constant abuse, all the research indicates that, as an adult, unless he received intensive and expensive help, he would almost certainly have become a sex abuser, wife beater and paedophile. The whole country would have been united in an outpouring of rage against this monster and demanded that he be hanged by the neck. We need to reflect on the madness inherent not just in this system's responses but in society's responses to the ills around us.

I conclude by mentioning the fantastic EQUALS campaign, spearheaded by Annie Lennox-and why is it that we politicians have to rely on pop stars so often? That campaign pointed out that there is no doubt that women's rights have come a long way since 1911, but women still only hold 19 per cent of the world's parliamentary seats, only 9 per cent of the world's leaders are women, women perform 66 per cent of the world's work, produce over 50 per cent of the world's food and yet only earn 10 per cent of the world's income and own less than 1 per cent of the world's property.

This House is renowned as a place of reflection. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing this debate, and on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, I hope that we can stop ticking boxes, start to think outside the box and secure gender equality for all.

1.05 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to be the first of your noble Lordships to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady King, very warmly on her superb, engaging, entertaining, splendid maiden speech. Knowing a little about her illustrious career before joining your Lordships' House, I knew that we could expect a speech reflecting the passionate commitment of the noble Baroness to fundamental values and passionate advocacy for justice, equality, poverty reduction and human rights. These passions were reflected, inter alia, in her membership of the International Development

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1203

Select Committee in another place from 1997 to 2001 and her membership of many aid and advocacy organisations, including Oxfam, Amnesty International and UNICEF.

It is said that it was at Haverstock comprehensive school that Oona King first showed political ambition, telling her careers teacher that she wanted to become Prime Minister. Apparently, she was advised to become a librarian instead. I am sure we are all delighted that she stuck to her guns and pursued a political career. Her maiden speech in another place was acclaimed as,

I am sure the House will agree that the noble Baroness has achieved a repeat performance, treating us to another truly first-class maiden speech here today. We greatly look forward to benefiting from her passion, commitment and experience on many further occasions.

I now join all other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on this very timely debate, providing an opportunity to highlight some of the challenges confronting women today, as well as some of the initiatives, especially those undertaken by women, to address them. I will focus on challenges confronting women in just one part of the world, women who are largely off the radar screen of international awareness; those who live in the regions in Burma which I visited last week, the Shan, Karen and Karenni states. Their challenges and their suffering are replicated in many other parts of the world, especially areas affected by war and the aftermath of conflict.

The ethnic nationals of Burma, including the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Rohingya and Kachin peoples, comprise 40 per cent of the total population. Last week colleagues from Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust and I met the Shan leadership and were informed that the situation for the Shan people remains dire, as also for their Karen and Karenni neighbours. Military offensives by the brutal ruling military junta, the Orwellian-named State Peace and Development Council, continue unabated and have forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee from their homes into hiding or exile. Women are especially vulnerable, particularly those who are pregnant or caring for young children or the elderly, as they suffer the acute deprivations of life in hiding in the jungle. Unable to build shelters or light fires for fear of being seen by SPDC soldiers, they are constantly wet in the rainy season and suffer from severe cold at night. They live in constant fear of capture and abuse. A 17-year-old girl from Central Shan State told us:

"SPDC military troops would often come to my village. One day they caught my father, beat him and forced him to work for them as a porter. My dad never came home again. My mother was pregnant. We were forced to leave the village and my mum only lived for five days, then she died. I was on my own".

I have recorded literally hundreds of such tragic stories, but in this centenary year of International Women's Day, it is important also to appreciate responses by women with initiatives to alleviate suffering and to remedy root causes.

One example of such a response is the excellent organisation SWAN, the Shan Women's Action Network, which undertakes advocacy and provides aid. For

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1204

example, SWAN published Licence to Rape, a well researched document that exposed the SPDC's policy of the use of rape as a weapon of war. SWAN has established several programmes to provide help for women, including crisis support and maternal and child health programmes. We visited some of its programmes, which we are privileged to support, and we are always deeply impressed by the dedication, courage and professionalism of the very committed women who give their lives-and indeed often risk their lives-to help women suffering in so many ways from the inhuman policies of the Burmese military junta.

I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on the recent reviews. In so doing, I express appreciation of DfID's funding for SWAN and the retention of Burma as a country that DfID will continue to support. Will DfID also continue to support cross-border aid for displaced people suffering inside Burma? The previous reassurance on this issue gave great comfort to the thousands of people suffering inside that tragic land, and such help is still greatly needed as SPDC offensives continue and even more civilians will be driven from their villages to become exiles in their own land or to flee into in foreign lands.

This example of the challenges for women in Burma today is just one illustration of the perennial and continuing problems for many women in so many conflict zones in today's world. The inspirational work of SWAN is just one example of the many responses by women for women that it is appropriate to acknowledge and celebrate in this centenary year of International Women's Day.

1.12 pm

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I feel doubly fortunate to be able to make my maiden speech in this debate to mark 100 years of International Women's Day, first because it was introduced by my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, and secondly because I have been proud to call myself a feminist for some 40 of those 100 years. I was also fortunate to have as my supporters two formidable women, my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. I am grateful to them, to noble Lords from all sides of the House and to all the staff for their warm welcome and helpfulness.

I doubt whether many noble Lords have heard of Burtersett. It is a small village in beautiful Wensleydale where my grandparents lived during my childhood and which, as a keen walker, I still visit regularly. In taking this title, I wanted to acknowledge the county of my birth and my mother's side of my family.

However, today I also want to remember my father who I know, as a refugee from Nazi Germany, would have been particularly proud to see me here. In remembering him, it saddens and angers me how we as a society often treat many of today's seekers of asylum. Female asylum seekers are a group of women who are particularly challenged in both a global and a domestic context. The Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested that the treatment of asylum seekers often,

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1205

The committee also expressed particular concern with regard to pregnant women. The national equality panel, of which I was a member, drew attention last year to,

among asylum seekers, revealed by small studies but hidden by larger income surveys.

I want to use the rest of my speech to draw attention to another example of hidden poverty-that of women within families. Although domestically and globally women tend to bear the main brunt of poverty, this is often overlooked in our very proper concern with child poverty. Yet female and child poverty are closely linked, not least because women still typically manage poverty and, in trying to protect their children from its full impact, they act as poverty's shock-absorbers.

I hope that I will not alarm noble Lords unduly when I say that I was once nearly thrown out of your Lordships' House when sitting below the Bar. I was working for the Child Poverty Action Group, an organisation that I am now proud to serve as honorary president. The occasion was the consideration of a Social Security Act, and I squealed with joy when it was announced that the Government were withdrawing their proposal to pay family credit through the pay packet. The reason why we campaigned so strongly on that issue, with support from women of all political parties and none, was that the evidence indicated that, if money for children was transferred from the woman's purse to the man's wallet, it would be less likely to be spent on the children. Moreover, such a transfer would deprive mothers of an important independent source of income over which they had independent control. Unfortunately, this is a battle that we seem to have to fight periodically, as successive Governments overlook the importance of how income is shared within families. It is an issue that we face yet again with the proposed universal credit, as my noble friend Lady Gould has warned.

A number of research studies show that low-income women are more likely to go without basics than men living in the same households. Just the other week, I helped to launch the publication of a study of black and minority ethnic maternal poverty for Oxfam and the Angelou Centre in Newcastle. The study reveals considerable deprivation and, in a few cases, what the researcher calls "economic violence", in which the woman has so little access to money that her freedom is severely curtailed. Other research illuminates how the stress created by poverty can undermine mothers' ability to provide the kind of parenting that they want to. This can get overlooked in policy debates, which sometimes give the impression of blaming poor parents.

I have had the privilege, as both an academic and campaigner, to be able to draw attention to the reality of women's poverty over the years. A colleague in the department of social sciences at Loughborough University reminded me of our responsibility to speak truth to power. I hope that I will fulfil that responsibility on behalf of women who are in fact better placed to speak that truth-and, with support, are more than

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1206

able to do so-but who do not have access to power. As one such woman, involved with ATD Fourth World, said:

"We are powerless ... not taken seriously, our voice not respected. I want to be heard, respected, my experience valued, not derided. Our voice can raise awareness of poverty and break the barriers down".

1.17 pm

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, once again the whole House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for securing today's debate and for giving us the opportunity for a cornucopia of maiden speeches from six quite remarkable women.

It is a real privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, in what I am sure the House will agree was a thoughtful and forceful maiden speech, a combination that is often difficult achieve. The noble Baroness came to your Lordships' House in January. It is interesting that, like many of us, she has taken a title that reflects her pride in her origins. She comes to us as emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University after a career as a campaigner and an academic, which strikes me as a dangerous combination for the government Front Bench.

The noble Baroness's links for many years with the Child Poverty Action Group, including eight years as director, have continued and she is now the honorary president. She is currently involved in two studies on poverty and social exclusion. Her whole career as an academic and her writings have focused very much on the areas of poverty, the social security system, citizenship and social justice. It is a body of work that I know she has brought to bear in a political context, and she has contributed much to Labour Party thinking in these areas over the years. Her work on feminism and equality is renowned and has made today a singularly appropriate day for her to make her maiden speech. I am sure that she will continue to make many valuable contributions to your Lordships' House over the coming years.

I wish to say a few words about one particular aspect of recent events in the Middle East, which have made us all hold our breath from time to time. We have seen many striking images involving women and girls taking their place, marching and protesting side by side with the men. In these countries where the public sphere is so often dominated by men, this could be a real game-changer. There is a Facebook page called "Women of Egypt", which has shown that is it not only not the preserve of men but not the preserve of middle-class women either. The photographs show a wonderful variety: grandmothers and young girls, veiled women and those with bare heads. On International Women's Day, it is appropriate to reflect on how the role of women in the creation of these, we hope, new democracies in the Middle East and north Africa can be developed and enhanced. This is no small challenge in countries where women's representation in national Parliaments is less than 10 per cent and where formal participation in the workforce, even now, is less than 30 per cent. There is institutionalised disadvantage and cultural prejudice. We cannot take it for granted that gender equality is an inevitable consequence of a move to a more democratic state.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1207

As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, said, we need a legal underpinning for what is happening. One key component is for these changing countries to make special provision in their new constitutions to enshrine the rights of women. In Tunisia, women are present on each of the commissions which have been established to oversee the transition. By contrast, in Egypt, there are no women on the constitutional committee. That is in a country where the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights reported in 2008 that 83 per cent of women have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment, so no one need think that the disappearance of one man in a regime will change the culture overnight. We need them to get the constitution right as part of that building block.

It is very instructive to look at South Africa, where there were equal numbers of men and women on the constitutional committee and where women are acknowledged to have played a key role in dismantling the apartheid regime, particularly in ensuring that the consultative and inclusive processes involved women. That meant that sufficient focus was given to human security-to access to food and water, health, education, and personal safety.

There is much that we can do. I have been interested to read about the work of Lesley Abdela, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, mentioned previously in another context. Lesley Abdela has worked in post-conflict regions across the world. When she was working in Iraq, she helped to develop an approach on phrases that can be used in constitutions to guarantee the rights of women. Those can be translated quickly into Egyptian Arabic and into other languages and can play an important part. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on top of this and following it through, and there is of course a role for the EU and the UN.

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy has a good track record in this regard. Five years ago, it helped to set up the Network of Arab Liberals, with HQs in Cairo and Casablanca. Several of my colleagues have made visits financed by the programme and Network of Arab Liberals members have been invited to party conferences. I know that these links which have been established between Liberal International and the Arab world are just one example of a whole network which already exists and which can be mobilised to move this region into the new phase of its history. We must all use the connections that we have to ensure dialogue, with women talking to women and young people talking to young people. We have an opportunity now to develop and nurture these new-born democratic structures. We must not let it slip by.

1.23 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for her ability in securing this debate, which gives us this welcome opportunity to comment-alas, all too briefly-on the global and domestic challenges women still face today.

On the UK front, I shall comment only on women on boards. It really is shaming that although it is almost 100 years since women had the right to vote

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1208

and 40 years since the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, the percentage of women on the boards of the FTSE 100 companies remains as low as 12.5 per cent. If no further decisive action is taken, it has been estimated that it will take another 70 years to achieve gender balance on those boards. Although some of us might have preferred compulsory targets right now, the report by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, requiring these companies to set and publish 25 per cent targets for the percentage of women to be on their boards by 2015 clearly makes economic as well as equal opportunity sense as a next step.

Today, there are more women than men enrolled in universities in this country, and importantly, women in their 20s out-earn their male peers even if, as we all know-and we all know the reasons why-women still face a powerful glass ceiling as they move up that ladder. Yet, as a recent McKinsey report has found, companies with more women on their boards vastly outperform their rivals, with a 42 per cent higher return on sales and a 66 per cent higher return on invested capital. At least the Davies report contains a clear message that legislation will indeed follow if this voluntary approach fails, so let us congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and keep a close eye on what the Government intend to do about it.

Education on the same basis for male and female children is crucial to maximise the contribution women make for their own, their children's and their country's benefit. In the UK, that has been the situation-with some uneven areas, of course-for many years. At the global level, particularly in developing countries, sadly the picture is very different, yet we all know it is in our interests to invest in girls and women's education there too. Certainly, we can all be proud of the wide-ranging international aid work done in many areas of social need by organisations such as Save the Children, UNICEF and PLAN International.

Particularly important for its focus on girls' education is the quite excellent report by PLAN International's "Because I am a girl" programme, which highlights the role that girls and women can play in economic growth and the missed opportunities of failing to invest in their futures. PLAN's report showed that countries with the lowest number of girls in education lie at the bottom of the human development tables. Further, it found that an extra year of education increases a girl's income by 10 to 20 per cent and is a significant step on the road to breaking the cycle of poverty. With education, girls have a chance of a better life for themselves and for their children and one which will lead to a more prosperous community, a better workplace and a wealthier nation.

I am glad to say, too, that DfID's approach under the previous Government to this whole area has been encouraging and I gather it continues to be so under the coalition. Your Lordships will have seen the two major reviews from the department, published this week. In his covering letter, Andrew Mitchell, the coalition's International Development Secretary, commits the Government to securing schooling for 11 million children in developing countries over the next four years. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is a firm commitment because, if achieved, DfID will certainly deserve our congratulations.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1209

If that phrase "Education, education, education", which we remember, is an acknowledged No. 1 priority for future generations of both sexes one other, equally vital, issue must be tackled for women and girls if they are to achieve equality and human rights. The UN Security Council's Resolution 1325, aimed at fighting gender-based violence and conflict, among other issues, has apparently been much discussed this past week at the meeting in New York of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Although some progress is recognised, only 24 out of 195 countries worldwide have adopted a national action plan for women, peace and security. To put it bluntly, until it is no longer acceptable anywhere in the world for an army, whether a nation's official army or any rebel military group, to regard rape and violence against women and children as one of the spoils-indeed, the rewards-of war, we shall not achieve Resolution 1325 or all the objectives that we are fighting for.

1.29 pm

Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, we have this afternoon heard many eloquent and passionate contributions about the challenges facing women at home and across the globe. It is a privilege to be able to join in. This is an issue to which I am delighted the Commonwealth will also be turning in a few weeks, when the theme for this year's Commonwealth Day on 14 March is "Women as agents of change". That title is spot on, particularly in the developing countries that I shall talk about. Women are so often drivers of societal change that investing in their advancement in education, healthcare and equal opportunities is one vital key to the acceleration of economic and cultural progress in the developing world.

The other agent of change is, of course, the free press. Here I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and a director of the Telegraph Media Group. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, in introducing this debate, was quite right to point out the issues of involving women in the decision-making process. That is nowhere more true than in the media. One of the most significant ways in which we can seek to ensure the continuing advancement of women is to see to it that their voice is properly and effectively heard in newspapers and magazines, and in the broadcast media, for that voice is the engine of progress. That means getting more women into journalism in developing countries. The more women reporters there are, who have direct experience of improving the position of women, the louder and clearer the message of how to foster lasting change will be heard, even in countries where there is still a great deal of repression. That change will embrace so many crucial issues including poverty, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. I say to my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint that it might even cover the coverage of sportswomen in the media.

Over the past few years there has been welcome progress in this area. India has started to promote women into senior positions in the media and Sri Lanka has had several women editors both in the past and, indeed, today. Pakistan is almost unique, particularly for an Islamic country, in that at one time or another almost every major newspaper has been edited by a

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1210

woman. In many African countries, women are increasingly involved in positions of influence, particularly in the broadcast media. Let us celebrate that.

However, there is still a great deal more to do. While the average percentage of women journalists worldwide is estimated at 38 per cent, it is as low as 6 per cent in places such as Togo or Sri Lanka-despite the fact that there have been many women editors in the latter-and only just above 20 per cent in much of sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries, being a woman journalist brings real peril. In February of this year, Rwandan editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and her reporter Saidath Mukakibibi to seven, while their newspaper Your Voice was closed for six months, for criticising the president. These two courageous women are just the most recent examples of women journalists who have spoken out against brutal regimes and, undoubtedly because of their sex, suffered unduly and disproportionately harsh reprisals in an attempt to discredit them.

No wonder that in so many developing countries with traditional societies journalism is seen as too risky a career for young women, many of whom are actively discouraged by their families from taking up the trade. To counteract this, some forward-thinking media organisations, such as the Deccan Herald Group in India and Wijeya Newspapers Ltd in Sri Lanka, are increasingly implementing measures to alleviate these cultural concerns, including organising transport to and from offices, providing chaperones for women reporters interviewing men, and providing security in war zones.

On top of that, there needs to be substantial ongoing investment, in financial as well as cultural terms, in encouraging women into the media, ensuring that they are adequately trained, and enabling them to engage with their peers on issues not just of general concern but specifically those that impact on the health, welfare and prosperity of women. As we mark International Women's Day, let us celebrate the progress that has been made in this area, understand the real scale of the challenges ahead, and determine to redouble our efforts to ensure that the voice of women in journalism is heard ever more loudly.

1.34 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely: My Lords, I feel very privileged, not just to be present here as a new Member, but also because I shall have the honour of speaking for more then three minutes, which is more than I ever had in my 15 years serving in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, I will keep my contribution brief because I am keen to be back in Wales tonight to vote for further powers in the Welsh Assembly referendum.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, I would like to start by remembering Viscountess Rhondda. She was a Welsh suffragette who burnt a postbox to draw attention to her cause. She was imprisoned and went on hunger strike; she was such a nuisance, though, that they let her out in four days. She was never allowed to take up her seat in the House of Lords, as she would have been had she been a man. There are other feisty women from Wales like Jemima Nicholas, who repelled the French invasion

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1211

of Fishguard, but I am glad to see this tradition of feisty Welsh females is alive and kicking in the House of Lords.

Despite this, my noble friend Lady Kinnock and I were only the sixth and seventh women in the history of Wales to be elected to full-time public office in 1994. It is great to be back together again, and I thank her and my noble friend Lady Royall for being my supporters. I thank noble Lords and staff for the warm welcome that I have been given since entering the House. It was particularly lovely to be greeted this morning by a Welsh-speaking policeman on my way in. It is a very different experience from entering the European Parliament as the youngest Member in 1994. In fact, I was just about to hit my mid-life crisis. I am happy to say that, on coming here, it suddenly abated.

We have come a long way in 100 years. Personally, hitherto, I think that I have probably benefitted career-wise from being a woman, but I recognise that that is exceptional. I, along with other women, have a responsibility to help others who have struggled because of their gender.

Women's representation in politics in Wales has changed dramatically since 1994, but it took the establishment of the Assembly and the introduction of a gender-equal selection method by the Labour Party to go from probably the worst representation in the world to one of the best. We had more women in the Cabinet than we had men. That was absolutely unique in the world. Much thanks for this achievement must be given to my noble friend Lady Gale, who worked tirelessly as the general secretary of the Labour Party. She gained recognition and the accolade of Welsh Woman of the Year for her great work in this area. I thank her for tutoring me not just through my entrance into this place, but through the past 15 years. Recent political selections, however, for Westminster and the Assembly have demonstrated that unless we keep the foot on the pedal we will revert to the previous trend.

Economically and educationally, women are more powerful than ever. The Economist has stated that over past decades women have contributed more to the expansion of the world economy than technology or emerging markets. This fact is generally ignored. Now, however, we are experiencing the most severe recession since the great depression, with dire consequences for women across the globe. There is a real danger that we will see a pushback on the gains that we have seen in recent decades.

The European Commission, in its 2009 report on inequality, stated that the economic slowdown was likely to affect women more than men. In the past, women's concentration in the public sector has helped protect women from the initial impact of a recession. Not this time. Almost half the women who work in Merseyside are employed in the NHS, schools or the caring professions. In Greater Manchester, the figure is two out of five. Cuts to children's services are likely to make life very difficult for many women.

How was the recession caused? Literally, it was a manmade disaster. Women need to be included in formulating the response. So far, there is not much sign of that. All 27 out of 27 central bank governors of the EU are men.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1212

These great upheavals, however, offer us opportunities. We can learn lessons from elsewhere. If you look at what has happened in Iceland, for example, you can see that this has fuelled the transformation in the way that the economy is driven. It has turned the key levers of finance over to women. It has a female Prime Minister. A woman heads up two of the major banks there. In Iceland, risk awareness, profit with principles, emotional capital and sustainable growth are not fashionable buzzwords, but are accepted as a part of good business.

We have come a long way since Viscountess Rhondda took her stance. Of course, we can go further, but let us not let the centenary pass without recognising the immense strides that have been taken in the past century. I thank my noble friend Lady Gould for introducing this debate, and I look forward to making many more contributions in this House.

1.39 pm

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I offer warm praise for the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely-that is, Ely in Cardiff. We were fellow Labour Members of the European Parliament for 15 years, as she has said. She is, and will remain, a deeply cherished and admired friend. In 1994, when we both became MEPs, she was, as she said, the youngest Member. I never ceased to be impressed by the way that she juggled travelling to and from Brussels and Strasbourg with caring for two young and delightful children. Her fine maiden speech has shown her qualities of energy and passion for justice and she is a formidable feminist. She is forthright, feisty and steeped in politics. Her father was a very political vicar in Cardiff. She grew up in Ely, often sharing the vicarage with needy members of her father's flock. Today she has shown that energy and passion, which I have grown to love, and her determination to continue to fight for justice, which I know will be valued by us all on all sides of the House.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, not just for initiating the debate but for her unrelenting and unwavering support and fight for the rights of women. In 1911, women and men celebrated the first International Women's Day. At that time, life expectancy for women in Britain was 55. They did not have the right to vote and certainly my grandmothers lived a life of toil and drudgery with little education or healthcare.

Gender discrimination is pervasive and pernicious and to varying degrees women and girls simply do not enjoy equal access to resources, opportunities and political power in any region of our world. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty and violence and make up most of the world's poor and illiterate people. The millennium development goal targets will not be met in any of the countries where the needs and status of women are a low priority. Does the Minister agree that gender equity, given the multiplier effect it has on the MDGs, is the most important linkage that we need to address?

I have met many wonderful women across the world who courageously oppose discrimination and tyranny and who face terrible reprisals for their pains. Surely

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1213

no history, religion or cultural tradition can justify any tolerance of the injustice and inequality that millions of women face. We see what Hillary Clinton has called a "pandemic of violence" against women. Mass rape is routinely used as a weapon of war and far too often impunity prevails. I have met and talked to women in Darfur who have been raped and abused as they collected firewood outside their camps, and to women in the eastern Congo who have been raped on their way home from market. What does one say to such tortured, impoverished and war-weary women who know that they have no judicial redress and that they will live with that stigma for the rest of their lives? The women that I met in the Congo had been brutally raped and left for dead. Dr Mukwege operates in the Panzi hospital on something like 3,500 women a year who have been raped. On his lapel he wears a badge which says, "Don't stand idly by". I will never forget those women or, most of all, the concern that they showed not for themselves but for what had happened to their missing children.

In south Sudan last week the all-party parliamentary group met parliamentarians, including a number of women, who looked forward to a future which guaranteed a secular state with a strong commitment to equal treatment and positive measures to ensure the selection and election of women. However, that new country will face enormous challenges and expectations are high. In south Sudan a 15 year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than she does of finishing primary school. We visited the hospital in Juba where the major cause of death in childbirth is haemorrhaging. Many women die but there is no blood bank in that hospital with which to save them. In the north we met women in Khartoum who told us about a retrenchment of fundamentalist views and an even greater imposition of draconian laws driven by a religious ideology intent on oppressing women. Will the Government urgently respond to these concerns? These are surely strong reasons why we need the United Nations women's agency to be up and running. It is simply not acceptable for the Government to postpone making a firm funding pledge until the board meeting in June when UN Women will present its first annual plan. How is UN Women meant to prepare, hire staff and open regional offices when it has no predictable funding from donors such as the UK in this transitional period? Equity for women is clearly a matter of justice but we should confirm today that it is also a political, economic and social imperative.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I fear that I need to remind noble Lords and noble Baronesses that this is a timed debate and that we will run into difficulty if speakers take longer than their allotted time. That will eat into the time that the Minister has to respond to so many splendid speeches, so I hope that speakers will be succinct.

1.47 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, after hearing so many truly inspiring maiden speeches and many terrifically moving speeches, I want to look

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1214

inwards a little into what this House, and the women in it, can do given the increased number of talented female Peers who have entered the House. It falls on our shoulders to ensure that no subjects debated in this House should be regarded as "boys' subjects". On 12 November last year, this House debated the defence and security review. That debate had a similar number of speakers to today's debate-some 40-but less than a handful of women spoke. However, almost nothing will affect our sisters throughout the world more than our attitude to war and conflict. Not even our attitude to trade and aid is more influential than how we choose to deploy our military strength, or, indeed, whether we choose to develop or deploy it at all. That should be a burning issue for debate among us women as women throughout the world directly suffer the consequences of our action or lack of action.

I was extremely pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady King of Bow, say that we should not let everything remain the same and that things have changed far too slowly. I suggest that we have been far too slow to change our attitude to war and conflict. The arms trade treaty that was published in draft in February offers a tremendous opportunity to effect world change. I hope that the UK's contribution to that treaty will continue to be as energetic as it should be. However, the draft contains no direct reference to the effect of arms and small arms, particularly on women. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, spoke movingly about the effect of conflict on women in places such as the DRC. That treaty would be strengthened with that sort of reference.

Many of these problems can be solved by women themselves. They have the knowledge to do so, but the problem, as many speakers have said, is political representation-19 per cent representation across the world is not nearly good enough. No matter what approach we take to other issues, it will only ever be a sticking plaster to cover those problems until women themselves are in a position of power in their Governments to solve them.

I, too, commend the work of Lesley Abdela, who was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Gardner of Parkes and Lady Scott of Needham Market. Lesley Abdela has worked her whole life to improve women's political position throughout the world. Even now, she is working on the Egyptian issue. She should certainly be in this House, but that would take her away from her front-line job; perhaps it is lucky for the women of the world that she is not here.

Lastly, I shall comment on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's mWomen initiative, which is putting mobile phone technology into the hands of women. An all-woman technology delegation has gone this very week to Liberia and Sierra Leone to promote putting technology into the hands of women to enable them to communicate better. It is a particularly useful initiative, because communication is the first step on the road to political power.

1.52 pm

Lord Patel: My Lords, many of you will have heard of HeLa cells, but perhaps not. HeLa cell lines are human cancer cell lines that were first grown in 1951 and

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1215

which, 60 years later, are still growing in laboratories worldwide. They have been and still are used for research into finding cures for diseases. Research using HeLa cells has led to the development of vaccines for polio and the treatment of cervical cancer, to name only two areas. The cells are also used to treat diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, leukaemia and many others. Some 18,000 patents have been registered using modified HeLa cell lines, and have provided industry with hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue. Several Nobel prizes have been awarded to scientists who used HeLa cells for research. Each and every one of us has benefited from cures for and the prevention of disease as a result of research on HeLa cells.

HeLa cells are so called because they were originally obtained from Henrietta Lacks-without her consent. She died at the age of 31 from an aggressive form of cervical cancer in Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. She was a black woman descended from slaves. She was born in poverty, lived in poverty, was uneducated and, being black in the southern USA, was treated as an inferior human being. A few months before her death, she attended Johns Hopkins Hospital because she felt a growth and was suffering pain. The doctor who saw her took two specimen samples of tissue from her growth-one was for pathology diagnosis, the second he passed to a scientist carrying out research in growing human cells outside the body. Most cells obtained from other tissue samples died after a few days, but not Henrietta Lacks' cells. Their number doubled within 24 hours and kept doubling, even in subsets, every 24 hours. They have been doing that ever since for the past 60 years. Tons of HeLa cells have been grown in laboratories worldwide over the past 60 years. Henrietta Lacks was recognised last year by a tombstone near where she might have been buried-no one knows exactly where she is buried.

It is time for humanity to pay back the debt to Henrietta Lacks. How? Every two minutes in the world a woman dies of cervical cancer. More than 500,000 women develop cervical cancer every year, the majority in countries in Africa and Asia. To a majority of young girls in the world, a cervical cancer vaccine to prevent that disease is not available because it is too costly for those countries to buy and set up programmes such as those we have here. There is an opportunity for us to do so today, and the Minister, without any cost to the UK Government, could launch a UN fund to which we should all contribute-including the industry, which has made billions of dollars in revenue. We should launch a global Henrietta Lack fund to treat women with cervical cancer and prevent it developing.

1.56 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, on securing this debate. It is a real privilege to participate in it with so many distinguished noble Baronesses. I confess that until recently I did not know that there was such a thing as International Women's Day. When I found out about it, I was a bit disappointed, because to my mind every day is women's day. If it is not, it should be.

3 Mar 2011 : Column 1216

Women are different from men, and I state the obvious because we as women are underselling that fact as our USP. In the recent report by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, about women on boards, the most interesting aspect, which did not get enough attention when the report was published, was not that more women should be on boards but that having more experienced and successful women on boards is important to business. The answer, it seems, is that more of us equals more commercial success.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page