Access to technology has changed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, has said. Mobile porn has replaced internet porn. Young people need help to distinguish between healthy relationships and unhealthy ones, especially as many have no example to follow at home. Research shows that boys have a higher tolerance of sexual violence than girls and need to be challenged at an early age about what is acceptable behaviour. However, new technologies and new ways of communication can play a helpful role. Thanks to a Twitter storm at the weekend, Amazon was forced to withdraw from its website T-shirts with slogans promoting rape and violence. “Keep calm and knife her” was one of the nicer ones that I can repeat. The company involved claimed that the slogans had been automatically generated using a scripted computer process, but no T-shirts denigrating men were on sale. So now we know that computers are also misogynist.

We need to give our children the knowledge and belief that they can make informed choices and the confidence to say no. If financial education can be made statutory in our schools, which I support, then surely a healthy relationship is just as important as a healthy bank balance.

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On International Women’s Day, let us celebrate acts of courage and determination by women everywhere who have played a role in the history of their countries and their communities.

2.06 pm

Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, I have always believed that it is one of the priceless privileges of our House that we can give a voice to the voiceless. In this excellent debate on International Women’s Day—I join others in thanking my noble friend for securing it—I want to lend my voice to a lady named Florence Ky’eeyse, who lives in a small plot of land on the outskirts of a village called Butale in Uganda. Her story comes to me from a very dear friend who knows her well. Florence is a 35 year-old, educated and dignified woman. She is a widow whose husband died seven years ago and she is bringing up two children—one boy and one girl—on her own.

Life for Florence is increasingly tough. Her late husband’s family keep trying to evict her from the land she inherited when her husband died. A woman’s property rights are often undermined when the husband dies. Bringing up her children is a struggle. She wants them to have a better life than she had, but she cannot afford the tuition fees. Only one child is entitled to free schooling at the mission school. Money is very tight. Her two- acre plot of land would once have supported the family, but in recent years Uganda, which had until recently a very balanced climate, has been suffering from the effects of extreme weather, and the banana trees, which provide the staple food, have been struck with banana wilt, a disease that kills them.

Florence works very hard growing matoke to scrape a living and keeps some chickens. In a good month her income is about 100,000 Ugandan shillings, which is about £25. From this she must keep her children fed, clothed and educated. There is no money for luxuries such as electricity, and water must be fetched from a well. Charcoal, which is increasingly expensive, is the only way to cook, and kerosene is used to light the house. Very occasionally, Florence and her family have some meat, but that is very rare because the chickens are too valuable to consume. While Florence earns 100,000 shillings a month, her outlay just to subsist is 103,000 shillings: a gap that is small but which is getting bigger. That is where the most terrible problem—the one I want to talk about today—bites. Florence has AIDS; she was infected by her late husband. Of her two children, one—her young son—is also HIV positive.

Too many, I fear, believe that the problem with HIV in Africa is getting better because of the increasing availability of antiretrovirals, and indeed there has been some welcome progress. However, Florence’s story tells us something different. There is no medical care in her village. There used to be a small clinic but it closed two years ago. The only place she can get medicine is in Masaka, 12 miles away. That would cost her 1,500 shillings in transport on a boda-boda, a local bicycle taxi: money that she does not often have. The alternative is to walk the 24 miles there and back, which means that she is unable to work on the land to earn money to keep the family, a vicious cycle of poverty and illness.

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In short, Florence and her family have no access to life-saving drugs. She takes them irregularly when she can get hold of them, but that irregularity is doing her great harm. She goes to the hospital only when she is desperately ill, which happens all too frequently, because her and her son’s shattered immune systems leave them easy prey to infection. Malaria, too, is a real problem, and frequent bouts of that terrible illness leave them increasingly weakened. Antibiotics are expensive and frequently compromised or out of date.

All that means, I am afraid, is that Florence will die before too long—as I understand it, possibly in the next few months—and her son soon after. Her 14 year- old daughter, instead of completing her education, will have to nurse them, and watch what remains of her kith and kin leave her. It is another hard-working, educated, decent family entangled in an inescapable web of poverty and disease, and destroyed by AIDS.

Florence’s terrible story, replicated in thousands of cases all over Africa, contains one central point that we should remember on International Women’s Day; although there have been major advances in treating HIV and AIDS, many organisations ignore the fact that in the rural areas of Africa it remains next to impossible for those suffering to access the drugs that could save their lives. Even though the drugs are free, the distance and costs involved are beyond their reach. The problems are deeper than that, for women in rural Africa have always worked the land; often they are the primary workers. However, they cannot work the land if they are sick or making long journeys to find care. It is a cycle of despair that consumes them.

A few years back, a UN report on HIV and AIDS among women concluded that,

“one of the apparent cruelties of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is that women are at a biological disadvantage relative to men in terms of contracting the disease”.

Indeed, in sub-Saharan Africa, young women are 205 times more likely to be infected than young men. Little wonder that women now comprise 50% of people living with HIV worldwide. The burdens of stigma, discrimination and marginalisation combine with the harsh economic realities of life that I have just described to create conditions that mean that women such as Florence will continue to die in their tens of thousands. We cannot sit back and watch. It is surely time for a holistic policy approach to the treatment of HIV and AIDS among women in the developing world, one that tackles the problems that prevent them accessing life-saving drugs that those in the developed world take for granted. It is therefore not just about medicine but about infrastructure, transport and money.

I ask my noble friend to ensure that this issue stays close to the top of the Government’s agenda for tackling disease and poverty in the developing world. If the message from this House today and the actions of government within the international community and the NGOs are loud and clear, we could perhaps begin to end this spiral of disaster. To my deep regret, and to the shame of so many, that will be too late for Florence and her son. All I can do for them is send them a copy of the report of this House’s proceedings today and say, “Your voice has been heard”.

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2.14 pm

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I want to use my few moments to share with you some initial thoughts on the theme of respecting women in 2013. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for initiating the debate and especially for her moving story of the redoubtable Julie of Beeston. The people of Beeston are dying to support her. I also warmly welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry to our House, particularly his support for women bishops. He has his work cut out.

A glance around our world on International Women’s Day will show us that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. According to UN Women, up to 70% of women in some countries face physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. In addition, some 140 million girls have suffered female genital mutilation, and millions will be subjected to forced marriage and trafficking, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. We live in a world that most definitely does not respect women.

However, there is hope. Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of UN Women, pointed out this week that over the past few months, men, women and young people have taken to the world’s streets with signs aloft bearing the legend, “Where is the justice for women?”. They have declared solidarity with the Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, who is recovering in Birmingham, having been shot at point-blank range by the Taliban for defending the right of women to be educated. The demonstrators pledge justice for all raped women, including in the terrible cases in India and South Africa, as well for as the countless abused women who never make the headlines. The One Billion Rising campaign is truly a global fightback, as my noble friend Lady Nye has said, demanding renewed respect for women, with marches in Afghanistan, human chains in Bangladesh, dancing and singing events in Egypt, events in 126 cities in Germany this year, actions in the workplace through protest, and dance and the arts across the world, from Somalia to Australia.

War and sexual violence were ably debated yesterday in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, and we must remember that poverty is a close relative of violence against women. It is crucial for the Government to remain true to the achievement of the millennium development goals in this respect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said. Will the Minister report to us on progress towards the anti-poverty targets in those goals?

While we support campaigns and call for international targets to be achieved and aid budgets to be protected, we can of course apply even more pressure to implementing UK law where it exists to protect girls and women. I am thinking of the law already on the statute book, the intention of which is to protect little girls in this country at our state schools from the lifetime horror of female genital mutilation. The campaigning work on FGM of my noble friend Lady Rendell is rightly to be acknowledged, as is the work of the present and previous Governments on this issue. I welcome the Government’s announcement this week of £35 million towards the eradication of FGM. It is a national disgrace that some 24,000 girls living in

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Britain—some put the figure far higher—are under threat of being taken out of the UK to be tortured in this barbaric procedure. Why, we must ask, after 30 years of law on this issue, have there been no prosecutions? I would like to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing to encourage prosecutions. I am not claiming that the issue of FGM is anything but complex and multifaceted, but surely bringing prosecutions must at least be part of the mix of solutions to this shameful practice.

Also close to home, our attention in the political arena has been drawn to how we respect pregnant women in this country. The Autumn Statement heralded a cut of £180 a year from pregnant mothers who take maternity leave and care for their babies. It is just over 20 years—with a little help from a European directive that I was closely involved in—since UK mothers finally began to see an upward trend in their maternity rights. We call on the Government to ensure that, 20 years on, new mothers will not see those rights and that maternity pay diminish.

Those of us who received briefings this week from the national charities Maternity Action and the Refugee Council on their recent report When Maternity Doesn’t Matter were disturbed to learn of the impact of the dispersal policies of the UK Border Agency on pregnant refugee and asylum-seeking women. What response are the Government making to this very important report, especially to its recommendation that no pregnant woman should be dispersed in this country after 34 weeks’ gestation, or sooner than six weeks postnatally?

On the subject of respecting women, I recommend last month’s moving speech by Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach of Ireland, on how the Irish Government would have to own up to the wrong that was done to so many hundreds of Irish girls and women put away in the infamous Magdalene laundries in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. It is a speech well worth reading.

In conclusion, I quote from the recently published history of stoicism, Philosophic Pride by Christopher Brooke. I declare an interest: he is my son-in-law— no mother-in-law jokes, please. He refers to Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century feminist, already mentioned by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve. I did not realise this, but Mary Wollstonecraft was favourably oriented to stoicism and she said:

“Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers—in a word, better citizens. We should then love them with true affection, because we should learn to respect ourselves”.

Some 221 years on, I say amen to that.

2.23 pm

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate and thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for her gracious contribution. The Minister referred to yesterday’s debate in this House about sexual violence. I was unfortunately unable to take part because, for a rare moment, the role of motherhood triumphed and I attended a parents’ evening. Had I been present, I would have commended our Government’s progress in eradicating the use of rape as a weapon of war.

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I begin by saluting my noble sister Baronesses across the House, if I may be allowed to call them sisters. I salute them for their tenacity, resilience and contribution to enhancing our public life. It is not often that we give a roll call to our own champions and heroines. Therefore, I want to remember that our Parliament has been enriched by the contributions of Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler; the noble Baronesses, Lady King of Bow, Lady Howells of St Davids, Lady Amos, Lady Young of Hornsey, Lady Falkner of Margravine, Lady Flather and Lady Prashar; the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland; and the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, who just reminded us about the strength of our faith and all those who use our faith to incite prejudice and discrimination.

All these women continue to inspire our generation and young women and men. As the first Muslim appointed to this House, I have found it staggering that it took more than a decade to get our act in order. A layer of discrimination has been broken by honourable Members in another place with the election of Rushanara Ali, Yasmin Qureshi, Shabana Mahmood, Seema Malhotra, Valerie Vaz, Priti Patel, Helen Grant and Chi Onwura. These women have given strength to Parliament. Theirs are the hitherto missing voices of Asian and black women in Parliament. Their collective entrance to the mother of Parliaments demonstrates that British-born women of minority heritage are just as capable and confident as any others. Access to networking opportunities prevents many more participating in the political process and holding office. As well as those in the other place, I also acknowledge the work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Verma, who contribute as Ministers to this Government.

There are significant and positive changes from women entering the political arena. Recently, through the work of the IPU, the CPA and the John Smith Memorial Trust, I had the honour of meeting women parliamentarians from Ghana, Uganda, Oman and, more recently, two of the 30 women appointed to the Saudi Shura Council. Each year as this day approaches, I, like others, am full of complex emotions. While women of course have the vote and are present in all our professions and businesses, and are afforded legal protection from harm and discrimination, the reality of many women’s lives continue to be blighted and stain our claim to an equal and just society.

The number of women active in our economy has grown. Those who have been educated are doing much better. Childcare provision is available, albeit expensive. None the less, this is not so for all our communities. Women from minority communities continue to stay behind in the job market—if they are present at all—and continue to face impossible odds to succeed in senior management positions and on boards. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said about work to improve representation on boards. I hope he will also remember that women on boards should reflect the country that we live in. These sorts of discriminatory practices prevail whether in the public or private sectors.

Although we say we believe that our society respects and values women, every day women are afflicted, abused, raped, forced into marriage and suffer genital mutilation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley,

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spoke about eloquently. They are also raped in war to accomplish military objectives as a weapon of war. Many women with these experiences are British or have come to Britain seeking refuge. Shockingly, women continue not to be believed when they report blatant acts of abuse, violation and brutality. I need not remind noble Lords that I am not referring to a phenomenon elsewhere, but to the position of women who reside in our country and are British citizens.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, also referred to women’s looks, which can lead to discrimination in office, opportunities and public life. This is the experience of many Muslim women who have spoken about discrimination against them as a result of wearing the hijab.

I welcome the right reverend Prelate to his place and add my name to his call for remembering those women who perished in the world wars. This month the Bangladeshi community here and in Bangladesh has celebrated its language movement, which led to the war with Pakistan, in which an estimated 300,000 women were raped and many subsequently died. I want to take this opportunity to remember and honour them, and pray that they will also receive justice in due course.

Two nights ago I attended an amazing and unique event. Of course, many of us attend many different events. This one celebrated motherhood. Surprisingly, all the mothers were nominated by daughters. Not one single son had nominated his mother. I do not know whether to be surprised at that, as a mother of four sons. I was not nominated; I was there to give an award. But it reminded me of the tenacity of my own mother. I forgot to say that. In the spirit of the joy of everyone present and how much they shared about the values of motherhood, I thought that I had best leave my mother alone. However, I want to take this opportunity today to say that I very much value my mother, who is a strong and courageous woman who came to Britain after the war in Bangladesh, and is a source of strength, love and inspiration to my brothers and sister, her grandchildren and my grandchildren.

Let us keep the promise to one another and to all women across the world that we will continue to root out inequality and injustice.

2.31 pm

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, it is always a huge pleasure to take part in this debate. I, too, am grateful to the Minister. As ever, I am in awe of the amount of experience, passion and expertise which Members of your Lordships’ House bring to the subject. This far down the batting order—we have had quite a few sporting metaphors today—it is difficult to think of anything new to say, but I just want to say a bit about public service.

All my working life has been in public service. I have never worked in the private sector. I have worked for local authorities, for the NHS or in the voluntary sector. Because I know what a hugely fulfilling experience this has been, I am concerned, even appalled, by recent reports about the fact that the number of women in British public life is plummeting; that there are fewer women now in senior positions in the judiciary,

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the arts, education, finance, the Civil Service and government than 10 years ago. Nearly 40 years after the Sex Discrimination Act and despite a huge influx of women into professions such as law and medicine at the lower end, as we have heard today, the glass ceiling for senior positions remains very firmly uncracked.

I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to sit in a legislature without standing for election, because of the peculiar institution that is the House of Lords. I know that it is ironic that I am saying that we should have more representation of women when I sit in a House that has only 21% women and, although we have many bishops, no women bishops, as the marvellous maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate has reminded us. It is of concern to me, and should be to all women, that we are 51% of the population, but only 22% of the House of Commons and a bit over 21% here.

A high point came in 2008 when Gordon Brown appointed Jacqui Smith as the first female Home Secretary. Before the Labour Government in 1997, only 40 female MPs had ever held ministerial office. By the time that Government ended, that had risen to 80; indeed, at that time women held a third of all ministerial posts. Currently, I am sad to say, many departments have no women Ministers at all, in spite of the ambition of the Prime Minister, which we have heard about several times.

Of course, many of the institutions that have promoted women have been abolished: the Equalities Office, the Women’s National Commission, to name two; and of course the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has been amalgamated with other institutions.

It bothers me greatly, as I know it does other noble Lords, that there is a perception that the battle for equality was won a while ago—by my generation, perhaps—but it is simply not true. Some people might say that it does not matter but I contend that having an 80/20 split rather than a 50/50 split has a damaging effect on our political life and on our social and cultural life as well.

Why do we find ourselves going backwards? One reason might be lack of leadership from the top. We still have a female Home Secretary, and other women do very well in some branches of industry, but the fact that there are so few sends a message to other women. Is the treatment by the media of women in public life harsher than it is for men? I contend that it is and that may also put women off.

The hours here and in the other place are not family-friendly, as we know. They are better than they were, especially in the House of Commons. The House of Lords is notorious for starting a debate on family-friendly hours at 10.30 pm. In fact, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was due to make her maiden speech in that debate.

Baroness Thornton: So did I!

Baroness Pitkeathley: We do a little better than that now, but perhaps not all that much better. Perhaps the image that politics is an inherently sexist arena—recent events may have reinforced that image—is also not welcoming to women.

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We have also heard that it is hard to give up power. Power largely resides in the hands of men, who understandably want to retain it. Inadequate childcare is certainly a factor. A recent survey shows that two out of three local authorities are failing to fulfil their statutory obligation to provide childcare, despite the progress that the Minister mentioned. If the lack of support in the childcare area is a factor, how much more this is true of women who have caring responsibilities for older or disabled relatives.

It is in all our interests to enable those women, many of them over 50, to remain in the workforce. We need them to provide care but also to be able to continue to combine caring with paid employment. Their contribution to the economy is vital in both roles but we must also ensure that the caring role does not of itself lead them to live in poverty or build up poverty for the future because of a lack of pension contributions or savings. I am pleased to say that, yesterday, Carers UK launched an inquiry into caring and family finances, examining the costs of caring and the impact that caring has on the ability to work, with the aim of influencing policy in this area.

So far as public service goes, we must ask: what can we do about it? We can get better leadership from the top. We can stop rubbishing the idea of public service. Too often we hear that civil servants are interested only in bureaucracy. We must talk up public service.

We must have parity on interview panels, because we tend to appoint or choose people in our own image. Having appointed dozens, probably hundreds, of people in my time, I know that men tend to oversell themselves while women go the other way and undersell themselves. In that regard, increasing the self-confidence of women is all-important. Those of us who have been reasonably successful in public life owe a duty to our daughters and granddaughters to build that confidence so that the whole of society can benefit.

2.38 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, your Lordships’ House stages an International Women’s Day debate each year but it is not normally opened by a Minister. The noble Baroness deserves much credit for doing so on this occasion.

Tomorrow marks the 105th International Women’s Day. Over the period since 1977, when the United Nations adopted the day, the rights of women have certainly progressed. Of course, much more is required and, as the UN says, International Women’s Day celebrates,

“the achievements of women while remaining vigilant and tenacious for further sustainable change”.

At least there is now global momentum for championing and extending women’s equality.

Emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of employing women to participate in the growth of economies around the globe, especially in under-developed nations, because although many women worldwide contribute to their own country’s productivity, they continue to face many barriers that prevent them realising their full economic potential. This is not something that only holds back women, it holds back general economic performance and growth. According

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to a recent International Labour Organisation report, the percentage of women in employment globally was roughly 50%. In north Africa, women accounted for 24% of employment, and in the Middle East generally, it was just 15%. That represents vast untapped potential for economic growth.

Each year around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated through thousands of events, not only on 8 March but throughout this month, to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organisations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women’s groups, corporations and the media celebrate the day. Tomorrow, the UN will itself mark International Women’s Day with an event at its headquarters in New York opened by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The UN women’s executive director, Michelle Bachelet, will deliver the message that discrimination and violence against women and girls have no place in the 21st century. “Enough is enough”, she will say, in a message of both outrage and hope that discrimination and violence must end.

Such is the extent to which International Women’s Day is marked in the UK that a total of 387 events in all parts of the country are listed on the UN’s website. That is more than 25% of all events worldwide scheduled for tomorrow. I glanced at the list, and it really is an imaginative mix of events of all types, many involving children. An event that particularly caught my eye was called, Suffragettes—A Liverpool Story, highlighting the struggle of women for the right to vote as it evolved within that city. Of course that is particularly apposite as we are now just three months away from the centenary of the death of Emily Wilding Davison, the incredibly brave woman who took the suffragette movement’s slogan “deeds not words” to its ultimate and tragic conclusion. She, of course, lost her life stepping onto the course at the Epsom Derby to protest for votes for women in a heroic but fatal action that helped electrify the movement and the cause.

Further afield, I noticed earlier this week, an all-female climbing team supported by the United Nations reached the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, in celebration of International Women's Day. The team, made up of women from Nepal and three African countries, participated in the expedition as a way of raising awareness of the importance of women's rights, in particular the need for education for all girls.

However, it has not all been good news, and contrasting with the many positive stories of this week there was one that represented a set back. Two days ago it was announced that the annual United Nations-organised marathon in Gaza will not take place this year due to disagreements with Hamas government officials who have insisted that no women should participate, in a sign of how some men still believe that it is appropriate to try and control women's lives and reminding us how necessary is the focus provided by International Women’s Day.

A further, sinister, example of some men's prejudices against women emerged as recently as last week. The internet sales company Amazon was advertising T-shirts for sale which encouraged violence against women, using slogans that I will certainly not repeat, although

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one went so far as to encourage rape. The garments were removed as soon as both Amazon and the company selling the T-shirts began to be bombarded with texts, tweets and emails expressing outrage. However, it is instructive that someone, somewhere, must have sat down and drafted these slogans, clearly from the viewpoint that they were not only acceptable but that people—men of course—would be willing to buy them and then wear them, publicly stating that they regarded women as suitable objects for serious violence in various forms. It is telling that the company that produced the T-shirts was initially surprised at the reaction. I am pleased to say it soon got the message, which was rammed home in no uncertain terms as widespread anger inundated its social media sites, all of which had to be closed down as a result. The company said that it had received death threats and that its Twitter account was bombarded with scores of angry messages, many of which said, “Rape is not a joke”. It is appalling that in 2013 people still need to be reminded of that self-evident truth.

I want to highlight today one of the enduring issues surrounding the campaign for women’s equality. That concerns the pay gap between men and women. I have had an interest in that issue for a considerable time. Indeed, my university thesis in 1974 was on the implementation of the Equal Pay Act. It may be recalled that, although that Act got onto the statute book in 1970, there was a five-year lead-in period for employers to make the changes necessary to accommodate the legislation. That was always an optimistic aim, but I doubt that anybody then would have thought that, 40 years later, more than a quarter of the gender pay gap would remain to be filled. In 1975, women earned 36% less than median male hourly earnings; the latest available figure, which was issued in April last year in the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, is 9.6%. That represents the comparison between full-time workers, and excludes overtime earnings. But, of course, more men than women work overtime, and more women than men work part time, so the 9.6% figure gives a distorted view of the gap in actual take-home pay between men and women. Taking all employees into account, the gender pay gap in 2012 was 19.7%.

So only three-quarters of the journey that began four decades ago has been completed and much remains to be done before the destination is reached. Some years ago—2006 to the best of my knowledge—the report of the Women and Work Commission was published. The commission was ably led by my noble friend Lady Prosser, from whom we heard earlier in this debate. That report demonstrated that the gender pay gap in Britain was then one of the worst in Europe. Six years on, progress has certainly been made, but many of the underlying issues that underpin and perpetuate the gap remain.

I cite one example. There has been much publicity in recent years over certain public sector jobs where pay discrimination has been tolerated for years; too often, it should be said, with the connivance of the trade unions of which those women were members. Now, following industrial tribunal decisions and in some cases courts at the highest level, local authorities and some health authorities are faced with massive bills to give women the back pay that is due to them. That is a difficult situation for them as employers, but

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it is not the women's fault that the discrimination was allowed to persist for so long. It is totally unfair that some should attempt to make them feel guilty for seeking what is rightfully theirs. Public sector bodies ought to have seen this coming and acted accordingly. Some of them have claimed that they now face a choice between their legal commitments and maintaining services. They should face up to their responsibilities and ensure that women do not need to return to court to receive the fair settlement due to them. One means of dealing with this may be to offer an immediate lump sum, with staged future payments which would have the effect of enhancing women’s pensions over the years.

There are different issues in the private sector, where there is often much less transparency. I have spoken to people who say that they have been told by employers that disclosing their pay to work colleagues constitutes a disciplinary offence. That is surely unacceptable because it is no more and no less than a device to enable employers to pay less, certainly not more, than a fair rate, and it hurts female workers disproportionately. It also highlights the need not just for collective bargaining, but for trade unions to enforce it and to continue campaigning for equality of treatment for all in the workplace.

In conclusion, in almost all countries, women continue to be under-represented in decision-making positions. Women's work continues to be undervalued, underpaid, or not paid at all. That is why International Women’s Day is so important. It spells out our responsibility to work for enduring change in values and attitudes, a message clearly enunciated by noble Lords participating in this debate today.

2.47 pm

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on initiating this debate, and particularly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on his great maiden speech. We look forward to more speeches from him as time goes on. My maiden speech was referred to in this debate. I have to say, it happened not just to me but to the noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. We all made our maiden speeches about family-friendly working hours at 10 o’clock at night. Indeed, my children were in the gallery in their pyjamas watching me at the time.

We have had some brilliant speeches today. I am particularly drawn to the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe-Flint, about barriers to women in sports and clubs, being stuck in the car park, and so on. It reminded me of an experience I had about 30 years ago when I decided to throw my hat in the ring for selection for a by-election in Bradford, which is where I am from. I turned up to one of the selection meetings at a working men’s club. I was the only woman who was being seen. All the men walked in to take part in the meeting, but I was not allowed to walk in—I had to be signed in by the secretary of the club, because women were not allowed to be members. I am happy to say that I doubt whether that goes on in working men’s clubs these days.

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International Women’s Day is a day for celebration, there is no doubt of that, and I am sure that noble Lords and the Minister will all be joining women across the world in singing “One Woman”, the International Women’s Day song which will be launched tomorrow. It is a musical celebration of women world wide, featuring more than 20 artists from across the world. Unlike the Minister, when the first International Women’s Day was launched by the United Nations in 1975, I was at the London School of Economics and the women’s group there had a party to celebrate it. However, I do not remember much about it.

As the Minister said, thousands of events will take place not only tomorrow but throughout the month of March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. As has already been mentioned by noble Lords, the theme which has been declared by the United Nations for 2013 is, “A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women”. In 2012 the theme was, “Empower rural women: end hunger and poverty”. In fact, every year since 1975 there has been a different theme. Parliaments and countries can choose their own theme for International Women’s Day, of course. In 2012, the European Parliament used a theme around equal pay for work of equal value. We can be proud of the 400 events in the United Kingdom. As my noble friend said, the United Nations website indicates that the UK is the most active country in the world in terms of celebrating International Women’s Day. It could be that other countries have not bothered to send in what activities are taking place, and certainly I am in favour of a few flowers being presented.

We can be proud of the role played by the UK on the international stage, and particularly of our role in the creation of UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women. When it was founded, the United Nations took an historic step in accelerating the organisation’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. I am particularly proud that during the time I was in government with Harriet Harman and as part of the equalities team, we were key to the promotion and establishment of UN Women. In fact, on one occasion I had a tiny part to play. I was sent to an international women’s event and my job was to lobby some of the leading women from around the world to persuade them to persuade the United Nations to cough up the money to establish UN Women. That lobby included Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia. I have to say that she was one of the most impressive people that I have ever met in my life—and of course she was completely solid on the objectives we had in mind. I also congratulate the Government on the fact that they have continued to support and fund UN Women; indeed, according to the annual report which I read recently, they have increased their contribution.

It is certainly true that the United Nations has made significant progress over many decades in advancing gender equality through landmark agreements such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women—CEDAW—which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. It is also true to say

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that the United Kingdom is represented at all these bodies by cross-party groups of women. It is to the credit of this country that whichever Government are in power, they have undertaken to take representative groups of women to all of these events. I know that many of my noble friends have taken part in them over the years, particularly my noble friend Lady Gould.

In the Labour Party we are proud of the historic role we have played in supporting gender equality over the years. That support goes right back to the days of supporting the family allowance being paid to women. Moreover, Votes for Women was part of our original platform when we were founded as a party. We have supported all the equality legislation since the Second World War: the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Act 1970, maternity rights and domestic violence legislation, the Equality Acts 2006 and 2010; and support for women at work and parents with children. As my noble friends Lady Nye and Lady Pitkeathley mentioned, we have the best record of any UK political party in terms of women’s representation with more women MPs than all the other political parties put together. We have near-equal representation of women and men in the devolved bodies, and many women representing their local communities on councils up and down the country.

I have absolutely no doubt that the two Ministers seated opposite me are totally committed to the representation of women in their parties and that, along with their colleagues, they have worked and endeavoured over the years to try to increase the representation of women. Indeed, I know they have done that because I have spoken about this to women in other political parties over many years. But the fact remains that if our political parties are left to their own devices in their selection processes—I include my own in this—predominantly, they are going to select men. That is why the Labour Party went down the road of all-women shortlists, and that is why in our target of 80 seats for the next general election—this is set out in a document that we published last week or the week before—half of the selections will be made from all-women shortlists. That is because we are determined that we should have a Parliament that represents the electorate and is at least 50% women. However, we cannot do that on our own. We need the other political parties to take positive action. I do not enjoy the fact that we force our constituency Labour parties to pick women candidates, but the reality is just as I have said: if left to their own devices, all but the most progressive will select men as their candidates, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Do we really believe that women are any less capable than men as politicians? I will just point to the fact that our all-women shortlist system has delivered a more representative and stronger Parliamentary Labour Party with a new generation of talented women MPs. I mention Rachel Reeves, Gloria De Piero, Stella Creasy, Bridget Phillipson and Luciana Berger. All of them were selected on all-women shortlists and I would dare anybody to suggest that they are second-class candidates or second-class representatives of their communities; of course they are not. It shows that positive action works. The challenge I would like to pose to the other

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political parties is that they have to take action if we are going to hit the target of 50% women in our Parliament.

I should like to raise two other matters because although this is a time for celebration, there are a couple of things that we need to look at. The first concerns older women—and I include myself in the group. We are a generation of active older women who have led very different lives from those of our mothers. We are the first generation, if you like, who have been doing it all. We have had jobs and we have brought up families. Some 71% of women aged between 45 and 64—I am towards the upper end of that group—think that employers offer too few opportunities to older women when recruiting staff. In 1983, only 13% of older women thought that. We live longer and we are in better health than our mothers were at our age. However, this group is losing out the most from the Government’s pension changes because they will have to continue working longer than they expected. This generation is angry about being regarded as “past it”, being overlooked for responsibility and promotion, and being prioritised for redundancy. Some of us are very annoyed that the wisdom and experience of older women are not valued in the same way as they are for older men. That is exemplified by the portrayal of older women on television, as we all know.

These women—I include myself—are holding families and communities together, a point made by the right reverend Prelate. We pick up the pieces. We look after the grandchildren because childcare costs are going up. We care for our elderly relatives as social care services are shredded. We are the ones being stretched in every direction. It is time that public policy caught up with this generation of older women. In the Labour Party we have launched the Commission on Older Women, chaired by Harriet Harman MP, to investigate the policy implications for women in their fifties and sixties and what they are facing, and to look for longer-term policy solutions. The commission will focus on older women in the workplace, older women and their caring responsibilities, and older women in public life. All I can say is: watch this space, because I think that the commission is going to produce some interesting results.

I turn now to the earlier end of women’s lives and the position of younger mothers. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said that the Government have helped women, are positive about them, and are doing a great deal for them. In some senses they are, but I think we need to look at the objective evidence because some of it points in the opposite direction, particularly for young mothers. David Cameron promised to lead the most family-friendly Government ever, but since this coalition Government came to power, new mums have been among the hardest hit by the coalition’s tax and benefit changes. From April this year, the Government will restrict maternity pay to a 1% annual increase and by 2015, in real terms, this cut in maternity pay will effectively be a £180 “mummy tax” on working women, on top of the additional cuts being faced by new mums. Nationally, up to 1.2 million people, including previous children and dads alongside mums, will be affected by the mummy tax each year. We estimate—this is from the House of Commons Library so is almost

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certainly true—that 210,000 new mums will be hardest hit by this cap. That is why the Labour Party is launching a campaign for this International Women’s Day and for Mothering Sunday called “mums not millionaires”. At the same time as the Government are cutting taxes for people earning over £1 million, the figures compiled by the House of Commons Library confirm that the lowest-paid new mums will lose £1,300 during pregnancy and the baby’s first year, and a further £422 from cuts to child benefit over the same period. This is not a women-friendly agenda. As we celebrate this day, we should be looking at the facts and figures and not just the words and exhortations.

In conclusion, I join with everyone in the House in this celebration of women, their achievements and the progress they have made. However, as my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Crawley said, this is a long road that we tread. As the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, my noble friend Lord Mitchell and the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, this is a very tough road indeed for millions of women across the world. We should not forget that it was through political activity—sometimes militant political activity—that women won the vote and have made possible the progress that we celebrate today.

I make no apology for the political nature of my speech. If women do not push hard in every area, we will not make progress. Progress may sometimes be noisy and many millions of women have had to be very brave over the centuries. On International Women’s Day, we should remember with gratitude all those women to whom we owe so much.

3.02 pm

Baroness Northover: My Lords, the debates in the House of Lords for International Women’s Day are always outstanding and this one has been no exception. There is such a huge range of experience and commitment among your Lordships in this area that it is a great privilege for me to respond for the Government. I start by paying a particular tribute to right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, who chose to make his very moving maiden speech in this debate today and who will clearly make a major contribution to our debates in the Lords. I welcome him and, with him, hope that it will not be too long before we do indeed hear a maiden speech from a woman bishop.

We have marked International Women’s Day for more than a century, and it is right that we do so. The lives of women in this country have been transformed over that century, as my noble friend Lady Seccombe so clearly showed. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, noted this as the most profound social transformation, and she is surely right. For many of us, we are the first in our families to go to university, yet our daughters, as well as our sons, expect nothing less should they wish to do so. We have the vote and the right to own property, to be employed on equal terms and not to belong to our husbands, fathers or, for that matter, to our sons. However, as noble Lords have made very clear in their speeches, inequalities persist: women earn less and we have by far the larger responsibility for children, the home and the care of elderly relatives as well as working. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh,

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the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and others pointed out, women are less likely to be in the House of Commons or House of Lords, on boards, at the top of companies, in our Supreme Court, among our judges, on our sports boards, editors of newspapers and so on. We see progress but sometimes it seems to be at a snail’s pace. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, said, it is a long road. Where women are not able to fulfil their aspirations to play their full part, in whatever way that might be, as my noble friend Lady Stowell so effectively explained in relation to her friend Julie, that is quite simply a loss of talent. Our economy and, more importantly, entire society miss out.

Supporting the most vulnerable in our society has been fundamental to our approach. That is why we are cutting tax for more than 23 million working people, lifting 2 million out of income tax altogether, the majority of whom are women. We are making changes to our state pension that will provide enormous benefits to older women, who may have broken records or contributions because they took time out to care for children or the elderly. Our ring-fencing the health budget particularly assists women, who are greater users of healthcare than men, whether through maternity care, through taking their children for care or in later life. Our acceptance of the Dilnot proposals, addressing an issue that has plagued our health and social care system since the establishment of the NHS, and about which no party in power since has been willing to do anything other than undertake yet another inquiry, is game-changing. Noble Lords will recall that it is women who are disproportionately the recipients and givers of care.

We want to support women, empower them and, most importantly, transform the opportunities available to them. We are investing in education, expanding our apprenticeship programme and improving careers advice to encourage young women to make ambitious choices. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, suggests, there are areas of the labour market where women still seem invisible. We need to encourage women to choose subjects such as science, technology and engineering at A-level and at university to enable them to flourish in today’s economy. We are introducing shared parental leave, extending the right to request flexible working to all and working with business to ensure more women are in the boardroom.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked about progress in relation to women on boards. As my noble friend Lady Stowell said at Question Time, since the noble Lord, Lord Davies, issued his report, the proportion of women on boards has increased from 12.5% to 17.3%. As of yesterday, there are now only six all-male boards. The Women’s Business Council will also be making recommendations on how we support women executives progressing up the executive ladder. I do not think that there is a shortage of potential talent. I was a trustee in a leading organisation, and when I stood down I urged that more women should be appointed. However, I was told there were none. I mentioned a name; they said, “Yes, but besides her, there aren’t any”. I mentioned several others; and, as with the “Life of Brian” and the Romans, they

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said “Yes, but besides those there aren’t any”. To my satisfaction, that board is now chaired by one of the women I recommended.

We have role models elsewhere. This summer, we have seen so many. London 2012 was a triumph for women’s sport, showcasing positive role models such as Jess Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Ellie Simmonds, as my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint made so very clear. Hearing my noble friend on the subject of various sexist golf courses reminded me of an experience I had in Saudi Arabia. I was part of a parliamentary delegation staying in a very western hotel. I hope that my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint will appreciate that I took my swimsuit with me and, one evening, went down to the pool to swim. I was told that I could not because it was not the “women’s hour” to swim. I asked when the women’s hour was and was told that there was not one. There are more women taking part in sport but there is clearly so much more that we need to do and, as my noble friend Lady Heyhoe Flint has made clear, we need to do so much more especially in the running of sports. UK Sport and Sport England have included an expectation that all the national governing bodies will have at least 25% women on their boards by 2017.

As well as discrimination, girls and women face very serious challenges, including violence. Various noble Lords have made reference to that, and I assure my noble friend Lord Sheikh and others that we seek to tackle violence against women and girls and take it very seriously. We have protected central government funding for tackling violence against women and, last year, we announced that forced marriage will now become a criminal offence in England and Wales. We are also clear that we will change damaging behaviour only when we have changed the underlying attitudes that cause that behaviour, a point referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Nye. Prevention is key, which is why, with our teenage relationship abuse and rape prevention campaigns, we are helping young people to recognise abuse and understand when to seek help. The noble Baroness, Lady Nye, asked about PSHE and when the outcome of the review will come through. The Government’s internal review was extended to take account of the outcome of the wider national curriculum review and the Department for Education expects to make an announcement shortly. I assure her and my noble friend Lady Benjamin that the statutory guidance for sex and relationship education makes clear that schools should ensure that young people develop positive values, realising that this certainly applies to sexual relationships.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and others mentioned the powerful One Billion Rising campaign, and it is extremely important to have that kind of campaign keeping us all on our toes. The noble Baroness specifically mentioned FGM and rightly paid tribute to the work in this area of her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell. The Government are also frustrated, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, by the lack of prosecutions in the past 25 years. We welcome the fact that Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who published a CPS action plan in November, is seeking to improve prosecutions for FGM. As the noble Baroness will know, a major new programme is also being designed by DfID to support

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efforts to end the practice in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. This has been led by my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone, whose aim is that this should disappear within a generation. She is formidable and I am absolutely delighted that she is taking this forward.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Healy, asked about women in the penal system. I assure them that we fully understand the challenges that women in the penal system face, and that many have suffered all sorts of problems in the past and maybe suffer still from domestic abuse, alcohol and drug abuse and mental problems. We are striving hard to follow through from the work done by the previous Government to keep women out of prison. I visited Holloway prison and realised very strongly how important it is, not only to the women themselves but to the children who are usually dependent on these women. I saw in Holloway Prison the support that is given for drug and alcohol abuse. We have accepted the majority of the Corston report and are actively taking it forward. I assure noble Lords that my noble friend Lord McNally really gets this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, asked about pregnant refugees and asylum seekers and the response to the report on dispersal. We introduced a new policy last year which includes a commitment not to move any pregnant women within the last four weeks of pregnancy, and any asylum seeker is moved only if it is safe to do so.

Noble Lords have addressed the sexualisation of girls and the risks thereby. We need to address the confidence of girls and, as my noble friend Lady Benjamin said, their need for dignity and the dangers of that sexualisation. The Government appointed Reg Bailey to look into the issue of the sexualisation of children and young people, and he published his recommendations last year. We are using these to work with media, business and regulators to implement, and they include stricter guidelines from the Advertising Standards Authority on sexualised on-street adverts, the launch of the ParentPort website for people to make complaints about media and advertising—we heard some horrendous stories earlier—and an agreement from four of the largest internet service providers on a code of practice, including active choice on whether to access age-restricted material. I am sure this is an area we will need to continue to monitor extremely closely.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned invisible women and flagged it up in relation to politics and other areas. I hope I can reassure noble Lords that we have extended the ability of political parties to use women-only shortlists to 2030. Labour transformed the House of Commons with these and although the initial reaction of the press to “Blair’s Babes” was horrendous, nobody would term them that now. They contribute in a formidable fashion and this has acted as a spur to the other political parties, including my own, and I pay tribute to what Labour did in this regard. We are also working with the main political parties to collect and publish diversity data on election candidates, to give us better insight into where we need to target efforts. I note what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, in this regard, and on the

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wider fields I can assure her that we are working with the Runnymede Trust to look at the general barriers facing, for example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in the workforce.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady O’Neill, talked about public appointments; we aim to ensure that 50% of new public appointees are women by the end of this Parliament. We have established the Centre for Public Appointments in the Cabinet Office, which is working throughout Whitehall and the private sector to modernise recruitment practices, and we will keep a very close eye on this.

I heard the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, with enormous interest and I look forward to her profound thinking being applied to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She has asked me whether we could have a debate on CEDAW before July and I will of course feed this into the normal channels. Meanwhile, I encourage all noble Lords to put this down for debate at the first opportunity in the new Session, and the noble Baroness might like to do that herself. I will feed that back.

Noble Lords have made reference to the work that we have done overseas. I am extremely proud of that, and I thank my noble friend Lady Brinton for congratulating us on delivering 0.7% of GNI on aid. Noble Lords who have referred to the situation of women and girls overseas have pointed out that they are of course the poorest and the most marginalised. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was right to flag up the importance of UN Women.

We have put girls and women front and centre of our international development efforts. What we have heard from my noble friends Lady Brinton, Lord Sheikh and Lord Black, and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, shows why we have done this and why it is so very important. Every year, more than a third of a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth. Almost two-thirds of those who are illiterate are women. Women own less than 10% of the world’s property. One in nine girls is forced into marriage before their 14th birthday. DfID’s key aims in addressing the situation for women and girls focus on delaying first pregnancy and supporting safe childbirth—again, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to the challenges here—getting economic assets directly to girls and women, getting girls through secondary school and preventing violence against girls and women. They are major programmes.

In the past year alone, we have provided nearly 750,000 women with access to financial services, and supported more than 2.5 million girls into primary school and 250,000 girls into secondary schools. We know that education is critical as far as girls are concerned and that girls going through school are likely to be safer, to marry later and to have fewer children. It is of benefit to them, their families, their societies and their countries. There is also an economic dividend from that, which we recognise.

I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, that we have improved property rights and land rights for nearly 250,000 women, supported 1 million additional women to use modern methods of family planning

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and helped 300,000 girls and women to access security and justice. We had a passionate debate in the Chamber last night on preventing sexual violence in conflicts. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry is right to flag up the especial vulnerability of women and girls in conflict. I am delighted that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is pushing forward an important initiative to increase awareness and data collection and to bring perpetrators to justice. We recognise that sexual violence is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and is liable to be seen as a war crime to be brought to the International Criminal Court. It is important that we publicise that fact and make sure that the structure is in place to gather data and that cases are brought, with the intention of trying to curb the dreadful abuse of women in these situations. Right now, we have teams of experts in Syria, for example, working on just that task.

I assure my noble friend Lord Black that we are acutely aware of the risk of AIDS. He has clearly shown the vulnerability of women in that situation.

I appreciate the strong support for our international programmes right across the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is right about the power of working together. She and I have seen, as her noble friend Lady Royall will also have seen, the power of working together across the political spectrum in Pakistan. There, in a National Assembly of 270 or so, there is a quota for 60 women’s seats. When I visited in 2006, women parliamentarians were marginalised, but they have used their block of seats in the most extraordinary fashion in the past five years. Working together across political parties, they have identified laws that discriminate against women and had them thrown out. They have moved on to laws that protect women; for example, on workplace harassment and criminalising acid attacks. The women have carried out 70% of all parliamentary business and their achievements are remarkable. I visited the survivors of acid attacks; for example, a woman who sought a divorce from her husband and he threw acid at her. If he was not to have her, then no one should want her. She sat bravely on the steps of the Parliament when the Bill came up, supported by civil society and highlighted in the media. The women persuaded their male colleagues and saw the Bill passed. I think that the work of the Pakistani women parliamentarians is a beacon to others and a model to show what can be achieved worldwide, and I salute them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, drew our attention to the continuing plight of women in Iran, who have seen a further erosion of their rights after being excluded from many fields of study at Iranian universities. I found her exposition of Islamic doctrine enlightening, and it is no wonder that the Iranian regime is concerned. We can assure her that we make clear to the Iranian regime how we view its record on human rights, because, as someone said earlier—I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill—women’s rights are not in contrast to men’s rights; women’s rights are human rights. They are all part of human rights. We make very clear to the Iranian regime how we regard this. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, that, in the light of this development, it is vital that we attract talented Iranian women to study at UK universities.

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This has been a wide-ranging and informative debate. We are determined to do everything in our power to transform the rights and opportunities for women both here and across the world. We have achieved a huge amount in the United Kingdom. I am constantly reminded of that when I see some of the situations in which women find themselves in developing countries. Yet we do not sit back: we realise how much more there is to achieve in the UK and we work with those in developing countries who seek, often against enormous odds, to ensure that the position of women and girls is transformed in the lifetimes of those born today. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Commonwealth and Commonwealth Charter

Motion to Take Note

3.24 pm

Moved By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That this House takes note of developments in the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Charter.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this is a timely debate ahead of Commonwealth Week, which starts on Monday and provides a platform for countries around the world to join together in celebration of the links that they share as members of the Commonwealth. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs recently affirmed in his response to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on the role and future of the Commonwealth, the Government are committed to strengthening our engagement with, and our role within, the Commonwealth. A strong Commonwealth is important to the national interests of all its member states. It can help us to promote democratic values, good governance and prosperity. This is no longer the British Commonwealth but a network of like-minded nations with shared history, values and interests within which the UK plays an active and leading role.

One of the greatest challenges we face is ensuring that the Commonwealth keeps pace with today’s changing world. Much work has already been done to respond to this challenge and the UK has been active in this. Our Commonwealth policy over the past two years has focused on modernising and improving the organisation’s internal institutions and strengthening respect for its values. We are pleased that modernisation discussions that started before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011 reached a conclusion last year, and that the heads have endorsed a number of reforms including the new Commonwealth charter. That we were able to agree so many of these reforms is a testament to the work of my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, whose speech will follow mine. In some ways, this debate is a celebration of my noble friend’s two and a half years in the FCO as Commonwealth Minister, to which I pay tribute.

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I hope that all noble Lords will join me in welcoming the adoption of the Commonwealth charter, which we see as one of the most important outcomes from the Commonwealth modernisation process. The charter conveys clearly the values that the Commonwealth stands for, bringing together commitments set out in previous declarations and affirmations. Next week, the charter will be presented to Her Majesty the Queen as head of the Commonwealth and launched across the Commonwealth.

For the first time in its 64-year history, the Commonwealth now has a single document setting out the core values and aspirations of its members, and it is all the more significant because it has come at a time when human rights and democratic values are demanded more vocally than ever by citizens across the world. It is now important that we work collectively to raise the charter’s profile, both within the UK and throughout the Commonwealth, to embed it within the Commonwealth’s architecture and ensure that all its members uphold those values. We support the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s call for members to launch the charter nationally during next week’s Commonwealth Week. We are delighted that debates are taking place in both Houses and we are in touch with Commonwealth, civil society and youth organisations to promote the charter in the UK.

We recognise, too, that there need to be mechanisms in place to ensure that all Commonwealth countries support the values that they have agreed to in the charter. We strongly supported the reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, adopted in Perth, giving the group more teeth to respond to violations of Commonwealth values. Through its timely and robust response to the political crisis in the Maldives last year, the group demonstrated that it could work in new ways and make a positive contribution to international reconciliation efforts. We would like to see the group demonstrate that it can play a valuable and effective role in addressing a range of situations of concern.

Our work on the modernisation agenda has helped to focus the Commonwealth on the importance of democracy and respect for core values. This creates the conditions in which businesses can flourish by giving them confidence to invest in trade. That in turn creates more jobs and drives greater prosperity. This is what the Prime Minister has called the “golden thread”: the link between the rule of law, effective but limited government, strong civil institutions, well protected property rights, open markets and successful and sustainable economic development. The Commonwealth Week theme this year, “Opportunity through Enterprise”, is particularly relevant for encouraging innovation at this time of global economic challenge.

Commonwealth members share principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, and we have similar legal systems. These provide solid foundations for doing business and a platform for trade, investment, development and, all pulled together, prosperity. Some studies have estimated this Commonwealth effect of a shared legal and regulatory market framework to be between 20% and 50% in trade advantage. As it should, the UK out-trades its European comparators—Germany, Italy and France—in trade with Commonwealth countries.

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The Commonwealth network has influence in nearly every international country grouping, making it a key vehicle for promoting regional trade integration. India, South Africa, Canada, Australia and the UK make up a quarter of the G20, the world’s premier global economic forum at present. The Commonwealth exports over £3 trillion of goods and services a year, so the potential for all of us is great; but for trade with Commonwealth countries truly to flourish the Commonwealth needs to encourage conditions that will allow it to do so. One example is to remove barriers to trade, such as unnecessary red tape and, sadly too often, corruption.

Trade is not the only way to increase prosperity. The Department for International Development’s Bilateral Aid Review in 2011 confirmed that many Commonwealth states still need international aid and support. DfID has increased the proportion of bilateral programme expenditure to Commonwealth countries. Total DfID bilateral spend in them is projected to be £1.8 billion in 2012-13. Countries also benefit from regional funding.

We are working, too, to increase the Commonwealth’s engagement with Britain’s overseas territories that share many of the challenges facing the small Commonwealth members. The British Government are the largest financial contributor to Commonwealth institutions. Our contributions amount to approximately £40 million annually, about a third of the institution’s costs. Of this, DfID provides around £34 million to support the Commonwealth’s development work. We are investing in the Commonwealth, not simply declaring our commitment. From 2011 to 2015, DfID will also provide £87 million for Commonwealth scholarships for developing countries. The FCO provides support for Chevening scholarships to around 700 students a year for over 116 countries, including many Commonwealth ones.

DfID’s Multilateral Aid Review in 2011 concluded that one of the Commonwealth’s key strengths is its unique network of networks, as my noble friend Lord Howell has often told us. It saw that the Commonwealth’s secretariat has a key platform for partnerships, and as a leading voice on global issues and a niche development assistance provider. To continue to add value when there are many larger and often better resourced development providers, the Secretariat needs to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and to carve out a niche role for itself. The secretariat’s strategic plan, another product of the modernisation agenda, must play a vital role to make this a reality. Swift and unequivocal agreement on, and implementation of, a realistic and more targeted plan is key to guaranteeing continued donor funding for its programmes.

This year offers many opportunities to drive forward work on the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting in Papua New Guinea in April will give young people an opportunity to express their views on current issues and discuss the post-2015 millennium development goals agenda, an area of work in which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is strongly engaged in his role as co-chair of the High Level Panel. Sri Lanka will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November. No decisions have yet been made about UK attendance at this event. Ahead of that meeting

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we will of course talk to Sri Lanka, as we would to any host, about demonstrating its commitment to upholding Commonwealth values of good governance and respect for human rights.

I am sure that all in this House look forward to the UK hosting the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. The games are important, not least because they are as much about promoting Commonwealth values, a key element of the Commonwealth brand, as they are about building prosperity, celebrating sport and deepening links between young people and the Commonwealth nations.

Next year we will also begin to commemorate the centenary of the Great War—the First World War, as we now call it—in which the then British Empire called on the resources of all its dominions and colonies. There were 1.5 million Indians in the world’s largest volunteer army, hundreds of thousands of Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders as well as others from South Africa, the West Indies, and east and west Africa. The shared commemoration of common experience —some of it heroic, some of it bitter and ill planned—will also remind us of our common heritage.

This Government came into office with the determination to reinvigorate the Commonwealth and Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth and its member states. It is our firm belief that we should capitalise on all the networks and relationships at our disposal in order to promote our prosperity, stability and security and to contribute to a more prosperous and stable global order. We have seen notable progress and, through the modernisation discussions, a clearer vision of where the Commonwealth’s real advantages lie. The Commonwealth charter is a strong statement of the organisation’s values and we should collectively look to raise its profile, but we recognise that the Commonwealth’s future credibility is linked to its ability to uphold and protect these values as set out in the charter. We remain committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth and its members live up to these values. If we continue to push forward the reform process, I am confident that we can sustain the Commonwealth as an invaluable global network. The interest in joining the Commonwealth that a number of prospective members are evincing is an indication of the continued vitality of the institution. I beg to move.

3.37 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind reference. I am looking forward to hearing the words of the right reverend and noble Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth. I gather it is not strictly speaking a maiden speech, but I look forward to it with great anticipation. The noble and right reverend Lord is joining us on what Her Majesty has called the platform of the future, and his voice will be eagerly listened to on these affairs.

I shall start my brief intervention by quoting from an article in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week which said about Britain that,

“the best vision of what its 21st century economy could become”,


“a Britain which rediscovers the Asian and wider global links that propelled the country’s economic growth in the 19th century and could do so again”.

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That is entirely right. It is not a dream but a practical vision. Here, in what we now call the emerging economies and powers, is where our future prosperity and destiny clearly lie. That is something that I—not only me, of course —have been saying for 20 years.

The Commonwealth network is a vital and central part of this totally new landscape and this new scene. I once described the Commonwealth as the “necessary network”, in the sense that if it did not exist we would certainly have to invent something very like it. My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary was showing commendable prescience when a year or so ago he described the Commonwealth as,

“a cornerstone of our foreign policy”.

The peoples of the Commonwealth are family, not foreigners. Commonwealth Governments may be unfriendly at times, awkward, difficult or, frankly, even hostile, but these are family matters, not foreign policy matters. Today’s Commonwealth is an all-powerful network concept. The Governments and policy-making establishments in a number of countries may not have fully understood this but, outside Government, the peoples, businesses and civil societies of the Commonwealth nations certainly have. It is both people-driven and driven by the magnetism of shared values, language and culture, a network of peoples and societies as much as of Governments and states—possibly even more so.

The Commonwealth is of course a generator of soft-power linkages and contacts on an unparalleled scale. That is crucial to our national interests here. It used to be said that trade follows the flag. Today, the situation is that trade, capital flows and investment, inward and outward, follow the softening-up of markets through the intertwining of cultures, languages, social contacts, professions and common interests, all nowadays instantly and continuously communicated. This can be even more important than winning orders through one-off trade missions.

The Commonwealth family has evolved as a design of great intricacy, subtlety and complexity, and is a true reflection of a very complex world. That has not been so for 20 years past. So completely were Commonwealth markets washed out of British concerns in the previous century that, even today, it is frankly very hard to come by any statistics of what is now happening with incredible speed across the global trade and investment pattern. Most figures are gloriously out of date. However, we know that exports to Commonwealth countries have jumped by 120% in the past decade, and much more if one just looks at services. We know that a fast-growing Commonwealth GDP is poised to overtake the GDP of the entire European Union, and that intra-Commonwealth trade has been rising fast. We know that vast new consumer markets are opening up in India, south Asia, parts of Africa and Latin America. We know that thanks in part to the new shale oil and gas revolution, which is totally transforming the world’s energy balance, many African countries now face a far brighter future. We know that countries such as Australia and Canada, with which we now co-locate embassies—which is excellent news—and Malaysia are turning out to be both our best allies and powerful sources of finance for our investment needs.

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It should be no surprise that other countries want to join what is clearly seen as one of the world’s best clubs, with clear advantages for its members. Of course they want to join. Anyone can see that the Commonwealth badge of trust and commitment to the rule of law, once earned, are good for business, and I hope that the new Commonwealth charter will make it very much more so. As the noble Lord rightly said, a string of countries have expressed interest in being associated with the Commonwealth. Could the Republic of Ireland even be among them? I have had clear signs of interest from Dublin that suggest that it could.

Most important of all are the links of learning and education at all levels, and the personal contact and friendship that these bring to every corner of the Commonwealth system. We know that this is where the real spread of sympathies, values and good business and trade begins. It is a similar story in area after area: legal and judicial systems, administration, medicine, accountancy, the creative arts and science. The Commonwealth may no longer be Anglocentric, but this is where our interests and influence radiate out and where our readymade UK opportunities truly lie.

This is really our Great British repositioning. This must be our strategy and our narrative. Not everyone yet sees or grasps what has happened, or how a transformed Commonwealth coincides again with our global future and interests and makes for us a vast asset. However, it is here that our energies need to be directed as never before if we want to survive and prosper in a thoroughly dangerous and uncertain world.

3.44 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, it is good to follow the noble Lord, a fine Commonwealth advocate, who must blush at the tributes made to him in the FAC’s report published last November on the Commonwealth. With him, I look forward to the contribution from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams, my compatriot from Swansea.

Of course, the Commonwealth stands for the highest ideals of human rights, the rule of law and good governance, summed up in successive declarations—Singapore, Harare and, finally, the Charter of the Commonwealth, which was agreed last December. It is unique and diverse, with valuable soft-power networks. Small countries, such as the Caribbean and Pacific islands and the members of the overseas territories, walk that much taller as members of the club. For us and for them, the commonwealth of networks—the unofficial Commonwealth—is of importance. Of course, as parliamentarians, we pay tribute to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Given those high aspirations, it is hardly surprising if the reality sometimes falls short of the ideal. This is well illustrated by the Perth CHOGM’s response to the Eminent Persons Group’s recommendations, particularly the failure to agree the proposed human rights commissioner, who should be independent. CMAG is not enough. Of course, there is the Commonwealth’s failure on election monitoring because of the reluctance to criticise other members of the club.

What about Commonwealth mediation in disputes involving other Commonwealth countries? Certainly

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the Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku, played a significant role in helping to keep the new South Africa within the Commonwealth.

As for today, one sees the impotence of the Commonwealth on the problems of Kashmir, Cyprus, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Recent events show a lack of mutual understanding between Commonwealth countries. On 13 February this year, India gave refuge in its high commission to former President Nasheed of the Maldives, who had been ousted in a coup. Yet in only the past few days, one had heard that, contrary to the agreement between the Maldives and India, the former President was arrested following his leaving the High Commission of India.

There is, of course, a great rivalry between Commonwealth India and China in the Indian Ocean, where China seeks to build a “string of pearls” of bases. Yet on 18 February, Pakistan assisted the Chinese ambitions by giving China management of the Port of Gwadar on the coast of Baluchistan. Of course, China already has a foothold in the Seychelles and strong influence in Sri Lanka, half the aid to which comes from China.

The current debate about the choice of location of the next CHOGM is instructive, and was rather glossed over by the Minister in his opening remarks. Is priority to be given to the values of the Commonwealth or to avoiding the displeasure of Sri Lanka, as the Foreign Affairs Committee report stated? Surely the Government cannot sit indefinitely on the fence. Can they honestly say that there is a serious prospect of change in Sri Lanka between now and the time of the CHOGM in the late autumn? Diversity and consensus are important, but they cover political and economic weaknesses.

On economics, there is no prospect of a free trade area, and hardly surprisingly countries take hard-nosed decisions on contracts: for example, India’s recent decision to buy Mirages rather than Typhoons. CMAG is hardly effective. The Commonwealth Secretary-General is condemned, pace the Perth CHOGM, to be a secretary and not a general. Of the 58 countries in the world where capital punishment is legal, 36 are in the Commonwealth. In this week’s Kenya election, the apparently leading candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, is an indictee of the International Criminal Court. Our high commissioner and others would find it difficult to speak to him if elected.

I have been more critical than normal, but this needs to be an antidote to the rather blind and excessive claims for the Commonwealth. It is important for us, but it is a second-tier organisation compared with NATO for defence and the EU for commerce and international political clout. Increasingly, member countries give more priority to their own region and to bilateral relations. Countries such as India give relatively low priority to the Commonwealth. Let us laud the diversity and ideals but not lapse into a starry-eyed overload of Commonwealth capabilities, as the Foreign Affairs Committee emphasised.

Contrary to the FCO response to the FAC report, there is a gap between words and deeds, between the Commonwealth of reality and the Commonwealth of illusion. Yes, let us seek to make the Commonwealth

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even better in its engagement in the world, but its values remain an important and relevant benchmark for perhaps an impossible ideal.

3.50 pm

Lord Hussain: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for securing this debate, and I apologise that I was not present for the first couple of minutes.

I would like to speak on Pakistan and its membership of the Commonwealth. Pakistan covers an area of 796,095 square kilometres, approximately equal to the combined land areas of France and the United Kingdom. It is the 36th largest nation by total area, with a population exceeding 180 million people, and is the sixth most populous country in the world. It is the second largest country by population in the Commonwealth, after India.

Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of four provinces and four federal territories. It is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with a similar variation in its geography and wildlife. A regional and middle power, Pakistan has the seventh largest standing armed forces in the world and is also a nuclear power, being the only nation in the Muslim world, and the second in south Asia, to have that status. It has a semi-industrialised economy that is the 27th largest in the world in purchasing power and the 47th largest in nominal GDP.

Pakistan’s post-independence history has been characterised by periods of military rule, political instability and conflicts with neighbouring India. The country has also suffered greatly and continues to do so in loss of human lives and in economic terms because of the instability and lack of peace in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Pakistan continues to face challenging problems, including terrorism, poverty, illiteracy and corruption. It is a founding member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Next Eleven economies, SAARC, ECO, D8 and the G20 developing nations.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma visited Pakistan last February, 2012, and said:

“Pakistan holds a special place in the Commonwealth. It is one of the eight countries that came together in 1949 to lay the foundations of the modern Commonwealth. Since then, Pakistan has been on a national journey, and so too has the Commonwealth as it has grown in global size, relevance and impact. Today, the Commonwealth has 54 member countries in every continent, of every size and stage of development, accounting for one third of humanity. And Pakistan remains a highly valued member.

A visit to Pakistan for a Commonwealth Secretary-General is always an opportunity to take the pulse of the relationship – to seek direction from leaders in Pakistan on how it wants to see the Commonwealth continue to grow, and to see how the Commonwealth can continue to support and add value to Pakistan nationally. We always meet political leaders but also a wide range of others in society to discuss how the Commonwealth can offer partnership, to strengthen our global networks and collaborations, and to advance the fundamental values and principles which lie at the heart of our Commonwealth family”.

Pakistan also highly values its membership of the Commonwealth. It plays an active role in the activities of the Commonwealth and endeavours to promote the

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Commonwealth charter. Pakistan looks towards the Commonwealth for mediation with India over Kashmir, and to guarantee the peace and prosperity of the 1.2 billion people on the Indian subcontinent.

3.54 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, it is a particular privilege to stand as the appetiser to the speech of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, bringing, as he has already done to this Chamber in another capacity, a unique experience of global affairs through his visits to all parts of the Anglican communion. We on this Bench have so many reasons to be thankful for that and to appreciate at first hand the extremely high esteem in which he is held in so many of the countries of the Commonwealth.

There are three particular reasons why, as Bishop of Leicester, I felt it right to contribute to this debate. The first is because the history of my city in the past 40 years is quite inexplicable without reference to the Commonwealth. The Ugandan Asians, arriving 40 years ago after Idi Amin’s expulsions, set in train a series of migrations from the subcontinent, Africa, and more recently from around the world, which have transformed the culture, economy and reputation of the city for the better. They have also embedded networks of family relationships, friendships and business connections with Commonwealth countries in south Asia and east and west Africa in particular. Further, they bring a familiarity with the concept of Commonwealth as a network of different religions, cultures and ethnicities under a common leadership for the common good.

Further, the three world-class universities of Leicester, Loughborough and De Montfort all educate large numbers of young people from Commonwealth countries, as any visit to a degree ceremony demonstrates, with the immense potential that that creates for inter- generational influence and partnership. Those universities share the concerns of many others expressed in the Home Affairs Committee’s report about the serious effects of a restrictive student visa policy on the wider interests of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, I echo the concerns of others about the serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and the very questionable decision to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo. Some 5,000 Tamils have found their way to Leicester in recent years. They have their own temple, the priest of which is a Tamil refugee whose family were killed in the civil war. Many of these families know at first hand the consequences of the human rights record in that country, in which 12,000 Sri Lankans have disappeared, of whom the Government have confirmed that 6,500 are dead.

Recently, in his pastoral letter to the Church of Ceylon, the Bishop of Colombo called on members of the church to fast, pray and lament over the state of the nation, after what he described as,

“the complete collapse of the rule of law there”.

He went on to say:

“The breakdown of such accountability is a process that has been building up for the past several years.

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It has now climaxed in the recent events that have seen both the Executive and the Legislature disregarding the provisions of the very Constitution which they swore to uphold and defend, giving the appearance of a country ruled on the principle that ‘Might is Right’.

The numerous warnings that the Church, other religious organizations and civil society bodies repeatedly issued have been ignored. There is currently a climate of fear and helplessness, where people remain silent rather than speak out against rampant injustice, intimidation, violence and falsehoods”.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will be able to give the House some further assurance as to Her Majesty’s Government’s engagement with this.

Thirdly, I draw attention to the capacity of the Anglican Communion’s network of partnerships with dioceses in Commonwealth countries to plan and execute exchanges between individuals and communities for mutual learning and understanding. From Leicester two years ago, 24 junior clergy from towns and villages across the diocese visited Trichy Tanjore in Tamil Nadu in south India, establishing friendships and links that change outlooks and perceptions for a lifetime. They were followed by a group of young adults from sixth forms and colleges, experiencing at first hand a range of development programmes with tea planters, Dalits and fishing communities. Their experience “conscientatised” them to many of the issues around tax avoidance and the hiding of money from public scrutiny that so massively reduces revenues that could promote development.

At the same time, we are planning similar visits to our links in Tanzania. Schools from Leicester, Tanzania and south India are now in regular contact, and we are in the process of creating a triangular relationship between churches and communities in the United Kingdom, in Tanzania and in south India. These friendships and relationships are a vivid reminder that the Commonwealth is more than a political or economic entity and its significance extends beyond the political classes. I hope that that vision of the Commonwealth will be deepened and broadened by our debate today.

4 pm

Lord Williams of Oystermouth: I echo the gratitude expressed by other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for securing this discussion on a profoundly significant and timely question. It is a particular privilege to begin my recycled life in your Lordships’ House by speaking on this subject.

I note, as have other noble Lords, the wholly distinctive character of the Commonwealth as a family of independent nations allied not primarily for military, or even economic, security but by a shared history that has been translated into a shared vision of ethical politics. The proposed Commonwealth Charter, which has rightly been so warmly welcomed, sets out the main lines of this ethical vision with clarity and force and we must all hope that it will work as an unambiguous point of reference in dealing with crises and failures in the life of individual Commonwealth states, to which reference has already been made.

I draw special attention to the points made about the eradication of all kinds of discrimination—especially today mentioning discrimination against women—a properly pluralistic and transparent political culture,

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environmental priorities and the protection of more vulnerable states. In short, the charter defines an impressive project that deserves the strongest support from this country and its Government. For this project to be realised, a number of commitments on the part of the United Kingdom will need to be honoured and developed. The extensive support given to Commonwealth students, not least through DfID and the FCO, remains a key element in this. I was very much encouraged to hear the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, underlining this in his opening remarks.

We could enumerate the fruits of these exchanges at length, but perhaps the most important thing to note is the way in which Commonwealth students can be equipped to promote a transparent and accountable political culture in their own contexts, in large part by the experience that they gain here of active civil society networks. Even where it is a matter of students coming from so-called developed countries in the Commonwealth, there is still an agenda of building and cementing partnerships and learning to collaborate effectively in support of the more vulnerable members of the family. We should therefore applaud the support given as part of our development programme to such student opportunities and keep a sharp eye out for any suggestion that there are easy economies to be made by reducing these. That would be a very short-term view: if we indeed want a stable and just international environment, the Commonwealth will play its part by fostering cadres of young leaders with a strong commitment to civil society and human rights.

We need to keep under review those aspects of our Border Agency activities which may impinge negatively on the welcome offered to those who come from the Commonwealth to study, a point touched upon by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester. This does not apply only to students. Is it really appropriate, for example, that a respected academic from a developed Commonwealth country should be required to provide for the central administration an account of every trip that he or she makes away from their academic base? I refer to a case that has lately become somewhat notorious in Cambridge. Similarly, the immense complications that attend the visa system for many who plan short-stay study trips or attendance at conferences or training events in the UK have not done much to win hearts and minds. I think back to the hours spent by former colleagues at Lambeth Palace arguing about the bona fides of bishops and others from Commonwealth nations seeking to attend church gatherings here. I do not suggest that there is a quick fix to these concerns, only that the current situation maximises the possibilities of embarrassment and unfairness and needs constant monitoring and review.

I move briefly to a second point. The Commonwealth Charter’s clarity about transparency and the vision of what a moment ago I called a stable and just international environment should combine to prompt some continuing questions about the effectiveness of tax governance in Commonwealth countries. Effective and fair taxation would be agreed by all of us to be a cornerstone of good political governance and social stability, and that point has been underlined very strongly in a recent Commonwealth Secretariat paper. Christian Aid, of

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which I have the honour to be chair-designate, has estimated that $160 billion are lost annually to developing economies worldwide, many of them Commonwealth states, because of the evasion of local tax by multinational interests. At the same time, ironically, a significant number of Commonwealth states and British Overseas Territories function as tax havens, and so compound those problems.

Her Majesty’s Government have given welcome signs of concern about these matters and they will be on the agenda for the next G8 meeting. I trust that others will join me in hoping that the Government will bring some pressure to bear within the Commonwealth itself on these matters, looking to a commitment to better sharing of information on hidden assets and perhaps raising the matter at this year’s Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council.

Those issues represent wide cross-party concern; but more importantly for today, they are entirely in line with the vision so eloquently set out in the Commonwealth Charter. The potential of our Commonwealth to be a beacon of equitable practice is very great, and the will is manifestly there. I trust that today’s debate may assist us towards a future in which we may continue to be proud of our unique Commonwealth family as a model of both cultural diversity and moral convergence in our world.

4.06 pm

Baroness Berridge: My Lords, as a member of an Anglican church, it is a great privilege to respond to the maiden speech of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, as a life Peer. He was in my view an unsung modernising archbishop. Noble Lords can now find churches in skate board parks, care homes and even new monastic orders due to the archbishop’s innovation called Fresh Expressions. This also led to the creation of vicars called pioneers, who go to set up a church, not become the vicar of an existing church.

The role of the archbishop is also to speak truth to power, and the archbishop was known for his public opposition to the Iraq war and similar ruffling of the feathers of the political right, while increasing the sales of the New Statesman when he was guest editor. The noble and right reverend Lord has an unfailingly gracious way of causing “good trouble”.

It is particularly apt that the former archbishop’s maiden speech is in this debate, because in that role, I am informed by Lambeth Palace, he visited no less than 19 Commonwealth countries. For the linguists in your Lordships House, his continued presence is an utter delight. There is a choice of 11 languages in which to converse with or write to the former archbishop. No one can be in any doubt about the continued value of the contribution of the former archbishop to the work of your Lordships’ House.

As I grew up, NATO, the EEC and the UN were the international organisations on the news. Yet the coverage of the Queen was often of her visits to the so-called Commonwealth countries, which seemed rather unfashionable. I am sure that your Lordships will agree how grateful we are now for Her Majesty’s wisdom. A mere glance at the list of countries reveals

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those whose modern history is intricately linked to the United Kingdom. Nigeria, Jamaica, Ghana, India and Pakistan are all nations from which many British citizens have originated and with which they maintain active links. Just try booking a flight during a school half term to see what I mean.

However, it is also interesting to note that the Commonwealth includes Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist majority countries—Malaysia, India, Seychelles and Sri Lanka being respective examples. This could give the Commonwealth a unique role in promoting religious freedom, as outlined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The declaration states:

“This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

I declare my interest as chair of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom. The lack of understanding of religious freedom is one of the causes of internal unrest in some Commonwealth countries, such as Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Of course, there are also political causes but can one really understand events in northern Nigeria without understanding the context of the lack of understanding of true freedom of religion?

The Commonwealth Charter was adopted on 19 December 2012, but although I do not wish to rain on the parade, Article IV is worded rather unusually. It states:

“We emphasise the need to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, moderation and religious freedom which are essential to the development of free and democratic societies”.

I do not think that “moderation” has ever been used before in a human rights document and this paragraph seems, on one reading, to link it to religious freedom. Could the Minister please ensure that the Government’s view is not that there will be an interpretation of “moderation”, which could perhaps mean accepting only “acceptable” views.

Why is belief not also mentioned in Article IV, which is about freedom of religion and belief? As other noble Lords have mentioned, Article II outlines the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited, but the word used is “creed”, not “religion” and “belief”. I was encouraged by the Government’s response to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report, when it stated:

“The UK should only accept the Charter’s final wording if it reflects the fundamental principles of the Commonwealth. Before signing the Charter, the Government should assure itself that substantial progress is being made by the Commonwealth towards compliance with international human rights norms”.

I would be grateful if the Minister could provide reassurance and clarification on the matters I have outlined. The security of minority religious communities flows from a proper understanding and enactment of freedom of religion, but it also goes further, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams, stated in your Lordships’ House in his debate on Christians in the Middle East. He stated that the security of minority communities is,

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“something of a litmus test in relation to these wider issues of the political health of the region”.—[

Official Report

, 9/12/11; col. 927.]

The Commonwealth prides itself on valuing democracy, so it should take seriously ensuring true freedom of religion.

4.12 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, the Commonwealth is a force for good in many ways and I welcome the charter. It gives the organisation, for the first time in its 64-year history, a single document setting out its core values. Yet the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles from 1971 includes this:

“We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live. We therefore strive to promote in each of our countries those representative institutions and guarantees for personal freedom under the law that are our common heritage”.

However, the Foreign Affairs Committee report, published last November, stated in paragraph 22:

“Several of those we met in Commonwealth countries called for Commonwealth institutions to set out a more vigorous human rights agenda, and to be effective and influential in pursuing it among its members”.

It went on to say in paragraph 25:

“On certain human rights issues, the record of many Commonwealth countries is out of step with much of the developed world … The FCO’s 2011 report on human rights and other sources have recorded intolerance of homosexuality in a number of Commonwealth countries … and the FCO reported that it had recently found it necessary to raise concerns about the possible criminalisation of same-sex marriage in Nigeria and the human rights of homosexual people in Cameroon”.

The language used was guarded and the report gave no suggestion that the Committee had pursued this fundamental issue of human rights any further, but at least it mentioned homosexual repression, unlike the Government’s response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, which did not mention it at all. That is a matter of great regret, because the attitudes and policies of many Commonwealth Governments are shocking. I argue they require urgently to be dragged into the 20th century, never mind the 21st. Article II of the newly signed charter states:

“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”,

as other noble Lords have already referred to. The “other grounds” are not specified but they clearly include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, even though consensus could not be achieved for spelling that out in the charter. Of course, that serves merely to highlight the bigotry and discrimination that is rampant among so many of the Commonwealth’s member countries, a disgrace that should give every Member of this House pause for thought.

Indeed, the level of homophobic persecution in the Commonwealth beggars belief. More than 40 Commonwealth countries—80% of the total—currently criminalise homosexuality, mostly as a result of laws imposed by Britain during the colonial era that were not repealed when these nations won their independence. For example, penalties for homosexuality include

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25 years in jail in Trinidad and Tobago, and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Several Commonwealth countries stipulate life imprisonment for sex between men: Bangladesh, Guyana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda. There are currently, or have been, severe homophobic witch-hunts in several other Commonwealth countries including Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, the Gambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The Government have already expressed concern about the anti-gay Bill that is currently in front of the Nigerian Parliament. Nigeria already has extremely tough anti-gay legislation that designates up to 14 years in jail for men who have sex with men. In the north of the country, where Sharia law prevails, gay and bisexual men can face the death penalty.

Enough is enough: it is time the Commonwealth took a stand against such barbaric behaviour. There are four policies that I believe Her Majesty’s Government should urge all Commonwealth member states to agree to enact: first, the immediate decriminalisation of homosexuality; secondly, the introduction of laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; thirdly, the introduction and/or enforcement of legislation against threats and violence, to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from hate crimes; and fourthly, the offer of consultation and dialogue with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations.

Until such steps are instigated, the reputation of the Commonwealth as a body that seeks to uphold and advance human rights throughout its membership will remain indelibly tarnished. Indeed, until such steps are instigated, I believe that the Commonwealth is not an organisation that deserves to be taken seriously in that area of its work, which is a statement that I make as much in sorrow as in anger.

4.17 pm

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, there may be some surprise when I commence by saying that this has been one of my interests for more than 75 years. I long cherished the card that was given to me through the Carmel Sunday school in Aberavon, which was issued by King George V on his Silver Jubilee. The card said:

“I ask you to remember that in days to come you will be citizens of a great Empire”.

I am glad to welcome that proposition, although the conclusion may be rather different from that which the King was expecting at that time. The contents most compactly set out in the Charter of the Commonwealth, which have been explained and endorsed already by a number of colleagues, set out what should be the non-imperial conclusion.

I look back on the period when I was able to struggle to play some part in it. Some 12 years after that Sunday school, I found myself on the equator in Kenya, as a lieutenant in the Royal Signals but attached to the East African Signals, themselves attached to the King’s African Rifles. One of my tasks was to run the educational part that we were meant to play with our very effective, long-serving African soldiers. There were about 100 soldiers in that unit including about a

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dozen Britons, almost all of whom had been in the Burma campaign. Some of the African soldiers had been in London for the victory parade and had been able to establish partnerships with British citizens here at home. I was trying, when doing the non-military work that I had to do, to persuade them that Bwana “Kingy George” was rather better than Bwana Joe Stalin. I hope that I succeeded to some extent. It means having the direct experience of a reality that was less of an empire and more of a partnership, which is what many speakers today have already identified with.

The concept of empire implies authoritarianism. We can see some examples of imperial authoritarianism, which loom in my mind, which help to distort or reform our thinking. I remember, when I had come back from Kenya and arrived at Cambridge, that a gentleman called Patrick Gordon Walker was the Secretary of State for the Commonwealth. He provoked a tremendous student demonstration of horror when he sacked the head of Bechuanaland, Seretse Khama, for the incredible reason that Seretse Khama had married a former London typist. That struck as something contrary to all his other aspects. Many of us reacted with great hostility to that. It led, among other things, to the emergence and the creation by Conservative young colleagues like myself of the Bow Group, when we saw other features taking place. Between 1950 and 1960 there had been an inflow of some 750,000 people from this empire, and it very much strengthened our feeling that we had to make sure that discrimination did not become part of our territory.

Since then, I have been able to see the way in which the Commonwealth worked during my time in office, in a very pragmatic and positive way. For example, the Commonwealth Finance Ministers meeting, of which I was chairman during my time as Chancellor, was in itself more important than the IMF. Tension, of course, was not unknown because of the difference in attitudes between different members of the Commonwealth towards the persistence of apartheid in South Africa. Our Commonwealth conference meetings were dominated by the extent to which we could and should do more to challenge that. We had one CHOGM meeting establishing an Eminent Persons Group led by Malcolm Frazer, the Australian Prime Minister. He led a mission on behalf of the Commonwealth to South Africa to challenge apartheid as it then was. They were able to secure Nelson Mandela’s release from Robin Island. When Malcolm Frazer went to see him in his cell, Nelson Mandela rather startled him by asking the question, “Do tell me, is Donald Bradman still alive?”. That seems to underline the unity of the Commonwealth, binding many of us together. It is in that sense that Britain, as one of the Commonwealth countries, was able thereafter to bring pressure to bear against apartheid. We were able to propaganda like that in South Africa, and were able to see substantial success there in the end.

That background, with the Commonwealth as a collective organisation, supporting, encouraging, offering up advocacy of the right course of events, underlines to me the extent of the value of the Commonwealth declaration today. It underlines the positive value of the most practically effective UK/multinational

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organisation in this context, whether that is alongside the UK/People’s Republic of China relationship, the EU, NATO, the UK/US or the United Nations. In the context that we are talking about, the Commonwealth has a collective wisdom that can help to advance matters in the right way.

I think that that is all I need to say. I have spoken not about contemporary events but about the history and background that have brought us to the present position. It is that background against which the United Kingdom should approach and influence Commonwealth members and benefit from the collective relationship, one that has come into existence and deserves to be enhanced and amplified.

4.25 pm

Lord Luce: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, under whom I served on numerous occasions, one of which of course was in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The noble Lord has inspired the commitment of the coalition Government to policies on the Commonwealth. I am glad that he is keeping his hand in on the Commonwealth by, for example, leading the Commonwealth Day ceremonies next Monday in Westminster Abbey.

When I look back to the debates in this House on the Commonwealth over the past six or seven years, I think that on some occasions they have been somewhat frustrating and certainly repetitive about the strengths and the assets that the Commonwealth offers. There was always a feeling that no one was listening very much, either in the Government or outside. However, I think that there is now a greater realisation of the importance of soft power and diplomacy. I should perhaps remind the House that the Commonwealth is not a substitute for membership of NATO, the European Union or the United Nations; that vast network of 2 billion people is something quite different that complements it. What seems to have happened over the past year or two is that various strands have come together: the Eminent Persons Group reporting to the Perth summit meeting in October 2011 with some of the recommendations being accepted, followed by the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, a strong report from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons and on to Commonwealth Week next week.

I sense that, as a result of the Perth meeting, for the first time we have a kind of framework for action within the Commonwealth. We have a chance to monitor progress in the Commonwealth and for Commonwealth Parliaments to take reports from Governments about progress on the Perth recommendations, over 100 of which were made. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, it was disappointing that a number of the proposals were not accepted at Perth, such as for a commissioner for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, but enough were accepted to demonstrate that, if they are implemented, we can build more confidence in the Commonwealth and perhaps tackle some of the more difficult issues at a later stage.

On the inter-governmental side, like others I welcome the importance of the Commonwealth charter, which consolidates the values expressed in the Commonwealth, but it is important to put flesh on to them. For example, it is good to see that there are going to be

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stronger measures to deal with good governance in supervising elections. Goodness knows that is needed, for example, this week in Kenya. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which deals with conflict resolution, will be given stronger powers, and the Secretary-General will be asked to use his good offices more forcefully in that direction. All this helps towards the creation of a more stable climate to deal with conflict resolution, which is extremely important for trade. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, that is extremely important and sits at the heart of the Commonwealth.

A number of noble Lords have said that CHOGM next time round is important. To my mind, it is a litmus test of the Commonwealth because it is essential that it shows evidence of progress on human rights issues. I refer to the treatment of the Tamils and the fact that, contrary to the advice of the Supreme Court, the chief justice has been dismissed. Canada has taken a lead on this and it is important that the British Government should express a firm view about it, otherwise there will be a great deal of disillusionment with the Commonwealth.

On the people-to-people side—the non-government side—I will just highlight two areas that the charter stresses. First, in respect of young people, with over 50% of the Commonwealth being under 25, there is the proposal for a youth corps. I myself have been privileged to have been the first president of the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and am delighted that my noble friend Lady Prashar will succeed me. These kinds of areas are an expression of the importance of the Commonwealth. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and my noble and right reverend friend Lord Williams mentioned education, which is absolutely vital to the development of the Commonwealth. For example, there is the Commonwealth scholarship scheme, from which 27,000 people within the Commonwealth have benefited. There are numerous proposals, for example from Professor Dilks, for more exchanges in the medical world, as well as in the teachers’ and the youth world. All these areas strengthen the network of the Commonwealth.

The second aspect is civil society, which the charter stresses is also very important. Here, as a former chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation, I ask the Minister what is being done to strengthen the Commonwealth Foundation to act as a catalyst in the non-governmental area and civil society and for the promotion of youth in the Commonwealth. I feel, rather contrary to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that we now have a chance to give the Commonwealth a new lease of life. The secretariat and the Secretary-General have a vital role. The regions may even have a chance in the Commonwealth to give new momentum. This is an opportunity that we must take, and it is in Britain’s interests that we do so.

4.31 pm

Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, I want to address the issue of freedom of expression within the Commonwealth, so I declare an interest as the chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union Trust and draw attention to my other media interests in the register.

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Along with many other noble Lords who have spoken, I strongly believe that in order to ensure its future the Commonwealth must be seen to be relevant. The greatest danger to its long-term survival is inertia, as a prelude to irrelevance. The Commonwealth charter is a sound attempt to avoid that fate. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, put it, the charter is of no use unless words are backed by actions. I draw particular attention to Article V of the charter, on freedom of expression. It states:

“We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes”.

That is absolutely right. However, my worry is that this declaration is simply the latest in a long line of similar oratorical flourishes which will prove meaningless unless backed by firm action.

Back in 2002, the Coolum declaration for the first time listed freedom of expression as one of the principles on which the Commonwealth was founded. Since then there have been many other similar declarations. Just last year, for instance, the Commonwealth Secretariat published a message for World Press Freedom Day which said:

“Commonwealth leaders have consistently re-affirmed their commitment to … freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The challenge is to translate these commitments into action—moving beyond declarations to walking the talk”.

That is absolutely right, yet is precisely what has not happened, and the situation with regard to freedom of expression within far too many Commonwealth countries is desperate. Countries such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Pakistan, Cameroon and Bangladesh languish near the bottom of world press freedom league tables.

For example, in the Gambia, President Jammeh has explicitly said that he will not,

“sacrifice the interests, the peace and stability … of the Gambian people at the altar of freedom of expression”.

Perhaps he need not worry too much as there seems little chance of that given that, under the Newspaper Amendment Act, it costs around $17,000 to obtain a licence to produce a newspaper, making it impossible for virtually the entire population to exercise its fundamental rights. In Malaysia, the constitution specifically gives the Government the power to impose restrictions on press freedom where it is deemed “necessary” and the repressive Printing Presses and Publications Act, alongside the Sedition Act of 1948, is frequently used to suppress debate. In Uganda, journalists are licensed by the Government, and the state media council, operating under the Press and Journalist Act 1995—which the Government of Uganda now wish to tighten further—has wide-ranging powers to discipline journalists.

This state of affairs, in so many Commonwealth countries, is shocking and shows that good words over many years have not been matched by good deeds. It is surely time to put that right with a firm plan of action across the Commonwealth, demanding an end to draconian and anachronistic laws such as criminal defamation, an end to state licensing of journalists,

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the introduction of freedom of information and the promotion of effective self-regulation in place of repressive state press councils.

At the time of the introduction of the Commonwealth charter, the Foreign Secretary William Hague rightly said:

“The commitments in the charter should be upheld, adhered to and kept under review by member Governments, Parliaments and civil society organisations”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/3/13; col. WS56.]

I back that sentiment wholeheartedly, but it means in practice that we must begin now to tackle these fundamental human rights abuses. I associate myself completely with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, about the state of affairs which sees so many Commonwealth countries still criminalising homosexuality, a stain on the reputation of the Commonwealth which is going to be a subject of a debate in this House next Wednesday.

Will my noble friend restate the Government’s commitment, as part of their very welcome plans to reinvigorate the Commonwealth, to promoting freedom of expression throughout the Commonwealth? Does he also agree that one way to ensure that deeds match words is for the Commonwealth Secretariat, in advance of CHOGM, to undertake a freedom of expression audit of all member states to act as a baseline for improvement, an audit against which we can check whether the noble words of the charter are being met with action on the ground? That could be a hugely important first step in ensuring not just that the Commonwealth itself remains relevant and effective but that it is an organisation in which all of us who believe in human rights can be proud to take part.

4.36 pm

Lord Empey: My Lords, I wanted to address a couple of issues this afternoon, the first being the economic dimension to the Commonwealth. As we have heard from many speeches, approximately one-third of humanity is engaged in the Commonwealth and it very largely shares with people and businesses in this country a common language and very similar approaches to law. Among these diverse countries are those that are extremely rich in natural resources, such as Australia, Canada and many parts of Africa, and many that are growing fast, particularly in Asia and Africa. It seems reasonable that if this country has a connection with many of those countries, while in no way is it a substitute for our membership of the European Union, surely it should be another string to our bow.

At the beginning of our membership of the European Union we turned our back on many of our former trading partners in the Commonwealth. Some felt great resentment and at that stage it was not necessarily in our economic interests. It most certainly is not in our economic interests today. We should pursue, as hard as we can, the economic development of the Commonwealth, because just as the founders of the European Union had it in their minds that strengthening economic co-operation would also go a long way to preventing conflict, similarly economic development in the Commonwealth can also help to eliminate conflict. As we heard from the noble Lords, Lord Black and

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Lord Anderson, there are things that are far from perfect, and I welcome the charter. It is a very fine foundation upon which to build.

The second issue, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is the possible membership of the Commonwealth by the Irish Republic. This is something I would strongly welcome and I ask the Minister if this issue has been raised by Her Majesty’s Government with the Irish Government. If we go back some 30 years to 1982, there was considerable conflict at that time with the Falklands war and others. It was Sir Shridath Ramphal, then the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who implored Ireland, as he put it, to “come home” to the Commonwealth of nations.

The Commonwealth consists of 54 nations, more than 60% of which are republics. It is no longer, as the Minister said, the British Commonwealth; it is the Commonwealth. Given the diversity of countries, given the new charter, given the fact that the majority of members are republics and given the commonality of history and all that goes with it, it seems to me that it could go a long way towards putting on an even stronger foundation the relationship between this country and the Republic of Ireland, taking its place in the Commonwealth of nations, which will, I believe, be a very strong trading bloc as well as a strong soft-power bloc diplomatically throughout the world. It would strengthen relationships within these islands.

While some would see the Republic joining the Commonwealth as some way of assuaging the views of unionists who might then feel less likely to object to being part of a united Ireland, I can assure your Lordships as a unionist that that is not the case. But that does not mean that we should not do anything and everything in our power to strengthen our relationships and help to build what has the potential to be one of the biggest and most successful trading and economic blocs in the world.

The charter would offend nobody in the Irish Republic; it would be entirely consistent with its long-held views and expressions; and there is no military involvement whatever. Given the progress that has been made in the past 15 years—we are coming up to the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast agreement next month—this could be a further step that we could take together. I hope that people in the Republic will give significant consideration to taking this step.

4.42 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I am pleased to speak in this timely and most worthy debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for introducing it.

I have been clear in this House previously about my admiration for the Commonwealth. For me, it is a network of countries that strikes the right balance between sharing a commitment to democracy and the rule of law and celebrating the diversity that exists within it.

It proudly knows no geographical, cultural or economic bounds; it is a club of equals. Its modern-day relevance is clear, serving as home to a third of the world’s population. Still, there are countries showing an interest in joining, with Rwanda becoming the newest member in 2009.

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The Commonwealth is often described as a link between the first world and the third world. The importance of this cannot be exaggerated. It has the potential to play key roles in conflict resolution and the development of democracy in unstable nations through the use of soft power. Perhaps most notable was the group’s substantial contribution to the end of apartheid in South Africa. However, it should now become more involved in conflict resolution. It is also encouraging to see that the Commonwealth has pledged to give extra assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable members who are affected by climate change.

Your Lordships may be aware that the first ever multinational anti-corruption centre was launched in Botswana last month to tackle corruption right across the continent. The Commonwealth is providing £1 million to help fund this over the next few years, which visibly demonstrates the commitment of Commonwealth countries to helping each other.

As a businessman, it is highly encouraging for me to note that this year’s Commonwealth theme is opportunity through enterprise. The talent and innovation of our young people must be unlocked and harnessed to ensure that Commonwealth countries remain at the forefront of technological and economic development.

I have also spoken in your Lordships’ House many times on the need to increase overseas trade from and between Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth itself must be more strongly appreciated as a potential trading network, with more emphasis placed on trade—which at the moment stands at about £1.7 trillion. It has £62 billion of foreign direct investment flowing out of it, constituting more than 20% of all international trade and investment. In fact, most member countries conduct between a third and half of their trade with other member countries. We should look very closely at the economic potential of using such an obvious grouping of countries to build business and trade relationships that could be mutually beneficial to all involved. Quite simply, it provides us with a ready-made relationship with some of the most promising emerging markets in India, Africa and Malaysia. I have visited a number of countries in these areas.

Business and trade aside, what makes the Commonwealth so unique is that its citizens have an exceptional sense of pride from being part of the club. Unlike other regional blocs or trading territories, the Commonwealth gains much of its strength from the sense of affinity that binds its countries together. This year is of course particularly special because we are establishing the Commonwealth charter: a set of core values that the nations of the Commonwealth believe in and are expected to uphold and protect on behalf of their people.

We currently face a multitude of global challenges that threaten the long-term health and stability of our planet, so we can again use the Commonwealth as a force for good by mapping out a consensus on major international issues such as terrorism, poverty and climate change. Although the charter does not set contractual obligations, it encourages a sense of shared responsibility and is set within the moral and ethical context from which the Commonwealth has always

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drawn its strength. National Governments are often more receptive and a lot less hostile to this type of approach, which frees them from the restraints of bureaucracy or quotas but holds them accountable for their principles by their allies.

Far from being an outdated institution, the Commonwealth is perhaps the greatest of all international associations. It has a unique reach across countries, continents and oceans that both celebrates our unity on liberty and democracy, and encourages national sovereignty and diversity. It is the ultimate network fit for the continued challenges of the 21st century. My noble friend Lord Howell deserves praise for greatly raising the profile of the Commonwealth on the world stage. It is vital that the Government continue upon the course he started in adopting a clearer strategy for their relations with the Commonwealth.

4.47 pm

Baroness Prashar: My Lords, in recent years we have seen a number of developments in the Commonwealth: the Eminent Persons Group report triggered some changes to increase the effectiveness of the Commonwealth; the adoption of the new Commonwealth charter; and a renewed focus on the Commonwealth by this Government, thanks to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. All these changes are very significant and welcome. They provide a real opportunity to keep up the momentum for change and revitalise both the Commonwealth and its institutions.

The potential of the Commonwealth at all levels is enormous, as we have heard from other contributions this afternoon. The aspirations and expectations of the Commonwealth are high, and those of this Government are very ambitious indeed. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, identified three main areas where he would like to see the role of the Commonwealth strengthened: human rights and democracy; engagement on global issues, working to liberalise trade and break down barriers to international trade; and an even greater role in development and conflict prevention. To meet these enormous challenges we need effective Commonwealth institutions, ones which are nimble, agile and able to develop mature and constructive partnerships with other regional, international and civil society organisations.

In response to the Eminent Persons Group report the Commonwealth Secretariat is developing a new strategic plan, as we heard earlier, and efforts are being made to reform the institution. While these are welcome developments we need further radical thinking and reform. This is not a criticism of what has been achieved but we need to recognise the current realities. We must be sensitive to the diversity of needs in the Commonwealth and its competing priorities. Different members of the Commonwealth have different priorities. Some want to concentrate on development issues, others on democracy, rule of law and human rights, and others on business. These are interrelated but the starting point for different Commonwealth countries may be different. I am not sure that the Commonwealth Secretariat based in London can deliver the ambitious agenda expected of it.

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Now that we have a charter that provides a strong framework of core values, should we not be thinking of creating regional Commonwealth hubs, or at least offices, in three regions—for example, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia—with a slimmed-down secretariat in London? This may seem a bold suggestion but it would enable the secretariat to respond to the relevant needs and priorities of countries in those regions within the framework of the charter, develop purposeful links with civil society and other regional organisations there, and have a greater impact.

In the time allocated it is not possible to spell out the notion of regional hubs and offices in detail. In response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the Government said that they would continue to seek to be a positive influence on the Commonwealth Secretariat, working with and through it to make it more efficient, focused and relevant in today’s world. It would be helpful if they could now urge the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to set up a group, similar to the Eminent Persons Group, to explore options for further reform of the secretariat and the feasibility of regional offices and hubs.

This group could also look at what implications this would have for the future appointment of the Secretary-General and his or her senior staff. In a modern world and Commonwealth, appointments should be made through open competition, backed by a clear idea of skills, experience and qualities required for the job. I am not the first person to suggest this; it has been recommended before.

The same can apply to organisations like the CPA and the Commonwealth Foundation. They, too, could look to be part of regional hubs. Similarly, Commonwealth civil society organisations could work and collaborate with devolved regional hubs and be more effective on the ground. As former chairman and president of the Royal Commonwealth Society, I know that there is appetite within civil society organisations to help and support the secretariat. Good practice already exists. For example, the advocacy campaign on ending child marriage in the Commonwealth, led by the Royal Commonwealth Society and Plan International, an organisation with offices across the world, has made and continues to make a real impact.

The time is ripe for radical thinking and reform of Commonwealth institutions if we want the Commonwealth to realise its potential and remain the platform for the future. I very much hope that the Government will take up this initiative and urge consideration of further radical reform.

4.53 pm

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I should declare that I suppose I am, by accident, what might be defined as a child of the Commonwealth. When I first came back with my sister from Canada, where we were left during the war, we were introduced to our family, my mother in particular. Most of her family were called Williams, a lovely patronymic surname that I have always admired. More than that, for family bonding we went on holiday for the first time, which was quite difficult when there was no petrol around, to Mumbles. I therefore have a great affection for the current position of—I must get

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this right, because my noble friend Lord Howell, got it wrong—the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams. That was my most difficult research before speaking today. I am most grateful to him for a debate that he introduced some time ago on the importance and effect of religion in the Middle East, which touched me deeply.

As a child of the Commonwealth, and knowing that there is so little time left, one must always have a theme. I will take the theme of a minute. A minute is, as noble Lords know, one nautical mile upon the surface of the earth. Therefore, when I look down from heaven or up from wherever it might be, what do I see? Seventy per cent of the earth is ocean or sea. The land is only a very small percentage. It is spread far and wide, and you either look down on it from above the Antarctic, the Arctic or the equator, but, in general, when you look down upon it, the map that you see has Greenwich, which is in the United Kingdom, in the centre, as it should be, due to the technology of the Harrison chronometer. It matters not, but technology was what enabled us to go out into the world.

This degree and this 70% water become important to me because, by some strange calculation, it seems that the United Kingdom, its British territories and the other main Commonwealth countries are the most dominant with their economic exclusion zones of 200 nautical miles controlling the oceans of the world, where there are 22,000 shipping vessels and others. In comparison, the United States has 6.2 million square kilometres against our 27 million square kilometres. The rest of NATO has 4.5 million square kilometres, but the French territories become quite important with 7.7 million square kilometres. Does this mean anything? Possibly it does not, but it can do strategically and if we look at such issues as global warming or trade. If we say that 90% of all trade goes by sea, of the 100,000 vessels upon the face of the earth, 20% are Commonwealth and 20% are fishing vessels. This may be utterly irrelevant to this debate, but to me it is relevant because I want to move on to look at climate change.

I had the privilege to go to a presentation the other day about the Arctic and I got something of a shock. With global warming before very long the north-west passage will be open, which means that the great ships of the world will be moving there in five days rather than eight, with enormous fuel savings. It means that the whole structure of Europe and the United Kingdom may change, and perhaps even Scapa Flow will come back into being.

On the impact of that change and the changes that are taking place in the southern hemisphere, we can talk about Antarctica, which, as a result of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Montgomery, is well protected and does not belong to anyone, although the greatest claimants are, as your Lordships know, always those who play rugby—I do not know about Papua New Guinea. I do not know what that link is, but it is there. Let us suppose global warning continues. At the presentation I went to, some eminent government scientists pointed out that flooding as a result of climate change could have a major impact on India and many other Commonwealth countries, and that we should be aware that it is not that far away. This is

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all way beyond my pay grade, but as secretary and treasurer of the House of Lords Yacht Club, it gives me great pleasure to know that floating upon the face of the earth are more British vessels than vessels of any other country, and they are Commonwealth-flagged. We must therefore ask: what is the Commonwealth flag and what does it stand for? Even in today’s debate, we have different opinions. I believe that trade is the bearer of all wealth, knowledge and understanding.

4.58 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I asked a relation of mine what she thought of the Commonwealth, and she said, “Well, it’s a sentimental thing, isn’t it?”. She made it sound like a keepsake or a woolly rabbit, but then she said, “If the members like it, then it must have value”. Judging from its latest report, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee would not be satisfied with that.

The Commonwealth obviously does a lot of good, but is it trying hard enough and can it do better? Having spent most of my working life in voluntary organisations, I see it as a rather cumbersome NGO gently nudging member states around the world towards better modes of governance, democracy, education, human rights and economic development. Some countries move forward, and some, as the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Watson, have pointed out, slip backwards.

NGOs, including church agencies, can have a potent effect, especially at a local level. I have seen the best ones working around officialdom and engaging directly with the community, and often representing them where elected politicians fail them. Some are bureaucratic, but most give value for money. Some are dominated by strong personalities with political motives, but there is no harm in that. My own interest in politics stems from working with Christian Aid. I firmly believe in the potential of civil society to influence events, and for similar reasons I see the Commonwealth as a force for good in the world.

However, as the FAC says, the Commonwealth needs to tighten up its act. As we have heard, the new charter adopted at the Perth CHOGM last year brings together the key values uniting the Commonwealth: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The charter emphasises the role of civil society, albeit in its final paragraph 16. I welcome that because it is not only a hallmark of such a diverse organisation but a means of extending important principles that might otherwise remain mere aspirations. For example, I can think of a number of countries where there is little progress towards those values but where civil society nevertheless has a strong tradition of resistance.

Parliamentary strengthening is of course a key activity, and I have seen this through CPA visits. However, in this we must move further away from a Westminster-centred approach towards a more respectful recognition of local traditions. Here I concur with what the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said. This may be why the Commonwealth has recently focused on human rights. The Secretary-General intends to deepen the secretariat’s strategic partnership with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I wonder if the Minister can explain what that means, remembering

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that the next CHOGM will be in Colombo. When the FAC complained about this, Her Majesty’s Government’s reply was rather lame. They said:

“We look to Sri Lanka … to demonstrate its commitment to upholding Commonwealth values”.

The Minister repeated something similar just now. It is undoubtedly an embarrassment for everyone except the Sri Lankan Government that CHOGM is taking place in Colombo.

I would like to see South Sudan become the latest member of the Commonwealth. It applied informally after independence in 2011 and its application was universally welcomed in Perth. However, it seems that the Commonwealth may be suffering from enlargement fatigue, a condition normally associated with the European Union. Is there any reason why a post-conflict and least developed country, having survived 30 years of war, desperately in need of international assistance and near the top of every development agency’s priorities, should be made to wait for formalities?

I telephoned and e-mailed the secretariat last week and it told me that essentially the process has no timeframes. It depends on how quickly the aspiring member state follows the requirements, which include a resolution by the country’s parliament. It said that the secretariat does not push the process. Well, who does? Suspecting that South Sudan had been left to its own devices, I rang the South Sudanese Ambassador, Mr Sebit Aley, and he told me that that was indeed the position. His Minister had discussed the application with his Australian counterpart. The FCO was present, and he had received an assurance that South Sudan would be assisted in its application. However, he said that he had heard nothing since then and was still waiting for the list of requirements. I have mentioned all this to our new ambassador to South Sudan. Capacity-building is a familiar concept, and I hope that the Minister will now be able to move things further forward.

5.04 pm

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. As always, however much one thinks that they know about a subject, there is more that one can learn. It has also been a most appropriate occasion for us to hear from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, in his new capacity in your Lordships’ House.

Last year I was not able to participate in the Commonwealth Day debate here, as I was celebrating it in Brunei. The date coincided with Brunei’s annual session of the legislative assembly, a rare and privileged occasion for one of the smaller members of the Commonwealth. I welcome the fact that this Commonwealth Day debate is becoming a fixture in our agenda, albeit that it is not taking place precisely on the day itself. The idea that all Commonwealth countries should endeavour to hold such a debate on or close to 12 March is a good one. It came out of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s centenary meeting, which took place in London in 2011. Like the noble Lord, Lord Luce, I feel that some of these events are providing a more visible framework for Commonwealth activities.

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It is important that parliaments should be involved in the development of the role of the Commonwealth, and that such matters are not just left to heads of government and the Commonwealth institutions themselves. Today’s debate and the suggestions that have come out of it, as well as the debate that is due to be held in the other place next week, prove the point. In this, the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association plays a leading role, and I declare an interest as a member of the executive council. The programme of meetings, seminars and conferences, which the secretariat organises both for parliamentarians from other countries and for parliamentary officials from other Commonwealth countries, have been hugely successful and popular and are well received.

The theme of last year’s 58th CPA conference, which took place in Sri Lanka, was, “Ensuring a relevant Commonwealth for the future”. I agree that this means not only looking at the trade and networking opportunities that membership of the Commonwealth can offer but at what still needs to be done—for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned earlier, the fact that some 36 countries still have the death penalty. Other references have been made to human rights and issues that still remain to be worked on.

Since today is International Women’s Day, it is worth mentioning that at the Sri Lankan conference last year the Commonwealth women parliamentarian’s steering committee committed itself afresh to strategies to increase women’s representation in parliaments, especially in small states where adequate numbers and candidates might not always receive sufficient encouragement.

Following the centenary of the CPA the year before, last year saw the celebration of the Queen’s 60 years as head of the Commonwealth. There is an All-Party Group for the Commonwealth in Parliament, and yesterday we heard from the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, which was set up to commemorate the Queen’s jubilee with special reference to the Commonwealth. Its current programme is aimed at accelerating the work towards ending avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth, in part through partnerships and by supporting the existing initiatives in this field. It also intends to provide support for young people by bringing them together and providing mentoring for young leaders, and its work needs some acknowledgment.

I underline what has been said about the importance of education and educational links, and wish that the Commonwealth of Learning, which is based in Canada, had more recognition and encouragement in this country. I was delighted to hear from my noble friend the Minister at the outset about the increase in Commonwealth and Chevening scholarships. I welcome the fact that the Commonwealth Youth Parliament is now in its fifth year and that its meetings, which have taken place in your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons, are now to be a fixture in the CPA calendar and are due to take place in other Commonwealth countries. The enthusiasm of these young people must make us optimistic about the future. I also welcome the initiative of the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred.

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I do not want to finish without a brief mention of the overseas territories. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s reassurance that these tiny territories are not forgotten. Their role within the Commonwealth has been somewhat anomalous in the past, so it is important that a special recognition of their existence should be maintained as well as mentioned in the charter.

As has been emphasised throughout this debate, we share so much within the Commonwealth: values, institutions, language and a common history. We can now look forward to a common future, and the adoption of the Commonwealth charter will, I hope, help to bring this about.

5.10 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate, and I have greatly enjoyed the many and varied contributions this afternoon, especially the sort of maiden speech by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, in his recycled life. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, especially for the work he has done for the Commonwealth.